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

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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

A Coming Cleansing

Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
    in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the Lord,
    like showers on the grass,
which delay not for a man
    nor wait for the children of man.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
    in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
    like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
    and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
    and all your enemies shall be cut off.

10 And in that day, declares the Lord,
    I will cut off your horses from among you
    and will destroy your chariots;
11 and I will cut off the cities of your land
    and throw down all your strongholds;
12 and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
    and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
13 and I will cut off your carved images
    and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
    to the work of your hands;
14 and I will root out your Asherah images from among you
    and destroy your cities.
15 And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
    on the nations that did not obey. Micah 5:7-15 ESV

Micah describes a scene that is radically different than the one facing his 8th-Century B.C. audience. They were living in a time when constant threats from the likes of the Assyrians and Babylonians were a part of everyday life. So, the latter-day events that Micah is telling them about had to have sounded alien to their ears. Would there really be a day when they would have the upper hand on the enemies? Would the tables turn and the Israelites be the dominant force in the region once again?

The day is coming when the Israelites will be dispersed among the nations, but not as a result of God’s judgment. This time it will be so that they might refresh the nations of the earth by their very presence.

Then the remnant left in Israel
    will take their place among the nations.
They will be like dew sent by the Lord
    or like rain falling on the grass,
which no one can hold back
    and no one can restrain.
The remnant left in Israel
    will take their place among the nations. – Micah 5:7-8 NLT

Like dew and rain, the redeemed and restored people of God will have a positive and beneficial impact on the world of that day. But like God Almighty, they will also be a powerful presence in the world, displaying the strength of a lion among sheep.

They will be like a lion among the animals of the forest,
    like a strong young lion among flocks of sheep and goats,
pouncing and tearing as they go
    with no rescuer in sight.
The people of Israel will stand up to their foes,
    and all their enemies will be wiped out. – Micah 5:8-9 NLT

What a dramatic change of circumstances. Israel will find itself in the driver’s seat, operating from a position of strength, not weakness. And this will be in fulfillment of the promise Moses made to the people of Israel as they waited to cross into the promised land for the very first time.

If you listen to these commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, and if you carefully obey them, the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom. – Deuteronomy 28:13 NLT

For the foreseeable future, Israel was going to find their fortunes to be quite the opposite of what Moses described. They would be the tail and not the head. And it would be their misfortune to be on the bottom rather than the top. Defeat, destruction, and exile were headed their way, but Micah wanted them to know that God had future plans for them that would reverse that trend – completely and permanently.

But there will also be a period of purging when God cleanses the land of all the vestiges of idolatry and rebellion that were the cause of His judgment against them. God will not be content to restore them to the land just to see them continue to live in the same way they did before. It will be a time of intense cleansing as God removes anything and everything that the people of Israel allowed to draw them away from their faithful worship of Him.

“In that day,” says the Lord,
“I will slaughter your horses
    and destroy your chariots.
I will tear down your walls
    and demolish your defenses.
I will put an end to all witchcraft,
    and there will be no more fortune-tellers.
I will destroy all your idols and sacred pillars,
    so you will never again worship the work of your own hands.
I will abolish your idol shrines with their Asherah poles
    and destroy your pagan cities.” – Micah 5:10-12 NLT

Horses and chariots represent man’s dependence upon military might. The psalmist wrote, “Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God. Those nations will fall down and collapse, but we will rise up and stand firm” (Psalm 20:7-8 NLT). And yet, virtually every king of Israel and Judah had accumulated horses and chariots for himself, in a misguided attempt to provide a source of power and protection other than God Almighty.

The kings of Israel and Judah had constructed elaborate defensive fortifications, in a vain attempt to protect them from enemy attack. But what they failed to remember was that they had the Lord of Hosts as their champion. He was to have been their sole source of strength and the one on whom they relied for victory.

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” – Deuteronomy 20: 1 NLT

Witchcraft, fortune-tellers, idols, and sacred pillars were all symbols of their misplaced trust in man-made replacements for God. Rather than place all their confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Israel had developed a litany of alternative sources of help, hope, and deliverance. He would no longer tolerate their spiritual infidelity. In the new Kingdom established by His Son, God would ensure that there would be no substitutes and stand-ins available that could draw the people away from worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

During the thousand-year reign of Christ, often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom, He will sit in righteous judgment over the entire world. And we are told that He will rule with a “rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15). The nations of the earth will all recognize that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. That does not mean that they will worship Him as their Lord and Savior, but they will acknowledge His sovereign rule over all the earth.

