Retribution And Relief

Hal Lindsey tries to assure us that God won't let His Church go through the Tribulation because during that time God will be pouring "an avalanche of judgement upon the Christ-rejecting world and Satan himself" (21).

Although Lindsey's "avalanche of judgement" describes God's wrath perfectly, the Tribulation is not the time when that wrath is unleashed. "Tribulation" means "persecution," and it is the time of the lawless one's persecution against the Church. It is persecution as the early Church knew it, when Christians were beheaded, thrown to the lions, and covered in oil to be used as torches in the gardens of Roman officials.

The force behind the Great Persecution of the Church will be Satan working through the son of perdition. His purpose will be to deceive the world, for he'll know that his time is very short. By persecuting the saints and putting some to death, he'll attempt to stop the preaching of the gospel so that the world will accept his own gospel, which proclaims the man of lawlessness as God. But in reality, he will be furthering the completion of God's plan. The Tribulation will be the last chance for men to accept the gospel before the end. By the time God's wrath is poured out, the world's inhabitants will have made their choice openly for all to see: the man of sin or Christ. Then Christ will come, bringing with Him both salvation for the believer and wrath for the unbeliever. God in His greatness deals with both groups in one visible coming of Christ after the Tribulation. This is the clear message of 2 Thesslonians 1.

Paul wrote his second letter to the Church at Thessalonica to refute a false teaching that had arisen. Because the Thessalonians were undergoing persecution, they thought that the Day of the Lord had come. As persecution is one of the signs preceding the Day of the Lord, they were convinced that Christ was about to return and gather the Church to Himself. What Paul said in response to this is crucial. He stated that the Day of the Lord could not have arrived because that Day brought not persecution, but rest from persecution. Note that Paul wrote of this situation in the context of both believers and unbelievers (persecutors) being present when the Day of the Lord arrives. Persecution will occur in the "times and seasons" under the reign of the man of sin, previous to the Day of the Lord. He wanted to assure the believers that the "Day of the Lord" won't be a bad time for God's people, but a day of rejoicing. But they were missing some important facts. In chapter 2, verses 1-3, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are being deceived, for that Day will not come until the reign of the lawless one comes first.

STUDY VERSE: 2:1:4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:

Persecutions: "to put to flight" (22).

Tribulations: "to suffer afflicton, to be troubled, has reference to sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons, . . .when used of the present experience of believers, [it refers] almost invariably to that which comes upon them from without" (23).

These are the persecutions and tribulations which the Thessalonians had interpreted as the beginning of the Day of the Lord. Therefore, they were looking for the arrival of Christ. Some had even quit working, as is shown in the letter. But even in the midst of these trials, the believers persevered in their faith.

STUDY VERSE: 2:1:5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:

By this upbuilding statement, Paul means that:

1. The Thessalonians' steadfastness and faith while under strong persecution were the evidence of Christ's life in them.

2. Because of this evidence, God counted them worthy of His future kingdom, and guaranteed that He would one day take vengeance on their persecutors.

As we look at the next three verses (6-8), notice how Paul speaks to the Thessalonians as though they, members of the Church, would be present on earth in the posttribulational period. Obviously, Paul himself didn't know that many centuries were to pass before the end came, but he had been told to prepare the Church, and he obeyed. The Holy Spirit continues to use Paul's letters, as well as the rest of Scripture, to prepare succeeding generations for the time of the end.

STUDY VERSE: 2:1:6: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

Since there are men who afflict those who have the life of God's Son in them, it is only fair in God's eyes that He afflict the persecutors - but in His own time. This is the first of two things God will do at some time in the future. The other half of Paul's sentence, beginning with the conjunction "and," adds a second thing God will do at the same time.

STUDY VERSE: 2:1:7: And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

The second thing is that He will give relief to the end-time saints from their persecutors. This is an automatic result of the first action by God (verse 6), the afflicting of the persecutors, the "and" showing this to be one event. (Verses 6 and 7 apply mainly to the Church on earth at the time of Christ's return. Saints who die before His return have already received their relief.) According to the pretribulation theory, the Church would be raptured, and therefore relieved of its afflictions, seven years before Christ returns. But this can't be. Scripture clearly says the afflicting of the afflictors and the relief given to the saints is one event which happens at one time - but when? This single event with two results occurs "when Jesus is revealed (apokalypsis) from heaven." Of the word "when," Gundry says it

"denotes time within which or the point of time when something occurs. "When" provides a proper translation. . . . (24). The resultant difficulty for pretribulationism is that Paul places the release of Christians from persecution at the posttribulational return of Christ to judge unbelievers, whereas according to pretribulationism this release will occur seven years earlier" (25).

Pretribulationism uses verses 6-10 to depict the revelation of Christ in judgement on the world after the Tribulation, in pretribulationism's "second" second coming. In their view, Jesus' first, "secret" coming has already removed the Church. But when taken in context, verses 6-10 show saints on the earth at the time of this occurrence. Remember that Paul was speaking to the Thessalonians as though they would be present when Christ is revealed to the world. He knew that the Church would still be on earth after the Tribulation when Jesus deals with those who have rejected Him and His gospel (verse 8) and also persecute the Church at the time of that coming. Concerning these verses, Gundry says,

"This description fits only the posttribulational return of Christ in judgement. We might be tempted to stretch the meaning of the term 'revelation' by inclusion of the tribulational period and a prior rapture (26). But the context will not allow such a broadening of the term...Paul unmistakably defines his meaning with a detailed description of the posttribulational advent and nothing else. Grammatically, that description is construed with 'the revelation'" (27).

STUDY VERSE: 2:1:88: In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Notice these persecutors reject the gospel, which means gospel-preaching saints must be present for them to hear it and reject it just prior to Christ's fiery, and therefore, visible return. The retribution is God's end-time wrath inflicted on the unbeliever at the end of the age becausae they rejected teh gosple they heard. This vengeance is the same destruction visited on an unsuspecting world that is described in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, when the unbeliever is caught by surprise by the arrival of the Day of the Lord.

STUDY VERSES: 2:1:9: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10: When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

Again, as in verses 6-8, these verses show two things occuring at the coming of Christ. The unbelievers will witness the saints being changed (Mt. 24:29-30) at His coming, but they themselves will experience eternal destruction, being forever put away from the glory of God's power to change them. They will never be like Him. The persecutors will experience this destruction "WHEN Jesus comes to be glorified in His saints on that day." This is very crucial to the truth of Christ's return. In one single, visible, fiery return, He deals with the two groups of people. He gives the saints rest by the rapture AND He deals with the persecutors WHEN He returns in fire TO GLORIFY THE SAINTS.

These verses correspond to the raising and changing of the saints in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and the sudden destruction that comes on unbelievers in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, "that day" being the Day of the Lord.

STUDY VERSE: 2:1:11: Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:

Only God can make us worthy of His call "to His kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2:12; 5:24). But how does He do this? 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5 tells us that it is by testing of faith under persecution and affliction. These things form Christ in us, and it is His life in us which justifies God's counting us worthy of His call.