How Can Christians Be Prepared For The End-Times? - Part 1
How can we be prepared for the prophesied tough times of the end-times? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he unpacks the second coming of Jesus Christ in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-5.
Eschatology is from the Greek noun eschatos (ἔσχατος ), denoting the end of a series (BAG, p. 397). This branch of systematic theology studies all the precise prophicies in the Old and New Testament and details how they were literally fulfilled or will be fulfilled. The living God, who exists outside of and inside of time and space, validates His prophets and eternal word by disclosing in detail what will occur.
Whether it concerns the exact manner in which the ancient fortress of Trye would fall, which Ezekiel prophesied some 250 years before the fact (Ezek. 26), or the spectacular fall of the fortress city of Babylon, which Isaiah prophesied some 210 years before the truth (Isa. 13), all prophesies point directly to the God who is above time and controls time for His purposes. If you are not a Christ-follower, the study of prophecy, in my view, can easily show you why you need to become His child by faith in His death and resurrection. God has spoken most clearly and definitively in His prophetic Word, and that word, by definition, points unequivocally to Christ who is the Savior (Acts 4:10-12), the coming King (Psalm 2; Isa. 2), and the essence of prophecy (Rev. 19:10).
Being an Old Testament scholar, Paul understood the value of God’s ability to disclose what will occur as history heads toward His chosen destination. It is not shocking to learn from his two letters to the Christians in the church he quickly founded at the seaport of Thessalonica that he taught them about prophecy from the beginning. He did this to prepare them to live like kingdom members as evil unfolded as prophesied and to give them hope that no matter how challenging the times were, they could always know that God’s holy hand was on the wheel of time.
In chapter 4:13-18 of his first letter, Paul corrected a misunderstanding concerning the coming of Christ. Many in the church wrongly assumed their deceased Christian loved ones would miss the King’s arrival. Not so, says Paul, as he explained how all saints from the Church Age will participate in the Rapture of the Church before the Tribulation. In Chapter 5, he definitively taught these new believers that they had nothing to worry about concerning the coming time of God’s wrath against sin and sinners because it was not their divine destiny. Turning to chapter 1:3-12 of his second letter, the wise pastor/mentor reminded them that the persecution they experienced for their faith would answer to Him on the day of judgment. In the meantime, saints are to remain faithful in tough times and to have hope that the God of justice and righteousness had not forgotten them. We must also cling to this message, for persecution is prophesied to pick up as we head toward the Tribulation period.
In chapter 2, we encounter Paul’s most detailed prophecy in his writings. As such, it forms the essence, or heart, of his letter to these troubled new Christians. In these seventeen verses, he encourages and enlightens them regarding their relationship to God’s coming worldwide judgment of the wicked, Satan, and his demonic cohorts. From Paul’s prophetic words, here we are acquainted with the answer to a most pivotal question:
How Can Christians Be Prepared For The Prophesied Tough Times Of The End-Times? (2 Thess. 2:1-17)
From the first five verses, we can isolate two distinct and helpful answers to this hermeneutical question:
Don’t Be Hoodwinked (2 Thess. 2:1-3a)
There are more views than you can shake a proverbial stick at when it comes to the field of eschatology. Some are biblical, while others evidence unsound hermeneutics and lead to unbiblical observations and conclusions. Still others are promulgated by false teachers who knowingly seek to garner disciples by undercutting the teaching of God’s prophets. What occurred in Thessalonica concerned this latter occurrence. Read on, and you will see what I mean:
1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you . . . (2 Thess. 2:1-3a)
Although this second letter was probably written a few months after the first one, spiritual charlatans didn’t take long to infiltrate the new body of believers and confuse them regarding what Paul had taught them about their relationship to “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is used nineteen times in the OT to denote the specific and terrifying time of God’s personal and direct judgment of the world (Isa. 13:6, 9; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:14; Amos 5:18; 5:20; Ob. 1:15; Zep. 1:7, 14, et al.). New Testament writers also use this phrase in the same manner (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Concerning a more precise meaning, Dr. John Walvoord, the former President of Dallas Theological Seminary, writes:
In a word, it is the period of time predicted in the Scriptures when God will deal directly and dramatically in judgment or in blessing. It includes the tribulation time preceding the second advent of Christ, when he will deal with human sin directly, and it includes the millennial reign of Christ when he will directly pour out his blessings. It will culminate in the judgment of the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15). The day of the Lord is therefore an extended period of time lasting over 1000 years that unfolds into distinct phases—seven-year judgment phase and a 1000 year blessing phase.