In those days, God will no longer tolerate sin and rebellion. He will not put up with insurrection and insubordination, among His chosen people or the nations of the earth. His Son will sit on the throne of David, ruling in righteousness and judging the world with perfect justice.

But the millennial reign of Christ will come to an end. The thousand years will pass and then God will bring one last judgment upon the world.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 NLT

Amazingly, during the thousand years, Satan will be bound and incapable of influencing the nations of the earth. But he will be released and lead one more misguided insurrection against God and His Son. He will rally the nations of the world to his side and attempt one last overthrow of God’s power and dominion. But he will fail. And his evil influence over the world will be done away with once and for all.

And the apostle John provides us with insight into what happens next.

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15 NLT

The final judgment – the Great White Throne Judgment  – when Jesus Christ will deliver a just and righteous verdict on all those who have refused to accept Him as their Savior and Lord. All during the period of the Great Tribulation, God will offer mankind one more opportunity to accept His free gift of salvation through His Son. But the majority will choose death over eternal life. They will prefer judgment over redemption.

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

The day will come when no more opportunities for salvation are made available. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT).

Those who have placed their hope in Christ can face the future unafraid and fully confident in the eternal security of their relationship with God Almighty. But for all those who refused God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, death will be followed by judgment. And the judgment of God, without forgiveness made possible through faith in the Son of God, will end in eternal separation from God.

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

And All Ends Well

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.

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 5:1-6 ESV

One of the things that makes reading this section of Micah’s prophecy so difficult is that his timeline seems to be all over the place. One minute he is talking about end times events that remain as yet unfulfilled, and then, suddenly, he seems to be refocusing the lens of prophecy on more recent, yet still future events.

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 5 is actually the last verse of chapter 4. If you recall, chapter 4 ends with these words:

“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 4:12 NLT

This is meant to be a message of comfort and joy, telling the people of Judah and Jerusalem that there is a day in their future when the table will turn and they will become the conqueror rather than the conquered. But before that can take place, something else must occur.

Mobilize! Marshal your troops!
    The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem.
They will strike Israel’s leader
    in the face with a rod. – Micah 5:1 NLT

Before the good news can be experienced, the bad news will have to take place. It’s as if Micah is refocusing the lens of the camera and allowing the people of Judah to see what is much closer on the prophetic timeline. The enemy was close at hand. Babylon was going to lay siege to Jerusalem and their leader/judge was going to suffer ignominy at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his forces. The prophet Jeremiah describes the end of Zedekiah’s reign.

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. 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, and all the soldiers fled. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah 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 in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:3-11 NLT

This would be the beginning of the end. The Babylonians would destroy the temple of God, slaughter the priests, and take thousands of the cities inhabitants as captives back to Babylon.

But then, just as quickly as he has prophesied bad news, Micah shifts the focus back to the far-distant future and describes the coming of another king. From the small and relatively obscure town of Bethlehem, will come another, greater ruler.

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. – Micah 5:2 ESV

This king would be born in the town of Bethlehem (House of Bread) in the region formerly known as Ephrathah (Fruitful). Bethlehem was the birthplace of another king of Israel, David, the man after God’s own heart. But Micah is prophesying about a time in the future when another man who shares God’s heart will be sent by God to rule over Israel. And centuries later, Matthew would make the obvious connection between Micah’s prophecy and the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

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

In verses 3-5, Micah collapses thousands of years of history into three short lines. Writing while under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Micah was being given a vision he could not fully comprehend. He was explaining future events that would span millenniums and include everything from Jesus’s first advent to His second coming.

The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
    until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
    will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
    for he will be highly honored around the world.
    And he will be the source of peace. – Micah 5:3-5 NLT

The Israelites would find themselves living under the oppressive rule of their enemies all the way up until the point that Jesus was born. He would arrive on the scene at the height of Rome’s rule over Judah and the surrounding region. And even long after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the nation of Israel would remain like sheep without a shepherd. Many of the Jews would be scattered abroad, forced to live outside the land of promise. And even to this day, the vast majority of the Jews live outside the nation of Israel.

But Micah speaks of a day when they will return from exile to their own land. And they will be led by this future king, the Messiah, who will become their source of strength and peace. He will provide for them the security, safety, and significance for which they have longed. This will all be in fulfillment of the prophecy found in chapter 4.

“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 4:6-7 NLT

Micah is being given a glimpse into the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal thousand-year period of time when Jesus will return to earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign in righteousness from the throne of David. The book of Revelation provides a glimpse into this future day and how it will come about.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. – Revelation 20:2-6 NLT

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ will be marked by peace, righteousness, justice, and mercy. He will rule over the world as the holy, God-appointed King of kings and Lord of lords. And it will be in fulfillment of the covenant God had made with David.

