Just Do It

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Paul has just given Titus detailed descriptions of the kind of conduct he is to expect from those who have been exposed to sound doctrine. But now, Paul makes it clear that it is not the teaching of sound doctrine that produces life change. An understanding of theology doesn’t save anyone. A good grasp of doctrine will never earn anyone a right standing with God, and it can’t truly transform anyone’s behavior.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew doctrine and theology, but Jesus regularly referred to them as hypocrites. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures that prophesied about the coming of the Messiah but failed to recognize Him when He was standing right in front of them. The reason Paul emphasized the teaching of sound doctrine was because he knew that God had equipped each and every believer with the capacity to apply that doctrine to their lives and experience true life change. And it was all because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11 ESV). This is a clear reference to the incarnation of Jesus, the Messiah. Paul made a similar reference when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NLT

God revealed His grace by sending His son to provide mankind with a means of salvation. And notice what Paul says: God saved us and called us to live a holy life. That is exactly what Paul just finished describing to Titus; what a holy life looks like for each and every believer in his local congregation. From the oldest to the youngest, male and female, and even bondservants; there was an expectation of godly behavior made possible by the grace of God. Jesus came, not only to bring salvation but to make possible the ongoing process of sanctification. Paul describes it this way: “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV).

The salvation provided for us by the grace of God and made possible through the death of His Son, is not to be viewed as some kind of entry ticket to heaven. It isn’t a future pass into His Kingdom that has no present significance. No, Paul makes it clear that the grace of God includes our present and continuing transformation into the likeness of Christ. We are to grow in godliness – in the present age.

Paul even seems to indicate that rather than making heaven our hope, we should focus our attention on the inevitable return of Jesus Christ. We are to “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). It is the hope of that promise that should motivate us to live godly lives here and now. And it is the grace of God that provides us with the power we need to pull it off. The apostle Peter reminds us: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Jesus Christ died for us, not just to get us into heaven, but to redeem us from the power of sin. And that process begins in this lifetime, not the next. Paul clearly states: “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14 NLT).

Committed to doing good deeds when we get to heaven? No, right here, right now. Jesus Himself stated: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). That abundant life begins at the point of salvation, not when we arrive in heaven. It is an ongoing process of transformation that takes place from the moment we place our faith in Jesus as Savior, and it continues until He returns or the Father takes us home at the point of death. And Paul was so confident in God’s promise to transform each and every one of His children into the likeness of Christ, that he told the believers in Philippi: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Titus was to teach these truths to his people. He was to demand that they live lives of godliness, not in their own strength, but in the power and grace of God. Life change is possible. Character transformation is expected of each and every believer. And as far as Paul was concerned, a lack of change within the life of a professing believer was to be met with rebuke, not indifference.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT).

Paul had to remind the believers in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Spiritual growth in the life of a believer is not optional. Life transformation is an undeniable expectation and unavoidable outcome of the grace of God. Jesus did not die to leave us like we are. He set us free from slavery to sin. That’s why Paul provides the believers in Rome with these powerful words of reminder:

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:12-14 NLT

The grace of God has set us free from the power of sin. We live under the freedom of God’s grace as provided by the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul goes on to say, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT).

We have been given the grace to live godly lives in the here and now, not just the hereafter. So, let’s do it.

 

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

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

Living With the End in Mind

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:7-12 ESV

It’s all about perspective. If you expect this life to be a constant source of joy and contentment, you will always be disappointed with the results. Yes, Jesus did promise His disciples He came to bring them abundant life (John 10:10), but He also warned them that their earthly lives would be difficult.

“…the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 NLT

Their lives on earth would be full and abundant because of Him. Their ability to have peace in the midst of troubles and trials would be a result of their relationship with Him and the promise of eternal life made possible through Him. The apostle Paul discovered the secret of enjoying a life full of joy and contentment even while experiencing all the difficulties that come with living in a fallen world.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

His strength to endure suffering and enjoy contentment came from His relationship with Christ. Paul wasn’t looking for satisfaction and security from the things of this world. He didn’t rely on circumstances for his joy or sense of self-worth because he knew that his hope was in Christ.

