Just a reminder – that Paul’s epistles are arranged in the Bible according to length rather than in chronological order. Paul’s first and second letters to the Thessalonian believers were written around AD 50-52 from Corinth during Paul’s second missionary journey. He and his companion missionaries had recently been driven out of Thessalonica, in what is known today as northeastern Greece, by an angry mob of Jews (See Acts 17:1-15). After they were driven out, they journeyed to Berea, then to Athens and from there to Corinth – where they met Silas and Timothy. Timothy was then sent back to Thessalonica to check on the church. After a time, Timothy returned to Corinth and reported conditions among the Thessalonian believers to Paul. Paul then wrote First and Second Thessalonians to them. These were the first letters written by Paul which are included in our New Testament. And most scholars say they preceded the writing of the gospels.
Paul begins this letter by introducing the names of two men who labored with him as missionaries – Silvanus (also known as Silas) and Timotheus (or Timothy) – “unto the church of the Thessalonians.” As I have pointed out in previous lessons – there were many references for the primitive church. There was not one true name the church was called. In fact, the Greek word for church is “ekklesia” meaning “assembly.” These people were part of the church – or ekklesia – or assembly in Thessalonica that belonged to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul discusses the missionary work he and his companions have done and some of the persecutions they endured in the process. Paul complements the believers in Thessalonica as he speaks of their faith and charity. He will warn them against getting caught up in sins accepted by the culture in which they lived.
Let’s pick up where Chapter 4 ends. Verses 13-18 “ But I would not have you to be ignorant (uninformed), brethren, concerning them which are asleep (those who have died), that ye sorrow not (don’t mourn for them), even as others which have no hope (like others do who do not believe as we do). For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus (those who died who were faithful to Jesus) will God bring (to heaven) with him (Christ). For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (have any advantage over) them which are asleep (have died already). For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven (at the Second Coming) with a shout, with the voice of the archangel (possibly Michael the archangel), and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ (the righteous dead) shall rise (be resurrected) first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (some people call this the rapture) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” The primary purpose of this passage is to provide encouragement to those Christians whose loved ones had died before the Lord was to return. They seemed to fear that their dead brothers and sisters were going to miss out on everything the church was expecting to receive when Jesus returned. Paul was reassuring those Thessalonian believers that not only would some of THEM still be living when Jesus returned – but that the dead in Christ would rise first – and those saints who are living will be “changed,” all “in the twinkling of an eye.” (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Paul made these promises nearly 2,000 years ago. They were promises to the Thessalonians – not to us, today! All the New Testament scriptures point to the Second Coming of the Lord in AD 70. Peter, James, John, and Paul proclaimed the same messages that Jesus preached. The harmony of the Bible is beautiful! You can compare what Jesus taught in Matthew 24 with what Paul taught here in 1 Thessalonians 4. The subject is the same – His coming! The timing is the same – in the first century AD. Both describe the Lord as coming from the heavens. Both refer to clouds. Both have the trumpet of God sounding. Both have the involvement of the angels of God. Both have the dead being raised. Both have their prophecies occurring in the lifetime of the people to whom they were speaking. Both have the saints being gathered together. This is amazing! How can today’s church continue to proclaim the message that Christ’s coming is in the future – 2,000 or 3,000 years later? When ALL of Scripture points to the age in which those New Testament peoples lived. If these prophecies weren’t to be fulfilled for thousands of years later – then Jesus and the apostles were either greatly mistaken – or they were liars.