The false teachers in Thessalonica had duped the Christians into thinking they were actually in the tribulation because of the persecution they were experiencing. If this was true, it meant, by definition, that Paul’s teaching about the Church's rapture in chapter 4 of his first letter was erroneous. Further, the heretics taught the believers would also experience the brunt of God’s wrath against the wicked. Again, this conclusion was opposed to what Paul had taught previously. Note to self: always be very wary of those who appear to be biblically educated but call into question the teaching you have received from trusted pastors and teachers.
Paul encountered this erroneous teaching by giving them two reasons why they were not, in fact, in the seven-year tribulation. We will dig into that answer when we look at the next section of Paul’s argument; however, at this juncture, let us first stop and make some observations about what the apostle says to the saints and us by proxy.
First, Paul’s opening statement is built on two key nouns, viz., the coming [of Christ] or the Parousia ( τῆς παρουσίας ), and the “gathering of saints” (ἐπισυναγωγῆς) to Him at that moment. One article used here with two nouns denotes one event is denoted. When is that glorious moment? As Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the future gathering of saints (a highly intensive word used in Hebrews 10:25 to speak of saints assembling for worship/church) transpires when Jesus returns and takes them collectively into heaven at the Rapture.
Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology has an excellent discussion regarding the distinction between the church's rapture and the second coming of Christ. If you want to read his analysis, I would direct you to volume 4. Toward the end of this discussion, he provides a chart that gives us a quick overview that logically demonstrates there is a distinction between the two events:
|Meeting them in the air
(1 Thess. 4:17)
|Taking them to the earth
(Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:11)
|Taking believers to heaven
|Bringing believers back to earth
|Coming for His saints
|Coming with His saints
|Only believers see Him
(1 Thess. 4:17)
|All people see Him
|No signs precede it
(1 Thess. 5:1–3)
|Many signs precede it
|The Tribulation begins
(2 Thess. 1:6–9)
|The Millennium begins
Since the tribulation concerns the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Church is not present because the Lord will be finalizing His dealing with His chosen people, Israel (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:24). In addition, the fact the word “church” only appears before and after the Tribulation as detailed in Revelation (Rev. 1-3; 19:1ff) leads us to surmise this time logically is not only for Israel, but it is, as we seen from the OT prophets, a time where God judges the godless for their historical opposition to Him (Isa. 24-27). Therefore, The Church is not in the tribulation, and according to Paul, teaching to the contrary was erroneous.
How had these false teachers done a number on these saints? They claimed apostolic authority by three means: “either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us.” The first phrase denotes a supposed prophetic utterance, the second a verbal message supposedly originating from someone like Paul and delivered by the heretics, or an outright forged document claiming to be from Paul or other key church leaders like Timothy or Titus. Paul counseled the saints not to permit any of these means to cause them emotional trauma for whatever form the statements took; they deviated from sound doctrine and should be shunned and opposed. Again, Paul’s counsel is still applicable 2,000 years later, for Christian charlatans are still at work inside the Church, seeking to deceive and mislead saints while also turning them against their pastors and each other so they will, hopefully, follow and listen to them. Do you have anyone in your life who is teaching you prophetic truth that contradicts what the Scriptures teach? Are they upsetting you, causing you to be fearful and devoid of hope? If so, you need to expose them, point them to sound teaching, warn others of them if they don’t repent, and resolve to be a person devoted to studying and applying sound doctrine, especially where eschatology is concerned.
Turning from warning the saints not to be deceived by false teachers, Paul gives two clear reasons why these saints were not currently in the Tribulation. His teaching also speaks to us for the reasons he gives and shows us how the time of divine judgment is not designed for the Church, but for Israel and the lost. I classify Paul’s counsel here in a positive format:
Do Be Honed In (2 Thess 2:3b-5)
In other words, study prophecy so you know what is going on, how this relates to you, and how you should be living in light of the encroaching darkness. Lovingly and patiently, Paul takes these troubled saints by the hand and gives them precise reasons why they are not in the Tribulation. And coupled with what he taught in 1 Thessalonians chapters 4 through 5, they certainly will not experience this time of God’s wrath. Yet, for those who needed further prophetic reassurance, Paul didn’t let them down, nor us. Listen and learn from him as he speaks by way of prophetic utterance directed by the Spirit:
. . . for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (2 Thess. 2)
Two things must occur before the prophesied day of the Lord, or seven-year Tribulation as prophesied by Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27 ), can arrive.
