When God Leaves--and Returns Again

Not along ago I suggested in a conversation with a friend that God sometimes picks up and leaves His people. My friend protested--thinking that I disbelieved in eternal security--which is not the case. So I explained further.

Under the Old Covenant with Israel, Yahweh gave the people many signs and symbols of His presence and protection--especially after the Exodus from Egypt. The Tabernacle and the Levitical Priesthood were all designed to teach a covenant people how to live in harmony with a holy God who was to be their traveling companion and their intimate Lover.

"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the [Shekinah] cloud, all passed through the [Red] sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

Of special interest was the visible cloud pillar which spread over the camp of Israel during the day--and the fiery pillar which was present at night. The Jews call this supernatural presence of God "the Shekinah," from the root schachan, which means "dwelling." The actual Hebrew is Kvod Adonai ("the glory of the LORD"). The Greek equivalent is Doxa Kurion.

"...the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exodus 13:21-22)

"the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen." (Exodus 14:19-23)

After the tabernacle had been built and furnished,

"...the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys." (Exodus 40:34-38)

When Solomon's temple was finished and dedicated (about 500 years after the Exodus),

"...they brought up the ark of the LORD, the tabernacle of meeting, and all the holy furnishings that were in the tabernacle. The priests and the Levites brought them up. Also King Solomon, and all the congregation of Israel who were assembled with him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing sheep and oxen that could not be counted or numbered for multitude. Then the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the temple, to the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the cherubim And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. Then Solomon spoke: 'The LORD said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for You to dwell in forever.' Then the king turned around and blessed the whole assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel was standing." (1 Kings 8:4-14)

Throughout the period of the Kings, the Shekinah cloud of glory was always associated with the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, in the temple of Solomon, between the Cherubim, over the Mercy Seat.

As the Jewish captivity into Babylon was underway, Ezekiel was given a great vision of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see http://ldolphin.org/ezekiel/ezekiel4.html). In his visionary tour conducted by "a man," (most likely "THE angel of the Lord"--http://ldolphin.org/angelL.html), Ezekiel witnessed the soon-departure of the Shekinah from the temple--in stages.

"Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple." (Ezekiel 9:3)

Then,

"...the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight. When they went out, the wheels were beside them; and they stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD'S house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them." (Ezekiel 10:18,19)

Finally,

"...the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was high above them. And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain, which is on the east side of the city [the Mount of Olives]. Then the Spirit took me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to those in captivity. And the vision that I had seen went up from me. So I spoke to those in captivity of all the things the LORD had shown me." (Ezekiel 11:22-25)

After the Jews returned from their 70-year captivity in Jerusalem, a modest "Second Temple" was completed in 515 BC. But the visible presence of God as the Shekinah cloud of glory did not return to the Holy of Holies. The prophet Haggai answered the discouragement of the people with promises concerning the Second Temple. These were fulfilled when God Himself came to teach in that temple in the person of His Son, Yeshua.

"Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear! For thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; 'and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. 'The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,' says the LORD of hosts. 'The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts. 'And in this place I will give peace,' says the LORD of hosts." (Haggai 2:3-9)

The New Testament is full of references concerning Jesus as the full expression of the glory of God--the God who makes His home among His people. Jesus did indeed come to the Second Temple, not once, but many times during his life.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt [skenoo = "to dwell among, or tabernacle"] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:14-18)

"...when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

"[Jesus] is the exact image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For through Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell" (Colossians 1:15-19)

The national rejection of their legitimate King and Messiah, Jesus, caused Israel to be exiled from their land once again--this time for two-thousand years instead of the previous seventy. Yet the promises of God to His people Israel remain intact to this day. In the "latter days" Yahweh has said He would again move Israel to center stage of world affairs for the final fulfillment of their chosen national destiny as chief among the nations. Ray Stedman says,

The phrase, "the latter times," concerns itself with a particular area of the future; a future called elsewhere in this book, "the end times," or, "the time of the end." The phrase, "the latter times," is used in a number of other places in the Old Testament. One striking instance of it occurs in the very next book to Daniel in the Bible, the prophecy of Hosea. In a striking passage in the third chapter of Hosea, the prophet gathers up the whole of the history of Israel after their captivity in Babylon. He says, in Verse 4,

"For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim." (Hosea 3:4)

This reference to Israelites living without a sacrifice places the fulfillment of this after the time of our Lord, for, in New Testament times they were still sacrificing in the temple. But here is a prediction that there would come a time when Israel would abide without sacrifice. As most of you know already, from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. until this present hour, through 1900 and more years of history, the Jews have never had a blood sacrifice. The prediction continues:

"For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall turn and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days." (Hosea 3:4-5) (from http://ldolphin.org/daniel/daniel01.html)

The New Testament mentions (three times) a future temple in Jerusalem which has not yet been built. (http://ldolphin.org/ezektmp.html). Plans for this temple are well underway for this temple, even now. There is also yet a Fourth Temple in Israel's future--the great temple described in the last eight chapters of Ezekiel. The visible glory of God--the Shekinah--will visit and dwell in that final temple. It will be built just north of Jerusalem. (The city will be rebuilt after World War III, http://ldolphin.org/ezektmp.html).

