(Read Part 7)
The Apostle Paul strongly argued that the third temple would exist in Jerusalem during the future eschatological tribulation period (2 Thess. 2:4). Paul addressed this issue with the newly-established Thessalonian church, which suffered severe persecution to the point where they firmly believed they were living in the yet future seven-year tribulation. Paul wrote the confused Christians with the purpose of teaching them the distinctly dispensational doctrinal truths regarding their present situation and the prophetic future.
The First-Century Situation
The apostle Paul received what Luke termed the “Macedonian Vision” during Paul’s second missionary journey. God directed Paul through the means of the vision to travel to the western side of the Mediterranean Sea to Macedonia to preach the gospel in the local cities (Acts 16:9-10). Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy first preached the gospel in Philippi, and established a church (Acts 16:12-40). In A.D. 50, Paul and Silas traveled south to Thessalonica, and spent three Sabbaths reasoning with the Jews regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ. This resulted in “some” of the Jewish people accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, Scripture states that a “great multitude of devout Greeks (Gentiles) and not a few of the leading woman joined Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:4). The Jews who refused to accept the gospel were enraged with Paul and Silas. The antagonists caused such an uproar that the Thessalonian believers forced Paul and Silas to flee Thessalonica for their own protection, leaving the very new Christians without their experienced teachers (Acts 17:5-10).
Paul continued moving south and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in Berea and Athens (Acts 17:10-34). Paul’s pastoral heart challenged him to find out if the new Christians in Thessalonica were holding firm to their faith. The apostle Paul, while proclaiming the gospel in Athens, decided (with his fellow laborers Silas and Timothy) to send Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the status of the church. Timothy went to Thessalonica to meet with the Christians. He subsequently reunited with Paul and Silas south of Athens in Corinth (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:1-6). Timothy provided Paul with an overall good report of the Thessalonian Christians. However, they had developed some wrong conclusions regarding the prophetic future based on their present situation in A.D. 50-51 of enduring severe persecution. The Christians wrongly concluded that they were living in the seven-year tribulation period, which they knew from Paul’s teaching would be a time of severe persecution.
The Prophetic Scenario
The apostle Paul in A.D. 50-51 wrote his first epistle to the Thessalonians, while in Corinth, to encourage them and to correct them on errors they had developed in their eschatology. Paul unequivocally taught the Thessalonians that they were not living in the tribulation period. Paul wrote the single most important passage on the rapture of the church age saints in that epistle to stress God would remove the Christians from the world before the tribulation period commences (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Paul wrote his second epistle in approximately A.D. 51-52 to the Thessalonian Christians to, among other issues, provide additional Scriptural arguments that Jesus Christ will rapture all Christians before the beginning of the seven-year eschatological tribulation. Paul clearly stated that the Thessalonian Christians were not in the tribulation, as several things will occur when the tribulation period begins.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thess. 2:3-4).
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16), revealed three specific eschatological or future events that, when they occur, signal the existence of the tribulation period. First, the “falling away” (Greek apostasia) must take place. Second, “the man of sin,” also known as the Antichrist, must be actively present in the world. Third, the Antichrist demands the worship of all people. Specifically tied to the third point is that the Antichrist will sit “in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4). Paul stressed to the Thessalonians that they absolutely were not living in the tribulation period, as none of those events had occurred.
When Paul wrote the Thessalonians in A.D. 51-52, the second temple still existed in Jerusalem. The Romans subsequently destroyed the second temple in A.D. 70. The Jewish people suffered horrific violence during the invasion, resulting in the destruction of the second temple, the plundering of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish survivors across the known world. The three events that Paul stated must occur to signify the tribulation period had not taken place during the Second Temple period. Therefore, the Jewish people must build the third temple in the future to fulfill the prophecy spoken by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians reveal that the rapture of all of the church age saints will occur before the tribulation period (1 Thess. 4:13-18). He further developed the argument of the pretribulation rapture of the church when describing three events that will occur after the rapture, including the building of the third Jewish temple in Jerusalem. God will sovereignly provide the way for the Jewish people to build the tribulation temple (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 11:1).
God designed these distinctly dispensational truths to provide great comfort to Christians. Though a Christian dies during the present church age, we can rejoice that each of us who placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will one day be gloriously united with Jesus Christ in the clouds. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17; cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 50-54).
Here we stand; we cannot, and must not, be moved from this distinctive dispensational doctrine.
(To be continued)
Dr. Richard Schmidt is the founder of Prophecy Focus Ministries, having previously served as a pastor and church planter. His love for the prophetic Scriptures resulted in writing a doctoral dissertation on a dispensational perspective on the mystery church age existing between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel. Dr. Schmidt offers seminars on a variety of prophetic topics to local churches and conferences. We are very excited to involve him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House.
Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Richard Schmidt. Used by permission of the author.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.