The historical record of how the Lord used the apostle Paul to start the church at Thessalonica during his second missionary journey is found in Acts 17. From the very beginning this church faced affliction. The unbelieving Jews instigated an uproar in the city that caused the brethren to send Paul away by night. He was very concerned for this young church and so sent Timothy to further establish them and to comfort them in their affliction. Timothy met back up with Paul in Corinth and gave him a good report on the church. Paul sent the first letter in about 52 or 53 AD from Corinth (Acts 18) and the second letter was evidently sent not too long after the first. The Thessalonian letters may have been Paul’s earliest inspired writings but they are placed last in order of the church epistles because of their content. The emphasis is on the coming of the Lord which will conclude this present age and is the consummation of our hope. We have already considered how the church epistles are arranged in order best suited for our edification.
In the first letter Paul writes to express his thankfulness for the church, review his ministry among them, comfort them in their affliction, exhort them to continual growth in their Christian walk, and further instruct them concerning the coming of the Lord. The 5 chapters may be simply divided into two main sections:
I. Personal (1-3)
II. Practical (4-5)
The emphasis in the first letter is on the secret rapture of the Body of Christ up to heaven which was a mystery revealed to Paul. The Body of Christ is the great mystery that Christ revealed through Paul (Eph. 3:1-13) and our rapture to heaven is one of the accompanying mysteries of this age (1 Cor. 4:1). It is Paul alone that shows us this mystery (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:15). Reading our rapture into prophetic passages outside of Paul’s epistles will lead to false doctrine and rob us of our blessed hope. What we believe about the blessed hope is very important! The apostle Paul has much to say about our hope (Eph. 1:18; 4:4).
In the second letter Paul writes to correct the false teaching that the Body of Christ will go through the day of the Lord. He also corrects the disorderly conduct which was the result of believing that false doctrine (1 Cor. 15:33). Some had quit working because they thought the world was about to end. We may outline the letter based on the chapter divisions:
I. Encouragement (1)
II. Correction (2)
III. Exhortation (3)
The day of the Lord is when the Lord will pour out His wrath on the world (Isa. 2:1-12, 17-21; 13:6-13). It is the second coming of Christ in particular, but it includes what leads up to it (tribulation period) and what follows it (kingdom age). The false teachers troubled the church at Thessalonica by telling them that their affliction was proof that the day of the Lord was at hand (which would mean that they were in the tribulation period). They even presented them with a counterfeit letter from Paul that supported their teaching (2:1-2; 3:17).
Paul very plainly states that the Body of Christ is not appointed to wrath but salvation from it (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). The whole seven year tribulation period will come as a result of God’s wrath (not just the last part as some teachers claim). The whole seven year tribulation period is the subject of prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27). Therefore, we know that the Body of Christ will be taken off the earth BEFORE that period ever begins because we have nothing to do with either the wrath of God or the prophetic program of Israel! Many Christians are troubled today because they are being taught that we will not be raptured before the tribulation period. Christians must deal with tribulation in this present evil world (1 Thess. 3:3-4) but we are not going through the prophesied tribulation period which is called the “time of JACOB’S trouble” (Jer. 30:7).
The church at Thessalonica was being troubled from without (facing fierce persecution) and within (false teachers among them). In chapter one Paul encouraged them by thanking God for their patience and faith in the midst of the tribulations they were enduring and by explaining that God will recompense tribulation to their enemies in the coming day of the Lord. In chapter 2 he clears up their confusion that was caused by the false teaching that the second coming of Christ was at hand. The church at Thessalonica lost their blessed hope (compare 1 Thess. 1:3 with 2 Thess. 1:3) because they listened to teachers who were saying things that did not line up with Paul’s teaching (2 Tim. 2:7). False doctrine troubles the hearts and minds of God’s people but sound doctrine produces a sound mind (2 Thess. 2:16-17; 2 Tim. 1:7).
Chapter 2 provides a basic overview of the correct order of events in the tribulation period:
Beginning = A falling away first (v.3) – Israel makes a covenant with the Antichrist
Middle = The man of sin is revealed (vs.3-8a)
End = The coming of the Lord to destroy him (v.8)
It is crucial to understand that the “day of Christ” (2 Thess. 2:2) is not referring to our rapture but to the day of the Lord. Those who teach that we are going through the tribulation claim that in this passage Paul is teaching the rapture will not occur until after the man of sin is revealed (v.3). If the “day of Christ” referred to here is our blessed hope, why would the Thessalonians be shaken in mind and troubled for believing it was at hand? Paul uses phrases like “day of Christ” and “day of the Lord Jesus” in reference to the rapture and judgment seat of Christ. However, here he is clearly referring to the day of the Lord which comes AFTER this age because that is what he is talking about in the context. Christ is the Lord and so the "day of Christ" can certainly be referring to the "day of the Lord." Context determines how it is being used. I don't believe the text should be changed to say the "day of the Lord" because the KJB is perfect. That the "day of Christ" and the "day of the Lord" can be used interchangeably is a good proof for the deity of Christ.
Even though we are not the subject of prophecy we need to learn the whole Bible (Rom. 16:25-26). We learn by comparison and contrast. Understanding the tribulation period makes me thankful that I will be delivered from it! The root reason for all the confusion that abounds today about the tribulation period and the second coming is a failure to rightly divide mystery truth from prophetic truth. We are living in parenthetical mystery age that interrupted the prophetic program concerning Israel and the kingdom. Therefore prophecy concerning Israel is NOT being fulfilled today and will not be until after this age closes with the rapture. Most teachers do not recognize Paul’s authority as the spokesman for this age and so they mix the word of truth instead of rightly dividing it. Paul deals with prophecy in 2 Thess. 2 but his point is not that we should be looking for these things but rather that we should NOT. We are to be looking for the blessed hope of being gathered together to meet Christ in the air, not for signs and the antichrist (1 Thess. 1:10; Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13)!