Not only are Allah and Yahweh in conflict over the ownership of Jerusalem, the pagan gods of all the nations (the "gods" of the goyim---who are no gods) are arrayed against the true and living God as well. The intensity of this conflict against Yahweh is escalating rapidly in our day. It is the kings of the earth, empowered by their own ambitions and goals, who will ultimately come to Jerusalem in war. They will openly oppose both God and the Anointed King whom Yahweh has already set upon a throne in Zion. Few will admit today that by their apathy and indifference to God, they are acting out their enmity and hatred of God. But in the days which lie ahead anarchy against the true Lord of the universe will come out of hiding and into the open. Men will dare to openly fight against God!
Though Jerusalem has been overrun at least 18 times by foreign armies, the great invasion described by Zechariah---most likely it will be World War III---has not yet occurred. It will come at the end of the age in which we now live, probably very soon in history. Meanwhile the Second Psalm of David sums up the conflict of the ages over Jerusalem---and God's final solution
The King James Version is familiar to many because the text is used in a well-known chorus in Handel's Messiah.
R.C. Sproul takes special note of this Psalm as a statement of God's invisible hand behind and over all governments in the world,
In the eighteenth century the concept of separation of church and state meant one thing; today it is understood in radically different terms. Originally the concept pointed to a clear division of labor between two institutions and guarded the borders between the two. Today a not-so-subtle shift has occurred, and now the idea of separation of church and state has come to mean the separation of state and God. The state wishes to be autonomous, not answerable or accountable to God. In a word, the government has declared its independence from God.
This is nothing new authority of God. Even in theocratic Israel it was the kings who, more often than not, were leaders in godlessness.
The common resistance of earthly rulers to the reign of God over them may be seen in the sentiments of Psalm 2...
The psalm reflects a conspiracy among the kings of this world. They hold a summit meeting in which they declare their independence from God. They hold a joint council of war and aim the sum of their military might toward heaven. The response of God is holy laughter. The arsenal of human weapons is viewed as mere popguns by the Almighty.
God's derisive laughter quickly turns to wrath as He warns against the rejection of His rule and that of His anointed. He rebukes the kings for their folly, warning them that He will break them with a rod of iron. They are called to rule, not with the arrogance of pretended autonomy, but with fear and trembling. The fear and trembling are to be motivated by an awareness that their authority is a delegated authority. It is extrinsic, not intrinsic. All authority on heaven and earth has been given by the Father to the Son. Every lesser authority is subject to Him.
In one sense we say that America is not a theocracy. It differs in its legal structure and framework from Old Testament Israel. Our government is secular in nature. But this is only a matter of degree. All human government is theocratic in the sense that God is the ultimate ruler over all. Our political leaders may not be theocratically organized at the human level, but in terms of Providence they are all inescapably theocratic.
The government of God is part of His work of upholding, or sustaining, His creation.... (The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good? by R.C. Sproul, Word Publishing, Dallas, TX 1996)
In his commentary on the book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Scriptures, God's Final Word, Ray C. Stedman notes that the themes of the Second Psalm are woven throughout the Book of the Revelation. The Hebrew title of this Psalm does not attribute it to King David, but Acts 4:25 does. Acts 13:33 says this Psalm is "the second Psalm". Psalm 2 is often quoted in the New Testament.
God has already set in place His King in Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion and in the days to come He who always ruled over all the affairs of men on earth will at last reign directly over us from Jerusalem answering the ancient prayer Jesus taught His disciples, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done one earth as it is in heaven."
Before the true Messiah comes to establish lasting peace the Bible says that a false peace will come to pass in the region---known as Israel's "covenant with death" (see Isaiah 28). Through the efforts of a great political and military leader of the Western world working in cooperation with a false messiah in Israel, a division of land in Israel between Jews and Arabs will bring out a what everyone believes will be successful end to current tensions and violence, (Daniel 11:29). This peace treaty will, however, suddenly fall apart---and a terrible last war will break out in Israel. The entire world will be affected and the very survival of the human race will be in doubt (Matthew 22:24). (For details, an excellent reference is Ray Stedman's study on The Olivet Discourse of Jesus).
