The Great Shaking

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem,
to an innumerable company of angels, 
to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven,
to God the Judge of all,
to the spirits of just men made perfect, 
to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant,
and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.
For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth,
much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 
whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, 
“Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 
Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken,
as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,
let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 
For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-29)

The Book of Revelation, written about A.D. 95, mentions at least five earthquakes (Revelation 6:12-17; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:16-21).  The final earthquake, mentioned in the seventh bowl of wrath, is described as "a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.  Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.  And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath" (Revelation 16: 18-19).

Familiar to me: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, The Loma Prieta Earthquake 1989, Anchorage Earthquake March 26, 1964. More on this later. See Earthquakes and the Bible. So far I do not believe earthquakes are increasing. I expect they will be switched on at the Rapture as one aspect of the wrath of God.

Not all earthquakes are physical! The biggest shakeups are a result of God shaking "everything that can be shaken." He is able to shake "not only the earth, but also the heaven." He does this so that the things He is building in men and nations will remain after the rubble is removed. It is not only the natural world that is unstable but the realm of the angels is shaking now as well. The shaking of invisible principalities and powers in the heavenly places is part of God's grand plan to restore Adam's Lost Dominion over the earth! See The Management of the Universe, and Man's Lost Dominion.

The Great Shaking

For many years, Chapter 12 of Hebrews has been high on my watch list. Every time I revisit this Chapter 12 I see something new. The original portion of this article, March 2020, was my first reaction to the Covid lockdown. Now in January 2022 I see afresh the invisible realities spoken of here. See if you see what I see. Ray Stedman's commentary is below.

Hebrews 12

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   or lose heart when you are punished by him; 
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
   and chastises every child whom he accepts.’ 

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’)But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 

At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. 


Notes on Hebrews 12 by Ray Stedman

Faith Trained and Tested (12:1-29)

Suddenly the scene shifts to a sports stadium where a distance marathon is being run. The runners are the readers of this epistle (including us), who need to run a grueling race. Encircling the track is a stadium filled with a great cloud of witnesses, among them many of the worthies of the past named in chapter 11. They are witnesses in the sense of bearing testimony that the race can be run successfully and that the rewards are great.

The Race of Life (12:1-3)

Their encouragement has two purposes: to throw off everything that hinders and to put away the sin that so easily entangles. As Moses laid aside the prerogatives of royalty for the sake of his God-given mission, so we must throw off whatever may hinder faith even though it may be right for others. Joseph properly ruled in Egypt, but for Moses it was a hindering weight. Other weights might well be ambition, anxieties, hobbies, wealth or fame. Each runner must honestly judge what hinders faith for him or her and resolutely lay it aside, even though others seem to be unhindered by the same thing. One cannot run well in an overcoat!

But the primary block to gaining the prize is the sin that so easily entangles. Since the writer does not specify what this is, it may be taken for granted that it is the sin continually warned about in Hebrews --persistent unbelief Do not take God's Word lightly. Do not excuse any sin as all right for you, but forbidden to others. Do not feel you can evade God's discipline or judgment. Remember: "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows". (Galatians 6:7). Unbelief often looks trivial to us, but Moses was kept out of the Promised Land because he treated God's word lightly on one occasion (Deuteronomy 32:51-52; Psalm 106:33). David apparently felt that his twin sins of adultery and murder could be overlooked because he was king, but God felt otherwise and sent Nathan the prophet to expose his wickedness and to announce his punishment.

The race, of course, is life itself. Since it is God who gives us life, it is also God who starts us in this race. We are all here for a purpose, and that purpose is to live our lives in fulfillment of God's intent for us. This requires not only faith in God's revelation, as we have seen, but also perseverance and endurance. Life is not a 100-yard dash, but a long and sometimes agonizing marathon. No one knows just how long it will be. It can suddenly be cut short, as we have often seen, but its very uncertainty requires that we run it as if it will last a long time, being prepared to keep going no matter what happens. The goal toward which we run is the end of life, whether it be death or the sudden transformation of living saints at the parousia of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Jesus says to the suffering saints of Smyrna, "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). (43)

Only one factor can make consistent endurance possible, and this the author states clearly in verse 2: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. This is the central theme of Hebrews He has stated it before ("But we see Jesus . . ."---2:9; "fix your thoughts on Jesus . . ."---3:1; "since we have a great high priest . . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence"---4:14, 16). He is saying, in effect, "Listen to the testimony of those who have gone before for they can help you know what to lay aside; but, above all else, fix your attention on Jesus, for he can do what no one else can---he can impart faith to you, and he can bring it to perfection at the end. He awaits you when you reach the goal, but he is also with you to strengthen your endeavor and guard your steps along the way. Look at other men and women of faith for inspiration and encouragement, but then look higher up to Jesus." This has been well expressed by a Christian poet:

The glory of the light is brightest,
When the glory of self is dim,
And they have most compelled me, 
Who most have pointed to Him;
They have held me, stirred me, swayed me---
I have hung on their every word, 
'Til I fain would rise and follow, 
Not them, not them, but their Lord.

Why look away from human leaders to Jesus? Because he is the author and perfecter of our faith. He gives it and completes it. The word translated here "author" is archegos, which we saw in 2:10 has the thought of pioneer or leader. Jesus has gone before us in this race to keep faith. He knows the need for it. He himself ran the race. He laid aside every weight, every tie of family and friends. He set his face against the popular sin of unbelief and daily lived in patient perseverance, trusting his Father to work everything out for him. He set the perfect example. As Bruce says, "It was sheer faith in God, unsupported by any visible evidence, that carried Him through the taunting, the scourging, the crucifying, and the more bitter agony of rejection, desertion and dereliction" (1964:352). 

But there is more than example in him---there is also empowerment! Moment by moment, day by day, week by week year by year, as we look to him, we shall find strength imparted to us. He is not "out there" somewhere. As this epistle has made clear, he is within us, by faith. He has entered into the sanctuary, into the inner person, into the very place where we need strength and grace, and is available every moment to help us in time of need. Having himself lived by faith, he is able to impart that faith to others. He does this by means of the Spirit, as Paul reflects in his prayer of Ephesians 3:16: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." This power to awaken faith is what Jesus describes as the enabling of the Father ("no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him"---John 6:65). As the epistle to the Hebrews has repeatedly insisted, faith is essential to spiritual vitality. Jesus is our example of the kind of faith required, but his very life in us imparts the faith we need to run the race of life successfully. So we cry with Paul, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

This ministry of help for us is undoubtedly the joy set before him for which he endured the cross and scorned its shame! (44) It meant more to Jesus than his own well being, even more than the joy of returning to his Father and the glory of heaven. For the consummate joy of "bringing many sons to glory," he gave himself up to agony and death and counted it a small price to pay. It brought him, as verse 2 states, to sit down at the right hand of the throne of God. Redemption requires power, and now from the place of ultimate power he can "save completely those who come to God through him."

In Jesus, we have a model to follow which cannot be surpassed, for he, too, patiently endured the opposition of sinful men, even that of his own disciples. But he is also able to impart his own spirit of steadiness to those who trust him so they will not grow weary and lose heart! The author has exhorted us to keep our eyes on Jesus, to consider him. He represents faith, which has been tried to the utmost! He could take it because of the strength of his inner life. We, too, can take whatever life throws at us because we have him as our resource to draw upon. No truth in Hebrews is more strongly emphasized than this.

Psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb has described the mentality of many today who look for human help but ignore that offered by our great high priest, Jesus. He says:
Too often people take a word like authenticity and they secularize it to mean, "I'm going to let you know exactly what I feel," thinking that that is going to result in intimacy and a release of guilt.

