Due to the implausibility of such a scenario, it follows that the day of the Lord which Paul did not want them thinking was “present” was not the climactic day of Christ’s return to earth, when this present wicked eon will finally be brought to an end. It was, instead, the day of the Lord in its broader and more complete sense that they had in mind, and concerning which Paul wrote. That which they believed – or were in danger of believing – was present was, evidently, a relatively longer period of time which (as they likely learned from Paul while he was with them) would be characterized by the large-scale persecution of believers in Christ who will be alive on the earth at the time. Significantly, the persecution of believers in Christ is also said to be characteristic of the time period of which Christ spoke in his Olivet Discourse (see Matt. 24:9-10 and Luke 21:12-19).
Given the importance of this event with regards to the identity and true character of the man of lawlessness, it is reasonable to understand this “midweek” event to be the means by which Paul believed the man of lawlessness would be “unveiled.” That is, given that Paul understood the man of lawlessness’ sitting in the temple of God (and thereby “demonstrating that he himself is God”) as the event which most clearly identified this person as the man of lawlessness (for, again, Paul referred to this event to clarify for his readers who he had in view when he mentioned the “man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction”), it is this event which Paul most likely had in mind when he referred to him being “unveiled” in verse 3 (and if there is to be some more prophetically significant event that will more fully and obviously unveil the man of lawlessness than the temple-desecrating event to which Paul refers here, one can only wonder why Paul didn’t mention this event as a means of identification instead of the event he did refer to).
According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 233), the preposition ek is used “to denote separation” and, more specifically, “to introduce the place from which the separation takes place.” The same word ek also appears earlier in 1 Thess. 1:10, where the Thessalonians are said to be waiting for Christ “out of (ek) the heavens.” Just as Paul’s use of ek here denotes a separation (for in order for Christ to be “out of the heavens” he has to leave, or separate himself from, the heavens), so our being rescued by Christ “out of the coming indignation” will involve our being “separated” from the place where it’s going to occur before it begins (this will become more evident below, when we consider Paul’s words in 1 Thess. 5:9).
Echoing these words, Paul similarly wrote in Romans 5:9, “…being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him.” Here, the fact that one is going to be saved from indignation through Christ is due to his having been “justified in [Christ’s] blood.” It is our justification, then, that secures our future salvation from indignation. When we understand that it is our justification on which our salvation from indignation is based, it is evident that no indignation can touch the believer. All who have been justified are, consequently, not appointed to indignation.
It is because we – as believers and saints - are “not in darkness” but rather “belong to the day” (irrespective of what we do) that we will not be overtaken by the day of the Lord when it comes upon the world like a thief. It is those who are “in” and “of” darkness – not the “sons of light” and “sons of the day” – on whom “the indignation of God is coming” (Eph. 5:6; cf. Col. 3:1-6). That it is our status as believers rather than our actions that will keep us from being overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief is further supported by the fact that (as we’ve seen) our being saved from indignation through Christ is based on our justification – i.e., our being declared righteous by God.
Paul was, essentially, exhorting the saints to whom he wrote to live in a way that was in accord with, and reflective of, their status as believers/saints. But even if the saints to whom he wrote didn’t heed his exhortation (and instead were “asleep on the job,” so to speak), their failure to “watch” and remain “sober” would not change the fact that they – and all who believe Paul’s gospel - remained “sons of the light and sons of the day” rather than “sons of the night and of the darkness.” It would not change the fact that, as saints and members of the body of Christ, we have been justified in Christ’s blood, and thus are to be rescued by Christ from the coming indignation before it begins. It is for this reason that Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to be “putting on the cuirass of faith and love, and the helmet, the expectation of salvation” (v. 8) – i.e., the salvation that will involve our being snatched away from the earth to meet Christ in the air, and thus rescued from the coming indignation.
Similarly, Christ declared in Matthew 24:13 that believers who will be alive when the events described in this discourse begin to take place will have to “endure to the consummation” in order to be saved. In Luke 21:19 we read that it will be by their “endurance” that the faithful during this time will be “acquiring [their] souls.” And in Rev. 2-3, Christ made it clear that, among those who will be alive on the earth when the events of this book begin to take place, only those who are “conquering,” “faithful until death” and “keeping [Christ’s] acts until the consummation” will enjoy the eonian blessings/salvation promised in this book. Since members of the body of Christ will be snatched away (and thus rescued from indignation) to enjoy eonian life with Christ regardless of whether we’re “watching or drowsing,” it follows that the snatching away will occur before the beginning of the 3½ year period during which watching, vigilance, endurance and conquering will be required for salvation.
The method by which they were in danger of being deluded was either “through spirit” (cf. 1 John 4:1–3), “through word” (i.e., a messenger from someone with a false message), or through an “epistle” allegedly written by Paul and/or his fellow laborers, Silvanus and Timothy (2 Thess. 1:1). Paul evidently considered the belief that the day of the Lord may be present to be a dangerous error with serious implications – implications that concerned not only Paul’s apostolic authority and the reliability of what he’d previously taught them, but what they believed with regards to their own salvation.
In light of this fact, consider now the following: sometime prior to the sounding of the first trumpet, exactly 144,000 people – male Israelites, to be exact– are given the seal of God (Rev. 7:2-8). And it is implied in these verses that this seal will be given for the purpose of protecting this special category of people from suffering the calamities about to be introduced by means of the seven trumpets. This is further confirmed by Rev. 8:4-5, where we read that the “locusts” which will be released by means of the trumpeting of the fifth messenger are given authority by God to torment everyone on the earth except for those who have “the seal of God on their foreheads” (which, again, is the 144,000 Israelite saints referred to in chapter 7).
It should be noted that the Greek text with which verse 3 begins (translated in the CV as, “for, should not the apostasy be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled…”) is not conclusive as to whether Paul meant that the coming of the apostasy will take place before the unveiling of the man of lawlessness, or that both will occur at the same time. The Greek text will allow either meaning. If the former interpretation is correct, then the apostasy can still be understood as taking place immediately before (and thus chronologically associated with) the unveiling of the man of lawlessness.