Daniel 11:36-37; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-15 (text); Revelation 13:5-6
March 20, 2011
With the Japan earthquake and the Libyan civil war, false prophets are again very much alive and well on this planet earth. Harold Camping continues his defiance of many counselors to repent from his prediction of the rapture on May 21, 2011. The images of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan remind many of the doomsday movie â€œ2012.â€ Just a few days ago, a popular TV program featured a pastor predicting a big earthquake in Manila and the secret rapture between now and March 2012. Surely, many of the usual false prophets are again licking their chops because of this latest fodder for their latest Armageddon and doomsday book.
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Almost all evangelicals believe that Jesus may return at any moment, saying that the secret rapture is imminent. Whenever some major war erupts in the Middle Eastâ€”because of its proximity and relationship to Israelâ€”or a major disaster inflicts heavy casualties and damage, many people again start wondering if the end of the world is near and then become fearful of the future.
The Thessalonian believers in the first century were also fearful, but for another reason. They thought they had been â€œleft behind.â€ Some false teachers were saying that the day of the Lord, the Second Coming of Jesus, had already taken place without them participating in it.
We remember in his first letter to this church that Paul answered their questions about the return of Christ. When they asked about those who had died in Christ, Paul assured them that they will be resurrected and will also be taken to heaven. Asked about those who are alive at the time of Christ’s appearing in heaven, Paul again assured them that they too would be given resurrected bodies and taken to heaven. Then Paul encouraged them to live holy and blameless lives as they await the Lord’s return.
Our text is Paul’s last instructions to the Thessalonian church regarding the Second Coming of Christ. This time, he gives them instructions as to the timing of the Lord’s return. Unlike date-setters throughout the history of the church, Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching that no one can know the day or the hour of Christ’s appearing from heaven. He assures them that the day of the Lord has not yet come as some false prophets had taught.
Without a doubt, Paul’s instructions in 2 Thessalonians 2 are about the Second Coming when he begins, â€œNow concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him.â€ In this chapter, he uses the word for â€œcomingâ€ three times, and seven times in his two letters to the Thessalonians. The theme of Christ’s future â€œcoming,â€ which means the physical arrival of someone who is not yet present, therefore highlights these two letters.
The second word he uses in the first verse to refer to the return of Christ is â€œto be gathered together,â€ which is related to the same verb used in Matthew 24:31, when his angels â€œwill gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.â€ This is the gathering of all the elect at the second coming of Jesus, the same idea when Paul says that on the day of Christ’s return, both dead and living believers will be â€œcaught up together … in the cloudsâ€ (1 Thess 4:17).
Paul then encourages them not to be â€œquickly shaken in mind or alarmedâ€ by the false teaching that the day of the Lordâ€”the return of Jesusâ€”had already come. The source of the false teaching was unknown to Paul, but he suggests three possibilities: (1) a â€œspirit,â€ someone who claims to have divine revelation; (2) â€œa spoken word,â€ a sermon or teaching; or (3) a forged letter claiming to be from him.
Why is Paul sure that the day of the Lord has not yet come? It is because it had been divinely revealed to him that two things must happen first before the return of Christ. Later, in verses 13-15, he reassures the Thessalonian believers that God had chosen them for salvation and for a glorious future. He then calls on them to stand firm and hold to the apostolic traditions he had passed on to them through their authentic spoken word or letters.
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