Ezekiel spoke of this future return of the Shekinah--as did Isaiah some 150 years earlier,

Afterward he (the Angel of the Lord) brought me (Ezekiel) to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was like the vision which I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and like the vision which I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple; and he said to me, "Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel for ever."

"And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their harlotry, and by the dead bodies of their kings, by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations which they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their idolatry and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst for ever. And you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple and its appearance and plan, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, portray the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, and its whole form; and make known to them all its ordinances and all its laws; and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe and perform all its laws and all its ordinances. This is the law of the temple: the whole territory round about upon the top of the mountain shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple." (Ezekiel 43:1-12)

"In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious; And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing For those of Israel who have escaped. And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy--everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain." (Isaiah 4:2-6)

Jerusalem, the rebuilt capital city in Israel, here on earth--during the Millennium--should not be confused with the heavenly city known as "New Jerusalem," referred to in the New Testament, (Hebrews 11:16, 12:18-29, Revelation 21-22). The latter city seems to resemble a great orbiting, or stationary, satellite high above the earth. This vast city has dimensions of the order of 1500 miles on a side. The heavenly city of New Jerusalem does not include a temple (Revelation 21:22, 23) -- "The Lord God, the Almighty and the Lamb, are its temple." We must careful distinguish between future events on earth regarding the nation of Israel during Messiah's coming reign on earth--and the heavenly city as a home for all the redeemed of earth. God's covenant promises to His church are not the same as his promises to Israel, nor has the church replaced Israel in the plan of God. (See The Error of Replacement Theology, by Clarence Wagner, http://ldolphin.org/replacement/).

So What?

What does all this mean for Christians today? All those individuals who place their faith a trust in Jesus as their Lord, and who then go on to follow and obey Him--are forever safe and secure. Jesus said so, "I will never, ever fail you nor forsake you." "He who comes to me I will in no way cast out."

The salvation of individuals is not the issue in discussing God's overall relationship with His covenant people--whether the Church or Israel the nation is in view. When God's people--acting together--ignore God's ways of doing things and forget the personal nature of their relationship with Him, God leaves them to their folly. He packs up and leaves. A Sovereign and holy God can not be put in a box. The forms of our religious worship may remain, but the Lord is no longer with us in what we do. I am afraid there is a lot of empty religion going on in our nation today--but with God no longer present.

In two outstanding messages on worship Ray C. Stedman begins this way:

"...what may appear as worship to us, visibly successful in the eyes of men, may not be worship in the eyes of God. He sees and hears much more than we do. Let me read to you a description of God's reaction to a worship service held some years ago. It is recorded in the first chapter of Isaiah, Verses 12 through 17. There God says:

"When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Their incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations --I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates, they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you, even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.

Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:12-17)

Surely these words indicate that God looks at a worship service differently than we do because he reads our hearts. These words reveal that worship is not something we do. Worship does not deal with what we make our bodies do, (either singing, kneeling, or praying), but worship consists of who we are, what our heart is feeling

It is startling to realize that everyone worships! Everybody! Everywhere! Worship is the fundamental drive of life. Atheists worship. Infidels worship. Skeptics worship. Even Republicans and Democrats worship. Lawyers, insurance agents, and even Internal Revenue Service agents worship! All people worship for worship is the fundamental difference between humans and animals. Animals do not worship. They have no sense of the beyond or of the numinous. But God has placed eternity in man's heart, as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us (Eccl 3:11). This urge causes men everywhere to worship. If they are not worshiping the true God, they are worshiping a god of their own composition. Worship, therefore, is a universal phenomenon.

The word comes from the old English worth-ship which means "to ascribe worth or value to something or someone." Clearly there are two forms of worship. >From the Christian point of view there is true worship and there is false. The worship of all the peoples on earth fall into these two categories.

True worship is to attribute worth to a real Being, one who is truly there and who is truly worthy. Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote a book called The God Who Is There to make the point that, although God is invisible to our eyes, he is actually there. The function of believers is to learn what God is like and to acknowledge him -- to ascribe worth to him, to reflect upon the value, beauty, and character of God. This is true worship.

False worship, on the other hand, is to attribute worth to an illusion which is not really there, or which is not worthy. It is not worthy of worship because it is merely imaginary. In the ancient world, false worship usually took the form of bowing before idols or images. People created representations of gods, usually in the form of a human being or animal. Then they ascribed worth to it and regarded it as extremely valuable in their lives. They thought the god either helped them in causing their crops to grow or it protected them from some danger or evil. Thus they ascribed great worth to speechless images and idols. Sometimes they worshiped deceitful spirits. Without the help of a visible image, they nevertheless worshiped an invisible spirit-being

In our modern world, men still worship. Either they worship the one true God, or often they worship some idealized view of themselves. It is amazing how many millions of people worship themselves. You may be familiar with the bold words of the poem Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

That is the worship of self. Sometimes worship is expressed in bowing down to or looking to some projected exaggeration of a living person. We know how easily many make idols of actors and actresses, rock stars, and athletes. They imagine what they are like, and then ascribe worth to that purely imaginary image. It then becomes a driving force in their lives. Think of how many people are still worshiping Elvis Presley. The cheap tabloids even try to convince us that he is still alive by showing pictures of him at some shopping center or rock concert. This is a form of idolatry, for it is ascribing value to him which is totally imaginary.

