Questions on the End Times after reading Letters to the Thessalonians

Readers of the blog know I have been reading through the letters to the Thessalonians. These letters are written after Paul’s brief stay in the city, having been chased out by rioters protesting the spread of the Gospel. These letters are probably best known for their references to various events that will occur in the end times.

The information provided in these letters address the specific concerns that the Thessalonians have about the end times. As we read them we have to remember that we are only seeing one half of the conversation. We don’t have a full picture of what misconceptions these new believers had. Complicating things further, Paul’s responses provide summarized pieces of information that are meant to help the Thessalonians remember the details that he had already imparted (1 Thess 5:1-2; 2 Thess 2:5-6).
In the first letter, after expressing his joy regarding the firm faith of the new, persecuted believers, Paul addresses the concern that Timothy brought to his attention. It seems that the Thessalonians are concerned about the fate of loved ones who are in Christ but have died. What will happen to them when Christ returns? Paul explains that both those who are alive and those who have died will all meet Christ at His coming and be with Him forever (1 Thess 4:13-18).

Another concern is addressed in the second letter. Here Paul informs the Thessalonians that the coming of the Lord has not come yet. It seems that misinformation was being spread that the day of the Lord was upon them (2 Thess 2:1-12). Between the two letters the challenge facing the young church seems to have shifted from worrying about dead believers who will miss a future event, to a concern that living believers had missed a recently past event.

In this post, we will make some observations and ask some questions based on what Paul writes in these letters.

Imagery from NASA

Imagery from NASA

Does Jesus gather the elect in one major event or two?

Paul describes an event in chapter 4 of the first letter, which many consider the same event described in 1 Cor 15:50-57. This event is often called the rapture. Paul describes another event in chapter 5 and chapters 1 and 2 of the second letter. This event is called the the day of the Lord, and has several events that will precede it, including the apostasy and the revelation of the Antichrist, who Christ will slay at His coming. The question is does Paul describe two separate events (a rapture and the 2nd coming) or are these all descriptions of the same event (the 2nd coming). Continue reading

Still Here… and the coming Judgment Day

More than 48 hours have passed since the beginning of “end of the world” and the rapture were supposed to happen. As we reflect on the buzz that Harold Camping created it is sad to think that he was able to deceive people into believing that the time and day of the Lord’s return and Judgment could be calculated and that the Bible is a mathematical puzzle to be solved.

Judgment Day 21 May 2011

According to Camping’s Family Radio site:

What if May 21 ends and nothing occurs?

The Biblical evidence is too overwhelming and specific to be wrong. Christ’s people can look with great confidence to this date because God promises His “beloved” He will not come upon them as a thief in the night.

God in His mercy has revealed the vital information needed to know the day. Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 will occur because the bible declares it. Anyone whom God has not saved will arrive at that day with no hope for salvation. God warns simply the “door will be shut.”.

So much for overwhelming evidence and specificity. Unfortunately we will face this scenario again as October 21, 2011 (yes, Camping already set a new date) and December 21, 2012 draw closer. Because of this, I thought we should all be reminded of the words of Jesus who said:

But concerning that day and hour  no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matt 24:26 ESV)

Unless Camping received a direct revelation from God – a claim he has not made – then we should not expect him (or anyone else) to know the day or hour that Judgment day will occur.

The apostle Paul wrote: “we do not want you to be uninformed … concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 4:13; 5:1-2). In these chapters Paul describes the need to be alert (informed and watchful) regarding the end times.

The day of the Lord is described as a time of judgment on sinners. It was used to describe the Lord’s disciplining Israel and the various nations that came against Israel for their pride and rebellion against God. It also is used to describe the day when Jesus returns as Judge and King.

14 The great day of the LORD is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the LORD;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the LORD.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

– Zephaniah 1:14-18 (ESV)

It is true that Paul tells us that if we are born again and alert that the day will not “surprise you like a thief” (1 Thess 5:4). But the reason it will not surprise those who have placed their trust in Christ is not because they have calculated the day or hour. It is because they have “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation … [which comes] through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us” (1 Thess 5:8-9 cf. 1 Thess 4:14) . All who are in Christ are ready for that day and should be living in hopeful expectation (Heb 9:28) and upright lives (1John 3:1-3).

It will also not surprise believers because Paul tells us that the day will not come unless certain signs have first appeared (2 Thess 2):

  • the rebellion/apostasy (2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 4:1)
  • the revealing of the Antichrist through the abomination of desolation (2 Thess 2:3-4; Matt 24:15; Dan9:27)
  • the revealing of the Antichrist through false signs and wonders (2 Thess 2:9-10; Rev 13:11-14)
  • the restraining of the restrainer (2 Thess 2:6-7)

To which Joel (and Luke) add (Joel 2:10-11; Acts 2:20) amazing cosmic disturbances:

  • Sun and Moon go dark, the stars dim, and the sky splits apart (Isaiah 13:9-11;  Matt 24:29-31; Rev 6:12-14).

Judgment Day is coming, but we will not be able to pinpoint when. Each person must be ready by obeying the gospel of Jesus (2 Thess 1:8) and knowing what signs will precede it based on what the Bible teaches.

Here is an interesting perspective on what Harold Camping got right which provides some good application for all of us…

So when it comes to telling his story and getting that story heard, fringe radio preacher Harold Camping and his small band of followers have embarrassed the largest denominations, churches, and Christian ministries in America.

This morning, his story was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times – and most likely every other major paper in America. His story leads CNN and other news networks today. His story is being talked about on Twitter hashtags, blogs, social media sites, and on the street.

Why? Because Harold Camping and his followers really believe their message. When that happens, you’re not afraid to spend money, creativity, passion, and energy to make sure your story impacts people’s lives.

It’s just a shame that it’s the wrong message.