The hope of the world does not lie in the efforts of men to bring about an artificial peace. Human hearts and human nature must be changed and this is the task of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Peacemakers are to be highly valued in any age and in any situation of course, (Matthew 5:9)---but real peacemakers must reconcile men to God before they can reconcile one man to another.
The latter chapters of Isaiah are full of information on the relationship between the God of Israel and His Servant the Messiah. In Chapter 43 it is Israel who stands in the place of final authority as appointed authority over the nations. In Chapter 42 it is the person of Yahweh's Messiah:
Behold my servant [Messiah], whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them."
Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Let the sea roar and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare his praise in the coastlands. The LORD goes forth like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in travail, I will gasp and pant. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. And I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in graven images, who say to molten images, "You are our gods." Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see!...
The second Psalm assures us that the Coming King of Kings, appointed by the God of Israel, will rule the nations "with a rod of iron." His kingdom will come in power and real authority. He is the only legitimate of the one true God who is over all the world. An ancient plainsong expresses the longing of God's people from all nations for Messiah to come to us at last:
Our study in Romans has brought us to that famous passage in Chapter 13 that deals with the Christian and his relationship to the government. It isn't very hard to think of President Jimmy Carter as a servant of God. His personal profession of a new birth has been well publicized. But I wonder if you have ever thought of Leonid Brezhnev as a servant of God? Or Idi Amin? Or even Adolph Hitler? And yet the amazing thing that this passage declares is that men like that are, in some sense, servants of God.
I think this shows how much we need to have our minds renewed, our thinking changed, as the twelfth chapter of this letter tells us, in order that we will not be conformed to the thinking of the age. I find that those who are not Christians have great difficulty in thinking of governmental leaders who are tyrannical, vicious, or cruel, as, in any sense, being servants of God. And yet, if we Christians are going to conform our thinking to reality, i.e., proof as God sees it, this is what we must begin to think. We need to have our minds renewed to what the Scriptures say, and to think along those lines about the life around us, in order that we might be able to present our bodies available to God to use in whatever situation we find ourselves. The first thing the apostle tells us about our government is where it comes from: Where does it originate? The answer is given in the very first verse:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)
When Paul refers to governing authorities, he uses a phrase that can best be translated "the powers that be." He is not just talking about heads of state; he is talking about all levels of authority, all the way down to the local dog-catcher. These are the powers that be, those that exist. He tells us that the thing we must think about these governmental offices is that they are, in some way, brought into being by God himself.
I often hear people ask, "Which form of government is the best? Which is the one God wants us to have?" We Americans would love to think that democracy obviously is the most God-honored form of government. But I don't think you can establish that from the Scriptures. In fact, the Scriptures reflect various forms of government. So when you ask, "Which government is the best kind? Is it a monarchy? An oligarchy (i.e., ruled by a few)? Is it a republic? A democracy?" The answer of Scripture is not necessarily any of these. It is whatever God has brought into being. That is best for that particular place and time in history. God has brought it into being, considering the makeup of the people, the degree of truth and light which is disseminated among them, and the moral conditions that are prevailing. For that condition, for that time and place, God has brought into being a particular government.
Now, that government can change. God doesn't ordain any one form of government to be continued forever. If the people grow toward understanding of truth, and morality prevails in a community, the form of government may well take on a democratic pattern. Where truth disappears, government seems to become more autocratic. But, in any case, the point the apostle makes is that whatever form of government you find, God is behind it. Don't ever think of any state or any government as something that in itself is opposed to God, because it isn't. That includes Communism as much as any other form of government. That is the clear statement of this passage. I think we have to begin to clear our thinking along that line.
