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


Naively Ignorant.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. – 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

They say, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” But not only is that not the case, it can be deadly wrong. Especially when it comes to the judgment of God. The false teachers who were stirring up trouble among the believers to whom Peter wrote, were evidently mocking the apostles’ teaching regarding the return of Christ. In their estimation, things were going along like they always had. There seemed to be no indication or sign that Jesus was going to return anytime soon. So this gave them the confidence to follow their own sinful desires. They even mocked at the very idea of Jesus coming back, which was a direct contradiction of what the apostles taught. Peter started out this letter saying, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). They had seen Jesus in His resurrected state and they had watched as He had returned to heaven, right in front of them. But before He left, He had told them that He would one day return. He also told them that there would be a time of coming judgment.

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:36-39 ESV

Peter brings up the flood as well. He says, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:5-6 ESV). These scoffers and doubters were not doing their homework. In their desperate desire to discount the apostles’ teaching about coming judgment, they had overlooked the fact that God had destroyed the earth once before. And while they were confidently boasting, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV), they were wrong to turn the lack of signs into cause for discrediting the reality of God’s pending judgment. Even those in Noah’s day were eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, they were doing business as usual. Life went on, and they didn’t see it hit them until it was too late. “So will be the coming of the Son of Man,” Jesus said.

God’s judgment is going to come. And it will catch many by complete surprise. They will be going on with life as they always have, ignoring the Word of God and the offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. They will scoff at the idea of punishment for sin and the need for a Savior. They will mock those who attempt to live righteously in this world, living like Moses, choosing to “be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 12:25 ESV).

That is why Peter wrote this letter. He was attempting to remind his readers to keep on keeping on. He wanted them to remain steadfast and committed, and to “remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 ESV). Peter and the other apostles were teaching the reality of Christ’s return for His church, the inevitability of the tribulation, and the promise of the second coming of Christ when He will judge the world and establish His Kingdom on earth. For Peter, it was essential that his readers stay committed to and dependent upon the Word of God. Let the scoffers scoff and the mockers mock. Let the doubters have their day and the naysayers have their moment in the sun. But as people of faith, we put our trust in the reliability and truthfulness of God. He says of Himself, “I publicly proclaim bold promises. I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner. I would not have told the people of Israel to seek me if I could not be found. I, the LORD, speak only what is true and declare only what is right” (Isaiah 45:19 NLT).

Isaiah goes on to record the words of God proclaiming, “Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other. I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me” (Isaiah 45:22-23 NLT).

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of Jesus:

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. – Revelation 22:12-17 ESV

The naively ignorant can live as if the promise of His return is a pipe dream. They can boldly deny the reality of the coming judgment of God. But denying something is true does not make it so. As followers of Christ we are to live with these words ringing in our ears:

“Surely I am coming soon.” And our response to that promise should be “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV).

Isaiah 59-60, Revelation 13

God, Our Redeemer.

Isaiah 59-60, Revelation 13

and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Isaiah 60:16b ESV

From the perspective of the Israelites, God seemed to be either ignorant of their difficult predicament or unable to do anything about it. It appeared as if He was oblivious to their condition or powerless to save them. But made it clear that the problem had nothing to do with Him. It was because of their sin. “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2 ESV). It was their sins that were bringing about their own punishment. God was allowing their enemies to harass them, and He would eventually allow them to defeat them. The people of Israel were guilty of bloodshed, lying, iniquity, wickedness, injustice and violence. There was an absence of God’s peace or shalom in the land because there was no justice and righteousness. “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us” (Isaiah 59:9 ESV). Because they failed to extend justice to one another, God was withholding His justice from them. God’s justice comes in the form of His rule setting all things right, restoring things to their proper order. Because they refused to live righteously, they were missing out on the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness shows up in the form of His presence and power as He vindicates and delivers, fulfilling all His righteous purposes on behalf of His people. Because of their sin, the people of Israel were experiencing an absence of God’s justice and righteousness on their behalf. God was not happy with them. “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice” (Isaiah 59:15 ESV). God had intended for His people to be the conduit of His justice, mercy and righteousness. He had told them what He expected of them. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV). But they had failed. And when God looked to see if anyone would intercede, He saw no one. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede” (Isaiah 59:16a ESV).  

