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Election and the Last Days

The terrorist attack of September 11 has sparked a resurgence of interest in Biblical prophecy concerning the last days. Many are asking, “Where are these events taking us? What shall the end be? And how will they ultimately affect me?” For the believer in Jesus Christ, there is no need to scramble for the latest prophetic volume at the local Christian bookstore. The Word of God is replete with answers, several of which were disclosed by the apostle Paul in the second chapter of his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (II Thessalonians 2:1-17). In this passage, Paul expounds upon the day of Christ (2:2), providing words of comfort for believers (2:13, 17) and warnings of condemnation for unbelievers (2:10-12).

Paul had apparently received word that the church at Thessalonica had been shaken in mind and troubled by certain words and letters from prophetical imposters regarding the day of Christ. The gist of the false teaching was that the day of the Lord was already underway, implying that faith in Jesus had done nothing to deliver them from the wrath to come (I Thess. 1:10). It was therefore necessary for Paul to restore the former confidence by reiterating his doctrine of the last days.

The day of Christ would not begin until (1) believers had been gathered together unto him at his coming, (2) apostasy within the church (a falling away) had become rampant, and (3) the Antichrist (the man of sin, the son of perdition) had been revealed (2:1-3). The mystery of iniquity is already at work, but will be hindered by the Spirit of God until he is removed with the Church (2:7).

Paul therefore issued these words of comfort, saying, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2:13). He employed the doctrine of election as a source of comfort. The salvation to which they had been chosen was deliverance from the day of wrath, which was now nearer than when they believed (Romans 13:11).

Election was predicated upon the proclamation of gospel truth, the sanctification (convicting work) of the Spirit, and belief of the truth in response to the grace ministered by the Spirit and the Word. In other words, election is conditional. The phrase from the beginning refers to the beginning of the gospel ministry in Macedonia during the second missionary journey (Philippians 4:15), which took Paul’s mission team from Philippi to Thessalonica (Acts 16:40-17:1).

Wresting these words of comfort from the context as a proof text for unconditional election blurs the distinction between what God determines eternally and what He demonstrates historically. Jesus was, in an eternal sense, the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), but was crucified historically outside the gates of Jerusalem in 33 A.D. In like manner, the Thessalonian believers were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), but were actually elected in Christ circa 53 A.D. through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Election in the NT is always in Christ, who is the chief cornerstone, elect, and precious” (I Peter 2:6). God’s elective decree is that all who believe on His Son Jesus, who is the Elect One, shall be chosen in him to receive and experience all the elective benefits of grace (Ephesians 1:3-14), including deliverance from the wrath to come.

Paul likewise issued warnings of condemnation for those who refused to receive and believe the truth, but rather had pleasure in unrighteousness (2:10-12). According to Paul, those who reject gospel truth in this age will be deceived by Satanic signs and lying wonders wrought by the Antichrist, and will suffer delusion and damnation because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. The phrase love of the truth signifies the love of God toward all mankind that emanates from the gospel. In Paul’s mind, God had provided a full satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, and desired for all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4). The unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica who were moved with envy, recruited lewd fellows of the baser sort in opposition to the gospel, and set all the city in an uproar against Paul and his associates (Acts 17:1-5), had the opportunity to be elected to salvation if they had received and believed the truth. They chose rather to resist the Holy Ghost like their fellow countrymen in Jerusalem (Acts 7:51).

Brethren, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a great comfort to know that God has secured our future through his elective purpose in Christ. For both receivers and resistors, the question “How will the events of the last days ultimately affect me?” has been answered. The believer has been elected to escape the day of wrath! The unbeliever who persists in unbelief faces a future fraught with eternal danger! Where do you stand?


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