Paul's concern for the church

Paul’s concern for the church

The epistle is also filled with the message of Lord’s coming (1:7,10; 2:1,8) for the following purposes:

1. The message brings comfort to the church of Thessalonica as they are suffering hard times

Paul in his thankful prayer for the church mentions the sufferings of the church: “your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure”; “ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer. (1:4-5)

Paul comforts them with these messages: “to you who are troubled rest with us (同得平安), when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” (1:7) ; “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(1:10).

Paul speaks firmly that at the Lord’s coming, we shall gather unto Him: by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him” (2:1). Jesus said to his disciples on the mount of Olives before his death, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.” (Mark 13:26-27)

Paul comforts the church with his personal prayer: “we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2:13-14) He added, “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.” (2:16-17)

2. Clarifying the message about the Lord’s coming

Paul gives us an extra signal regarding the Lord’s coming, which is the appearance of “that man of sin” or “the son of perdition” that precedes the Lord’s coming. The reason why he mentioned this extra message is due to the wrong interpretation that the day of the Lord’s coming was approaching soon. “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us (有冒我名的書信), as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means.” (2:1-3a) This wrong interpretation might have caused some believers not to work but hang around and wait for the Lord’s coming, as Paul later complained: “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly (不按規矩而行), working not at all, but are busybodies (反倒專管閒事).” (3:11)

Paul further clarifies, “for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first (「必有離道反教的事」)(NRSV, 'unless the rebellion comes first'), and that man of sin (那大罪人) be revealed, the son of perdition (沉淪之子); who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2:3b-4) Jesus spoke of Daniel’s prophesy regarding this man of sin sitting in the temple of God, “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation (那行毀壞可憎的), spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Mark 13:14) Jesus further said, “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect…And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:22,26)

This man of sin, as Paul explained, has not appeared yet for the following reason: “now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time (「現在你們也知那攔阻他的是甚麼,是叫他到了的時候,才可以顯露」). For the mystery of iniquity doth already work (「那不法的隱意已經發動」); only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way (「只是現在有一個攔阻的,等到那攔阻的被除去」)(NRSV, ‘but only until the one who now restrains it is removed’). And then shall that Wicked (不法的人) be revealed.” (2:6-8) This “Wicked” man of sin shall come with powerful signs and wonders to deceive a lot of people: “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” (2:9-10) Jesus also forewarned in Mark 13:22, “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” Since this so-called ‘anti-Christ’ appears before the Lord’s coming, there is still chance for some believers who are fragile in their faith to be deceived by him. Even in Paul’s times, some of the church believers could be easily deceived by the wrong interpretation of the Lord’s coming. That’s why Jesus warns the disciples, “if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not.” (Mark 13:21) The weak believers may erroneously take the coming of anti-Christ for the Lord’s coming.

Paul reminds the church of Thessalonica that he has spoken to them about the appearance of the man of sin before: “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (2:5) He was kind of surprised that they might have forgotten his word so soon.

3. The message brings destruction to the wicked

Paul says the tribulation of the church is “a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God…Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.” (1:5-6)

He further says: “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (1:7-9)

Even the anti-Christ will be consumed as the Lord returns: “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” (2:8)

The Book of Revelation provides us with more information concerning the “man of sin” (“a deceiver and an anti-christ”, II John 1:7). In the vision of the Apostle John, this anti-Christ is deemed as a “beast”. John further described this beast: “they worshipped the dragon (Satan) which gave power unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’… and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear (like the special warning given by the Prophet Daniel, ‘let him that readeth understand’).” (Rev 13:4,7-9)

The appearance of the anti-Christ(s) is an acid test for the believers but a curse for the non-believers. The anti-Christ will certainly manage to deceive those “that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2:10-12)