A GLORIOUS RETURN

2 Thessalonians 2:1—12

The last time we were with the Thessalonians, we discussed the rapture of the Church. Now we will look at the Second Coming of Christ. Some Christians get the two events confused; this is understandable because very often the two terms are used interchangeably and the rapture is sometimes taught as the first phase of the Second Coming. This isn’t entirely wrong, but if we consider the rapture as the “first phase,” we should make a clear distinction between it and the “second phase.”

First Phase: raptured and resurrected saints meet Christ in the air; Christ returns in the clouds only for the saints, He does not return to the earth visibly or physically.

Second Phase: Jesus returns to the earth visibly, physically, and literally; this will occur seven years after the first phase, being separated by the Tribulation.

The visible, physical, and literal return of Christ is the subject of 2 Thessalonians 2, as well as Matthew 24 and Luke 21.

What will the Second Coming be like? What will the world look like when He returns? When will it all happen?

1. Do not be troubled, 2 Thess. 2:1, 2; Matt. 24:36, 42, 44

Too much false information, 2 Thess. 2:1, 2

One thing we have to admire about Paul is that he wasn’t afraid to tackle the hard topics in his teaching. The Thessalonian church was barely founded when he taught them prophecy; a topic many pastors and Bible teachers seem to shy away from. This is strange because so much of the Bible is devoted to prophecy; to avoid it is to avoid large swaths of Scripture. The fact that Paul taught prophecy to new converts tells us that it is not too difficult too understand.

However, it seems that at least some in the Thessalonian church didn’t quite grasp Paul’s teaching. It seems as though someone, maybe a false teacher or maybe just somebody who totally misunderstood Paul, had told the congregation that “the Day of the Lord,” the Second Coming, had already happened. Obviously it hadn’t since the saints hadn’t been gathered to the Lord, but the “Day of the Lord” encompasses many events, including the events of what we call “the Tribulation,” and there were members of the church that thought these events had happened or were about to happen; that the Day of the Lord had already started. We may smirk at their naivete, but when we consider the persecution they were enduring, maybe we can cut them some slack.

[Do] not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. (vs. 2)

The word “unsettled” comes from a Greek word that pictures a ship being tossed about on rough seas. Whatever they had heard really unnerved and unsettled some Thessalonians. Christians seem to be quick to forget timeless truths and believe new ones. Paul’s warning for these believers to not be so gullible is good advice for the church of any age. What is the best defense against false teaching? Careful study of God’s Word and the common sense application of its truths, coupled with the leading and discernment of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t forget Biblical truth, Matt. 24:36, 42, 44

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36)

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (Matt. 24:42)

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matt. 24:44)

The Thessalonians didn’t have the New Testament; we do, so we don’t really have any excuse for not knowing Biblical truths. We are given three important details about the Second Coming (not the rapture):

(1) Absolutely nobody knows when Christ will return. God the Father Himself set the date, and He isn’t telling anybody. There may very well be signs that His coming is near, but the exact date will never be revealed until the event takes place.

(2) These verses, written to Jews and not Christians, indicate that they, Jews on the earth during the tail end of the Tribulation, need to be ready—keep watch. Many Jews (and Gentiles, for that matter) will come to know the Lord during the Tribulation and those Tribulation believers need to be on the watch for the Lord’s return.

(3) While these believers need to be watching and expecting the Lord to return, it will still be a sudden, surprising event. They may be correctly interpreting the signs, but in the end, only God the Father knows the precise time His Son will return to earth.

2. Don’t be deceived, 2 Thess. 2:3—10; Matt. 24:24

Lawless one to be revealed, 2 Thess. 2:3—18

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. (Matt. 24:24)

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thess. 2:3)

To help stave off the false teachers, Paul makes it crystal clear that there was no way the Day of the Lord was even close to starting because the great apostasy which must precede the Second Coming hadn’t taken place yet. There was no great antichrist or false teacher on the scene therefore the Tribulation hadn’t yet started.

Verse 6 is a truly revealing verse:

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.

Who or what is holding back the revealing of the man of lawlessness? In other words, what is keeping the Day of the Lord from starting right now? Unfortunately Paul does not say; it seems he told the Thessalonians and we wish he had told us! Some Bible teachers think Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, others think he has the Church in mind. Given that that the great purpose of the Day of the Lord is the outpouring of God’s judgment, the latter explanation seems the most reasonable. God has no judgment in store for those who are His.

Deceptive signs, 2 Thess. 2:9, 10; Matt. 24:24

In verses 9 and 10, Paul gives his readers a number of descriptive words that illustrate the power of the Antichrist. He will be a counterfeit—and pretend messiah. Like the real Messiah, the Antichist will have some kind amazing appearance (vs. 9). He will have some sort of extraordinary powers, analogous to Jesus being empowered by the Holy Spirit while He was on earth. The Antichrist’s power will be Satanic in origin, though. He will perform what appear to be miracles—signs that will mesmerize many, many people. All of these things combined will deceive many, even those people who never entertained a belief in the supernatural will be deceived.

Why will so many (though not all) people believe in this man when they never believed in God? Paul gives us the chilling answer:

... and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thess. 2:9)

Because these people never accepted the truth of the Gospel, they are already perishing.

3. Be alert, 2 Thess. 2:11, 12; Luke 21:34—36

Divine delusion, 2 Thess. 2:11, 12

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

People are believers in something. Because of their deliberate rejection of the truth, God will send to those unbelievers who are already following the Antichrist a “powerful delusion” so that they will believe even the most outrageous lie: that this lawless man is God.

The fact that God will send this delusion bothers some believers. What needs to be pointed out is that these people have already made their choice; God is not doing anything to them that they haven’t already done themselves. His punishment is based on THEIR rejection of His truth. That choice will reveal what is already in their hearts. The tenses of the verbs in verses 10 and 12 suggest an ongoing, continuous rejection; a habitual attitude of thought and living, not a whimsical rejection or a casual doubt.

Be watchful, Luke 21:34—36

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

Here are some practical admonitions for Christians. Theses verses, though, formed part of an answer to the queston posited back in verse 7:

Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

The question was asked by the disciples after Jesus had told them the great Temple would soon be destroyed. He had been answering that question for almost all of chapter 21; giving them much information about what was going to happen some 4 decades hence, in 70 AD.

This passage, and it’s parallel, Matthew 24, serve two important purposes. First, Jesus in both Gospels deals with events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. In His teaching, our Lord gave His disciples the severest warning possible about their near future and how to remain faithful in the face of the coming persecution.

But second, as Jesus spoke about the events of 70 AD, He was also looking into the future—our future—and giving a warning, not to His disciples, but to generations yet unborn. As bad as things would be for Jews and Jewish Christians under Roman persecution, at some point in the future it would be far worse for believers. In other words, the destruction of Jerusalem serves as a sort eery foreshadow for the Day of the Lord. Jesus’ advice to His disciples is good advice for Christians of all ages: be alert. Know what’s going on in your community, your country, and your world.   The Second Coming, a process initiated by the great gathering of the saints in the clouds, can happen at any moment.  The burning question is:  Are you ready?

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