- Created on Thursday, 11 May 2006 10:50
- Written by Don Preston
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It is so very easy to read certain Bible passages for years and never fully realize what they are saying. I am certain that most of us have experienced both the frustration and the joy of suddenly discovering some of those hidden nuggets that had lain exposed, yet hidden, for so long. Sometimes we discover statements which disturb our preconceived ideas and challenge us to rethink long held views. Such is the case with II Thessalonians 2:1-2.
"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." (New American Standard)
A similar passage is found in II Timothy 2:16-18.
What is so challenging about these verses? Please ask yourself the following question: If the day of the Lord is, as you and I have always been taught, a time ending, universe destroying event, how in the world could the Thessalonians ever have been convinced, as they obviously were, that the day of the Lord had already come? All they had to do when any one would suggest such an idea was say "Look around! The earth is still here. Time marches on. Obviously, the day of the Lord has not come!" The same could be said of the passage in II Timothy. If the resurrection is when all the physical graves are opened, when Jesus bodily, visibly descends on a cloud with the audible sound of a trumpet: how could any one convince those at Ephesus that it had already happened?
(Lest it be argued the Thessalonians did not yet believe the day of the Lord to be past, but were only in danger of being thus deceived, we observe this does not materially affect what we will here argue. The point is, Paul did not challenge the teaching concerning the nature of the day. He only challenged the chronology.)
Could it just be that our concept of the day of the Lord is incorrect? Could it be we have misunderstood the nature, as well as the time, of the Parousia? Our purpose in this little treatise is to examine some of the issues behind the Thessalonian text and challenge some prevailing concepts.
A good summary of modern views of the Thessalonian problem can be stated in the following way. The church at Thessalonica had mistakenly begun to believe that the coming of Jesus was imminent. Therefore, Paul had to write to correct the problem. This he does in II Thessalonians by telling of events which had to transpire before Jesus could come.
There are some key questions that must be asked to help delineate the issues.
1. Did the Thessalonians believe the day of the Lord imminent or did they believe it had already come?
2. If, in fact, the Thessalonians did believe the Parousia to be imminent where did they get that idea, from Paul or others?
A Question of Translation
The question of whether the Thessalonicans believed the Parousia to be imminent or present centers around the word "enistemi" or rather the perfect active indicative form, "enesteken" as found in II Thessalonians 2:2.
We would hastily confess that we are certainly not in any form a Greek scholar. However, we are able to read the lexicons and compare the Bible versions and Greek commentaries to best determine not only the consensus of opinion there, but to study the context of the scripture. In the case of "enistemi" there seems to be no great difficulty in determining what should be the proper translation.
We shall present the evidence in the following order: What do the translations say?; What do the lexicons say?; What do the Greek commentators say?
The following is a comparison of how various translations render II Thessalonians 2:2. For brevity we will note only whether they render the verse as "present" or "imminent."
1. KJV — is at hand.
2. ASV — is just at hand.
3. New KJV — as though ...had come.
4. RSV — has come
5. NASB — has come
6. New English Bible — is already here
7. NIV — has already come
8. Amplified — has (already) arrived and is here
9. Living New Testament — has already begun
10. McCord's New Testament Translation — has come
11. Williams — is already here
12. Beck — has already come
13. Good News For Modern Man — has come
14. Lamsa — at hand
15. Jerusalem — has already arrived
16. Berkeley — had arrived
17. Today's English Version — has come
18. Twentieth Century NT — is come
19. Emphasized NT, Rotherham — hath set in
20. Goodspeed — had already come
There are other translations available but these provide a good representation of the field.
It is obvious that the majority of translations render the verse to read the day of the Lord had already come. You will note the KJV, the ASV, and the Lamsa are the only ones to differ. It is noteworthy also that the Lamsa version is taken from the Aramaic and not the Greek. Thus, the KJV and the ASV are the only Greek translations to prefer the "imminent" sense of the verse. We turn now to consider the lexical evidence.
The lexical evidence for the definition of enestemi is almost as overwhelming as that of the translations.
1. Thayer's, pg 216, - "to be upon, impend, threaten: II Thess.2:2." Note: We would cite his admission that "many would adopt the meaning of "present" in II Thessalonians...."
2. Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg 140 - "to be at hand, impend, to be present, Romans 8:38; II Thess. 2:2."
3. Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.II, pg. 191,- "In 2 Thess. 2:2 the verb enistemi, to be present ... is wrongly translated "is at hand": the RV correctly renders it, "is (now) present...."
4. Baur, (Arndt and Gingrich), pg 266 - "1. in past tenses to be present ... II Thess. 2:2."
5. Kittel's Theological Dictionary, vol II, pg 543 — "In the perfect it means "to have entered" and therefore "to be present."
The evidence from the lexicons then, is the same as from the versions. The meaning of enistemi is "present." While there are some that do render it as imminent, ie. Thayer's, they acknowledge this is not the majority view. Others, the Analytical for instance, seem a little ambiguous but nonetheless cite "present" as the meaning and list II Thessalonians as reference. We turn now to consider what the commentators have to say.
The Greek Commentators
Of making of books there is no end said the preacher. And when it comes to commentaries there is an inexhaustible number one could examine. It would be impossible to list all the sources but we can list some of the more reputable ones; (and for information sake we wish to state that the following sources were chosen at random. These are not hand picked commentaries chosen because this scribe happened to agree with what they say.)
Among the commentators who accept the "just at hand" rendering without comment about the Greek of the text are McGarvey Pendleton, J. W. Shepherd, Henry, Clark, Coffman. All of these accept the KJV or ASV rendering without question.
When it comes to the commentators who comment on the Greek in our text however, there is very little disagreement among them.
1. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, (JFB), Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan, 1977, pg. 1343- "is immediately imminent, lit., 'is present;' is instantly coming." They comment that while Paul always taught the Parousia was imminent, what he denies here is that it was so imminent they could neglect everyday responsibilities. He admits the Greek is usually used of actual presence and cites Chrysostom.
2. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. 4, Broadman, 1931, pg. 48- Robertson renders it "as present" but then insists that here since it is "intransitive in this tense to stand in or at or near. So "is imminent" (Lightfoot)."
3. John Eadie, Greek Text Commentaries, Baker Books, 1979, p. 259ff — Eadie has one of the fullest discussions of the word. Says, "The true meaning of the word is not "at hand, but "is come," or "is present." Excellent source material.
4. William Barclay, Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, The Daily Study Bible Series, Westminster Press, 1975, pg. 211-212-Barclay translates it as "is here."
5. Pulpit Commentary, Vol 21 Eerdmans, 1977, pg. 24 says it means "literally is present," although they confess they find it "difficult to conceive how the Thessalonians could think that the day of the Lord was actually present. We cannot imagine that they thought that Christ had already come for judgment." We shall have more to say on this later.
6. Leon Morris, The New International Commentary On The New Testament, (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1979, pg. 216- "The verb does not really mean 'to be at hand,' but rather "to be present." He also cites Frame and Lillie, as well as Bicknell who insists "is now present" as "the only possible translation of the Greek." He does list Warfield as dissenting.
7. A Translators Handbook on Paul's Letters to the Thessalonians, Ellingworth and Nida, United Bible Societies, 1976, pg. 160- "In place of has come, a few translators (Knox, following the Latin, cf. KJV) have "is close at hand." The Greek verb can have this meaning in other tenses and in other contexts. In past tenses, however, it means "has arrived." They list Rigaux who says the translation as "imminent" is "a commentary having no linguistic basis."
8. F.F.Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 45, p. 165, Word Incorporated, Dallas, Texas, 1982, In his translation he renders it as "present." In his commentary he says, "It cannot be seriously disputed that 'is present' is the natural sense of enesteken." He says there is, "considerable support for the sense of imminence," but admits enesteken "will not bear" this. It is clear Bruce is troubled by the significance of this for he says "...it cannot be supposed that the Thessalonians ..could have been misled ...that the events of I Thessalonians had taken place."
9. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositors Greek Testament, Vol. 4, Eerdmans, pg. 47 — "were already present."
10. Alford's Greek Testament, Vol. III, Baker, 1980, pg. 289- "... is present (not, 'is at hand,' ...six times in the NT and always in the sense of being present...."
We could multiply these quotes. Other noted scholars and commentators who examine the Greek and conclude enestemi means present and not at hand are, The Interpreters Bible, Lenski, Cook, Wycliffe, Hendrikson, Conybeare and Howson, and others.
See For Your Self
It does not take a great scholar to discover how enestemi is used in the New Testament. The Englishman's Greek Concordance lists six occurrences of the word. We give them here.