What may in fact be happening is that you are demanding that the other person now deal with your feelings the way you want him or her to. If the other person doesn't do that, then you go into hiding convinced that nobody will ever deal with how you really feel; so why bother caring? The point is that you are not facing the real issue. Authenticity demands that you expose yourself not for the purpose of getting a person to respond to you in the way that you want, but exposing yourself so you can respond to what God wants. Only God can truly deal with your sin. Only God can truly forgive you. (Crabb 1989)

How God Trains Us (12:4-13)

The passage from verses 4-11 develops the true point of view Christians must have toward hardship and opposition. Verses 4-6 put it succinctly, saying, in effect: Remember, it isn't as bad as it could be! (You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.) Don't forget, behind the difficulties you must go through is a father's loving heart! (You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.) The quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12 is Solomon's words to his own son, helping him to handle the troubles and hardships which will come to him. The Septuagint version quoted here speaks of both rebuke and punishment coming from the Lord. Rebuke is verbal correction; punishment (scourging) is designed to make the rebuke unforgettable. Scourging is severe punishment, symbolized by the Roman scourge, a leather whip with metal pieces embedded on the end.

An incident from the Old Testament illustrates this. David was rebuked by the Lord for numbering Israel and was given the choice of three punishments. He wisely let the Lord decide, and undoubtedly experienced the least hurtful of the three, but in the plague God sent, 70,000 Israelites died! (2 Sam 24). That was a lesson David never forgot! But it is important to note that our author insists that such discipline comes from God's love for those sons he is bringing to glory. Severe discipline only comes to those who have violated great responsibility or who are being trained for tough assignments. Many Christians today have testified that God got their attention only after some severe trial or circumstance came upon them!

The fact that the severe persecution these Hebrews had already undergone (10:32-33) had not yet involved the shedding of their blood is indication that their location was not Jerusalem or probably even Palestine. Acts records several instances of martyrdom among the early Christians there. But if we are called to follow Christ it may lead to actual bloodshed, as other centuries can bear ample witness, and not least our century! Persecution that stops short of death is something to be thankful for. But discomfort, hardship and deprivations, borne for the sake of Christ, are viewed as privileges and blessings, sent by a loving Father to prepare us to be worthy heirs of the incomparable glories yet to come. They are not a sign of his displeasure, but a sign that he regards us as genuine children.

So, in verses 7-8, the author reminds his readers that they are not illegitimate children for whom no future is being prepared, but legitimate children who require discipline to develop properly. Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys is reputed to have said, "The job of a coach is to make men do what they don't want to do, in order to be what they've always wanted to be!" Our author would have welcomed that as an accurate statement of what God does with those he calls to be his children. They should "hang tough" because their trials are proof that they are beloved children and not bastards.

Verses 9-11 adduce a second reason for patient endurance: our earthly fathers disciplined us when we were children, even though they doubtless made mistakes. Yet we respected them for their efforts which we recognized were meant for our good. How much more should we accept the discipline of our God, who makes no mistakes and who aims at enabling us to share his own perfect character! The reference to God as the Father of our spirits is meant as a contrast to "human fathers" (Gk "fathers of our flesh") and reminds us that the fruit borne by suffering is spiritual in nature.

The trials, .disappointments, hardships and even physical attacks which sometimes constitute God's discipline may be painful to bear. No one enjoys such experiences. As C. S. Lewis notes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to arouse a deaf world" (1978:81). But the pain is not the whole story. There is always a later on which follows. There is a harvest of righteousness and peace which invariably will come for those who have been trained by it (the discipline).

Christian suffering is not simply sheer circumstantial misery or the result of blind chance. Paul declares, "We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:34). James adds, "You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:3-4). Peter concurs, "These [trials] have come so that your faith---of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire---may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7). How foolish then it is to complain and grouse about the difficulties we face. "If we are always rebelling against it and refusing to learn the lessons the Father is teaching us, we are shutting ourselves up to discontent and misunderstanding" (Morris 1983:123).

Our author well understands the tendency we all have to reject well-intentioned advice and concentrate on our misery. We derive a kind of perverse pleasure from so doing. So he urges, in verses 12-13, two specific actions:

1. Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. That is, deal first with yourselves. Get your own hearts right toward your troubles. He has already pointed out the way to do so: by each coming boldly to the throne of grace "so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (4:16). He has said the same in 12:2: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." It is only as we know his help ourselves that we are able to aid anyone else in finding it. The plural imperative (strengthen, Gk: "lift up") implies a joint effort by many. We can help each other draw upon the resources of Christ by offering encouraging words and mutual prayers, sharing our experiences and sometimes simply being with someone who is undergoing trial.

2. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. That is, watch your influence on others! Take care that you are not a stumbling block to those who travel with you, whose faith may be much weaker than yours. Disabled carries the thought of having something thrown out of joint, as in a sprain or twist.

The two exhortations look back to Isaiah 35:4 where the prophet exhorts: "Say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.'" This is not only an exhortation to wait patiently for the coming of Christ (10:37) but also to expect God to "come" in some sovereign action of deliverance in response to his people's prayers. Acts 12 records such a deliverance in the case of Peter whom Herod had put in prison. Any degree of persecution should be met by the Christian body gathering in mutual support so that no one is spiritually disabled. It is necessary to be strong for the sake of others as well as ourselves. The way we bear suffering has enormous impact on the whole Christian community, and the author stresses this point with this in view. The Dangers to Watch For (12:14-17)

This concern for others leads to a more general exhortation to the whole community of faith in verses 14-24. Each member pursues two objectives: peace with all men and holiness before God. As Paul suggests in Romans 12:18, to live at peace with all is not always possible, but it must be pursued "as far as it depends on you!" The causing of strife should never begin with a believer! Here Paul's practical suggestions found in 1 Corinthian 6:1-8 are apropos. Disputes ought to be settled by arbitration rather than lawsuits. Seeking counsel is preferable to hurling charges, and forbearance is most fitting for those whom God has forgiven. How many disgraceful public displays of church disagreements could be prevented if this admonition of 12:14 were heeded.

But of even more importance is the pursuit of holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. Whether this seeing of the Lord refers to the beatific vision of God (Bruce 1964:364), or to seeing Jesus at his Second Coming (Westcott 1889:406), it clearly precludes any who are not pursuing holiness from having a close and vital relationship with God. The need to make every effort suggests continuance and is perhaps better translated "pursue." As we have noted before, it is a mistake to take holiness as referring only to righteous behavior apart from seeing it also as a gift of God who imparts righteousness to the one who believes in Jesus. If we pursue righteous behavior only as a means to "seeing" the Lord, we will eventually find ourselves with the Pharisees. They were blindly ignorant of terrible failure but claimed a relationship that did not really exist. But if we truly practice a continual reckoning of ourselves as already righteous within by a gracious act of God on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we will find ourselves strongly motivated to live righteously and inwardly distressed at any failure to do so. This inward distress will bring us again and again to the throne of grace for forgiveness and recovery. We will progressively be "transformed into his (Christ's) likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). That is what is meant by the exhortation to "pursue holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."

A failure to do this is called, in verse 15, missing the grace of God. The writer has already warned of this in 3:12: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." Such unbelief is a bitter root which will create strife and defile many. The root is unbelief which refuses to reckon on God's provision of righteousness because it feels confident it can produce an acceptable righteousness on its own. Strife and defilement are the bitter fruit which this root inevitably produces. It will reveal itself in two forms: sexual immorality or godlessness, like that of Esau. The first is defilement of the body; the second is defilement of the soul. Our author only touches on the first at this point but will bring it up again at 13:4. Yet this brief reference must not be missed for it equates sexual immorality in its effects with a godless spirit.

