The Return of the Lord Jesus Christ – Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians

Dear Friends,   

In my study of eschatology (the end times) I came upon the late Dr. Vernon McGee’s teaching on 1 and 2 Thessalonians in which he focused on the two stages of Christ’s return – 1) the Rapture of the Church where believers meet the Lord in the air (seen primarily in 1 Thessalonians – see chapter 4:13-18) and 2) the second coming of Christ to the earth (seen primarily in 2 Thessalonians – see chapter 2:8-12) when He returns with us (Jude 14-15; Revelation 19:14) to judge and save Israel (the remnant – Zechariah 12-13; Romans 11:26), and judge all the nations/Gentiles (Matthew 25) and the unholy trinity – Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet. (Revelation 19-20) The following are excerpts from his teaching that give us an overview of these two epistles and especially as it relates to the return of Christ.  For a more detailed study read the Scripture references in the outlines and see the link for Dr. McGee at the end of his teaching.               

[The first epistle to the Thessalonians deals with the Rapture, Christ’s coming for believers. The second epistle relates the return of Christ to that phase where He returns to the earth in judgment and where one of the accomplishments is in connection with the “man of sin (the antichrist),” whom He “shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). These two aspects are clearly delineated. The interval between these two phases is the Great Tribulation, which can be further identified with the 70th week of Daniel 9 as a period of seven years. (For the distinctions between the Rapture and the second coming see my newsletter at:                 

Here is Dr. McGee’s first outline of 1 Thessalonians and key points regarding the return of Christ (Rapture):                                                       

I. The Christian’s ATTITUDE toward the return of Christ, Chapter 1 (to serve…to wait, vv. 9, 10).     

II. The Christian’s REWARD at the return of Christ, Chapter 2 (vv.19-20).                                             

III. The Christian’s LIFE and the return of Christ, Chapters 3:1— 4:12.                                                

IV. The Christian’s DEATH and the return of Christ, Chapter 4:13-18.                                            

V. The Christian’s ACTIONS in view of the return of Christ, Chapter 5. (Note 22 specific commands to Christians, beginning at v. 11.)


Dr. McGee gives a second outline for 1 Thessalonians


I.Coming of Christ is an INSPIRING HOPE, Chapter 1 A. Introduction, vv. 1-4. B. Gospel received in much assurance and much affliction, vv. 5-7. C. Gospel results, vv. 8-10.                       

II. Coming of Christ is a WORKING HOPE, Chapter 2. A. Motive and method of a true witness for Christ, vv. 1-6. B. Mother side of the apostle’s ministry (comfort), vv. 7-9. C. Father side of the apostle’s ministry (charge), vv. 10-13. D. Brother side of the apostle’s ministry (challenge), vv. 14-16. E. Reward of a true witness for Christ, vv. 17-20.

III. Coming of Christ is a PURIFYING HOPE, Chapters 3:1 — 4:12. A. Timothy brings a good report of Thessalonians, Chapter 3:1-8. B. Paul urges Thessalonians to continue to grow in faith, Chapter 3:9-13. C. How believers are to walk, Chapter 4:1-12.                                                           

IV. Coming of Christ is a COMFORTING HOPE, Chapter 4:13-18. (What death means to a Christian; what the Rapture means to the Church.)                            

V. Coming of Christ is a ROUSING HOPE (leads to action), Chapter 5 (Dead believers are asleep in Jesus; living believers are awake for Jesus.) A. Call to be awake and alert in view of Christ’s coming, vv. 1-10 B. Commandments for Christians, vv. 11-28.


Dr. McGee’s outline for 2 Thessalonians:                    

The first letter to the Thessalonians gave rise to further questions, and Paul is attempting to answer these. There was circulating in the Thessalonian church a letter or report, purported to have come from Paul, which was inclined to disturb the Christians. This false report claimed that Christ had already come and had already gathered out the Church to Himself (Rapture) and that the world was then living in the judgments of the “day of the Lord (the Tribulation).” Their present persecutions confirmed this false report. Paul attempts to allay their fears by stating definitely that “our gathering together unto him (Rapture)” is yet future (2 Thessalonians 2:1) and that “the day of the Lord” has certain forerunners which must first come. The apostasy and the “man of sin” must come first; the removal of the remnant of believers at “our gathering together unto him” makes the apostasy in the professing church 100% (Luke 18:8). Every era of persecution or trouble has given rise to the false impression that the church is going through the time of judgment which Christ identified as the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). This period has been so clearly identified by Christ that there is no reason for getting panicky or being stampeded into an unwarranted position. Christ said that there is coming a small interval which will be blocked off by “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). Nothing like it has taken place before, and nothing like it will ever take place afterward.