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God would intercede on man’s behalf. “…then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him” (Isaiah 59:16b ESV). In spite of Israel’s sin and rebellion, unrepentant hearts, and stubborn resistance to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with their God, He would intervene. He would intercede. God would step into the darkness and reveal His light. This was partially fulfilled with the coming of Christ. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11 ESV). God promised the coming of the Redeemer. “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression” (Isaiah 59:20 ESV). But most of Israel rejected Him when He came. They refused to accept Him as their Redeemer and Messiah. But God is not done yet. His plan for Israel is not yet complete. There is a day coming when His Son will return a second time and He will establish His Kingdom on earth and rule from the throne of David from the city of Jerusalem. In chapter 60, God gives Isaiah a glimpse into the distant future, revealing the Millennial Kingdom of Christ that will be established after the days of the Great Tribulation on earth. Jesus referred to the period of the tribulation in very foreboding terms. “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). But even during those dark days, the light of God will shine. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1 ESV). God will one day shine His light in the form of His Son on the lives of His people. As a result, they will once again reflect His glory and radiance. God will once again remember and redeem His people. “…and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty one of Jacob” (Isaiah 60:16 ESV). All of these things have yet to happen. They are future events still waiting to be fulfilled. But God will bring them about. He will cause them to come to pass at just the right time and according to His perfect plan.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

While the people of Israel were guilty of lying and deceit, they could trust in their faithful and true God. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19 ESV). God would do what He said He would do. And it might have appeared to the Israelites that His hand was shortened or His hearing diminished, God was fully aware of their circumstances and had everything under control. Even though God would allow them to fall at the hands of the Babylonians and experience the humility and despair of exile for 70 years, He would redeem them and restore them to their land. He would vindicate them and display His justice and righteousness on their behalf. But they would continue to sin against Him. They would continue to worship other gods besides Him. They would practice injustice and display their unrighteousness in a variety of ways for generations. Even when God sent His own Son to live in their midst and display His glory amongst them, they rejected Him. They refused to repent and turn to the physical manifestation of God living and walking as one of them. Even today, those of us who have been exposed to the reality of God’s Son and experienced salvation through acceptance of His sacrificial death on our behalf, can find ourselves living as if nothing has really changed in our lives. We struggle with the same sins as before. We are prone to turn to other “gods” of our own making or choosing. We rebel against God’s righteous rule in our lives and refuse to repent of the sins we so easily and regularly commit. We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but still continue to wrestle with sinful habits and behaviors. We still fight against our sin natures, oftentimes losing the battle and succumbing to our own selfish passions. But God is not done yet. There is a day coming when our sin natures will be done away with permanently and completely. We will receive new bodies. We will have our sin natures eradicated once and for all time. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:53-56 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God is not done yet. He is not through redeeming me. His plan for my salvation, while completely taken care of by Christ, is not yet completed. There is a day coming when He will finish what He began. Paul tells us, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV). Elsewhere he reminds us, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV). God has a plan for His church, the body of Christ. He is sending His Son back for us some day, and when that time comes, our salvation will be complete. The ongoing process of our sanctification or transformation into Christ’s image will be finished. We will be glorified. And God is not done with Israel either. He has great plans in store for them. And while the period of the Great Tribulation remains in their future, so does His redemption. The book of Revelation tells us of God’s future plans for Israel. These include the coming of the Antichrist and a period of difficulty and intense persecution. But it also includes the redemption of God and the restoration of His people. “For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60:20 ESV). God will redeem. He will restore. “I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22 ESV).

Father, Your redemption of mankind and Your restoration of Israel is not yet complete. You are not done yet. Your work is not finished. Don’t let me lose sight of the fact that Your arm is not shortened and Your hearing has not failed. You know what is going on in my life and in this world. Your salvation will come. Your great redemptive plan for mankind will be finished one day. You will do it in Your time. You have promised it and You will bring it about. Help me rest in Your faithfulness. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 15:12-34

The Reality of the Resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:12-34

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT

The future resurrection of the dead may have been in question with some of the believers in Corinth, but Paul affirmed it’s reality. His argument was that if there is was no such thing as a future resurrection of the dead, then Christ Himself was not resurrected. Their rejection of the doctrine of bodily resurrection had ramifications. It eliminated the possibility of Christ having been resurrected from the dead. “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:14 NLT). And if there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead, then Paul and the other apostles were nothing more than liars, having taught that God raised Jesus from the dead. Without the doctrine of the resurrection, there is no such thing as a risen Savior, forgiveness of sin, or an eternal estate. All it would leave us with is the present reality of this world, then death.

