Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shook Up About Missing the Boat?

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Thess. 2:1-2 NASB

So it would appear that last weeks blog attracted just a little more attention than others, which leads me to believe it's obviously a subject of interest to most of us who are anxiously watching for the day. With that in mind I thought I would share my thoughts on another portion of scripture that, though well known, is sometimes misunderstood if not examined closely in relation to the context in which it was written. I'm talking here about the second letter written by Paul to the church at Thessalonica.

To do this, I'm going to use a tool I came up with that I use when I study the scriptures. I call it the rule of three w's. What, why, and whow. ( Yes, I know, whow is misspelled but it's easier to remember the rule of three w's than two w's and an h! Remember I teach high school students; it works, trust me. )

So what is the problem in the church at Thessalonica? Paul tells us immediately in verse 1 that the subject of the letter is about the rapture ( parousia ) of the Church when Jesus comes to take us home to be with Him. Then, according to verse 2, Paul says they were "shaken" and "disturbed". This is one of those times where I think it's really important to look closely at the meaning of the words Paul uses. Shaken is saleuō in the Greek and means "agitate" or become "insecure" in mind. Disturbed is throeō in the Greek and means "clamor" or "tumult". So the picture Paul gives us is that the believers in the church are in an uproar, really agitated because they have become insecure in something they believed, but now have doubts about, and obviously it has to do with the rapture. Paul then identifies the reason at the end of verse 2 when he refers to someone claiming by "spirit, message, or letter" that the day of the Lord had already come.

This brings us to the why question. Why were they so shook up? This is the part I think gets missed most often when studying this passage of scripture. They were shook up because they had been told by someone that the tribulation had already begun, and they had missed the boat! They were still on earth! This passage is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. You see, if Paul hadn't taught the pre-tribulation rapture, these folks wouldn't be all shook up now would they? They were in an uproar because they were under the impression Paul had taught them wrong, or they had done something wrong to get left behind. You see, at the time of this letter, the Church was undergoing persecution from Rome and it was easy for people to believe that the bad things they saw happening all around them fit the picture of events that take place during the Tribulation. Unfortunately, all it took to shake them up was someone to suggest that their belief in the pre-tribulation rapture was wrong. So it's up to Paul to set them straight again.

Whow does Paul go about doing this? Simple really. He just reviews the main points he taught about Jesus' return when he started the church, and then later in his first letter. What Paul chooses to "re-teach" is this. One, he differentiates between "the mystery of lawlessness" and "the man of lawlessness". The mystery of lawlessness is the evil in this world produced by Satan and his angels. The man of lawlessness is the coming world leader, or anti-christ, who will be revealed at the beginning of the tribulation. Paul makes the point that although evil forces were at work already, they are being held in check by "he who now restrains".

And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains {will do so} until he is taken out of the way. 2 Thess. 2:6,7 NASB

We know that Paul is referring to the work of the Holy Spirit, alive in the hearts of believers today, and I like how Paul gently reminds these believers that they too "know" what is restraining. Paul goes on to say that even though the works of evil were occurring, the man of lawlessness had yet to appear, and could not appear until the Church had been "taken out of the way".

How often do we too need to be "reminded" of what we have already been taught, yet somehow begin to forget or doubt? I know I'm guilty of that, so I sure can't get down on these poor folks. I'm sure there are plenty of believers today who may be in the same position those in the church at Thessalonica. We see all the terrible things going on in the world around us, events we know are the signs Jesus said would occur at the end of the age, and I'm sure there are those saying we have already entered the tribulation period. But you know something, we can't have entered the tribulation because as Paul so simply said, the church is still here!

Evil is present, but so are we; the Church, the body of Christ. There is no doubt in my mind that we are as close to leaving this world as we can possibly be. If you find yourself in the same position as those believers back then, the best advice I can give you today is the same advice Paul gave the church in Thessalonica:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word {of mouth} or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. 2 Thess. 2:15-17 NASB

Keep watching. Today may be the day.