THE DAY OF THE LORD: The day of the Lord begins after the Rapture. This is the phrase which occurs in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (incorrectly translated “the day of Christ” in the Authorized Version). It is an Old Testament phrase with definite connotations. It occurs in the writings of the Old Testament prophets where it relates to the future kingdom promised in the Old Testament. The day of Christ is a New Testament expression (1 Corinthians 1:8); it relates here to the future of the Church (the Rapture). The day of the Lord is connected with the coming of Christ as it relates to the setting up of the kingdom. The day of Christ is connected with the coming of Christ for the Church. Whatever else is implied in these two statements, certainly this is basic. The teaching in 1 Thessalonians is that the saints who have died will have part in Christ’s coming (Rapture) for His living saints; in 2 Thessalonians it is that the saints who are alive will not have part in (go through) the Great Tribulation. The return of Christ has a peculiar and precious meaning for His saints. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)  Outline for 2 Thessalonians:                                                                  

I. PERSECUTION of believers now; judgment of unbelievers hereafter (at coming of Christ). Chapter 1 

A.Introduction, vv. 1,2

B. Persecution of believers and fruits of it, vv. 3-7

C. Judgment of wicked (unsaved) at coming of Christ, vv. 8-12

II. PROGRAM for world (unsaved) in connection with coming of Christ, Chapter 2:1-12

A. Rapture occurs first, v. 1

B. Day of the Lord follows; introduced by total apostasy and appearance of man of sin, vv. 2-5

C. Mystery of lawlessness working today; lawless one restrained by Holy Spirit, vv. 6-8 (My note: John Walvoord and other commentators (see teach that the “restrainer” is the Church-age believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit who are removed at the Rapture (2:3, 7)

D. Lawless one (the antichrist) to appear in Great Tribulation period, vv. 9-12

III. PRACTICALITY of coming of Christ, Chapters 2:13 — 3:18

A. Believers should be established in the WORD, Chapter 2:13-17

B. Believers should be established in their WALK, Chapter 3:1-7

C. Believers should be established in their WORK, Chapter 3:8-18]

Since the signs of Jesus’ second coming are in place (see my letter on the five major signs of His second coming at and the Rapture precedes this and is imminent (at any moment – see my letters on the imminent Rapture at (  we are exhorted to be assured of our salvation (and thus not be left behind at the Rapture) and also to be ready to meet the Lord Jesus as believers at the judgment seat of Christ to receive (or lose) rewards for our works of service done for His glory. (See 1 John 3:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11)                                                                   

But what if you or your loved ones do procrastinate and refuse to receive Jesus as Savior before the Rapture? Is it too late? Will you have to spend eternity separated from God? In his booklet and/or DVD on What to do if you are Left Behind, Dr. Ed Hindson addresses this question to let those who are left behind know that even after the Rapture and even in the midst of the Tribulation that people can still receive Christ. (See Revelation 7:9-17 for the countless number who come to Christ in the Tribulation.) In this powerful presentation designed specifically for those who have missed the Rapture, Dr. Ed Hindson offers a clear explanation of just what has happened and what those who have been left behind can expect. In a message of hope and encouragement, Dr. Hindson reminds readers that whatever may happen in the Tribulation, if they put their faith in Christ, they will still spend an eternity with Christ. Kristen and I have both the booklet and DVD in our home so any of our lost loved ones who come to our home after being left behind at the Rapture can know what has really happened and receive Christ. And even though they must suffer the horrors of the Tribulation they can still be saved and spend eternity with us and the Lord.  (You can order the booklet or DVD at Also here is the link for another article that explains why Millions are Missing. Although there are some points in this article I see differently it gives a good overall view of the need to be ready now and what to do if you are unsaved and left behind at the Rapture.

The Two Stages of Christ’s Return                                                                 

1.   The Rapture of the Church/Comfort/Reunion                              

“Now we do not want you to be uninformed, believers, about those who are asleep [in death], so that you will not grieve [for them] as the others do who have no hope [beyond this present life]. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again [as in fact He did], even so God [in this same way—by raising them from the dead] will bring with Him those [believers] who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by the Lord’s [own] word, that we who are still alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede [into His presence] those [believers] who have fallen asleep [in death]. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the [blast of the] trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain [on the earth] will simultaneously be caught up (raptured) together with them [the resurrected ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord! 18 Therefore comfort and encourage one another with these words [concerning our reunion with believers who have died].” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)  The Rapture is when Church-age believers who have died before the Rapture and are now with the Lord in heaven in their immaterial spirit and soul (See 2 Corinthians 5:8) will receive their resurrected, glorified body. Whereas those who are alive at the Rapture will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye and receive their glorified body. This is explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep (those who are alive at the Rapture will never taste death), but we will all (both those dead before the Rapture and those alive at the Rapture) be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead (those who died before the Rapture) will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

2. The Day of the Lord/Tribulation/Judgment      

“For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)

Application: Be sure you are born-again and share the gospel with others                                                                       

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]. 18 But all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ [making us acceptable to Him] and gave us the ministry of reconciliation [so that by our example we might bring others to Him], 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them [but canceling them]. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation [that is, restoration to favor with God].20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us; we [as Christ’s representatives] plead with you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Also see  John 3:3-7; Revelation 22:17)                                                         

Until He comes again,                                                                                     

Len and Kristen

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