There are many today who are caught up in the New Age movement and who worship invisible sources of power. They believe in strange spirit-beings that appear to them, they say, and give them advantages or special insights into the secrets of life. This form of worship is widespread. I offer these examples to show you that worship is indeed a universal practice. Everyone does it! The only question is: Are we practicing true worship or false?

It is apparent from this that worship is continually happening. It underlies every action and attitude we manifest. It colors all our life and goes far beyond a couple of hours on Sunday morning. Worship touches us all the time. Everything we do springs from our concept of what is important and valuable to us.

Since worship is the driving force of all human existence then when it is lost, whether it be true or false, life becomes dull, drab, and cheerless. Men and women ultimately sink into despair because life appears to be no longer worth the living. This fact alone indicates that worship is the most important and fundamental aspect of our existence. Millions today are turning to drugs because they have been disillusioned in the god they have been following, especially the god of their own selves. Out of their emptiness and absolute despair, out of their worshipless lives, they turn to anything that promises them a return of the feeling of significance. That is what drugs appear to offer them.

On the other hand, when true worship occurs, life becomes vital, real, exciting, daring, and adventurous. It is felt to be eminently worthwhile. Those of us who have learned to worship the true God know this is true. Worship is the foundation to all we do and say, and we find ourselves worshiping in some form or another all day long. It is clear, therefore, we must give close attention to what true worship is. How do we learn it? How do we practice it? To answer these questions we must turn to the Scriptures. I want to explore the nature of worship now, and next week we will look at some of the methods of corporate worship" (See http://ldolphin.org/worship.html)

The End of the Age

The state of the church is not likely to be good when Jesus returns. He suggested this would be the case by asking the question, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) Neither will the removal of the true church make much of a difference. For most of mankind it will be business as usual--and "church" as usual. In fact, a great false church will quickly come into vogue and receive world-wide endorsement for a season. (See The Dragon Lady by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/revelation/4208.html). Real Christians can expect it to be more and more difficult to hang in with the Lord as the pressures of the end of age--great deceptions, powerful temptations, and the enmity of the secular and pagan world--increase exponentially.

Ray Stedman writes as follows about the approaching end of the end in his commentary on the Thessalonians letters,

"The apostle has already referred to the patient endurance [of the Christians in Thessalonica] in persecutions and afflictions and now goes on to comment on that.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering -- since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7a)

We do not know exactly how they suffered. Some had probably been arrested, thrown in jail and beaten. Perhaps their homes had been confiscated and heavy fines had been levied against them or normal privileges of citizenship had been denied them. In all likelihood they were undergoing the same trials as Christians today who are living under Communist dictatorships. But whatever form this persecution took, the apostle says -- and do not miss this -- their endurance in the face of tremendous pressure was evidence that God was at work among them! You cannot endure, you cannot hang in there, unless you are being strengthened by the Spirit of God. That is painfully obvious on many sides today. People who are put under pressure give up very easily unless something is strengthening them. But the Thessalonians were enduring, and that, says Paul, was evidence of God's working among them.

He goes on to point out three things about their suffering: First, God was using it to prepare them for the kingdom reign they would shortly share with him. He was making them "worthy of the kingdom of God." Actually this should be rendered, "revealing that you are worthy." God is revealing by their endurance in suffering that they are worthy of the kingdom of God, having been made worthy by faith in Christ. The fact that they could stand up under pressure was evidence that they had been truly put into the kingdom of the Son of God's love and taken out of the kingdom of darkness and of Satan.

What a great word this is, especially for young people today! Your holding out against the pressures of drug traffic, sexual promiscuity, etc., to which you are exposed is evidence that God is at work in your life.

Second, God was using their suffering to reveal the condemnation of the world. He is going to "afflict the ones who afflict them." Hebrews 11 is the record of the great heroes of our faith, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Sarah and other Old Testament worthies. But there is another group also, whose names are not given, and here is what is said about them:

Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with a sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated -- [then it adds this word] of whom the world was not worthy -- (Hebrews 11:36-38a)

God's standard of value is quite different than society's. You may not be anyone in the eyes of the world, but if you are standing steadfast in your Christian faith in the face of trials and struggles you are someone in the eyes of God and at the revealing of Jesus that appraisal will become evident to all.

Thus, Paul assures the Thessalonians that God is going to even the score: "... God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted." It is encouraging to know that Hitler and Stalin and other mass murderers will eventually get their comeuppance. God has not forgotten their terrible deeds. He will afflict the ones who afflict God's people and bring rest to his own. I like that word "rest." The word really is "relief." In the Greek, it is anesin.

What do you do when you have a headache? You take an Anacin and you get relief. That is what this is describing. God will bring a great sense of relief. So how do you spell relief? It is neither R-o-l-a-i-d-s, nor A-n-a-c-i-n, but J-E-S-U-S! When Jesus comes, there will be relief, visible on a world-wide scale.

