Saved By God

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 ESV

There’s a lot packed into these five short verses, and it’s easy to miss the significance of their content. In them, Paul addresses everything from the doctrines of election, sanctification, and glorification to the roles of the Spirit and the individual in the process of spiritual maturity. This is not light reading. And the reason Paul drops this theologically rich content on his readers is, so they will recognize that despite rumors to the contrary, the day of the Lord has not come and gone. In fact, he wants them to know that God has ordained great things for them to do before that end times event.

As Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). And Paul informed the Ephesian church that their status as God’s chosen people had been planned by God long before they were even born.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. – Ephesians 1:4 NLT

This appears to be the very same message Paul is trying to convey to the Thessalonians, when he writes, “God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT). The believers to whom he wrote had been among the first converts to Christianity In Thessalonica, and Paul wants them to understand that their salvation had been God’s doing, not their own. Paul expresses his recognition of God’s undeniable role in their salvation by thanking Him. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had played no part in their own salvation. Neither had the believers in Ephesus, and neither had he.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

Why is this important and why does Paul bring it up at this point in his letter? Because the Thessalonians were confused over news that the day of the Lord had come and the Rapture of the church had not yet taken place. They thought they were living in the period of Tribulation and were anxiously hoping for the second coming of Jesus. But Paul wanted them to understand that the entire process of salvation was the work of God. From their initial choosing and calling by God to their sanctification and ultimate glorification, it was all God’s doing. There was no excuse for fear or doubt. They had no reason to question what God was doing or whether they had somehow missed out on God’s plan.

And Paul reminds them that their salvation had been “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). They had been set apart or consecrated by God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. 

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5 ESV

According to Paul, it was the Spirit of God who gave them the ability to hear the truth concerning Jesus Christ and believe. This regenerating power of the Spirit is what makes it possible for those whose eyes have been blinded by Satan to see the glorious light of the good news.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

Even their ability to believe the the truth of the gospel came from God. All Paul had done was communicate that gospel message to them, but it was God who gave them the capacity to believe it. And God’s call of them was so that they might “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV). This glory not only refers to their future glorification, when God will complete the process of their sanctification and provide them with new, glorified bodies; it includes their current condition as common, everyday vessels in which the glory of God resides.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

They already had the glory of God resident within them, and it was to increase in intensity with each passing day.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 BSB

All of this was meant to be a wake-up call, intended to stir the Thessalonians out of their debilitating fear and confusion and to get them back to living their lives with intentionality. Which is why Paul told them, “With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT).

These verses didn’t contain new information but were a reiteration of the teaching Paul had already passed on to them – in person and by letter. This was a well-timed reminder to hold their ground and to keep believing in the truth regarding their salvation. It was the work of God, and He was far from finished. The persecution they suffered was proof of their calling, not evidence against it.

Jesus had warned His disciples that things were going to get worse before they got better.

And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But notice what Jesus told the, “don’t panic.” God has a plan. And His people do not need to fear His coming wrath. They no longer have to fear His judgment. In fact, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had told them “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 ESV). And he went on to remind them that, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV). They had no reason to fear. They had no cause to faint or grow weary. God held them in His highly capable hands. And Paul closes this section by praying that God would help them focus on the eternal comfort and good hope He had in store for them.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NLT

They had work to do, prepared for them by God Himself. And God had given them His Spirit to provide them with the strength they needed to live in keeping with their calling. They had been chosen, called, set apart, and filled with the glory of God. Now, they needed to live like it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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God’s Got This

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 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, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV

In this chapter, Paul begins to address the primary issue for which he wrote his letter. There was confusion among the Thessalonian believers regarding the end times, and it was leading to some false and dangerous conclusions. It didn’t help that there were others, claiming to be speaking prophetically, who were throwing fuel on the flames of fear spreading among the flock.

Paul had already written to them regarding the pretribulation Rapture of the church in his first letter.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, 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, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ESV

The return of Christ for His church would begin the day of the Lord and would be followed immediately by the seven years of Tribulation. There is a chronology or God-ordained timeline to all of the events associated with the coming day of the Lord and Paul wants to assuage their fears by clarifying the sequence of events.

Evidently, there was a great deal of anxiety present in the church because people were beginning to question whether the day of the Lord had already begun. A major contributor to this mindset was the persecution they were having to endure. If, as some were teaching, the day of the Lord had begun, then Paul must have been wrong about the Rapture. He had indicated that Christ’s return for the church would happen first. But the conditions under which the Thessalonians were having to live seemed to indicate that the last days had already begun and Jesus had not shown up yet. They were still on earth and not in heaven with Jesus.

Paul understands their fear and immediately addresses the true source of their confusion: A faulty understanding regarding Christ’s return for the church. He opens this section of his letter with the words, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV). In this one sentence, Paul addresses to separate events. The first, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” has to do with His Second Coming. The second, “our being gathered together to him,” has to do with the Rapture of the church. A major risk the Thessalonians faced was to blend these two events into one. A second risk was to assume that Rapture had already occurred. That appears to be what the Thessalonians were wrestling with and what was causing their fear and confusion. They were alarmed that the day of the Lord had come and they had not been gathered together with him. Had Paul been wrong? Were they living in the last days? Had they missed something?

The Thessalonians had an incomplete and, therefore, incorrect understanding of the end times chain of events. While Paul had taught them about the Rapture of the church, they were being told by others that it had already happened. Which meant that they were living in the period of the Tribulation. And their circumstances seemed to point to that reality. They were suffering persecution and affliction. So, if they had missed the Rapture, it only made sense for them to begin looking for the second coming of the Lord. In essence, they were jumbling together a range of end times events and creating a false timeline that had resulted in confusion, not comfort.

