Every year the state of this world seems to decline. Many wonder how much longer it can be sustained. Will nations continue in their present state or will there be a transition into another world-wide kingdom? Bible prophecy predicts the future of the nations of our world.
After Paul and Silas had been beaten, placed in prison, and finally delivered by the Lord in the city of Philippi, they went to Thessalonica, a significant city where a large church had been raised up. Recorded in the Bible are two letters that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
We are told in Acts 17:1–4 that, “When they (Paul and Silas) had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went into them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.”
Many of the people there had formerly been Greeks, idol worshippers, and philosophers, but had become Christians. The evidence that primarily induced these Jews and Greeks to see the light of truth was when Paul showed them from Old Testament prophecies what was predicted in regard to the Messiah. He was to come as a poor man. He would be despised and rejected by the Jews and finally killed. (See Isaiah 53; Psalm 22.) Every prediction about the Messiah was fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He was crucified to pay the price of the sins of the world. He was resurrected on the third day. He ascended to heaven and He is coming back to this world someday to establish a universal kingdom.
The evidence proved there was only One whom that could be. Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled every prophecy of the Messiah. He was born at the right place, Bethlehem, according to Micah 5:2. He came at exactly the right time, predicted in Daniel 9. He came in His ministry to the right region. Isaiah predicted that He would go to Galilee, and He died in the way predicted in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. He was resurrected, and He led captivity captive (Psalm 68:18). When Paul preached all of these things, many people became Christians and were convinced not only of fulfilled prophecy, but believed what was predicted for the future.
The apostles taught that in the future, Christ would come again the second time and establish a universal kingdom. The early Christian church believed that. However, in the city of Thessalonica, just as in other cities, there were Jews who didn’t believe what Paul preached, and they raised an insurrection in the city and caused Paul to be taken out of town.
It says in Acts 17 that they made an assault on Jason’s house, and they took security from Jason (verses 5, last part, 9). In the meantime, Paul had escaped, and they went to another town by the name of Berea. The apostle says concerning the Bereans in verse 11, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” They were commended for not just taking man’s word but searched the Scriptures to see if Paul’s words were truth.
Paul used the same teaching technique as Jesus. Speaking to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus Jesus said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25–27). His life, His death, and His resurrection all fulfilled Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. Verse 44 says, “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ ”
In the first chapters of the book of Acts, you will find that the apostle Peter followed the same technique, showing from the Old Testament that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Paul showed the people that it was impossible for them to explain the Passover without Christ as revealed in the Old Testament, and how the brazen serpent that was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness was a symbol of Jesus Christ lifted up upon the cross. He taught them that all of the Jewish religious services and ceremonies would be valueless if they should reject the Saviour, whom the ceremonies represented. Paul taught that Jesus Christ was the key that unlocked the meaning of the Old Testament and gave access to its rich treasures.
Paul showed the people in Thessalonica that the expectation of the Jews in regard to the Messiah coming as a ruler was not according to prophecy. The Old Testament predicted that He would come as a humble person, He would be poor, He would be rejected, He would be despised and killed. Then he showed them that at some time in the future, Jesus would return to this world a second time in power, and great glory, and that He would establish His kingdom upon the earth and would subdue all authority and all the rulership of the nations.
The Second Coming of Christ was very prominent in all the apostles’ teaching. They had received this information, not only from the Lord Himself in person (see Matthew 24; Luke 17), they also received it from the angels who were present when the Lord ascended to heaven. In Acts 1:9–11, it says, “Now when He [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’ ”
One of the foundational doctrines of the apostolic Christian church was that someday Jesus would return to this world in the clouds of heaven, just as He went. In fact, it is stated that not only will He return, but He will return in the glory of the Father, and the glory of His angels with Him. It will be an event that will be witnessed by the entire world.
Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.” They will mourn because they are not prepared to meet their Maker. They are scared. This is one of the most detailed accounts anywhere in the Bible of exactly what will happen when Jesus returns to this world.
Paul said, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we (the believers) who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).
When a Christian dies, it is different from those who have no hope of eternal life. For the Christian there is hope, for death is a temporary sleep. When Jesus returns, those who believe on Him will be raised again to life and be given eternal life. However, Paul, in the same letter says what is going to happen to those who are not ready for the Lord to come. He says, “Concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–3).
However, the Thessalonians expected Jesus’ return in their lifetime; so a second letter was written in which Paul tried to make very clear their misunderstanding so that they would not be confused in their faith. Disappointment often results in unbelief. It is very important that our faith be based only on what the word of God says, and not on what we think or hope will happen.
“It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble (persecute) you and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10).
These things that the apostle Paul taught made a deep impression on the minds of the people, but, there were still some who got confused, expecting to happen during their lifetime what Paul had predicted. Their confusion made it necessary for him to explain some things more clearly, which is a very great help to us, so that we understand exactly what he was trying to teach them. Paul went on to point out that he didn’t teach them that the Day of the Lord was going to happen in their lifetime, as they thought.
Some people today are confused, thinking that the apostle thought that the second coming of Christ would occur in the first century A.D. The apostles did not believe that. Peter did not believe it and Paul did not believe it. Peter predicts what would happen after his death, and Paul makes it very clear that they were not to expect the Day of the Lord to occur in their day.
Notice what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away (that is, the apostasy) comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (that is, the antichrist). Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”
Paul reminds them that when he was with them he told them that the Day of the Lord would not come unless there had first, in the Christian church, come a tremendous apostasy, a falling away, from the truth.
Notice what Paul told the Ephesians: “Therefore take heed to yourselves (the elders of the church at Ephesus) and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure (after Paul’s death) savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
“Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28–30).
Notice that Paul here is talking to the clergy, the elders of the church, and he says that from among the clergy or leaders of the Christian church, there would rise up men who would speak perverse things, and draw the disciples after themselves.
He then admonishes them, “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (verse 31). This is prominent in the writings of Paul, and not only Paul but both the apostles John and Peter predicted the very same thing (1 John 2; 2 Peter 2). They predicted that a great apostasy would develop in the Christian church after the time of the apostles.
Paul, writing about it to the Thessalonians said, “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 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. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:5–10).
Do you love the truth, friend? Do you want to know the truth of God and follow it and obey it? If you love the truth, you will find it for God will reveal it to you and you will be saved. But what will happen if you don’t love the truth? Paul says, “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (verse 11). The lie, of course, is the idea that you can be saved while you are living a lawless life. The mystery of lawlessness is the idea that you can be lawless, a breaker of God’s law, and still receive eternal life. The Bible says, “… that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (verse 12).
But why is it that people do not believe the truth? Jesus told the Jews it was because they “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). How is it with you? Do you love truth and do you want to follow the truth of the Bible or are you living a life of pleasure in unrighteousness?
All who have pleasure in unrighteousness will be deceived. “All unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17). “Sin is breaking God’s law” (1 John 3:4, literal translation.) Since all unrighteousness is sin, and sin is breaking God’s law, what does it mean to have pleasure in unrighteousness? It means to have pleasure in sin. This prophecy in the Bible predicts that those who have pleasure in sin will be deceived, because they did not love the truth and will not be ready for the coming of the Lord.
O friend, which way will it be for you? Will you be one of those who loves the truth, and obeys it or will you be one of those who has pleasure in unrighteousness and is deceived? The choice is yours.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.