The Great Shaking

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem,
to an innumerable company of angels, 
to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven,
to God the Judge of all,
to the spirits of just men made perfect, 
to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant,
and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.
For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth,
much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 
whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, 
“Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 
Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken,
as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,
let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 
For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-29)

 

 4/14/2020 Letter by the CREC 
Dear Mr. President, Governor, Senators, Congressmen, Mayor, and Civic Leaders in the USA and Abroad,
I am writi􏰀ng to you as the Presiding Minister of Council of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC), an Interna􏰀onal Denomina􏰀tion.

We have been praying for you and con􏰀nue to do so. May the Lord grant you His wisdom as you make decisions in this 􏰀time of trial.

It is now apparent that our ini􏰀tial informa􏰀tion was incomplete. The pandemic is not what we all thought it was going to be. This is understandable. It was new. We all thought it was a dire threat and we all responded to protect the lives of our citizens, and our congregants, as we should have. It is now clear that the stated ra􏰀onale for these temporary, emergency actions, “to fla􏰁tten the curve”, has been achieved, and that these temporary measures are no longer necessary. If we con􏰀timid on the current course of ac􏰀tion of extreme mi􏰀tigation, things may get much worse, as we fear they most certainly will.

President Trump was right to say that the cure cannot be worse than the disease. In fact, it is. 

The pandemic did not jus􏰀tify pu􏰂tting millions of people out of work and locking down businesses and churches for the indefinite future. It is now 􏰀time to open up for business, return to work and return to the worship of the Triune God.

While Covid-19 is among us and members of our churches have been harmed by the disease, the much larger damage to our members has been done by cu􏰂ttng off the means of suppor􏰀ting the lives of their families. In our churches, we have few Coronavirus cases, hospitaliza􏰀tions or deaths. However, we have many people whose ability to support the lives of their families has been greatly damaged through the loss of wages and damage to their businesses. For us, the cure has been far worse than the disease.

We encourage you to consider the immense damage that will be caused by conti􏰀nuing down this current path of a closed economy. The lost livelihoods, closed businesses, and the isola􏰀on of our congregants, is a tremendous loss to the health and well-being of our society. This damage will only worsen the longer we stay on the present course of sheltering in place and keeping the economy and houses of worship closed. Dangerous social unrest is the likely result of staying on this course.

We have a great concern for the lives and health of our members as well as those in our communi􏰀es. Many in our churches are elderly or are in a high-risk category for Covid-19.
First of all, thank you for the care and concern you have shown for the ci􏰀zens who elected you,
and for your a􏰁ttempt to do what you believed to be best for the public good in light of the
available informa􏰀tion at the 􏰀time.

Those individuals and their families, pastors, leaders and physicians, are the ones to make the best decisions about how they should live during the spread of this disease. If this were a great plague, a direct threat to the health and lives of all of our congregants, as many of us ini􏰀ally thought it was, we would be glad to conti􏰀nue to comply with reasonable measures to mi􏰀gate the spread. However, it is now clear that it is not the plague and we are not prepared to con􏰀tinue to comply with extreme mi􏰀tiga􏰀tion efforts.

Our desire is to be obedient to the civil magistrate. However, we must also do what we believe God expects of us, what is best for our people and our communi􏰀es, and what our consciences dictate. For our American members, The U.S. Cons􏰀titi􏰀on rightly affords us these rights of speech and assembly because they extend to us from God, Himself.

The ci􏰀tizens of the United States and our congregants are already beginning to strongly feel the need to get back to regular living. While we do not currently have a date a􏰃fter which we will no longer comply with the extreme restric􏰀tions, we believe the 􏰀time is now at hand for our leaders to stand down from the extreme isola􏰀tion efforts, and the date a􏰃fter which we will no longer comply, is soon approaching, in days or weeks, not months.
Our response in the churches has been to humble ourselves, confess our sins, the sins of the church and the sins of our ci􏰀tizens and governments. Please join us in humbling yourselves before the Lord Jesus.

We call upon the grace and mercy of God to give us relief. Death is an enemy, the last enemy that will be destroyed by the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge this. While we despise death, we do not fear death, because for us, to live is Christ and to die is gain. May God grant us repentance, and as we confess and repent of our many sins, we trust that He will be gracious to us and heal our land.

In the service of King Jesus,
Virgil Hurt
Presiding Minister of Council
Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC)

We are an international vibrant church community of evangelical believers shaped by the Reformation. We are deeply committed to the evangelical tenets of biblical authority and the free grace of God in Christ, and we believe that Jesus is King and Lord of heaven and earth.