The author uses Esau to illustrate the second form. The word for godlessness is bebelos, which is best translated "profane" or, as we would say, "secular." It is a mindset which takes little notice of anything beyond the material. This was Esau's outlook (Genesis 27:30-40). He thought so little of the promises of God to Abraham and Isaac, to which he was the primary heir as the firstborn, that he sold those rights to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew! So unimportant was this transaction in his eyes that later he assumed he could still receive the blessing which accompanied the right of firstborn. Though his brother Jacob had tricked their blind father into conferring the blessing upon himself, Esau still tried to change his father's words and gain the blessing he had sold. His father could not and would not change his mind, so Esau lost both the birthright and the blessing.

That is the secular mentality. It has little time for worship or service, but it is intent upon material gain and earthly advantage. Professing Christians who claim to be born again but who live no differently than non-Christians are repeating the godlessness of Esau. Like him they too will find a surprising rejection in the last day. Jesus has them in mind when he says, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Mt 7:23).The Blessings Now Possible (12:18-24)

The author has, throughout the letter, been drawing a contrast between the old covenant of the law, which was given at Mount Sinai, and the new covenant of grace, which actually preceded the law. It was made fully manifest in the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus. Now, in verses 18-24, he repeats the contrast using striking symbols, drawing from Exodus and Deuteronomy the fearful scene at Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given, and from the prophets various elements of the heavenly Jerusalem which are associated with the new covenant.

The point of his description of Mount Sinai and the giving of the law is that the old covenant aroused unbearable fear. The sight of the burning mountain and the ever-increasing blare of a trumpet, the darkness, storm and fearful threats directed even toward dumb beasts, created such fear in the people that they begged Moses to plead with God for relief Even Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." That is the invariable end of efforts made to obey a law which requires perfection. Fear of God's just condemnation is overwhelming. Most people do not feel this fear because they do not take the law seriously, at least not until they reach the end of their lives and its fearful judgments lie immediately before them. All who seek earnestly to obey the law find themselves confronted with such personal failure that they soon despair of escaping God's fearful condemnation. Mount Sinai stands as the symbol of this despair and fear.

"For what the law was powerless to do . . . God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (Romans 8:3). That is the triumphant cry of the new covenant! Our author's description of it (vv. 22-24) is one of joyful celebration. It consists of six elements.

1. You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. That is the same city which Abraham and the patriarchs sought (11:10,16). It is what Paul called "Jerusalem that is above" (Galatians 4:26), mother to all believers. Our author views it as already attained by those who have believed the new covenant and come to Jesus. In spirit they were residents of the city already, though in body they were yet pilgrims and strangers on earth. That there is yet to be an earthly manifestation of the city is clear from the later reference in 13:13 to "the city which is yet to come."

2. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. The myriads of angels are referred to several times in Scripture (Deuteronomy 33:2; Dan 7:10; Luke 2:13; Revelation 5:11). All of these six elements here are governed by the verb translated, "you have come" (proselelythate). The perfect tense indicates a condition already existent with continuing effect. The thought of the author here is probably that of 1:14: "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Angels minister, with joy, to believers in many hidden ways, helping them run the race of life with patient endurance. An example of this is found in Acts 27:23-24.

3. You have come to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. Bruce properly sees this as a reference to the whole communion of saints who have come, not merely into the presence of the church, but into its membership by faith in Christ (1964:376-377). The writing of their names in heaven recalls Jesus' words to his disciples, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). They share with Jesus the title of firstborn (Colossians 1:18) because they are "heirs of God and coheirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).

4. You have come to God, the judge of all men. The Greek text properly reads, "to a judge, who is God of all men." Without exception, all humans must stand before God to be judged. But the glory of the gospel is that believers may stand before him without fear, since Jesus himself assures each one that he "has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24). This relief from the fear of judgment is an enormous blessing to those who know themselves to be sinners in word, thought and deed.

5. You have come to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Commentators have differed over whether this describes "believers of pre-Christian days" (Bruce) or "New Testament believers" (Bengel). It likely looks back to 11:40 and the Old Testament saints who would be made perfect "together with us." Since it is their spirits which have been made perfect and not their bodies, it suggests that these saints, who lived before the Cross, are waiting with us for the resurrection to come. Jesus spoke to the Jews of "other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this sheep pen." "They too," he added, "will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16). As we have already noted, when the heavenly Jerusalem comes to earth, as John sees it in Revelation 21:2, these words will be fulfilled. Its gates are named for the twelve tribes of Israel, and its foundation stones bear the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

6. You have come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Moses was the mediator of the old covenant and under it, the Aaronic priests sprinkled blood upon the mercy seat to cover over the sins of Israel. This made the continued presence of God among them possible. As our author has ably shown, all this was but a shadow of the new covenant where Jesus would be an eternal mediator, sprinkling his own blood which does not merely cover over sins but take them entirely away. The better word of which his blood speaks is forgiveness, whole and complete. This is in contrast to the blood of Abel, which, as we saw earlier, could only call for vindication but could not offer forgiveness. Let us never forget that we are redeemed, not with perishable things such as silver or gold "but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:19).

To summarize, the advantages of being in Christ consist of (1) living already, in spirit, in the new Jerusalem which Abraham and Old Testament believers longed to see; (2) joining already in praise around the throne of God with myriads of the heavenly host; (3) belonging to a body of believers who are members with each other and who share a heavenly citizenship; (4) having no fear of God's judgment even though standing spiritually before his august throne; (5) sharing with Old Testament believers the certain hope of the resurrection of the body; and (6) possessing Jesus in a new and intimate relationship ("you in me and I in you"), which involves a complete and final solution of the problem of human sin. The Fifth and Final Warning (12:25-29)

Since believers in Christ now possess such enormous resources for living as those just described, it is of the utmost importance to act in accordance with them. Truth simply understood is never acceptable in and of itself; it is truth done that counts! So, for the fifth time in this epistle, the author warns against turning back from the truth they have learned as professing Christians to a more comfortable and less demanding life in Judaism or to an accommodation to the unbelieving lifestyles around them.

Verses 25-27 take us back to the first warning of 2:1-3. There the Hebrews were in danger of drifting away from that which they had heard; here they also stand in peril of refusing him who speaks. There they were reminded that violations of the law received immediate punishment; here they are also told that those who refused the One who gave commandments from the mountain did not escape. There the question confronted them: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" Here the question is How much less will we [escape], if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? There the message was one "spoken by angels," in contrast to the salvation "first announced by the Lord." Here the contrast is also between the message spoken on earth from the mountain, and the word which has come to them from him who speaks from heaven (which almost certainly refers to 1:1-2: "God . . . has spoken to us by his Son").

It is clear that the warning passages envision the same peril---that apathy toward spiritual matters and complacency with a religious lifestyle falls far short of what God requires and has made full provision for. But such complacency cannot go unjudged forever. It actually constitutes a refusal of God's grace, a turning of one's back on truth and deliverance. This is where some, if not many, of the recipients of this letter now stand. The last three warnings particularly (6:4-6;10:26-31 and here) envision a deliberate and final rejection of the new covenant as the greatest danger. The shaking of Mount Sinai was designed to arouse serious consideration of the demands of the law on the Israelites. Since such "earthly" shaking was not sufficient to gain their full attention a greater shaking is yet to come; a shaking not merely of earth but of earth and heaven together.

