THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
JESUS' TEACHINGS ON THE SECOND COMING
Paul’s Further Discussion on the Second Coming and the Rapture
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Paul’s discussion in 2 Thess. 2 serves as the final major passage on the second coming of Jesus and the rapture of the saints. Note that in verse 1 Paul links the second coming with the rapture: “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ AND our gathering together with Him . . .” (2:1). This appears to be in agreement with Matthew 24 which links the return of Jesus with the rapture. Some of our Christian friends are going to break the link between the second coming of Jesus with the rapture. After breaking this link, they then place the rapture at the beginning of the tribulation and the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. Yet it is interesting that Paul appears to be following Jesus’ lead in this matter. According to Jesus what will His angels do to the elect AFTER the tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31)?
It is interesting that Paul uses the same word for the rapture—“our gathering”—that Jesus uses in Matt. 24. The only difference is that Paul uses the noun form (EPI-SUN-A-go-ges) while Jesus uses the verbal form (EPI-SUN-A-zou-sin); both come from the same verb “to gather” (EPI-SUN-A-GO). It appears that Paul is speaking about the same event Jesus is referring to in Matt. 24:31, the rapture which occurs AFTER the tribulation in Jesus’ sermon.
(The truth is that if Jesus is not speaking about the rapture in Matt. 24:31, then He does not address it in His teachings. Not only then would Jesus not speak about the rapture, but Revelation itself which gives us the greatest detailed look at the end times does not mention the rapture. Many Christians claim that John is assuming that we already know that the rapture has taken place before the tribulation. THAT IS A HUGE ASSUMPTION. This explanation for no mention of the rapture in Revelation may be true; however, to me this obstacle seems insurmountable. Moreover, it would seem highly unlikely that in all His teachings Jesus not once addressed the most dramatic event in the life of the Christian, the resurrection.)
EVENTS WHICH PRECEDE THE SECOND COMING AND RAPTURE (2:3-7)
According to Paul what 2 events must precede the second coming and the rapture (2:3)?
The first event is called the apostasia, or the apostasy. The word translated “apostasy” literally means a “falling away.” This event has been interpreted as the falling away of many church-goers from the Lord. There is good biblical basis for this view. For example, Paul and Jesus both tell us that in the last days the love of many will grow cold (see 1 Tim. 4:1ff.; Matt. 24:12). It may be that the tribulation is so bad that so-called Christians will abandon the church because of the persecutions which fall upon Christians.
The word “apostasy” though outside the NT is used only in the sense of political rebellion or political turmoil. In other words it may be that political turmoil and rebellion precede the coming of Christ and may actually even pave the way for the coming of the Antichrist.
The second event preceding the return of Christ is the emergence of the Antichrist. He is given 2 titles in v. 3: “man of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _” and the “son of ________________________.”
The title “Man of Lawlessness” reveals his character. He promotes lawlessness. In what sense? In the sense that he gets people to violate God’s Law, especially the Law that there be no other gods before the Lord. The title “son of Destruction” or “Son of Perdition” reveals his ultimate destiny. Because of his opposition to God this man faces an eternal destiny of destruction. For example, in Rev. 19:20. what happens to the Beast and the False Prophet after Jesus returns?
[This “Man of Lawlessness” receives other titles throughout the NT: the Beast (Revelation), the Antichrist and the Liar (1 John 2:18, 22), and “the Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2). ]
Verse 4 further describes the Antichrist. What else does Paul say about the Antichrist in 2 Thess. 2:4?
This last event, taking his seat in the Temple and declaring himself to be God, has been labeled the abomination of desolation. Why? According to Jesus the abomination of desolation first must occur before the return of Christ and second is an event in which something is standing in the holy place which should NOT be there (Matt. 24:15). Both of these elements are found in Paul’s description of the Antichrist in 2 Thess. 2; in other words, he takes his seat in the Temple and declares himself to be God in the Temple BEFORE the second coming.
Now Paul throws us a curve here. In v. 5 Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he has already discussed this topic with them while he was in Thessalonica. If Paul had added just about 50 more words, the controversy surrounding this passage would probably be done away with. In verses 6 and 7 Paul says that the Antichrist has not yet emerged. According to verses 6 and 7 why has the Antichrist not yet appeared?
Paul literally says that SOMEONE (a masculine noun) and SOMETHING (a neuter noun) are holding back the Antichrist. [Those of you who took Latin, Greek, or German will understand that these languages have 3 genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Even English to some degree assigns gender to nouns; for example, America is spoken of as a woman in "God Bless America."] The Someone most likely refers to a person, while the Something refers to an institution. The question now becomes who is the Someone and what is the Something? The traditional way of interpreting these verses in southern Christianity is that the Someone is the Holy Spirit, while the Something is the Church. If this is true, then the rapture occurs before the Antichrist is revealed, that is, before the tribulation. That is a possible interpretation, but remember it is only a POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION. Why? Because Paul does not say the Holy Spirit and the Church are restraining the Antichrist. All he is saying is that Someone and Something are holding back the Antichrist.
Before we look at another major interpretation, ask yourself the following questions. “If the Someone is the Holy Spirit and the Something is the Church, why didn’t Paul just come right out and say that the Holy Spirit and the Church are restraining the Antichrist? Why is Paul so secretive about this?” To answer those 2 questions, you need to look at Paul’s experience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9.
The Jews in Thessalonica are furious with Paul for preaching Jesus. They try to drag Paul before the chief magistrates but cannot find him. When they can’t find Paul, the Jews drag along Jason, one of Paul’s converts, before the judges. They say: “Jason has welcome them [Paul and cohorts], and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). According to verse 7 what do the Jews accuse Paul of—blasphemy, breaking the Law, or treason?