Yet, James knew that the believers to whom he wrote had not yet learned Paul’s lesson on contentment. In fact, James had to call them out for having placed their hope in the things of this world. Their insatiable desire for earthly pleasures had resulted in discontentment that led to division and strife.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

So, James demands that they learn to be patient. They have their sights set on the wrong thing. Rather than seeking satisfaction from the things of this world, they were to focus their attention on the return of Christ. This life was never intended to be the end-all. Their earthly existence was intended to be a temporal state that would end in death and their resurrection, or culminate with the Lord’s return and their final glorification. Either way, their hope was to be future-based.

And James provides them with a simple analogy to help them understand their need for maintaining a hope-filled perspective.

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

A farmer understands that the harvest for which he hopes is dependent upon factors that are out of his hands. As he waits for the day when he can reap the fruit of his labors, he must exhibit patient endurance and faithful hope in the God of the harvest. And in the same way, a believer must remember that his “harvest” is in the hands of God as well. His hope for a truly abundant life is based on the promise of the Lord’s return. And Paul reminds us that present suffering is no match for future glory.

what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

But waiting requires patience. And while we wait, we’re not to grumble and complain about our lot in life. There’s no place for greed or jealousy in the life of the believer because we are each an heir of the Kingdom of God. As the apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi, we have all the riches of His glory at our disposal.

…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19 NLT

A believer who makes a habit of complaining about their earthly circumstances reveals that they expect heaven on earth. They want the promise of abundant life fulfilled in the here-and-now rather than the hereafter. And James warns against expecting the good life in this life.

the Judge is standing at the door. – James 5:9 ESV

One of the things we have to remember is that the return of Christ will also bring God’s judgment upon the wicked and unbelieving. James is not suggesting that believers who complain and judge one another run the risk of forfeiting their salvation and facing eternal judgment. He is simply stating that those of true saving faith will not exhibit such godless characteristics. The apostle Paul wrote an extended explanation of how the believer’s life should differ from that of a non-believer.

Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. – Romans 2:3-11 NLT

James was calling his audience to repentance. He was warning them that their current behavior was out of step with God’s will and they needed to refocus their attention on the promise of the Lord’s return. And to help them understand their need for patient endurance, James provided them with two examples from their own Scriptures. First, he reminded them that every prophet of God had been required to suffer while doing His will. Their words were rejected and their lives were subjected to all manner of distress while they faithfully fulfilled their God-ordained mission. But their motivation was the reward that awaited them for faithful service to their Lord and Master.

Secondly, James brings up the story of Job, the great saint of God who suffered great loss and endured unimaginable pain in his earthly life. But James reminded them that, despite the seemingly unjust nature of his suffering, Job kept trusting God and was ultimately rewarded.

For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. – James 5:11 NLT

Even when Job’s wife encouraged him to curse God and die, he was able to respond with confidence in the ultimate goodness of God.

“You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Job kept trusting in the promises of God. He didn’t rejoice in his pain or refrain from seeking an explanation for his suffering, but he never stopped believing in the integrity and righteousness of God. And, ultimately, his faith was rewarded.

“James has been concerned to help believers to overcome the tendency to react like the world to the injustices heaped on them by the world. The world, by its very nature antagonistic to God and His kingdom, will continue to oppose God’s people. But if these truths grip the hearts of His people, it will enable them to overcome the spirit of worldliness by refraining from a worldly reaction to the world’s injustices.” – D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith

James ends this section with a warning against making rash or unnecessary oaths.

But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. – James 5:12 NLT

In essence, James is warning about making bargains with God. The idea behind oath-making was a promise made to God that came with expectations. You might refer to it as a quid pro quo. It would be like saying to God, “If you’ll bless me with great wealth, I will faithfully serve you all my life.”

It reminds me of the character, Wimpy, from the Popeye comic strip. He was famous for saying, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” In his attempt to fulfill his passion for burgers, he was willing to make an oath he never intended to fulfill. And James warns his readers against practicing such behavior with God. It is a dangerous thing to try and bargain with God. He doesn’t make deals. And this admonition seems t tie in with an earlier statement made by James.