On our recent trip to Israel we visited the great memorial in Jerusalem that the Jews have erected to recall the Holocaust. There, the terrible, hideous tortures to which the Jews were subjected -- the concentration camps, the gas chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz and other places -- are well remembered. The whole record, the newspaper reports, the fearsome scenes which the Allies found when they liberated these camps, etc., are all on display, a testimony that none of it will ever be forgotten. But what is even more touching is the new memorial that has been erected to the children of the Holocaust. Visiting this memorial was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The hall is almost totally dark, lighted only by a few candles, but there are hundreds of mirrors that reflect the candles so that the impression given is of thousands of candles burning. There in the gloom I felt as though I was standing at the judgment bar of God! Hidden voices endlessly call out the names of children who were tortured and murdered by the Nazis. It is Israel's way of saying that these children will never be forgotten. Not one injustice, not one humiliation, not one act of pain or torture will ever be forgotten. God is telling us the same thing here. He will bring affliction to those who afflict, and rest and relief to those afflicted. When will that be? Paul goes on to tell us:

...when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (1 Thessalonians 1:7b-10)

This event is the climax of the whole series of events which Scripture calls the parousia, the "presence" of Jesus. The first letter makes reference to the initial event of that series in these words from Chapter 4:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

That introduces the parousia. Jesus comes suddenly, like a thief in the night, and removes the treasure from earth. But he does not take those believers off to heaven. We know from this and other scriptures that our Lord will remain on earth with his transformed people. But he will be invisible, behind the scenes, much as he was during the forty days following his resurrection. He will be directing the events that are taking place on earth during the great tribulation. Then, after the tribulation, he will manifest himself, "unveil" himself in open glory -- "in flaming fire," [the Shekinah] as it says here -- accompanied by his angels of power, to judge the world and begin his earthly reign of a thousand years. This agrees exactly with our Lord's own words uttered on the Mount of Olives shortly before his crucifixion, as reported by Matthew:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; (Matthew 24:29-30)

That occurs after the tribulation, and that is what Paul is describing here. This is also what John the Apostle saw, as he writes in the first chapter of Revelation:

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. (Revelation 1:7)

These all refer to the same event. Here, in Second Thessalonians, the apostle is describing two results that will take place at that time: First, the judgment of the rebels of earth; and second, the presentation in glory of the believers in the Lord. This, by the way, is the same time of that event that is described in Matthew 25 as the great judgment of the sheep and the goats.

First, will come the judgment. The apostle puts it very plainly. Our Lord will come "inflicting vengeance" upon two classes of people: "those who do not know God," and, "those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Notice carefully the two classes. Class one is the millions who never have heard of Jesus.

I suppose there is no question asked of Bible teachers more frequently than "What happens to those who never hear?" Here is the answer: They will suffer the vengeance of the Lord.

Many of you are asking, why? If they have never heard the gospel how can God justly judge them? The answer is: "... because they have rejected the revelation of God in nature." No one lives in total ignorance of God. God is revealing himself all the time, both in our own human nature and in the world of nature around. This is clearly described in Paul's letter to the Romans.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; (Romans 1:19-20)

We have difficulty with that concept. There is something in all of us that rejects the thought of punishment. Like children, we do not like the idea of having to face the consequences of our own choices. But that is what Paul is talking about here. God has revealed himself clearly to everyone that he is God. He is in charge of the world. Every single force at work in the universe comes from his hand and is under his control. Anyone who thinks of the strange and wonderful workings of his or her own body is aware that they did not put that marvelous machinery together! An intelligent Being has done this. Yet the whole thrust of society today is to eliminate God from his creation, to give no recognition to the fact that he is behind all things. Certainly there is no attempt to be thankful to him. That is why Paul levels this charge against the whole world in Romans.

And it is not merely primitive savages who fail to recognize God or be thankful to him. People all up and down this sophisticated Peninsula are doing this too. There may be some here this morning who have not recognized the God who is there. This does not mean that when they do recognize there is a God that they are automatically redeemed. It still remains true that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus. Our Lord himself said so. But what it does mean is that if they recognize the revelation of God in nature and begin to seek him, God himself will take the responsibility to see that they hear of Jesus. That is why he sends missionaries out into the world. Many have left this church for that reason.

The second category are those who have heard the gospel, but have rejected it, and thereby turned their backs on the offer of grace. There are millions like that all over the earth, and thousands like that in churches across our own land. They have heard that if they surrender their lives to Jesus, if they recognize that they are not their own, they have been bought with a price, they will be redeemed; they will be changed; they will be saved. But they have not done that. They have heard, but they have turned their backs and walked away time and time again. They have never surrendered their will to Jesus. That is what Paul is describing. What happens to them? How plainly the apostle puts it:

They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

Exclusion! Banishment! Separation! But not annihilation! Some claim that what these verses mean is that when people die their existence also ends; that they go out like the light of a candle and they are no more. But Scripture never describes it in those terms; rather, it speaks here of "eternal destruction." The word is "ruin," the loss of everything that makes life worthwhile; the trashing of life.

