Devotional # 188. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Devotional # 188. 5/2/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

Intro. Two weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about Paul, Silas and Timothy’s prayer for the Thessalonians. It was in three parts: “that (1) our God would count [them] worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,  Devotional # 187). Notice the “goodness” of God mentioned, we must remember that as we move through today’s Scripture. In that Devotional I mentioned that this week we would be returning to some specifics of the End times and also that we would see the many ways Christians have hope.

vv. 1-2. Paul returns to telling his brothers and sisters (“brethren”) about the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” He names two separate events: 1. “The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, which is the Second Coming of Jesus ending the Great Tribulation, and 2. “our gathering together to Him” which is the Rapture. Do you remember the two charts I gave in Devotional # 181 showing the similarities and differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 we talked about how “the Day of the Lord” (here “the Day of Christ” is better translated as “the Day of the Lord”) always refers to God’s Judgment (Devotional # 182). Paul’s heart here is to correct the Thessalonians fear and doubts. He had already explained how these things would happen (v. 5) but they had forgotten or been led astray. We need to act as quickly as Paul did when we hear that someone from our family of faith misunderstands Scripture. Notice how loving Paul is in his explanation.

Specific to this section, one commentator says, “this was the event the Thessalonians were anticipating” (Source 1). And it should be the same for us 2016 Christians! When Jesus is at the center of our universe then finally meeting Him in our glorified bodies should be the things we’re looking forward to right now. Our desire to be perfect in the presence of the One who perfected us should partly fuel our hope for the future. Remember the hope that these things give us as Paul mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (Devotional # 181)? But why does this only partly give us hope?

There are different levels of maturity for a Christian. In my mind one of the factors is where we place our hope. The very bottom level, let’s call it “0”, is where non-Christians are. If they have any hope at all it’s in themselves or temporal things. But when someone becomes a Christian they hit “level 1” where they trust Jesus as their Savior. This is a very basic realization that there is in fact hope in eternal life and they will spend it in heaven. From here it can go one of two ways: they can stay at “level 1” but focus on the problems of this life with the hope of eternity in the back of their minds; or they can move to “level 2” where they are encouraged by reading their Bible that they have hope in being raptured by Christ. It seems like many pastors nowadays push the hope of eternity or the hope of the Rapture or both.  And that’s great – those truly are the foundation of a believer’s hope. But there is more to hope in! And this is where, something like a third level would come into play. The Christian is looking forward to the hope of eternity with the Lord in general and the hope of Jesus pulling His Church from the earth prior to the Tribulation (not just an escapist mentality) but now the believer also looks forward to: prophecy being fulfilled, sin ending forever, the Lord’s will completed, people returning to the state God designed them for, communion and fellowship for the totality of the Church with the Lord, Satan and his demons being stopped, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, new heaven, new earth, the New Jerusalem and final righteous justice and judgment given by God (and I’m sure there are more). You see all of these things will happen after the Rapture and they don’t only affect us personally but they affect all of humanity and all of creation.

Please understand the “levels” I just created to explain believer’s hope are just that – something I created to explain the truths of God’s word. I’m not saying these are rungs of a ladder of works or that if you’re at what I described as “level 1” then you’re not good enough. My point is that we all need the reminder that there is so much to hope in the Lord for!

vv. 3-4. Paul gives us an important timeline. He tells us “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” So the Second Coming will not happen until “the man of sin” (also known as “the son of perdition”) comes on the scene. So what does the “the falling away” mean? The original Greek is apostasia which is where we get our word “apostate” and “apostasy” as we have here. It means “to forsake” or “fall away” (Source 2) and, in a religious sense, is used when someone has been part of a church or religion and then leaves it. But here, in verse 3, it is a unique and specific event of “THE apostasy”*. One commentator says that the key to understanding the event of THE apostasy “is to identify the main person, which Paul does, calling him the ‘man of sin’” (Source 1). The “man of sin” is the Antichrist and how he sits as God in the temple can be found in Mark 13:14-20. If you don’t remember going through this in Devotional # 34 then here is a portion:

The Anti-Christ re-builds the temple and puts the “abomination of desolation”, which is an image of himself, in the temple. This was actually prophesied 560 years prior to Jesus, in Daniel 11:31 (Source 2)! Here it says “standing” which indicates that it will be continuously there for 3 ½ years (according to Revelation 12:6). This is interesting because the Jews may have been persuaded that the anti-Christ was the Messiah when he re-builds the temple but when they see him put his image inside they will know he is an imposter. This will be when Romans 10 & 11 (among many others) are fulfilled and Israel accepts Jesus in their hearts and not because of birthright or works of the Law. They (and others) will run to the mountains to hide, if they don’t take off immediately they will be caught and killed. This will be the worst warfare the earth has ever known (Devotional # 34).