This truth is not confined to the New Testament. You find it in the Old Testament as well. In the book of Daniel, Daniel stood before one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen, one of the most autocratic of kings, and said to him, "God changes times and seasons, God removes kings, and he sets up kings," (Daniel 2:21a RSV). There it is made clear that God definitely has a hand in whatever is going on on the earth at any particular time. Sometimes we are tempted, or even taught, to think of God as being remote from our political affairs, that he is off in heaven somewhere turning a rather morbid eye on us human beings struggling along with our political problems down here. But Scripture never takes that pattern. He is not on some remote Mount Olympus; he is right among us, involved in the pattern of governments; and he raises up kings and puts down others, raises up rulers and changes the form of government. The apostle clearly sets this before us in Romans 13.
I think we Americans are slowly learning that not every body of people in the world can handle democracy. There was a time when, naively, we thought democracy was the best (and only enlightened) form of government, and all we had to do was go around the world and set up democracies and people would begin to function properly. Democracy would solve all their problems. Now, after many painful experiences, we know better than that. We know there are times and places where democracy just won't work. It can't work; people aren't ready for it. They can't handle that kind of liberty, that kind of responsibility. Therefore God doesn't give it to them. The government they have is better suited for their purposes than the one we have. We are slowly catching on to that.
When Paul wrote this letter to these Christians, they were living in the capital city of the empire, Rome itself. Rome by this time had already passed through several forms of government. It had been a monarchy, a republic, a principate, and now it was an empire. Nero had just begun his reign as the fifth emperor of Rome when Paul wrote this letter. What Paul is saying to these Christians is that whatever form of government may be in control, they are to remember that God is behind it.
Not only is God behind the forms of government we have, but he is also responsible for the incumbents, the ones occupying the offices at any particular time. That may be a startling thought for some of us, but that is what this verse says. Listen to the way the New English Bible translates the last half of Verse 1:
There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him. (Romans 13:1b NEB)
Not only are the forms of government brought into being by God, but the very people who occupy the offices are put there by God. So if you thank God for Jimmy Carter and say that God gave us a godly born-again President, remember that he also gave us Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and all the others that we have had some trouble with. They came from God too. You see, God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He is not a Socialist, or a Marxist, or even an American! The biblical picture is that God not only sends us good men sometimes, by his grace, to lead us and heal us, but also he sends us bad men at times, to punish us. And we deserve them. Therefore, when Hitlers, Stalins, and other ruthless individuals come to the throne of power, God has put them there because that is what that people needed at that particular time in history. This is the biblical position with regard to government, and it is rather startling. And yet, it is the clear statement of this passage.
You find this position supported by other passages of Scriptures: We read this morning the passage from First Peter which says we are to "honor the king," (1 Peter 2:17). When Peter wrote this, Nero was the one who was seated on the throne. Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities, Peter tells us. In the book of Daniel we are taught the same thing. Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty monarch, had been brought low before God by God's dealings with him. In a great decree, which he had issued throughout his kingdom, he testified to that effect. He said God had taught him painful lessons "to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men," (Daniel 4:17 RSV).
Isn't that remarkable? God sometimes deliberately picks a man that is not capable, the lowliest of men, and puts him into power. So the first thing we need to recognize is that, regardless of the form of government we may be up against, the hand of God is in it. And not only is this true of the form of government, but also of the very ones that occupy the positions of power. God has put them there. The second thing we need to know about our relationship to our government is found in Verse 2:
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:2 NIV)
Clearly, if God is behind governments, then those who oppose the government and would overthrow it are really opposing God. I realize this has to be handled very carefully, because there are those who would use a statement like this to justify everything the government does -- no matter what it is. But we must recognize, first of all, that governments do have a God-given right to punish those who would overthrow them, to punish treason, to resist overthrow, to control riots, and to seek to preserve themselves in power by legitimate means. Governments do have that right. This the apostle makes very clear.
But, though Paul doesn't go into this side of it in this particular passage, we also must remember that Scriptures show us that such a right is always held under God. I thank God for the enlightened soul, a few decades ago, that set in line a motion that added to our pledge of allegiance the words "under God." That reflects biblical truth. This nation exists as a nation under God. What that is saying, of course, is that nations are to recognize that they have limited power. They are agents of God, but they are not God.
