Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

We all love to be loved. It is almost as if we were created with a capacity, a desire to be loved. It seems that we are hard-wired to want love from others. Many people seek love wherever they can find it, often settling for cheap substitutes. Others find frustration and isolation when the ones they seek love from withhold it. When we come to our text today, Paul tells the believers that if they are truly believers in the saving work of Jesus, they are “loved of the Lord.” They are loved by the one Who created the desire to be loved inside of them, a desire that can only truly be fulfilled when they receive His love. In 1 John 4, John tells us that we can only love Him, “because He first loved us.” All love in our relationship with God starts with Him.
And this is not a generic love. This is a very specific love. It was unsolicited. It was uninstigated. It was uninfluenced. He of His own sovereign plan chose to love us before we were ever born. He chose to love us before He even created the entire universe. Paul says in Ephesians 1 that it was this same love that led Him to choose us “before the foundation of the world.” Again in today’s text we see this played out when Paul writes that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification.” This is a crowning characteristic of God’s love. Even before we were lovable, seeing that He could work in us and purify us, He chose to extend His loving grace to us. Which brings me to the third point of today’s text.
God loves us. Because God loved us, He chose us. Finally, God loved us, and chose us so that we might grow in sanctification. Sanctification is the natural process whereby the Spirit’s power and assistance we systematically kill sin in our lives. In 1 Peter 1, Peter put it this way, “As He which has called you is holy, so be ye holy.” We don’t accept the uninfluenced love and acceptance of God and then remain indifferent to our sin. Rather we see that He loved us, and we return that love by mortifying (killing) the very things that displease Him. We see this as a theme in Scripture. Starting with the family of Noah, then of Abraham and the subsequent nation of Israel, God continually worked in Scripture to call people to himself. In Deuteronomy 7, God clarifies this special choosing of Israel. He chose them so that they would be a holy people unto Himself. That they would leave off their pursuit of sin, and pursue knowing Him and living pure lives before Him.
Similarly, we see in 1 Peter 1, that God has chosen His people “according to foreknowledge…unto obedience.” It is His desire that all who believe in the saving work of Jesus become holy, obedient, and purified Christians. Knowing that it is His love and His choosing of us that accomplishes our salvation, should leave us not just pursuant of holiness, but also with a great confidence that if He accomplished it, we can’t lose it. It would take a large measure of arrogance to say that we keep ourselves saved. Our fallen nature would certainly prevent that. Instead we realize that He which “hath begun a good work” in us will see it to completion one day in heaven.

Food For Thought: What three things did Paul teach the Thessalonians about their relationship with the God who saved them? How should these things bring assurance not frustration?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2 Thessalonians 2:8-12

Many people balk at the possibility of God judging anyone. These people prefer to view God as loving and forgiving, but not as a God of condemnation and judgment. However, there is a massive problem with this understanding that God does not, and will not send people to a place of punishment. The problem with this view of God is that, in a sense, God not judging or condemning is possibly one of the most unloving things that He could do. 
These people greatly desire God to forgive everyone, but do they truly desire those who are the abusers and persecutors to receive no recompense for the evil they have done? Do they truly desire those who received no justice before death to go on forever without having punishment for their wickedness executed on them? Those who murder others and “get away with it,” do these people truly want God to dismiss that? In light of those who have harmed others physically, emotionally, and mentally, is a just God supposed to sit by without condemnation and leave off vengeance? That would not be loving. That would be unloving to every other person.
God does punish the wicked. He does execute His wrath on the unrighteous. He will execute vengeance on evil doers. All those who sin are due the payment for their sins, and that punishment will come on all those who fail to put their faith in the saving work of Jesus. The disbelieving will receive to themselves the just wrath and punishment of a loving, wise, and holy God. While the unbelieving will receive judgment, those of us who believe will receive the grace of God that He chose to extend to us from the foundation of the world. This reality should leave believers everywhere grateful that a loving God would extend forgiving grace to them in spite of the punishment that is due them.
When we read 2 Thessalonians today, we find a clear articulation of those who will receive God’s punishment. It is not good enough to say that those who are bad will receive God’s punishment. Many people don’t want to hear that they are sinners. They don’t like the prospect of someone else telling them that they are wrong. When it comes to their sin, they furthermore don’t like being told that their sin is distasteful to God and that God will punish them for it. Because of this truth, many think that Christians are telling them that they are going to hell because of the specific sin that they are bound up in. They use phrases like “do you think I am going to hell because I…?” These poor people see this one sin as the thing that is guaranteeing their place in God’s condemnation. While we know that sin is the cause for God’s wrath on mankind, the final judgment of a man comes not to his vice or transgression, but rather to his response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If he accepts it in faith, he can be forgiven. Paul says very clearly to the Thessalonians however, that if he rejects it and “believes not the truth” he will receive God’s eternal condemnation.