The one hundred or so churches and parishes of the CREC are spread across North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, and Eastern Asia. Please use the search box in the header of this page to find one near you.

 

This above letter presupposes that life will return to normal on Planet Earth in the days ahead. I disagree. The churches represented above are descended from the Protestant Reformation and adhere to Covenant Theology. I myself follow modified Dispensationalism, after my mentor Ray Stedman. The central issue relevant here is whether the church has replaced Israel in the program of God. I see a glorious future ahead for the nation of Israel because God keeps His promises in spite of human failures. Of greatest relevance at this late hour of human history is how we are now, I believe, experiencing the birthpangs at the end of the age. Followers of both schools of Bible prophecy believe Jesus will personally return at the end of the present age. My set of specific beliefs is here. I believe Jesus is now actively intervening in our world as the first step of His personal return in bringing about the Final Redemption. I believe the sudden departure of the church (the rapture) will be the next noteworthy event in history. But no one knows the time. It could happen today, it might not happen for months. Those believers whom God has chosen to be the Bride of Christ are all known to Jesus (John 17). Jesus won't return until all this group of the elect are in the fold. If the Rapture had taken place a hundred years ago we'd have all been left behind!

No one seeks for God! No one would comes to God unless they were called and chosen. If you feel you are not on the elect list ask now. Your name will be found there on the list. The sudden departure of Christ's true church will probably pass unnoticed by the media and most of the world. A few missing persons here and there? Good riddance.

Another presupposition in the above letter is that the Lord is committed to maintaining the status quo in old paradigm churches. Again I disagree. Yes, God is with His true church. Jesus has been quietly building His ekklesia behind the scenes for nearly two millennia. But no one church or denomination has all the answers. True believers who know Jesus are found in many churches, and many are "unchurched" out there today. In gathering us all together into one Body at the Rapture, Jesus will unite us with Himself, symbolized by a Bride. (God draws people everywhere to Himself by loving them. His love is self-giving and unconditional unlike most forms of love we know too much about.)

The present world population is 7.8 billion people. Suppose 12% are followers of Jesus. This means the number of Christians from the current generation who are now alive is about 1 billion people. But the true church has been under construction for nearly 2000 years. Therefore the church Jesus has been building is probably ~5 billion men, women, children from every generation, every nation, every culture, every ethnic group. White Anglo Saxons will be a minority. Indeed Americans will probably number only a few percent of the grand total. Then too, Heaven is to be a theocracy, not a democracy. King Jesus will govern us through His Apostles. Those who imagine heaven will be a simple escape to eternal bliss apparently haven't read their Bibles very carefully. Rapture Shock will be a real adjustment for many. With several billions Christians living together in a finite ecosystem, we'll need some liberated form of government resembling parishes perhaps, for seven years.

No one knows when Jesus will call His church home to be with Him. That action by Jesus will remove the "salt" and "light" activity of the Holy Spirit from the planet. Evil is presently held back by the the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He is called the Restrainer (from katecho). in 2 Thessalonians 2. God's purpose is not to save the world directly though He does care about the well being of everyone.

The Apostle Peter said,

Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder),  that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior,  knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, sleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 

Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation--as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (1 Peter 3:1-18)

The Coronavirus shutdown has affected every nation. This is remarkable, since the present nations are highly discordant and often can't agree about anything. The United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations are widely seen as ineffectual and failing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Globalism seems to many the only way to save mankind.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
There are no uncaused effects going on in the universe! There is no such thing as chance and there are no accidents. The causes behind our weather, for example, are so complex that huge computers are employed by weather forecasters to process the many variables involved. Even so, the weather often has a mind of its own.
If we consider the big picture of how God runs the entire universe we must immediately take into account the revealed character of God and what He has told us in the Bible.

But God is not limited by our disbeief.

Thankfully God is a God of order, not of chaos. He has chosen to tell us lots about Himself and about the course of history which He Himself is directing.
Ephesians 1:11 “... according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

If we are indeed at the end of the age, the next event of significance should be the departure (or "rapture") of the true church. The Greek word for this event is harpazo found 13 times in the Greek New Testament. The imagery in the New Testament is that of a groom on a journey to prepare a place in his father's house where he can take his virgin bride to be for the consummation of their extended courtship. In the Gospel of Matthew 25, we have a illustration of Jewish weddings. Ten wise and foolish maidens are being invited to attend the wedding. Five were qualified as being unprepared. The Bride herself is not mentioned. It would seem today, with our perspective on history as gentiles, that the Bride is the church of Jesus. Jesus is of course the Bridegroom. The maidens represent the Jews of Jesus' day. The should have anticipated the the First Advent of their Messiah, but most of them did not. We are most all gentiles, the groom is Jewish.