There are some things that nations have no right to do, or governments have no right to get into. The Bible is clear on what those kinds of things are. This is what Jesus clearly referred to in that famous incident when he was asked about paying taxes. He took a coin and held it up and said, "Whose image is on the coin?" They said, "Caesar's." He said, "All right, then give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar; but give to God the things that belong to God," (Matthew 22:20, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25). By this he clearly indicated that there are limits to the power of government. Caesar has his image on certain things; therefore they belong to him -- and rightfully so, Jesus is saying. What Caesar put his image on belongs to Caesar. By implication he extends this to the world of things.
Governments have authority over what we do with our property and how we behave with one another, but our Lord clearly indicates they have no right to touch what God has put his image on, which is the spirit of man. In other words, Caesar has no right to command the worship of man or forbid his obedience to the Word of God. Rulers are under God; therefore they have no right to command men to do what God says ought not to be done, or to command men not to do what God says should be done. These are the limits of governmental powers. Governments are not to enslave men, because men belong to God. Governments are not to oppress men, because men bear the image of God. What bears God's image must be given on to God, and not to Caesar -- just as what bears Caesar's image must be given to Caesar, and not necessarily to God. And so I think that though this passage doesn't deal at length with this, it indicates clearly that believers have a right to resist oppression and religious persecution by nonviolent means, as they have opportunity, but they are not to resist the legitimate functions of government. We are to accept government as a gift of God. The legitimate functions of government are further described for us in Verses 3 and 4, and also Verse 6:
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. (Romans 13:3 NIV)
Do you hear what Paul is saying? If you are driving down the freeway and want to be free from having to look constantly in your rear view mirror, then keep the speed down! The officer will pull you aside and say, "Sir, you were driving so beautifully that I just want to commend you." Well, no, he won't do that. He may wish he had time to, but he will just pass by and wave at you.
For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of justice to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4 NIV)
This is a very helpful passage, and it says that there are two basic functions of government. Governments are to protect us from evil. That is, they are to preserve the security of people. They are to protect us from attack from without and from crime from within. And for that purpose, governments properly have armies and police systems and courts of justice to preserve us from evil in our midst. And then in Verse 6 we have another function of government:
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. (Romans 13:6 NIV)
Notice that in these three verses Paul calls government agents "the servants of God" three times. The first two times, in Verses 3 and 4, he uses a word in Greek from which we get our word deacon. They are the deacons of God. I don't suggest that the next time you pay your taxes you call the person who takes your money a deacon. But Scripture calls these governing agents deacons, for they are servants of God. The next time you are called up in traffic court, you must look at the judge as a deacon of God. He is a servant. The point these verses make here is that these things exist as an arm of God's work among men. It is really the way God is doing things. Therefore, God is behind them.
This not only involves punishment of crime and wrongdoing, but also the commending of good. Governments are to honor those who live as good citizens. They offer rewards of various sorts for those who have a record of keeping the law. Occasionally you hear of such commendations or rewards.
Even the courts are set up to recognize the right motives of people. Not long ago I read about a man who was hauled into court because he had stolen a loaf of bread. When the judge investigated, he found out that the man had no job, his family was hungry, he had tried to get work but couldn't, tried to get funds for relief but couldn't, and so in order to feed his family he had stolen a loaf of bread. When the judge found out the circumstances, he said, "I'm sorry, but the law can make no exceptions. You stole, and therefore I have to punish you. I have to assess, therefore, a fine of ten dollars. But I want to pay the money myself." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and handed it to the man. As soon as the man took the money, the judge said, "Now, I also want to remit the fine." That is, the man could keep the money. "Furthermore, I am going to instruct the bailiff to pass around a hat to everyone in this courtroom, and I am fining everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a city where a man has to steal in order to have bread to eat." When the money was collected, he gave it to the defendant. That represents the good side of justice. A court that will, on occasion, recognize the right motives of people, even though there may be wrongdoing involved. That is a legitimate function of government. But the government also has the right to defend, to maintain an army and a police system and courts of law, and thus fulfill what the Constitution of the United States calls "to provide for the common defense, and insure domestic tranquility."