One of the things that jumps out at me in this passage is the danger of human logic and reason. When men begin to try and explain away what they see as difficult to understand, it almost always leads to heresy. The Corinthians were wrestling with their cultural concept of the dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit, the body and the soul. They had been indoctrinated with the idea that the body was material and therefore evil. But the soul was spiritual and therefore good. So the idea of a resurrection of the body was inexplicable to them. They couldn’t fathom how that could be. So their human reasoning kicked in and they simply denied the possibility of a bodily resurrection. It didn’t matter to them what God may have to say about the subject. They had reached their conclusion and were completely comfortable with it. But Paul wasn’t. He wanted them to understand the dangerous ramifications of their human reasoning. By denying the bodily resurrection of the dead, they were denying the very thing that was the key to their forgiveness and future glorification: The resurrection of Jesus. When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was not just to prove His own power, but as a precursor of what was to come. As Paul said, “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT). Paul made a comparison between Jesus and Adam. When Adam sinned, he brought death (both physical and spiritual) to the world. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He brought new life (both physical and spiritual) to the world. Paul gave them a glimpse into the future when he wrote, “Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back” (1 Corinthians 15:23 NLT). He is referring to the Rapture of the Church. Paul goes into greater detail about this future event in his letter to the Thessalonian believers. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT). Just a few verses earlier in this passage, Paul made it clear that when Christ returns for His Church, He will be accompanied by all the believers who have died. But then he wrote that all “the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.” They will return in their spirit form, but will be reunited with their resurrected, renewed bodies. And those believers who are alive at the time of Christ’s return will also be given new bodies. Paul addresses that a few verses later in this section of his letter to the Corinthians. “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 15:52-53 NLT).

The resurrection of our earthly bodies is a non-negotiable aspect of our faith as believers. God is not redeeming just a part of us, but all of us. He is going to restore ALL things, not just some things. He will redeem and restore what has been marred by sin, including all of creation and our bodies. All that God made in the physical universe He deemed as good. But it has all been damaged by sin. God will restore it all. He will bring back to life even those bodies that have been dead and buried for centuries. But if none of this is true, and there is no resurrection, then as Paul said, “Let’s feast, and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). But Paul also warned the Corinthians to avoid people who thought that way. He wanted them to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the resurrection was a reality. Christ Himself was proof of it. And His own resurrection was ample evidence and assurance of our own future resurrection. It’s going to happen. We don’t know when or how, but it is going to happen. “So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NLT).

Father, thank You for this timely reminder. We live in a world where everything is growing old, decaying, and falling apart. While I have Your Spirit living within me, my body continues to show the effects of sin. But there is a day coming when I will receive a new, resurrected body. You will make all things new, including my own physical body. Your work of transformation in my life will be complete and whole, because You don’t do anything halfway. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

The Man of Lawlessness.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Don’t be fooled by what they say. 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. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT

Sometimes we can be fooled into thinking that simpler is better. Especially when it comes to teaching new believers the doctrines of the faith. As a result, we can end up dumbing down our theology to the point that it is virtually useless. Yes, the Gospel message is beautiful in its simplicity, but it is essential that we take new believers from the threshold of their faith and help them “grow up in their salvation,” to use a phrase of Paul’s. In fact, Paul had a passion for teaching new believers deeper truths in order to deepen and strengthen their faith. But he wasn’t the only one. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, who many believe was Paul himself, wrote, “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God” (Hebrews 6:1 NLT).