William Barclay comments:

Like so many of Jesus' parables, this one has an immediate ind local meaning, and also a wider and universal meaning.

In its immediate significance it was directed against the Jews. they were the chosen people; their whole history should have been a preparation for the coming of the Son of God; they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. Instead they were quite unprepared and therefore were shut out. Here in dramatic form is the tragedy of the unpreparedness of the Jews.

But the parable has at least two universal warnings.

(i) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the examination has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it, when some task offers itself to him. Similarly, it is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God. When Mary of Orange was dying, her chaplain sought to tell her of the way of salvation. Her answer was: "I have not left this matter to this hour." To be too late is always tragedy.

(ii) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.

Tennyson took this parable and turned it into verse in the song the little novice sang to Guinevere the queen, when Guinevere had too late discovered the cost of sin:

"Late, late so late! and dark the night and chill!
Late, late so late! but we can enter still.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light had we; for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!
O let us in, that we may find the light!
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.

Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O let us in, tho' late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now."

There is no knell so laden with regret as the sound of the words too late.

Also about Israel and their present Unbelief:
The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.  And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’  So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46)

Tim Keller, theologian, says that science has now replaced the church as the official religion of the western world. Scientists are, Keller says, our priests, those we trust to advise us on important matters of church and state.

Dennis Prager notes in several recent posts that the long term deaths resulting from attempts to contain the Coronavirus will probably be much greater than the deaths attributable to the virus itself. Prager also notes that economies world wide have surely been damaged beyond recovery.

The global shutdown because of the usual flu virus season this year is now being explained away as anything but the hand of God acting in His universe as the Owner of everything.

Truth Will Out

The phrase "truth will out", or "truth will become public", appears as early as William Shakespeare's works, in particular The Merchant of Venice. It may have been an entirely new concept of Shakespeare's, as he sees the need to explain its meaning as analogous to murder will out. A mystery will always be solved; truth will eventually and inevitably be discovered.

Bryce Self wrote me, So much handwriting over this virus being a judgment of God, and what sin has our nation done. All presupposing we’re basically good and just need to correct some particular thing we did wrong. The actual situation is just the opposite… We are all inveterately evil. God says all human are already dead in trespasses and sins, with every though of our hearts only evily continually—and all our supposed “goodness” is just cosmetics on the corpse.

Even if the Lord wiped out all but a few individuals of the entire human race while demolishing the entire planetary exosphere and terrain through a global cataclysm, the evil in us would yet remain. In fact, having demonstrated that fact by pursuing precisely that course in the days of Noah, He explicitly declared disavows intention to pursue such a course again.

"Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

"Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. 'While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:21-22)

This remains the Divine perspective as directly demonstrated and explicitly taught by Jesus Christ. All are worthy of death, and it is only the Father’s mercy that holds both temporal and eternal punishment in abeyance for the time being, in order to give room for repentance so that some might be saved from the universal destruction.

"There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

In His first letter, the Apostle Peter refers to those "who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” (I Peter 3:20). 

The same writer later speaks again of how God "did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly,” (II Peter 2:5), adding as parallel examples of the punishment of fallen angels and the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain. Peter then proceeds to make direct application to the self-justifiers and Flood-forgetters of the last days who will abuse the grace of God extended for repentance. "Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

"For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (II Peter 3:1-9)

The Lord is no respecter of persons. It is only of His grace that we are not already among those who go down to the pit. This is the bad news of the ultimate viral infection called sin that is contracted at conception and comes with a mortality rate of 100%. And this is why we need the good news of the Gospel of the love of God in Jesus Christ. When we are “faced” we are saved from a fate far worse that mere physical demise due to any physical disease.

Speaking of only human enemies, Jesus could warn: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” {Matthew 10:28) The call of the Gospel that the Church proclaims has always been the same since the Day of Pentecost in A.D.30 "Repent, and be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40)

My response to Bryce:

Bryce, Your notes on the depravity of man made me realize that almost no one I know is apparently seeking God at this time. All this is ominously like the history of Israel and their denial to this day of Yeshua. There are more nature photos and nostalgia being posted lately but otherwise it’s merely coping until life returns to “normal” —life like it was!  No preachers that I know of are pointing their flocks to really changing their life styles, or to a deeper personal relationship with Jesus. That message is probably too threatening? It’s just more denial! No new insights from less known parts of the Bible. No deepening of relationships at home. Less intimacy not more. 