1. Romans 8:38 speaks of things present (enestemi), and things to come. Enestemi is used as a contrast for things of the future.
2. I Corinthians 3:22 things present (enestemi) and things to come.
3. I Corinthians 7:26 "...it is good for the present (enestemi) distress..."
4. Galatians 1:4 - "this present (enestemi) evil world."
5. II Timothy 3:1- "...perilous times shall come." This time enestemi is in the future tense. See number 7 under commentators above.
6. Hebrews 9:9 "... for the time then present...."
Is it not abundantly clear that the normal meaning of enestemi is present?
An Objection-An Observation
It may be rejoined that while there is a consensus as to the natural meaning of the word, there are some very impressive scholars who defend the imminent sense in II Thessalonians. Men such as Robertson, Lightfoot, Warfield, Macknight, and Vincent all prefer imminent and they are noted scholars to be sure. But while these men have chosen to refuse the normal rendering of the word their reasons are not tenable. They have, we believe, taken the only possible course to avoid a tremendous theological dilemma which they did not wish to address.
Their reasons for insisting on the sense of imminence can be seen in the quotes from the Pulpit Commentary and F. F. Bruce, numbers 5 and 8 above. These commentators believe in a time ending, cosmos destroying, earth burning Parousia and assume the Thessalonicans did as well. Now if that be true it would be impossible for those brethren to believe that day had already come. Their eyes and senses would more than adequately disprove that nonsensical idea. Is it possible these commentators and their a priori assumptions are erroneous?
Misconceptions About Misconceptions
It is normally taught that the Thessalonians believed the Parousia was imminent and so Paul, who did not believe or teach that error, had to write to correct this misconception. To help us better understand that this is a mistaken view we must see if indeed Paul taught Jesus' coming was imminent.
Paul and The Parousia
Commentators often say that early in his ministry Paul taught Jesus' return was imminent. But, we are told, as time passed and the anticipated event did not transpire Paul began to omit any mention of the Parousia in his writings because of his disappointment. Such claims are simply untrue.
The letter to the Thessalonicans is one of his early works and in I Thessalonians 4:13ff Paul indicates a belief in the possibility he would be alive, along with the Thessalonicans, when Jesus returned. It is often maintained his language is simply editorial. But Paul's use of "we" in Thessalonians is always contemporary and personal.
The letter to the Corinthians, (54-55, A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures, pg. 65) contains numerous references to Paul's convictions of an imminent return. In 1:4-8 he says the Corinthians had miraculous gifts and would continue to have them until the end, the day of Christ. In 7:29ff he emphatically declares "... the time is short..."; "...the fashion of this world is passing away." In 15:51 he specifically says not all of them would die before seeing the resurrection. Compare Jesus' words in Mark 9:1. See also the famous passage in 16:22.
The book of Romans, (spring of 57, A.T. Robertson, pg. 320), certainly contains evidence Paul believed in the imminent return of Jesus. In chapter 13:11ff he declared "...the day is at hand." In chapter 16:20 he promised "God ...shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."
It is true Paul does not mention the Parousia at great length in some of his letters. Galatians has but one somewhat vague reference, 5:5. Ephesians mentions the world, or age to come, 1:21. Colossians 3:1ff has a brief reference.
But the claim of some that Paul did not believe in an imminent return while in prison is not true at all. He wrote the brethren at Philippi a little letter while in prison. In chapter 1 he prayed they live lives without offence "until the day of Christ." He did not tell them he wanted them to live right until they died. He wanted them to live holy lives until Jesus returned. Verse 6 is parallel to I Corinthians 1:4-8. The declaration is that the miracles which had convinced and confirmed them would continue until the day of Jesus. Even more emphatic is Paul's proclamation in 4:5 "The Lord is at hand."
While some seek to mitigate the obvious reference to the epiphany by such statements as "...Paul did say the Lord was 'at hand.' That does not say, however, the "coming of the Lord was at hand." Jerry Moffitt, Denton Lectureship Book, Editor Dub McClish, Valid Publications, 1988, pg.248. Such statements completely overlook the context for in 3:20ff the apostle speaks of the return and then in chapter four bases his exhortations on that event, which he then declares as imminent.
(It would be interesting to know if Moffitt believes the statement, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," Mark 1:15, really meant "the COMING of the kingdom is at hand.")