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

And with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as their righteous ruler, the people of God will have nothing to fear. At the point in time when Micah was penning these words, the Assyrians were the greatest threat to the people of Israel. The Babylonians had not yet arrived on the scene, and the Assyrians were throwing around their weight in the region, and would eventually defeat the northern kingdom of Israel. But Micah speaks of another Assyrian conquest, far into the future, when invaders would attempt to defeat the nation of Israel once again, but their efforts would fail.

These invaders will find Israel being led by the Messiah, and the King will guide His people to victory over their enemies. They will have more than enough shepherds and princes to lead the people. And they will have the Son of God as their champion, leading them in battle against the nations of the earth.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. – Zechariah 14:3 NLT

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

The story of Israel has a very happy ending. And while Micah was not privy to all the details, he was faithful to proclaim the good news concerning God’s future plans for the nation of Israel. And the apostle John was given the privilege of witnessing the final stage in God’s victory over Satan and his forces as Jesus, the Messiah and King, delivers the final blow.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 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

In Truth and Love

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. – 2 John 1:1-3 ESV

This letter, written by John the apostle is, as its title indicates, the second in his trilogy of epistles written sometime between A.D. 90-95. It is believed that all three of these letters were written by John while he was living in Ephesus. Much shorter in length than his previous letter and marked by a more personal and intimate tone, some scholars have concluded that this letter was written to an individual. They cite his use of the term “elect lady” in the salutation of the letter. But it seems more likely that John is simply using the feminine designation to refer to the church because she is the bride of Christ.

For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. – Ephesians 5:23 NLT

For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. – 2 Corinthians 11:2 NLT

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. – Revelation 19:7 NLT

John is writing to a local congregation, which he refers to as the “children” of the “elect lady.” John reminds this local fellowship that they make up the elect of God. He uses the Greek word eklektos, which means, “picked out or chosen.” He wants them to know that each of them have been placed in the body of Christ by God the Father. They were chosen in advance by God and their presence in the body of Christ was according to His divine will.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29 ESV

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:5 NLT

…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. – Ephesians 1:11 NLT

John, in just a few short words, is picking up on Paul’s description of the body of Christ as an organism, not an organization. The church is a melting pot, created by God and consisting of people from all walks of life and every imaginable background.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT

John opens his letter by referring to himself as “the elder.” This stands in stark contrast to the manner in which Paul typically referred to himself in his epistles. Take his letter to the Ephesian church.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – Ephesians 1:1 ESV

John was also an apostle of Christ Jesus and would have been perfectly justified if he had chosen to use that title. But he chose to refer to himself as an elder. Why? The Greek term he used is presbyteros and throughout the New Testament, it is translated as elder, bishop, and presbyter. This was the title used to refer to those men whose job it was to provide spiritual oversight and leadership for the church. John was letting his audience know that he was writing as a caregiver. This letter was written with a pastor’s heart. He makes this clear by describing them as those “whom I love in truth” (2 John 1:1 ESV).

John was writing this letter out of love. It may be that he kept his introduction rather cryptic because he was attempting to protect the identity of those to whom he wrote. This letter was likely written toward the close of the First Century, a time when the church was beginning to face increasing persecution. And since John’s main area of ministry was Asia Minor, it makes sense to conclude that the church to whom he was writing was located in a Roman province. It’s quite probable that this small congregation of believers was experiencing growing pressure to compromise their faith. But John reminds them that his love for them is based on “the truth.”

This simple phrase was a favorite of John’s and can be found throughout his gospel. And you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine how John came up with it.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 NLT

The truth was the good news of Jesus Christ. It was the message of the Gospel as proclaimed by John the Baptist and lived out in real life by Jesus Himself. John opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus was the embodiment of the truth.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

He went on to stress that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And John would quote Jesus as saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

The incarnation of Jesus was the penultimate expression of God’s love.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

And it was the truth of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection that made John’s love for this local congregation possible. John pointed that out in his first letter.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

And John lets this fledgling congregation know that they are loved, not just by him, but by “all who know the truth” (2 John 1:1 ESV). They can rest assured that the global body of Christ cares for them just as much as John does. They are not alone. And John lets them know that this bond they share with all the other churches scattered throughout Asia Minor and the rest of the world is “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:2 ESV).