There were present at that season some who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ (Luke 13:6-9)

But I can't help but reflect on the total salvation package Jesus offers us! The people I know as fellow travelers in Christ are being watched over by the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is the One who delivers us from the wrath to come.

We are "...to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

We all have a difficult time seeing ourselves as all new once we have have been immersed into the Body of Christ. We all need the road map of (1) justified (2) sanctified and (3) glorified. Yet God sees this all as a done-deal and He sticks with each of us until we finish the race. 

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:22,23) 

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Yes, stuck in time in fallen bodies and living in an evil world with powerful enemies, we are all called to take one day at a time until God calls us home.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:5-17)

But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,  while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:2-18) 


Reference Reading Two messages by Ray Stedman

"The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians is also the first letter the apostle wrote. It was written to a struggling, yet vigorous church that was only a few months old, made up of Christians who had just come to Christ under Paul's ministry. This is a delightfully revealing letter, showing the heart of the apostle toward these new Christians, and also showing the struggles that were present in the early church.

We sometimes get very distorted conceptions of these early Christians; there's a tendency to regard them as always triumphant, always waging the battle with vigor, and always winning great victories in Christ's name. But they also had very severe problems, some of which are reflected in this letter. It was written about 50 A.D., and may well be the first part of our New Testament to be written. Most scholars feel that the gospels were written about this same time or shortly afterward, though some hold that the gospel of Matthew, and perhaps of Mark, appeared about 43 or 45 A.D. At any rate, this letter is at least one of the earliest Christian writings.

The account of Paul's founding of this church is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Acts. After he and Silas were thrown into prison in Philippi because of their preaching of the Gospel, an earthquake shook down the prison doors and freed the prisoners. Paul was then freed by the Roman magistrates, and he left Philippi and went to Thessalonica. Many of the places where Paul preached have crumbled into ruin, but Thessalonica is still a thriving, bustling metropolis. It was then the capital of Macedonia, but it is now in Greece proper, and is called Salonika.

From the account in Acts, we learn that Paul had only been there about three weeks when persecution began and he had to leave the city for his own safety. He went down to Athens and from there he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how these Christians were doing. He was very disturbed about them; he felt that perhaps the persecution they were undergoing would drive them from their faith.

He went on to Corinth where he founded a church after several months of difficult labor. After some time, Timothy returned to him at Corinth, bringing word of how the Thessalonians were doing, and of some of the problems they were facing. As we read this little letter through, we can recognize them as the kind of problems that we also face.

For one thing, wherever the Apostle Paul went, he was hounded by a group of Jews who spread the rumor that because he was not one of the original twelve, he was not a genuine apostle. This was not only a problem for Paul, but also for the Thessalonians. Furthermore, the pagans of Thessalonica were severely persecuting the Christians -- threatening them, and taking away their property -- so these early Christians, perhaps only three or four weeks old in the Lord, were called upon to endure hard things for the cause of Christ.

In that city, as in all the Greek cities, sexual promiscuity was common -- was even regarded as a religious right -- and to live a life of chastity was to be regarded as a freak. Therefore, as is the case today, there was great pressure upon these new Christians to fall into line with the common sex practices of their day.

Then the major problem of this church was that the second coming of Jesus Christ was greatly misunderstood. The apostle had evidently told them something, but they were confused about this, which produced another grave problem. Some of them were expecting Christ to come back so imminently that they had actually stopped working and were waiting for him to come. Since they weren't earning a living, somebody had to take care of them, and they were leeches on the rest of the congregation. Also, there were tensions developing between the congregation and the church leaders which needed some admonition to settle, and finally, there were those who were somewhat indifferent to the Holy Spirit's work among them, and to the truth of God as it was being proclaimed in the Scriptures.

Do those problems sound familiar? We can consider ourselves in very similar circumstances as this church at Thessalonica. The letter itself divides simply into two major divisions. In the first three chapters the apostle is just unloading his heart to them concerning his relationship to them, and this is followed by a very practical section with advice on how to behave in the midst of the pressures in which we live.

In this first section Paul pours his heart out for these early Christians. He is afraid they might have misunderstood his leaving Thessalonica, as though he had abandoned them to persecution, so he reminds them that he had just come through a terrible time of persecution himself in Philippi, and that his own heart was deeply concerned for them. The key to this is in the very beginning:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope... (1 Thessalonians 2-3a RSV)

Those three things marked these Thessalonian believers -- their work of faith, their labor of love, and their endurance in hope. These are detailed more clearly farther down, in the latter part of verse nine, where we read, "how you turned to God from idols" (1 Thessalonians 1:9b RSV)-- that was the work of faith; they turned to God from these pagan idols they were worshiping, and "to serve a living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9c RSV) -- that was their labor of love; they became an available instrument for the love of God, and third, "to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:10 RSV). And there is the expression of the patience, waiting in hope for his Son from heaven.

