The Study of Last Things

Bringing Truths from Different Books of the Bible into Focus, Perspective, and Understanding

 "...the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.." 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8

The Revelation of the Lord Jesus

The Day of the LORD and Believers in the Church Age

Part 3: A Discussion of 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, The Thessalonian Christians and the Revelation (
Apokalupsis) of Christ to Grant Them Relief from Their Affliction and Impose Retribution on Their Persecutors

By James T. Bartsch

In 2 Thessalonians 1:7 Paul speaks of "the revelation (apokalupsis) of the Lord Jesus." The word apokalupsis is typically translated "revelation." Literally, it means an unveiling. The most frequent use of apokalupsis occurs in regard to prophetic revelation or unveiling (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:6, 26; Rom. 16:25; 2 Cor. 12:1, 7; Gal. 1:12; 2:2; Eph. 3:3; Rev. 1:1). Almost as frequently, apokalupsis speaks of the revelation or unveiling of Jesus in all His glory when He returns (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13; Rev. 1:1). Revelation 1:1 does double duty, for there apokalupsis is a pun - it refers to the prophetic revelation which Jesus gives to the seven churches and to the Church at large; but it also refers to the unveiling of Jesus Himself in all His majestic glory to John (Rev. 1), to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3), through His wrath to a rebellious world (Rev. 6-18); in deadly judgment to hostile armies (Rev. 19-20); and in sacrificial sovereignty to worshiping admirers (Rev. 21-22).

In my judgment, the evidence of Scripture portrays Christ’s return as occurring in two stages. In the First Phase, Jesus returns to take His Bride, the Church out of this world, rescuing her from the coming wrath of the Tribulation period. We call this event the Rapture. It is referenced in such passages as John 14:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; and 2 Thessalonians 2:1. The theme portrayed in John 14:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 2 Thessalonians 2:1 is Reunion - reunion with departed loved ones and reunion with Jesus Christ. In Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, his presentation of the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18) is immediately followed by his discussion of the Day of the Lord, also known in the context of both Thessalonian epistles as the Tribulation (1 Thess. 5:1-11). At the conclusion of the Tribulation, the Second Phase of Christ’s Return commences. Instead of meeting His beloved ones in the air for a joyous reunion and escorting them to the Father’s House, Jesus will travel all the way to earth in power and great glory, accompanied by an innumerable army of angels, and will destroy His enemies (Psa. 110:5-7; Isa. 63:1-6; Zech. 14:1-15; Matt. 24:27-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:27; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 19:11-21). Then He will judge all humans who survive the Tribulation, (Ezek. 20:33-38; Dan. 12:1-3; Mal. 3:1-6; Matt. 25; Luke 19:11-27) and establish His global reign (Psa. 110:1-2; Isa. 2:1-4; 11:1-10; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 20:1-6). He will rule with a rod of iron, seated on His throne on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem (Psalm 2:6-9). The theme of the second phase of Christ's parousia is Retribution, or Vengeance. The phase of apokalupsis to which Paul refers in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 is the unveiling of Christ for the purpose of Retribution. Once Jesus has dealt with His opponents, He will embark upon a global reign here upon earth (Zech. 14:9). His Kingdom is described in glowing terms in a great many Old Testament prophecies, including, for example, Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:7; 11:1-16; 60:1-22; 61:3-11; 62:1-12; 65:17-25 (this doubles as a prophecy of the Eternal State); and Isa. 66:10-24 (portions also refer to the Eternal State), to mention just a few. It is briefly touched on in the book of Revelation (Rev. 20:1-6), where it is stated six times that His reign will last a thousand years. Both Amillennialists and Historic Premillennialists deny that Christ returns in two stages. Both also posit a Post-Tribulation Rapture. Some adherents of a Post-Tribulation Rapture, almost with an air of superiority, deride the Pre-Tribulational view of Scripture, wrongly suggesting that we think God is going to deliver all Christians from tribulation in any form. In their view, the Church will have to go through the Tribulation.

