Waiting For His Son From Heaven
November 3rd, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
WAITING FOR HIS SON FROM HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
11-3-57 7:30 p.m.
We turn now to the second Thessalonian letter – the second epistle of Paul the apostle to the Thessalonians. Let us read the first chapter together. The second Thessalonian letter: we shall read the first chapter together. Second Thessalonians, toward the end of your Bible, and the ten verses of the first chapter: now let’s read them. Second Thessalonians, the first chapter – everybody:
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth,
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,
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;
Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you,
And to you who are troubled, rest with us when 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,
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.
Wherefore also we pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power,
That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
[2 Thessalonians 1:1-12]
Now, the message tonight is not an exposition of the passage that you have read, but it is an introductory message to the whole epistle. It will be the third one and the last one of these introductory messages. I have preached two already. Because of their length, I divided the one on First Thessalonians in two. Now, this third message is in like vein. It is introductory that we might know why it was that Paul wrote and what brought this revelation from God to the church. This is a tremendously important and significant letter. It is the second one that Paul wrote, and we have a discussion here of a subject in which all of God’s people are or ought to be vitally concerned.
Now, the way it came about was this. When Paul was driven with his companions, Timothy and Silas, out of Thessalonica [Acts 17:1-15], he went down to Athens, preached the gospel there at Athens [Acts 17:16-34]. Because of his great concern for the church, the new converts at Thessalonica, he sent Timothy up there to see how they fared [1 Thessalonians 3:1-3, 5]. In the meantime, he went acrossthe isthmus to Corinth and preached the gospel at Corinth [Acts 18:1-18]. While he was there in that long and effective ministry in Corinth, Timothy came back from Thessalonica. He reported to Paul of the tribulations and persecution of the church there but of their great faith, their consecration, and steadfastness [1 Timothy 3:6].
They also had a problem. They were looking for the coming of the Lord and waiting for the Son of God from heaven, but in the meantime, some of their beloved had died. Their families were breaking up and the Lord hadn’t come, andthey wanted to know if our beloved dead had a part in the kingdom of Christ [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. So Paul wrote the first letter to the church at Thessalonica. It is possibly the first letter – the first book, the first epistle, the first any kind that we have in the New Testament. That is possible. It was written within twenty or less years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Now, Timothy, I suppose – somebody took this letter up to Thessalonica, the first epistle, and came back sometime. We do not know when – maybe stayed several months. But after that first epistle was written, there came a report to Paul about the church at Thessalonica and the difficulties into which they had fallen because of fanatical and spurious ideas concerning the return of the Lord.
Here in the second chapter of the epistle and the second verse, he refers to a spurious letter or letters – forgeries [2 Thessalonians 2:2]. You will notice that Paul closes this second Thessalonian letter with: "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand which is the token in every epistle; so I write" [2 Thessalonians 3:17]. Paul says, "You can easily tell a genuine letter from me because I will always close it with my own handwriting, and I will sign it with mine own hand, the token in every epistle." Well, there was circulated, or there were circulated, one or more spurious forgeries as from Paul purporting to say many things about the coming of Christ [2 Thessalonians 2:2].
Now, those people do dishonor and discredit to this great and precious and blessed hope of the church and of the Christian people. And as it was true then, it is true now. Why, there are many, many godly men who hardly ever, or rarely ever, refer to this great subject because of the fanatics who are always prating about things of which they know nothing.
Yesterday, for example, in one of our magazines, I tore out an editorial and it concerned an article in a newspaper which was published, and, according to that newspaper article – and it was a long one – the day of judgment is September 20; the hour, sunset; the translation of the saints having previously taken place at 1:00 o’clock in the morning, January 25. The antichrist is to be – and now you can see the date of it – Louis Napoleon [1808-1873]. The paper is dated September 23, 1865, and the great day of the judgment of the Lord is to be September 20, 1878, at sunset.
Well, these things do dishonor to Christ and discredit to the great heart of the message of hope by which we live our life and by which we face this destiny to come. Well, that thing was happening here in the church at Thessalonica. There were people, so-called prophets – apocalyptics – and they were sowing all kinds of things among the people about the return of the Lord.
Now, Paul sat down then, and he wrote this second letter and sent it up there to the church at Thessalonica in order to correct these fanatical and diabolically-inspired misrepresentations of the coming, the presence of the Lord. If I could say it like this, the first letter was written for comfort: "What of our beloved dead and the Lord hasn’t come? Do they have a part in the kingdom?" And his answer was, "They shall rise in Christ first . . . Wherefore, comfort one another" [1 Thessalonians 4:16, 18]. I say it was written for comfort.