Now interestingly enough, those three things also form a little outline, built right into the text, to guide you in understanding the first three chapters. The work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope -- chapter one, chapter two, chapter three.

We might say of these early Christians, "they dropped out, tuned in, and turned on." They dropped out of the stream of society, the world in which they lived, (not out of contact with it: in fact, they spread the Gospel through the whole area); they dropped out of the attitudes, the power structures, and the values of the world in which they lived. And they tuned in to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and received the word.

Here the apostle is reminding us that the word he spoke was not the word of men: it came "not only in word," he said, "but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 1:5b RSV). And they turned on, as they waited with expectation for the coming of the Son of God. They has a reason for living, they had a purpose, and they had a hope in the midst of the hopelessness around them.

An archaeological excavation team, working in this very city of Thessalonica, has turned up an ancient, first-century graveyard. And there among the pagan tombstones they found one which was inscribed in Greek with these words: "No Hope." But here, in a church in the midst of that city, there were those who had found the endurance based on hope; they were looking for the coming of the Son of God. That is what keeps the heart calm in the midst of perils and persecutions. That is what makes it possible to watch the world apparently coming apart at the seams and maintain quietness; God is in control, and he knows what he's doing. And thus Paul encourages these Thessalonians with these words.

Chapter two is a wonderful description of the labor of love -- not their labor, this time -- but Paul's, and here you have a marvelous description of his ministry (Chapter 2:9-12):

For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 RSV)

...for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 RSV)

And they did that, for he says (verse 14):

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea. (1 Thessalonians 2:14a RSV)

This is the service, the labor of love.

Chapter three is an account of how Paul sent Timothy to them, and Timothy brought back word of the persecution they were undergoing, and yet of their steadfastness in the midst of it. And there is a wonderful description of the patience of hope, permitting them to endure difficulties with joy.

Chapters four and five, the practical section of this letter, are divided into four brief sections which take up the problems that were confronting this church. The first exhortation the apostle gives is to live cleanly in the midst of a sex-saturated society. These words have great importance to us who have to live in the same kind of society today, and he begins by reminding them that he had taught them how to live (verse 1):

Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1 RSV)

He had not taught them, as many people think Christianity teaches, that they ought to live a good, clean life. Buddhism teaches that. And most other faiths teach that you ought to live a moral life. But that alone is not what Christianity says; it teaches you how to live a good, clean life! And Paul reminds them that he had taught them "how to please God."

Now, what is it that pleases God? What one quality of life is essential to please God? Faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. A life of expectation that the God who lives in you will manifest his life through you is the kind of life that pleases God. It isn't a life of your efforts, struggling to live up to a standard that you've imposed upon yourself, or someone else has imposed upon you. It is a life in which you are constantly dependent upon the one who indwells you, to keep you able to do and to be what you ought to be.

This kind of life results, then, in a purity that is practiced. If Christians are practicing impurity, that is a clear revelation that they are not practicing a life of faith. But purity practiced is the sign of the principle perceived. Paul says,

For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification: that you abstain from immorality; [that is the will of God] that each of you know how to take a wife for himself [possess his vessel, literally, or possess his body] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 RSV)

It is very clear, isn't it? We are told how to live cleanly.

The second problem he takes up is the matter of living honestly, in verses 9 through 12 of chapter four. They are to show love toward one another, and the practical manifestation of that is for every man to get busy and work with his hands and not have to depend upon somebody else for support; rather,

...to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands...so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 RSV)

That's practical, isn't it?

Now in verse 13, we come to the major problem this book addresses -- the misunderstanding about the coming of the Lord. These Thessalonian Christians had gotten the idea that when Jesus Christ returned to earth the second time to begin his millennial kingdom, those who were alive when he came back (and they were expecting him within their lifetime) would enter with him into this kingdom. But they were deeply troubled that those who had died in the meantime would somehow miss the benefits and the blessings of the millennium.

Now this probably arose because of a misunderstanding of the doctrine of resurrection. They were thinking in terms of one resurrection, a single event which would come at the end of the millennium, when the dead would be raised -- the good and the bad alike -- to stand before the judgment seat of God. And there are passages, of course, that do speak of a resurrection to come at the end of the millennium. But Paul points out that the resurrection does not proceed as a single event, but that groups of believers are resurrected at various times. Notice his argument:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, [that is, who have died] that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 RSV)

In other words, these who have died are going to be raised again; and they'll come back with Jesus when he comes to establish his millennial reign.