…you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

Don’t try to make deals with God. He knows your heart and He can see through your thinly veiled promise to keep your end of the bargain. Instead, rest in His faithfulness and let your requests be based on His goodness. He knows what is best for you and you can trust Him to provide all that you need. And, in the meantime, keep your focus on the future, remembering that eternal life is the ultimate form of the good life.

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

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

The Faithful Few

13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. – Malachi 3:13-18 ESV

The returned exiles found life in Judah difficult and far below their expectations as God’s chosen people. After having made the arduous journey from Babylon to their former homeland, things had not turned out quite as they had hoped. From their perspective, God had not done His part, having left them relatively defenseless and struggling to make ends meet while the nations around them prospered and threatened their very existence.

As a result, they had taken matters into their own hands, compromising their convictions by worshiping the false gods of their pagan neighbors. They defended their actions as just and necessary, even convincing themselves that they were better off because of the things they had done. To them, God was part of the problem, because they believed His laws to be too restrictive and any attempt to keep them to be far from beneficial.

“What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?” – Malachi 3:14 NLT

This attitude led them to minimize their need for obedience or repentance. They refused to alter their behavior or even admit that they were out of step with God’s will. Instead, they arrogantly boasted about their decision to live their lives in a way that was antithetical to the commands of God.

“From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.” – Malachi 3:15 NLT

They had come to the conclusion that God was either powerless to do anything about their behavior or altogether indifferent as to what was going on in Judah. Having wrongly determined that God was not keeping His end of the covenant agreement, they had chosen to go their own way. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But years earlier, God had delivered a powerful indictment against such flawed thinking. This was not the first time that the people of Israel had decided to establish a code of conduct that was diametrically opposed to God’s law. Long before God brought the Babylonians to destroy Judah, He had warned His people about their arrogant tendency to establish their own standard of righteousness.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

Spiritually speaking, things were looking bleak in Judah. But according to Malachi, things were not yet hopeless. He indicates that there were a faithful few who remained committed to maintaining their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Evidently, this righteous remnant regularly met together to encourage and motivate one another to remain faithful. While everyone around them was compromising their convictions and joining in the spiritual apostasy of the prevailing culture, these few were determined to stand their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. And God took notice.

God was anything but indifferent or distant. He heard their discussions and took note of their plight. And Malachi indicates that He had each of their names recorded for posterity.

In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. – Malachi 3:16 NLT

These people stood out from the crowd. They were outliers in the midst of a nation that had sold out and given in to moral compromise. While everyone else was calling evil good and good evil, this small contingent of believers remained dedicated to God, choosing to show Him reverence and honor by living according to His will rather than their own. They too were suffering, but they refused to blame God. Their lives were just as difficult as anyone else’s, but they were unwilling to turn their backs on God or blame their circumstances on Him. He had repeatedly proven Himself to be faithful and they were willing to continue placing their trust in Him.

And God responded, “They will be my people” (Malachi 3:17 NLT). Having recorded their names in His scroll of remembrance, God assures that their faithfulness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded. He doesn’t promise immediate deliverance or a timely display of compensatory blessings. No, He indicates that their reward will come in the form of deliverance on the coming day of judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Malachi opened this chapter with a reminder from God concerning the coming “messenger of the covenant,” stating, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2 ESV).

And God vowed that, in that coming day of judgment, He will hold the people of Israel accountable for their actions. Their conduct will be exposed, judged, and condemned.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me.” – Malachi 3:5 NLT

God is warning of a future day of retribution and reward that will take place at the second coming of Christ. The tiny remnant who honored and revered His name in the face of growing opposition will stand before God and be rewarded for their faithfulness. But all those who chose to treat His law with disdain and dishonor the holiness of His name will be held accountable.