Some folks like to make jokes about hell, but I want to tell you that when you read the Scriptures you discover that hell is no joking matter. Jesus himself is the One who speaks of hell more than anyone else in the New Testament. Some say they do not mind going to hell. They say, "all their friends are going to be there." They speak of hell as if it were one great Animal House, with a fraternity party going on forever, where you just waste yourself and no one can stop you or say anything against what you are doing. That is never the picture that Scripture gives. C. S. Lewis has put it well: "In hell, everybody will be at an infinite distance from everybody else."

Loneliness and emptiness! The Apostle Jude describes those in hell as "wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever," (Jude 1:13b). Those are very sobering words. What terrible thing must one do to merit such an end? Turning one's back on God's offer of grace, is the answer of Scripture. God does not want anyone to perish like that. He says so. And he has gone through terrible agony to keep it from happening. But no matter how much you dislike passages like this, two truths always emerge:

First, it is justice that is being carried out; not meanness, not cruelty, not capriciousness, but justice on God's part. It is his righteous reaction to cosmic treason on man's part. That is what turning your back on Jesus means: Treason against the King of the universe.

And second, it is self-chosen. It is what those involved have always wanted: freedom from God. Everything in their life has said, "I don't want God messing up my plans and telling me what to do." There comes a time where man says to God, "Thy will be done," or else God says to man, "Thy will be done." What you want is what you get! I do not like preaching like that but that is reality, and Scripture confronts us with reality at every turn. But another result is given in Verse 10:

...when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)

That last clause, "because our testimony to you was believed," is simply Paul's way of expounding on the little word all: all who have believed. In fact the New International Version renders it, "this includes you because you believed our testimony." That is what Paul means. God will not glorify us because we have lived a good, decent life, or anything like that. Scripture never puts it on that basis. Rather, our glorification is based upon the fact that we have believed that Another did something for us. Another died in our place, and God has honored the death of that Other to such a degree that he offers to accept us, with our terrible record of failure and defeat, and to offer us an eternity of delight and glory with him. That is what the apostle is setting forth here.

He describes the glory of Jesus that will be seen "in his saints," and the way they cause people to marvel at what God has done in human lives. It is not Jesus himself and his glory that is described, but the saints reflecting the glory of Jesus. That is what causes the whole universe to marvel. That is what Paul is describing in this wonderful picture. The Apostle John says in his first letter, "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is," (1 John 3:2). That is what Paul calls in Chapter 8 of Romans, "the day of the manifestation of the sons of God," (cf, Rom 8:19). When the curtain is lifted on what God has been doing with his people through all these years, how he has been changing them inside, at last the world will see what God has been accomplishing.

In this last section, Paul prays for the Thessalonians -- and for us -- in these words:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Paul is saying, "Hold fast. Keep steady. Remain faithful. You have the resolve to do so in the desire given you by the Spirit, you have the faith to do so in the basis of fact revealed in the Scripture, and you have the power to do so since God himself dwells in you." All this, "according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." Granted that it may sometimes be hard.

Some of you are going through difficult times. It is not easy to stand for Christ in your family when perhaps some members are against you. It is not easy to be loving, winsome and warm toward those who are cruel and caustic toward you at work. This can be a tough, brutal, ruthless world; Scripture faces that. But what we are constantly reminded of is that the Lord Jesus is now being glorified when you hold steady, when you do not give up, when you do not allow yourself to fall into evil practices, but are able to say no and walk away from them. That is when Jesus is being glorified, says the apostle, and for which he prays.

And, says Paul, you also are being glorified! Inner changes are taking place in your life that you cannot even see. Others can see them better than you, but there are changes taking place. When the Lord Jesus shows us off before the whole world at the time of the unveiling of his presence, that glory that he has been shaping within us will blaze forth to such a degree it will make the whole universe gasp! What a hope! What a motivation to keep on keeping on!" (The Fire Next Time, by Ray C. Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/thessalonians/4097.html)

"...We come to a passage now where we must confront the question of whether the church will go through the great tribulation. Does the Lord come for his church before the great time of trouble that is coming; does he come in the middle of it; or does the church in fact go through the tribulation and Jesus comes at the end. That is a much debated and controversial question. The Scriptures are at times hard to understand concerning these issues; that is why there are differences of opinion among believers regarding them. All evangelicals agree, however, that only these three possibilities exist: a pre, mid, or post tribulational coming.

This question should not be confused with a similar sounding issue concerning the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ. There are also premillennial, Postmillennial and amillennial viewpoints, which deal with the question of whether there will be a millennium or not. But we are not dealing with the question of the millennium here but with the question which has been a battleground through the centuries: Will the church still be here on earth during the great time of trouble?