Well, this presents another problem. How is it that they are going to come back with him bodily when their bodies have been placed in the grave? What reassurance can they have on this? "Ah," says the apostle, "let me give you a revelation from the Lord":

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord [this is an authoritative revelation] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, [parousia, the presence of the Lord] shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 RSV)

In other words, there is an aspect of the Lord's coming, before his coming to establish the millennium reign. He is coming for his people, he is coming to gather those who are his to be with him, in his presence (parousia in Greek), before his return to establish the kingdom. The 'coming of the Lord' here does not refer to the 'second coming' of Christ. And at the time of this parousia the dead in Christ will be raised, so that we all will be with him when he's ready to establish his kingdom. So you see how this answered their problem? They need not grieve over those who have died; they'll actually precede those who are alive when the Lord comes for his own.

Now between that parousia the Lord's coming to establish the kingdom, we learn from other passages of Scripture that there will probably be about a seven year period. In the meantime the great tribulation occurs, and Paul now goes on to speak of this as he continues in the next chapter. He says to them,

But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 RSV)

Nobody can set a date for this event. It's going to come suddenly, quickly, and when the Lord comes in the parousia two great chains of events will be initiated. The Lord will begin one series of events in which all believers will be caught up to be with him, and at the same time, he will begin another series of events on earth known as the great tribulation, or in the Old Testament, "the day of the Lord."

Now there are two "days" we need to distinguish in Scripture: the day of the Lord, and the day of Christ. They both begin at exactly the same time, but they concern two distinct bodies of people. The day of Christ concerns believers, while the day of the Lord refers to what is happening to unbelievers during this time. And it is my personal conviction that when the Lord comes for his own, and the dead in Christ rise -- when we who are alive are caught up with them to be with the Lord -- that we don't leave this planet at all. We stay here with the Lord, visibly directing the events of the tribulation period as they break out in great judgmental sequences upon the ones who are living as mortals upon the earth -- the scenes that are vividly portrayed in the book of Revelation.

Now the apostle says to them that no one knows when this is going to happen:

When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:3-4 RSV)

It will surprise the people of the world like a thief, but it needn't surprise you like a thief, because you are looking forward to it -- you ought to be expecting it.

For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5 RSV)

Therefore, what should be the practical result? Well, don't go to sleep as others do, but keep awake and be sober. Don't act as though everything is going to go on as usual, but be aware of what God is doing and act accordingly. Remember these signs that Jesus gave that indicate the close approach of these events; these ought to make us aware that it is time to give ourselves more than we ever have before to the work of God. Paul says,

...keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6b-8 RSV)

Now he's not talking about salvation from hell: he's speaking here of the salvation which is to come; that is, salvation from the wrath of God during the time of the judgment. He goes right on to say,

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep [whether we live until the coming of the Lord, or die beforehand] we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 RSV)

How completely he answered their problem! They did not need to be discouraged, or frightened, or distressed, but they could go on about their business, confident that God was in charge of affairs. And although times were difficult, they could busy themselves about the work of the Lord, knowing that they were only investing themselves in a certain future.

The last section speaks not only of living confidently, but of living peacefully in the midst of these conditions:

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a RSV)

There was some friction that was developing towards some of the church leaders, and Paul says, remember that these men are concerned about your soul's welfare, and although they may have to speak rather sharply at times, it's not because they want to hurt you, but to help you. Therefore, remember that and live at peace with them, and esteem them, and love them because they are concerned about you.

And furthermore,

Be at peace among yourselves... (1 Thessalonians 5:13b RSV)

and he gives some practical exhortations as to how to do that:

...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14b RSV)

And most important,

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. (1 Thessalonians 5:15 RSV)

That is probably one of the most frequently broken commands in Scripture. When somebody does something to us, what do we say? "Wait 'til I get even with you!" "I'm going to pay back if it's the last thing I do!" And yet, this is the very attitude which the Scriptures denounce as worldly thinking, outside of the grace and truth and love of Jesus Christ.

Then there are these beautiful verses,

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 RSV)

And after various other admonitions, his final prayer for them is beautiful:

May the God of peace himself [dwelling in you] sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 RSV)

What a wonderful letter this is! And all of this was addressed to new Christians, yet the apostle expected them to lay hold of these truths. In order to grow, there must be, as Jesus said, a constant hungering and thirsting after more; "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied," (Matthew 5:6 RSV). And it is this that the world is waiting to see, especially in these last days. Hope for A Hopeless World.

