Our study of Zechariah 14 and the motif of the Lord coming with His saints has led us to examine several key NT predictions that clearly draw from Zechariah 14, as well as other key Old Testament prophecies. Be sure to go back and read the entire series beginning here.
Zechariah 14 and 2 Thessalonians 1
One of the most popular New Testament texts that is used to predict a yet future coming of the Lord with his saints is 2 Thessalonians 1 where Paul promised the Thessalonian saints, being persecuted for their faith in Christ, that they would receive relief from that suffering “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” (v. 7).
“We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10).
Robinson says this text is a “pastiche of Old Testament quotations” in addition to being directly parallel with the Olivet Discourse. (John A. T. Robinson, Jesus and His Coming, Westminster Press, 1979, p. 106-107. Paul quotes from Isaiah 2:19f, Isaiah 66:15f; his allusion to the Lord coming with his angels could be from Zechariah 14 and from Joel. But it is clear that as strongly as this text is drawn from the Old Testament the idea of coming with the holy ones cannot be divorced from that foundation. As with the other passages we have examined that were predictive of the coming of the Lord with his saints/holy ones, since the Old Testament predictions of the Lord coming with his holy ones are invariably metaphoric there must be extremely strong contextual reason for changing that understanding in Thessalonians. Further, if Zechariah or Joel is the source for Paul’s reference to the parousia with angels, then since both of those texts has that epiphany associated with the last days of Israel we must honor that in Thessalonians as well. And the text in Thessalonians demands a first century fulfillment.
This passage is one of the most clearly chronologically delimited texts in the New Testament and yet its time statements are almost totally ignored!
Paul mentions four times the present suffering of the Thessalonians at the hands of persecutors (v. 4, 5, 6, 7). As Wanamaker says, “When 2 Thessalonians was written, persecution and affliction were still part of the readers’ continuing experience, as the present tense of anexesthe (you are enduring) shows.” (Charles Wanamaker, New International Greek Testament Commentary, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Eerdmans, 1990)219).
Of the words Paul uses to describe the suffering being experienced, thlipsis is of great significance. This word is used 45 times in the NT and is the word used by Jesus to predict the affliction to come on the church prior to his coming at the end of the Old Aeon, Matthew 24:9. The word thlipsis literally means pressure. The kind of pressure is determined by the context. It can be financial (2 Corinthians 8:13) or even the pressure of child birth (John 16:21). But the preponderant usage of thlipsis in the New Testament is to the pressure of persecution for the name of Jesus. Paul uses thlipsis four times in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-7. See my book In Flaming Fire, for a discussion of 2 Thessalonians 1. This book has been called one of the most convincing exegetical works on 2 Thessalonians 1 to be found anywhere. It is very powerful!
But Paul also uses another word, anesis, to speak of the relief from the pressure of thlipsis. Anesis is relief from pressure. (See the Lexicons, Thayer’s, Arndt, Balz-Schneider, etc. They all concur that anesis is a relaxing, a loosening, a relief from pressure). Anesis and thlipsis are often companion words, and when used together, anesis is invariably relief from whatever pressure is being discussed. This means that since the “pressure” was the then on-going persecution of the Thessalonians, the relief , to come “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” was to be relief from that then on-going persecution. This is undeniable and irrefutable.
The apostle did not say they would receive relief from persecution when they died.
He did not say to live as if they would receive relief at the parousia.
He did not say the Savior might come and give them relief from that persecution pressure.
He did not say they would die and go to Hades to be relieved from that persecution.
Paul said they were being pressured, at that time, but that Jesus would give them relief/rest from that pressure at his coming!
Zechariah 14 and the Vindication of the Martyrs
It is significant that Zechariah contains the prophecy of the vindication of the martyrs. In chapter 12 we find the slaying of the first born son– Jesus– and the mourning of the Land when judgment would fall for that. This is the vindication of the martyrs, just as Thessalonians. Thus, the coming of the Lord with his saints in Zechariah 14 should be seen in the context of the vindication of the martyrs– just like Thessalonians.
See my We Shall Meet Him In The Air, the Wedding of the King of kings, for an in-depth examination of this anesis. Anytime anesis is used with thlipsis, anesis is the relief from the pressure being experienced. In Thessalonians Paul said the Thessalonians were being pressured by persecution. But he said they would receive rest/relief: “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” The coming, (elthe), of Christ would bring relief from the persecution being experienced by the Thessalonians!
It is amazing how good men, who love the Lord, but, bound by preconceived and traditional concepts of the parousia, fail (sometimes, refuse) to see and to submit to Paul’s words. In several formal public debates, I have asked my opponents if Christ came, in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, and gave them relief from that persecution. Lamentably, and almost embarrassingly, everyone of my opponents said No, Jesus did not come in the lifetime of the Thessalonians. He did not give them relief from that persecution! In my 2013 debate with popular radio talk show host Steve Gregg, he went so far as to argue that the Thessalonians would have been unconcerned whether they were going to get relief from that persecution! (DVDs of the debate are available from me. It was an excellent, friendly debate).
It is axiomatically, undeniably true that the Lord could not give the Thessalonians relief from persecution at his coming, if the Thessalonians would not be alive, under persecution at the coming of the Lord to give them relief!
There is not a clearer or more emphatic statement as to the time of the Lord’s coming with his saints in all of scripture! The Lord was to come in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, while they were being persecuted, and give them relief from that persecution!
So, to repeat, it is undeniably true that Jesus could not give the Thessalonians relief from that then on-going persecution at his coming, if the Thessalonians were not– or will not be– alive at the time of his coming! There is nothing vague, ambiguous, elastic or extremely relative about these words.
To conclude: There is no other event within that contemporary generation that fits the description of the Lord’s coming with his saints in judgment than the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Just as Zechariah 14 predicted the epiphany of the Lord with his saints in judgment and deliverance within the framework of the fall of Jerusalem, Paul, while perhaps not directly quoting from Zechariah 14, nonetheless so directly limits his prophecy that it must be applied to the event predicted by Zechariah 14. Just as Zechariah foretold the coming of the Lord with his saints in judgment of Jerusalem, Paul foretold the coming of the Lord against the persecutors of the Thessalonians, and that was none other than the leaders of Jerusalem (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).
The correspondence is perfect.
More to come.