Day 347: 2 Thessalonians 1-3; More on the Second Coming of Christ

People the claim that they know when the second coming of Christ is, or when the day of the rapture is going to happen, or even when the final judgment will begin often seem crazy to us.  Those folks like Harold Camping, and others that have sought to lead people astray by teachings these false doctrines are often the source of ridicule, mockery, and criticism from both inside and outside the church.  We may think that they are the first, today the world has survived over 150 documented predictions (thank you wikipedia) of the end of the world, ranging from hundreds of years before Christ to as recently as December 31 of last year.  If that comforts you, then just know that we only have about 20 or so more documented apocalyptic events to get through, the closest of which is supposed to happen on February 22 of next year, the farthest out being about 10 to the 100th power years away when the “heat death” of the universe takes place.  Clearly these predictors have not read or taken seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 24, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

You may think this inconsequential to the reading for today, but sadly it was to address confusion such as this that Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonian church.  There was, apparently, a great deal of confusing surrounding the final judgment and it seems as though there might have been another letter than came to the church in Paul’s name claiming that the final judgment had already begun.  People quit their jobs, sold all they had, and just waited for Christ to return.  Sound familiar?  This is what the followers of Harold Camping did in the days and weeks before his predicted dates of Jesus’ return.  Sadly, and I do mean that in some ways, it did not happen.  As I have said many times before though, the Bible is the given revelation of God’s self by God Himself to His people and the world.  There is no hidden code that is contained within its pages.  It is the Gospel of God’s mercy and grace that is seen in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and that is testified to by the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people.

2 Thessalonians is one of the books from which we get a great deal of pre-Revelation, post-Gospel understanding of the events of the second coming of Christ as well as other elements that will be part of this process including “the man of lawlessness.”  This person is commonly known as the “anti-Christ,” a figure who appears towards the end of time in opposition to Jesus Christ and the Church.  This figure, perhaps a single person or maybe a political or corporate entity, will exalt himself over God and all other gods, and will even proclaim himself to be God.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.  Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?  And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.  The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

A great deal of the end of time theology has been popularized in the Left Behind Series, an outcropping of pre-millennial dispensationalism.  This is a line of belief about the second coming of Christ that is drawn largely from a small amount of single verses that are woven together as proof texts to shallowly support a “doctrine.”  This line of belief claims a great deal of literal understandings of the final days of the earth, even drawing on the prophets as predictors of the future (which was not their primary function), and then drawing out a timeline from their reading of Scripture.  This includes a the popularized notion of a rapture, which comes from an interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which has basically no Scriptural support (or other Scriptural support) whatsoever.

Indeed, Jesus talks about a great number of people who will come in His name (recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21), and that these people will be those who try to lead the believers in Christ astray.  I think, when we take these whole passages, as well as some of the other discussions that are had on the second coming of Christ, what we see is that all of creation is moving towards this time, and has been since the fall.  God is always at work for the restoration of all things, and there are forces of evil at work in this world that are dramatically opposed to this work.  Many have indeed come as “men of lawlessness,” and some have even claimed to be divine.  Many of the Roman leaders were like this, at times the leaders of the Roman Catholic church have walked this line, and there have been many leaders (the most prominent of which was Adolf Hitler) who have sought to rule the world and have even co-opted the church and the Gospel to support their cause.  Paul’s warning, as well as Jesus’ words tell us that we need to open our eyes to the greater happenings of things in the world.  This isn’t an encouragement to look for conspiracies and plots, nor is it encouragement to look at all the natural disasters as signaling the end of the world, and neither is it encouragement to say that “wars and rumors of wars” are signals of the immediate coming of Christ.  All of these things have been happening since the fall of humanity.

So what should our response be?  Paul says stand firm in the face of it, holding to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus in the midst of uncertainty.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

He also says that we need to not be idle.  The notion of selling all you have, quitting your job, and just sitting around and waiting for the coming of Christ is entirely antithetical to Biblical teaching.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.  It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”