Before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided His disciples with a vivid description of His return and the day of judgment that will take place for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

There will be a separating of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. This judgment will not involve those who came to faith in Christ after His ascension. But it will include all the Old Testament saints and everyone else who has lived since the beginning of time. That small remnant of faithful Yahweh followers will be included in the vast crowds that will stand before the Lord. And they will find that their names have been recorded in God’s scroll of remembrance, deeming them free from condemnation and worthy of the reward of eternal life.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:34 NLT

The key differentiator between the sheep and the goats will be their behavior. But it will not be their behavior that saves them. It will be their faith in God as illustrated by their willingness to live in keeping with His will. These individuals will have displayed a trust in God that manifested itself in a selfless display of care and concern for others. Rather than putting their own needs first, they will have sacrificed their security and comfort for the benefit of others. These people are the ones who offered the full amount of their tithes and offerings so that all the oppressed among them, including the widows, orphans, and foreigners might be cared for. And that is exactly what Jesus describes in His depiction of the day of judgment.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:35-40 NLT

The righteous remnant will be rewarded. Not because they have a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness based on their faith in the promises of God. Their unfailing belief that God was faithful and true motivated them to live their lives in keeping with His commands and trusting in His future reward.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

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

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

   

 

But God Will…

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

The story of the life of Joseph is filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, hope and disappointment. It is a story of contrasts and contradictions, including betrayal and forgiveness, curses and blessings, famine and fullness, a powerful Pharaoh and lowly shepherds. But one of the main themes of this fascinating story is that of God’s sovereign hand guiding the affairs of Joseph’s life, from beginning to end. It is the story of the eternal, all-powerful God guiding and directing the details surrounding one man’s life so that His divine plan for the world might be fulfilled. This story is about so much more than Joseph and his rise to power and prominence. There is far more going on than God’s temporal blessings on single individual. Joseph’s promotion to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt is not the point of the story and was never intended to be taken as an example of how God blesses those who are faithful to Him. What happened to Joseph had less to do with him than it did with God’s much greater plan for the people of Israel and, ultimately, for the nations of the world. The story of Joseph must be kept within the context of the overarching story of the Bible. Joseph’s story is a snapshot, a single frame from the film of God’s great redemptive epic. From the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and fall from grace to the return of the Second Adam and His restoration of all creation and removal of all vestiges of sin from the world, God has been and is accomplishing His grand redemptive plan.

Even Joseph knew that God was not yet done. His life was ending, but God’s plan was far from over. He told his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Genesis 50:24 NLT). Joseph was not dismayed, distraught or disappointed that his life was coming to an end. He had lived a long and eventful life. He knew that his 110-year odyssey on this planet was just a blip on the radar screen of God’s eternal plan. His life, while it mattered, was not ALL that mattered. His life’s accomplishments, while significant, were nothing compared to what God was going to do. His death was not mean to be an epilogue, but simply the closing words of a single chapter in God’s great story of redemption. Joseph was fully expecting God to do more of what He had already done. He lived with the constant expectation that “God will…” He was so confident in God’s promises that he made his brothers swear to take his bones back to the land of Canaan when God did what He had promised to do. They would return one day. He was sure of it. And when Joseph said, “God will…,” he was right, because God did. God did visit eventually visit them and the people of Israel did return to the land of Canaan. And as for Joseph’s desire to be buried in the land of Canaan:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32 ESV

If God has said it, He will do it. If He has promised it, He will accomplish it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

The stories of the Bible provide us with glimpses into the character of God. He is faithful and true. He is persistent and unwavering when it comes to His plan and consistent in His  efforts to carry out His promises. Reading the story of Joseph should not leave us amazed at the faith of this unique individual, but it should produce in us an awe at the faithfulness of our God. It should encourage us to trust the One who Joseph trusted and to rest in the promises of the same God who fulfilled all His promises to Joseph. Joseph could confidently say, “God will…” Can you?

Before He ascended back up into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “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). And years later, while the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, Jesus appeared to him and said:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

Jesus has said, “I will come again.” He has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And He will. That is the story of the Bible. That is the point of the story of Joseph.

