“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to be with him: I beg you, my friends, not to be so easily confused in your thinking or upset by the claim that the Day of the Lord has come. . . . So then, our friends, stand firm and hold on to those truths which we taught you, both in our preaching and in our letter.” (2 Thess. 2:1–2a, 15)
|The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple|
by Titus in AD 70.
The one T-shirt I’ve seen lacking the most creativity is also the one that helpfully marks its wearer out as having succumbed to an egregious error. It reads: “Jesus came back in 70 AD” in big, white type on a black shirt. The apostle Paul would have a few choice words for that fellow, no doubt, and, love it or hate it, Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrases him well enough: “Now, friends, read these next words carefully. Slow down and don't go jumping to conclusions regarding the day when our Master, Jesus Christ, will come back and we assemble to welcome him. Don't let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter from me that the day of the Master's arrival has come and gone. Don't fall for any line like that” (2 Thess. 2:1–3).
“Slow down and don’t go jumping to conclusions. . . . Don’t fall for any line like that.” And yet so many still do. I’m not suggesting here that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 wasn’t a major event in the history of Israel after their return from exile. But it was only an initial fulfillment of the “day of the Lord” that foreshadowed that final day of the Lord, when Jesus returns—literally, not “spiritually”—like the emperor he is, triumphantly marching through town after having defeated his enemies once and for all.
God has promised to judge the world’s systems that set themselves up over against his sovereignty, whether it be at the end of history as we know it, or even occasionally during that history. The catastrophe that took place in AD 70 qualifies as one of these days of the Lord. But it is not the final return to which Jesus and the prophets pointed.
For starters, such apocalyptic events like the revelation of the man of lawlessness and the great apostasy have yet to take place (to be sure, men of lawlessness and apostasy within the church have come and gone). Paul warns the Thessalonians, and us, not to be misled regarding the royal return of Christ, that the “day of the Lord” has already come. We must be on guard against such deception, and one of the surest ways to protect ourselves is also one of most mundane (so we think): attending to the Word and sacraments and prayer in the communion of saints. These are what God has decided will empower his people to “stand firm and hold to the traditions” taught to us by Christ and the apostles (v. 15).
In the end, it’s about God and what he has promised to do: he remains sovereign over all, and he has chosen a people, “the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). Here is our assurance, not least in the midst of strange people caught up millennial and heretical madness: God’s election guarantees the elect’s salvation. It depends on him alone. He will overthrow all men of lawlessness, all antichrists, all false teachers, and he will keep his church steadfast in the beliefs and practices passed down through the apostles from the divine Master himself.