Additional proof the apostle believed in an imminent return is found in I Timothy 6:14. (I Timothy, circa 65, Robertson, pg 559.) Here Paul instructs Timothy to "...keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing." It should be carefully observed that Paul did not say to keep the commandments until he (Timothy) died. He told him to keep the commandment until the appearing of Jesus.
If the Pauline authorship of Hebrews be granted the contention that Paul did not teach or hold to the imminent return of Jesus late in his life can hardly be true. The book virtually breathes an air of expectancy. From the expectation of "the world to come" 2:5f; the exhortations for the Hebrew Christians to hold fast "to the end," 3:6,14; 6:11: his reference to the Old Law which was even then "growing old and is ready to vanish away, 8:13; to his promise of the second coming of the Lord in 9:28 and his emphatic declaration "For yet a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay," 10:37
The reader can see that not only did Paul teach that Jesus' return was to occur in his generation, but he held this view as a conviction and doctrine. He believed this early in his ministry and at the end of his life. His only uncertainty was whether he would live to see it. He was not uncertain as to its imminence.
A word here about whether we today should believe the Parousia to be imminent because Paul did. In other words, if Paul believed it was imminent we should too. The problem is, Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit said the return was imminent. He was not just expressing a hope — he was emphatically declaring an inspired truth. If he was wrong, he was not inspired. There is, therefore, a vast difference between someone today who says the day of the Lord is at hand and when Paul said it. Paul was inspired. No one today fits that description.
Since Paul obviously did teach the Parousia was near, consider what sort of problem this presents if it is maintained that in II Thessalonians he denied it to be so. Here he is an inspired apostle who teaches on the one hand the Parousia is imminent. But when some of the brethren take his message to heart and in fact get carried away, he retracts his teaching and says "Now wait a minute brethren, I never said the coming was at hand!"
One possible solution to the dilemma would be to suggest he taught two comings, one imminent, the return to judge Israel; another protracted, the return at the end of time. Unfortunately, this will not work since it is evident his description of the Parousia in Thessalonians is the same as that which he elsewhere asserts to be imminent, Philippians 3:20-4:5.
When one carefully studies the II Thessalonian text he does not find any indication that Paul was now teaching a protracted Parousia. On the contrary, the indications are very strong that it was, from their perspective, imminent.
The apostle said two things must happen before Jesus' return; the apostasy, and the revealing of the man of sin. We will not take the space to develop whether the apostasy was about to break out but refer the reader to the books of II Timothy 3, Jude, II Peter, Colossians. What Paul, in about 51- 52, said would happen did happen; in his generation!
A word here about the Parousia and signs. It is commonly, and vociferously, maintained that there will be absolutely no signs of Jesus' final coming. Commentators are quite adamant in this. See Boatman, The End Time, College Press, 1980, pg. 133f. Also Roy Deaver tract, Premillennialism: Matthew Chapters 24 and 25 Do Not Teach It!, 1977, available from the Getwell Church of Christ, 1511 Getwell Road, Memphis, Tenn. 38111; Marcellus Kik, Eschatology of Victory, pg. 162ff. Wayne Jackson, "Christian Courier," Vol. XVI, No. 7, Nov. 1980, emphatically declares: "There are absolutely no biblical signs to indicate when the end of time will occur."
But this position is patently untenable in view of II Thessalonians 2. Paul says prior to the epiphany of the day of God there would be two signs. There would be the apostasy, and the manifestation of the man of sin. Now, how can it be denied that these would constitute obvious signs? Since Paul clearly says the man of sin would be destroyed by the coming of the Son of Man it is patent that the coming would be in the lifetime of the man of sin. The appearance of the man of sin, then, would constitute an undeniable proof that the generation of the Parousia had arrived. But it means more than this to the traditional view of the Parousia.