Back here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, we have a clearer understanding of what will happen in these End times. One last thing before we leave this portion: “the apostasy” (“falling away”) that takes place is scary and saddening. If you read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostate people have a “form of godliness“, so they go to church and look like a Christian, but “deny its power“, so they don’t have the Holy Spirit. I was reading in the last book of the Bible recently and thought this applied to what we’re studying. The seventh church that Jesus walks through is “the church of the Laodiceans” in Revelation 3:14-22. This was both a real church in the first century and a prophecy of a future Church age. It is the worldly church that backs Antichrist and the church that Jesus knocks at their door asking to be let in (“I stand at the door and knock“). What?! Why is Jesus outside of the church? Shouldn’t the church have Jesus at its center? Yes! And yet this church that masquerades as “rich, wealthy and needs nothing” is actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

 

*THE apostasy:  Some have thought that this was another mention of the Rapture. The problem with that is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 the catching away is harpazo, which is an act of God, but this apostasia here is an act of man, this is apostate.

5-7. In the midst of the disconcerting news of the future we find more hope as well as important theology. As I mentioned before, Paul says that he has told the Thessalonians about these things in the past. It certainly was important for him to remind them of the timeline of these things so that they didn’t live in fear of having missed the Rapture, but it also showed them, and it shows us, that God is in control. Not only had Paul prophesied that these things would happen in this order but verses 6 & 7 tell us about a “Him” who is “restraining” the Antichrist. Who is this “Him“? It’s the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is currently holding back “the mystery of lawlessness” which “is already at work“. So we see this “mystery” is more than just current sin (“lawlessness“) but in fact it is the demon spirit currently on earth that will inhabit the Antichrist but is being “restrained” by the Holy Spirit. What does this tell us? Several things but first, this gives us hope and faith knowing that God is holding back Satan’s plan. And it’s not like God is a grandpa who loses his grip on the leash of a large dog. It is in the perfect timing of the Father’s plan that He takes the Holy Spirit out of His restraining role. Does this mean the Holy Spirit stops working? No, “the passage says the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain the growth of evil, but that does not mean He will have no ministry whatsoever” (Source 3). Read through the book of Revelation and you will see how much the Holy Spirit continues to work during the end times. What an encouraging thing to know that everything is according to God’s will and that the Holy Spirit continues to work for all eternity!

vv. 8-9. Spoiler alert! Just as quickly as we’re told that the Holy Spirit will allow the Antichrist to take action, we find out that God ultimately destroys him! Paul is saying, ‘don’t worry Thessalonians, Satan and his demons will have a time to tempt people but God will deal harshly with them in perfect righteous justice and judgment.’ Why do they have to be released? Because God gives everyone a choice whether to be saved by Him or trust in themselves and Satan (as we’ll see in vv. 10-12). Let’s look at that next.

vv. 10-12. Verse 10 is the continuation of what Paul started saying about the evil empowered by Satan, worked out by the Antichrist (v. 9) but it gets personal now because humans are mentioned. We’re told that people will be “deceived” but this is because they made a choice to “not receive the love of the truth” (and we see this again in v. 12). They made a choice to reject salvation and “had pleasure in unrighteousness“* because they have made that decision God will confirm their hearts desire by “send[ing] them strong delusion.” This is the same type of thing as we see in Romans 9:14-18, and by context back to Exodus 4-14. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned twenty times, ten are used speaking of Pharaoh being the originator (example: Exodus 7:13, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard”) and ten are speaking of God being the initiator (example: Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh”). Even when God is mentioned as hardening his heart there are still times (Exodus 9:12, 9:34) where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, implying there would have been the ability to repent. It’s important to understand that the “hardening” is a progression for Pharaoh and for every person. God shows mercy but He also will give a man or woman what they demonstrate time and again they desire. This is the justice and fairness of God’s judgment.