The truth regarding Jesus Christ and His message of redemption is what holds the body of Christ together. If this local congregation of believers was to take its eyes off of Jesus, they would lose sight of the hope found in His resurrection and promised return. They shared a common commitment to the eternality of the Gospel message. The truth of Jesus Christ was not just a temporary salve for life’s difficulties, but a permanent hope based on the promise of eternal life. The truth will be with us forever. This means we must not judge the veracity of God’s promise based on current circumstances. Whatever this local fellowship was experiencing was not to be the determiner of the truth. The truth, displayed in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and centered on His promised return, has a permanence to it that should bring hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the face of sorrow, and a sense of peace even when faced with difficulty.

And John reminds his audience, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us…” (2 John 1:3 ESV). These divine gifts will never cease, no matter what happens to us or around us. The grace, mercy, and peace of God will never run out because our God is faithful. His unmerited favor and compassion will never diminish. So, we can experience the inner tranquility that comes from knowing He is with us no matter what is taking place around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We are loved – permanently, perfectly, and eternally. As Paul so aptly and eloquently put it:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. – Romans 8:38 NLT

John wraps up his greeting by assuring his readers that grace, mercy, and peace come “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son” (2 John 1:3 ESV). They are gifts from the Father and the Son and they appear in the form of truth and love. He wants them to never stop believing the truth because it is the basis for understanding God’s love for them. And when they are able to comprehend just how much God loves them, they will be able to love others more effectively and selflessly.

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

He Will…

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
    so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
    at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord. – Zephaniah 3:14-20 ESV

As Zephaniah prepares to wrap up his very short, but densely packed book of prophecy, he redirects his focus from the coming judgment of Judah and the world to the more upbeat topic of God’s plans for restoration and reconciliation. The world will not end in an apocalyptic firestorm of destruction and devastation. Yes, God is going to bring His divine judgment upon sinful mankind and He will destroy the heavens and the earth, but He will also make all things new (Revelation 21:5). The end of the age will really be a time of new beginnings.

God had promised His chosen people, Israel, that the day was coming when He would restore them to a right relationship with Himself. In spite of all their years of rebellion, unfaithfulness, and stubborn unrepentance, He would once again reestablish His covenant relationship with them.

Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 NLT

And not only that, God had promised to recreate the universe, which currently suffers under the curse of sin.

“Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.” – Isaiah 65:17 NLT

The apostle Paul describes the creation as “groaning” under sin’s curse, eagerly awaiting the day when it will be renewed and released from the death and decay that has marred it ever since the fall.

…all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-22 NLT

But the good news is that God is going to bring about a renewal of the physical universe and within the hearts of men. Even rebellious Israel will find itself made new by God, which is why Zephaniah shouts:

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem! – Zephaniah 3:14 ESV

Zephaniah predicts the return of the Messiah and the establishment of His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. And His return will be accompanied by not only the restoration of Israel to favor with God but also by the removal of all further judgment.

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil. – Zephaniah 3:15 ESV

In the book of Hebrews we have recorded the words of God describing this future day when He will make a new covenant with His chosen people.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah…
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.” – Romans 8:8, 10-12 ESV

This will be a day of great rejoicing because God will provide His once-rebellious people with the inner capacity to live in perfect obedience to His law. The law, once relegated to tablets of stone, will be written on their hearts. And the prophet, Jeremiah, recorded God’s promise regarding this coming day.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 ESV

Heart transformation. That is what God will bring to His people. Radical, Spirit-enabled heart change that will provide the people of God with the capacity to love and obey Him perfectly and joyfully.

And Zephaniah declares that on that day, God will replace mourning with joy. He will remove all reproach, eliminate all oppression, heal the sick, restore the rejected, eradicate shame, and return His people to a place of prominence and power. And He makes an unbreakable, unwavering promise to His people: “I restore your fortunes before your eyes” (Zephaniah 3:20 ESV). And all this will take place when His Son returns to the earth.

Jesus Christ will come again. And when He does, He will usher in the Millennial Kingdom, His one thousand years of righteous rule from the city of Jerusalem that will bring an end to the reign of Satan and establish culminate with the eternal state. As the prophet Isaiah predicted, Jesus will be King.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:7 ESV

Two times in the closing chapter of the book of Revelation, Jesus announces, “behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7, 12 ESV). Obviously, John wrote those words nearly two millennia ago, so Jesus did not mean His return was imminent. But He did mean it was inevitable. And so, we are to live with confidence, eagerly anticipating the reality of His return.

And while the people of Judah faced the coming judgment of God in the form of the Babylonian conquest, they could still rejoice in the knowledge that God will one day “take away their humiliation and make the whole earth admire and respect them” (Zephaniah 3:19 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