Should the Belief in the Any-Moment Return of Christ
Be Made a Test of Fellowship?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

Is the pretribulational return of Christ of such importance that it should be made a test of fellowship? Two significant passages in 2 Thessalonians 3 have a bearing on this question:

2 Thess. 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

2 Thess. 3:14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.

Most forcefully Paul commands separation from those who do not follow the doctrines that he taught them in person and by this epistle. What were the main problems that beset the believers at Thessalonica? Some individuals at Thessalonica were idlers, not working, depending on others for support (1 Thess. 4:9, 10; 2 Thess. 3:6; 5:10). These persons ought to be avoided. Paul insists that believers should be workers rather than shirkers. Apparently, some of the believers at Thessalonica had anticipated the Lord’s coming to be within a week or at most a month and had given up their means of livelihood. When the return of Christ did not occur as they expected, they were without any means to support themselves and to purchase food; and thus they relied on others for their sustenance.

There is a main doctrinal issue that is readily discerned. It is obvious that the major thrust of both of the Thessalonian epistles is the return of the Lord in its twofold aspect: the rapture in which Christ returns for His saints before the tribulation, and the revelation or Second Advent at which appears with His saints after the tribulation. Bible scholars have noted that each chapter in 1 and 2 Thessalonians mentions the return of the Lord. It is described as:

** 1 Thess. 1:10 - a deliverance from wrath;
** 1 Thess. 2:19 - a gathering of all the saints;
** 1 Thess. 3:13 - an incentive to holiness;
** 1 Thess. 4:14-16 - the rapture of the church;
** 1 Thess. 5:8, 9 - the final deliverance of the saints;
** 2 Thess. 1:8, 9 - doom of the ungodly;
** 2 Thess. 2:1, 2 - an encouragement for steadfastness;
** 2 Thess. 3:5 - a cause for patience.

It is all but certain that only one of these references is to the Second Advent at the end of the tribulation when Christ comes back in judgment upon unbelievers, especially those who persecuted the saints. The rest of the references appear to be to the glorious future pretribulational rapture. Paul cautions believers against the sin of idleness. More importantly he insists that believers separate from those who are incorrect in their view of the return of Christ. Three times he assures believers that they are not appointed to the wrath which will come on the entire earth. He calls this truth of the rapture a comforting hope. This promise constitutes the greatest hope the Lord has left with His own.

The revelation of the rapture is given to prepare us, not to scare us. This biblical hope is derived not from superstition or sentimentality, but from Scripture. It is that truth that is especially under attack, therefore we will contend for it. A challenge attributed to Martin Luther is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

© Manfred E Kober

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