Don K. Preston
As a young man I heard preachers quote 2 Thessalonians 1:7f : “To you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God, and obey not the gospel.” The ministers would pound the pulpit threatening the audience with the terror of the possibly soon coming of the Lord against those who did not obey the gospel call. In later years, I too quoted that text, and appealed to it urging my listeners to beware of the coming of the Lord in flaming fire. The trouble is, when I actually read the text, I discovered that it is wrong to apply 2 Thessalonians to a future coming of the Lord!
Paul was writing to living breathing Christians of the first century. Well, wasn’t he? Those living breathing Christians were being persecuted at that time. In verses 4-7, Paul uses the present participial form of the word thlipsis to describe that persecution. It was not something that was going to happen in the far off future. It was happening then, to them.
However, Paul promised those living breathing, persecuted Christians relief from that persecution. The word translated as rest, is anesis, and means relief from pressure. The word thlipsis means pressure. When anesis and thlipsis are used together, anesis is always, without exception, relief from whatever pressure is being discussed. In 2 Thessalonians 1, the pressure was the pressure of persecution. Paul promised the Thessalonians that they would receive relief from their persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
Paul did not tell the Thessalonians they would die, and go to heaven to get relief from their persecution. Paul did not tell them that they would die, go to paradise of Hades and wait, and then, someday, the Lord would come. Paul told living breathing humans, being persecuted at that time, that they would receive relief from that persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
Are the Thessalonians still alive? Are they still under the pressure of that persecution? Did Jesus come and give them relief or not? (Recently I asked two different debate opponents this question, and they both said “No, Jesus did not come and give the Thessalonians relief!”)
Paul said Jesus was coming, while the Thessalonians were still under persecution, to give them relief from that persecution! If the Thessalonians died and went to paradise or heaven, they would not need relief from persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” would they? Would they need relief from the “pressure”of paradise? What kind of pressure is/was Hades?
If Jesus did not come in the lifetime of the Thessalonian Christians, while they were being persecuted, and give them relief from their persecution, then Paul lied to them, or his prophecy simply failed. He gave them a false hope of relief from their persecution. If Paul’s prophecy failed, or if lied to them, then he stands guilty of false prophecy and his writings are to be rejected.
But Paul was not wrong. Jesus did come in judgment of the persecutors, Old Covenant Israel (1 Thessalonians 2:15-17). Jesus did come and give relief to the Thessalonians. Paul was not wrong. It is the modern preachers that insist on putting Christ’s coming off into the future that are wrong. See my book In Flaming Fire, available on this website, for a fuller discussion of 2 Thessalonians 1. When we apply proper hermeneutics (interpretive practices) to the text, there is no way that it can be applied to a yet future, end of time, literal coming of Chris.