Here in his letter to the Thessalonians believers, who were still relative babies in Christ, Paul is not afraid to deal with the difficult and deeper truths. His audience has had questions regarding the coming of Christ. They have received some erroneous teaching that has left them confused. So Paul takes the time to give them the kind of teaching they will need to not only survive in this world, but to better understand the overall plan of their God. Otherwise, they would continue to misinterpret the events taking place around them. The absence of good theology can lead to all kinds of confusion and faulty views of God. The people to whom Paul was writing were thoroughly confused about the second coming of Christ. They had been led to believe that it was going to happen any day. They had begun their faith with the belief that Jesus had died, but had rose again and was some day going to come again. And in the simplicity of their faith, they just assumed that was going to happen immediately. Essentially, their view of the end times or future events concerning Christ’s return were totally skewed. So Paul taught them the truth. And his letter was not the first time he had talked about these things. He wrote, “Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you?” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT). When Paul had been with them, he had taken the time to teach these people what some of us would consider to be pretty deep doctrine. But to Paul, it was simply the truth of God. It was all part of God’s redemptive plan, just as much as the birth and death of Christ was. For us to understand God, we must understand His plan for mankind. Knowing that God had sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins must be understood alongside the fact that God is some day going to send His Son back to earth. The first time He came as a baby in a manger. The second time He will come as a conquering King. But it was important that the people understand that there were some key events that had to take place before Christ returned. One of those was the coming of the “man of lawlessness” – a reference to the Antichrist. Paul refers to “a great rebellion against God” that must take place. This whole passage is a reference to the Great Tribulation – a seven year period of time that will take place after Christ removes all the believers from the earth – an event Paul referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). One of the things that will happen as a result of the removal of the Church is that the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers, will be removed as well. Paul refers to that fact in verse 7: “For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it backs steps out of the way.” The Holy Spirit, who acts as a restraining force against evil in the world, will be removed, leaving a spiritual vacuum and the perfect environment in which the Antichrist might thrive. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the influence of the Church are all that holds back evil. When they are both removed, chaos will reign. This is what sets up the Great Tribulation.

Paul wants the Thessalonians to know about all of this – even though they will not live to experience it. He wants them to know how things are going to end, because it speaks volumes about their God. He tells them that this man of lawlessness will come, but that he will also ultimately destroyed by Christ Himself. The Antichrist will be under the power and control of Satan, performing miracles and signs and exhibiting Christ-like powers. He will deceive and manipulate, with a plan to destroy those who are living at that time. And they will believe his lies and enjoy evil rather than the truth, leading to their destruction. And Paul wants the Thessalonians to know all this. He wants them informed and educated regarding these future events. Why? Because it is all part of God’s overall redemptive plan for mankind. It is as important as the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ second coming is as important as His first. With His return, the plan of God would be incomplete. Satan must be defeated. Christ must come as the conquering King, fulfilling all the Old Testament Scriptures that predicted it. He must set up His Kingdom on earth, ruling from Jerusalem, fulfilling God’s promise to David that a descendant of his would sit on a throne, ruling from the city of Jerusalem forever. Every story has an ending. And if we don’t understand it, we will always be confused about what we see taking place around us. God’s redemptive story has an ending and it is essential that every believer understand not only what God has done, but what He is going to do.

Father, You have a plan and You are working it to perfection, but for so many of us don’t have a clue what You are doing Some of us don’t even seem to care. We don’t think it’s important. And it leaves us with an incomplete understanding of what it is You are doing and an unclear view of who You really are. May we never be afraid to teach the deeper, more difficult truths of Your Word. Help us to understand that the end is just as important as the beginning. Help us to teach the entirety of Scripture, revealing Your complete plan so that we might know and understand You better. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Be Ready.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. – 1 Thessalonians 5:8 NLT

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we are to live in a constant state of readiness, as if it could happen at any time. Paul reminds his readers that the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. But if they are always ready for His return, they won’t be surprised. They were to be ready. They were to be on their guard, alert and clearheaded. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no question as to whether or not the Lord was going to return. It was a matter of when. And since no one knows the date or time of His return, the best plan is to live as if it could be today.

The Thessalonians were concerned about what was going to happen to those who had died prior to Christ’s return. Paul assures them that there is nothing to worry about. “Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever” (1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT). But those who remained alive needed to live with a constant mindset of preparedness. They needed to live in the light, not the darkness. As Paul had stated earlier, “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 3:7 NLT). The Thessalonians, like all believers in every age, were to live lives that pleased the Lord. They were to be holy, living distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the world. Their lives were to be characterized by love. They were to live in obedience to the Holy Spirit, not giving in to the desires of their own sinful flesh. While the rest of the world lived in ignorance and darkness, they were children of the light, having had their sins exposed and their salvation assured by placing their faith in Christ as their Savior. That faith was to act as a kind of armor, protecting them from the attacks of the enemy and allowing them to survive in hostile territory until the Lord returned. Their confidence in their own salvation would be like a helmet, protecting their minds from doubt and fear, and preventing them from giving in to the lies of the enemy. Their knowledge of and confidence in their salvation would protect them, providing assurance of their future, whether they were to die or live to see the day of the Lord’s return. Death was not to be feared. And difficulties in this life were not to be a cause for doubt or disappointment. Christ died so that we might have eternal life. In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul writes, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death not 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. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT). The ultimate expression of God’s love for us is the death of His Son in our place. And His death took place so that we might have eternal life, lived in perfect relationship with God the Father forever. It’s assured. It’s guaranteed. So we are to live as if it could happen any day.