I have been studying this passage for almost fifty years. I have read all the arguments pro and con, and while I will not try to share all of that information with you I will try to point out, as we go through Verses 1-12 of Chapter 2, why I believe the Scriptures teach that the church will not go through the great tribulation, and why I reject the arguments of the post-tribulationists. Paul introduces the chapter with these words:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)

There are two very important matters here which I want to deal with briefly: First, note that the apostle clearly states what he wants to talk about. He is relating the coming, the parousia, of the Lord Jesus to what he calls "our assembling to meet him." Everyone agrees that this phrase refers to what we call the rapture of the church, described in these words in First Thessalonians 4:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command...And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17a)

If you think of the coming of the Lord as but a single event that occurs within a 24-hour period you will conclude that this phrase "our assembling to meet him" is part of that event. Thus, you will already have begun to conclude that the Lord's appearing in glory does not come until the end of the tribulation and the rapture will be part of it. But when we remember that the word parousia means "presence," not "coming" (although it is frequently translated "coming"), it suggests a series of events during the whole of which time Jesus is present. If we look at it that way, then what Paul is proposing to discuss here is: At what point does our assembling to meet Jesus come in that series of events? In other words, the time of the rapture.

The second important thing to note in these introductory verses is that Paul describes the condition of these Thessalonian believers as one of deep agitation and disturbance. How these words are translated will go far toward determining what position one takes regarding the rapture. The apostle is uncertain of what caused this agitation. Something had started them thinking that the terrible "day of the Lord" had already begun and that they were already going through it. In the first letter, Paul had described that day as one of sudden destruction, with no escape possible, as with a woman in travail. The Old Testament prophets had described it as a day of distress and anguish, ruin and devastation.

These letters clearly show that the Thessalonians were going through a time of great persecution under the Roman authorities. Perhaps someone in their assembly had uttered a prophecy or had interpreted a passage of Scripture to the effect that the Day of the Lord had come. Perhaps, as Paul himself suggests, a letter purportedly written by him was read saying that the day of the Lord's wrath had arrived. Paul evidently was unsure exactly what had brought on the agitation they were experiencing. But the result is not, as the text has it, that they were "shaken in mind or excited." That suggests that having already been taught that Jesus would not come until the end of the Day of the Lord, they were excited that he was now about to appear. If the passage is read that way it looks as though the church will go through the tribulation. If the Lord was not coming until the end of that time of trouble, then they could now count on his soon coming and they became excited in anticipation that Jesus himself was about to appear. One post-tribulational commentator says that what was going on was "wild anticipation of the immediate return of Christ."

But the words do not mean that! The phrase literally says, "you were shaken out of your mind." We would say they were driven out of their wits; they were (in the vernacular) "all shook up!" Linked with this is a word that can only be translated "disturbed." (The same word is translated "alarmed" in the of Mark 13:7) They were not excited and jazzed about the coming of the Lord. Rather they were scared out of their minds! It was sweaty palms and white knuckles all the way!

The question this raises is, What would make them feel that way?" Back in the '30's when I was a young Christian, I read a book that was very popular among Christians entitled, In The Twinkling Of An Eye. It was a novel of a family of church members, some of whom returned home one day to find the table set and everything ready for dinner, but no one was there. Upon investigation they discovered that the rest of the family and some of their friends had disappeared. Then it dawned upon them that the rapture had occurred, the true church had disappeared, and they were left behind. They knew enough about the Bible to know that they were headed for a terrible time of trouble. They were scared out of their wits and turned white with fear.

That is why the Thessalonians felt as they did. They thought the rapture had occurred and they had somehow missed it and now the Day of the Lord had arrived. I have even felt that way myself.

Once I entered a room where I expected to find a group of Christians, only to discover that no one was there. I learned later that something had occurred so that they all had run outside, but the room was strewn with papers, and books were lying open on tables with every evidence of having just been used. I thought to myself, "Oh! I've missed it!" Now why would a pretribulational Christian think that? The answer is: There is enough self-doubt in all of us that we all wonder whether we are genuine when we get into a situation like that.

When our Lord said to the disciples in the Upper Room, "One of you will betray me," every one of them responded, "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:21-22 ). Only one of them intended to betray him but their question demonstrates that they did not trust their self-knowledge all that much. It seems clear that this is the condition which the apostle is describing among the Thessalonians in these opening verses. In Verses 3-5 we see how he handles this situation.

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? (2 Thessalonians 2:3-5)

Notice that Paul does not say to them, "Now don't worry. If the Day of the Lord had come you would not be here; you would have been raptured." The fact that Paul does not say this is made much of by the post-tribulationists. They say, "If it is true that Paul had taught them that the Lord was coming before the Day of the Lord, then he would simply have said to them, 'You would not be here if the Day of the Lord had come.'" The fact that Paul does not say this makes them feel sure the apostle had taught them a post-tribulational coming.

We must ask ourselves: "Why did he not say that?" The answer is that Paul was not sure that all of them had truly become Christians. He is very careful not to risk giving them a false sense of assurance by glibly saying, "If you believe in Christ then you are safe." There are many people who believe themselves to be Christians, but they really are not. They have gone along with the outward appearances of Christianity, but they have never surrendered their inner will to the Lord. If Paul had said to such nominal Christians in Thessalonica that they would certainly have been raptured he would have sealed them in a false view of their security.