Before Jesus Christ left this earth he said that he would return, but that before his return there would be a time of difficulty and widespread lawlessness. The seams of society would come apart, and disorders, violence and riot would be so widespread that men's hearts would literally fail them for fear of the things that were coming on the face of the earth. And Jesus predicted the character of the age that would follow his ascension into heaven, and said that it would culminate in a time of great tribulation "such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be," (Matthew 24:21b RSV).

Now when Christians of Thessalonica were going through their time of trouble, many of them thought they were in that time of tribulation. It was to respond to this question that Paul wrote this second letter. In the first letter, he wrote to comfort them in their distress over their loved ones who had died, but this letter is written to correct certain misunderstandings they had about the "Day of the Lord," and this time of trouble.

There are three chapters in this little letter, and each one is a correction of a very common attitude that many people still have about disturbing times. The first chapter is devoted to a correction of the attitude of discouragement in the face of difficulty. These Christians were undergoing "persecutions" and "afflictions" and although they were bearing up with good grace, nevertheless, many of them were getting discouraged. "Why try any more?" they were saying; "There's no justice. Everything is always against us."

And to counteract that attitude, the apostle reminds them that the day when God would repay them for the difficulties they were going through was coming. Paul says (1:5-10):

This [your steadfastness] 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 [or to recompense] with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, 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. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 RSV)

Although we in this country have not gone through much in the way of persecution, there are other parts of the world where intense persecution breaks out from time to time. If we lived in one of these places or times, we would appreciate the meaning of these words. Paul is reminding these people that God has not forgotten them -- that he is going to straighten things out at last. When people go through a time of great persecution, they say, "Isn't there going to be a time when this injustice is corrected? How can a man like Hitler get by with putting six million Jews to death? Won't things ever get straightened out?"

And Paul says, yes, a day is coming when a three-fold repayment will be made: first, to these believers who are undergoing such difficulty; the very trials that they're undergoing, Paul says, are making them worthy of the coming kingdom of God. That aspect of suffering is what makes us able to take it. It puts strength in our muscles and sharpens our moral equipment so that we're able to endure.

And then, he says, there will be a day of recompense to the "unbelieving." There will come a time when God will set them straight, when those who have misused their opportunity of service in life will face a righteous Judge who knows their hearts. His vengeance will have two aspects -- destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.

Hell is often pictured as a fiery furnace where people are dragging around in chains, being continually burned and never being able to do anything about it. The Bible does use some symbols of hell that reflect that idea, but hell is really exclusion from the presence of the Lord. God is the source of everything that is good -- beauty and truth, life and love, joy, peace, grace, strength, forgiveness. All those things come only from God, and if a man won't have them, then God finally says to him, "I've been trying my best to get you to take these, but if you won't have them, then you must have your own way." And they are shut out from the presence of the Lord.

And if they're shut away from the source of all goodness, then what's left? The opposite -- darkness and death That is what they had been dishing out, and that is what they will finally obtain. God will let them have their own way, and when they get it, it will be the last thing they want.

And then the Lord himself will be repaid on that day. He will come, Paul says (1:10):

...to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:10b RSV)

Notice that he doesn't say he is going to be glorified "by" his saints. But as the world sees the wisdom and the might of the God who can take a self-centered human being, full of anxieties and fears, and teach him how to walk in quietness and joy, rid of his guilt and his fears -- a man as God intended a man to be -- that is the greatest display the universe will ever see. And that glorifies God!

In chapter 2 you have another reaction to disturbing times -- fear. We read in these opening words (verses 1-2):

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, [really the word is troubled] 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 RSV)

These people had evidently received a letter from somebody signing Paul's name, telling them that in this terrible time of trouble all they had to look forward to was worse times. But Paul says, "don't be shaken in your mind." Literally, don't be shaken out of your wits by what's happening. I think many of our young people today are fearful, and striking out against society, because they don't know that God is in control of events.

"Well," Paul says, "in my last letter, I wrote to you about our gathering together unto Jesus. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will be raised, and we who remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. That's our gathering together unto him."

But now he says that the day of the Lord, this terrible time of judgment, is not the same as our gathering together unto him. But having introduced the subject of the day of the Lord, he goes on to tell them what it will be like and how they can tell it's coming. (2:3):

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first. (2 Thessalonians 2:3a RSV)

I don't like that word, "rebellion." Literally translated. the word means the "departure" which of course could mean a departure from the faith, and thus, a rebellion. But I think it means the departure he just talked about -- the departure of the Church behind the scenes to be with the Lord in his second presence on earth.