If it is the case there will be absolutely no signs of the final coming of Jesus, Jackson, Deaver, Boatman, et.al.; and if it is the case that in II Thessalonians 2 Paul gives two signs, or events, which must occur prior to the coming of the Lord; then it must be true that the coming of the Lord discussed by Paul in II Thessalonians 2 cannot be the final coming of the Lord for which there would be no signs. It is clear Paul does give two events which must transpire prior to the coming which he discusses. Therefore, the coming discussed by Paul in II Thessalonians cannot be the final coming of the Lord. Please consider this in view of I Timothy 4:1ff and the coming of false teachers which would be known by their distinctive doctrines; II Timothy 3:1ff and the coming of perilous times typified by certain ungodly men; II Timothy 4:1ff and false teachers; II Peter 2:1ff and the antinomians; II Peter 3 and the appearance of scoffers; Jude and the rebellious ones of whom Peter wrote; and other texts which foretold of the coming of certain events or people which were to appear just prior to the Parousia. All of these texts mention things which could and would be discerned by the brethren. Since these events were to occur prior to the Day of the Lord, in the "last days" just before the coming, any who saw these signs would be able without doubt to know the time for the Parousia was near. They could know without question they were living in the target generation. Since all these events would constitute nothing less than SIGNS; and since, we are told, there would/will be absolutely NO SIGNS of Jesus' final coming, it is undeniable that none of the above cited texts can in any way be applied to our future and any final coming of the Lord!)
And what of the man of sin? Please note that the one restraining him, (and for purposes of chronology it is not necessary to know who this is; it is sufficient to know he was alive and doing his restraining work when Paul wrote), was then very much alive.
Now since Paul tells us the man of sin was alive in his day, ("the spirit of lawlessness is already at work"), and since he was to be manifested, work his evil, and be destroyed by the coming of Jesus; does it not necessarily follow the Parousia was to be in that generation? We are confirmed in our belief that the man of sin was alive then by Paul's twice affirmed statement to the effect that the restrainer was at that very time holding him back, vs 6-7. Now the restrainer was alive and the one he was restraining was alive. But the one being restrained was going to be revealed. He would perpetrate his evil and reach awesome heights of power. But at the zenith of his dark work Jesus would be revealed from heaven and destroy that evil one. See L. Boettner, The Millennium, Presbyterian Press, 1975, pg. 211ff; on the man of sin as Paul's contemporary.
Given the contemporary nature of the man of sin and the Thessalonians, is it not inescapable that Jesus was to return in that generation? Thus, Paul in II Thessalonians 2:2 was not denying the imminence of the Parousia. He in fact confirmed it. What he did deny was that it had already occurred.
Some would contend that even if the proper translation of our text does indicate the Thessalonicans were believing the day of the Lord had come it does not mean Paul actually taught the day was imminent. He was still denying the day had come. But this does not help. Could Paul not believe the day was at hand while not believing the day had already come? Our children, when December arrives, know that Christmas is near; but they also know that until the 25th day it has not come! Paul could have therefore, as we have sought to demonstrate above, still taught the coming of the Lord was at hand while having to teach the Thessalonicans it had not yet come.
Now given the inescapable fact that Paul did teach the imminence of the coming of the Lord; and given the Old Covenant view of the day of the Lord it is conceivable how some could be persuaded the day had already come. The apostle said it was imminent; the day was to be a time of judgment on Jerusalem; there had just been a few years prior two major catastrophic events in Jerusalem. But we say again, if Paul had taught that the day of the Lord was to be delayed for thousands of years and that it was when time ended and all creation was destroyed, there is NO WAY you could convince ANYONE the day had ALREADY COME!
We turn now to consider some further vital issues at stake in the II Thessalonians text. We pose some questions to help guide the discussion.
1. How could it be possible for the Thessalonicans to believe the day of the Lord had already come?
2. If the Thessalonicans had a misconception about the day of the Lord, what was the nature of their error?
3. What does all this mean for us?
How Is This Possible?
You and I were (probably) raised with the concept that the day of the Lord would/will be an awesome event. The physical heavens would be on fire as Jesus descends on a cloud. The heart rending sound of the trumpet resounds throughout all creation and the physical bodies of those long dead arise as the ground is violently thrown back. All creation is engulfed in fire and the elements are dissolved. The earth is destroyed as well as the universe with the planets and stars. Judgment is set, time ends and eternity begins. (Even if you were raised as a premillenialist your concept of the coming of the Lord would prevent you from believing it had already occurred. The same difficulties are present in the Thessalonican text; for the amillenialist and the premillenialist.)
Given this view of the day of the Lord, how is it possible for the Thessalonians to believe that day had already come? As we noted earlier in this work, if the Thessalonians had the same concept of the day of the Lord which you and I have been taught there is simply no way in this world any one could convince them it had already happened. The very idea is laughable.
