One of the epistles that can help you understand clearly about the return of the Lord is the letter written to the Thessalonians. If you read it clearly paying attention to the time statements and tenses used to the original audience, it will be easy to spot some issues on teachings about a futuristic return of Jesus in the year 2024 and beyond.
I will just select a few places out of the many that actually posit a return of Jesus in the first century and the nature of his return. Now I realize that I am skipping a lot to do this, but I want to zero in on a particular conversation.
Now see what Paul tells them in chapter 5:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus the Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV)
The “you” and “your” refer to the Thessalonians church living in the first century. This is a prayer that they would still be in their biological bodies when the Lord returned. Physical death separates the spirit and body. To be preserved completely is to still be alive at the Second Coming. This preservation might actually refer to their being alive since some of their members were being persecuted and killed for their faith.
After that first Epistle was written, there came a report to Paul about some doctrinal issues that arose in that church. So, he wrote a second letter to correct those misconceptions.
In the first chapter, Paul identified and wrote about their suffering—it was real, and they were hurting. With what doctrine does he comfort them? Let’s look at the text:
Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. THIS IS EVIDENCE OF THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT OF GOD, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8 ESV (Emphasis Mine)
Paul considers their dilemma a righteous judgment of God. Think about that! What right did Paul have to say that? Jesus already spoke about this in his Olivet prophecy recorded in Matthew 24. The elect were chosen for that difficult route at the full manifestation of the kingdom of God that would eventually dethrone the age, dispensation and administration of the law.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. Matthew 24:9 ESV
But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. Luke 21:12 ESV
Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. – Acts 14:22 (KJV)
He comforts them with the teaching of the Lord’s Coming. Notice that he says, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” Who were “those who afflict you”?
It was the Jews! This was well captured in chapter 2.
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 ESV
Verse 7 says that God would give them relief from their suffering—when?
“When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.” Paul says that they will have relief from their suffering at the Second Coming.
Do you see that? Now, if the Second Coming is still in the future, then we already have an issue! It would seem that Paul was giving them false hope. If this was the case then how can we believe anything he says?
If Jesus did not come in the lifetime of those living first century Thessalonian Christians and give them relief from their persecution as promised by Paul, then Paul lied to them. This is exactly what we say Paul did when we look at that letter and speak about a future return of Jesus to take away people from the earth through the rapture.
We read that the scriptures have been for inspiration and instruction. This should give us an understanding of the relevance and importance of Time statements, Tenses and Relevant audience. In this way, we will be able to do justice with regards to Bible Prophecy.