The Eschatological Epistles:
1st and 3rd Thessalonians
by Chuck Missler
Paul's two epistles to the believers in Thessalonica are
the two most important eschatological epistles in the New Testament.
("Eschatology" is the study of the last things, or end-time prophecy.)
What is astonishing is that these two epistles remind their recipients of things
which they were taught by Paul during the first few weeks he was with
. Paul taught
them all about the "End Times" during their initial indoctrination into the
faith: the Rapture, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the Second
(Since Paul's second letter to them was in response to a forgery that was
apparently in circulation, so we have indulged in a bit of whimsy by calling it
Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia Secunda. It was founded in 315 B.C.
by Cassander, son-in-law of Philip of Macedon and one of Alexander's four key
generals, who named it after his wife Thessalonike, the half-sister of Alexander
It was a strategic location: it had a natural harbor at
the head of the Thermaic Gulf, and it was situated on Via Egnatia
, the main route between Rome
and the East. Thessalonica was almost made the capital of the world; at this
time it was the second most important city in Greece. It was the most
populous town of Macedonia, and was practically the capital of Greece,
Illyricum, and Macedonia. (Perhaps 200,000 lived there in Paul's day.)
Cicero was in exile here in 58 B.C.
Antony and Octavius (the future Augustus) were here after their victory at
Philippi. In gratitude for their cooperation in the struggle against
Cassius and Brutus, Thessalonica was made a free city like Athens. No Roman
soldiers were stationed in it; government was in the hands of a people's
assembly, from whom the "Apolitarchs" (magistrates) were chosen. Kingdom
preaching would make them fearful of losing their privileges of "free"
After founding the church at Thessalonica, Paul had gone to Corinth for two
years,1 and he writes both of his Thessalonian letters
from there, perhaps within only a matter of months of visiting them.
Timothy had been left in Philippi, and joins Paul in Berea and travels with
him to Athens. Paul sent him back to Thessalonica. This first letter
of Paul's was in response to Timothy's report upon rejoining Paul in
This letter is among the earliest New Testament documents, written less than
20 years after Christ's resurrection. (Some believe the letter to the Galatians
was written before Acts 15.) Every chapter has references to the Second
The most famous declaration in this letter is on the "Rapture"
3 (so called from the Latin Vulgate, rapiemur; the
Greek is arpazw harpazo: to seize, carry off
by force; to claim for one's self eagerly; to snatch out or
Paul's second letter apparently followed his first by not many months. The
Thessalonians were really upset. It was in response to, among other
things, a letter "as if from Paul," apparently a forgery,
4 and so Paul wrote to settle their unrest, which concerned
the same issues that plague most prophecy discussions today.
Persecutions had begun. Pliny, the Elder, wrote:
It was in Thessalonica that the first Gentiles were
killed in the Roman Empire. The local Roman governor in that part of the country
said that every Christian had to bow before a statue of Augustus Caesar. He had
been deified and statues of Caesar were erected everywhere. Christians who
didn't obey the edict were persecuted.
Until then, most of the persecution of Christians had
come from the Jewish
leadership, but now Rome had gotten into the act. It was in Thessalonica that
they dreamed up the procedure of offering a cask of wine on the altar to Venus
or Caesar, and then publicly taking it out to the marketplace, sprinkling all
the vegetables, meat, and other goods, announcing that it had been dedicated to
the god. Anyone who bought or ate any of it thereby worshiped a false
god. Christians, who stopped buying in the marketplace as a witness,
immediately became marked. The first crucifixions, the first burnings, and
the first great persecutions of Christians then began.
Prompted by, among other things, the circulation of a
spurious letter, apparently an intentional forgery as if from Paul, the
Thessalonians began to fear that they were already in
the Day of Lord.
Day of the Lord 5
This is the traditional Jewish expression for the day when God would
intervene in history to destroy His enemies and establish His Kingdom.
6 In that Day, Christ will
rule with a rod of iron
over the entire earth7 and will administer absolute
justice.8 (See our recent briefing
package, Thy Kingdom Come).
So why were they upset? They apparently thought
that the Great Tribulation had begun. Why would that have upset them if
they were destined to be raptured after the tribulation? They
would be excited that their redemption was drawing near. However, they had
been taught by Paul - and he reconfirms this in his letter we know as 2nd
Thessalonians - that they were to be raptured before
the Great Tribulation. They were upset because they
thought it had now started and they either had been mistaught or they had missed
Chapter 2 is the heart of this epistle. It is one
of the most important prophetic passages in the New Testament. It deals
with an eschatological error from the belief that the Day of the Lord was
already present and many other aspects of the Great Tribulation. Paul
warns them (and us, too) against deception. Two events must occur
before . Two verbs, emphatic by position, serve to distinguish
the two events.
First: an apostasia ; falling
away; the deliberate abandonment of a formerly professed position or view; a
defection; a rejection of a former allegiance.9
The word was used to denote a political or military rebellion.
10 In the Septuagint, it is
used to describe a rebellion against God.
Second: the "Restrainer" had to be removed. A
key issue is the identity
of "the Restrainer." A careful exegesis of the Greek text makes
it clear that Paul was referring to the Holy Spirit as He indwells the believer
in this unique period we call "the Church."
(This is too complex to detail in this brief
article. It is more a matter of ecclesiology
mystical Body of Christ-than eschatology. We invite you to explore it our
expositional commentary on I & II Thessalonians, now available in MP3 CD-ROM
The Rapture is not a doctrine to argue about: it is a
doctrine to live .
Some believe He is coming after the Tribulation. Some believe that He is coming
before; some believe He is coming during. How does your interpretation
affect your life? Does it do anything for you? If your view has no
effect on your life, then you might reconsider what you really believe.
* * *
FOR A MORE IN-DEPTH STUDY
- Acts 18:11 & 18.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7; Acts 18:5.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:2.
- "Day of Christ" is incorrect: Day of the Lord is correct.
- Cf. Joel, Zechariah, Isaiah, Amos, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Malachi, Zephaniah, et
- Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27
- Isaiah 11:1-12; Zephaniah 3:14-20, et al.
- There are experts who point to grammatical and
lexigraphic justifications for regarding this term as also referring to the
, but we are not building our case on these.
- Josh 22:22. In NT: Acts 21:21; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1-9;
4:3-4; Heb 3:12.
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