Worth the Wait

When the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
    and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. – Micah 5:5b-6 ESV

When studying any of the prophetic books found in the Bible, the first question that must be asked is, “Has this content of this prophecy already been fulfilled?” Virtually all of the prophetic books contain both short- and long-term prophecies, some of which were fulfilled during the lifetimes of the authors of those books. Jeremiah prophesied the coming invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and then lived to experience it, even writing a letter to the Jews who had been taken captives and exiled to Babylon.

Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. – Jeremiah 29:1 NLT

But Jeremiah also prophesied about events that have yet to take place. Like his fellow prophets, he was given divinely-inspired revelations that pertained to the future of God’s people and the final fate of the entire world. So, in looking at verses 5-6 of Micah 5, it is important to ask whether the prophecy it contains has already been fulfilled? And the answer would be, “No.”

In approximately 740 BC, God sent the Assyrians to invade the northern kingdom of Israel, as a means to punish them for their sin and rebellion against Him. It all began with the three tribes that had settled east of the Jordan River: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manassah.

But these tribes were unfaithful to the God of their ancestors. They worshiped the gods of the nations that God had destroyed. So the God of Israel caused King Pul of Assyria (also known as Tiglath-pileser) to invade the land and take away the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh as captives. The Assyrians exiled them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the Gozan River, where they remain to this day. – 1 Chronicles 5:25-26 NLT

Then, nearly 20 years later, in 722 BC, the Assyrians renewed their assault on Israel, conquering the capital city of Samaria and taken many of its citizens as captives.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:5-7 NLT

Two decades later, in 701 BC, the Assyrians would attempt to expand their empire by attacking the southern kingdom of Judah. At that time, King Hezekiah was ruling in Judah and, unlike his predecessors, he had instituted a series of religious reforms intended to restore the nation’s allegiance to and trust in God.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful. – 2 Chronicles 31:21 NLT

During his reign, he received news that the Assyrians had entered the land of Judah and were laying siege to many of its prominent towns.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. When Hezekiah realized that Sennacherib also intended to attack Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military advisers, and they decided to stop the flow of the springs outside the city. – 2 Chronicles 32:1-3 NLT

King Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah and the people of Judah, mocking their God and demanding that they surrender or suffer the consequences.

“What makes you think your God can rescue you from me? Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you! Don’t let him fool you like this! I say it again—no god of any nation or kingdom has ever yet been able to rescue his people from me or my ancestors. How much less will your God rescue you from my power!” – 2 Chronicles 32:14-15 NLT

But rather than panic, Hezekiah prayed, asking God to intervene on their behalf.

Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to God in heaven. And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:20-21 NLT

So, with all that as a backdrop, what could verses 5-6 of Micah 5 be talking about? Is Micah addressing the failed invasion of Judah by the Assyrians that took place in 701 BC? The details contained in this prophecy describe an event that remains as yet unfulfilled. Micah is giving a Spirit-inspired glimpse into the distant future – the “latter days” he talked about in chapter 4. He is describing events that will take place in the closing days of the Great Tribulation, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ.

During the second half of the 7-year period of time known as the Tribulation, the world leader known as the Antichrist will use the power given to him by Satan to persecute the chosen people of God – the Jewish people. And, like the King Sennacherib of Assyrian in Hezekiah’s day, Antichrist will seek to capture and destroy the city of Jerusalem.

Watch, for the day of the Lord is coming when your possessions will be plundered right in front of you! I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Zechariah 14:1-5 NLT

The people of Micah’s day had first-hand knowledge of the Assyrians and their power. By referring to this future enemy as Assyrians, Micah knows that his audience will sense the inherent danger and understand that these are God-mocking, idol-worshiping pagans who seek to destroy the city of God and His chosen people.

But Micah assures them that, when this day comes, the people of God will have more than enough men capable of leading them in victory over their enemies.

…we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men – Micah 5:5 ESV

The number seven is the number for wholeness or completion. They will have just the right number of leaders – plus one. And, as Zechariah points out in his prophecy, they will have the Messiah fighting on their behalf.

While the people of Judah would escape defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, they would eventually fall to the Babylonians. Their shepherds and princes would fail them. But the day is coming when the city of Jerusalem will come under siege once again, attacked by all the godless nations of the world that will be led by the Antichrist. But they will fail. Why? Because God is going to raise up a deliverer. Remember what Micah said in the opening verses of this chapter.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel… – Micah 5:2 ESV

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. – Micah 5:4 ESV

And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:5 ESV

And when the nations gather to defeat and destroy Jerusalem and the people of Israel, this divine Deliverer will appear on the scene, bringing the final victory over the enemies of God.

and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. – Micah 5:6 ESV

And Zechariah provides an exclamation point to this prophetic statement regarding God’s future and final deliverance of His people.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 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

God Is Not Done

1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.
– Micah 5:1-5a ESV

Verse 1 of chapter five provides a connecting link back to the theme of chapter four. In the Hebrew Bible, it is actually included as the last verse of chapter four. But regardless of its placement, its message is the same. Jerusalem is being called to muster its troops because the enemy will soon arrive and lay siege to the city.  Jerusalem had a long history associated with warfare. For centuries, nations had battled over this prominent sight located on the top of Mount Zion. According to 2 Samuel 5, David took the city from the Jebusites.

David then led his men to Jerusalem to fight against the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the land who were living there. The Jebusites taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and lame could keep you out!” For the Jebusites thought they were safe. But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David. – 2 Samuel 5:6-7 NLT

Micah refers to Jerusalem as “the daughter of troops,” indicating its long association with warfare. Even after David made Jerusalem his capital city, this prime piece of real estate in the Middle East would remain a battle ground, attracting the attention of countless enemies who longed to displace the Jews and make it their own. And Micah reveals that an enemy is coming who will do just that. This time, the walls will be breached and the “judge of Israel” will be struck on the cheek.