We have already noted that heaven is the realm of invisible realities, of forces and principles which actually govern human life. The word translated "created things" (pepoiemenon) means "things made," but 11:2 reminds us that behind the visible things are invisible forces. This shaking of heaven and earth is both of the visible and of the invisible. Isaiah also declares: "Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger" (Is 13:13). It is this greater shaking from which there is no escape. That shaking began with the preaching of Jesus (Hag 2:6) has been continuing through the Christian centuries, and will culminate in the great judgments described in Daniel and Revelation. The earth and heaven will flee away and be replaced by the new heavens and the new earth.

There is something chilling about the thought of a shaking of heaven and earth. The twentieth century has watched the crumbling of much which we once thought to be stable. Faith in human government has been widely shaken; confidence in science as the savior of the race has waned as the problems of pollution, urban decay, biological warfare and existential despair increase. Long-accepted moral standards have disappeared under the onslaught of divorce, unmarriages, sexual explicitness, homosexuality and abortion.

But there are some things which cannot be shaken and which will remain forever. That which is shaken and removed is so done in order that what cannot be shaken may stand revealed. Such an unshakable thing is the kingdom of God into which those who trust in Jesus have entered. It is present wherever the King is honored, loved and obeyed. The present active participle ("are receiving") indicates a continuing process. We enter the kingdom at conversion, but we abide in it daily as we reckon upon the resources which come to us from our invisible but present King. Such unbroken supply should arouse a continuing sense of gratitude within us and lead to acceptable worship of God. What renders such worship acceptable is the sense of God as incredibly powerful and majestic in person, and yet loving and compassionate of heart. An old hymn puts it well:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.
How blessed, how glorious, the Ancient of Days
Almighty, Victorious, thy great name we praise!

The proper attitude of Christians must be one of awe that a Being of such majesty and glory could find a way to dwell eternally with such sin-controlled and sin-injured creatures as us. Since our God is a consuming fire, " we must cry with Isaiah, "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" (Is 33:14). God's love is just such a fire, it destroys what it cannot purify, but purifies what it cannot destroy. In Jesus we have a relationship that cannot be destroyed (Romans 8:38-39). Our great king is leading us through trials and difficulties in order that we may at last cry with Job, "He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10 KJV). --Ray Stedman, IV Press Commentary on Hebrews.

Early Pandemic Comments: April 2020

 4/14/2020 Letter by the CREC 

Dear Mr. President, Governor, Senators, Congressmen, Mayor, and Civic Leaders in the USA and Abroad,
I am writing􏰀ng to you as the Presiding Minister of Council of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CRE ) an International􏰀onal Denomination􏰀tion.

We have been praying for you and con􏰀nue to do so. May the Lord grant you His wisdom as you make decisions in this 􏰀time of trial.

It is now apparent that our ini􏰀tial informa􏰀tion was incomplete. The pandemic is not what we all thought it was going to be. This is understandable. It was new. We all thought it was a dire threat and we all responded to protect the lives of our citizens, and our congregants, as we should have. It is now clear that the stated ra􏰀onale for these temporary, emergency actions, “to fla􏰁tten the curve”, has been achieved, and that these temporary measures are no longer necessary. If we con􏰀timid on the current course of ac􏰀tion of extreme mi􏰀tigation, things may get much worse, as we fear they most certainly will.

President Trump was right to say that the cure cannot be worse than the disease. In fact, it is. 

The pandemic did not jus􏰀tify pu􏰂tting millions of people out of work and locking down businesses and churches for the indefinite future. It is now 􏰀time to open up for business, return to work and return to the worship of the Triune God.

While Covid-19 is among us and members of our churches have been harmed by the disease, the much larger damage to our members has been done by cutting off the means of suppor􏰀ting the lives of their families. In our churches, we have few Coronavirus cases, hospitaliza􏰀tions or deaths. However, we have many people whose ability to support the lives of their families has been greatly damaged through the loss of wages and damage to their businesses. For us, the cure has been far worse than the disease.

We encourage you to consider the immense damage that will be caused by conti􏰀nuing down this current path of a closed economy. The lost livelihoods, closed businesses, and the isola􏰀on of our congregants, is a tremendous loss to the health and well-being of our society. This damage will only worsen the longer we stay on the present course of sheltering in place and keeping the economy and houses of worship closed. Dangerous social unrest is the likely result of staying on this course.

We have a great concern for the lives and health of our members as well as those in our communi􏰀es. Many in our churches are elderly or are in a high-risk category for Covid-19.
First of all, thank you for the care and concern you have shown for the ci􏰀zens who elected you,
and for your a􏰁ttempt to do what you believed to be best for the public good in light of the
available informa􏰀tion at the 􏰀time.

Those individuals and their families, pastors, leaders and physicians, are the ones to make the best decisions about how they should live during the spread of this disease. If this were a great plague, a direct threat to the health and lives of all of our congregants, as many of us ini􏰀ally thought it was, we would be glad to conti􏰀nue to comply with reasonable measures to mi􏰀gate the spread. However, it is now clear that it is not the plague and we are not prepared to con􏰀tinue to comply with extreme mi􏰀tiga􏰀tion efforts.

Our desire is to be obedient to the civil magistrate. However, we must also do what we believe God expects of us, what is best for our people and our communi􏰀es, and what our consciences dictate. For our American members, The U.S. Cons􏰀titi􏰀on rightly affords us these rights of speech and assembly because they extend to us from God, Himself.

The ci􏰀tizens of the United States and our congregants are already beginning to strongly feel the need to get back to regular living. While we do not currently have a date a􏰃fter which we will no longer comply with the extreme restric􏰀tions, we believe the 􏰀time is now at hand for our leaders to stand down from the extreme isola􏰀tion efforts, and the date a􏰃fter which we will no longer comply, is soon approaching, in days or weeks, not months.

Our response in the churches has been to humble ourselves, confess our sins, the sins of the church and the sins of our ci􏰀tizens and governments. Please join us in humbling yourselves before the Lord Jesus.

We call upon the grace and mercy of God to give us relief. Death is an enemy, the last enemy that will be destroyed by the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge this. While we despise death, we do not fear death, because for us, to live is Christ and to die is gain. May God grant us repentance, and as we confess and repent of our many sins, we trust that He will be gracious to us and heal our land.

In the service of King Jesus,
Virgil Hurt
Presiding Minister of Council
Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC)

We are an international vibrant church community of evangelical believers shaped by the Reformation. We are deeply committed to the evangelical tenets of biblical authority and the free grace of God in Christ, and we believe that Jesus is King and Lord of heaven and earth.

The one hundred or so churches and parishes of the CREC are spread across North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, and Eastern Asia. Please use the search box in the header of this page to find one near you.

This above letter presupposes that life will return to normal on Planet Earth in the days ahead. I disagree. The churches represented above are descended from the Protestant Reformation and adhere to Covenant Theology. I myself follow modified Dispensationalism, after my mentor Ray Stedman. The central issue relevant here is whether the church has replaced Israel in the program of God. I see a glorious future ahead for the nation of Israel because God keeps His promises in spite of human failures. Of greatest relevance at this late hour of human history is how we are now, I believe, experiencing the birthpangs at the end of the age. Followers of both schools of Bible prophecy believe Jesus will personally return at the end of the present age. My set of specific beliefs is here. I believe Jesus is now actively intervening in our world as the first step of His personal return in bringing about the Final Redemption. I believe the sudden departure of the church (the rapture) will be the next noteworthy event in history. But no one knows the time. It could happen today, it might not happen for months. Those believers whom God has chosen to be the Bride of Christ are all known to Jesus (John 17). Jesus won't return until all this group of the elect are in the fold. If the Rapture had taken place a hundred years ago we'd have all been left behind!