Now, the second letter was written for correction. Paul had said in the first letter the coming of the Lord will be first for His people, for His saints [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. It may be at midnight, at midday, at twilight, at dawn. There is no sign before. You will not know. It is known but to the Father in heaven [Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32]. It will come as a thief in the night, unexpectedly [1 Thessalonians 5:1-3], when Christ comes to steal away His jewels – you: the translation of His church – sometimes called the "rapture" because we behold then the face of our coming, risen, reigning Lord – to look up in amazement and there He is and we to meet Him. That is first, and it will come any moment, any time known but to God like a thief without herald, without announcement, without trumpet – just suddenly. These that are our beloved dead shall rise and live again [1 Thessalonians 4:16], and we who are abide and remain shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52-53]. That is first.
Then after that translation – that rapture, that meeting with the Lord – then,Paul says, "There are things that are to come to pass. Remember ye not that when I was with you I told you these things?" [2Thessalonians 2:5] Paul is there, shall I say, disappointed. These whom he had tried to teach so earnestlythis great truthare now swept away by these date setters and these foolish fanatics who think they know exactly the hour of the return of the Lord. "Remember ye not that when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" [2 Thessalonians 2:5] First the resurrection [1 Thessalonians 4:16]; then immediately, all of us who remain [1 Thessalonians 4:17]; then these things that are coming, and he describes these things that are to happen after the translation of the church after God’s people are taken away [1 Thessalonians 5:1-3].
So we’re going to look now as an introduction, just as an introduction, we’re going to look at what Paul says here concerning the return of the Lord in the second Thessalonian letter correcting the erroneous views of those who had sown discord in the beautiful church at Thessalonica [2 Thessalonians 2:1-3].
All right, first: it is very easy in times of trial, tribulation, persecution, war, blood, death – it is very easy to identify those times with the coming of the Lord. You must never, ever do that. The Lord said in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, wars and rumors of wars, all kinds of tribulation and darkness – and you have it translated, "but the end is not yet" [Matthew 24:6]. The Greek of that is this: "but the end is not connected with that."
That is not the sign of the end:those terrible persecutions and wars [Matthew 24:6-9]. They were going through persecution here, and these teachers had an easy prey when they sought to identify the present troubles and distresses with the immediate return of the Lord. No. These things – tribulation and wars, distress and perturbation – all of these things are but a concomitant of the Christian life through all the ages and will be till the Lord comes again. To be despised, to be cast out, to be friendless in the world, to be alone, to be ostracized, to have property confiscated, to die, to be crucified: all of these things are a part of the Christian pilgrimage in this world, and they are not to be connected, Paul says, Jesus says, with the return of the Lord. Our Lord is coming secretly, clandestinely, furtively like a thief and will take us away [1 Thessalonians 5:2].
"Then" – now you’ve come to the second part, the open part. Then after God’s children are taken away, after they are raptured, after they are translated, "then" – and how long that "then" is nobody knows, those seven years in there between the taking up of the church, the rising of God’s children with the Lord in the fourth chapter of that first Thessalonian letter [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] and this – in flaming fire, coming with His mighty angels from heaven [2 Thessalonians 1:7], taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ [2 Thessalonians 1:8] who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power [2 Thessalonians 1:9] when he shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believe [2 Thessalonians 1:10]. That’s when the great judgment of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Matthew comes: the separating of the sheep from the goats, sitting on His great throne and before him gathered the nations in the earth [Matthew 25:31-46].
There is a period of time, seven years, we say – could be much longer than that – seven years, we say. There’s a period of time between the taking away of the church of the saints of Christ [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] and this coming back openly in flaming fire bringing destruction and judgment to these who have obeyed not the gospel of the Son of God [2 Thessalonians 1:6-8]. This is the open coming of the Lord with His people, with His church, with His saints, and it is a day of fire and of vengeance [2 Thessalonians 1:9-10]. It is a day of terror to those who are in this earth without God and without Christ. Oh, there’ll be so much more of that as we continue studying here in the Book. There’s a lot to be said about that. The Bible says a lot about that – calls it the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Revelation 7:14].