There is only one possible way to convince those brethren the day of the Lord had already come; change their concept about the nature of the day of the Lord. You must convince them the Parousia was not a time ending, universe destroying, physical event.
You might teach them the Old Covenant idea of the day of the Lord wherein God acted by means of armies or nature to judge His enemies. See Isaiah 13:6, 24,34; Micah 1; Zephaniah 1; Obadiah verse 15; Joel 1-2; Ezekiel 7-10. In this case you would show these acts were called the day of the Lord. You would also point out that God was said to come, even said to come on the clouds, Isaiah 19. You could even demonstrate how David described his deliverance from his enemies in terms which sound as if the physical universe was destroyed, and Jehovah came down from heaven, II Samuel 22. In all these passages and more you could show how the Bible uses the term day of the Lord, not to refer to some future time and cosmos ending catastrophe, but to simply speak of Gods' actions in figurative ways.
It is interesting to observe that at least some recognize the possibility that in the first century a "silent and invisible," Parousia was being propounded. Moffitt, op cit. "Silent and invisible" does not accurately describe the situation but at least recognizes there was no need for a physical return of Jesus in the clouds. To describe the Old Covenant day of the Lord and His coming in the clouds, Isaiah 19, Psalms 18, when he destroyed His enemies by invaders, as silent and invisible is erroneous. The day of the Lord was tumultuous, frightening, and awesome. But God did not visibly appear.
That it is entirely plausible the OT concept of the day of the Lord could be the same as what Paul taught, compare the language of Isaiah 66:15ff and that in II Thessalonians 1:6ff. They both speak of the coming of the Lord in judgment, the end of an old world, the gathering of the saints, etc. We believe both passages speak of the same event and time. This is significant since, as we shall see, it was not the Thessalonicans' concept of the nature of the day of the Lord which Paul corrected, but their chronology. They got their ideas of the nature of that day from Paul and the Old Covenant. They got their chronological error from others.
Further, you could demonstrate how Jesus emphatically declared he would return in that generation to destroy Jerusalem and employed OT apocalyptic language to describe that event, Matthew 24:29-34. In other words, he said his coming would be just like the day of the Lord in the Old Covenant. The day of the Lord did not destroy the earth, nor end time under the old covenant, nor would it do so under Jesus. It would be the end of their world to be sure, and the end of the age, Matthew 24:3; but not the end of time.
With such a concept of the nature of the day of the Lord, when you saw civil wars, threats of invasion, (cf. Matthew 24:5ff); famine, (cf Acts 12); earthquake, (Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius); and other natural disasters, you might very well think the Lord's coming had happened.
As a matter of fact there were two specific events which had happened in Jerusalem which might have been used by the false teachers to convince the Thessalonicans the day of the Lord had already come. Josephus (Wars, Bk. II: chap. 12:1) tells us that under the Procurator Cumanus, sometime between 48-52 AD there was a riot in the Temple area of Jerusalem in which over 30,000 people were trampled to death in one day. Earlier, between 39-41 AD, occurred the infamous incident in which Caligula commanded that his statue be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem. This incident brought the nation to the brink of war, (Josephus, Antiquities, Bk 19; Wars Bk. II, chapt. 10.) Either one of these events, or both combined, could have been the basis of the claims of the false teachers. The incident involving Caligula's statue could have been understood as fulfillment of the son of perdition teaching which Paul had done, II Thessalonians 2:5; and the catastrophe involving all the deaths could have been understood as Christ's wrath on the Temple.
That there should be no misunderstanding as to what we are proposing in this little paper we wish to state that it is our conviction that the day of the Lord as taught by Paul and all the inspired apostles was nothing less than the return of Jesus in AD 70. He returned and destroyed the Old World of Judaism; the temple; the genealogies; the priesthood; the sacrifices; the law; at the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem. We believe this is precisely what our Lord meant when he promised to return in judgment in the lifetime of his disciples, Matthew 16:27-28.
What's The Problem?
Since the only way the Thessalonicans could be convinced the Parousia had already occurred was to believe in the Old Covenant concept of the day of the Lord; if this was not the proper view Paul should have corrected their error. What errors did Paul in fact seek to correct? How did he go about correcting the Thessalonican misconceptions? When we determine exactly what it was Paul sought to correct we will know better the view of the Thessalonians. Did Paul seek to change the Thessalonian's concept of the nature of the Parousia? The answer is an emphatic no!