No one seeks for God! No one would comes to God unless they were called and chosen. If you feel you are not on the elect list ask now. Your name will be found there on the list. The sudden departure of Christ's true church will probably pass unnoticed by the media and most of the world. A few missing persons here and there? Good riddance.

Another presupposition in the above letter is that the Lord is committed to maintaining the status quo in old paradigm churches. Again I disagree. Yes, God is with His true church. Jesus has been quietly building His ekklesia behind the scenes for nearly two millennia. But no one church or denomination has all the answers. True believers who know Jesus are found in many churches, and many are "unchurched" out there today. In gathering us all together into one Body at the Rapture, Jesus will unite us with Himself, symbolized by a Bride. (God draws people everywhere to Himself by loving them. His love is self-giving and unconditional unlike most forms of love we know too much about.)

The present world population is 7.9 billion people. Suppose 12% are followers of Jesus. This means the number of Christians from the current generation who are now alive is about 1 billion people. But the true church has been under construction for nearly 2000 years. Therefore the church Jesus has been building is probably ~5 billion men, women, children from every generation, every nation, every culture, every ethnic group. White Anglo Saxons will be a minority. Indeed Americans will probably number only a few percent of the grand total. Then too, Heaven is to be a theocracy, not a democracy. King Jesus will govern us through His Apostles. Those who imagine heaven will be a simple escape to eternal bliss apparently haven't read their Bibles very carefully. Rapture Shock will be a real adjustment for many. With several billions Christians living together in a finite ecosystem, we'll need some liberated form of government resembling parishes perhaps, for seven years.

No one knows when Jesus will call His church home to be with Him. That action by Jesus will remove the "salt" and "light" activity of the Holy Spirit from the planet. Evil is presently held back by the the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He is called the Restrainer (from katecho). in 2 Thessalonians 2. God's purpose is not to save the world directly though He does care about the well being of everyone.

The Apostle Peter said,

Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder),  that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior,  knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, sleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 

Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation--as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (1 Peter 3:1-18)

The Coronavirus shutdown has affected every nation. This is remarkable, since the present nations are highly discordant and often can't agree about anything. The United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations are widely seen as ineffectual and failing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Globalism seems to many the only way to save mankind.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
There are no uncaused effects going on in the universe! There is no such thing as chance and there are no accidents. The causes behind our weather, for example, are so complex that huge computers are employed by weather forecasters to process the many variables involved. Even so, the weather often has a mind of its own.
If we consider the big picture of how God runs the entire universe we must immediately take into account the revealed character of God and what He has told us in the Bible. But God is not limited by our disbelief.

Thankfully God is a God of order, not of chaos. He has chosen to tell us lots about Himself and about the course of history which He Himself is directing.
Ephesians 1:11 “... according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

If we are indeed at the end of the age, the next event of significance should be the departure (or "rapture") of the true church. The Greek word for this event is harpazo found 13 times in the Greek New Testament. The imagery in the New Testament is that of a groom on a journey to prepare a place in his father's house where he can take his virgin bride to be for the consummation of their extended courtship. In the Gospel of Matthew 25, we have a illustration of Jewish weddings. Ten wise and foolish maidens are being invited to attend the wedding. Five were disqualified as being unprepared. The Bride herself is not mentioned. It would seem today, with our perspective on history as gentiles, that the Bride is the church of Jesus. Jesus is of course the Bridegroom. The maidens represent the Jews of Jesus' day. The should have anticipated the the First Advent of their Messiah, but most of them did not. We are most all gentiles, the groom is Jewish.

William Barclay comments:

Like so many of Jesus' parables, this one has an immediate ind local meaning, and also a wider and universal meaning.

In its immediate significance it was directed against the Jews. they were the chosen people; their whole history should have been a preparation for the coming of the Son of God; they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. Instead they were quite unprepared and therefore were shut out. Here in dramatic form is the tragedy of the unpreparedness of the Jews.

But the parable has at least two universal warnings.

(i) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the examination has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it, when some task offers itself to him. Similarly, it is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God. When Mary of Orange was dying, her chaplain sought to tell her of the way of salvation. Her answer was: "I have not left this matter to this hour." To be too late is always tragedy.

(ii) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.

Tennyson took this parable and turned it into verse in the song the little novice sang to Guinevere the queen, when Guinevere had too late discovered the cost of sin:

"Late, late so late! and dark the night and chill!
Late, late so late! but we can enter still.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light had we; for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!
O let us in, that we may find the light!
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.

Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O let us in, tho' late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now."

There is no knell so laden with regret as the sound of the words too late.

Also about Israel and their present Unbelief:
The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.  And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’  So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46)

Tim Keller, theologian, says that science has now replaced the church as the official religion of the western world. Scientists are, Keller says, our priests, those we trust to advise us on important matters of church and state. Dennis Prager notes in several recent posts that the long term deaths resulting from attempts to contain the Coronavirus will probably be much greater than the deaths attributable to the virus itself. Prager also notes that economies world wide have surely been damaged beyond recovery. The global shutdown because of the usual flu virus season this year is now being explained away as anything but the hand of God acting in His universe as the Owner of everything.

Truth Will Out

The phrase "truth will out," or "truth will become public," appears as early as William Shakespeare's works, in particular The Merchant of Venice. It may have been an entirely new concept of Shakespeare's, as he sees the need to explain its meaning as analogous to murder will out. A mystery will always be solved; truth will eventually and inevitably be discovered.

Bryce Self wrote me, So much handwriting over this virus being a judgment of God, and what sin has our nation done. All presupposing we’re basically good and just need to correct some particular thing we did wrong. The actual situation is just the opposite… We are all inveterately evil. God says all human are already dead in trespasses and sins, with every though of our hearts only evily continually—and all our supposed “goodness” is just cosmetics on the corpse.

Even if the Lord wiped out all but a few individuals of the entire human race while demolishing the entire planetary exosphere and terrain through a global cataclysm, the evil in us would yet remain. In fact, having demonstrated that fact by pursuing precisely that course in the days of Noah, He explicitly declared disavows intention to pursue such a course again.

"Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

"Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. 'While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:21-22)

This remains the Divine perspective as directly demonstrated and explicitly taught by Jesus Christ. All are worthy of death, and it is only the Father’s mercy that holds both temporal and eternal punishment in abeyance for the time being, in order to give room for repentance so that some might be saved from the universal destruction.

"There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

In His first letter, the Apostle Peter refers to those "who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” (I Peter 3:20). 

The same writer later speaks again of how God "did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly,” (II Peter 2:5), adding as parallel examples of the punishment of fallen angels and the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain. Peter then proceeds to make direct application to the self-justifiers and Flood-forgetters of the last days who will abuse the grace of God extended for repentance.

"Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

"For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (II Peter 3:1-9)

The Lord is no respecter of persons. It is only of His grace that we are not already among those who go down to the pit. This is the bad news of the ultimate viral infection called sin that is contracted at conception and comes with a mortality rate of 100%. And this is why we need the good news of the Gospel of the love of God in Jesus Christ. When we are “faced” we are saved from a fate far worse that mere physical demise due to any physical disease.

Speaking of only human enemies, Jesus could warn: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” {Matthew 10:28) The call of the Gospel that the Church proclaims has always been the same since the Day of Pentecost in A.D.30 "Repent, and be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40)

My response to Bryce:

Bryce, Your notes on the depravity of man made me realize that almost no one I know is apparently seeking God at this time. All this is ominously like the history of Israel and their denial to this day of Yeshua. There are more nature photos and nostalgia being posted lately but otherwise it’s merely coping until life returns to “normal” —life like it was!  No preachers that I know of are pointing their flocks to really changing their life styles, or to a deeper personal relationship with Jesus. That message is probably too threatening? It’s just more denial! No new insights from less known parts of the Bible. No deepening of relationships at home. Less intimacy not more. 