But Paul tells them, “that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV). What day? The day of the Lord. The second coming of Christ will not take place until certain other events happen first. God has a timeline, and every event on that timeline has to happen in order and according to His divine plan. The first will be the removal of the church at the Rapture, which is what Paul taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And here, Paul tells them what will happen as a result of the Rapture of the church.

The presence of the church on the earth acts as a restraining influence on evil. That is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV

For we are the temple of the living God – 2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV

The church’s removal from the earth will leave a spiritual vacuum. And Paul points out that the restraining influence of the Spirit of God, who indwells the people of God, will be removed.

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

Paul is not inferring that the Holy Spirit vacates the premises. He is a divine being and is omnipresent. But with the removal of all believers from the earth, the primary role of the Spirit of God is removed as well.

“The Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry of restraining lawlessness in the world mainly through the influence of Christians whom He indwells, specifically through their gospel preaching.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154:615 (July-September 1997):329.

The Rapture of the church and the removal of the restrainer will usher in “the rebellion” and reveal “the lawlessness one.” These are references to the Tribulation and the Antichrist. The Rapture will be followed by the seven years of Tribulation, when the unbelieving world will rebel against God, even in the face of successive waves of divine judgment against them. And the Antichrist will rise to power and prominence during those days, seeking to destroy the people of Israel and all who come to faith during those difficult days. God, in His mercy and grace, will redeem a remnant of Jews and Gentiles during the days of the Tribulation, and Antichrist will pour out His wrath on them, resulting in the martyrdom of thousands of these Tribulation saints.

And this self-proclaimed world leader, operating under the power and influence of Satan, will go so far as to set himself up as God, erecting an idol of himself in the rebuilt temple of God in Jerusalem. We know from the book of Revelation that this egotistical and arrogant autocrat will require that all people worship him and him alone. The residents of the earth will be forced to receive a mark on their foreheads that designate them as belonging to the Antichrist. Without that mark, they will not be able to buy, sell or trade.

Paul is trying to let the Thessalonians know that the day of the Lord is going to look dramatically different than what they were experiencing. The persecution they were going through would pale in comparison. Jesus warned, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV).

And Paul informs them that the day of the Lord will culminate with the return of the Lord. Jesus Christ will come back to earth and deal with Antichrist once and for all. Again, the book of Revelation tells us that Antichrist will be cast into hell where he will undergo eternal torment. And all those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” will join him there. The day of the Lord will end with the Great White Throne judgment, where all the unrighteous who have ever lived will receive the punishment they deserve for having rejected the gracious offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And Paul provides the Thessalonians with a strong word of warning, reminding them that they don’t want to reject the truth of God. They don’t want to negate or alter in any way what God has revealed about His redemptive plan. Those who reject His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will find themselves beyond help and devoid of any hope of redemption.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV

The Thessalonians had not missed the Rapture. And their suffering was not a sign that the end times had arrived. They needed to trust that God had a plan and He was working that plan to perfection. There was no reason for them to fear. Their current circumstances were not sufficient cause to doubt. They were “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Blameless in Holiness

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV

Paul closes this section of his letter by reiterating his desire to return to Thessalonica. But as he shared earlier in the letter, that desire had been resisted by the enemy.

…we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 ESV

Yet, Paul knew that his path was determined by God, not Satan. He was fully convinced that his return to Thessalonica was in the hands of the Almighty, and it was his prayer that God the Father and God the Son would make it possible. The Greek word Paul used is kateuthynō, and it means to guide or make straight by the removal of any obstacles or hindrances. Paul will use this same Greek word in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 ESV

Paul knew that what God wanted done would be done. If He wanted Paul to return to Thessalonica, it would happen. Satan himself has no power to thwart God’s will. And Paul knew that God alone possesses the power to remove any obstacles to the believer’s spiritual journey, making it possible for them to experience the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.

For Paul, God was the key to everything. The Trinity was the sole source of the believer’s strength and hope. The Father’s will for man’s redemption, made possible by the work of His Son on the cross, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the non-negotiable necessities behind the believer’s transformation from condemned sinner to glorified saint. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that any hope they had to live strong, blameless, and holy lives was totally dependent upon the Father, Son, and Spirit. And it was Paul’s constant prayer that God would “establish” or strengthen their hearts so that they might live worthy of their calling.

When Paul uses the word “heart,” he is not referring to the organ that pumps blood through the body. While the Greek word kardia did have that meaning, Paul was using it to refer to the center of all spiritual life. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes it as “the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.”

Paul knew that the external behavior of the Thessalonians was directly tied to the internal condition of their hearts. Jesus warned that “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). The Old Testament proverb reads: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). The outward actions of our lives tend to flow from the inward condition of our hearts. That is why any attempts at behavior modification without transformation of the heart are doomed to failure.