Food For Thought: Read John 3:16-18. What does Jesus say is the reason that men will be condemned?

Monday, May 12, 2014

2 Thessalonians 2:5-8

When we come to 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8, we find Paul speaking in terms that may seem a bit cryptic, until we can peel them apart. For example, while Paul was writing to the Thessalonians, he plays a sort of “inside” comment with them, “when I was with you, I told you these things.” While he is not explicit about all the things that he had told the Thessalonians, we are grateful that he mentioned a few of them in the text here. For example from verses 3-4, there will be a massive “falling away first,” where people defect from the truth. Then “the man of sin” (the Antichrist) will “be revealed,” and will “exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped.” There will be a very obvious revelation of the Antichrist in those last days. As we saw last time, 1 Thessalonians 4 would seem to indicate that the believers will already be taken from here in the Rapture of the saints. So when reading verse 5, we can understand that Paul had already taught this extensively with the Thessalonians, and was now just giving a paraphrase of eschatology. (end times events)
But if verse 5 was a bit cloudy, verses 6-7 become even more murky. Part of the problem is that our modern understanding of words changes what we read in the text to mean something completely different than it originally meant. We can see that something is “withholding” the Antichrist from being revealed before his time. But when we get to verse 7, he is then “letting” him. Here is where our modern vocabulary and understanding in the English language have changed over time. The word here “letteth, let” is a word that means “to hinder, or hold back.” In our modern English, it means the exact opposite, “to allow, or permit.” So understanding first, that Paul is speaking about something holding back in verse 6, and then something “letting” (holding back) in verse 7, we can clearly see that God is working something important here. What is being held back in both verses?
Satan desires nothing greater than to unravel God’s perfect timing and the redemption of His people. It is the desire of Satan that the Antichrist appear and establish his throne before God’s timetable is up. God, however, is stronger than Satan, and while Satan would love to upend the plan of God, God will always upend the plan of Satan even to the extent that Satan’s evil plans only further accomplish the purposes of God. For now, God has sent His Spirit to hold back the overwhelming tide of moral insanity and the subsequent appearing of the Antichrist. But one day, God will “take out” as verse 7 says, the one that is “holding back” the day of the Antichrist. The Antichrist will be free to reveal himself on that day in all his power and all of his self-worship. He will be the most powerful man in the world, and the nations will rise to praise him.
But don’t miss this point. Even when the Antichrist is revealed, it can only happen when God allows it. This great rebel spirit of Antichrist cannot have power, or timing, or any praise of men until God says he can. When we see that even the plans of Satan are held fast by the omnipotence and almighty power of God, we must agree with Martin Luther in our referring to Satan like he is a lap-dog of God: “Even the devil is God’s devil.” The Thessalonians were certainly encouraged to realize that God would always maintain power and control. Similarly, we should be encouraged in the face of such cryptic, archaic, and yet timeless truth. Our God is powerful and we can trust Him.

Food for Thought: Read Mark 13:32-33. What does Jesus tell his followers to do until the end times come ?