This is most likely a reference to King Zedekiah, the man who had the unenviable experience of sitting on the throne when the Babylonians showed up to sack the city of Jerusalem. The imagery of him being struck on the cheek is meant to convey the idea of abject humiliation. Micah is warning that this judge or ruler over Israel is going to be publicly shamed and humiliated by those who conquer the city of Jerusalem. And the book of 2 Kings provides us with the grizzly details of what happened.

So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:1-7 NLT

Verse 1 is dealing with a future event, but one that will take place in a relatively short period of time. As Micah penned these words, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was still unfulfilled, but it was inevitable and unavoidable.

But suddenly, Micah turns his attention to the fate of another city in Judah and to the exploits of another ruler. Verses 2-5 are intended to provide a stark contrast to the events described in chapter four.

But why are you now screaming in terror?
    Have you no king to lead you?
Have your wise people all died?
    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth.
Writhe and groan like a woman in labor,
    you people of Jerusalem,
for now you must leave this city
    to live in the open country.
You will soon be sent in exile
    to distant Babylon. – Micah 4:9-10 NLT

Unlike the city of Jerusalem, the small village of Bethlehem Ephrathah could look forward to a brighter future. Micah utilizes the two names most commonly associated with this town. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Ephrathah means “place of fruitfulness.” While Jerusalem had been King David’s capital city, Bethlehem was his birthplace.

Micah refers to Bethlehem as “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2 ESV). He purposefully accentuates the insignificance of this obscure village, located just five and a half miles due south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem paled in comparison to the capital city with its high walls, luxurious palace, and its temple inlaid with gold and precious stones. A nondescript village like Bethlehem would be overlooked by the Babylonians troops as they made their way to Jerusalem. It had nothing to offer. It contained no palaces to pillage and no fine homes laden with treasures. And yet, Micah signifies that this inconsequential town will have an important role to play in Israel’s future. God had revealed to Micah that Bethlehem was going to be the birthplace of yet another individual who, like David, would rule over the nation of Israel.

…from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Here, Micah uses a different Hebrew word than the one he used in verse one. When Micah referred to the “judge” who would be humiliated at the hands of the Babylonians, he used the word shaphat. This was most likely intended as a form of wordplay because the Hebrew word for “rod” is shebet. These two similar-sounding words were meant to drive home his main point: The proud and arrogant king of Israel would be humiliated. 

But in verse two, Micah uses the Hebrew word mashal, which means “to rule” or “to have dominion.” Unlike Zedekiah, who would see his reign brought to an abrupt and ignominious end, this future ruler over Israel “shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God” (Micah 5:4 ESV).

This ruler will do what Zedekiah and his predecessors failed to do: Shepherd the flock of God. And he will do so in the strength of the Lord and for the majesty of His name. He will be faithful. He will be successful. He will be righteous. And he will be eternal. Notice what Micah has to say about this future king of Israel. He describes him in rather cryptic terms, saying his “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2 ESV). This is meant to set apart this individual as something more than just another human king.

The prophet Ezekiel links this future King of Israel with the former king whom God had designated as a man after His own heart.

“And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23-24 NLT

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. – Ezekiel 37:24-25 NLT

But this is not describing a resurrected and resuscitated King David who will regain his throne in Jerusalem. Ezekiel is prophesying the coming of one who will also be a man after God’s own heart and rule the nation of Israel as David did.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

The apostle Paul describes this future King of Israel as coming from the very throne room of God and taking on human flesh.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

And, in his gospel account, Matthew records just how this King was born as a human being.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:1-6 NLT

And Micah reveals that the people of Judah would find themselves “given up” by God until the time of Jesus’ birth was ordained to take place.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth. – Micah 5:3 ESV

Jesus Christ was born in the city of Bethlehem. He was a Jew, a descendant of David, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. But His own people rejected Him as their Messiah. They refused to accept Him as their King, choosing instead to betray Him to the Romans, falsely accusing Him of fomenting insurrection against Caesar. So, He was crucified as a punishment for His “crimes.” And the description of His crime was carved into a wooden plaque and placed on the cross upon which He was nailed.

So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” – John 19:16-19 NLT

The Jews of Jesus’ day rejected Him. And, while He continues to be ignored by the vast majority of His fellow citizens of Israel, Micah prophesies concerning a future day when the chosen people of God will have their eyes opened and their relationship with God fully restored.

…the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel. – Micah 5:3 ESV

Micah referred to this event back in chapter two, when he quoted the promise of God.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds! – Micah 2:12 NLT

Jesus Christ will be the fulfillment of this promise. But it did not take place at His first coming. So, it remains as yet unfulfilled. But God is not done. He has a plan in place and He will bring it about in His perfect timing. As the apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, God has great things in store for Israel.

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:26-27 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

Trust Him

Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations
    are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
    and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
12 But they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
13 Arise and thresh,
    O daughter of Zion,
for I will make your horn iron,
    and I will make your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples;
    and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. – Micah 4:9-13 ESV

Micah has given the people of Judah a glimpse into the future, providing them with a hope-filled description of God’s redemptive plan concerning them. Now, he rather abruptly brings them back to earth with a reminder of their more pressing fate. They still had the looming reality of God’s pending judgment hanging over their heads. Their centuries-worth of sin and rebellion against God had to be punished.

So, Micah paints a foreboding picture of just how difficult and dark those days will be. He fast-forwards the timeline again, providing them with a prophetic glimpse into the not-so-distant future and describes the horrific scene of the Babylonians invading Jerusalem. He describes the people crying out in pain and anguish as they watch the destruction of their beloved city. They have no one to lead them. Their king has been taken captive. Their army has fallen. All the prophets and priests who had promised them that everything would be okay, have been exiled as slaves to Babylon. And the book of 2 Kings confirms the accuracy of Micah’s prediction.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:3-7 NLT

The devastation and destruction will be horrific. Nothing will remain untouched or spared from the wrath of the Babylonian army as it pillages and plunders the city of all its treasures. Again, the book of 2 Kings provides detailed confirmation as to the accuracy of Micah’s words.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. – 2 Kings 25:9-10 NLT

Micah compares the pain of the people to that of a woman in the midst of childbirth. This imagery is meant to link the very real pain they will experience as a result of God’s judgment with the future joy they will feel when God redeems them from their captivity in Babylon.