The goal, as far as Paul was concerned, was a strong finish. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to run the race well and keep their eyes on the prize. For him, the journey was meaningless if you didn’t remain focused on the destination. That is how he lived his life.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And he expected all those under his spiritual care to follow his lead. Which is why he emphasizes “the coming of our Lord Jesus.” The Greek word for “coming” is parousia and it was most often used by Paul to refer to the return of Christ. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul will provide the Thessalonians with insight into the day when Christ will return for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, 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, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

Jesus was coming back. That fact is a very important part of the gospel message. Jesus‘ first coming, while epic in nature and essential to the promise of salvation, is incomplete if He does not come again. Jesus promised the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. And He told them, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3 NLT). The bad news was that He was leaving them. The good news was that He was coming back some day. And immediately after telling the disciples He was leaving but would be returning some day, He promised to send them His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again.” – John 14:27-28 NLT

That promise holds true for each and every believer in Christ. The Thessalonians had received the gift of the Spirit, who was fully capable of giving the peace of mind and heart. He had the power to transform their inner lives so that their outward behavior reflected their confidence and hope in the promise of their future glorification. Their ability to become like Christ was provided by the Spirit, who would guide and empower them until the return of Christ. But if Christ did not return before they died, they had nothing to fear because they would go to be with Him.

The promised return of Christ is meant to remind us that this life is not all there is. There is life after death. There is glory to come. This temporal existence will be followed by the eternal state. Which is why Paul told the believers in Rome, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). He told the Corinthian believers: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV). And Peter shared Paul’s confident hope in the promise of God.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

One day we will stand before God blameless in holiness. We will be sinless and completely righteous. That future reality, guaranteed by the word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, is to keep us motivated as we live in this fallen, sin-filled world. Any momentary, light afflictions we may have to suffer in this life will pale in comparison to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Think On These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 ESV

Paul has challenged the Philippian congregation to make their unity a high priority. He has pleaded with them to see that their behavior lines up with their belief so that the way they live their lives fully complements their calling in Christ. That will require them to work out their salvation, or to put it another way, to put in the necessary effort so that their faith in Christ bears tangible fruit. He has encouraged them to stand firm in the faith – as expressed in the gospel message and made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ. They were to have the same attitude that Christ had, choosing to follow His example of humility, selflessness, obedience, and sacrifice. And, like Paul, they were to find reason to rejoice, even in the face of opposition and oppression. And if they did these things, Paul knew they would shine like bright lights in the darkness surrounding them in Philippi.

But before Paul closes out his letter, he offers one more word of wisdom. As if returning to his earlier admonition that they have the mind of Christ, Paul tells them to “think about these things.” The Greek word he uses is logizomai, and it means “to consider” or “to meditate” on something. But Paul leaves no uncertainty as to what kinds of “things” they are to consider or concentrate their minds upon. He provides them with a very specific list of subjects with which to fill their minds and on which to focus their thoughts and attentions.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8 NLT

The first item on his list is truth. They were to fill their minds with whatever is true and, therefore, trustworthy. Because Satan is the father of lies, we must constantly be on guard for the subtle falsehoods and deceptive half-truths he attempts to use against us. And since there is no greater truth than the gospel message, Christ-followers must constantly focus their minds on the reality that they were once condemned sinners in need of a Savior. At one time, they had been in debt to God and completely incapable of satisfying His just and holy demands, but He sent His Son to die in their place. And now they stood before Him as pure and holy, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Paul was constantly reminding those under his care to consider the remarkable truth regarding their restored relationship with God.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. – Ephesians 2:1-2 NLT

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

Paul adds “whatever is honorable” to the list. That word has to do with anything worthy of veneration because of its character. In a sense, this is truth lived out. It is Christlikeness that shows up in trustworthy conduct.

Next, Paul encourages them to fill their minds with whatever is “right” or just. This has to do with righteousness, but according to God’s terms, not man’s. It carries the idea of living your life so that your way of thinking, feeling, and acting is fully conformed to the will of God.

It makes sense that Paul would follow “right” thoughts with right behavior in the form of moral purity. Sexual sin is fully outside the revealed will of God. And it’s not just the actual act that can get us into trouble. Even our thoughts can leave us impure and guilty before God. It was Jesus who said, “anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Which is why Paul told the Corinthians:

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

Purity is a high priority for God. He not only expects it, He demands it. He has called us to be holy, just as He is holy. And we must fill our minds with those kinds of things that are pure and undefiled, not contaminated and contrary to His will for us.

The next word on Paul’s list is “lovely.” It is purity lived out so that our conduct remains pleasing and acceptable to God. It was Peter who wrote, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12 ESV). When believers think about the things that bring pleasure to God, they tend to make those things a priority. And, when they do, the world takes notice.

Which brings us to the word, “admirable.” We are to fill our minds with those kinds of things that are worthy of praise. Not self-centered, ego-boosting praise, but praise that reflects on God and His power to transform our lives for the better. So much of what we spend our time thinking about is unworthy of praise. It has no redeeming value or worth. We can end up admiring the wrong people, showering praise on the wrong kind of conduct, and speaking highly of those kinds of things that God finds unworthy.

Throughout his letter, Paul has blended the ideas of belief and behavior. He was overjoyed with the thought of their newfound faith in Christ. But he knew that their spiritual journey was far from over. Which is why he had opened his letter with the words, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). They needed to be in it for the long haul. Their walk with Christ was going to require effort on their part and a commitment to live out their faith in practical, visible ways. They could not afford to stand pat, biding their time until the Lord returned. They had work to do. And they were going to have to work together in order to survive and thrive in the hostile environment in which they found themselves.

The Christian life was not going to be easy. But that didn’t mean it was going to be impossible. They had the gospel message, the resurrection power of the Spirit of God, and one another. They also had the teaching of Paul on which to rely. And he encouraged them to take what he had taught and put it into practice. He challenged them to look at his life and follow his example.