 

Motivated By Grace.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 ESV

It will become increasingly evident from the content of this letter that Paul’s ministry was being maligned or at least, questioned. His motives were also under the microscope, constantly being scrutinized and criticized by those who would choose to reject his authority as an apostle. But Paul responds with confidence, claiming that he and his companions “behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Paul can write what he is about to write with complete confidence, even boasting about it, because his conscience is clear. He knows what he has done and why he has done it. He has no reason to question his motives, because he knows that his actions were the result of God’s grace, not earthly wisdom. Paul had made this claim to the Corinthians in his first letter.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV

It was God’s unmerited favor that had produced the life-change in Paul. His words, actions, and even the content of his letters were the by-product of God’s ongoing grace in his life. God was working in him and through him, and he had no reason to take credit for it or apologize because of it. Paul says that his behavior had been marked by simplicity and godly sincerity. The Greek word for simplicity is haplotēs and it refers to “the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy” (“G572 – haplotēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Sep, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org&gt;). Paul is claiming that his conduct and speech have been free from hypocrisy or any hint of having a hidden agenda. What he has said and done has not been motivated by selfishness or intended for personal gain. After all, as he stated in the opening verses of his letter, his ministry has not made him rich and famous, but has resulted in affliction and even the threat of death.

The Greek word translated, “sincerity” is eilikrineia and it means, “purity” or “cleanness.” Paul uses this same word again in the next chapter.

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV

Paul’s conscience is clear because he knows his motives are pure. What he has done in his life has been the work of the Spirit of God. And that is especially true of his relationship with and ministry to the Corinthians. Even now, as he writes the words of this letter, he reminds them that all of his previous letters “have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NLT). It is his sincere desire that they fully comprehend what it is he is trying to say to them and what he is attempting to teach them. They might not get it right now, but he longed for the day when it all made sense to them. He wasn’t in this to win friends, but to make a difference in their faith. He wanted to see them experience all that God had in store for them – the full expression of faith in Christ lived out in everyday life. He longed for them to grow in godliness and to put off their old sin natures. He wanted to see them grow in their knowledge of God and their dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

You can get a sense of Paul’s heart as you read some of the prayers he prayed on behalf of the churches he helped start.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy – Colossians 1:9-11 ESV

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:16-20 ESV

Paul knew that if they would listen to what he said and apply it to their lives, there would come a day when they would find reason to boast or glory in all that Paul had taught them, because they will see the fruit of it in their lives. The day to which Paul refers is the return of Christ, when he and all the Corinthians will stand before the Lord. It will be on that occasion that they will fully comprehend the simplicity and sincerity of Paul’s methods and message.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. – 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 ESV

Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was the same that he had for the believers in Philippi:

…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV

Paul wanted to be a success, not so that he could gain recognition or earthly rewards, but so that he could stand before the Lord, seeing the fruit of his labors – the countless believers who had held fast to the word of life and remained faithful to God to the end. Paul’s motives were pure. His heart was sincere. His actions were the result of God’s grace in his own life. He wanted nothing more than to see the Corinthians grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They might not understand it now, but the day was coming when they would.

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).

Hold Fast.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV

There should be a proper response when we consider all that Jesus has done for us.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 5:8-10 ESV

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, this securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

His sacrifice on our behalf should provide us with a confidence to come into the very presence of God, with “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 ESV). When Jesus died, the veil in the temple that acted as a barrier into the Holy of Holies, was torn in two. “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51 NLT). That event was incredibly significant, because it removed, for all time, the veil of separation between man and God. Up until that time, the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was said to dwell, was the high priest. And his access was limited to a single day each year, the Day of Atonement, and he could enter only having sacrificed an animal for his own cleansing. If he failed to do so, he would die. And no one else was allowed into the presence of God. But that all changed when Jesus died. The veil was torn, and the barrier to God was removed. It was as Jesus had claimed: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their sin substitute can now enjoy access to God. As His sheep, they can enter into His presence without fear of death or rejection. The can go in and out and find pasture.

But this newly available access to God, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus, should create in us not only a confident assurance, but a desire to live in obedience to His will. The author tells us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). We are to pursue righteousness, not in the hopes of gaining God’s approval, but in gratefulness for the fact that we are already approved in His eyes. Our hearts have already been sprinkled clean. Our bodies have been washed with pure water. We stand before Him as holy. This does not mean we are without sin. Each of us still retains his old sin nature. We still have the capacity and propensity to sin. But our sins can no longer keep us apart from God. We have been extended forgiveness. We have been fully acquitted. And we have His promise that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We have access into the Holy of Holies, at all times, where we can receive mercy, grace, and forgiveness – never condemnation.

