Trouble at Thessalonica
The church at Thessalonica was troubled. They believed they were beginning to endure the time of God’s wrath. The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, assured them that the Day of the Lord had not yet begun.
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 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 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
During the time that Paul wrote his second letter to the church, their fellowship was experiencing persecution:
“So that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure” (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
Doctrine of the Rapture
The recipients of Paul’s letter were supposed to be following the doctrine already taught to them by Paul when he started their fellowship. Paul reinforced the doctrine concerning the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).
The church was to take comfort in the fact that they would not have to endure God’s wrath.
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
They already knew that Jesus had said that in Him they would not have tribulation. They knew that in the world they would have tribulation but that in Him they would have peace.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The church at Thessalonica was being misled by false teachers concerning the Second Coming of Christ. As the persecutions and tribulations continued to mount, the Thessalonians started to believe that the Day of the Lord had begun. They had become shaken in mind and troubled that they had missed the gathering together in the air with their saved loved ones, who had fallen asleep in Jesus.
Since they knew the Day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night, they could have been easily tricked into believing it had caught them by surprise. It is also understandable that they would be very troubled if they thought they would have to endure God’s wrath during the Day of the Lord.
“The great day of the Lord is near; It is near and hastens quickly. That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress” (Zephaniah 1:14a, 15a).
However, Paul had previously taught them to be comforted, not troubled.
They Expected the Rapture First
The Thessalonians would not be so troubled and shaken in mind if they had expected all along that they would to have to endure the Tribulation. If they were looking for Antichrist instead of Jesus Christ, they would have expected to have to endure the Day of the Lord before seeing Jesus. However, the Thessalonians knew from Paul’s previous letter that the gathering in the “air’ with Christ would take place before the Day of the Lord. The possibility that they had missed the Rapture caused widespread panic and alarm. They were deeply troubled that they had been left behind.
They had already been taught that the revealing of the “man of sin” would precede the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 5)
Instead of being so troubled that the Day of the Lord had already begun, they would have been pushing to hasten the destruction of the Antichrist, and the commencement of Christ’s millennial kingdom.
“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
Times and Seasons
There are no signs specific to the Rapture of the church. It will be a secret and sudden event, although there are signs and seasons related to the Day of the Lord. Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter that he did not need to write to them concerning the times and the seasons:
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you” (1 Thessalonians 5:1).
They should have known that they were not entering the time of God’s wrath. As Paul said, it should have gone without saying. Since the Rapture precedes the Day of Christ, Paul chose to use the signs that would accompany the embodiment of the evil one to demonstrate that the Day of the Lord had not yet begun.
Later in 2 Thessalonians, Paul gave believers further assurance that the Lord would keep the evil one from harming them.
“But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
More than One Option
If it had been already taught that the church would have to endure God’s wrath at the beginning of the Day of the Lord, then that would be the only option. That would be the only circumstance. As already stated, the church would have been prepared in advance to enter the time of God’s wrath at a moment’s notice.
It is then logical to conclude that Paul would not have spent so much time trying to assure the Thessalonians in his second letter that the Day of the Lord had not yet begun. Instead, he would have spent more time assuring them to take comfort that no matter what circumstances or trials they may have to endure, even the Day of God’s wrath, they would soon meet the Lord in the air. For this is the only teaching that would be consistent with the abundance of other exhortations for believers to persevere in trials and tribulation.
Two-Phased Coming of Christ
The fact that the Thessalonians thought is was even possible to still be here on earth after the Day of the Lord had already begun, after Christ had already gathered those who had fallen asleep in Him, proves they believed in a two-phased coming of Christ.
Paul had to remind them that first would come the departure when, “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). It is not until after the departure that the Antichrist will “be revealed in his own time” (2 Thessalonians 2:6).
However, You Are Saved
Part of the comfort through which believers are exhorted is to wear as a helmet, the hope of our salvation. Paul closes both segments in both letters to the Thessalonians dealing with the Day of the Lord, with same encouragement in reference to their salvation.
If you will allow a comparison via paraphrase:
“Sudden destruction comes upon them… however, you are saved” (1 Thessalonians 5:3, 8).
“That they all may be condemned…however, you are saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:12, 13).
We are to have hope in our salvation as the means to prove that we are not appointed to wrath, because obviously only those who are saved in the first place will avoid the wrath of the Day of the Lord.
In contrast, the unsaved will be present on earth during the Day of the Lord “because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10b).
They have no hope of salvation upon which to rest.
Closing thoughts and Scriptures
If the Day of the Lord was to precede the Rapture and was imminent, how could Paul know while he was writing his second letter to the Thessalonians, that the Day would not begin before his letter reached them? One can only imagine that it took several days, if not weeks, for a letter to travel over 300 miles from Corinth to Thessalonica in the first century.
Paul clearly taught that the church, the Ekklesia, would meet the Lord in the air before His wrath is poured out on this earth. We are not to be troubled as though we will have to endure the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20; 4:18).