1. There were present at that season some who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

2. Jesus also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ (Luke 13:6-9)

But I can't help but reflect on the total salvation package Jesus offers us! The people I know as fellow travelers in Christ are being watched over by the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is the One who delivers us from the wrath to come.

We are " wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

We all have a difficult time seeing ourselves as all new once we have have been immersed into the Body of Christ. We all need the road map of (1) justified (2) sanctified and (3) glorified. Yet God sees this all as a done-deal and He sticks with each of us until we finish the race. 

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:22,23) 

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Yes, stuck in time in fallen bodies and living in an evil world with powerful enemies, we are all called to take one day at a time until God calls us home.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:5-17)

But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,  while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:2-18) 

Reference Reading from Ray Stedman

The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians is also the first letter the apostle wrote. It was written to a struggling, yet vigorous church that was only a few months old, made up of Christians who had just come to Christ under Paul's ministry. This is a delightfully revealing letter, showing the heart of the apostle toward these new Christians, and also showing the struggles that were present in the early church.

We sometimes get very distorted conceptions of these early Christians; there's a tendency to regard them as always triumphant, always waging the battle with vigor, and always winning great victories in Christ's name. But they also had very severe problems, some of which are reflected in this letter. It was written about 50 A.D., and may well be the first part of our New Testament to be written. Most scholars feel that the gospels were written about this same time or shortly afterward, though some hold that the gospel of Matthew, and perhaps of Mark, appeared about 43 or 45 A.D. At any rate, this letter is at least one of the earliest Christian writings.

The account of Paul's founding of this church is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Acts. After he and Silas were thrown into prison in Philippi because of their preaching of the Gospel, an earthquake shook down the prison doors and freed the prisoners. Paul was then freed by the Roman magistrates, and he left Philippi and went to Thessalonica. Many of the places where Paul preached have crumbled into ruin, but Thessalonica is still a thriving, bustling metropolis. It was then the capital of Macedonia, but it is now in Greece proper, and is called Salonika.

From the account in Acts, we learn that Paul had only been there about three weeks when persecution began and he had to leave the city for his own safety. He went down to Athens and from there he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how these Christians were doing. He was very disturbed about them; he felt that perhaps the persecution they were undergoing would drive them from their faith.

He went on to Corinth where he founded a church after several months of difficult labor. After some time, Timothy returned to him at Corinth, bringing word of how the Thessalonians were doing, and of some of the problems they were facing. As we read this little letter through, we can recognize them as the kind of problems that we also face.

For one thing, wherever the Apostle Paul went, he was hounded by a group of Jews who spread the rumor that because he was not one of the original twelve, he was not a genuine apostle. This was not only a problem for Paul, but also for the Thessalonians. Furthermore, the pagans of Thessalonica were severely persecuting the Christians -- threatening them, and taking away their property -- so these early Christians, perhaps only three or four weeks old in the Lord, were called upon to endure hard things for the cause of Christ.

In that city, as in all the Greek cities, sexual promiscuity was common -- was even regarded as a religious right -- and to live a life of chastity was to be regarded as a freak. Therefore, as is the case today, there was great pressure upon these new Christians to fall into line with the common sex practices of their day.

Then the major problem of this church was that the second coming of Jesus Christ was greatly misunderstood. The apostle had evidently told them something, but they were confused about this, which produced another grave problem. Some of them were expecting Christ to come back so imminently that they had actually stopped working and were waiting for him to come. Since they weren't earning a living, somebody had to take care of them, and they were leeches on the rest of the congregation. Also, there were tensions developing between the congregation and the church leaders which needed some admonition to settle, and finally, there were those who were somewhat indifferent to the Holy Spirit's work among them, and to the truth of God as it was being proclaimed in the Scriptures.

Do those problems sound familiar? We can consider ourselves in very similar circumstances as this church at Thessalonica. The letter itself divides simply into two major divisions. In the first three chapters the apostle is just unloading his heart to them concerning his relationship to them, and this is followed by a very practical section with advice on how to behave in the midst of the pressures in which we live.

In this first section Paul pours his heart out for these early Christians. He is afraid they might have misunderstood his leaving Thessalonica, as though he had abandoned them to persecution, so he reminds them that he had just come through a terrible time of persecution himself in Philippi, and that his own heart was deeply concerned for them. The key to this is in the very beginning:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope... (1 Thessalonians 2-3a RSV)

Those three things marked these Thessalonian believers -- their work of faith, their labor of love, and their endurance in hope. These are detailed more clearly farther down, in the latter part of verse nine, where we read, "how you turned to God from idols" (1 Thessalonians 1:9b RSV)-- that was the work of faith; they turned to God from these pagan idols they were worshiping, and "to serve a living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9c RSV) -- that was their labor of love; they became an available instrument for the love of God, and third, "to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:10 RSV). And there is the expression of the patience, waiting in hope for his Son from heaven.

Now interestingly enough, those three things also form a little outline, built right into the text, to guide you in understanding the first three chapters. The work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope -- chapter one, chapter two, chapter three.

We might say of these early Christians, "they dropped out, tuned in, and turned on." They dropped out of the stream of society, the world in which they lived, (not out of contact with it: in fact, they spread the Gospel through the whole area); they dropped out of the attitudes, the power structures, and the values of the world in which they lived. And they tuned in to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and received the word.

Here the apostle is reminding us that the word he spoke was not the word of men: it came "not only in word," he said, "but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 1:5b RSV). And they turned on, as they waited with expectation for the coming of the Son of God. They has a reason for living, they had a purpose, and they had a hope in the midst of the hopelessness around them.

An archaeological excavation team, working in this very city of Thessalonica, has turned up an ancient, first-century graveyard. And there among the pagan tombstones they found one which was inscribed in Greek with these words: "No Hope." But here, in a church in the midst of that city, there were those who had found the endurance based on hope; they were looking for the coming of the Son of God. That is what keeps the heart calm in the midst of perils and persecutions. That is what makes it possible to watch the world apparently coming apart at the seams and maintain quietness; God is in control, and he knows what he's doing. And thus Paul encourages these Thessalonians with these words.

Chapter two is a wonderful description of the labor of love -- not their labor, this time -- but Paul's, and here you have a marvelous description of his ministry (Chapter 2:9-12):

For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 RSV)

...for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 RSV)

And they did that, for he says (verse 14):

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea. (1 Thessalonians 2:14a RSV)

This is the service, the labor of love.

Chapter three is an account of how Paul sent Timothy to them, and Timothy brought back word of the persecution they were undergoing, and yet of their steadfastness in the midst of it. And there is a wonderful description of the patience of hope, permitting them to endure difficulties with joy.

Chapters four and five, the practical section of this letter, are divided into four brief sections which take up the problems that were confronting this church. The first exhortation the apostle gives is to live cleanly in the midst of a sex-saturated society. These words have great importance to us who have to live in the same kind of society today, and he begins by reminding them that he had taught them how to live (verse 1):

Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1 RSV)

He had not taught them, as many people think Christianity teaches, that they ought to live a good, clean life. Buddhism teaches that. And most other faiths teach that you ought to live a moral life. But that alone is not what Christianity says; it teaches you how to live a good, clean life! And Paul reminds them that he had taught them "how to please God."

Now, what is it that pleases God? What one quality of life is essential to please God? Faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. A life of expectation that the God who lives in you will manifest his life through you is the kind of life that pleases God. It isn't a life of your efforts, struggling to live up to a standard that you've imposed upon yourself, or someone else has imposed upon you. It is a life in which you are constantly dependent upon the one who indwells you, to keep you able to do and to be what you ought to be.