Now, in the second chapter – and this is just an introduction. In the second chapter, he describes here this development in the earth that leads to these great days of final despair and judgment, death and vengeance. Bear in mind now, all of this comes to pass after God’s people are taken away – after the translation of His church, after we have been with the Lord – then these terrible things come. Things like this: "that Day shall not come except" – or if I turn it from negative into positive – "that Day comes after there is a falling away first and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition" [2 Thessalonians 2:3]. So Paul says here in the second chapter of [Second] Thessalonians that there is to be a great apostasy and there is to be a revelation of the man of sin, the son of perdition, who sits in the temple, call himself God, and shows himself that he is God [2 Thessalonians 2:4]. You can call him, like other places in the Bible, the great final antichrist [1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7].
Now, Paul says this – and I say we’re just summarizing; we’re just glancing; we’re just introductorily looking at it. Paul says that there is to be a great – and the Greek word is apostasia. There is coming a great apostasia [2 Thessalonians 2:3], and we take that word and make an English word of it: "apostasy." "A falling away" the word means in the Greek language. It means it in our language – "a falling away." So the first thing that I noticed Paul says is this – that in that end time there is to be a movement of evil that he calls the great apostasia, "the apostasy." It is then an apostasy. That is, it is not to be characterized by a great organization of ungodly men – nihilists or socialists or materialists – but it is to be an apostasy, a falling away of the Christian church. That’s the first thing that I see that Paul says here. He calls it an apostasy, a falling away. That is, it once was the Christian religion, the Christian Church, the Christian faith.
All right, a second thing I see here. I see here that that falling away, that apostasy that once was Christian – it was Christ, it was the church – I see here that it continues to be religiousthis falling away.
And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,
Who opposeth and exalted himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Remember ye not when I was with you I told you these things?
[2 Thessalonians 2:3-5]
This great apostasy – this falling away of the Christian faith, of the Christian church, of the Christian religion – it continues to remain religious. This is antichrist only in the sense that it is a substitution for Christ.
Paul says, the Revelation says, the whole Bible says that this world some of these days is going to have one great religion. These denominations are going to get together, and the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church and all of these denominations some day are going to be together in one great world system. The Book says that. It’s going to be a religion. This world is going to be under one great religion – going to be religious.
Whenever you look forward to the end time and say there’s not going to be a religion in it, not going to be any so-called church in it, you are not saying what the Bible says. The Bible says that down there at the end there is the beast – that’s the world government – and there is by his side the false prophetand that’s this world religion [Revelation 13:1-18, 16:13-16, 19:20, 20:10]. So the second thing I see here is first it is an apostasia. It used to be the religion of Jesus. It used to be the church of the Lord, but it is a falling away. And second, it is still religious. It hasn’t turned aside from the habiliments and the vestments and the services and the sacrifices and the ceremonies and the rituals of the faith. It is still that.
All right, another thing I find here. He says here that that movement of apostasy, of world religion – a falling away of ecclesiastical ambition taking the place of God Himself – he says that that movement was already beginning to work in his own day. Paul says that this thing he’s talking about was in the days of himself and of the apostle John. It was beginning to work in his own day:
Now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work –
it’s at work now –
only he who now letteth will let until he be taken out of the way.
And then shall that wicked be revealed –
and so on.
[2 Thessalonians 2:6-8]
What Paul says here is there is that movement working in this earth today, and the reason it has not come to final fruition and consummation is there is something, someone, that katechōn – and you have it translated here, "who letteth, letteth," katechōn. The Greek word katechōn means "hold down." So why don’t we just let the Greek word go on? For – "for the mystery of iniquity doth already work" – that mystery of evil and apostasy is already at work – "only there is One that holds it down" [2 Thessalonians 2:7].
Now, what is he talking about there? We’re going to find out. We’re going to find out. But when that One that holds it down is taken away, then shall that wicked one be revealed [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. Now, you look again. Even though it’s religious and even though it has the forms of religion, back of it is this: the mystery of iniquity. Do you ever think of words in the Bible "the mystery of iniquity"? Back of its decrees and its dogmas and back of its pronouncements, as though they superseded the word of the living God, back of it even though it’s religious, Paul says back of it works the mystery of iniquity.
There remains then just one other thing and that is that final consummation. It heads up finally in one man, one leader, one demagogue who sits in the temple setting himself forth as God, that he is God. It will consummate some day in the personality of one man that the Bible calls the antichrist, and then shall that wicked one – that antichrist, that head of this apostate religion – then shall he be revealed. People will see him, know him for what he was:
whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the –
and that’s one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible –
with the brightness of His coming –
with the epiphany of His parousia, the glorious appearing of His presence –
even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all powers and signs and lying wonders –
and on and on describing the antichrist.
[2 Thessalonians 2:8-9]
Now we go to the last chapter. We’ll come back to this. I say this is just introductory. Now, the last chapter concerns what they are to do. This is a thing that happened in Thessalonica. There were those who were like the Millerites. They resigned their jobs. They quit their work. They gave up their tasks. They refused to work. The Lord was coming, and so they sat down and were waiting for the Lord. Now, the third chapter is Paul’s admonition to them – fifth verse: "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patient waiting for Christ" [2 Thessalonians 3:5].
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if anywould not work, neither should he eat.
For we hear that there are some that which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, who are busybodies.
Now them that are such we command and exhort by the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they work and eat their own bread.
[2 Thessalonians 3:10-12]
There in that church, these people who were Paul’s teachers had so led them to believe that the Lord was coming immediately that they didn’t plow; they didn’t sow; they didn’t reap. They didn’t dig. They didn’t work. So somebody had to support them. So they were here, there, and because they were not employed and weren’t working, they became busybodies and sowing trouble among the people of the Lord.
Now, Paul says you’re not to do that. You are to work and patiently abide that coming of the Lord. Did you ever notice the classes, the kinds, of people that the Lord Jesus singled out for translation? Now, you look at Him. The Lord Jesus said he shall be grinding at a mill or she shall be grinding at a mill [Matthew 24:41; Luke 17:35]. You know how that is: great millstone below and a millstone above, and you feed the grain in a little hole there in the center. And there’ll be a woman on this side and a woman on that side – usually the women did it. And they’d have a big bar across there, and a woman’d pull – and the woman on that side’d pull – and they grinding at the mill, and the flour would come out around the edges. "Two shall be grinding at a mill. One shall be taken and the other left" [Matthew 24:41]. But that one singled out for translation: grinding at the mill.
Here’s another one. He shall be plowing in the field. "Two shall be plowing in the field: one shall be taken and the other left" [Matthew 24:40]. That man singled out for translation did not even have to go home to get ready. He was already ready plowing in the field. Half of this world will be at night when the Lord comes, and two shall be lying in a bed. One shall be taken and the other left lying in a bed sound asleep from the tasks and toil of the day [Luke 17:34].
Do you see what I mean? When the Lord comes, He expects us to be at our tasks, at our tasks, at our tasks. It may be while you’re washing dishes. It may be while you’re scrubbing the floor. It may be while you’re clerking in the store. If it’s at midnight, it may be while we are asleep, but that’s the way to be ready – when He finds us at our task, patiently waiting, busy with God’s work in the earth.
We have such a blessed hope, such a precious promise. Don’t be moved away from it by these who say things they do not know, preach things they cannot support. God hath told us many things. We’re going to see them in especially in these next few years as we come to the conclusion of the Bible, but never are those glorious promises and that blessed hope to take us away from the task the Lord hath committed to our care. While we’re waiting, we’re working; and when He comes, may He find us at our chosen post doing for Him our utmost, our best. That’s Paul. That’s Jesus. That’s the true and Christian faith.
Now, while we sing our song, somebody tonight to give his heart to the Lord, somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church: if you’re in the balcony, down these stairwells; if you’re here on this lower floor, into those aisles and down to the front and stand here by me. "Tonight pastor, I give my heart to the Lord," or, "Tonight we place our lives here in the fellowship of the church." While we sing this song, will you come? While we stand and while we sing.
TO SECOND THESSALONIANS
Report to Paul about difficulties in Thessalonian church because of fanatical
and spurious ideas concerning return of the Lord
letter(s) as from Paul had been circulated(2
1. Paul tells them how
to know if letter is from him (2 Thessalonians
teachers do dishonor and discredit to the faith
article claiming day of judgment to be in 1865
letter written for comfort (1 Thessalonians
Second letter written for correction (2
II. Chapter One
other side of the advent (1 Thessalonians
First side of comfort, glory (1 Thessalonians
the latter phase of His coming (1 Thessalonians
III. Chapter Two
Development of the apostasy and revelation of the man of sin
Some things precede the open appearing of the Lord
of evil Paul calls apostasia
continues to be religious (2 Thessalonians
Apostasy was beginning to work in days of Paul (2
The mystery of iniquity
Finally heads up in man of sin, the antichrist (2
IV. Chapter Three
practical preparation for the Lord’s coming
Some gave up working to wait (2 Thessalonians