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9 NLT

Paul’s challenge to “think on these things” was more than a mind game. He wasn’t suggesting that they practice some form of positive motivational thinking. He was encouraging them to fill their minds, to concentrate their thoughts on the kinds of things that truly matter. Our thoughts cannot be separated from our actions. We must desire what God desires. We must fill our minds with those things that God finds true, pure, right, just, and worthy of praise. And one of the best ways to do that is by submitting ourselves to the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. In order to have the mind of Christ and to be able to think as He does, we must rely on the Spirit he has placed within us. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Then They Remembered…

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely.”
    And he became their Savior.
In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old,
    of Moses and his people.
Where is he who brought them up out of the sea
    with the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
    his Holy Spirit,
12 who caused his glorious arm
    to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
    to make for himself an everlasting name,
13     who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
    they did not stumble.
14 Like livestock that go down into the valley,
    the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
    to make for yourself a glorious name.

15 Look down from heaven and see,
    from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
    The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
    are held back from me.
16 For you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us,
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17 O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
    the tribes of your heritage.
18 Your holy people held possession for a little while;
    our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
19 We have become like those over whom you have never ruled,
    like those who are not called by your name. Isaiah 63:7-19 ESV

After hearing God’s grand plan for the future redemption of His people, Isaiah responds with a somewhat nostalgic recollection of all of God’s great and gracious redemptive activities on behalf of the people of Israel. And he does so in the form of a prayer.

He starts by recalling the myriad examples of God’s merciful kindness or favor. Throughout this prayer, Isaiah will focus on the undeserved nature of God’s love for the people of Israel. They have been the undeserving recipients of God’s unmerited favor. Every single incident involving God’s love toward Israel “he has granted according to his mercy and love” (Isaiah 63:7 NLT). The Hebrew word for mercy is racham, and it can be used to refer to a mother’s womb. From Isaiah’s perspective, the children of Israel have been cared for and protected by God like a baby in its mother’s womb. An unborn baby does nothing to earn its place of safety and security, but enjoys nourishment and protection because of the gracious actions of its mother. And Isaiah did not come up with this comparison on his own. He had heard it from the lips of God Himself.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb (racham).” – Isaiah 46:3 ESV

Of His own accord, God had made the people of Israel His children and He had every right to expect them to live up to their position as His sons and daughters. God had agreed to be their Savior, providing them with protection and rescue when necessary. In return, He asked that they not deal falsely with Him. He expected them to remain faithful to Him.

Isaiah recounts the history of his people, recalling the many times in which God stepped into their circumstances and rescued them. He describes God as suffering along with them. When the found themselves experiencing difficulty, God was empathetic, but also immediate in His response.

he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
    He lifted them up and carried them
    through all the years. – Isaiah 63:9 NLT

But how had they responded to God’s gracious acts of redemption? By rebelling against Him and, by doing so, grieving His Holy Spirit. As a result, they would find their relationship to Him becoming antagonistic rather than affectionate. From their vantage point, God would appear more like their enemy than their gracious, loving Father. But God was not the one who had reneged on the relationship. The fault was all theirs.

Their unfaithfulness to God would result in His loving discipline of them. They would discover the painful consequences of their willful decision to violate their covenant with God. Their failure to remain faithful to Him would cost them. Their choice to worship false gods would cause them great pain and suffering. And Isaiah recounts the many times the people of God had called out to the very one they had abandoned, in the hopes that He would rescue them yet again.

“Then they remembered…” (Isaiah 63:11 NLT). It took the very real presence of trials to get them to recall the true identity of their Savior. It had been God who had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt. It had been God who had brought the plagues upon the people of Egypt. And it had been God who had provided them with a path across the Red Sea, allowing them to escape the armies of Egypt. They remembered and they cried out.

Now, Isaiah cries out. He turns His recollections of God’s past mercies into a call for His immediate intervention into their current state of affairs.

Lord, look down from heaven;
    look from your holy, glorious home, and see us.
Where is the passion and the might
    you used to show on our behalf?
    Where are your mercy and compassion now? – Isaiah 63:15 NLT

Isaiah begs God to do as He has done so many times before. He knows that they don’t deserve God’s favor, but he pleads with Him to extend His mercy and compassion yet again. Like Moses and the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them, the people of Judah found themselves in a similar situation. They were in trouble. The enemy was bearing down on them and they had no way of escape. The only hope they had was God.

And Isaiah addresses God as their loving Father, appealing to His sense of responsibility for His children.

Surely you are still our Father!
    Even if Abraham and Jacob would disown us,
Lord, you would still be our Father.
    You are our Redeemer from ages past. – Isaiah 63:16 NLT

Isaiah knows that God is faithful. He is not questioning God’s commitment to His covenant promises or raising doubts about God’s everlasting love. He is simply appealing to God’s unchanging nature. He is the very same God who has rescued the people of Israel time and time again, in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him. So, Isaiah is simply asking God to respond to their current situation with the same sense of mercy and grace.

Isaiah had a healthy understanding of the sovereign will of God. He knew that nothing happens in this life apart from the will of God, including the rebellion of the people of God. When Isaiah asks the question, “why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?,” he is not blaming God for the sins of the people of Judah. He is simply acknowledging that God could have prevented their unfaithfulness, but chose not to. To put it another way, God gave them free rein to practice free will. He allowed them to live according to the desires of their hearts. The apostle Paul provides us with a powerful reminder of what it looks like when God “abandons” men and women to live according to their own desires, and it is not a pretty picture.

…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. – Romans 1:23-24 NLT

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. – Romans 1:28 NLT

God does not cause us to sin. James makes that point perfectly clear.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

God was not responsible for the sins of the people of Judah. But Isaiah knew that the only way they could have remained faithful would have been through the intervention of God. And the only way they were going to return to God was if He acted on their behalf. They didn’t have it in them to do so on their own accord. Which is what led Isaiah to plead: “Return and help us, for we are your servants, the tribes that are your special possession” (Isaiah 63:17 NLT).