As a matter of fact, as we will see in a moment, he does say to them that Christians will be raptured before the tribulation, but he does so in a very guarded and hidden way. We will see more of that in a moment. I must also point out that there is considerable evidence that the word that is translated "rebellion," or "apostasy" (as some versions have it), should more properly be translated "the departure." Read that way the apostle is clearly saying that the Day of the Lord cannot come until the departure of the church has first taken place. The book, Rethinking the Rapture," written by a dear friend of mine, Dr. E. Schuyler English, will make this clear to any who want further information.

However, for the sake of argument, let us take the word as "apostasy" or "rebellion." What Paul is saying, then, is that the unmistakable sign that the Day of the Lord has begun is that the "Man of lawlessness" (or, as the King James Version renders it, "the Man of sin"), has been revealed, and the great worldwide apostasy that he will lead has started.

I want to point out here that this agrees exactly with what Jesus taught in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, which deals with the great series of events that must occur before the time of the end. Our Lord says, in Matthew 24:15:

"So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) [this last phrase was added by Matthew], then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be." (Matthew 24:15-21)

That clearly agrees with what the apostle says here. Thus, the person we have presented here is the long expected antichrist, the false Messiah, or the "Hopelessly Lost One," which is what the phrase "the son of perdition" means. There is only one other person called by that name in the New Testament and that is Judas, the betrayer of our Lord. Jesus refers to the antichrist as "the desolating sacrilege ... standing in the holy place." Paul describes him as one "who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God." That is exactly what Jesus said. This man takes his place in the temple as a desolating sacrilege. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he had told them about this when he was with them. The reference here, therefore, is but a footnote to what he had already taught them. I wish we had the whole account of what he had said but obviously we have, by the Holy Spirit's inspiration, enough to understand what he taught if we think it through very carefully. Beginning in Verse 6 the apostle gets to the heart of his comments:

And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7)

According to the apostle, the Day of the Lord cannot come until the Man of lawlessness is revealed. But the Man of lawlessness cannot be revealed until some restraining power is taken out of the way. The question that needs to be asked at this point, therefore, is, what is that restraining power? The apostle's response to this question is, "You know what it is." There is no need to tell the Thessalonians; they already know! If we ask how did they know, the answer, of course, is that Paul had probably told them when he was with them. But even if he had not I feel they would have known.

The reason is that every born again Christian knows what it is that restrains evil. It is interesting that the word the apostle employs here for "know" is not the word ginosko, which means "to learn by experience." Rather it is the word oido, which means "to know by insight, by inner information." I believe that, even today, I could ask any young Christian the question, "Since Christ has come into your life, have you found anything that restrains evil in you?" From long experience I know that the answer would be, "Oh, yes, everything is different. I no longer have the same desires now that the Lord has come into my life." What that answer conveys is that the Holy Spirit has come in, and, thus, God himself dwells within him.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul teaches us that the desires of our flesh are opposed to the desires of the Spirit, and the Spirit's desires are opposed by the flesh, in order "to prevent you from doing what you would," (Gal 5:17b ). There is a mighty power at work that restrains evil in believers, and, through believers, it is at work restraining evil in the world. That is why Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth," (Matt 5:13a ). Believers are the salt that preserves this world from decay and corruption. They are also the light of the world for while they are in it they relieve the terrible darkness of the world by means of the Holy Spirit. That is why many of the commentators agree that this refers to the Holy Spirit in the church.

Paul goes on to say there is a mystery of evil at work in our world. He calls it "the mystery of lawlessness" which is already at work. It is the strange secret of universal evil. Even secular prophets are puzzled by it. What is it about our race that makes it so difficult to correct the conditions that destroy it? Why is drug trafficking so impossible to stop when it is clearly evident what terrible things it does to people? Why is it that alcoholics will return again and again to their habit when they see that it is destroying their homes and families, and even their own lives? It is a mystery; the mystery of lawlessness; the strange secret of human evil. Why is it that as the centuries go by we have made zero progress in curing human wickedness? We are still wrestling with the problem just as people wrestled with it five thousand years before Christ. We do not make any progress in this area.

This can be put another way. Why is it that Jews today are unable to build a temple upon Mt. Moriah? Some of us here are closely associated with a number of Jews in Jerusalem who have committed themselves with all their lives and possessions to rebuilding the temple. We have been following their efforts for some years, and find that they are totally frustrated. They cannot seem to get anywhere. Why is this? It is because something is restraining them! A temple will one day be built on the spot where the Dome of the Rock now stands and that is the place where the Man of lawlessness will take his seat and proclaim himself to be God. Why has that temple not been built since there are Jews with powerful political connections (I can personally testify to this) who are completely dedicated to building it? It is because the time has not yet come. There is a force that is restraining it. Just as God would not destroy the earth until Noah and his family had entered the ark (a picture of being "with Christ"); and just as God would not rain judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, despite their terrible evil, until Lot and his family had first been removed; so God will not begin the last terrible judgment upon this earth until the church has been removed. The Spirit-indwelt church is the restraining force!

For years I have been trying to get across to Christians what tremendous power they could exercise in the world today, if only they knew who they were. And likewise what tremendous evil they permit in the world when they refuse to live as God wants them to live. That is why society falls apart. What happened in the '60's and '70's when we went through a terrible incursion of evil into society, with a breakdown of morals on every side, and the rise of previously unacceptable public practices, was that the church had failed to live as God had called it to live. Christians had instead begun to live for themselves instead of for the Lord.

