End Times at Thessalonica: The Opening Act

Paul wants to provide comfort, and this comes out when he reminds his readers of their hope when they grieve for those believers who have already died (I Thes 4:13). Paul noted that their grief was not marked by normal sorrow: they were  anxious because they feared dying meant that Christians missed the return of Christ. They expected Christ’s appearing at any moment (as will become apparent), and so they were troubled that some of the saints had not survived. Paul encourages them: He likens the believer’s death to sleep, and reminds them that Christ’s Resurrection means they should likewise expect the dead to also raise and even accompany Christ in His return (v. 14).
With this, Paul opens the curtains for the opening act of “The Day of the Lord.” It is a marketplace full of the mundane; it is an average day.  No one stands center-stage.  The sound of a trumpet and a command from an archangel draws the audience’s eyes upward.  A lone Actor descends, but He pauses, not touching the floor and not revealing Himself to the marketplace (see v. 16).  Instead, the rumbling sound from the stage draws eyes downward again.  Responders to the call arrive or, rather, ascend from inside the platform—Paul explains that the as believers once dead rise to meet their Lord.
More movement on the stage draws our attention: the doors of a church making up the scenery burst open as more responders gather and ascend to meet Christ in the air (v. 17).  Paul’s voice explains the work of Christ to the audience---the hearts of the redeemed are now blameless (3:13). Finally, the light begins to fade on stage as an ominous rattle is heard. A large dove lifts chains from the side of the stage, also to disappear into the clouds (cf. 2 Thes 2:6–7).
The first act is not yet over, but let us pause here for a moment of further consideration. This is only the opening act. The Lord of the performance never fully revealed Himself to the audience, for He remained in the clouds throughout the scene. Whether He was fully obscured from the world Paul does not explain, but one thing is clear: the departure of the saints and the chains leave a very different state on the stage of the world. There is much more to consider with Christ’s return, some of which we will revisit during Act 3.
Movement again fills the stage in the dim hues following the ascension of these believers. All are in a panic, many stumbling from the very same church doors as the previous responders. Of this later group there are those who are shaking while they thumb through Bibles without finding any help.
From the side of the stage come a handful who are cautious in their stride, rubbing their arms with every step, their chainless limbs enjoying newfound freedom. They begin to calm the panic of the rabble: “There is no need to fear—peace and security has now come on earth!” (cf. 1 Thes 5:3). The crowd gathers closer to hear these confident words, dropping their Bibles as they draw nearer. The crowd, cheering, lifts a man on their shoulders and begins to leave the stage.
However, a couple of spotlights fall on individuals on the stage. They stop, bend to pick back up their Bibles, and walk back into the church from whence they came. They are the elect saints entering into the following acts, and they will, by God’s grace, escape deception, for that deceit is meant for those who are perishing (II Thes 2:10–11). The lights fade and Paul closes the curtain on the opening act.
In summary, it seems that Paul taught (1) the Lord will return, but at first to only to gather the saints, (2) the restraining force of the Holy Spirit will accompany the ascension of the believers from this earth, (3) a great apostasy like never before will be present on the earth, and (4) the man of sin will be revealed to a world ready to embrace him.
To be continued...

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