Isaiah knew their only hope of salvation was God. They had no other options. If He did not intervene on their behalf, they were doomed. Isaiah knew the his own people well and realized that if repentance, as evidenced by changed hearts, was the only way God would rescue them, it would never happen. They were far too stubborn for that to happen. And Isaiah includes a sad expression of his outlook on their current state of affairs.

Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you,
    as though we had never been known as your people. – Isaiah 63:17 NLT

This was his honest opinion. As he looked at the circumstances surrounding the people of Judah, it was as if they had never been chosen by God. Things had deteriorated so badly, that they were unrecognizable as God’s chosen people. They looked no different than any other nation on the planet. Their distinctiveness had long ago dissipated. Rather than living as set apart by God, it appeared as if they had been set aside. But Isaiah was not willing to give up, as the rest of his prayer will reveal.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To the End of the Age.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events associated with Jesus last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chooses to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke and Mark, that Jesus appeared repeatedly to His followers during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. He had appeared to the two distraught disciples walking on the road to Emmaus discussing the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Those two had made a beeline to the room where the 10 of the disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus. And at the very moment when they had shared the exciting news, Jesus had suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40). John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he had his doubts. So, eight days later, Jesus made yet another surprise appearance, telling Thomas, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27). The apostle Paul gives us a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave all of this out. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-39) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had aimed the content of his gospel on a Jewish audience. He had been ought to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who tasked with protecting the tomb had made their way to the Caiaphas the high priest and his father-in-law, Annas, to break the bad news. These guards had been charged by the high council with the task of preventing the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus. The high priest and his fellow Sanhedrin members knew of Jesus’ claim that He would rise again and they feared His disciples would attempt to steal the body and boast that Jesus was alive.  And much to their surprise and chagrin, that exactly what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These men would have feared for their lives. They had no reason to lie and every reason to tell the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened, in great detail. But Matthew records that Caiaphas, having heard the unwelcome news from the guards, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems clear that he knew something else had happened, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was news spreading throughout the city that Jesus was alive.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised He would. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

He had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men who had asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV). He recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, when means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Were they doubting Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the king they had long hoped for.  The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. They were unsure of all that was going on. They were probably fearful of all that was going to happen next. What would Jesus’ next steps be? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them alive and well was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, authorized His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that news was to be spread around the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about who Jesus was and is.

And Jesus promised them that He would be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them at Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with the followers of Christ, His bride, the church, until the end of the age.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Do Not Know You.

” 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-12 ESV

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Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to think of the Kingdom of Heaven with a long-term perstpective. While He was the Messiah, the one whom the people of Israel had long expected, He was not going to be establishing His kingdom at that moment. He has already told them that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, falsely accused, tried, beaten and eventually crucified. But He would also rise again. His mission on this, His first coming to earth, was to serve as the sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind. But there was a day coming when He would return to earth a second time. But there was much that would have to take place before His return. And He told the disciples, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).

And He had warned them, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV). The point Jesus seemed to be making had to do with preparedness. He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager expectation and anticipation that His return could happen at any moment. And this led Jesus to tell a few parables to drive home His point.

The first had to do with a wedding. It involved ten virgins who were anticipating the arrival of the bridegroom. The question that must asked is, “Who are these ten virgins and what do they represent?” Based on the immediate context, it seems clear that Jesus has been addressing His second coming, which will take at the end of the 7-year period of tribulation. Since the church is to be raptured before the tribulation begins, these ten virgins cannot act as representatives of the church. It makes much more sense to see them as Jews who will be alive during the period of the tribulation. And, as the text will reveal, the ten virgins break down into two groups. Five of them are prepared, while five are not. This would seem to indicate that the first five represent Jews who will come to faith during the days of the tribulation, which the book of Revelation tells us will take place. John was given a vision in which “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). Then John was told their identity. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ESV). There will be many who come to faith during the period of the tribulation, including Jews and people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

But the second group of five virgins represents all those Jews who will remain unrepentant and unbelieving during the tribulation, all the way up to the point of Jesus’ return.

In the story, all ten virgins share a common expectation of the bridegroom’s arrival. They are eagerly anticipating his coming. This is why the ten virgins appear to indicate Jews, because they alone would have anticipated the arrival of the Messiah. During the days of the tribulation, Jews living at that time will long for the arrival of the Messiah. For believing Jews, they will understand it to be His second coming. For unbelieving Jews, they will view it as His first coming. But all will greatly desire His arrival

But again, the issue is one of preparedness. There is a delay. The bridegroom has not shown up as expected. But, as part of the welcoming party, they were to have been ready, because, as Jesus had said, the groom was “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Sadly, the story reveals that half the group were foolish, failing to take oil for their lamps. They were unprepared. They thought they would have plenty of time. But when news of the groom’s arrival was made known, they had lamps, but no oil. They begged the first group to share their oil with them, but were refused and told, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:9 ESV). They were on their own. It’s likely that the reference to oil in the story was meant to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The believing Jews had the Spirit of God within them. The unbelieving Jews did not.

And when the groom arrived, the wedding feast began. But by the time the second group of foolish, unprepared virgins showed up, it was too late. The door was shut. They were left on the outside. And the wedding feast would seem to represent that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, revealed in chapter 19 of Revelation.

