Did Jesus already come?
That’s what the Christians in Thessalonica were concerned about. Someone was spreading the rumor that Jesus had already gathered the church, and they were living in the Great Tribulation.
These young believers in the first century were suffering for the gospel’s sake, so it was easy for them to think the Great Tribulation had begun. But Paul wrote them this letter to comfort them that “our gathering together to Him” (2:1) is yet future.
Certain signs will happen first, he said. First, the apostasy and the “man of sin” will take the scene. When the real Tribulation happens, the church will be gone. Nothing of it will be left but an empty shell of an organization that has a form of godliness but denies the power of it. In Luke 18:8, the Lord Himself asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” The way the question is phrased assumes a “no.” He will not find faith on the earth when He comes again. We’re not there yet, Paul assures the Thessalonians.
This young church had started so well. They were a model of generosity and love. But this seed of false teaching had taken root in their congregation, and their fervor was beginning to cool. So Paul stoked it back up again by encouraging them in their faith, love, and patience, just as he had in his first letter.
Along with love and faith, Paul encourages them to develop patience, literally to “stand under.” This discipline enables us to look into the future with hope. The church will not go through the Great Tribulation, but we will go through little tribulations.
These Thessalonian Christians stood for the Lord in a real way in the Roman world of that day. They were enduring a great deal of trouble, persecutions, and afflictions, yet their faith and patience was growing.
“You’re suffering now,” Paul says. “But when Jesus comes again, He’ll set it all straight. His coming is the relief and joy we’re waiting for.” On that day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in a flame of fire, He will deal out full and complete vengeance to those who choose not to respond to Him. Not only will they pay the penalty for their own sin, they’ll be banished from the Lord’s presence. But the Lord will be glorified in those who have turned to Him in faith. This day will be a marvelous one for believers and terrifying for those who refused to trust Him for salvation.
Scripture says very little about hell, but there’s enough said to warn us. It’s so awful the Holy Spirit draws a veil over it. Christ Himself said more about hell than did anyone else. It’s not any less real because so little is said or because people ridicule it today. Hell is an awful reality.
The judgment of the lost is coming. If you want to stay in that group, you will be judged. Somebody needs to tell you the facts. The lost are those who do not know God and who refuse to believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These people will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, but those who are saved will bring glory to the Lord as they have trusted in Him.
Confident of this, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he prays for them all the time. He asks God to strengthen them to live lives worthy of this calling. He also prays that the projects they are doing for the Lord will flourish as they commit them to Him for His good purposes. And of course, he reminds them that as God’s children, our lives are covered over by God’s grace.