In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul has a lot to say about eschatology. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and again in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2:1-12, the parousia of Christ and the Tribulation (“Day of the Lord”) are on his mind.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 Paul debunks two myths that Post-Tribulationists hold – (1) that those who hold to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture evidently think there will be no suffering in this life and (2) that Christ’s Second Coming is only in one stage.

(1)   Paul opens his second letter to the Thessalonians expressing gratefulness for their growing faith and mutual love (2 Thess. 1:1-3).

(2)   He commends them for their “perseverance and faith in the midst of all [their] persecutions and afflictions which [they] endure.” (2 Thess. 1:4-5). I do not know of a single Pre-Tribulationist who believes Christians will not experience tribulation in this life. Indeed, Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul certainly believed that Christians suffer tribulation, and so did the Thessalonians. They were the ones suffering. But affirming that all Christians suffer in tribulation is a great deal different than affirming that all living Church-Age Christians will suffer in the Tribulation when it arrives. The former is a Biblical truth. The latter, I believe, is not. Paul preached the former, but he preached the opposite of the latter. We have already looked at his exempting of Christians from the Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. In a subsequent essay  we shall observe that he teaches the same truth in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

(3)  “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom. 12:19). God will repay with affliction those who afflict both the Thessalonians and Paul and you and me, Christians of this era. Paul gave a graphic account of the Second Phase of Christ’s Return, His Second Coming in Power to wreak vengeance on His enemies preparatory to setting up His kingdom. Here is the stunning language, recorded in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10:

6For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,8dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.

This language is so utterly different than the language of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Note the differences in the following table:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Theme - Reunion
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
Theme - Retribution
Discusses the reunion of living and dead Christians at Christ’s return. Discusses the vindication of persecuted Christians at Christ’s return
Christ does not come to earth. He meets the saints in the air.
Does not specifically discuss Christ’s location. States that He is revealed from heaven.
Only believers are said to witness this event. Both believers and unbelievers witness this event.
The souls of departed dead Christians accompany Jesus. Mighty angels accompany Jesus.

Speaks of believers eternally in the presence of Jesus. Speaks of believers granted relief, glorifying Jesus, and marveling at Him.
A message designed for comfort. A message designed for vindication.
Focuses on reunion for believers. Focuses on retribution for unbelievers.
Speaks of believers eternally in the presence of Jesus.

Speaks of unbelievers paying the penalty of eternal destruction, separated from Jesus.
Speaks of clouds. Speaks of blazing fire.
Speaks of the resurrection of dead believers and the snatching up of living believers. No resurrection or snatching up of believers is mentioned.

Jesus’ coming announced by a shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God. No announcement given. Jesus is accompanied by mighty angels and blazing fire.
Conclusion: The Rapture is the First Stage of Christ’s Second Coming prior to the "Day of the Lord" (Tribulation).
Conclusion: The Retribution is the Second Stage of Christ’s Second Coming after the "Day of the Lord" (Tribulation).

Conclusion: It is best to understand 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 as referring to the Second Phase of Christ's Second Coming - Retribution - His return in power and glory to wreak vengeance on His adversaries and those of the saints. At that time the saints will be vindicated.

At present, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the next event in eschatology. At that time, Christ will return to earth's atmosphere and call up the living and deceased members of the Church to a Reunion in the clouds. We call this event the Rapture. According to His own promise (John 14:1-6) He will take all the Church-Age saints with Him back to the Father's House.

Subsequently, there will be a time of great Tribulation that afflicts the earth. Paul describes this time as "the day of the Lord" in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, and again in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ff. The Church, having been rescued from the wrath of the Tribulation, is excluded from those catastrophic events.

At the end of the Tribulation period, Christ will return in power and glory to defeat His enemies, judge the survivors of the Tribulation, and establish His reign over the entire earth from Jerusalem, Israel. The language of 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 depicts this Second Phase of Christ's Return.

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(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

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First published October 20, 2011

Updated November 16 2018