Paul continues in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord (a day of wrath) so cometh as a thief in the night (unexpectedly and without warning). For when they (the wicked) shall say, Peace and safety (when they claim that there is peace and security in wickedness); then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail (like labor pains) upon a woman with child (she doesn’t know the hour or minute of the child’s arrival, but does know the approximate date); and they shall not escape (the destruction at the Second Coming). But ye, brethren (believers), are not in darkness (spiritual darkness), that that day (the Second Coming) should overtake you as a thief.” That “day” of Jesus’ coming was not going to catch the saints at Thessalonica by surprise – because His coming was going to occur in their lifetime. And they needed to watch “the times” and not allow the Advent to slip up on them “as a thief.” Why would the early Christians need to know the signs of the Lord’s coming if it was going to be thousands of years before He came? They would not need to know and, it would make no sense for Paul to be concerned about it. But the truth is – Jesus was coming in THEIR day.
We close 1 Thessalonians with great advice in 5:21 “Prove (test) all things; hold fast that which is good.” Examine the preached word carefully. Discern what is good and true. What is unbiblical should be dismissed.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians was written a few months after the first epistle. While the purpose of Paul’s first letter was to comfort the Thessalonians with the assurance of Christ’s second coming – the purpose of this second letter was to correct false teaching about the Second Coming. We begin in Chapter 2:1-4 “Now we beseech (urge) you, brethren, by (concerning) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him (believers meeting together with the Lord Jesus). That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word (no matter what anyone says), nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is AT HAND (the Second Coming is about to take place). Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day (the Second Coming) shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin (not Satan or the anti-Christ) be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth (everything from God) and exalteth himself (lifts himself up in pride) above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God (trying to take over God’s position), shewing himself (trying to make people believe) that he is God.”
All of that, which I just read had to take place BEFORE the Second Coming which was going to happen in THEIR day in AD 70. But Mormonism teaches that Paul is talking about a “Great Apostasy” that would take place before the Second Coming – thus, requiring the need for a restored church – namely the LDS church. However, this passage we just read in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 does not tell them, then – or us, now – that there would be a total apostasy of the entire church. Mormons are reading something into the text that is not there. By allowing the text to speak for itself, a person would never come to the conclusion – that it is referring to a complete apostasy of the entire church. In this text the “apostasia” is an eschatological event linked with the man of lawlessness, immediately preceding the Day of the Lord. There is no suggestion that a restoration movement in history is to take place after the apostasy and prior to the Day of the Lord. I agree with many biblical scholars who say that this apostasy or a turning away from the truth by some was soon to happen and “that man of sin” – “the son of perdition” – was probably the Roman Emperor – Nero.
It was the Roman army under the command of the future Emperor – Titus who entered Jerusalem and killed approximately 1.1 million Jews. The goal wasn’t to destroy the temple – but to transform it into a temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor. However, a fire spread quickly and was soon out of control. The temple was then completely destroyed along with all the genealogies of the Jews. Nowhere in the Bible can we find a prophecy that the temple will be rebuilt after its AD 70 demise. Remember that Jesus prophesied all this would happen, Matthew 24:11 “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” This was His prophesy of a “falling away.” Then in the verse after this prophesy, Jesus predicts His coming, Matthew 24:30 “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This is exactly what Paul said. A falling away would come first, preceding the Lord’s return. Now if you think Jesus was talking about this all happening, as most Christians and Mormons believe – in the Twenty first century – then read Matthew 24:34 “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Did a lot of believers give up their faith in Christ and leave the Church prior to the events of AD 70? Every Bible student knows the answer is “yes.” The persecution of the believers by the Jews was terrible. And in the mid-60’s AD Nero and the Romans joined with the Jews in persecuting the Christians, and things became much worse. Under such pressure, many Jewish converts to Christianity renounced their faith and went back to Judaism. As we will read in our next lesson – Paul warned Timothy about this problem in 1 Timothy 4:1 “Now the spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith.” And John documents “the falling away” in his day, 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
As we have learned, Jesus is not coming in our day. Absolutely no Scriptures in the Bible support such a teaching. Not any! On the other hand, everything we have found declares that He has already come!
And this concludes our study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Don’t forget, we are on YouTube, iTunes podcast, Spotify podcast, and check out our website at Talking to Mormons.com.
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Until next time, God Bless!