7 Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. – Revelation 19:7-8 ESV

One of the things that will happen at the end of the tribulation will be that Christ, the bridegroom, will hold a feast for His bride, the church. And John was told, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). Those who come to faith during the tribulation will be participants in this great celebration. But those who fail to accept Jesus will be left on the outside, looking in. And as Jesus indicated, their destination will be “that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51 ESV).

One of the saddest statements in the Scriptures is found in this parable. It is the words of the bridegroom, spoken to those virgins who showed up late and without oil for their lamps. He told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). They had been invited. They even had lamps. But they without oil. They did not have what was necessary to respond when news of the groom’s arrival was announced.

The apostle Paul would later tell the Ephesian believers: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). Those who lack the Holy Spirit will find themselves outside the feast. And, as Paul makes clear, the receipt of the Spirit is based on belief in the Son.

Again, the point of the parable is preparedness. How are the Jews living during the tribulation to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah? By placing their faith in Him as their Savior. He alone could save them from the persecution of the Antichrist and the judgments of God. He alone could preserve and protect them. Carrying a lamp with no oil is similar to placing your faith in your church attendance or good behavior. It is not enough. Your good works cannot save you. Your membership in a local church does not guarantee you a place in the Kingdom of God. Without the oil of God’s Spirit, you will find yourself on the outside looking in, and hearing these sad and sobering words from Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

It’s impossible to read this parable and not reflect on the words of Jesus spoken years earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To Fulfill All Righteousness.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 3:13-4:1 ESV

For three decades, Jesus had lived in relative obscurity in the region called Galilee. The four Gospels provide us with few details regarding his childhood and nothing regarding his formative years as a young man. Matthew picks up the story of the life of Jesus at His baptism by John in the wilderness. And John, while a relative of Jesus, evidently had no idea that Jesus was the one of whom he was speaking when he said, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). John had been sent by God to act as a forerunner, a kind of herald whose job it was to proclaim the coming of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And evidently, there were those who wondered if John was the himself the Messiah. But John knew his role and clearly stated that there was one coming who would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:19-23

And again, John had no idea that Jesus was the one until God confirmed it for him at the baptism of Jesus.

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

But once John had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus at His baptism, he had known without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, and he knew exactly why Jesus had come.

29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

The baptism of Jesus acted as the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It officially launched His campaign to take away the sins of the world. And it was marked by His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the verbal confirmation by God of His public ministry. John had been reluctant to baptize Jesus, feeling inadequate for the task and viewing Jesus as having no need of repentance. But Jesus persuaded John that this was a necessary part of God’s divine plan for His life.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:15 ESV

Jesus was encouraging John to do what was right – that which was in keeping with the will of God. Matthew’s use of the word, “righteousness” has nothing to do with salvation or a right standing with God, but with conformity to the will of God. Jesus was letting John know that His baptism was God’s will and, therefore, they were morally or ethically obligated to do what God commanded. And the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the audible expression of God’s favor were both forms of God’s confirmation that this had all been part of His divine will.

Because Jesus was sinless, His baptism was not for the remission of sins or because He was in need of repentance. It was an act of submission to the will of His Father, and a means of identifying Himself with all those who had obeyed John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many had come to the wilderness to be baptized by John. But John warned them that their willingness to undergo water baptism had to be marked by true life change. He demanded that they, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:3 ESV). And when pressed by the people as to what that fruit should look like, John had given them specific examples.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:10-14 ESV

Their lives were to be marked by distinctively different behavior. Their repentance was to be characterized by life change. But what John was asking them to do was impossible. They did not have the inner capacity to live out what John was commanding. There was something missing. And John, whether he fully understood it or not, declared to the people what that missing ingredient was: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The water baptism John offered was insufficient to provide people with the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. But there was a baptism coming, made available by Jesus, that would include the Holy Spirit and fire, and empower all those who received it to fulfill all righteousness. Not only would they be able to do the will of God, they would find themselves in a right standing with God. And the baptism to which John eluded was that which took place years later in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The power to live radically different lives was going to come from the Holy Spirit, But the Holy Spirit would not be made available until Jesus had fulfilled all righteousness, completing God’s plan for His life, which was to include His death on the cross. And it’s essential that we note that even Jesus’ earthly ministry was begun with the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God descended upon Him at His baptism, empowering Him for the task that lay ahead. All that Jesus would do in the coming days would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. He would be led by the Spirit. And the very first verse of the very next chapter reveals that Jesus was now going to be under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God until He fully accomplished the will of God.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 2:1 ESV

Jesus had come to fulfill all righteousness – to do the will of His Father in heaven. And He made that point perfectly clear when He stated: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). He would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). The baptism of Jesus was just the beginning of His willing submission to His Father’s plan for His life. And each step He took from that day forward, including His journey into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, was in order that He might fulfill all righteousness – doing all that God had planned for His life – so that He might be the means by which sinful mankind might have eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Call to Repentance.

1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,\

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 ESV

In compiling his Gospel, Matthew chose to leave out any mention of Jesus’ childhood, skipping straight to the beginning of His ministry which was inaugurated by His baptism by John. Matthew’s intent was to prove Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the legitimate king of the Jews and the Savior of the world. So, he picks up the story of Jesus’ life with His arrival in the wilderness of Judea and His encounter with John the Baptist. Unlike Luke, Matthew provides no background regarding John’s birth or his relationship with Jesus. He simply states that John showed up on the scene, “proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV). He was the God-ordained forerunner of Jesus, preparing the way for the one who was to come. But we also know from Luke’s gospel, that John and Jesus were somehow related. According to Luke 1:36, Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth, the mother of John were relatives. In some translations, they are referred to as cousins. But regardless of the exact nature of their relationship, John and Jesus would have known each other, having grown up at the same time and in relative close proximity to one another.