This charge is so serious against Paul that the judges force Jason to post bond in order to make sure that Paul will get out of the city and cause no further problems (17:9). If another problem emerges, the magistrates will hold Jason accountable. OK, think for a moment now. Paul has been run out of Thessalonica on the charge of treason for preaching that Jesus is the Christ, the king in God’s kingdom. Whenever the Jews wanted to have Jesus crucified, what charge did they bring against Jesus?
If Paul thought that the Holy Spirit and the Church had to be removed in order for the Antichrist to emerge, then why didn’t he just go ahead and say it? HOWEVER, if Paul was saying that the removal of the Roman emperor and the collapse of the Roman empire (apostasy, political turmoil) preceded the coming of the Antichrist, then you can see how the Jews could twist this in order to accuse Paul of treason.
The Someone in this scenario would refer to the Roman emperor and the Something to the Roman empire. Sounds far-fetched? I don’t think so. Think about what led to Hitler's rise to power. After WW1 France and Great Britain stuck it to Germany. The French were still angry because of what the Germans had done to them in the Franco-Prussian War. The German economy collapsed because of the hardships these 2 world power placed upon her. Germany did not experience the Roaring 20's; she suffered economic depression in the 20's. This climate led to the emergence of a figure like Hitler. When everything is going badly, a nation will give up some of its rights in order to have stability and security. For example, the Patriot Act would have never passed the U.S. Congress if 9/11 had not occurred. Since the fifth century AD when the Roman empire fell Europe has been in constant flux and turmoil, setting the stage for a dictator-type figure.
Moreover, the Europeans have been obsessed with the Roman empire. In fact there are movements constantly throughout European history to re-form that Roman empire--Charlemagne and the new Roman empire (Christmas Day 800 AD; the label "holy" was added 300+ years after Charlemagne by Frederick Barbarossa), Napoleon (depicted in many ways in French art as a Caesar), the Tsars of Russia and the Kaisers of Germany (Russian and German names for “Caesar), and finally Hitler’s The Third Reich (the Third Kingdom The collapse of the Roman empire and the removal of the Roman emperor have paved the way for a dominant political figure to emerge out of that old Roman empire.
This view goes back at least as far as Tertullian who lived in the 3rd century AD. The view that these 2 refer to the church and to the Holy Spirit goes back only to the Darbyites of the 1800's. It seems incredible to me that the church would be this wrong for 1800 years. Maybe the church was wrong all this time; I just doubt it.
Does this still seem far-fetched? From Daniel 9:24-27 where is the Antichrist supposed to come from?
According to 2 Thess. 2:7 is the Antichrist ONLY a futuristic figure? According to Paul “the mystery of lawlessness is already _____ ________________.” In other words the spirit of Antichrist has been operating throughout history.
What does Jesus call Judas Iscariot in John 17:12? __________________ (This is the same term used for the Antichrist in 2 Thess. 3). According to 1 John 2:18 was the Antichrist working during John’s day? ___________ It is hard to come away from a serious study of Revelation and not see that the Antichrist of Revelation is to some degree the Roman emperor of John’s latter days, Domitian. Then we jump forward to events past the early Christian era and see tyrants who have tried to destroy Christianity: the Islamists, Stalin, and Hitler. Throughout history the struggle between Christ and Satan has been on-going. Satan from time to time has worked mightily through a person to bring about great tribulation upon God’s people. The truth though is that one day Satan will work dramatically for one LAST time in one LAST figure whose emergence will bring about the FINAL coming of Christ.
When it is all said and done though, this applies to your and my life. We need to look at the struggles in our lives in this context. Although you and I are not really all that important to Satan, he nevertheless hates us not because of who we are but because of who dwells in us. He hates the Jesus who lives in us. If you want to see the depth of Satan's hatred for Jesus just look at Revelation chapter 12. He tries to devour Jesus at His birth; Satan attacks Christ in heaven after His resurrection and ascension into heaven. At this point Michael the archangel inflicts a severe defeat upon Satan (Col. 2:15) and casts him down from heaven to earth. Heaven cries out: "Rejoice, O Heaven, and you who dwell therein because the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down to the earth." It is as if heaven says: "About time!" God has had it with Satan and throws him down to the earth. Then heaven cries out: "Woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time" (Rev. 12:12). When Satan fails to defeat Jesus, he does the next best thing as far as he is concerned--he goes after Jesus' people.
As a result look at the struggles in your life as Satan's attempts to get at Jesus. It is true that many times I am responsible for my own problems; however, overall Satan is the main culprit for the troubles in this life.
THE RETURN OF CHRIST (2 Thess. 2:8-12)
What will Jesus do to the Antichrist upon His return (2 Thess. 2:8)?
What are some of the things the Antichrist did in order to get people to follow Him (2:9-10)?
Because people rejected the truth of God about His Son Jesus, what does God send them (2:11-12)?
God's punishment always fits the crime. When we reject the truth, God lets us believe a lie. It is incredible what people will believe. Once I was talking with a young man from Nepal who was a Hindu. When we spoke about the resurrection, he scoffed. In the next breath though he began to tell me about the monkey god he worshiped. I thought, “How appropriate! When we reject the truth, we fall prey not just to a lie but to a HUGE lie.”
What lie will God allow the people to believe? Most likely the lie that the Antichrist promotes, that Jesus is NOT the Christ and that he the Antichrist is divine (2 Thess. 2:4).