There are in fact, only two passages in the two Thessalonican epistles in which Paul addresses their error. The first is I Thessalonians 4:13-18. In these verses Paul certainly does not try to alter their views on the nature of the Parousia; only the order of it. The brethren were concerned that their loved ones who died prior to Jesus' return would miss out on the accompanying blessings. The apostle reassures them no such thing would happen. The dead in Christ would arise first, then "we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him."
There is no rebuke for believing in a distorted concept of the return. There is simply reassurance given over fears for deceased loved ones and instruction concerning the chronological order of the events accompanying the epiphany. There is not one single word about any mistaken views as to the nature of the day of the Lord.
The second text in which Paul addresses mistaken ideas about the day of Christ is II Thessalonians 2:2. But once again there is no word about error concerning the nature of that day. Their error was believing it had already come; not some misconception as to what it was like.
We have now answered the first two of our three questions. That leaves only the third. And we answer it by giving an overall summary of what we have sought to discover and establish in this little treatise.
Summary and Conclusion
We have, we believe, firmly established as irrefutable the proper definition of enestemi. It means "has come." This true, it follows the Thessalonicans believed, or were about to believe, the day of the Lord had come.
We have shown that had Paul written to say the day of the Lord was not imminent he would have been guilty of self contradiction. He did teach, in other epistles and in this book, the Parousia was imminent.
The only way the Thessalonicans could believe the Parousia had already occurred was for them to have believed it to be something different than a time-ending, universe destroying, event. Had they believed in the Old Covenant concept of the coming of the Lord they could have believed it had already occurred.
If they believed in something other than the time ending cosmos destroying concept they either got their convictions from Paul or some one else. To be sure, there were false teachers trying to convince the Thessalonians of erroneous doctrines, II Thessalonians 2:1-2. But their error was in saying the day had already come. Their error was the same as those in II Timothy 2:17-18 who taught the resurrection had already come.
Paul did not seek to correct any error on the part of the Thessalonians as to the nature of the day of the Lord. He sought only to reassure them as to their loved ones condition when the day came, and to tell them the day had not yet come.
Since Paul did not correct the Thessalonican's view as to the nature of the day of the Lord we conclude their concept of that day was correct. Had their perception of that day been in error and Paul not corrected them, he would have been culpable.
Since it is evident the Thessalonican's view of the day of the Lord could not have been that of a time ending event, and since Paul did not correct their view, they must have been correct.
If the Thessalonican's view of the Parousia was correct, and since they did not believe it to be an earth destroying event, then the modern view, ostensibly based upon the book of Thessalonians, that the day of the Lord is a time ending event is not the same as the Thessalonicans.
Since the Thessalonican perception of the epiphany was correct, we conclude that the modern doctrine of the coming of the Lord as a time ending, universe destroying event, is erroneous. Since the Thessalonican concept of the day of the Lord was the Old Covenant concept, and since their concept was correct, then it follows that the day of the Lord for which they were looking was not the end of time but was instead a time when God would judge his people. This was done in 70 AD when God destroyed the Jewish capital of Jerusalem and the temple by means of the Roman army. This was the coming of the Lord in that generation which Jesus had predicted in Matthew 16:27-28; chapter 24, etc.
The position set forth in this treatise is controversial to under state the case. We were not raised holding this concept. The questions raised by the text of II Thessalonians, and a host of other passages, are issues which have demanded reexamination of traditionally held views. (I was raised in the amillenial tradition of eschatology.)
Honest students cannot ignore Biblical language. For too long we have ignored or rationalized the language of imminence and other problems in scriptures. We have simply ignored or failed to see problems such as those posed by the Thessalonican situation. This writer urges the reader of this tract to be open minded enough to honestly consider the issues and questions we have raised. That may be uncomfortable to be sure. But the pursuit of truth has its own distinctive rewards. If we are going to claim to be seekers of truth we are going to have to honestly confront these issues.
We have also written a couple of other things on the "last things." We have a booklet on the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 and a larger work on II Peter 3. In both of these works we set forth the Biblical evidence for believing that the traditional concept of the day of the Lord is incorrect; and that what the inspired writers had in mind was the end of the Jewish World and the beginning of the Messianic World.