Friday, May 9, 2014

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4

Have you ever heard anyone claim that some political figure was the Antichrist? It seems that every couple of years, overly zealous prophecy groups formulate new ideas as to the end of the world, and typically end up pointing a finger at one person or another as the “Antichrist.” I really feel that many “predictions” are actually based on a dislike for the specific person, and the desire to label them as the “Antichrist.” Perhaps you have heard other’s predictions, and I am certain that as we get new popes, and presidents, and Russia gets new presidents, and we continue to have enemies in the Middle East, at some point or another the list will grow with the predictions of who the Antichrist will be.
So, when will the Antichrist come? Before we answer that, we need to know why people are trying to predict his coming. In the timeline of the end time events, the Antichrist will come on the scene to act like Christ before Christ actually returns to the earth. The Antichrist will offer unity and peace and will attempt to be the substitute of Christ. If people were to accurately predict when the Antichrist was coming, they would by proxy be able to know when Jesus was returning. This would seem like a fool-proof plan except that Jesus already explained in Mark 13:32 that no one knows that timeline except for God. Any attempts to solve it, or calculate it, seem to me to be exercises in futility.
The timeline nevertheless will unfold in that order though, coming of Antichrist then return of Christ. This was important as Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica. It seems that someone had written a letter posing as Paul and had told them that Christ had already returned and they had missed it. This was really confusing these new believers, and they didn’t know why Christ would abandon them like that. When Paul heard of this deception, he wrote this letter to let them know the truth.
In verses 1-4, he teaches them this chronology of events that will unfold with the Antichrist coming first. He explained that if the Antichrist had come, they would certainly have known it. In describing the Antichrist, Paul says that he is full of sin and deception, he opposed God and will exalt himself above God, and that he will even establish a throne so that he can show the world that he is like God. Paul’s point was that these things had not yet happened. The Antichrist had not come.
I can only assume that the same type of distracters as Paul endured and as I have seen over the years will continue to come. They will proclaim that the next major world leader is the new Antichrist, and will exhaust themselves in trying to prove it to you. But do not be distracted from the truth. The return of Christ will be preceded by the revelation of the Antichrist, but the revelation of the Antichrist will be preceded by the rapture of the saints. (1 Thess. 4:13-14) We as believers will not even endure the deception and wickedness of the Antichrist. Therefore, it has never been our job to predict who the Antichrist is. Rather, it is our job to engage the world with the truth that Christ already came to accomplish forgiveness for their sins and that they must place their faith in Him before he returns again in judgment of those who do not believe.

Food For Thought: According to Paul in verse 2, why did he write about these details to the believers in Thessalonica?

Friday, May 2, 2014

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Yesterday in my lunch box, I found that my sweet wife had packed a banana for me. This was a good thing, because I like bananas. I like banana flavoring. I like banana chips. I like banana pudding. I like the little hard bananas in the quarter machines. I especially liked visiting my family in Banana Heaven (the jungle of Papua New Guinea). Now picture me in my office yesterday, with my green, soft-sided lunch box, unzipping the zipper at the top and pulling out the fully ripened yellow banana (green bananas just aren’t the same). Imagine for a moment that I pulled it out of my lunch box, and took a big bite out of it. The yummy banana mushiness rushes onto my taste buds as my teeth slice through the fleshy outside of the banana peel. Yum! I love bananas! I love them so much that I eat the whole thing, peel and all! What? You don’t eat the peel? It’s the best part. Yeah, it’s kinda bitter, and typically is coated in some strange chemical that leaves my entire mouth numb.
Ok, that got weird really quickly, and perhaps I was up too late last night. The point I am trying to emphasize is this, when you eat a banana you have to peel it before you eat it. I don’t know of anyone who eats the peel with the banana. The part that is literally called the “peel” indicates what we think you should do with it – peel it off and throw it away.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, Paul explains to the believers that his prayer for them is that they would be “counted worthy of this calling.” “This calling” that Paul is referring to is their salvation. It is more specific than the “call” mentioned in Acts 17, “God has called all men to repent.” This “calling” in Thessalonians, is the saving call that God has extended to His elect. Now that they are believers, Paul says that He prays God would count them worthy of their salvation. From a biblical standpoint we would understand that positionally because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, believers find themselves as Romans 8 would say, “no longer under condemnation.”
If they are not under condemnation, what is this “worthiness” that Paul is talking about? In verse 5, he referred to the same thing, “that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.” What Paul is teaching, and what Scripture continually tells us is that after we place our faith in the saving work of Jesus, we are saved by God’s grace. After we are saved, we still are not perfect. We still have sin. God then tells us that after becoming believers, we need to continue to mortify our sin. (Romans 8:13) In the illustration above, the banana is a banana, it just needs to be peeled. Similarly, we are already saved, but our peel of sin is still on us, and we need to continually work to pull back that which is distasteful to a holy God. God uses adversity and trials to help us peel and purify our lives.
Romans 8:29 tells us that those that “God did foreknow; he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We find in 1 John 3:2-3, “we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And everyone that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” As we look to Scripture, we can see clearly this truth in regards to God’s saving work and His call to be sanctified and purified.