Conclusion. Today we’ve learned more about God’s justice but also the many things the Christian has hope in. We’ve also seen how the hardening of the human heart against God is a progression. We can be praying for our friends, family and strangers that they would trade the hardened heart for the hope we have in Jesus. And, although I didn’t mention it above, I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness.” What do you think about those phrases? Leave a comment below and maybe we can talk about it next week!

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1854.

Source 2: apostasia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G646&t=KJV

Source 3: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-Spirit-tribulation.html

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Devotional # 183. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

Devotional # 183. 3/28/16. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22.

Intro. Two weeks ago we went over the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Devotional # 181) and last week we went over the Tribulation and “the Second Coming” in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (Devotional # 182). In 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 Paul told us because “our Lord Jesus Christ…died for us” and because we would “live together with Him” forever we should “comfort” and “edify one another.” We will pick up with that same mind-set here and God gives us 18 tasks below!

vv. 12-13. Paul “urges” the brothers (and sisters!) to “recognize” three groups within the church: 1. “Those who labor among you“. The word in the Greek here is kopiao and means to ‘work so hard you become exhausted’ (Source 1). The idea isn’t that you will do things to the point of dropping dead but that God will give you a desire and gift to work really hard for Him. Not sit back and tell others what to do but actually get your hands dirty. What a comforting thing it is to know that there are people in our churches that work this hard for the kingdom! Are you one of them? 2. “Are over you in the Lord“. These are the leadership that God has placed in the individual churches. 3. “And admonish you“. In the Greek this is noutheteo meaning”to caution or reprove gently” (Source 2). These are the people who lovingly, yet truthfully, sometimes gently, sometimes firmly, caution and warn other believers.

What does it mean to “recognize” these people? Paul makes it a little more clear in verse 13, when he says “to esteem them very highly and love for their works sake.” This means to acknowledge and encourage the people you see (or don’t see but know it happens, or hear about). Everyone needs encouragement. By doing this we will be at peace among ourselves.

vv. 14-15. Notice Paul “exhort” people as he’s just told us to “exhort“! And he tells us: 1. “warn those who are unruly”, 2. “comfort the fainthearted”, 3. “uphold the weak”, 4. “be patient with all”, 5. make sure “no one renders evil for evil”, 6. “pursue what is good for yourself” and 7. “pursue what is good…for all.” Let’s look into these:

There are two tasks on here that may be a little uncomfortable or awkward for us: 1. to “warn those who are unruly” and 5. to make sure “no one renders evil for evil”. Both of these have the implication that people within the church will do these things and if you see it or hear about it, then it is your responsibility to make sure it is dealt with. For the vast majority of believers you should not actually approach the people yourself, instead you should mention it to someone in leadership. Notice this absolves you of your duty (other than praying for that person), it makes sure you’re not gossiping to the leader and it doesn’t require you to go tell everyone about it (even in the thin, false veil of a “prayer request” to others). For those actually called by God to confront people in this way, God will be working the ability to “caution or reprove gently” of noutheteo above.

The other five tasks may be difficult to do because your heart may break for people in doing them and you may also have your feelings hurt, but you do them anyway. They are: 2. “comfort the fainthearted”, 3. “uphold the weak”, 4. “be patient with all”, 6. “pursue what is good for yourself” and 7. “pursue what is good…for all.”  In order to do these you must be walking with the Lord and desiring His will and not your own. You will become comfortable with the heavy cost of discipleship and you will see the rewards this side of heaven, even though the rewards in heaven will be much greater.

vv. 16-18. Paul gives us the “will of God” on three tasks. As I always say, anytime we hear that something is the “will of God” we better listen up and apply it to our lives! These three are: 1. “rejoice always”; 2. “pray without ceasing” and 3. “in everything give thanks.”

