Stand Firm and Hold On! (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)

Special thanks to all who have joined in the journey from the beginning! My prayer throughout is that God will bring encouragement and courage to each of you as we learn from the apostle Paul how to live in the last days. It certainly seems that is where we are today, and it is critical that we remain steadfast as the days grow darker. We’re nearing the end, so finish strong!

In his two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul teaches about two distinctly different events: the rapture (believers caught up to meet Jesus in the air, prior to the tribulation) and the Second Coming (Jesus’s physical return to earth at the end of the tribulation, to establish His Millennial Kingdom). The focus in 1 Thessalonians 1 is the rapture, but in 2 Thessalonians, Paul transitions to the Second Coming, while still making occasional reference to the rapture in order to encourage the believers on one very important truth: Jesus will deliver believers from the wrath to come (the tribulation)! (1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9)

Yesterday, as we studied the first part of 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul warned of the great deception that is already happening, but will ultimately end with the revealing of the man of lawlessness…the Antichrist. The countdown to the tribulation is happening, and each of us must decide which track we will follow: Christ or the Antichrist.

Today, we pick it up in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, as Paul encourages believers to stand firm and hold on! Read the entire chapter to get the context. For foundation, I’ll reiterate: there is a difference between the rapture and the Second Coming. In fact, there are two distinctly different Greek words that are used for those two events:

ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia) = appearing, appearance, revealing.
παρουσία (parousia) = presence; the coming, arrival, advent; the future visible return from heaven of Jesus.

The rapture is Jesus’s appearing in the clouds to receive believers to Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17); whereas, the Second Coming will be a physical appearance of Jesus on earth (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The NKJV is typically the most accurate in delineating between the two, though still not perfect. To really discern, try using a concordance to look up the word being used in the original language (Hebrew in the OT, Greek in the NT) However, another clue is that passages regarding the rapture are most often words of encouragement. Do the following verses refer to the rapture or the Second Coming?

I hope you have your Bible handy today, because we’re going on a treasure hunt! Paul offers at least 3 exhortations in verses 13-17.

Exhortation #1: We are to Believe the Truth (verses 13-14)

Paul loved the church at Thessalonica, and they were growing mightily. But he also challenged them because they had gotten caught up in a lie (that they had missed the rapture). He had been very specific in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-11 about what happens if they should believe that lie. What was the warning?

So, what truths were they to believe? Let’s look carefully at 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. The first truth is they were “beloved” by the Lord (verse 13a), and so are we! To make personal application, turn to Romans 5:8. To what length does God go to show His love toward us? According to Jeremiah 31:3, He loves us with an everlasting love…no beginning, no end! We’re just now arriving at a truth that has been there all along! Furthermore, God’s love is accompanied by His forgiveness! (1 John 1:9)

But love wasn’t enough! The second truth is God chose them (verse 13b), and He chose (elected) you and me! (See 1 Thessalonians 1:4, Ephesians 1:4-5, Romans 8:28-31) He loves the entire human race, but not all will be saved! We have to be chosen! (Stick with me here…we’re not debating Calvinism vs Armenianism. Both are true, but it is a deep doctrinal issue we aren’t getting into today!) Remember…God is not bound by time! To Him, existence on planet earth is all one big NOW! Therefore, He saw our future before He ever spoke the world into existence! He knew at that time who would choose Him and who would not. It’s like watching a movie repeatedly. After seeing it once, you know what’s going to happen and how it all ends. God has seen your movie! The fact of the matter is that He chose ALL of us by offering the free gift of salvation. Some of us took it, some never will. It doesn’t change the fact that He chose us all!

The third truth is God sanctified them (verse 13c), and will do the same in our lives! Sanctification means “to be set apart,” and there are two types of sanctification: positional and practical. Positional sanctification happens just once, at salvation. In simple terms, when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we are saved. As simple as that! (Romans 10:9-10) That is salvation, and God “sets us apart” as His! Practical sanctification continues for a lifetime, as the Holy Spirit works in us so that our whole spirit, soul and body are preserved blameless at His coming. (1 Thessalonians 5:23) Often, God sanctifies us through trials. (Acts 14:22)

The fourth truth is God called them (verse 14), and He calls you and me. Our entire life is laid out before Him. What does Psalm 139:15-16 tells us about our days…beginning to end. If every day was fashioned and ordained by God, should we live in fear of things such as COVID? Has COVID (or any other disease, illness or accident) really taken someone “too soon?” Did God somehow lose track of days and lose a few people? I’m definitely not making light of the lose of loved ones. The pain and sadness are real. I’m simply pointing to Biblical truth that tells us nothing surprises God. From before earth’s creation, He numbered our days, and He has called us for a purpose as we live out every single day He gives us!

The fifth truth is that God glorified them (verse 14b), and He’s doing the same in each of our lives today! Read Jesus’s prayer in John 17:22-24, and John’s encouraging words in 1 John 3:2. Do you hear the voice of truth in those passages? What glorious promises! But when does that glory appear? Answer: Colossians 3:4!

Exhortation #2: We are to Guard the Truth (verse 15)

The rubber meets the road here! We are to stand firm and hold on! Don’t be swayed, don’t be tossed to and fro, and don’t be carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. (Ephesians 4:14) Lies and deception come when we are not grounded in God’s Word and guarding its truth! Take a look at these passages and the warning they shout:

Guard the truth with everything in your being!

Exhortation #3: We are to Practice the Truth (verses 16-17)

Read those verses carefully. Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us, gives us His grace and comforts our hearts. He is also establishing us in every good word and work! It is HIS work in us, not our work for Him. As we put into practice what we believe and what we guard, He will use us for His glory and honor. He will also use us to lead others in the way of truth as well! You can bank on the promises of God!

As you await the rapture, are you growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord? Are you believing, guarding and practicing the truth of God’s Word? Where does serving God fit into your priorities? Will you be found faithful when the Bridegroom appears?

Blessings, dear Bible study friends! Join us again tomorrow as we sail into 2 Thessalonians 3.

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