The Second Coming of Christ and the events surrounding it are probably the major theme of Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica. He makes at least one mention of the return of Christ in each chapter of 1 Thessalonians (especially in the final words).
The Christian’s greatest desire ought to be to stand in the very presence of Jesus Christ. We will do this when He returns to take away His saints, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thess.1:19). Paul wanted to see all those who came under the sound of his preaching to be in the company of believers that meet Jesus. Therefore, he encourages them to faithful and holy as they await the return of Christ, “To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Thess.3:13). We need the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit daily in our lives. This is especially vital as we approach the Second Coming. It is only those who are saved and sanctified who will see the Lord, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). He says to all believers “Walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Thess.1:12). He warns them to live as God’s people, for “Ye are all the children of light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thess. 5:5-6).
The bodies of those who have died prior to the Return of Christ will rest in the grave (their spirits being already in the presence of God). On the day of the Lord’s Second Coming the dead will be resurrected and living saints will be caught up with them into the presence of Christ: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:13-18). This text is one of the most important in proving Paul’s doctrine of the ‘rapture’ or catching up of believers. He sees this as a wonderful experience that every Christian dead or alive will know one day.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Paul explains in more detail what the Day of the Lord is all about. Some were teaching that Jesus had already returned, but the apostle makes it perfectly clear that this is not so. “Now we beseech you brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means …” (2 Thess. 2:1-2). There are certain “times and seasons” (:1) that will indicate that the church is in the last days. The actual day of Christ’s return will be as sudden and unannounced as “a thief in the night” (:2). World conditions will be a sign to us that the Lord is coming soon. The governments of the world will be in a desperate search for peace and will enforce a false peace, but as they say “Peace and safety; then sudden destruction” will come upon them (:3). There will be spiritual and moral darkness, but the true Christian will not be taken unawares. The Day of the Lord will not take them by surprise (:4-5). Nevertheless, there will be fewer true Christians as the day approaches, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first…” (2 Thess. 2:3). The day cannot come until the Holy Spirit has finished His work on the earth, “only He that now letteth will let, until He be taken out of the way” (2 Thess.2:7).
Two major events that must come before the return of Christ are the “falling away” (as mentioned above) and the coming of the Antichrist, “and that man of sin be revealed…” (2 Thess.2:3). Paul deals with this person in 2 Thessalonians 2. He calls him “the man of sin, the son of perdition” (:3). This man will claim to be God (the Messiah), “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4). He will have “power and signs and lying wonders” that will deceive those who do not know Christ (2 Thess. 2:9-12), not from God but from Satan.
God is going to judge this wicked world, those who are spiritually and morally asleep, but those who are saved will not experience God’s wrath. “For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). There is a judgement coming on the wicked, but eternal reward will be given to the righteous. Jesus will deal also with the Antichrist “whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess.2:8). The world may oppose God’s word and persecute Christians but the Lord will deal with them, “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” (2 Thess. 1:6-10).
This is our hope and comfort; that we one day will be eternally with the Lord, and we will never experience His wrath, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words….Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thess. 4:18, 5:11). We need not fear but continue to love and serve God, and in the “patient waiting for Christ” (2 Thess.3:5).