This kind of life results, then, in a purity that is practiced. If Christians are practicing impurity, that is a clear revelation that they are not practicing a life of faith. But purity practiced is the sign of the principle perceived. Paul says,

For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification: that you abstain from immorality; [that is the will of God] that each of you know how to take a wife for himself [possess his vessel, literally, or possess his body] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 RSV)

It is very clear, isn't it? We are told how to live cleanly.

The second problem he takes up is the matter of living honestly, in verses 9 through 12 of chapter four. They are to show love toward one another, and the practical manifestation of that is for every man to get busy and work with his hands and not have to depend upon somebody else for support; rather, mind your own affairs, and to work with your that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 RSV)

That's practical, isn't it?

Now in verse 13, we come to the major problem this book addresses -- the misunderstanding about the coming of the Lord. These Thessalonian Christians had gotten the idea that when Jesus Christ returned to earth the second time to begin his millennial kingdom, those who were alive when he came back (and they were expecting him within their lifetime) would enter with him into this kingdom. But they were deeply troubled that those who had died in the meantime would somehow miss the benefits and the blessings of the millennium.

Now this probably arose because of a misunderstanding of the doctrine of resurrection. They were thinking in terms of one resurrection, a single event which would come at the end of the millennium, when the dead would be raised -- the good and the bad alike -- to stand before the judgment seat of God. And there are passages, of course, that do speak of a resurrection to come at the end of the millennium. But Paul points out that the resurrection does not proceed as a single event, but that groups of believers are resurrected at various times. Notice his argument:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, [that is, who have died] that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 RSV)

In other words, these who have died are going to be raised again; and they'll come back with Jesus when he comes to establish his millennial reign.

Well, this presents another problem. How is it that they are going to come back with him bodily when their bodies have been placed in the grave? What reassurance can they have on this? "Ah," says the apostle, "let me give you a revelation from the Lord":

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord [this is an authoritative revelation] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, [parousia, the presence of the Lord] shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 RSV)

In other words, there is an aspect of the Lord's coming, before his coming to establish the millennium reign. He is coming for his people, he is coming to gather those who are his to be with him, in his presence (parousia in Greek), before his return to establish the kingdom. The 'coming of the Lord' here does not refer to the 'second coming' of Christ. And at the time of this parousia the dead in Christ will be raised, so that we all will be with him when he's ready to establish his kingdom. So you see how this answered their problem? They need not grieve over those who have died; they'll actually precede those who are alive when the Lord comes for his own.

Now between that parousia the Lord's coming to establish the kingdom, we learn from other passages of Scripture that there will probably be about a seven year period. In the meantime the great tribulation occurs, and Paul now goes on to speak of this as he continues in the next chapter. He says to them,

But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 RSV)

Nobody can set a date for this event. It's going to come suddenly, quickly, and when the Lord comes in the parousia two great chains of events will be initiated. The Lord will begin one series of events in which all believers will be caught up to be with him, and at the same time, he will begin another series of events on earth known as the great tribulation, or in the Old Testament, "the day of the Lord."

Now there are two "days" we need to distinguish in Scripture: the day of the Lord, and the day of Christ. They both begin at exactly the same time, but they concern two distinct bodies of people. The day of Christ concerns believers, while the day of the Lord refers to what is happening to unbelievers during this time. And it is my personal conviction that when the Lord comes for his own, and the dead in Christ rise -- when we who are alive are caught up with them to be with the Lord -- that we don't leave this planet at all. We stay here with the Lord, visibly directing the events of the tribulation period as they break out in great judgmental sequences upon the ones who are living as mortals upon the earth -- the scenes that are vividly portrayed in the book of Revelation.

Now the apostle says to them that no one knows when this is going to happen:

When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:3-4 RSV)

It will surprise the people of the world like a thief, but it needn't surprise you like a thief, because you are looking forward to it -- you ought to be expecting it.

For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5 RSV)

Therefore, what should be the practical result? Well, don't go to sleep as others do, but keep awake and be sober. Don't act as though everything is going to go on as usual, but be aware of what God is doing and act accordingly. Remember these signs that Jesus gave that indicate the close approach of these events; these ought to make us aware that it is time to give ourselves more than we ever have before to the work of God. Paul says,

...keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6b-8 RSV)

Now he's not talking about salvation from hell: he's speaking here of the salvation which is to come; that is, salvation from the wrath of God during the time of the judgment. He goes right on to say,

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep [whether we live until the coming of the Lord, or die beforehand] we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 RSV)

How completely he answered their problem! They did not need to be discouraged, or frightened, or distressed, but they could go on about their business, confident that God was in charge of affairs. And although times were difficult, they could busy themselves about the work of the Lord, knowing that they were only investing themselves in a certain future.

The last section speaks not only of living confidently, but of living peacefully in the midst of these conditions:

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a RSV)

There was some friction that was developing towards some of the church leaders, and Paul says, remember that these men are concerned about your soul's welfare, and although they may have to speak rather sharply at times, it's not because they want to hurt you, but to help you. Therefore, remember that and live at peace with them, and esteem them, and love them because they are concerned about you.

And furthermore,

Be at peace among yourselves... (1 Thessalonians 5:13b RSV)

and he gives some practical exhortations as to how to do that:

...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14b RSV)

And most important,

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. (1 Thessalonians 5:15 RSV)

That is probably one of the most frequently broken commands in Scripture. When somebody does something to us, what do we say? "Wait 'til I get even with you!" "I'm going to pay back if it's the last thing I do!" And yet, this is the very attitude which the Scriptures denounce as worldly thinking, outside of the grace and truth and love of Jesus Christ.

Then there are these beautiful verses,

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 RSV)

And after various other admonitions, his final prayer for them is beautiful:

May the God of peace himself [dwelling in you] sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 RSV)

What a wonderful letter this is! And all of this was addressed to new Christians, yet the apostle expected them to lay hold of these truths. In order to grow, there must be, as Jesus said, a constant hungering and thirsting after more; "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied," (Matthew 5:6 RSV). And it is this that the world is waiting to see, especially in these last days. Hope for A Hopeless World.

Before Jesus Christ left this earth he said that he would return, but that before his return there would be a time of difficulty and widespread lawlessness. The seams of society would come apart, and disorders, violence and riot would be so widespread that men's hearts would literally fail them for fear of the things that were coming on the face of the earth. And Jesus predicted the character of the age that would follow his ascension into heaven, and said that it would culminate in a time of great tribulation "such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be," (Matthew 24:21b RSV).

Now when Christians of Thessalonica were going through their time of trouble, many of them thought they were in that time of tribulation. It was to respond to this question that Paul wrote this second letter. In the first letter, he wrote to comfort them in their distress over their loved ones who had died, but this letter is written to correct certain misunderstandings they had about the "Day of the Lord," and this time of trouble.

There are three chapters in this little letter, and each one is a correction of a very common attitude that many people still have about disturbing times. The first chapter is devoted to a correction of the attitude of discouragement in the face of difficulty. These Christians were undergoing "persecutions" and "afflictions" and although they were bearing up with good grace, nevertheless, many of them were getting discouraged. "Why try any more?" they were saying; "There's no justice. Everything is always against us."

And to counteract that attitude, the apostle reminds them that the day when God would repay them for the difficulties they were going through was coming. Paul says (1:5-10):

This [your steadfastness] is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering -- since indeed God deems it just to repay [or to recompense] with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 RSV)

Although we in this country have not gone through much in the way of persecution, there are other parts of the world where intense persecution breaks out from time to time. If we lived in one of these places or times, we would appreciate the meaning of these words. Paul is reminding these people that God has not forgotten them -- that he is going to straighten things out at last. When people go through a time of great persecution, they say, "Isn't there going to be a time when this injustice is corrected? How can a man like Hitler get by with putting six million Jews to death? Won't things ever get straightened out?"