 

  1. When I hear “rejoice always” it reminds me of when Paul told us “Rejoice in the Lord always” in Philippians 4:4. In Devotional # 137 we talked about how Paul was coming from a background of stress and pain but always had his hope in Jesus, as we should.
  2. We have covered God’s famous command of “praying without ceasing” many times. Recently (1 Thessalonians 2:13, Devotional # 178 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10, Devotional # 179) we’ve discussed that it actually is possible to talk with God all the time, it takes intentionality and a closer walk with the Lord, but not only is it possible, we should be striving each day to do it!
  3. Lastly, it is God’s will that “in everything [we] give thanks.” Again, this is a common mentality we’re told to have. We’ve had a special Thanksgiving Devotional (“Thanksgiving 2015”) but we’ve discussed it in regular Devotionals also (like Devotional # 137) and one that was both the holiday and fit in perfectly with the Scripture for that week (Devotional #112). In order to be thankful all the time we have to start expecting everything to work out perfectly and start to have the mindset that God’s will is good and even if it causes us a little pain we are ultimately blessed. The amount of times that we see this mentioned in the Bible, let alone that God is telling us it’s His will shows how important this is.

vv. 19-22. Now Paul moves into some more “action items”, not necessarily the “will of God” because it doesn’t say it explicitly; yet the Bible tells God’s will to man so these should not be considered “throw away” rules. These are crucial for the Christian to obey: 1. “Do not quench the Spirit”; 2. “do not despise prophesies”; 3. “Test all things” and 4. “Abstain from every form of evil.”

  1. We’re told not to “quench the Spirit”, but what does that mean? In the Greek “quench” is often used of fire and means to “extinguish” or “suppress” (Source 3). Five times the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as “fire” (Isaiah 4:4; Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17, Acts 2:34 and here). Of course the Holy Spirit can never be fully put out but since humans have been given a choice, God has allowed us to hold back the Spirit from working. Often this results in extreme discomfort and shame for the Christian who, in retrospect, wishes they had followed the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We are commanded not to “quench the Spirit” not just for us to receive blessing but because we are holding blessing and even possibly salvation back from others! What an awful thing to do.
  1. Next, Paul says, “do not despise prophesies”. These “prophesies” can be spoken by God Himself (Acts 11:27, 28, etc.) or His written word (Matthew 13:14, etc.). When the prophecy of God comes from a legitimate and recognized spokesperson for the Lord it is to be taken seriously (Source 4).
  1. Paul means “Test all things” and when you find “what is good” then “hold fast” to it. I love that Paul tells us to test everything! Don’t just trust blindly. Many people think faith is walking out into the middle of a chasm like Indiana Jones, unable to see the path. Many people think if you are religious then you have to blindly follow a person or a church and do whatever they say. What’s even worse is that many religious people do follow a church or a cult blindly. And yet Paul tells us to “test all things.” If I tell you the Bible says something then look it up, don’t just take my word for it. But I encourage you, if you are going to bring it to correct me (or another believer), please make sure you’re using the Bible to test it and not just giving me someone else’s opinion. Make sure you find “what is good” and right and true. And when you have tested it and know it to be correct – cling to it (“hold fast”) and don’t let anyone steal it from you with fancy words or a sophisticated Powerpoint!
  1. When you hear “abstain from every form of evil”, what do you think of? There are probably the obvious evils that we avoid but I like that Paul doesn’t give us any wiggle room. “Every form of evil” shows us that evil comes in many forms and if the Bible speaks against it or the Holy Spirit convicts you about an evil then it is your responsibility to run away, hold back from it or do whatever it takes to “abstain.” This can’t be done unless you are relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to give you the strength and self-control to not fall into “every form of evil.” Remember the Holy Spirit gave the power to Jesus to “abstain” from falling into Satan’s temptations in the desert as seen in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 (see Devotional # 6 for a quick explanation when we covered this in Mark) and to “abstain” from the desire to not be killed on the cross. This very same power also rose Jesus from the grave (as we celebrated yesterday on Resurrection Day 2016) and has been given to us!

Conclusion. I’ve decided to cut chapter 5 early here because I really want to spend some good time on verses 23-28. And actually I’m especially excited to share with you about verse 23 (go read it…what do you think I’m focusing on? Why am I interested in talking about this with you? How does it apply to our everyday lives?)

Anyway, today’s Devotional has been very helpful in showing us a partial (yet hefty list!) of Christian tasks. How can we apply these in our lives? Do not quench the Holy Spirit! Let Him move in your life in personal areas of growth and, when you’re called, to help others mature in the specific ways God has intended for them.

 

References.

Source 1: Kopiaohttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2872&t=KJV

Source 2: noutheteohttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3560&t=KJV

Source 3: sbennymi, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4570&t=KJV

Source 4: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1850.