This section of Micah’s book is filled with a rather strange admixture of present and future scenes. He is compressing the timeline in such a way that it is difficult to know what is going to happen when. But Micah is not trying to provide the people of Judah with a detailed calendar of dates or give them a hard-and-fast outline of coming attractions. He is trying to let them know that God is in complete control of every detail concerning their past, present, and future. God exists outside of time. He knows the future just as well as He knows the past. He was intimately familiar with every detail concerning the coming Babylonian invasion. And He was just as aware of every circumstance surrounding the return of a remnant of His people from Babylon to Judah 70 years later. And Micah combines all these events into one seamless whole, in an effort to assure the people of Judah that everything was in the sovereign hands of God.

…for now you must leave this city
    to live in the open country.
You will soon be sent in exile
    to distant Babylon.
But the Lord will rescue you there;
    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies. – Micah 4:10 NLT

In Micah’s day, Judah had no shortage of enemies who longed to see her demise. In spite of their disobedience and sin, the people of Judah had enjoyed a certain degree of success. As a nation, they had continued to play a prominent role in the oftentimes volatile affairs of the Middle East. Over the years, they had made a great many enemies who would love nothing better than to see them destroyed. And when the Babylonians finally invaded Judah, these nations not only rejoiced, they took advantage of the situation, claiming the former territories of Judah as their own.

But Micah assures his countrymen that these enemies of Judah were overlooking one very important fact.

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan.
These nations don’t know
    that he is gathering them together
to be beaten and trampled
    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. – Micah 4:12 NLT

When the time for Judah’s fall finally came, these nations would see an opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances. But they would be ignorant of God’s much larger and longer-term plans concerning Judah. And they would be completely oblivious to His plans for them. But, once again, Micah compresses the timeline, inserting events that will take place in the “latter days.” Here he is describing the judgment of God against the nations of the earth that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ. The prophet Zechariah provides a detailed account of what will happen to all those who stand opposed to God and His chosen people when Christ returns.

And the Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day they will be terrified, stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will fight their neighbors hand to hand. Judah, too, will be fighting at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the neighboring nations will be captured—great quantities of gold and silver and fine clothing. This same plague will strike the horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in the enemy camps.

In the end, the enemies of Jerusalem who survive the plague will go up to Jerusalem each year to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. Any nation in the world that refuses to come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will have no rain. If the people of Egypt refuse to attend the festival, the Lord will punish them with the same plague that he sends on the other nations who refuse to go. Egypt and the other nations will all be punished if they don’t go to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. – Zechariah 14:12-19 NLT

Once again, Micah brings in a scene from the distant future, allowing the people of Judah to see what God has planned for them as a nation.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:13 NLT

Micah wants them to understand that this event is just as certain as their coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. God had a plan in place that was all-inclusive and completely trustworthy. He had left nothing up to chance. Their unfaithfulness would do nothing to diminish the faithfulness of God. Yes, He would punish them for their sins, but the day was coming when He would restore them. He would bring judgment upon them for their refusal to repent, but He would also send His Son one day to rescue them from the days of Tribulation.

How easy it is to lose sight of God’s sovereign plan and focus on the more immediate circumstances surrounding us. The people of Judah were fixating on the threat of Babylonian invasion and the destruction of their nation. But Micah was attempting to remind them that their God was not only greater than their problem, but He was also in complete control of it. Everything they were facing and fearing was coming through the sovereign hands of God. And He had more in store for them than they could ever imagine. While the enemies of Judah were clueless concerning God’s future plans for Judah, He was not. And the prophet Jeremiah provided the following words of comfort directly from the lips of God.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

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

He Will Reign

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 ESV

Guided by the Spirit of God, Micah provides the people of Judah with a prophetic glimpse into the future of their nation. Yet, the events he describes remain unfulfilled even in our day. They entail a period of time that he refers to as the “latter days” or what is oftentimes called the end times. Jesus spoke to His disciples about this future event, warning them that it would include a time of great tribulation, to be followed by His own return to earth at the Second Coming.

“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

The Tribulation will last seven long years but will be “cut short” by Christ’s return. And Jesus describes the momentous nature of His return.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

There are a great number of events that will take place when Christ returns, including the Battle of Armageddon and the Great White Throne Judgment. And all of these things will be tied to Christ’s role as the victorious King who returns to claim His throne.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:31-34 ESV

And Micah adds another vital detail to the future narrative that portrays Christ gathering His scattered flock from the four corners of the earth. Along with His role as the conquering King who defeats the enemies of God, He will serve as the Good Shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of Israel and restores them to a right relationship with God.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also wrote about this coming day, recording the promise made by God that He would one day seek for and save His scattered sheep. This promise would be fulfilled through His Son, the Shepherd and Savior of Israel.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:11-16 NLT

Ezekiel also records God’s plan to fulfill the promise He had made to David to raise up one of his sons and establish his kingdom and throne forever (1 Chronicles 17:11-12).

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23 NLT

God is not promising to resurrect King David himself but is revealing His intention to raise up a descendant of David, another man after His own heart, who will rule and reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. This is a clear reference to Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of David, the God-man who will rule in perfect, sinless righteousness over the regathered and restored nation of Israel.

Ezekiel goes on to describe how this “offspring” of David will lead the people of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and perfect obedience to God during His 1,000-year reign on earth, what is often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom.

“Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:21-27 ESV

And Micah makes it clear that these events will all take place in city of Jerusalem, the very same city that was fated to suffer defeat and destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God was going to judge the nation and its capital city for the centuries of rebellion and unfaithfulness that had taken place within its walls. Ever since the days of Solomon, the kings of Israel had proven to be unreliable leaders who failed to follow the righteous example of King David. They had led the people astray, seeking to serve other gods and placing their hope in the alliances they made with foreign powers. But while God had plans to put a temporary end to David’s dynasty, He also had a plan to restore it. And though He intended to destroy the city of David, He would one day reestablish it as the home of Israel’s King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

The prophet, Isaiah, predicted the two-fold nature of Christ’s advent. He came to earth the first time, born as an innocent baby in a manger, in order to die for the sins of mankind. But in His second advent, He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His reign will bring righteousness and justice to the world.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

God predicted the fall of Jerusalem and its occurrence is a historical fact. But God also predicted the Second Coming of His Son and the restoration of the people of Israel. He has yet to break a single promise He has made. So, we can rest assured that these events, while still unfulfilled, will take place. God has a plan and we can trust Him to bring it to pass – down to the last detail.

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

Dark Days Indeed

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 2:8-12 ESV

Helping Christ-followers understand the events surrounding the end times was important to Paul because he knew that knowledge would dramatically influence the way they lived their lives in the present. Without a firm grasp on the divine timeline of the last days, believers in every age would find themselves easy prey to every false doctrine and spurious opinion that came along. Even Jesus warned that there would be those who showed up claiming to be Him and declaring themselves to be the Messiah.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.” – Matthew 24:4 NLT

Without a well-developed understanding of God’s plans for those final days, people will be susceptible to the claims of false teachers and self-proclaimed prophets. Jesus warned His disciples.

“And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.” – Matthew 24:11-12 NLT

So, when Paul heard that false teachers were causing angst and anxiety among the Thessalonians by declaring the day of the Lord had already begun, he felt strongly compelled to correct their error. As discussed in yesterday’s lesson, “the day of the Lord” refers to that future period of time which includes the Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Great White Throne Judgment. According to Paul, the Rapture of the church will be the event that sets all of these things in motion. With the removal of all believers from the earth, the restraining influence of the church will create a moral and spiritual vacuum that will allow wickedness to spread like wildfire.

In verse 7, Paul refers to an individual who acts as a restraining influence on evil and prevents the coming of “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV).

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 2:7 ESV

This “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit, who inhabits the church and every single believer. With the rapture of the church, all believers living at that time will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. Then they will receive their glorified bodies and return to heaven with Christ. With their departure, the primary means by which the Holy Spirit restrains wickedness in the world will be gone. Whether we realize it or not, the presence of Spirit-filled Christians on this planet plays a powerful role in holding back the forces of darkness. Jesus stated, “You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14 ESV), but with the church’s rapture, the light will be removed, allowing the darkness to envelop the world as never before.

That is why this period of time is called the Tribulation. It will be a literal seven-year span of time that begins the day of the Lord and will feature cataclysmic events and divine judgments that will be unprecedented in their intensity. Jesus described it in rather stark terms.

“…there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT

There is no doubt that evil was running rampant in Paul’s day. In fact, he said, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “this lawlessness is already at work secretly.” The apostle John describes much of the false teaching that was infiltrating the church as “the spirit of the Antichrist.”

…if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:3 NLT

The evil influence of this “man of lawlessness” was already alive and well in the 1st-Century because he will be nothing more than a tool of Satan. In the book of Revelation, John provides details concerning his vision of the Antichrist, describing him as “the beast” who receives his power and authority from “the dragon” (Satan).

…to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.…and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” – Revelation 13:2, 3-4 ESV

While there will be a literal, real-life Antichrist who rules and reigns during the Tribulation, the spirit or attitude of the Antichrist has been alive in every generation. Paul warned Timothy that the last days would be filled with apostasy and a level of rebellion like nothing the world has ever witnessed before.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And, even though Paul is describing the last days, he warns Timothy to “Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT). Why? Because those kinds of people can be found in every generation. But in the last days, they will represent the majority of people on earth and they will eagerly take part in what Paul describes as the “rebellion” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The Greek word is apostasia, from which we get our English word, “apostasy.” It means, “a falling away” or “a defection from the truth.” Remember what Paul told Timothy. The people living in the last days “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT).

Paul describes Antichrist’s powerful influence over the world during the last days.

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 NLT

John adds his own description of Antichrist’s reign of terror.

Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. – Revelation 13:5-8 NLT

Notice John’s mention of worship. And remember what Paul told Timothy: “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” Those living in the last days will worship Antichrist, who slanders the name of God and sets himself up as a replacement for God. Paul describes him as one “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV).

The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of this future world leader.

…a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. – Daniel 8:23-25 NLT

In the book of Revelation, John describes the creation of an idol, made to represent the Antichrist, which is set up in the temple of God. And the false prophet, the second-lieutenant of the Antichrist, “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” (Revelation 13:15 ESV).

These will not be ordinary, run-of-the-mill days. As Jesus said, “there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began” (Matthew 24:21 NLT). And Paul indicates that those days will be marked by a level of deception and spiritual delusion like nothing the world has ever seen before. People will “refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 NLT). And, as a result, “God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies” (2 Thessalonians 2:11 NLT).

During the Tribulation, God will bring a wave of unprecedented judgments on the world. He will reveal Himself through a series of cataclysmic plagues and meteorological catastrophes. And while those who endure these judgments will recognize His hand behind them, they will still refuse to repent of their sins and turn to Him.

But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – Revelation 9:20-21 NLT

And as Paul sadly states, “they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).

The end times will be marked by rampant rebellion and level of spiritual blindness like nothing we have ever seen before. Even while recognizing the hand of God behind their suffering, mankind will shake its fist in His face, choosing to endure His divine punishment rather than admit to the truth of their own sin and their need for a Savior.