John’s birth, which Matthew ignores, was significant, because like the birth of his relative, Jesus, John was born under divine circumstances. Luke tells us that John’s parents were advanced in years and his mother was barren. Zechariah, the father of John, was a priest, and he received a visit from an angel, telling him the good news that he and his wife would have a child.

15 “for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:15-17 ESV  

And God fulfilled that promise, miraculously allowing Elizabeth to conceive and give birth to a son, whom they named John. And on the day of his son’s circumcision, Zechariah prophesied over John, stating:

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79 ESV

Matthew picks up the story some 30 years later, when John had begun his ministry of prophecy and preparation for the coming of Jesus. And, like Luke, Matthew ties John to the earthly ministry that Elijah had performed.

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’” – Matthew 3:3 ESV

Like Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, John just suddenly appeared on the scene, almost as if out of nowhere. He had been silent for nearly 30 years, and then showed up in the wilderness preaching a message of repentance and offering baptism as a sign of that repentance, all tied to the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Everything about John was strange, from his choice of attire and lifestyle to the content of his message. But he attracted a crowd. Matthew tells us:

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:5-6 ESV

John was calling the people of Israel to repentance, and it is essential that we understand the meaning behind his message. His call to repentance involved a change in mind, a radical realignment of their understanding of God and His ways. The Greek word is metanoeo and it means “to change one’s mind or purpose.” It is far more than sorrow over sin. It is a a complete change of attitude towards God, involving one’s spiritual and moral perspective. John was calling the people of Israel to rethink their attitude about everything, including their relationship with God, the nature of their own sin, and the reality of their so-called status as God’s chosen people. The Jews had been living under the delusion that, as descendants of Abraham, they were somehow right with God. In spite of the literally hundreds of years their ancestors had spent in open rebellion against God and their suffering defeat and eventual exile at the hands of God, they had never fully returned to Him. Even at the time John began his ministry, Israel was a place of spiritual darkness. In his Gospel, John describes Jesus as the light that came to penetrate the darkness of the world, particularly that of His own people.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. – John 1:4-8 ESV

The spiritual climate of Israel was dark and John came to call the people of God back to a right relationship with God. But they were going to have to change their minds about everything. Their long-awaited Messiah was coming and they were not ready for His arrival. Their hearts were full of sin, but they saw themselves as the chosen people of God. They placed high value in their status as Israelites and in their possession of the temple of God. They were overly confident in the forgiveness made available to them through the sacrificial system. But John was letting them know that all of that was about to change. This was a new day. There was going to be a new plan of salvation made available that was no longer tied to the law or dependent upon men attempting to live in perfect obedience to that law.

John’s words were attracting huge crowds made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life, including the religious leaders of his day. But when these Pharisees and Sadducees showed up, John confronted them, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8 ESV). These two groups of individuals, the Pharisees and Sadducees, represent the hypocritical religious leadership of John’s day. The Pharisees were the religious rule-keepers, the experts in the law who prided themselves on their knowledge of the law and adherence to it. The Sadducees were the liberals of their day, who denied the supernatural and rejected everything from the existence of angels to the future resurrection of the body. These two groups showing up to be baptized was nothing more than a show on their part. They had no intention of changing their minds about anything. They were marked by arrogance and pride and John demands that they bear fruit in keeping with repentance. In other words, he calls them out for their unwillingness to see themselves for what they really were: religious hypocrites.

Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough to save them from the wrath of God, and John the Baptist makes that point painfully clear.

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:9 ESV

Their current relationship with God was not going to be enough to save them. Their Jewish heritage was not going to keep them from suffering the consequences of God’s wrath against sin. God was looking for fruit in keeping with true repentance. No more hypocrisy and play-acting. No more lip-service and false professions of sorrow over sin. God was about to introduce a brand new way for men to be justified, made right, with Him. Self-righteousness had never worked. Religious law-keeping had never earned anyone a right standing with God, because no one had been able to keep the law perfectly. But with the coming of the Messiah, God was going to change all that. While John was able to baptize with water those people who were willing to come with an attitude of true repentance, he made it clear that the baptism they would receive from Jesus was going to be radically different. His baptism would involve the Holy Spirit and fire. It would supernatural in scope and cleansing in nature. It would be a baptism of purification and radical transformation. It would be far more than a ritualistic act meant to symbolize a change of attitude. No, the baptism of Jesus would be completely transformational in nature, leaving the one baptized radically changed forever. And His baptism would eventually be the means by which those who truly belong to God can be distinguished from those who don’t.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Unholy Trinity.

11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666  Revelation 13:11-18 ESV

John sees yet another beast. But this time, the beast is rising up out of the earth, not the sea. Yet, John describes it as “another” using the Greek phrase, allo therion, which means “one of the same kind.” These beasts are similar in nature, but distinctively different. This one has two horns like a lamb, and yet speaks like the dragon. He is not described with the same scary imagery as the first beast, but in spite of his less-formidable appearance, he is under the influence of the dragon, or Satan himself. While the first beast was described as having the features of a leopard, a lion and a bear, three ferocious and predatory animals, the second beast appears as a lamb, seemingly innocent and harmless. He has two horns, perhaps symbolizing his power, but it is limited in scope and authority. No one fears the horns of a lamb. But because of his association with the first beast and the influence of Satan on his life, this individual will prove dangerous.