One, there will be what Paul calls “the apostasy.” The Greek word apostasia (ἀποστασία), according to Bauer’s Greek Lexicon, means a “renunciation of previous loyalty, a rebellion—extended to matters of belief, or to actively oppose a godly leader like Moses (Acts 21:21). Here is his entry if you are interested:
ἀποστασία, ας, ἡ (s. ἀφίστημι; a form quotable since Diod S outside the Bible [Nägeli 31] for the older ἀπόστασις [Phryn. 528 Lob.]) defiance of established system or authority, rebellion, abandonment, breach of faith (Josh 22:22; 2 Ch 29:19; 1 Macc 2:15; Just., D. 110, 2; Tat. 8:1) ἀπό τινος (Plu., Galb. 1053 [1, 9] Z. v.l. ἀπὸ Νέρωνος ἀ.; Jos., Vi. 43) ἀποστασίαν διδάσκεις ἀπὸ Μωϋσέως you teach (Judeans) to abandon Moses Ac 21:21. Of the rebellion caused by the Lawless One in the last days 2 Th 2:3
The article preceding the noun informs us this isn’t any normal falling away from biblical truth, which plagues every generation but is the big one. Grammatically, we could classify the article here as a monadic use, meaning it is the one and only, and there has never been anything like it in human history. There are always believers walking away from sound doctrine for various unfounded and sometimes illogical reasons, but this coming departure is massive and worldwide.
From the earliest NT times, some believers had rebelled against biblical doctrine. Pick up almost any of Paul’s writings and validate the premise. Some in the Galatian church bought into the legalistic teaching of Judiazers who equated faith in Jesus with strict observance of Mosaic ritual laws. Some in the Colossian church bought into incipient Gnosticism that questioned the full deity of Jesus (Col. 2:9ff). We certainly see doctrinal rebellion rising in our day as more and more churches go woke and espouse cultural thinking on sexuality, gender, the exclusivity of the gospel, race, justice, the inerrancy of the Bible, etc. Andy Stanley’s recent Unconditional Conference, which catered to Gay and Lesbian couples and their children, certainly goes against the biblical view of sex and gender and is a doctrinal apostasy. The high school student who goes off to the university and writes back they are now questioning everything their Christian parents and pastors taught them is just another sad case of apostasy from the faith in Jesus as the Savior and Lord. Do you have apostasy in your life, an area where you purposefully walk away from what the Scriptures teach? If so, repent, throw yourself on the Lord’s mercy, and He will forgive, restore, bless, and give you wisdom for the (rough) road ahead.
Paul, however, is not talking about apostasy in the Christian ranks here and there. He is talking about the time in the future when, after the Rapture of the Church, many Christians will fold like the proverbial lawn chair (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 3:1-13). True, there will be a holy remnant of believers in the Tribulation (Rev. 7); however, they will be eclipsed by those who will abandon the faith almost en masse because of the prevalence of false teachers (Matt. 24:11-12, 24).
With each passing day, we are unfortunately witnessing this rise of apostasy. Generation Z believers, for example, are embarrassed by the faith's exclusivity, its judgmental foundation where sin and sinners are concerned, and its rigid nature where sex and gender are concerned. Feelings and thinking like this can lead people to leave the Church altogether because it is not loving, merciful, kind, compassionate, and so on. This departure can lead folks like this to form more doctrinally flexible and accepting churches. However, this is merely a precursor to the great apostasy coming in the Tribulation. Since that had not occurred in Paul’s, there was no way the saints in Thessalonica were in the Tribulation. No member of Christ’s Church will live to see this general apostasy, for we will be in heaven with Christ at the moment of the Rapture. That doesn’t mean we won't (and don’t) see apostasy growing in strength and power. We must, therefore, constantly guard our lives from caving to societal pressure to compromise doctrine.
John MacArthur adds a finer point to this in his commentary on Thessalonians. Since in Paul’s next breath, he speaks about the Anti-Christ and his activity during the Tribulation, MacArthur notes the apostasy is not so much that of believers as it will be of the Satan-inspired politician who will rebel against the faith in the living God, while eventually turning and calling all mankind to worship him instead:
3 And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?" 5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven (Rev. 13).