Let me point out something interesting here. It says in Verse 7: "... only he who now restrains will do so until he is out of the way." That phrase "out of the way," when translated literally, is, "becomes out of the midst." It does not say he is "taken out of the midst"; rather it says, "he becomes out of the midst." It reminds us of Paul's word in First Corinthians 15 where he says of the church, "We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," (1 Cir 15:51b-52a). We will suddenly be removed -- "out of the midst."

Then, says Paul, "the Lawless One will be revealed and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming." When the church through whom the Spirit works to restrain sin is removed -- the Spirit is not removed, merely his restraining instrument -- then begins the work of the Lawless One. It will last, we learn from Revelation and from Daniel, for 3-1/2 years, but it will end with what is described here as, literally, "the unveiling of the presence of Jesus." That is what this phrase, "his appearing and his coming" actually says. It is "by the shining out of his presence"; i.e. Jesus, with his church, had been here all along behind the scenes, but now he is made visible and it is that unveiling which destroys the antichrist. Our Lord but utters a word and the Man of lawlessness is destroyed. Further details of this are given in Revelation 19:

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet [this is the Man of lawlessness] who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth [the word of God uttered by the lips of Jesus]; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:20-21)

In Verses 9-12, we have a description of the methods of the Man of lawlessness.

The coming [literally the parousia, "the presence"] of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

You may be thinking that these verses do not apply to you. You are born again and you are going to be caught up before this happens, therefore it does not concern you. But remember that, in Verse 7, Paul says "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work." These verses describe the way evil works in our world today; it will be made world-wide in that day. But this is the way evil is working here, right now.

Notice five things are stated: First, its origin is Satan, at work behind the scenes. As Paul says in Ephesians, "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and wicked spirits in high places, the rulers of the darkness of this world," (cf, Eph 6:12 KJV).

Second, Satan gains a following with counterfeit miracles. We have seen in recent days a revival of interest in healing miracles. Some of them are real (because, if there are some counterfeit, there are also some real) but many of them will be counterfeit. They claim to show God's hand at work, but they are either psychologically or demonically inspired. There needs to be great care exercised in this area.

Third, Satan employs various forms of deceptive evil; things that offer what seems good but which are ultimately destructive. We have already listed a number of these -- drugs, alcohol, perverted forms of sexuality, gambling, adulterous affairs, etc. These are always made to look like something wonderful, they seem to offer much, but the end result is pain, heartache and destruction.

Fourth, this approach makes its appeal to those who "refuse to love the truth," who have no time for the Scriptures, who refuse to judge themselves and will not listen to anyone who, even lovingly, tries to point out that what they are doing is wrong. Such people have set their feet upon a downward slant that will end in destruction.

Fifth, this opens the door for the ultimate delusion: They will believe what Scripture calls "the lie." The puts this too lightly: "make them believe what is false." Literally, it is "the lie." The lie that has been propagated from the very beginning; the lie that was found in the Garden of Eden and has been in the world ever since. It is the lie that says, "You can be God in your own world. Really! You can run your own life. You can do whatever you want." That is "the lie," and that is what people everywhere today are believing. That, says the apostle, will become a world-wide condition under the influence of this evil person who is called the "Man of lawlessness." It is humanism, the worship of man, in its ultimate form.

What the apostle is underscoring through all this is that the Day of the Lord has not yet come. It is, then, still the day of grace! People can still open their eyes, and yet believe the truth.

You can yet turn to Jesus, and be redeemed, and so belong to that crowd who, not because of their own righteousness but because they have trusted in the righteousness of Another, will be caught up to be with the Lord before the great day of trouble begins on earth.

Where do you stand? That is where the apostle leaves us. Have you surrendered your life to Christ? Do you belong to him? Does he run your affairs? Do you listen to his words? Do you love him and follow him? If not, this is a moment when you can make that decision.

You can say, "Lord Jesus, I invite you to enter my life, to take it over. Help me to follow you and walk in the ways of righteousness." Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any one will open the door, I will come in to him [or her] and will eat with him," (Rev 3:20 ). That is his promise. Open that door to him now for he is prepared to save you from the wrath to come." (The Man Who Claims to be God, by Ray C. Stedman, Thessalonians Study) Don't miss Ray's other prophetic studies listed here, http://ldolphin.org/rayprophecy.html

Reference on the Shekinah: The Footsteps of the Messiah, by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, (http://www.ariel.org). New edition just out.

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Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. --Hebrews 4:16

You can have this confidence in God, and you can have this respect for His will.
Do not expect God to perform miracles for you so you can write books about them.
Do not ever be caught asking God to send you toys like that to play around with.
But if you are in trouble and concerned about your situation and willing to be honest with God, you can have confidence in Him.
You can go to Him in the merit of His Son, claiming His promises, and He will not let you down.
God will help you, and you will find the way of deliverance.
God will move heaven and earth for you if you will trust Him.
(A.W. Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason)

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lambert@ldolphin.org

May 14, 2004.