And Paul says, yes, a day is coming when a three-fold repayment will be made: first, to these believers who are undergoing such difficulty; the very trials that they're undergoing, Paul says, are making them worthy of the coming kingdom of God. That aspect of suffering is what makes us able to take it. It puts strength in our muscles and sharpens our moral equipment so that we're able to endure.

And then, he says, there will be a day of recompense to the "unbelieving." There will come a time when God will set them straight, when those who have misused their opportunity of service in life will face a righteous Judge who knows their hearts. His vengeance will have two aspects -- destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.

Hell is often pictured as a fiery furnace where people are dragging around in chains, being continually burned and never being able to do anything about it. The Bible does use some symbols of hell that reflect that idea, but hell is really exclusion from the presence of the Lord. God is the source of everything that is good -- beauty and truth, life and love, joy, peace, grace, strength, forgiveness. All those things come only from God, and if a man won't have them, then God finally says to him, "I've been trying my best to get you to take these, but if you won't have them, then you must have your own way." And they are shut out from the presence of the Lord.

And if they're shut away from the source of all goodness, then what's left? The opposite -- darkness and death That is what they had been dishing out, and that is what they will finally obtain. God will let them have their own way, and when they get it, it will be the last thing they want.

And then the Lord himself will be repaid on that day. He will come, Paul says (1:10): be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:10b RSV)

Notice that he doesn't say he is going to be glorified "by" his saints. But as the world sees the wisdom and the might of the God who can take a self-centered human being, full of anxieties and fears, and teach him how to walk in quietness and joy, rid of his guilt and his fears -- a man as God intended a man to be -- that is the greatest display the universe will ever see. And that glorifies God!

In chapter 2 you have another reaction to disturbing times -- fear. We read in these opening words (verses 1-2):

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, [really the word is troubled] either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 RSV)

These people had evidently received a letter from somebody signing Paul's name, telling them that in this terrible time of trouble all they had to look forward to was worse times. But Paul says, "don't be shaken in your mind." Literally, don't be shaken out of your wits by what's happening. I think many of our young people today are fearful, and striking out against society, because they don't know that God is in control of events.

"Well," Paul says, "in my last letter, I wrote to you about our gathering together unto Jesus. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will be raised, and we who remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. That's our gathering together unto him."

But now he says that the day of the Lord, this terrible time of judgment, is not the same as our gathering together unto him. But having introduced the subject of the day of the Lord, he goes on to tell them what it will be like and how they can tell it's coming. (2:3):

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first. (2 Thessalonians 2:3a RSV)

I don't like that word, "rebellion." Literally translated. the word means the "departure" which of course could mean a departure from the faith, and thus, a rebellion. But I think it means the departure he just talked about -- the departure of the Church behind the scenes to be with the Lord in his second presence on earth.

And then he says (2:3-4):

...the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3c-4 RSV)

Now this is an amazing passage. When Jesus was here, he offered himself to the Jewish people as the promised Messiah, and most of them rejected him, so that John begins his gospel . saying, "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not," (John. 1:11 RSV). Jesus also had said to them, "I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive." (John 5:43 RSV). Thus he painted the picture of one who would appear to be a deliverer to the world, whom Paul calls the "man of lawlessness" and "the son of perdition." This character would be an utterly godless individual, and yet so remarkable that people would actually accept him as a divinely empowered being who could deliver them from their difficulties. (It is very interesting that statesmen, historians, politicians, and others are saying repeatedly today that we need a single worldwide leader who can unite all the various world forces, and bring us out into harmony and peace.) And he will be manifest, says Paul, in the temple of God.

When Paul wrote this letter in about 52 A.D., the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, but in 70 A.D. it was destroyed, and there has never been a temple in Jerusalem since. In some way, however, the Jews will find a way to reconstruct another temple on the site in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock is now. And it is in that temple that Paul says "the man of lawlessness" will take his seat.

Paul has a further comment on the subject (2:5-8):

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed. (2 Thessalonians 5-8a RSV)

There was something at work which he called the mystery of lawlessness. One thing that has puzzled statesmen all through history is that they can never solve the basic difficulties of the human race. Why is it that we can come to a certain point in building good government, with widespread blessing and help for all, and then it all seems to crumble and fall apart? This has been the pattern of history. General Carlos Romulo, who was the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, said, "We have harnessed the power of the atom, but how can we bridle the passions of men?" That is the problem -- this lawlessness, this spirit of rebellion against authority which is always the greatest danger to any nation.

But Paul says that something is restraining it. Something through the course of the centuries has been restraining lawlessness, preventing total anarchy. And Jesus told us what that is; he said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; ..."(Matthew 5:13a RSV). "You are the light of the world," (Matthew 5:14a RSV). Salt prevents corruption from spreading: light dispels darkness, and it is the presence of the people of God on earth that restrains the forces of evil. This is a remarkable thing, yet it is the truth. Wherever godliness diminishes -- sometimes because of forces within the Church as well as without -- a spirit of lawlessness takes over.

But Paul says here that the restraint is going to be taken out of the way, and then the whole flood of human evil will be let loose upon the earth. And when that happens there will come the greatest time of trouble the world has ever seen. Yet, Paul says, it will come to an end (2:8-12):

The Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:8b-12 RSV)

This is the characteristic of the spirit of lawlessness -- deception -- and it must, and will be destroyed, by the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man who destroys the destroyer of earth.

Chapter 3 deals, finally, with the conduct of these believers in the face of difficulty and pressure. Paul was correcting here a third very widespread attitude that many have in times of difficulty -- what we might call "fanaticism." There were certain people in Thessalonica who were saying,"Why not just wait until he comes? Why should we concern ourselves about making a living? Let's just live and enjoy ourselves, and wait for his coming." So Paul says to them (3:6):

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:3 RSV)

Because, he says (11-13):

For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing. (2 Thessalonians 3:11-13 RSV)

As we get nearer to the time of his coming, Paul says, remember that your responsibility is to keep on living normally and working with your hands, taking care of your responsibilities. The Christian life is a normal, natural life, fulfilling all the responsibilities that God places upon us. So Paul rejects the attitude of fanaticism and says that we are to give ourselves to the task that God has set before us.

In this little letter, discouragement is answered by looking to the day when God sets everything straight. Fear is answered by remembering that God is in perfect control of human events, and things will take place just as he has predicted they will take place. And fanaticism is rejected with a specific command -- to be busy at the Lord's work. And then Paul closes with a very tender gesture. He says,

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; It is the way I write. (2 Thessalonians 3:17 RSV)

What is? The words with which he closes the letter:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:18 RSV)

And if you look at the letters of Paul, you'll find that they all close this way. He always took the pen from his secretary and wrote in his own hand, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."

The application of this letter to each individual heart is simply this: God's people are called to be restrainers of lawlessness. How often are you operating as a restraint to lawlessness? The measure in which you oppose lawlessness will be the measure in which there is lawlessness in your own heart, and your own life. --Ray Stedman, Restrainers of Lawlessness.


Earthquakes and the Bible

The Consequence Engine


All Shook Up --Elvis Presley 1957

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On --Jerry Lee Lewis 1964

I will Sing of My Redeemer

I’ll Fly Away by Ransomed Blue Grass 

Jesus the Light of the World

“I’m Going to Wait on Jesus”

April 21, 2020
January 29, 2022

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