Somehow, the Antichrist will fake his death and make it look like he was resurrected. All of this will be done to align him as the true Christ, to cause people to worship him and the Devil who inspires him, and to give validity to the Satanic trinity composed of the Antichrist (the Beast), the False Prophet (Rev. 13:11-18), and Satan. When this wicked ruler desecrates the Holy of Holies in the Temple that will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, as Jesus prophesied along with Daniel (Matt. 24:15; Dan. 11:31; 12:11), this will be “the apostasy,” especially as most of the world, barring a handful of brave saints, will worship him as the true God and Savior of mankind. Once more, since the Thessalonian believers had not seen this level of apostasy, they were not in the Tribulation, and they, nor any member of the Church, ever would, for they are not destined for this time of trouble.
The second reason the saints were not in the Tribulation was because “the man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction” had not been revealed yet.
. . . for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? (2 Thess. 2)
These two descriptions Paul mentions here are code words for the Antichrist.
He has many names in the Scriptures: The Little Horn (Dan. 7:8), the Prince that shall come (Dan. 9:26), the King of Fierce Countenance (Dan. 8:23), the Vile Person (Dan. 11:21), and the Beast (Rev. 11:7; 13:1), denoting how his empire will encapsulate all of the beast-like qualities of by-gone ruthless empires like Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (Dan. 2; 7). His title as “the man of lawlessness” will fit him well, for he will hate law in any form, whether societal or spiritual. On the contrary, he will love lawlessness and any new law that will create greater degrees of unruly, chaotic behavior.
The lawlessness you see growing like weeds in our day and age is a faint precursor to the quintessential and erudite politician who will woo and sway the masses to his outright lawless ways. Every call to defund the police so there is more peace and justice is only a deceptive pretext for more lawless mayhem brought to you by politicians. Every school system that will not obey the dictates of a moral governor to safeguard children from sexual predators is a taste of the Lawless One to come. Every flashmob that overpowers employees at a Nordstrom store so they can loot without impediment has the Lawless One’s fingerprints on their activity.
Every law written so criminals are back out on the streets before the ink is dry on their arrest documents is merely a taste of the Lawless One. When He arrives, lawlessness will be the order of the day. You must fall in line with his new laws (you must have his number imprinted on you, or you can’t buy, sell, or trade, or else pay a heavy price for not cow-towing to his totalitarian rulership (Rev. 13:17-18). And, of course, he is a “son of destruction,” for what follows lawlessness but utter destruction. For instance, we have laws to safeguard our nation on our southern border. Still, since those laws are not enforced, and federal agents are prohibited from doing their jobs, chaos ensues in our cities and is only destined to increase. Again, the lawless mentality on our border is a taste of how the Antichrist will function when he arrives.
The Antichrist’s ultimate act of lawlessness will be when he enters the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem (which the Jews are getting ready to rebuild as I’ve seen at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem), desecrates it somehow (will he slay a pig here?), while turning to proclaim himself not just the ultimate politician, but God in the flesh. Was this not the goal of the Devil all along? While he tempted Christ in the wilderness with the prospect of giving Him rulership over the earthly empires (Matt. 4), what did he really want? He wanted Christ to worship Him, which was his sin from the beginning of his fall from grace (Isa. 14:13ff). The Satan-inspired Antichrist will seek the same but will ultimately be removed by the Lord Jesus Christ at His glorious appearance (Rev. 19).
Once more, because this godless, evil man had not been revealed to the world in the day of the Thessalonians, there was no way these saints were in the Tribulation. No member of the Church will live to see this maniacal man in operation anyway, for we are not destined for this time of wrath, as Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. Remembering what we’ve been taught about eschatology is a good and necessary thing. It is true now, as we watch evil and lawlessness flourish, because it can, and will, give us hope to stay the course, live like saints and kingdom members, defend the faith, and call unbelievers to be saved.
It only took a few short months for the Thessalonian believers to forget what Paul had painstakingly taught them concerning the Church and the end times. That’s why he made this statement:
5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
Ah, now they remember. What were they thinking? As they returned to sound eschatological teaching, it put their present persecution in proper perspective. It also put much-needed winds of hope in their sails, for the promise of the Lord’s return for them hadn’t changed and was still as imminent as ever.
If current affairs have you floating aimlessly along, fearing you and the country are about to go over the proverbial falls, you, too, might need to do a little remembering of what you’ve learned about the Lord’s plans for us and this old world. His plans are glorious, and nothing is going to stop them. Not even a lawless, godless man with countless followers.
 John F. Walvoord and Mark Hitchcock, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 120.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 623.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 120.