Paul and the Olivet Discourse, Part 2. 2nd Thessalonians

Paul, the Olivet Discourse, and the book of Revelation. 

Paul’ prophetic teaching, excluding references to Jesus’ first coming and Pentecost.

PART 2:  2nd Thessalonians

 Paul wrote a second letter to the church at Thessalonica about AD 52, within months of the first one. Paul had received a report that the believers at Thessalonica had been deceived by a rumor that Jesus had already returned. This is something that Jesus specifically warned about in the Olivet Discourse.

‘So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.’  Matthew 24:26 NASB

Right at the beginning, Paul makes a comprehensive statement about Jesus’ Second Coming.

’As a result, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you indeed are suffering. For after all it is only right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflictedalong with us, when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These people will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified among His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.’ 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10

Paul begins by acknowledging that the Thessalonians have endured multiple persecutions and afflictions. In his previous letter, he started the same way, and reminded them that Jesus’ had foretold this. Paul was referring to the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Matthew. This supports that view Matthew’s gospel was written first and existed in AD 52. There is no evidence that Mark or Luke was written before AD58. John does not contain the Olivet Discourse, or any related prophetic teachings. So, none of the other gospels could be Paul’s source. There is no reason to believe that Paul got this by direct revelation from God, apart from Matthew.

But there is more information here than Matthew recorded. Matthew mentions Angels with Jesus, involved in the ‘Harvest’, but nothing about ‘flaming fire’. Where did Paul get that from?

‘His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself’.   Revelations 19:12 NASB

This is from John’s description of Jesus’ final approach to the earth. ‘Fire’ is one of those terms that has deep symbolic meaning, and is frequently used in the Old Testament to represent passion, anger, rage, wrath, purifying judgment, etc.  Jesus’ eyes are not literally on fire. Just as ‘many crowns’ means many titles. He probably does not have a bunch of diadems hanging on His head. Since Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 about Jesus’ coming in ‘flaming fire’ did not come from Jesus’ teaching, he must have gotten it from here, in Revelation 19:12. The rest of Paul’s words are consistent with Revelation 19.  If the book of Revelation did not yet exist, then where did Paul get this from? This is  additional evidence that Paul had met John and read the book of  Revelation at the Council of Jerusalem before he began his 2nd Missionary Journey, before he ever visited Thessalonica.

Paul says more here about the punishment of those who did not obey the Gospel in the context of Jesus’ Return. This goes beyond what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse. Here’s where Paul could have gotten this information:

‘Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.      Revelation 14:18-19 NASB

Notice the references to ‘fire’ and the ‘wrath of God’ This is the second part of the Harvest. In this event, it is not Jesus’ who performs the harvest, but an angel. It is not the harvest of the good, but as harvest of the unbelievers. It is not a ‘rapture’, it is a gathering to destruction. Paul elaborates on this. I can almost imagine Paul listening to John talk about these things. But Paul is concerning about the Thessalonians, that they get this straight.  So all of the next chapter is on the same subject.

‘Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, regarding the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you 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. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NASB

This is the reason for a second letter. The subject is clearly the Return of Jesus, and the Harvest of the Saints, ie. the Rapture. There is some debate about the Day of the Lord, whether it is the Rapture of the period of time that follows it. In my imagination, Jesus’ return begins with His appearance in the Sky, then the Harvest of Saints dead and living, followed almost immediately by the Harvest of the Grapes of Wrath, which takes much longer. This time of God’s wrath includes all of the 7 Vials of Wrath in Revelation 16 and ends when Armageddon is complete. If the ‘day=year’ method of Old Testament symbolic language is applied, then the ‘Day of the Lord’ lasts about one year and includes all aspects of Jesus’ return.

’No one is to deceive you in any way! For it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 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 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NASB

 The NASB translation of verse 4 is misleading. The reference to the Temple of God is not the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Temple in Heaven.  The Antichrist’s display of is a representation of himself as if he were God, seated on the throne in the Temple in heaven. That is, the Temple is part of the display. It does not take place in a real earthly temple. I am aware that few have ever heard verse 4 described this way, because the misunderstanding is widespread, and basically gone unchallenged for most of Christian history. This understanding may be required by Revelation 13:6.

Where does this phrase ‘the apostasy come first’ come from? Some say it is implied by Jesus’ words in Luke 18:8, but that verse only says that Jesus does not expect to find much faith on the earth when He return, it says nothing about apostasy preceding the Antichrist. Bible commentators seem to be at a loss to explain this. The various arguments do not address the origin of the phrase, its context or why Paul was so clear about this sequence being important. In my imagination, this may refer to those believers who are deceived and later take the Mark of the Beast. Jesus and the Revelation warns Believers against being deceived.  

‘Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?

6 And you know what restrains him now, so that he will be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is removed. Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will eliminate with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.’                                                                         2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 NASB

Paul had previously taught them all of this in person. In verses 8-10 Paul words summarize Revelation 13. Paul has taught the Thessalonians information that is contained in the Book of Revelation, but not taught earlier by Jesus. If John wrote the Revelation in AD 41, this is obvious. If not, then Paul received all of this before John, which seems to me to be very unlikely.

Having said all that was necessary, Paul concludes the letter with admonitions. Live like Christians! Ignore those who do not obey the content of this letter. Get to work.

 ’But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.’   2 Thessalonians 3:3 NASB

‘The evil one’ is probably a reference to Satan. But Paul has not mentioned Satan before, and the Antichrist has been the recent subject. It might be enough to understand this as Paul comforting them concerning this prophecy and their success in avoiding the coming Satanic/Antichrist deceptions and apostasy.

Paul knew the prophetic content of Jesus’ teachings as recorded in Matthew, and had access to the Book of Revelation, or at least its information. But Paul’s understanding and application of this information seems to go beyond the written words, as if he had been in touch with the author.