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

God Has a Plan

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. 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7 ESV

The Thessalonian believers to whom Paul wrote were undergoing persecution for their faith. But they were also experiencing unnecessary suffering as a result of errant end-times teaching that had made its way into their fellowship. In his previous letter, Paul had taught that the Great Tribulation would not begin until the Rapture of the church had taken place (1 Thessalonians 5). The Rapture would usher in “the day of the Lord” which would include the seven-year period of tribulation and end with the Second Coming of Christ. But others were teaching that the presence of persecution and trials was evidence that the day of the Lord had already begun. In essence, they were teaching the Thessalonian believers that they were already living in the great period of end-times tribulation.

Paul believed in and taught a pretribulation Rapture, which was based on Jesus Christ returning for His bride, the church, and removing all His followers from the earth. They would be “caught up” to meet Him in the air and return to heaven to live with Him there. And this removal of His bride would protect them from the judgment of God that would come on the earth during the Great Tribulation.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV

Paul had taught the Thessalonians to find encouragement in the knowledge that Jesus would one day return for the church. It may not happen in their lifetimes, but it would happen before the final period of tribulation began. The order of the end times events was the Rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, the Great White Throne Judgment, and then the eternal state.

Even today, there are those who do not believe in the Rapture of the church. They understand and teach that there will only be Christ’s second advent. Based on this view, many conclude that we are already living in the period of tribulation and can expect the Second Coming to take place at any time.

But Paul was very specific regarding his views on the matter. In reference to the Second Coming, he stated that Jesus would come from heaven and descend to the earth in order to mete out God’s judgment on unbelieving mankind.

…when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT

After seven years of intense judgment on the earth and all its inhabitants, God will send His Son a second time, but not in the form of an innocent baby. He will return to earth as the Warrior-King, accompanied by the host of heaven and charged with the task of dispending “the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

But there was confusion among the Thessalonians. On the one hand, they were eagerly expecting the return of Jesus for the church. But then, others were telling them that the tribulation had already begun. Their understanding of the end-times sequence of events was muddled and confused. And Paul makes it clear that the real heart of the matter was the Rapture of the church. He opens this chapter with the phrase: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV).

Regardless of what others were teaching, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to rest in the knowledge that Jesus was going to return for the church. In spite of what the false teachers were claiming, the day of the Lord had not yet arrived. And, according to Paul, there were certain events that had to take place before it did.

…that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT

Paul refers to “the man of lawlessness,” an individual who will play a significant role in the end times scenario. The prophet, Daniel, refers to him as “the ruler” (Daniel 9:27). And this ruler will stand in direct opposition to God Almighty.

He shall speak words against the Most High,
    and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
    and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
    for a time, times, and half a time. – Daniel 7:25 NLT

This individual will appear on the scene after the Rapture of the church. He will arise to power out of relative obscurity and become a global leader with great power. And as Daniel predicts, this individual will make a treaty with the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. But halfway through the seven-year period of tribulation, he will break that treaty and launch a program of intense persecution of the Jews.

The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.” – Daniel 9:27 NLT

When Daniel refers to “a time, times, and a half time,” he is speaking of the first three-and-a-half years of the tribulation.

A time – 1 + times – 2 + a half time – 1/2 = 3 1/2

Paul is revealing details concerning the end times that are meant to assuage any worries the Thessalonians may have had. The presence of trials and persecution was not a sign that the tribulation had begun. Even Jesus had warned that all kinds of ominous and seemingly portentous events would take place, but they would simply be the precursors of something far worse to come.

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

The ruler to whom Daniel referred and the man of lawlessness are one and the same person. He is the Antichrist, the Satan-appointed and empowered world leader who will dominate the seven years of the Great Tribulation. Paul describes him as “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” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John refers to this same individual as “the beast” and describes his open rebellion against God and His holy people.

Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. – Revelation 13:5-8 NLT

Again, notice that his ability to inflict persecution on God’s chosen people, Israel, is restricted to a period of 42 months or 3-1/2 years. Then God will inflict judgment on him and all those who bear the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17). This will be the period of Great Tribulation, the second half of the seven years of tribulation.

Paul is describing a future period of time that has no similarity whatsoever to the circumstances in which the Thessalonians are living. They had no need to worry about whether they were living in the day of the Lord because none of the events associated with that day had taken place. Yes, Paul concedes that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). In other words, the world showed signs of the coming apostasy, but it was nothing when compared to the tribulation to come. Jesus described it this way:

“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 24:21 ESV

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that the only thing preventing that fateful day from occurring was the presence of “he who now restrains” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). This is a reference to the Holy Spirit who indwells each and every believer (John 14:17), as well as the entire body of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:16). Due to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, the body of Christ acts as a restraining influence on the earth. When the church is raptured, this restraining influence will be removed, allowing unbridled apostasy to run rampant on the earth.

And with the church removed, God will be free to bring His full wrath to bear on the unbelieving world, for their sin and for their rejection of His gracious offer of salvation through His Son’s sacrificial death.

Things were difficult in Thessalonica, but Paul wanted the believers there to know that the real days of tribulation were yet to come. And the good news was that they would be preserved and protected from experiencing the suffering of those days because of their faith in Christ and God’s promise to save them from the wrath to come.

For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 BSB

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

Confusion Over Christ’s Coming

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. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ESV

At his point in his letter, Paul jumps into the deep end of the pool. No more paddling around in the shallow waters of easy believe-ism. The Thessalonians have had their faith shaken by some fairly significant doctrinal error brought to them courtesy of false teachers. These individuals had been propagating the idea that the Second Coming of Jesus had already begun and, it seems, they were using the intense persecution of the Thessalonians as their proof. And they could back up their belief with the teachings of Jesus.

While sitting on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Their question had been prompted by a statement by Jesus concerning the temple in Jerusalem.

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:2 ESV

They were wanting to know when this fateful day would take place. And, in an attempt to calm their concerns, Jesus told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6 ESV).

