Thessalonians 1 and 2

These two Epistles concern the Christian church in Thessalonica, a city in northeast Greece. Paul preached there during his second missionary journey. Acts 17 shows that Paul did not stay long (three weeks) among the Thessalonians due to the unrest and civil disturbance caused by their enemies in that town. The main thrust of both Epistles, however, deals with the Second Coming of Christ (called the Parousia in Greek) at the end of the world. Many of the Thessalonians thought the Second Coming was extremely immanent, so that meant there was little for them to do but wait and others thought it had already happened and they had somehow missed it.

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The early Christians called the dead “sleepers” since death was seen as falling asleep and not the final end.

First Thessalonians

Probably the oldest and first of Paul's letters (possibly written around A.D. 50—52), this Epistle deals with a doctrine uniquely Christian in origin and meaning–the Second Coming of Christ. The first coming of Christ took place when He was conceived in His mother's womb and was then born in Bethlehem nine months later. After His death and Resurrection, He ascended into heaven but promised He would return. That return of the risen and glorified Christ is called the Second Coming, or Parousia.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that neither the dead nor the living will have an advantage over the other at the Second Coming of Christ.

“According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:15—17)

Rapture

The Greek word harpag^sometha used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, means “to be caught up; to be seized; to be snatched up.” Saint Jerome's Latin Vulgate used the word rapiemur, the root being rapere from which the English word “rapture” has its origin. The “rapture” is a popular teaching among some Christian denominations. Manuel de Lecunza y Diaz (eighteenth century) was the first to espouse the doctrine, later modified by John Nelson Darby (nineteenth century) and embraced by Cyrus I. Scofield (twentieth century), author of the Scofield Bible. The doctrine is that prior to the Second Coming of Christ, there will be a seven-year period of great tribulation (suffering) on earth. The saints of Christ (believers) will not experience this great tribulation since they will be “caught or taken up” (raptured) and meet Christ in the sky.

Second Thessalonians

Evidently, the first letter was not taken to heart. Some of the Thessalonians still worried that the Second Coming was so imminent that they stopped working, thinking the end was very near. That meant nothing got done, at home or at work. People did not marry nor have kids, fearing the end was at hand and the world would soon end. “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This was directed at those Christians who no longer went to work.

The branches of Christianity, that believe in the literal rapture, have variations on the event. Pretribulational rapture is the notion that the rapture occurs before the seven years of tribulation;

Posttribulational is that the rapture happens after the tribulation; Premillenialism is the notion that the Second Coming precedes the Millennium (1,000-year reign of Christ on earth with His believers; Satan vanquished to hell); Postmillenialism is that the Millennium precedes the Second Coming.

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