He will operate as a second-lieutenant to the first beast, the Antichrist, and will exercise “all the authority of the first beast in its presence” (Revelation 13:12 ESV). He will use his power and influence to cause the people of the earth to worship Antichrist. During the first 3-1/2 years of the tribulation, there will arise an apostate church, a false church that will set itself up as the replacement for the true church that has been raptured. This false church is described by John in Revelation 17.

3 I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. – Revelation 17:3-6 ESV

During the first half of the tribulation period, the Antichrist will allow this apostate church to exist, but at the midway point, he will turn against, demanding that all worship be directed at him alone. Antichrist will use his power and his military might to destroy the false church.

16 They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. – Revelation 17:16-17 ESV

We know from the book of Daniel, that the Antichrist will come to power in the first half of the tribulation period. He will make a peace treaty with the people of Israel, allowing them to rebuild the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. But at the midway point, he will turn against them, breaking his agreement with them and putting an end to the sacrifices.

“And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:27 ESV

Jesus refers to this as the “abomination of desolation,” a phrase he picks up from Daniel.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:15-21 ESV

This will mark the beginning of the “great tribulation” or second half of the tribulation period. And as Jesus makes clear, it will be a difficult time for all living on earth. And Daniel lets us know that it will last for 1,290 days or 3-1/2 years.

And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. – Daniel 12:11 ESV

This second beast is going to act as a kind of prophet for the Antichrist. He will be a religious figure, replacing the leadership of the apostate church and guiding the people of earth to worship Antichrist. Verse 14 seems to indicate that the abomination that takes place in the temple will be the erection of an idol to the Antichrist. This false prophet will cause the people to worship this idol, using powers provided by Satan to convince them. He will have the ability to call down fire. With his seemingly miraculous powers, he will be able to convince the people to make an idol, set it up in the temple, and worship the Antichrist. And it seems that he will have the power to cause this idol to come to life and even speak. It will all be a deception, because Satan is the father of lies and can only imitate, not replicate, what God can do.

There is much debate as to the meaning of verse 14. John refers to the first beast as having died and come back to life. Verse 12 states that the first beast receives a mortal, death-inducing wound, but that he somehow comes back to life. He dies, but is resuscitated. There are those who say this is simply an indication that the first beast represents a resuscitated world power, the once-fallen Rome. But it would seem that all Satan is doing in these days is meant to replicate and mimic the work of God. Satan is setting himself up as the god of this world. And Antichrist becomes his stand-in for Jesus, the Messiah. Like Jesus, who is worshiped because He died and came back to life, the Antichrist will be worshiped for the same reason. John describes him as having been “wounded by the sword and yet lived” (Revelation 13:14 ESV). There are those who argue that this is impossible, because only God can give life. They reject that idea that Satan could resurrect a dead body, having no power to do so. But all that happens in these days will be under the direct supervision of God. Perhaps He will allow Satan to have the power to give life to the Antichrist, all so that the nations will show their true colors and fall down in worship of this false messiah. Or perhaps, Satan will only imitate the power of resurrection, deceiving the people into believing a lie. 

Whatever happens, the second beast, or false prophet, will cause the people to worship Antichrist. And, according to Daniel 3:11, all those who refuse to worship himwill be put to death. He will take that worship a step further, demanding that all people be marked with the symbol of the Antichrist.

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 13:16-17 ESV

This mark will be a sign of ownership. Back in chapter 7, John was given a glimpse of the 144,000, the servants of God who had been chosen out of the people of Israel. These Jewish believers were given a mark on their forehead that designated them as belonging to God (see Revelation 7:3). And here in the second half of the tribulation, the false prophet will demand that all those who worship the Antichrist bear a sign of their allegiance to him. But all those who take the mark of the beast will do so willingly. It will allow them to buy and sell goods, providing them with certain rights and privileges that will be denied to all those without the mark. And we know from the next chapter, that there will be those who refuse to take the mark. But bearing the mark of God will prove to be dangerous and, ultimately, deadly. Many believers will be persecuted and die as a result of refusing to bear the mark of the beast and to bow down before him.

In this unholy trinity of Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet, you have Satan’s attempt to replicate the persons and power of the holy trinity. Satan is making a futile attempt to set himself up as God, with the Antichrist serving as his false messiah or savior, and the false prophet acting as the Holy Spirit, influencing people to worship the resurrected Antichrist. But it is all a lie, a pathetic replication of the real thing. And God will allow it to happen, revealing man’s ongoing susceptibility to the lies of the enemy. Millions of people will willingly take on the mark of the beast. And John warns “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelation 13:18 ESV). He is not telling us that we can somehow figure out who the Antichrist is or will be by carefully deducing the meaning of this number. It would appear that John is saying that no one will be able to discover the identity of the Antichrist until he appears. But those believers who are alive when the end times take place, will be able to discover this individual’s identity. Early on in the tribulation period, they will be given the ability to determine who this man is so that they might avoid his deceptions and escape his wrath.

But as bad as all this sounds and as difficult as these days are described to be, we must not lose sight of the fact that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit will all three be in full control of all that is going to happen in those days. Satan’s power, while formidable, is not comparable to that of God. Antichrist’s ability to provide for the needs of mankind, while significant, cannot compete with that of Jesus. And the false prophet, while highly influential, cannot begin to replicate the life-changing, Christ-honoring influence of the Holy Spirit. Satan and his forces will fail in their attempt to supplant God. All that he and his companions accomplish will take place only because God allows it to happen. They will be on a short leash, operating under the sovereign hand of God Almighty. And their power and influence will end when He deems it so.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson