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Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

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, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s description of the Second Coming, which, whilst brief, it is the starkest outside of the Book of Revelation.

He ended by discussing the saints who would marvel at the glory of the Lord on that day.

In the concluding verses of 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul says that he prays — or he, Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) pray — for the congregation to be upheld in their faith (emphases mine below):

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul has more about the Second Coming in 2 Thessalonians 2, which begins as follows:

The Man of Lawlessness

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,[a] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction,[c] 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. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

Verse 2 indicates that someone other than Paul spoke to or wrote to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming. In fact, it seems someone claiming to be Paul sent them a letter. The content must have alarmed them, because Paul felt the need to write this short second letter to the congregation.

It is strange how wrapped up people have been throughout history with regard to this event. Yet, they give little thought to the state of their souls with regard to death, likely to be the more immediate event. Some obsess over the end of the world yet neglect to prepare themselves for their leaving this mortal coil.

The man of lawlessness is the Antichrist, the real one to come in a time of apostasy.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sagely reminds us that there has always been a period of apostasy after a rise in piety, including in Old Testament times:

By this apostasy we are not to understand a defection in the state, or from civil government, but in spiritual or religious matters, from sound doctrine, instituted worship and church government, and a holy life. The apostle speaks of some very great apostasy, not only of some converted Jews or Gentiles, but such as should be very general, though gradual, and should give occasion to the revelation of rise of antichrist, that man of sin. This, he says (v. 5), he had told them of when he was with them, with design, no doubt, that they should not take offence nor be stumbled at it. And let us observe that no sooner was Christianity planted and rooted in the world than there began to be a defection in the Christian church. It was so in the Old-Testament church; presently after any considerable advance made in religion there followed a defection: soon after the promise there was revolting; for example, soon after men began to call upon the name of the Lord all flesh corrupted their way,—soon after the covenant with Noah the Babel-builders bade defiance to heaven,—soon after the covenant with Abraham his seed degenerated in Egypt,—soon after the Israelites were planted in Canaan, when the first generation was worn off, they forsook God and served Baal,—soon after God’s covenant with David his seed revolted, and served other gods,—soon after the return out of captivity there was a general decay of piety, as appears by the story of Ezra and Nehemiah; and therefore it was no strange thing that after the planting of Christianity there should come a falling away.

Paul, reviewing what he had told the Thessalonians when he was with them, says that they know what is restraining the Antichrist until the appropriate time (verse 6).

John MacArthur says:

Paul had told them. When he was with them he told them. We can only had wished that he had repeated it here. But he didn’t, he just says, “You know,” and so we’re all saying, “Right, they know but are we sure?” How did they know? He taught them when he was with them. It was information well known to them, if not to us. That which is restraining, notice it there, literally the verb means to hold down, or to hold back. And so he says you know what the restraining force is. It is in the neuter here. So here you’re talking about a force

Human forces deal with human issues, not supernatural issues. Human forces, human power, human ingenuity, human society, human institutions do not cope well with supernatural forces.

So the power that holds back Satan from bringing the Antichrist and the final apostasy must be supernatural. Now let me give you a little insight here. Satan doesn’t want to wait for God’s timetable. You understand that? He is in a hurry. If he had his way the Antichrist would be here now. If he had his way the Antichrist would have already been here. But that’s not God’s plan. God has a timetable and God is operating that timetable. And Satan wants it to happen now. He wants the final rebellion now. He wants the false Messiah now. He wants the blasphemy now. He wants to set himself up as the controller of the universe and his Antichrist, as it were, as Christ now. But God says no and he is being restrained by God through a supernatural means. The man of sin cannot come until God removes this restraining force.

So there is a power in operation and it has to be a supernatural power. It has to be dealing on another level, not just an earthly one. And it is retarding Satan from pulling off his plan with a final Antichrist. Now remember, this will be a human being. 

I think the Second Coming will be a long way away, because certain criteria must be fulfilled before the Antichrist comes to power.

MacArthur tells us:

You say, “What is the season?” Listen very carefully, you’ll understand it. God is redeeming His church. Before the foundation of the world, God ordained who would be redeemed. Their names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. If Satan were not restrained, he would come, he would send the Antichrist, he would bring the holocaust of final blasphemy and disaster and then God would step in and judge the whole thing and the Day of the Lord would come and the end would come but the problem would be there would still be people who had been planned by God to live and believe and populate His eternal kingdom who would not yet have been born. You understand that? So God must wait until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, to borrow Paul’s term in Romans 11, until the whole plan is consummated, until all those from before the foundation of the world set for eternal redemption are born and believe, and only then can it come, otherwise Satan has successfully thwarted the plan of God. So, only in his time will he be revealed. Not Satan, not demons, not any human enterprise or human force of fallen men, no devilish plan, no purpose from hell can operate until God allows it. His plan, His power control everything including Satan and Antichrist. As one commentator put it, “Evil will not pass beyond its limits.” God would never allow that …

In God’s perfect time the Messiah came, and in God’s perfect time the false Messiah comes. In God’s perfect plan, Christ came. In God’s perfect plan, Antichrist comes on time on the schedule God has eternally ordained. He controls all of it. And He has ordained a specific time for the appearing, the manifestation, the apocalypse, the revelation, the unveiling of Antichrist just as He did for the appearing of Jesus Christ the first time and the appearing of Jesus Christ the second time. God the Father knows exactly when Christ will appear. You remember, Jesus said, “No man knows the day nor the hour except the Father,” He does know the day, He does know the hour, He knows the split second and He operates the plan that way.

Paul goes on to say that the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ — sin — is already at work then adds, ‘Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way’ (verse 7).

Henry relates the first part of this verse to the Church from its earliest days:

The apostle justly calls it a mystery of iniquity, because wicked designs and actions were concealed under false shows and pretences, at least they were concealed from the common view and observation. By pretended devotion, superstition and idolatry were advanced; and, by a pretended zeal for God and his glory, bigotry and persecution were promoted. And he tells us that this mystery of iniquity did even then begin, or did already work. While the apostles were yet living, the enemy came, and sowed tares; there were then the deeds of the Nicolaitans, persons who pretended zeal for Christ, but really opposed him. Pride, ambition, and worldly interest of church-pastors and church-rulers, as in Diotrephes and others, were the early working of the mystery of iniquity

MacArthur relates it more generally to Western society:

The true character of lawlessness, follow this, the true character of lawlessness is already at work. It’s already at work.  But you haven’t yet seen the final picture of it.  That’s the idea.  It’s already working.  Evil men are growing worse and worse, 2 Timothy 3:13. It already is visible.  We’re watching a dying culture.  We see iniquity prevailing and escalating.  And so the mystery is gradually unfolding.  It is already at work, but we have not yet seen in this world what lawlessness is really like. It is still somewhat of a secret.  And the world will not know how wretched sin is, how wicked Satan is, how evil the kingdom of darkness is until the mystery is fully revealed.  That happens when the apostasy takes place and the Antichrist sets himself as God

But even now, he says, the mystery is already at work. It’s already working powerfully and effectively.  In our world we have evil and wretchedness and vileness and wickedness and lies and hypocrisies and false teachers and false religions and they get worse and worse and worse and it’s almost as if the mystery is capped, but it’s in a jar maybe but it leaks and finally someday the whole thing is going to blow.  The final satanic plan to overthrow God and bring the false Christ is the ultimate form of the mystery of lawlessness and it’s not yet revealed.  But the spirit of this is in action.  First John 2:18 says, “There’s coming an Antichrist in the future but even now there are many Antichrists.”  That’s the same concept.  We can see the spirit of Antichrist.

MacArthur says that the second half of verse 7 explains verse 6, the force keeping the Antichrist at bay:

“Only He who now restrains will do so until He’s taken out of the way.” The mystery will not be fully revealed until He who restrains is taken out of the way. Now here’s a very important change. In verse 6, what restrains was neuter. Now we have “He” who restrains. We’ve moved from a neuter, a force, to a masculine, a person. And I believe this is a good indication that there is a person here, that there is a supernatural person who is exerting the force in verse 6. There is a force that restrains but there is a “He” who exercises that force.

Who is it? I believe the best understanding would lead us to believe it is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the person who exerts the force that holds back Satan

So we have a number of passages in which the Holy Spirit is seen dealing with sin, wrestling with sin, confronting sin, convicting of sin, restraining sin.  No doubt He could be assisted by Michael, but Michael is not omnipresent.  And Michael is limited because he is a created angel.  I wouldn’t argue that He may use someone like Michael, an angel like Michael or other holy angels, but I believe it is the Holy Spirit who is the restrainer.

Now please note.  The Holy Spirit’s restraint will go on until half way through the time called the tribulation.  The period called the great tribulation is the second half of the seven years.  The Holy Spirit restrains until the mid point and then He allows the Antichrist to go into the temple, do the abomination, bring the apostasy, and then the horrors described in the book of Revelation take place, which lead to the Day of the Lord.  So that restraint will go on until the man of sin is revealed in God’s perfect time.  The Holy Spirit then, I believe, is most likely the restrainer because it must be a supernatural being. The Holy Spirit is the one most frequently associated with dealing with sin, restraining, convicting.  And we could see it as a neuter because there is a force that He exerts and as a masculine because He is a person.

By the way as a footnote for you that are interested, in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit.  And in that discourse as He spoke about the Holy Spirit interestingly enough, He fluctuated between the neuter and the masculine gendersIf you study the Greek text of the Upper Room discourse, John 13 to 17, you will see Him fluctuate between the neuter and the masculine referring to the Holy Spirit, depending on whether He was using a gender to agree with a grammatical term or whether He was using a gender to emphasize personality.  So the Holy Spirit can be spoken of in the neuter. After all, pneuma the Greek word for Spirit, is neuter. He can be spoken of in the masculine when He’s identified as a person.  So that’s not an unfamiliar thing in Scripture.  So I would take it that the Holy Spirit is preventing Satan from the full, final lawlessness under Antichrist until God’s perfect time.  And it has to be in God’s time because He has to redeem the church that is ordained from before the foundation of the world, He has to accomplish all that that involves.

The Holy Spirit will always be present, even during the tribulation period:

Listen, in the first place, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, right? So He has to be everywhere. In the second place, people are going to be saved during this time and nobody is saved who isn’t begotten again by the Spirit. So the idea that the Holy Spirit leaves is not true. What happens is the Holy Spirit is taken out of the way in terms of blocking Satan, in terms of His restraining ministry. So the Holy Spirit is simply taken out of the way as a restrainer, removed as a roadblock, not removed from the world or no one could be saved and God wouldn’t be effecting His purposes and His plans. So we don’t want to make too much out of that. It is the Holy Spirit, He is not removed from the world, or there could be no evangelization by the 144 thousand, there could be no comprehension of the gospel because the Spirit has to quicken the mind, there could be no conversion because He alone is the one who gives eternal life, so He has to be here doing His work. He just stops the restraining part of it.

Once unrestrained, Paul says, the Antichrist is revealed and, at the Second Coming, Christ will kill him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to nothing (verse 8).

Henry posits that Paul wishes to comfort the Thessalonians:

The apostle assures the Thessalonians that the Lord would consume and destroy him; the consuming of him precedes his final destruction, and that is by the Spirit of his mouth, by his word of command; the pure word of God, accompanied with the Spirit of God, will discover this mystery of iniquity, and make the power of antichrist to consume and waste away; and in due time it will be totally and finally destroyed, and this will be by the brightness of Christ’s coming. Note, The coming of Christ to destroy the wicked will be with peculiar glory and eminent lustre and brightness.

MacArthur says that Paul is using an Old Testament expression in that verse:

This is very interesting: “By the breath of His mouth.”  He will be slain by the breath of His mouth.  In other words, the Lord doesn’t even have to do anything to destroy him, as formidable as he is, as powerful as he is, as monumental as he is in human history, the greatest world ruler the world has ever known. He has surpassing control over the whole of the earth. This massive Satanic empowered man is so powerful and yet Christ doesn’t have to do anything, He doesn’t have to call an army, He doesn’t have to speak a word, all He has to do is breathe and he will be destroyed.  That phrase, by the way, is an Old Testament one used in 11 of Isaiah, chapter 11 verse 4, “With righteousness He will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth, He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth. With the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”  That’s obviously where Paul got it, with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked, in this case the wicked one, even the Antichrist.

Again in Isaiah 30 verse 33, that phrase is used again.  “The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets afire.”  God, as it were, lets the breath out of His mouth and it comes like fire and brimstone to consume and destroy.  Psalm 33:6 has a similar expression.

Notice again back there in verse 8, a second statement, “He will slay him with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end,” and bring to an end. Literally abolish, render inoperative, immobilize. Both verbs side by side give you the full annihilation of this man and his enterprise. Satan’s false Christ, he’s a counterfeit-like Jesus Christ.

Paul says that Satan will direct the Antichrist ‘with all power and false signs and wonders’ (verse 9).

Henry explains that these will seem to be supernatural signs but are not:

A divine power is pretended for the support of this kingdom, but it is only after the working of Satan. Signs and wonders, visions and miracles, are pretended … and lying wonders, or only pretended miracles that have served their cause, things false in fact, or fraudulently managed, to impose upon the people: and the diabolical deceits with which the antichristian state has been supported are notorious. 

MacArthur says that the Antichrist will make sure that what he does looks as much as what Christ did:

He has a parousia, he has a revelation just like Jesus Christ.  He has a message which is a lie.  He has a day just like Jesus Christ has a day.  He has power to do signs and wonders.  He even has a kind of resurrection, Revelation 13:12 and 13 indicates.  He has a supernatural person behind him.  In all of those ways he’s like Christ.  Christ has a coming, a revelation.  Christ has a message.  Christ has a day. Christ has the power to do signs and wonders.  Christ had a resurrection.  Christ has behind him the supernatural God.  But this one comes to a quick end and he’s destroyed with the breath of God’s mouth.  His whole enterprise is brought to an end.  Please note when it happens: By the appearance of His coming, that’s the Second Coming of Christ

And what happens to him? Revelation 20 verse 10 says he’s thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone and tormented there forever and ever, along with the devil and his angels and the false prophet. So we see the revelation of this man. He will be revealed in God’s time. And we see the destruction of the man. 

This will be a very difficult time for believers, I think, because unbelievers will persecute them for not believing in the Antichrist. We know how hysteria builds on social media. This will carry out into real life. Anyone who doesn’t believe in this satanic fraud will be considered a heretic.

MacArthur says the Antichrist’s works will all be very convincing:

So powerful is he, verse 10, that with all the deception of wickedness he works.  Now here he tells us about his power.  Paul says he comes in accord with the activity, the energeia, the energy of Satan.  By the way, that word energeia is used in Scripture for power in action.  You see it in Ephesians 1:19 and 20, you see it in Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 4:16, Paul uses it a lot in that letter and it means power in action.  He comes with real power, okay?  This is not just deception.  This is not just tricks, magic.  He comes in real satanic power.  Satan’s power is limited, but it is real.  It is limited but it is real.  And so he comes in the actual energy of Satan.  It is limited in terms of comparison to God’s unlimited power, but whatever it is able to do he will be the manifestation point.

Then note again, “With all power and signs and false wonders.”  Power, signs, wonders, or you could translate it, miracles, signs and wonders. Dunamis is the word for power, also translated miracles.  What about that strikes you?  The same strikes me. Those are the same three things that are used to describe the works of whom?  Christ, miracles, signs, wonders, Acts 2:22.  Those are the same things that are used to describe the apostles, Hebrews 2:4, miracles, signs, wonders.  He’s a counterfeit. He’s a counterfeit. He mimics the true Christ.  And while it is not just magic, it is real supernatural power, it does have its limitations but it is convincing.

Note that Paul says the Antichrist will operate ‘with all wicked deception’ for those perishing — those condemned to Hell — because they refused to love the truth and, thereby, be saved (verse 10).

Again, this will be a terrible time for Christians who are alive to experience it.

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 10 says it is convincing enough to deceive people with all the deception that wickedness can muster. Would you please note it says with all power, or all miracles, signs and false wonders, literally miracles, signs and wonders that are false and deceptive; false not in the sense that they’re fakery, but that they lead to false conclusions about who he is. Power, what is that? Mighty displays of supernatural acts. Signs: Pointing to him as the one who does them, pointing to his supernatural power. Wonders: Getting the astonishing results. He will do powerful miracles which will point to him as a supernatural being and create wonder and shock and astonishment, so much so that people will conclude that he is divine, the Jews will conclude that he is the Messiah, people will conclude that he is God, he will set himself up as God, the world will fall at his feet and worship him. He will consume all other religion, the whole world will bow down to him and anybody who doesn’t will be destroyed by him. He will do mighty acts, pointing to himself as a supernaturally energized person, exciting and eliciting astonishment and wonder from the world.

The word “false” should be taken with all three. It’s pseudos, from which we get “pseudo.”  It shows the effect of the miracles, not the nature of them. They’re not false miracles in the sense that it’s fakery.  They are supernatural, satanic things, not like the miracles of God, but enough to be convincing.  The effect of them is to make people believe a lie.

And then verse 10, “With all the deception of wickedness.”  That is, all that wickedness can do to deceive, all the deceit that wickedness has at its disposal, all the deception that wickedness at its worst can produce.  The whole operation is a lie, it is false. It lures people to believe that Antichrist is the world’s savior, the world’s Messiah.  Even non-religious people are going to see him as the one who will solve the world’s problems, who will fix the world.  You can see how our world today would bow at the feet of a man like that, can’t you?  Especially if he could do supernatural things.  They’re going to believe that this is the man to deliver the world from all its troubles.  Religious people are going to believe this is God’s man; this is the world’s deliverer.  And every hellish, supernatural ploy Satan has will be used to achieve this deception. And he’ll do it and he’ll be successful because the Holy Spirit will step out of the way and not restrain itAll of evil’s undiluted, unrestrained power to deceive will act.

MacArthur explains the second half of verse 10:

In verse 10, he comes with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  The extent of his influence: On all who perish.  Literally those who are perishing, those who reject the truth, those who do not love the truth, the truth written, the truth incarnate.  If you don’t love the Word of God and love the Lord Jesus Christ so as to be saved, you will be caught up in the deception. The unregenerate will believe the lie.  Listen, they always believe a lie.  And you remember back in John 8 Jesus said to the Jews, “You’re not of God, you’re of your father the devil, and he’s a liar from the start.”  If you don’t believe the truth of God, you’ll believe the lie of the devil.  This is the class of people who will succumb to Satan’s deception.

In Matthew 24:24 we have a very important statement being made there.  There will be people being converted at this time and believing the truth and it says that this guy will be so formidable and so deceptive and so many signs and so many wonders will come so as to mislead if possible even the what? The elect, but it isn’t what? Possible.  The unregenerate, yes.  Their blindness is self-imposed because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be savedIt’s the only time in the New Testament that phrase is used.  It doesn’t say they didn’t receive the truth, he adds that compelling thought they didn’t receive the love of the truth to show you that true salvation is a love relationship with truth written and truth incarnateThe love of the truth, the gospel, they gave it no welcome, they didn’t want it, they didn’t love it.

Back in chapter 1 verse 8 it says that the unsaved do not know God and do not obey the gospel.  They don’t know God, they don’t obey the gospel and they don’t love the truth.  John 3 says men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.  They reject Christ’s words, they reject Christ’s person.  He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” He is the truth incarnate, embodied.  Ephesians 4:21, “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him just as truth is in Jesus.”

They don’t love Jesus, they don’t love truth.  Their unbelief is not a matter of mind, it is not a matter of intellect. It is a matter of heart. It is a matter of affection.  They may have heard, they may have understood, they may have even thought it was true, but they had no love for the truth.  I think we have a lot of people today who if you asked them – do you believe Jesus is God, died and rose again for salvation – would say yes but they don’t love Him or His truth.  This is the test of destiny.  If they had loved the truth, if they had loved Christ, they would have been saved and delivered from Satan’s lies and deception and destruction. So the guilt is theirs.  All unredeemed people are under some damning level of satanic deception.  Did you get that?  All unredeemed people on the face of the earth are under some damning level of satanic deception. They are all believing a lie.  And we’re not surprised to find these folks sucked up in the lie of Antichrist because it’s the most powerful embodiment of satanic deception in the history of the world.

Ultimately, this is Paul’s message to the Thessalonians:

… So Paul says, look, don’t be deceived, don’t be forgetful and don’t be ignorantYou are not in the day of the Lord, it hasn’t come. It won’t come until the apostasy pulled off by this man of lawlessness. 

Paul’s final two verses discuss unbelievers.

Because they refused to love the truth (of Christ), God sends them a strong delusion so that they can believe what is false (verse 11).

Henry says that this is God’s judgement. God withdraws divine grace from them:

God shall send them strong delusions, to believe a lie. Thus he will punish men for their unbelief, and for their dislike of the truth and love to sin and wickedness; not that God is the author of sin, but in righteousness he sometimes withdraws his grace from such sinners as are here mentioned; he gives them over to Satan, or leaves them to be deluded by his instruments; he gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts, and leaves them to themselves, and then sin will follow of course, yea, the worst of wickedness, that shall end at last in eternal damnation. God is just when he inflicts spiritual judgments here, and eternal punishments hereafter, upon those who have no love to the truths of the gospel, who will not believe them, nor live suitably to them, but indulge false doctrines in their minds, and wicked practices in their lives and conversations.

MacArthur posits that unbelief is a moral decision and a conscious one at that:

Scripture is absolutely crystal clear on this issue. Going back, for example, to the words of our Lord Himself in John chapter 5 and verse 39, Jesus speaking, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.  And it is these that bear witness of Me.”  Then verse 40, “And you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life.”  Your problem is not a lack of information.  You search the Scriptures and they tell about Me, but you won’t come to Me that you might have life.  Their antipathy, listen, their antipathy to truth is not intellectual.  Their antipathy to truth is moral.  Did you get that?  Their resistance to the gospel is not intellectual. Their resistance to the gospel is moral.  In John 8 verse 24, Jesus said this, “I said therefore to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”

Why do people go to hell?  Because they die in their sins.  That is, their sins have never been forgiven, atoned for, or covered, and so hell is where they will pay for them forever.  Why do they die in their sins?  Because they believe not on Me.  Why do they not believe?  Because they are unwilling to believe; it is a question of human volition.  And again I say, their antipathy is not intellectual. It is moral.  It is moral.  If you go to someone and say, “There is a God who loves you.  There is a God who loves you so much that He came into the world in the form of a man to die on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins.  And He wants to forgive you all your sins.  And He wants you to be free from any guilt or any condemnation or any judgment and He wants you to spend eternity in glory and bliss and joy and happiness and peace.”  I daresay to you that anybody is going to say, “I like that.” I like that.  I like a God who is willing to forgive any of my sins.  I am very excited about a God who paid the penalty for my sins so that I will never be punished for any of them.  I like a God who wants to remove all my guilt, I like that.  I like a God who wants to give me peace and joy and love and satisfaction.  I like that.”

But the kicker in the whole story is this. Are you willing to abandon your sin, repent of it, and turn toward the path of righteousness, and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord?  You see, the decision is a moral one, not an intellectual one.  You give someone the intellectual data of the gospel. But now you confront them and you say, will you love the truth or will you love your sin?  And you have faced them with a moral dilemma.  And, in fact, according to John 3:19, it is simply resolved in these words, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”

Coming to Christ is not an intellectual decision, it is a moral one.  It is a decision that says I will no longer love my sin, I will love Christ.  Would you please notice verse 10?  They perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  If they had received the love of the truth, they would be saved.  Note this, please. It doesn’t say they did not receive the truth, but they did not receive what? The love of it.  This marvelous, enlightening phrase, used only here, tells us what is really involved in accepting Christ and the gospel.  They had no desire to be saved.  They loved their sin, not the truth.

Now what is the truth?  Well certainly it’s the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the truth that saves, the love of the truth so as to be saved.  So it would have to be saving truth and saving truth is the gospel.  But I think it could even be a capital “T” and refer to Christ Himself.  First Corinthians 16:22 says, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, he is accursed.”  So it is the truth of the gospel as embodied in the Truth who is the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He’s saying to them, “You refuse to love Christ and His saving truth.  That’s your problem.  You love your sin

They love their sin, they love what they believe, and what they believe is in themselves. They love the lie of Satan and they hate the gospel and Christ. That is a human choice. That is a willful choice and they bear completely the guilt for that refusal. As I said, one can actually receive the truth but not love it. One can make an intellectual apprehension of the truth and not love it.

Somehow, and for whatever reason, unbelievers think:

that sin is beneficial.

God’s judgement in leaving unbelievers to their own devices results in their condemnation because they took pleasure in unrighteousness rather than the truth (verse 12).

MacArthur says:

Verse 11, “God will send upon them…” Folks, that’s divine judgment. That is divine judgment. God will send upon them. What a thought. The sovereign power of God is going to act on unbelievers to seal their fate, to seal their fate.

We have scriptural evidence for it:

In the case of Matthew chapter 13 Jesus speaks in parables.  Why?  Why does He speak in parables?  Why doesn’t He just speak clearly?  And He says, “I speak in parables,” Matthew 13:13, “because while seeing they do not see, while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand,” and I am fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “you will keep on hearing but will not understand, you will keep on seeing but will not perceive, for the heart of this people has become dull and their ears they scarcely hear and they have closed their eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and return and I should heal them.”  In other words, they’ve done it on their own and now I’m doing it to them.  That is repeated in Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, Acts 28:26 and 27, that same Isaiah passage.  If you will not hear and will not hear and will not see and will not see, the day will come when you cannot hear and cannot see.  If you reject the truth the day will come when all you can believe is a lie as God hardens you in the path which you have chosen

What does that mean? That means they passed the point of grace. That means God let go. God turned them over to the consequence of their own choice … Evangelists through the centuries have said, “Don’t you continue to sin past the period of grace.” You will wake up in the period of judgment and you will have no capacity to believe anything but the lie …

It’s a set condition that man brings upon himself by willful unbelief that ultimately becomes a judicial consequence of his own chosen course of action, sealing him in the chains of his own iniquity. He refuses light and chooses darkness, then he’ll have darkness and he’ll never recognize light. He hardens his heart? Then hardened it shall be. He refuses the love of the Truth? Then let him receive a lying spirit and embrace the ultimate lie of idolatry and worship the man of lawlessness. He spurned eternal life? Then let him have eternal death. So they reap the reward of their unbelief and God even uses Satan and Antichrist to punish him. In all ages, not just the time of the Antichrist, in all ages those who persist in sin may find that eventually they won’t be able to change the pattern.

Paul’s message here is:

if you want to look joyfully at the return of Christ, if you want to be eager about His coming, if you want to love His appearing, then don’t be deceived and don’t be forgetful and don’t be ignorant, and please, most of all, don’t be unbelieving. Any of those should produce anxiety.

Paul ends the chapter with another uplifting message for the Thessalonians, reminding them of their election, their faith and the Holy Spirit’s sanctification. Note ‘stand firm’:

Stand Firm

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits[d] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

With this, Paul finishes writing to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming.

Next week begins the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

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John F MacArthurYesterday’s post on 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 referenced several of John MacArthur’s sermons, one of which was ‘The Vengeance of the Lord Jesus, Part 2’ from January 19, 1992.

In it, he related a true story about his friend Spencer Nielsen, who was involved in the well-known Nielsen Report, which measures and analyses various types of data to help major corporations market themselves better.

Late in 1991, Nielsen received a complaint about the religious Christmas insert he had included with the December newsletter.

MacArthur takes up the story (emphases mine):

I have a friend, Spencer Nielsen. He writes “The Nielsen Report” … It’s a very scholarly and esteemed newsletter, quoted often in The Wall Street Journal and other places. In the December mailing of his newsletter, Spencer included the gospel, as he likes to do around Christmas, to share that with all of these people. In response to that he receives letters. Here is one from an executive of Bell Atlantic, the phone company on the east coast. “Dear Mr. Nielsen, I am writing to voice my displeasure at receiving the religious material insert in my last issue. This is most inappropriate and detracts from the strength of each subject in a stand-alone manner. You should reevaluate this as a business practice. My guess is that most of your readers were put off by it.” And the letter is signed.

This, he faxed to me, was his reply and he wanted to know if I thought this was a good reply. “Thank you for your December 30 letter. I was pleased to hear you noticed the Christmas message. Regarding your comment that it was inappropriate to include it in my newsletter, there is no such thing as an inappropriate time to talk about Jesus Christ. Each year I get an equal number of letters and phone calls thanking me or objecting to the Christmas message I send. Negative comments are generally because they consider it offensive. The message of Christ is offensive. Christ was crucified by people who considered Him offensive. He tells us we are all born sinners in need of salvation, that we must be washed clean by His blood, shed on a cross, that no one will get to heaven unless they come to the realization they are powerless to save themselves, that Christ died to redeem them from punishment they can’t escape unless they accept Him as their Savior. That’s all pretty offensive, but true. Over the centuries His disciples were stoned, beheaded, and tortured for simply confessing their belief in Him. So I consider myself fortunate in this age to be able to speak freely about Him without anyone being able to stop me. I don’t mind the criticism as long as it brings anyone who is not saved to the realization it is necessary to make life’s most important decision now, before it is too late. Sincerely,” and he signs his name.

MacArthur says:

How can anyone who understands where history is going and what the end of it is take any other approach? If we understand that Jesus Christ is coming to deal out retribution to all those who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and that what awaits them is pain forever in a ruined condition, away from His presence and His glory for all eternity, it would seem to me that nothing could restrain us from compelling people to that realization, offensive or not. And I thank God for the faithfulness of Spencer and others who hold back nothing. God would be offended if we didn’t warn the sinner.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 has the starkest description of the Second Coming outside of Revelation. Paul wrote it to comfort the Thessalonians who were faithful and loving in spite of persecution. Paul assured them that God would punish their persecutors.

