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The second epistle followed shortly after the first epistle in A.D. 52 or 53.
The Christians in Thessalonica were still baby Christians when Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians. His first letter to them had given rise to further questions, and Paul is attempting to answer them in his second letter. There was circulating in the Thessalonian church a letter or report, purported to have come from Paul, which was inclined to disturb the Christians. This false report claimed that Christ had already come and had already gathered out the church to Himself, and that the world was then living in the judgments of the “day of the Lord.” These people were being persecuted, as we saw in the first epistle. They were suffering for the gospel’s sake, and it was easy for them to believe that they had entered the Great Tribulation period, and that all of the believers (not only the dead) had missed the Rapture. Paul attempts to allay their fears by writing this epistle and stating definitely that “our gathering together unto him” is yet future (2 Thess. 2:1), and that “the day of the Lord” has certain forerunners which must first come: the apostasy and the “man of sin” must come first. Therefore they could reasonably believe they were not in the Great Tribulation.
Paul says that the outward organization of the professing church is going to go into total apostasy. In Luke 18:8 the Lord asked, “… when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” The way the question is couched in the Greek it demands a negative answer. He will not find the faith on the earth when He comes again. The organized church will be in total apostasy. This is confirmed in the Book of Revelation. In the fourth chapter the church has been removed from the earth, and nothing is left but an empty shell of an organization that has a form of godliness but denies the power of it. That same organization is the great harlot in chapter 17 of Revelation, which is about as frightful a picture as you will find in the Word of God.
The Thessalonian believers thought they had entered the Great Tribulation period, and ever since that time folk who have gone through persecutions and tribulations have believed that they were in the Great Tribulation period. For example, during World War II at the time of the blitz in Britain, some of the British ministers who were conservative in their faith came to the conclusion that they had entered the Great Tribulation and that the church was going to go through it.
A good friend of mine, a preacher from England, believes that the church will go through the Tribulation. In fact, he believes the church is in it right now. Well, he is living in California now, and one day we were having lunch together with a mutual friend who was a layman, who had bought us big T–bone steaks. The subject of the church and the Tribulation came up, and he insisted that the church was in the Great Tribulation. To confirm his argument he said, “McGee, if you had been in Great Britain during the blitz, and night after night had gone down into the subways with your people, the members of your church, and practically every night one person would have a nervous breakdown because of the strain, and would have to be taken the next day to the country, you would share my belief.” I said to him, “If I had been in Great Britain, and in the blitz as you were, I am convinced that I would have thought as you did, Boy, this is the Great Tribulation! But after the war was over if I had come to the United States and was having lunch with a couple of friends and was eating a T–bone steak, I think I would pinch myself and ask myself, Is this really the Great Tribulation period? If this is the Tribulation, let’s have more of it since it will mean more T–bone steaks.” He looked at me and said in that British disdainful voice, “McGee, you are being ridiculous!” So I told him that I didn’t think I was being ridiculous; I thought he was being ridiculous.
The description of the Tribulation in the Bible is much worse than anything that happened during World War II. This period has been so clearly identified by Christ that there is no reason for getting panicky and for being stampeded into an unwarranted position. Christ said that there is coming a small interval which will be blocked off by “… such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). Nothing like it has taken place before, and nothing like it will ever take place afterward.
While 1 Thessalonians emphasized the return of Christ for His church in what we call the “Rapture,” 2 Thessalonians emphasizes the return of Christ to the earth the second time, when He returns in judgment and sets up His Kingdom here upon this earth. This is called the revelation. You see, at the Rapture, the emphasis is not upon His coming to earth, because He doesn’t come to the earth. He makes it clear that “we shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air” (see 1 Thess. 4:17). “Caught up” is the Greek word harpazo, meaning “to snatch away.” We shall be snatched away or raptured to meet Christ in the air. However, the revelation of Christ is when He returns to the earth to set up His Kingdom. In the time gap between these two events will be the Great Tribulation period.
As we saw in 1 Thessalonians, the Rapture is not a subject of the Old Testament; that teaching does not appear in the Old Testament. The hope of the Old Testament saints was an earthly hope. They were looking for their Messiah to come and establish a kingdom here upon this earth—which would be heaven upon earth. The expression “Kingdom of Heaven” means the reign of the heavens over the earth. That is putting it as simply as I know how. Some of the theologians really have made it complicated—so complicated that I wonder if they are trying to establish some kind of a theory. But the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus talked about is the reign of the heavens over the earth, because this earth is going to become a heaven when He is here.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 49: 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)