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OUR GATHERING TOGETHER

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

I am considering the difficult “Man of Lawlessness” passage in 2 Thessalonians 2. This is often brought forward as an objection to the optimism of postmillennialism. In the previous post, I set up the historical backdrop of this prophecy. In this one I will look at one of its earliest elements that seems to require that we see the passage as final-eschatological rather than preteristically.

Let’s consider 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. (2 Thess. 2:1-2)

Though he speaks of the Second Advent just a few verses before (1:10), he is not dealing with that event here. Of course, similarities exist between the Day of the Lord upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the universal Day of the Lord at the Second Advent. The one is a temporal betokening of the other, being a distant adumbration of it. The Second Advent provides a final hope for the eternal resolution to their suffering; the A.D. 70 Day of the Lord affords an approaching temporal resolution (cp. Rev. 6:10). Orthodox scholars from each of the millennial schools agree that Christ brings these two events into close connection in the Olivet Discourse. Indeed, Christ’s disciples almost certainly confuse the two (Matt. 24:3). The same connection seems to exist here, as well.

There are several reasons why we believe that Paul is speaking of two distinct comings here in 2 Thessalonians. (1) In 2 Thessalonians 1:10 Paul employs a different word for the coming of Christ (elthe) than he does in 2:1 (parousia). (2) There the Second Advental judgment brings “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (1:9); here a temporal “destruction” (2:8). (3) There the Second Advent includes “his mighty angels” (1:7); here the temporal judgment does not mention these mighty angels (2:1-12).

(4) Furthermore, the “gathering together to Him” of 2 Thessalonians 2:1 picks up on the Lord’s reference in Matthew 24:31. The word translated “gather together” here is episunagoge. We find this word elsewhere only in Hebrews 10:25, where it speaks of a worship assembly. But its cognate verb form appears in Matthew 24:31, where the gathering relates to “this generation” (Matt. 24:34). There it signifies calling the elect into the church by the trumpeting of the archetypical Great Jubilee (cf. 2 Thess. 1:11; 2:14). Here it functions in the same way: with the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, from that point on Christians will be “gathered together” in a separate and distinct “assembly” (episunagoge — the Church is called a   sunagoge in James 2:2). After Jerusalem’s destruction, God no longer tolerates Temple worship — indeed, he makes it impossible. Though Christians frequently worship at the Temple prior to A.D. 70, they never will again.[2]

The Day of Christ / the Lord here fulfills Joel 2:31-32, which Peter applies to first century Jerusalem in Acts 2:16-21. In Acts 2 Peter identifies tongues as a sign of covenantal curse, which points to Jerusalem’s coming destruction in blood, fire, and smoke (Acts 2:19-21, 40). This explains why it is at Jerusalem (and nowhere else) Christians sell their property and share the proceeds (Acts 2:44-45): Jerusalem is on the eve of destruction (Matt. 24:2-34; Luke 23:28-30).

Paul consoles his readers by denying the false report that “the day of Christ had come” (2 Thess. 2:2). Apparently there is an unusual reason for this epistle so soon after the first one: some unscrupulous deceivers forge letters from Paul and falsely claim charismatic insights about eschatological concerns. In his earlier letter he corrects the Thessalonians’s grief over deceased loved ones, who worry that their deaths preclude their sharing in the resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Now new eschatological deceptions are troubling the young church (2 Thess. 2:1-3a): Some think the Day of the Lord had come,[3] so they quit working (2 Thess. 3:6-12). In another context and due to the catastrophic upheaval expected in the approaching judgment of Israel, Paul suggests that the Corinthians forgo marriage for a while (1 Cor. 7:26-29). But here in 2 Thessalonians 2 incorrect doctrinal instruction is tempting the Thessalonians to stop all necessary labor, thinking the time had come.

The word “trouble” (throeo; 2:2) is in the present infinitive form, which signifies a continuing state of agitation. This word appears elsewhere only in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:7; Matt. 24:6), where it sits in a similar theological context: one warning of deception and trouble regarding the coming Day of Christ. “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet” (Mark 13:5-7). The Olivet Discourse parallels are instructive.

In my next installment Paul’s direct statement about the Man of Lawlessness himself. I can’t wait to see what I say!

Notes

[1] There are various Days of the Lord in Scripture. For example, upon Babylon (Isa. 13:9, cp. v.1) and Egypt (Jer. 46:10, cp. vv. 2, 11-14; Eze. 30:36).

[2] Acts 1:4; 1:8; 18:21; 20:16; 24:11. Even in this early post-commission Christianity, believers continued to gravitate toward the Jews: engaging in Jewish worship observances (Acts 2:1ff.; 21:26; 24:11), focusing on and radiating their ministry from Jerusalem (Acts 2-5), frequenting the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1ff.; 4:1; 5:21ff.; 21:26; 26:21) and attending the synagogues (13:5, 14; 14:1; 15:21; 17:1ff.; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19; 24:12; 26:11).

[3] Acts 1:4; 1:8; 18:21; 20:16; 24:11. Even in this early post-commission Christianity, believers continued to gravitate toward the Jews: engaging in Jewish worship observances (Acts 2:1ff.; 21:26; 24:11), focusing on and radiating their ministry from Jerusalem (Acts 2-5), frequenting the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1ff.; 4:1; 5:21ff.; 21:26; 26:21) and attending the synagogues (13:5, 14; 14:1; 15:21; 17:1ff.; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19; 24:12; 26:11).

 

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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