MacArthur gives us insights as to how God will exact His divine retribution, including this description of hell:

Who is going to feel the retribution of God? Those who persecute Christians, who are part of a larger group who do not know God because they do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

How is this retribution meted out?  Back to verse 6, “After all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction.”  That’s how, with affliction, pain if you want another word, a synonym, pain.  If you want a good definition of thlibō, this is the term used here. It’s used in the New Testament in other places. The best illustration of what it can encompass is in 2 Corinthians 7:5.  Paul says, “We came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, no relief, we were afflicted.” There’s the same word. “On every side,” and here he defines it, “conflicts without, fears within, but God who comforts the depressed comforted us.”  What is it?  It’s affliction.  It’s depression.  How is it defined?  Conflict on the outside, fear on the inside. That’s why it’s the word “pressure,” “squeeze.”  You’re squeezed between the terrors on the outside and the terrors on the inside.  That’s the punishment.  God is going to give you pain.  God’s going to make you feel that pain, misery.  And that misery and pain with which He will afflict you is further described in verse 9, “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.”

Now here we find something that needs our attention: The word “eternal.” This pain, this misery, this depression, this affliction is forever.  The word “eternal” is aiōn and it basically means a period of undefined length, age-long. However long the age is, that’s how long this is.  The reason it’s always translated “eternal” is because it is always associated with eternal things.  Seventy-five times aiōn is used in the New Testament. Out of seventy-five, only three refer to other than an endless duration. Only three times is this word used for other than an endless duration: Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2.  Seventy-two of the seventy-five mean an endless duration.  For example, it is used of God. God is aiōn. He is eternal, Romans 16:26.  In John 3:16 it is used of our time in heaven, or our period in heaven, which is eternal, forever.  Hebrews 5:9 it is used of our salvation, which is forever.  In Hebrews 9:12 of our redemption, which is forever, and on and on for 72 times; it must mean forever.  The coming age has no end, as God has no end, as we have no end, as salvation has no end.  It is not an abbreviated time, it is forever.

How is this vengeance and punishment going to come?  It’s going to come as pain, pressure, affliction, conflict in…outside and fear inside crushing the person forever.  He calls it here “destruction,” which adds another component, olethros.  The word means “ruin,” ruin.  It has the idea not of annihilation, not of being obliterated and put out of existence, but the idea of the loss of all that makes life worth living.  It speaks of somebody who is ruined.  It would be a… It would be a condition perhaps best, most graphically articulated to you as a condition like the physical condition of a dyingpatient.  You’ve seen them, skin and bones lying on a bed with sunken faces and hollow, glassy eyes, unable to move, racked with killing disease, tortured with excruciating agony, and unable to have the strength to even respond.  Only it is that same condition forever, never the relief of death.  You never die. You just experience the uselessness, the hopelessness, the emptiness of a life with no meaning, no value, no worth, no accomplishment, no purpose, no goal, no future, no change, no hope.  You’re ruined forever.

The Lord Jesus had some terrifying things to say about this ruined existence.  He said it is an experience of fiery torment.  It is an experience that burns with a furious fire and yet gives no light to impenetrable darkness.  It is an experience of weeping and grinding of teeth in pain and frustration.  Soul and body are both ruined as far as worth and beauty are concerned.  Any vestige of the image of God is gone. Consuming worms eat but never die and are never satisfied.  The fire never goes out.  There is no escape.  And worst of all, there’s no second chance.  That’s what happens. God pays back and He pays back with pain and He pays back with pain that lasts forever, pain that renders a person absolutely useless, ruined forever.

Then there are two reasons given why this life is so terrible.  One, verse 9: “Away from the presence of the Lord.”  Wherever this place is called hell, God isn’t there.  There isn’t a vestige of His presence there.  In fact, in Luke 16 … in the story … of Lazarus and the rich man, there is a great gulf fixed between the place where the blessed are and the place where the cursed are.  And that gulf separates the cursed from God and all that represents His presence.  Imagine an existence like that.  Imagine an existence in this kind of terrible, ruined, worthless, useless, purposeless, painful, eternal existence where there is no vestige of anything that connects with God. James 1:17, James said, “All good things come from God. All perfect things come from God.”  There won’t be any of them there, nothing good, nothing meaningful, nothing beautiful, nothing valuable, no joy, no peace, no love, nothing, no pleasure, nothing because God isn’t there.  Jesus said it. In Matthew 7:23, He said, “Depart from Me.” That’s the point, “I don’t know you, go out of My presence.”  That’s what hell is, it’s away from the presence of the Lord.  There is nothing of God there, therefore there’s no beauty, there’s no joy, there’s no pleasure, there’s no purpose.  God isn’t there.  You’re gone, banished, exiled from God.

As Leon Morris says, “Those who oppose the things of God here and now are not engaged in some minor error.”  This is not a minor error.  There’s no fleshly sentiment that can alter the consequences to not knowing God and not obeying the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Then Paul adds another feature of hell. Not only are they away from the presence of the Lord, but also they’re away from the glory of His power.  That’s a magnificent reality, you know, the glory of His power.  What does it mean?  It means visible splendor, His majesty, and the display of that majesty in power.  They’ll never see that.  They’ll never see that.  There will be nothing of the presence of God there. There will be nothing of the power of God there.  Nothing of His presence to comfort, nothing of His presence to give meaning, nothing of His presence to give beauty, pleasure, joy, peace, happiness, nothing of His presence to bring those things that make life worth living, and nothing of His glory and His splendor and His majesty and His power.