And then he says (2:3-4):

...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. (2 Thessalonians 2:3c-4 RSV)

Now this is an amazing passage. When Jesus was here, he offered himself to the Jewish people as the promised Messiah, and most of them rejected him, so that John begins his gospel . saying, "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not," (John. 1:11 RSV). Jesus also had said to them, "I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive." (John 5:43 RSV). Thus he painted the picture of one who would appear to be a deliverer to the world, whom Paul calls the "man of lawlessness" and "the son of perdition." This character would be an utterly godless individual, and yet so remarkable that people would actually accept him as a divinely empowered being who could deliver them from their difficulties. (It is very interesting that statesmen, historians, politicians, and others are saying repeatedly today that we need a single worldwide leader who can unite all the various world forces, and bring us out into harmony and peace.) And he will be manifest, says Paul, in the temple of God.

When Paul wrote this letter in about 52 A.D., the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, but in 70 A.D. it was destroyed, and there has never been a temple in Jerusalem since. In some way, however, the Jews will find a way to reconstruct another temple on the site in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock is now. And it is in that temple that Paul says "the man of lawlessness" will take his seat.

Paul has a further comment on the subject (2:5-8):

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? 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. And then the lawless one will be revealed. (2 Thessalonians 5-8a RSV)

There was something at work which he called the mystery of lawlessness. One thing that has puzzled statesmen all through history is that they can never solve the basic difficulties of the human race. Why is it that we can come to a certain point in building good government, with widespread blessing and help for all, and then it all seems to crumble and fall apart? This has been the pattern of history. General Carlos Romulo, who was the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, said, "We have harnessed the power of the atom, but how can we bridle the passions of men?" That is the problem -- this lawlessness, this spirit of rebellion against authority which is always the greatest danger to any nation.

But Paul says that something is restraining it. Something through the course of the centuries has been restraining lawlessness, preventing total anarchy. And Jesus told us what that is; he said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; ..."(Matthew 5:13a RSV). "You are the light of the world," (Matthew 5:14a RSV). Salt prevents corruption from spreading: light dispels darkness, and it is the presence of the people of God on earth that restrains the forces of evil. This is a remarkable thing, yet it is the truth. Wherever godliness diminishes -- sometimes because of forces within the Church as well as without -- a spirit of lawlessness takes over.

But Paul says here that the restraint is going to be taken out of the way, and then the whole flood of human evil will be let loose upon the earth. And when that happens there will come the greatest time of trouble the world has ever seen. Yet, Paul says, it will come to an end (2:8-12):

The Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming 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 2:8b-12 RSV)

This is the characteristic of the spirit of lawlessness -- deception -- and it must, and will be destroyed, by the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man who destroys the destroyer of earth.

Chapter 3 deals, finally, with the conduct of these believers in the face of difficulty and pressure. Paul was correcting here a third very widespread attitude that many have in times of difficulty -- what we might call "fanaticism." There were certain people in Thessalonica who were saying,"Why not just wait until he comes? Why should we concern ourselves about making a living? Let's just live and enjoy ourselves, and wait for his coming." So Paul says to them (3:6):

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:3 RSV)

Because, he says (11-13):

For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing. (2 Thessalonians 3:11-13 RSV)

As we get nearer to the time of his coming, Paul says, remember that your responsibility is to keep on living normally and working with your hands, taking care of your responsibilities. The Christian life is a normal, natural life, fulfilling all the responsibilities that God places upon us. So Paul rejects the attitude of fanaticism and says that we are to give ourselves to the task that God has set before us.

In this little letter, discouragement is answered by looking to the day when God sets everything straight. Fear is answered by remembering that God is in perfect control of human events, and things will take place just as he has predicted they will take place. And fanaticism is rejected with a specific command -- to be busy at the Lord's work. And then Paul closes with a very tender gesture. He says,

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; It is the way I write. (2 Thessalonians 3:17 RSV)

What is? The words with which he closes the letter:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:18 RSV)

And if you look at the letters of Paul, you'll find that they all close this way. He always took the pen from his secretary and wrote in his own hand, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."

The application of this letter to each individual heart is simply this: God's people are called to be restrainers of lawlessness. How often are you operating as a restraint to lawlessness? The measure in which you oppose lawlessness will be the measure in which there is lawlessness in your own heart, and your own life. Restrainers of Lawlessness.

Visit the Ray Stedman Library

 

 

Music

All Shook Up by Elvis Presley

I will Sing of My Redeemer

I’ll Fly Away by Ransomed Blue Grass 

Jesus the Light of the World

“I’m Going to Wait on Jesus”

April 21, 2020

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