In other words, a be a great many things would take place long before “the end” occurred. In fact, Jesus included additional seemingly catastrophic events that would precede the end times and His Second Coming:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” – Matthew 24: 7-8 ESV

Jesus was attempting to prepare His disciples to expect a great deal of suffering, civil unrest, wars, and even natural disasters. But those were simply the precursors of the end, not proof of its arrival. Things were going to get worse before they got better. And Jesus proves it by adding:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:9-14 ESV

But it seems that the false teachers who were negatively influencing the believers in Thessalonica were guilty of cherry-picking the teachings of Jesus. They were proof-texting, pulling out certain phrases that supported their view that the end had come and as a result, the Second Coming of Jesus was just around the corner. But this errant view flew in the face of Paul’s teachings concerning the end times.

In chapter one, Paul had assured the Thessalonians that, concerning Christ’s Second Coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,” He would inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). That had clearly not taken place yet. And it would not take place until the Rapture of the church occurred (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul and the other apostles clearly taught in the imminence of Christ’s coming. They wanted believers to know that Jesus could come at any time, but that did not mean that He would. Followers of Christ were to live with a sense of urgency and immediacy, conducting their lives in a manner that reflected their belief in His return and the reality of eternity. This world was not their home. They were to set their minds and hearts on heaven and the promise of their eternal state. And, in his first letter, Paul assured them that God would protect and preserve them for that future day.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT

What rankled Paul was the fear and doubt being fostered among the Thessalonians because of the shoddy doctrine of the false teachers. The motivation of these men was probably sincere and well-meaning, but they were doing serious damage to the cause of Christ by speaking about things they didn’t fully understand. And it was causing unnecessary anxiety among the Thessalonians concerning “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV) – a direct reference to the Rapture of the church.

And Paul warns his confused and fearful friends not to let this false teaching deceive and disquiet them.

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NLT

And notice that Paul did not give these false teachers the courtesy of treating their teaching as an alternate view or perfectly acceptable option to consider. They were wrong. Their teaching was false. And it didn’t matter if they claimed that it came with God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

For Paul, the Gospel was far more than just the faithful presentation of God’s offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. His concept of the Gospel was all-inclusive, encompassing the full spectrum of God’s gracious plan for man’s redemption. Salvation was just the beginning, with the sanctification of the believer being just as much an integral part of God’s divine plan. And it would all culminate with the believer’s glorification when they received their new bodies, designed to last for eternity. Paul discussed this miraculous final phase of our Gospel transformation in his first letter to the Corinthians.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

Salvation – sanctification – glorification. For Paul, that was the Gospel and anyone who deviated from and added to that three-fold plan was to be treated with contempt.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

According to Paul, the good news regarding faith in Christ had to include all three phases of God’s redemptive plan, and he succinctly articulates it in his letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation [salvation] to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures [sanctification]. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed [glorificatio]. – Titus 2:11-13 NLT

The believer’s glorification, the final phase in God’s plan, will take place when Christ returned for His bride, the church. Paul knew that the human body was not equipped for eternal life. It was, as he described it, a temporary tent in which we dwell until Christ returns.

“…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT

But Paul firmly believed that God had a plan that included new bodies, divinely prepared for eternity.

“We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT 

And as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, the Rapture of the church will result in the gathering of all God’s saints, complete with their newly glorified bodies, so they can return with Him to heaven. And that great day will usher in the beginning of the end. With the removal of the church, God’s final plan of judgment for the unbelieving world will be poised to begin. And Paul will expound on that future aspect of the end times in the following verses.

For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NLT

Paul didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding these matters. The Thessalonians were not to worry or fret over the claims of the false teachers. They had not missed out. The Great Tribulation had not begun. There was much that had to happen before “the end” began. And all that they were experiencing was nothing more than the labor pains that naturally precede the delivery of God’s judgment on the world.

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

Caught Up – Part 2

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

Paul, writing from Corinth, was attempting to correct a misunderstanding among the believers who made up the church in Thessalonica. They were confused over the fact that Christ had not yet returned and in the meantime, some within their congregation had died. This had raised serious questions about the timing of Christ’s return and the fate of those who had expressed faith in Him but had died.

In an effort to fill in the holes in their theology and to provide encouragement over the recent departures of their loved ones, Paul expanded their understanding of the events surrounding the end times. This passage has become the primary defense for what has come to be known as the Rapture of the church. I discussed the genesis of the term “rapture” in the previous blog. Here, I will attempt to look at the further evidence found in Scripture that supports the doctrine of the Rapture of the church.

There are those within Christianity who reject the idea of the Rapture, and who believe that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul is speaking about the Second Coming of Christ. And among those who believe in the Rapture of the church, there is great debate as to when it will take place.

The time of the Rapture has been a matter of disagreement among conservative interpreters. Some believe it will take place before the Tribulation (pretribulationists). Others believe that it will take place after the Tribulation (posttribulationists). Others conclude that it will take place during the Tribulation (midtribulationists). Still others hold that the Lord will catch away only some Christians, not all (partial rapturists). – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Thessalonians

Among these various groups, the primary point of debate is the timing of the Rapture as it relates to the Tribulation. Will it take place before, during, or after? Most pretribulationists believe that this passage, among others, supports their view, and I would agree. As we saw in yesterday’s post, verse 17 provides important evidence for the doctrine of the Rapture. Paul states that, upon the Lord’s return, “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 then Paul adds, “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV). While there are those who interpret this verse as referring to the Second Coming of Christ, there are problems with that view. Why does Paul refer to believers being caught up and meeting the Lord in the air? At His second advent, Jesus will come to earth.

The prophet Zechariah, in addressing the end-times event known as “the Day of the Lord,” describes Jesus returning to earth at His Second Coming.

Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:3-4 NLT

In the previous chapter of his letter, Paul referred to Christ’s Second Coming, and differentiated it from the Rapture by describing it as “…the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). This view aligns with the vision given to the apostle John which he recorded in the book of Revelation. He describes Jesus coming back to earth and bringing the saints with Him.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. – Revelation 19:11-14 NLT

In the verse preceding this description of Christ’s second advent, John describes his vision of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where the

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. – Revelation 19:6-8 NLT

In this passage, John describes seeing the “bride” of Christ, the church, enjoying a sumptuous feast with Him in heaven. They are dressed in “the finest of pure white linen” (Revelation 19:8 NLT). And this event precedes His return to earth with “the armies of heaven, dressed in pure white linen” (Revelation 19:14 NLT). How did the church get to heaven before Christ’s return to earth a second time? The logical answer would be the Rapture. The day will come when Christ returns for His bride, the church. Those believers who are alive at that time will rise to meet with Lord in the air and return with Him to heaven. And this interpretation seems to support the promise Jesus made to His disciples prior to His ascension.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story didn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had been longing for and eagerly awaiting the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

And he added another important aspect to this end-times event.

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. All believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul stressed that death brought immediate entrance into God’s presence.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV

And the day is coming when those departed saints will return with Christ and receive their newly resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord, and those who are still living, will be reunited and will receive their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 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

Caught Up – Part 1

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

As the Thessalonian believers continued to grow up in their salvation and live their lives in a manner that was pleasing to God, Paul knew they would do so in the hope that Jesus Christ would soon return. The imminent return of Christ was a common theme in the early church and proved to be a powerful motivational message for those facing the very real threat of persecution and even death. Even Paul regularly spoke and wrote about the coming of Christ, reminding his children in the faith that the return of Christ was the ultimate goal or objective.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – 1 Corinthians 20:21 NLT

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. – Romans 13:11-12 NLT

Paul has already addressed the return of Christ three times in his letter to the church in Thessalonica.

…they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. – 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT

After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! – 1 Thessalonians 2:19 NLT

May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. – Matthew 3:13 NLT

The return of Christ was the end-game for Paul. And he was eagerly anticipating it because Jesus had promised it.

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. – John 14:2-3 NLT

And Paul was not alone in his confident claims concerning the Lord’s timely return. The apostle James also saw the imminent return of Christ as a powerful motivational tool when addressing believers who were experiencing the pain and difficulties of life.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:7-8 NLT

Peter, another one of the apostles, joined the chorus, reminding his readers that the Lord’s return would mark the end of all things.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. – 1 Peter 4:7 NLT

And not to be left out, the author of the book of Hebrews encouraged his readers to use the reality of Christ’s return as motivation to model Christlikeness in their daily lives.

let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT

But when you live with eager anticipation that something is going to happen soon, but it fails to do so, disappointment and disillusionment can set in. You can start to question the validity of the promise and find yourself losing hope. And, as Paul knew, watching the deaths of their fellow believers was causing a certain amount of confusion and concern among the members of the early church. Why had they died before Jesus had come back? What was their fate?

It seems that all the talk about the imminent return of Christ had left some of the Thessalonians with the mistaken impression that all who believed would live to see it happen. But now, as time passed, some of their fellow believers were dying. And Paul attempted to provide them with clarification and further insight into all the talk about the “end of all things.” And he gets right to the point.

…now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT

Their grief was not just over the loss of their friends, but it also included their concern over the eternal state of those who had died. Had they not believed? Were they doomed to spend eternity in hell? Had their deaths been the result of having fallen away from the faith?

It is important to remember that the early church had very limited access to doctrine or well-informed insights into theological matters. In its infancy, the church was dependent upon Paul and others to provide them with theological training and teaching regarding such matters as the end times. Paul’s letter to the Romans was his attempt to provide a detailed doctrinal analysis of the faith, expounding upon the teachings of Jesus and the message of the Gospel so that members of the early church could have a deeper and more foundational understanding of their faith.

Paul has already told the Thessalonians that he regularly prayed “asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT). And that is exactly what he is attempting to do in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

First, he addresses the 800-pound gorilla in the room: The untimely deaths of their fellow believers.

For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14 NLT

With this statement, Paul brings up another aspect of the end-time events of which they were unaware and uninformed. This section of verses is one of the primary passages used to support the doctrine of the Rapture of the church. Paul is not talking about the Second Coming of Christ, but of His return for His bride, the church. The term “rapture” is not found in the Bible, but it is derived from the Greek word Paul uses in verse 17. There, he mentions that those who are still alive when Christ returns will be “caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” The Greek word translated as “caught up” is harpazo, and it means “to seize, to snatch away, to carry off by force.”

In the late 4th-Century, the Bible was translated from its original languages into Latin. In the Latin Vulgate, as this translation came to be known, the phrase “caught up” was translated with the word, rapturo, from which the term “Rapture” comes.

Paul was informing his readers about an event that would precede the Second Coming of Christ and usher in the rest of the end-time events. There was no need for the Thessalonians to grieve over the loss of their friends because God had a plan in place. They were not truly lost but had gone to be with Him. Their bodies had been buried, but their souls had gone to be with the Lord in heaven. When Jesus had addressed the thief on the cross, He had promised him, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). There is no such thing as soul sleep or a holding place called Purgatory. Upon death, all believers go to be with the Lord.

And Paul assures those left behind in Thessalonica that they will one day see their deceased friends again. In fact, they will accompany Christ when He returns for His church.

when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14 NLT

But then Paul appears to contradict himself. He just said that the dead believers will come back with Christ, but then he states, “the believers who have died will rise from their graves” (1 Thessalonians 4:16 NLT). Well, which is it? Do they return with Jesus or will they rise from their graves? And the answer is, “Both.”

Paul is describing the resurrection of their bodies. At the Rapture, the souls of all those who have died in Christ will return with Him and be reunited with their resurrected and transformed bodies. Paul talks about the need for this in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting.… It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 35-37, 42-44 NLT

In his second letter, he provides greater detail regarding these spiritual bodies.