Food for Thought: Read verse 12 again. What is the purpose that Paul gives for the purifying or peeling of the believer?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

2 Thessalonians 5:8-10

Scripture tells us that Jesus will come to earth twice: once in the past and once in the future. The first time that Jesus came is recorded in the Gospel accounts. At this time, God revealed Himself to us through Jesus and we learned of the great love and hope that is found in Christ. In John 3, Jesus explained of this first coming that “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” The first coming of Jesus was to offer salvation to all of those who were condemned in unbelief and sin.
This first coming was terrific! Jesus came and healed the sick, he raised the dead, he fed the hungry, he loved the hurting, and finally he gave himself as a sacrifice for the sins of those who would believe in Him. He came to accomplish terrific things and to demonstrate his power and grace. But then he left. When He left, he gave a promise to his disciples that he would return. In Acts 1:11 we see the promise that just as he left and went into heaven, he would one day come back from heaven.
This second coming of Jesus is going to be different from the first. With salvation already accomplished, why would Jesus need to return? If he already accomplished the great things of the gospel when he was first here, why would he need to come back? Did he forget to do something? Did he leave a part of salvation undone? The answer is a resounding, “No!” Everything that was needed for our salvation from God’s wrath was accomplished 2,000 years ago in Jesus, once for all. Nothing has needed to be added to it, and nothing will ever need to be added to it.
So what then is the second coming? In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 we find a few descriptions of this return of Jesus that help us understand what is going on. Verse 7 uses the word that the Lord Jesus will be “revealed” from heaven. This word “revealed” is the translation of the Greek word that Paul wrote, apokalupsis, from which we get our word “apocalypse.” This second coming is commonly referred to as the Great Apocalypse, and rightfully so.
Whereas in the first coming Jesus came to bring hope to those who were to be judged by God, in the second coming he comes to bring judgment to those who had not accepted the hope that he had offered. Those who denied Him, and refused to accept him will be punished for their unbelief. Those who persecuted his followers will receive to themselves the vengeance of Jesus for that persecution. The first coming brought hope for the Godless. The second coming will bring judgment for the Godless.
As Paul writes to the believers, he is seeking to encourage them and inform them. The confusion that came to them concerning the return of Christ needed to be answered before it created fighting, division, and debilitation. It was important that this church understand the deep truths and doctrines of God. It was not good enough that they were loving believers; they needed to be truth-filled. Now they could know and have hope that one day, God would come and take away all of their persecution. One day Jesus himself would bring them peace and banish their persecutors. For now, they needed to keep their faith and hope in an all-wise God who was using the trials now to build patience and faith in them.

Food For Thought: Read Matthew 13:36-43. What is the parable that Jesus gave in this passage to describe his second coming?