There is also the function mentioned in Verse 6: providing various services. Here the word that is used for "servants of God" is not the word deacon; it is priest, ministering priests. The idea here is that the government is not only to provide for our defense and security, but also to provide certain common services that we all need and to function as priests among us, helping us in our needs. Out of this grows the function of government in providing mail service, utilities (water, sewage), schools, relief agencies, and many other functions of government. Now these are all proper functions of government agencies.
In order to make these services possible, governments, by God's grace, have two powers given to them. This the Scriptures clearly teach: One, they have the power of using force. That is what is meant by "he bears not the sword for nothing." The sword is the symbol of the right to use force, even to the taking of life. I don't think there is any area today in which people are more confused and muddled in their thinking than in this area of the use of force by the government, even to the point of capital punishment. Right now the state of California is debating this once more. Amazingly enough, the people of the state have declared with a loud voice that they want capital punishment, even though some of our leaders do not. I respect the conscience of these leaders, but I think the Scriptures indicate that there is a place for capital punishment. What people need to understand is that when the state, acting in line with the judicial system, functioning as it was intended to function, finally passes sentence on an individual to yield his life for a certain crime, then that is really not a man taking a man's life. God is taking that life by means of the state. That is what we need to understand. God has the right to take human life. All through the Old Testament you find him doing that very thing. He has also the right to set up human channels for doing this. This is what is meant here. This means that governments have the basic right to maintain armies for their defense, and that people -- even Christians -- are to serve in them.
I know I am touching on matters that are hotly debated, and I haven't time to fully defend these statements at this point, although I am glad to do so in private conversations or at other times. But governments have the right to maintain armies, police forces, to take life in capital punishment for certain crimes -- all with the recognition that these powers can be abused and have been abused. There is no question about it. Citizens have every right to protest these abuses and to seek to correct them. But it is folly to try to eliminate the rightful uses of authority because some of them are being abused. What we need to do is to correct the abuses and not eliminate the things Scripture ordains. I am not going into that any further, but much more can be said on this subject.
The second power this passage says governments rightfully have from God to enable them to perform their function of protecting, securing, and providing various common services, is the power to collect taxes. Now you may not like the amount of taxes that your government collects, but you can't object to the principle of taxation. Taxes are right, and governments have taxed their citizens from time immemorial, and will continue to do so. The apostle makes clear that the government has the right to collect taxes, and Christians should pay them.
The final position of the Christian is summed up in Verses 5 and 7. In Verse 5 we see the attitude we are to have:
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:5 NIV)
This has to do with our attitude about taxes and arrests and judicial systems, etc. We are not to obey the law just because we are afraid we are going to get caught. We are not to keep to the speed limit just because there is a police car in sight. We are not to pay our incomes taxes just because we know the government now has tremendous computers that can review any number of records and might catch us. That is a factor, and many more people are honest about their taxes because of it, but that ought not to be the Christian's reason for being honest in paying his taxes. The Christian's reason is that it is the right thing to do before God. Your conscience ought to be clear. You ought to pay the taxes because that is what God says to do, and not what man says.
I am sure you heard of the man who wrote to the IRS and said, "A few years ago I cheated on my income taxes. My conscience has been troubling me, and I haven't been able to sleep. So I enclose a check for fifty dollars. If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest." No, conscience demands that we keep the record clear for God's sake, and not for man's. Then Verse 7 tells us what actual actions ought to follow:
Give everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue [Revenue refers to those hidden taxes such as sales taxes, customs duties, etc.]; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:7 NIV)
Here the apostle is dealing with our actual response to what these demands of government are. We haven't the right to withhold taxes if the government doesn't use them quite the way we think they should. Governments are made up of fallible men and women just like us, and we can't demand that the government always handle everything perfectly. Therefore what Paul wrote to these Romans, who had the same problems we have about taxes, was, "If you owe taxes, pay them." You know, I think the proof that God is behind all this is that this message comes the week before our income taxes are due and before property taxes are due. I didn't plan it that way, but that is the way it worked out. I don't get any refund on my income tax for preaching this kind of message either.
The point the apostle is making clearly is: Don't resent these powers of government. This is all set within the context of Paul's word in Chapter 12, "Be not conformed to this present age," (Romans 12:2a). Don't act like everybody else acts about taxes. The world grumbles and gripes and groans at paying taxes. You have a right, of course, as does everyone, to protest injustice and to correct abuse. There is no question about that. But don't forever be grumbling about the taxes that you have to pay.
I have had to learn some lessons on this myself. I remember the first time I had to pay an income tax, a few years ago. My income had been so low for a long time that I didn't have to pay any taxes. But gradually it caught up and I finally had to pay. I can remember how I resented it. I really did! In fact, when I sent my tax form in I addressed it to "The Infernal Revenue Service." They never answered, although they did accept the money. The next year, I had improved my attitude a bit. I addressed it to "The Eternal Revenue Service." But I have repented from all those sins, and I now hope to pay my taxes cheerfully. The largest amount I have had to pay is due this year, but I want to send it off with thanksgiving to God for the government that we have -- bad as it is in many ways.
I don't hold up any defense for the gross injustices that prevail in our American system. But the very fact that we can meet this morning and don't have to hide behind closed doors, the very fact that we have relative freedom from attack when we walk about is due to the existence of a government that God has brought into being. I want to make every effort I can, as a good citizen, to improve it and to see that it does things better. But I just thank God for the privilege of paying my taxes. This is what the apostle is after. He wants us to have a different attitude than the world around us about these matters. We are not to come on with gimlet-eyed fanaticism, attacking the government and seeking to overthrow it because it doesn't behave quite as we think it ought. But rather, we are to understand that God has brought it into being, and he will change it if the hearts of the people of the land warrant that.
Somebody has well said, "Every nation gets the government it deserves." And so as we pay our taxes, let us do so cheerfully. Remember that the apostle says not only that we are to pay our taxes, but if we owe respect, we are to give that; if honor, give that. Never forget that the worst of governments are, nevertheless, better than anarchy, and serve certain functions which God himself has ordained.
Therefore let us respond as Christians, with cheerfulness and gladness for what we can do under God, and let us do so in such an attitude that people will see that there is something different about us. Thus we commend ourselves to God and the people around. Thus endeth the reading of the lesson: Pay your taxes.
Our Father, we thank you for these practical words. How eminently practical they are in our lives, how deeply concerned you are even about such matters as this. Forgive us for ever thinking that you aren't concerned. Help us to be good citizens, Lord, but above all, to be faithful to our responsibility to show honor to those to whom honor is due, and respect to those who deserve it. Even though they may not personally be men and women deserving of our respect, the office they hold demands it. Thus we pray that we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. We ask in your name, Amen.
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 no lawlessness in your own heart, and your own life.
We thank you, our Father, for this letter that reminds us that the hope of the Church has not grown dim, and that the very events which Jesus Christ predicted are finding some degree of fulfillment even in our own time, and are moving toward the predicted end. We reaffirm our fidelity and loyalty to the One who has loved us and has given himself for us, and who will come again to be acknowledged by every individual. In the hope of that, we thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.
The Root Cause of Violence in the World
God and the Lockdown
The Antichrist: Coming Leader of the World
The Great Generational Disconnect
Population Decrease Ahead
Who Owns Jerusalem?
The Return of Jesus (with Bride)
Intervention from a Higher Power
The Times of the Gentiles
Mankind's Downward Spiral
Jesus' Death: Six Hours of Eternity on the Cross
Caution: History Repeats Itself
The Approaching Time of the End