So the author of Hebrews tells us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). This is the same thought he expressed back in chapter six when he said, “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Hebrews 6:18-19 ESV). Earlier in that same chapter, he wrote, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12 ESV). We must keep our focus on the promise to come. Our hope is to be based on the completed work of Christ. He is coming again. That is why the author tells us, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV). He came, but our hope is based on the fact that He is coming again. And we are to hold fast to that reality. It is to provide us with the motivation we need to remain faithful until the end. It is to give us the encouragement we need to live obediently and not complacently. The apostle John reminds us, “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children” (1 John 2:28-29 NLT). It is our hope in Christ that gives us the help we need to live godly lives as we wait for His return. It is our faith in His return that provides us with the determination to remain faithful till the end. We must hold fast. We must finish strong. We must fight the good fight and finish the race set before us – “for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV).

The Divine Witness.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. – John 15:26-27 ESV

Once again, Jesus is attempting to prepare His disciples for His imminent departure. In a matter of hours, His betrayal and arrest will take place and the disciples will find their world turned upside down by the events that will follow. So in this message, which has come to be known as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse into what was to come, including an assurance that they would have help after He had gone. He would send them a helper or advocate, in the form of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. And according to all that Jesus said was going to happen to them after He was gone, they were going to need the Spirit’s help.

First, Jesus said that the world would hate them, just as it hated Him. And they were going to be first-hand witnesses as to just how much the world hated Jesus when they saw Him brutally crucified. They would watch as the crowds turned their joyful shouts of “Hosannah!” into angry screams of “Crucify Him!” But Jesus let them know that things were going to get even worse after His departure. “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). He warned them that they were going to be persecuted. Why? Because of their relationship with Him and because they were going to be His representatives on earth after He returned to His Father.

So Jesus told them to abide in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). But this statement had to confound the disciples, because Jesus was telling them that He was going away. He was leaving them. So how were they supposed to abide in Him when He was no longer going to be with them? How was He going to be in them if He was going to be absent from them? And how could Jesus say to them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”? (John 15:11 ESV). Joy in the midst of persecution? How were they supposed to have fullness of joy at the thought of the death of their friend and teacher?

That’s where the Helper was going to come in. Jesus knew something they didn’t know. He knew that none of what He was asking them to do was going to be possible without help. They were incapable of surviving all that lie ahead without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The joy that would be in them would come in the form of the Holy Spirit. His presence would provide them with a constant internal reminder of all that Jesus had said and done when He was with them. The Spirit would make it possible for them to endure all the persecution that was coming and be fruitful in the process. They would not only survive, but thrive in the midst of abundant difficulty. They would discover a supernatural capacity to love selflessly and sacrificially, just as they were about to see Jesus do. The Spirit within them would bear witness to them regarding Jesus. The Holy Spirit would make sense of all the seeming madness regarding Jesus’ coming, miracles, teachings and startling death. The Spirit would provide undeniable proof of just who Jesus had claimed to be. His presence within them would prove that Jesus was still abiding with them. And as a result, they would become unwavering witnesses of Jesus, testifying of His resurrection and proclaiming His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life to any who would receive it.

It is the Holy Spirit who proves once and for all that Jesus was who He claimed to be and that the salvation He so boldly offered is real. The apostle Paul put it in words that make it so clear: “he [Jesus] has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us” (2 Corinthians 1:22 NLT). In his letter to the believers in Rome, he put it this way: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 ESV). It is the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within us that provides us with inarguable evidence that Jesus’ offer of salvation was real. It proves that Jesus really did rise from the dead. He does sit at the right hand of the Father. He is going to return some day. The Spirit of God who lives in us is our personal guarantee regarding all that Jesus promised to us. And while we wait for the ultimate climax of all that Jesus promised: His return, we can enjoy fullness of joy and assurance of our salvation. We can experience abundant fruitfulness and express unconditional love. We can sense the reality of Christ’s abiding presence and trust in the promise of His imminent return.