…we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT

The departed saints will return with the Lord and be reunited with their new spiritual bodies, prepared for them by God. And those who are still alive at the time of the Rapture will ascend into heaven, receiving their glorified bodies as they go. And the end result of all this? “…we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV).

And Paul concludes by encouraging the Thessalonians to find comfort and encouragement in this new revelation regarding their lost friends and the future Rapture of the church.

Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:18 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

I Will Do It

14 Shepherd your people with your staff,
    the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
    in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
    as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
    I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
    their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
    like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
    they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
    and they shall be in fear of you. Micah 7:14-17 ESV

Micah calls out to God, asking Him to intervene on behalf of His chosen people.

protect your people with your shepherd’s staff; lead your flock, your special possession. – Micah 7:14 NLT

While he is confident in God’s future plans for Israel, his desire is that God would act sooner and not later. He longs to see Israel restored to a right relationship with Yahweh, with Him serving as their Shepherd and King.

For Micah, the chosen people of God, the sheep of His pasture, were dwelling in the land, but not in rich and fertile pasture lands. They were stuck in a forest, unfit for sheep and incapable of providing for their needs. Bashan and Gilead represent the gentle hills covered in green grass and flowing with streams of water where sheep can thrive. It is an image of his longing for the spiritual ad physical restoration for his people. He had seen better days and was anxious to see them once again.

In verse 15, God responds to Micah’s request by promising to rescue His people.

“Yes,” says the Lord,
    “I will do mighty miracles for you,
like those I did when I rescued you
    from slavery in Egypt.” – Micah 7:15 NLT

Just as God had performed unprecedented miracles to bring about Israel’s release from captivity in Egypt, He would one day intervene on their behalf to bring an end to their latest round of suffering and subjugation. And when that day comes and God fulfills this promise, the people of Israel will respond with awe and amazement just as they did in the days of Moses.

“Who is like you among the gods, O Lord
    glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
    performing great wonders? – Exodus 15:11 NLT

But Micah would not live to see this coming day. While he deeply desired to see God step in and remedy their immediate problem, God’s plans involved a much longer timeframe. His rescue of His people will not take place until the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand-year period of time when Christ returns to earth a second time in order to establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem. Only then will a remnant of the people of Israel be returned to the land of promise and enjoy a restored relationship with Him.

In the interim, Israel would be disciplined by God and dispersed among the nations.

You may no longer stay here in the Lord’s land.
    Instead, you will return to Egypt,
and in Assyria you will eat food
    that is ceremonially unclean. – Hosea 9:3 NLT

They would be removed from the land and suffer the loss of God’s protection and provision. But God would not completely abandon them.

I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.
For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:9-11 NLT

When that day comes, the nations of the earth will stand and watch in amazement as God once again redeems His people “with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6 NLT).

All the nations of the world will stand amazed
    at what the Lord will do for you.
They will be embarrassed
    at their feeble power.
They will cover their mouths in silent awe,
    deaf to everything around them. – Micah 7:16 NLT

Just as Pharaoh and the Egyptians could only stand back and watch as God rescued His people with devastating demonstrations of His power, so the nations of the earth will one day witness the unparalleled majesty and might of Yahweh as He delivers His chosen people yet again. And the Jews who experience that future day of redemption will respond just as David had centuries earlier.

“O LORD, there is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you! What other nation on earth is like your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have you redeemed from slavery to be your own people? You made a great name for yourself when you redeemed your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations that stood in their way. You chose Israel to be your very own people forever, and you, O LORD, became their God.” – 1 Chronicles 17:20-22 NLT

This amazing reversal of fortunes will be the work of God and all the nations of the earth will recognize it. And just as God promised through His prophet, Isaiah, the people of Israel will find themselves shocked to be on the receiving end of the veneration of the nations.

“Kings and queens will serve you
    and care for all your needs.
They will bow to the earth before you
    and lick the dust from your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.
    Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” – Isaiah 49:23 NLT

And Micah adds another dimension to this subjugation of the nations. While they had spent centuries repeatedly and persistently trying to destroy Israel, they will one day bow before the God of Israel.

Like snakes crawling from their holes,
    they will come out to meet the Lord our God.
They will fear him greatly,
    trembling in terror at his presence. – Micah 7:17 NLT

The apostle Paul reminds us that while Jesus subjected Himself to the humble state of a man and allowed HImself to be humiliated by death on a cross, He rose again. And then He ascended on high, returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

Not every knee on earth has bowed at the name of Jesus. Not every tongue has confessed that He is the Lord. But there is a day coming when that will happen just as Paul described it. God’s plan is not yet complete. His promises have not all been fulfilled – for Israel or the Church. God’s creation, especially mankind, the apex of His creation, will one day confess the greatness and uniqueness of God. They will echo the words of the psalmist.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
– Psalm 86:8-10 ESV

And the apostle John was given a glimpse into the future in which he witnessed the second coming of Christ and all the events associated with it. In one of his visions, John peered into the throne room of God, where he saw “those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2 ESV). These will be the martyrs who will be put to death by the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation that precedes Jesus’ return.

John describes this great throng, standing before the throne of God, singing a song of praise to God, “the song of Moses” and “the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3 ESV). They had given their lives because of their belief in Jesus and had suffered martyrdom at the hand of the Antichrist, but they were gratefully and joyfully praising God for all He had done and was going to do.

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” – Revelation 15:3-4 ESV

We live in a day when the nations refuse to acknowledge God as who He is. They reject His gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in His Son alone. And they continue to attack His chosen people, Israel, treating them with contempt and attempting to wipe them off the face of the earth. But there will be an end to all this because God is not done and His plan is not yet complete. And, as He declared through the prophet, Ezekiel, God will one day accomplish all that He has promised and planned.

“I am the LORD. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it.” – Ezekiel 24:14 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