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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

“Ready for His Righteous Repayment” - Introduction to a Study on 2 Thessalonians

Our world, and in particular our nation, have been in a steady downward spiral of sin for a long time. The revolution that birthed our nation began in 1776 and our nation was officially born in 1789. Within less than a hundred years our nation was ripped apart by civil war. Slavery was abolished but segregation persisted. And a president had been assassinated.


In the early 1900s we entered World War I, “the war to end all wars.” This first world war didn’t end much of anything but instead demonstrated through various instruments of carnage the depth of depravity of so-called “principled” people. The human darkness unleashed during the war led to a period of debauchery known as the roaring 20s where people threw off restraint and jumped into the pool of immorality and overspending. This led to a Great worldwide Depression economically and people jumping out of windows to their death. Socially an environment of worldwide poverty led to people looking with prejudice at pariah people groups to blame. This environment of despair paved the way for an antichrist prototypical figure named Adolf Hitler. He brought the world into another world war. In this war we saw the demonically inspired killing of millions and in particular the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. The war climaxed with the invention of nuclear weapons that have the capability of literal world destruction. After the war people did not turn to God but turned their backs on God.


In the 1950s and early 60s the battle for the Bible heated up. The Bible’s inerrancy and inspiration were attacked in the church leading to the liberalization of mainline denominations. In society every attempt was made to remove “God,” His word, and prayer directed toward Him from the public square through legislation. The willful ignorance to God led to societal turmoil in a generation. Our nation lost its way in an even greater way. We escalated our involvement in questionable wars. In the late 1960s and then in the 1970s our youth spiraled out of control into sex, drugs and rock and roll. Our nation legalized the murder of the unborn. Tens of millions of unborn babies have been murdered in the womb to date. In the 1980s people turned to self. In the 1990s people turned to money. During all of this time the world was looking at America as its model. America was looking at ways to become more and more worldly.


In 2001 God began to remove His hedge of protection on our nation as the 9/11 attacks evidence. We suffered major economic losses as well as the loss of credibility and influence in the world. This trend has continued to the present. God’s effort’s to shake us upand wake us up had a short lived success. Since 9/11 we have extended ourselves in more wars, removed more freedoms, and distanced ourselves further from God by legislating more and more immorality until in 2015 same-sex marriage was made the law of the land and the rainbow colors of such immorality were flown over our nation. Now we see happening what Jesus said would happen in the days leading up to His return, “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. 25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:24-30).  The days of Noah and Lot are upon us.


We read of this declining history of the world and see all the decline into greater and greater sinfulness and we wonder, “Father in Heaven, how long before You intervene? How long before You send Jesus to return and establish Your kingdom on earth?” If we want answers to those questions we must look to God’s Holy Word. In His word He speaks of the return of His Son Jesus to set up a kingdom on earth (Rev. 19). This Kingdom on earth will last a thousand years. Ultimately at the end of this kingdom another uprising will occur which will be put down, and then the final judgment (cf. Rev. 20). This will be followed by the replacing of this earth and heaven with a New Heaven and a New Earth. Then God’s people will enter into His promised everlasting life in the presence of the Lord (cf. Rev. 21-22).


But before that happens there is a transitional period from the state of affairs we see now to the promised new kingdom conditions under the rule of Jesus. That instrument of transition is called The Tribulation.  The Tribulation is also called the Seventieth Week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27) and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) because it is a time when God will focus on Israel, it’s spiritual revival, and recompensing those who attack Israel and persist in shaking their fists of denial at God. Jesus spoke in great detail to His disciples about this period of Tribulation (Matthew 24-25; mark 13; Luke 17, 21). This period is explained in great detail in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 6-19). There is a good deal of space devoted to this seven year period of history that is in our future. It’s important to understand the truth about the Tribulation.


This Tribulation is a period of seven years of prophetic events that particularly will reawaken the nation of Israel. The Tribulation will shake up the world to consider the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Tribulation will make up the world like a maid cleans up a room preparing it for more guests or a fumigator removes pests and rodents to make a place livable for the next resident. Jesus and His people are the guests that are coming. His kingdom on earth is what the Tribulation prepares for.


The Tribulation is not a period in time that anyone should want to experience. This is a time of God’s outpoured righteous wrath on a Christ-rejecting world. In Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians he was inspired to explain that Christians have been saved from God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; cf. also Romans 5:9). For the Christian  Jesus has paid our debt of sin so that we are spared God’s just punishing wrath. Jesus took our wrathful sentence on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). The wrath due us has been poured out on Jesus (Isaiah 42:25; 53). Because Jesus has suffered wrath for us the genuinely “born again” Christian will be saved from God’s coming wrath on the earth. The means by which we will be saved from God’s coming wrath is The Rapture. There will be a pre-Tribulation extraction of God’s people from this world. The event is called the Rapture (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-11). The truth of this teaching is what was attacked by false teachers at the church in Thessalonica after Paul had left.


Second Thessalonians was written by Paul because false teachers taught the Thessalonians that the Rapture had either occurred and they were left behind or that the teaching of the Rapture was not true. This was either implied by the false teachers or taught directly by them, we do not know. What we do know is that Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians seeks to clarify issues related to the Tribulation and whether or not Christians will go through it along with everyone else who suffers God’s righteous wrath. That subject necessitates a review of the Rapture and when it will occur.


The basis for this false teaching was that the Thessalonians were being persecuted severely. The false teachers misinterpreted or manipulated (we don’t know their intent only their effect) this persecution as God’s wrath on His people. This false teaching shook the faith and chopped down the blessed hope of God’s people that they would be raptured before the Tribulation. Paul countered this false teaching and its negative effects with a three chapter follow up letter on the Tribulation explaining its purpose (2 Thess. 1), it’s particulars (2 Thess. 2), and their preparation leading up to it (2 Thess. 3).


Review and Background


Paul’s inspired second letter to the Thessalonians continues his ministry to the relatively young church in Thessalonica. It was likely written within a year of his first epistle to this church which would place the date of his writing in the early 50s of the first century. Paul probably wrote to Thessalonica from Corinth (Acts 18).


To review, Paul planted the church in Thessalonica over a three week stay in that city while on his second missionary journey (cf. Acts 17). Silas, Timothy and Luke accompanied Paul on this journey. Paul moved on from Thessalonica and travelled to Berea, Athens and then Corinth. While in Corinth Paul apparently received a follow up report on how things were going with the young church in Thessalonica. In response to this report Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians, a letter which addressed being ready for the return of Jesus.


In his first inspired letter to the Thessalonians Paul comforted the church by clearing up some misunderstandings about the return of Jesus; in particular the His Rapture of the church. Each of the five chapters in 1 Thessalonians concludes with a corrective reference to the return of Jesus as a result.


Paul began his first letter to the Thessalonians by commending their good example and how they had responded to the gospel which he had powerfully shared with them in the Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5). He then went on to commend them for receiving the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). Even though they had been birthed out of a situation of persecution they were not deterred to witness for the Lord (1 Thess. 1:5-10). Paul reminds them of his ministry among them and how much he cared for them (1 Thess. 2-3). Paul included a prayer for their spiritual growth in holiness and God’s love (1 Thess. 3:11-13). He addressed issues dealing with sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:1-8). He urged them to grow spiritually (1 Thess. 4:9-12). And then he addressed the eschatological doctrine of the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:13-18), and the Day of the LORD (1 Thess. 5:1-11). Paul concluded with series of short but powerful exhortations that would help them keep on the right course in their early life with Christ (1 Thess. 5:12-28).


Paul stayed “a year and six months. . . . [and] a good while” longer in Corinth from where he wrote to the Thessalonians (Acts 18:11 and18). He remained in Corinth long enough to get another report on how things were going in Thessalonica. Paul was always interested in “strengthening all the disciples” he had ministered to (Acts 18:23). And word was that false teachers had infiltrated the church using false eschatology to create confusion and fear in the church. Therefore Paul wrote them a second letter to teach them more accurately and clear up any confusion and fear. 


The second epistle (letter) to the Thessalonians opens with the following greeting:

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Paul is mentioned first. He is the leader of the trio of people mentioned here; “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy” (1:1a). He is the author of this epistle. These are the same three names mentioned in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. (See the intro to 1 Thessalonians for more background on these three people.)


2 Thessalonians is addressed “To the church of the Thessalonians” (1:1b). The “church” in this city was now a little over a year old. It was still a young church. Perhaps this is why false teachers were apparently preying on this congregation. From Paul’s letter we see that apparently pseudepigraphal letters had been brought to the Thessalonians. Pseude means apparently but not actually. Pigraphal means writing. People would write a letter and then to lend it credibility and authority to make their case they would counterfeit Paul’s name on the letter. Paul alludes to this when he writes, “not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thess. 2:2). Apparently someone had concocted a letter with false teaching in it and put Paul’s name on it. They apparently were teaching that the Tribulation was upon them and used Paul’s name to give their false teaching credibility. Paul therefore is writing 2 Thessalonians in an effort to correct any confusion.  


The young church at Thessalonica were identified by Paul as, “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:” (1:1c). The preposition “in” identifies this church as in a relationship with “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” All genuine churches find their identity in their relationship with “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The conjunction “and” that connects “in God our Father” with “and the Lord Jesus Christ” includes Jesus in equal standing with the Father.  The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the OT Hebrew Joshua. Joshua means Yeshua saves. “Christ” is a title not the last name of Jesus. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term Meshiach which means anointed one. It is a reference to the Messiah foretold in the OT as one who would come and serve as a sacrifice for sins (e.g. Isaiah 53). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. We know this by the miracles He performed, the prophecies He fulfilled (over 300!), and the resurrection which was the Father’s imprimatur on who Jesus was and that His atoning sacrifice satisfied entirely His just requirements for forgiveness of sins.


The atoning work of Jesus is the reason Paul’s opening words in his epistles included, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). God came to humanity in Christ (e.g. John 1:1-3, and 14; Hebrews 1 and 2). Jesus lived a sinless life and provided the perfect atoning sacrifice for sins on the cross. The wages or consequence of sin is death. To atone or pay the penalty for the sins of the world, as humanities’ substitute, Jesus gave His life for us. He did this as a free gift of God’s “grace” (1:2a; Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Grace can be defined with the acronym God’s Riches/Redemption At Christ’s Expense. We are saved from our sin by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).   

Before we turn from our sins (i.e. repent) and believe the gospel (that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the scriptures – 1 Cor. 15:1-4), we are an enemy of God (Rom. 8:7; Eph. 2:15, 16; James 4:4), under the influence of Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), spiritually dead and deserve God’s righteous wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). This is a very dark existence (cf. John 1 and 1 John).

There’s no “peace” (1:2b) when a person wars with God. The only way to find peace is to repent and believe the gospel. We have peace with God through Jesus Christ (Romans 5). And we have peace with God only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; 1 Tim. 2:5). When Paul opens his letters with the words “Grace and peace,” he always does so in that order. There’s a significant reason for that. You can’t experience the peace of God until you accept the benefits of the grace of God. You can’t work your way to peace. You can only receive pece by receiving the gospel of God’s grace. The gospel is a gift, a product of God’s grace; it is “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2c). It is “from” God and we can only receive it by faith. Our redemption or the payment for our debt of sin is from God; it is not something we earn by works. We simply receive it as a gift from God.

That is the only way we can be certain of our salvation. If it were by our works that we earned salvation there would always be a question of whether or not we did enough to earn it. Furthermore, we just don’t measure up to God’s standard. All humanity falls short of God’s glorious standard of righteousness (Rom. 3:23). Jesus is the righteous standard; no one measures up to Jesus (John 16:8-11). Without Jesus, we’re lost. With Jesus, we’re saved. So as you see, there’s a lot to be thankful for even in Paul’s opening words.

Not everyone accepts the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. God is patient. But when people persistently rebel and reject God’s grace offered gospel in Christ, the time comes when God’s righteous just wrath comes into play as repayment for such a sinful resistance to God. That is part of what 2 Thessalonians is about. Paul will speak of a prophetic period in history referred to as The Tribulation. As we mentioned earlier, this is a seven year period prophesied by Daniel (cf. Daniel 9:24-27). It is a time that will serve to wake up the nation of Israel to Jesus as their Messiah (cf. Rev. 7 and 14). That is why Jeremiah refers to it as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). Jesus spoke in detail about this period of time (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 17; 21). And while the church will not go through the Tribulation, we still need to be aware of what the Tribulation entails so that we don’t mistakenly think we will go through it or that we are going through it, and so that we can see the urgency in warning others to get right with God through faith in Christ so that they won’t go through it either.

The Tribulation is a time where God pours out His righteous wrath on a Christ rejecting world in judgment, and in one last attempt to shake them from their sinful lethargy and rebellion (e.g. Rev. 6:16, 17). The Tribulation will be a time of unprecedented pain and suffering in the world (cf. Mat. 24:21). Those who do repent and turn to God in Christ will suffer incredible persecution. A Satanically inspired world leader referred to as Antichrist will be the devil’s attempt to counter God’s plans. Antichrist will war against the people of God (Rev. 13:7). God’s people will suffer, but be able to overcome in the end “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their live to the death” (Rev. 12:11).


While First Thessalonians addresses the return of Jesus, (in particular the Rapture), the Second epistle to the Thessalonians deals with other eschatological issues where they had some misunderstanding: The Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ. Evidently some were teaching the young Thessalonians that the Tribulation was upon them. Since the Thessalonians were suffering persecution it could be expected that they would wonder whether or not they were in the Tribulation, a time of great suffering and persecution.  Paul writes to clear up this misunderstanding.


First Thessalonians comforts Christians with the prospect and call to readiness for the Rapture of the church by Jesus. Second Thessalonians comforts Christians by letting us know that we will not go through the Tribulation. This second letter to the Thessalonians assures Christians that though they may be suffering or being persecuted, it is not the Tribulation. The Tribulation is a time of God’s righteous repayment to those who have rejected the gospel and persecuted His people (2 Thess. 1:6-7). The details of the Tribulation Paul provides by the Spirit in this second letter helps us to be thankful that God in Christ by the Spirit has made a way for us to escape the terrible times that are coming upon this earth. God is not asleep. He isn’t overlooking or condoning the increasing sinfulness of this world and in particular our nation. He isn’t impotent to bring injustice and sin to judgment. God’s righteous wrath and judgment on a Christ-rejecting world is coming. Paul writes the Thessalonians about the Tribulation to assure that they are still ready or Jesus return, but also, that they understand what the Tribulation is all about. Paul wants the Thessalonians to be Ready for His Righteous Repayment which will reconcile this crooked sinful world and reestablish His justice and peace.


2 Thessalonians can be outlined as follows:


  1. Tribulation Purpose: God’s Righteous Repayment  – 2 Thessalonians 1

  2. Tribulation Particulars: Apostasy and Antichrist – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

  3. Tribulation Preparation: Stand Fast Through Prayer and Good Works – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18.
I invite you to join me as we study through this relevant-to-our-times second letter of Paul to the Thessalonian church. It will help us get a handle on where we are on the prophetic calendar. God bless us all as we watch and pray until Jesus returns.

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