Father, help me continue to learn to live in a state of readiness. Show me how to live in this life, but with my eyes on eternity. Don’t let me fear death or become distracted by the cares of this life. Whether I die or live until Your Son returns, I will enjoy the same unbelievable future. My eternity is secured. My future is settled. I want to be alert and clearheaded, prepared and ready at all times. And I want to help others do the same. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Words of Encouragement.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:17 NLT

The Thessalonian believers to whom Paul was writing this letter were wrestling with something. It’s important to keep in mind that, not only were these people new to faith in Christ, but the Christian faith was still in its infancy. The Gospel was being spread around the known world, but it was still a relatively new teaching. And apart from the apostles, there were not a lot of seasoned teachers, pastors, elders or other spiritual leaders. There was no New Testament yet. There was no established or written doctrine to speak of. These new believers had only what Paul and Silas had been able to share with them on their first visit there. And most of what they knew revolved around the basic message of the Gospel – that Jesus had died on the cross as their sin substitute, and had risen from the dead in order to provide them with forgiveness of sin and the assurance of eternal life. Through belief in the saving work of Jesus, these people had been made right with God and given the hope of a restored relationship with God the Father.

But that’s where the confusion came in. Having accepted Jesus as their Savior, they had assumed that they were now part of God’s Kingdom and would enjoy eternal life. And yet, along with suffering and persecution, they had watched as some of their fellow believers had unexpectedly died. Of course, these events triggered questions in their minds. Why had they died? Where had they gone? What would happen to them when Jesus returned? This was all new territory for these new believers and Paul had received word about their confusion and distress. So he wrote them to let them know what to expect. He gave them assurances regarding their deceased brothers and sisters, and comfort about the return of Christ. These people had been grieving. They were sad and confused. They were wondering what their own fate would be, because each of them had fully expected to be around when Jesus came back. Paul had even alluded to it earlier in his letter. “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” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 NLT). So it was no wonder they had questions about the state of those who had died since accepting Christ as their Savior.

So Paul tells them, “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). Paul assures them that Jesus is going to come back, and when He does, He will bring with Him all those believers who have died prior to that point in time. Paul clearly states, “when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died” (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NLT). This event is what we call the Rapture. It is not the Second Coming of Christ, but the return of Christ for the Church, His bride. In this event, Jesus does not return to the earth, but He comes in the clouds, accompanied by angels and those believers who have died. “Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 NLT). The words, “caught up” literally mean to be snatched up and are where we get the word Rapture. All believers who are alive at this point in time will be suddenly removed from the earth to meet Jesus in the air. Another important part of this event is that the bodies of those believers who have died will be raised, renewed and reunited with their souls, which have been with Christ in heaven. Then we will all return to heaven, where we will spend eternity with Him.

Paul says, “So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NLT). Why? Because this is our hope. This is our future. Death is not the end. One of the reasons this passage is frequently used in funerals is because it provides us with hope regarding those who have died. If they were in Christ, their souls have gone on to be with Christ. They are no longer with us physically, but they are far from gone and forgotten. And one day, they will return with the Lord to come get us who remain on the earth. That day is coming, We don’t know when. We don’t know exactly how it will all work, but it is going to happen. We can count on it. We can rest in it. We can encourage one another about it. One of two things is going to happen to every single believer. Either we will die and go to be with the Lord, or we will live to see the Lord’s return. So there is no reason for us to grieve like those who have no hope. We know how the story ends, and it ends well.

Father, thank You for the assurance of Your Son’s return for the Church. Thank You for the assurance of our place with You at death. We have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. Don’t let us lose sight of that reality. Our future is secure and settled. Death has been conquered and the eternal security of our souls has been guaranteed by Christ. May we constantly encourage one another with these words. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men