Your company?  The devil.  Your company?  His evil angels.  And yet an eternal loneliness.  Jesus is coming and He’s bringing retribution.  He’s bringing retribution.  Why?  It’s just. It is just.  On whom?  Those who persecute Christians who belong to that larger order of people who do not know God because they do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  And how will the retribution come?  It will come with pain that is eternal that ruins them and they will live forever without any vestige of the presence of the Lord or any display of His glorious power through all eternity.  That’s the coming of Jesus Christ.  That’s what it means to the people who reject Christ.

Unbelievers will say, ‘As I do not believe in God, I don’t care about His presence or the loss thereof’.

However, suppose that the realisation of the lack of God’s presence becomes crystal clear as one goes to meet Satan and his angels forever. In the first instance, following death, the condemned souls are in torment. After the Second Coming, they are reunited with their body in their second death. With the physical aspect, the torment increases.

There is no rest, mentally or physically.

Unlike cartoon depictions, there is no drinks trolley at 6 p.m. There is no fun, no beauty of any kind, nothing to lift the spirit. There aren’t any relationships, either.

It’s hard for us to imagine.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us:

John the Baptist didn’t come along … and say, “It would certainly be wonderful if you would repent,” he said, “Repent, or else.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as specified below).

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

The Judgement at Christ’s Coming

This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

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Last week’s post concluded my study of 1 Thessalonians; in Chapter 5, Paul gave closing guidelines on behaviour towards other Christians.

Today’s post begins a study of 2 Thessalonians, which Paul wrote a few months after his first letter.

Matthew Henry’s introduction, finished posthumously in this instance by Daniel Mayo, who also completed the commentary on 1 Thessalonians, states (emphases mine):

This Second Epistle was written soon after the former, and seems to have been designed to prevent a mistake, which might arise from some passages in the former epistle, concerning the second coming of Christ, as if it were near at hand. The apostle in this epistle is careful to prevent any wrong use which some among them might make of those expressions of his that were agreeable to the dialect of the prophets of the Old Testament, and informs them that there were many intermediate counsels yet to be fulfilled before that day of the Lord should come, though, because it is sure, he had spoken of it as near. There are other things that he writes about for their consolation under sufferings, and exhortation and direction in duty.

From 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, Paul took exception to those in the congregation who did not work. He did not specify why, but it is possible that those who were idle were waiting for the Second Coming and thought it was imminent, therefore, there was no need for them to work. Therefore, he needed to write to the congregation to get them out of the mindset that the Second Coming was imminent, just that it will definitely happen one day and, for that, they must prepare their hearts and minds in order to avoid judgement.

Even with people like that, the Thessalonians were known throughout the churches in Macedonia as being loving, faithful Christians who set the best example for converts. This held true even as they were persecuted for their faith.

These are the first four verses in 2 Thessalonians 1:

Greeting

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers,[a] as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

John MacArthur points out a few things with regard to those verses:

… suffice it to say for this moment that Paul is the author and he has two fellow missionaries along with him, Silas, or Silvanus — Silas being his Jewish name, Silvanus his Roman nameand Timothy.  They are with Paul and so he includes them in the opening greeting though Paul himself is alone the author.  They are in the city of Corinth.  They have been there for some time now. In fact, they were together when he wrote 1 Thessalonians some months before the writing of the second letter. They were together also for the founding of the church in Thessalonica.  If you go back to Acts 16 and 17 you will see that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were there when the church began.  They were there later on when the first letter was written and they were together again in Corinth for the writing of the second letter.

You will also notice that uncommonly Paul adds nothing to his name.  He doesn’t say, “Paul, an apostle; Paul, called of God; Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.”  All of those familiar things by which he designates himself are omitted here.  It’s almost as if he is intending to say that my apostleship and my call and my role and my title and my leadership and my office are not in question among you, so I need make no reference to it And he doesn’t.  Although in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 he does defend himself against what would be attacks from the outside of the church against his integrity.  There apparently were no questions inside the church so he makes no reference to his apostleship.

Furthermore there is a loving, intimate kind of tone in this letter and it is a letter written on that level so its purpose is not apostolic authority, but loving intimacy and encouragement.  And therefore the absence of title makes it a more endearing introduction.

He includes Silvanus, or Silas, who was a faithful partner of Paul He was senior in years to Timothy, probably closer to the age of Paul.  In Acts 15:22 he is called “a chief among the brethren, a leader.”  He is called in Acts 15:32, “a prophet.”  It is noted in Acts 16 that he was a Jew and like Paul, also a Roman citizen He is a familiar friend of Paul, was with him in some very dire circumstances, including being jailed with him in the city of Philippi.

Then you will note Timothy, the young man Paul had met in Acts 16, moving along with him, Paul’s companion, Paul’s son in the faith whom he was training to take the mantle when he passed on.

So here the three were together.  As I said, they were together when the church was founded.  They were together when the first letter was written.  And they’re together again this time.  And probably this is the last time the three of them were together in the life of Paul

You’ll also remember that that is the same thing identically to what he said in chapter 1 of the first letter.  Only one word differs.  Notice in verse 1 the word “our God,” “our Father.”  That is the only word that differs from the opening of the first letter.  The first letter says, “God, the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And here in the intimacy of this letter he chooses to use that personal possessive pronoun “our” to emphasize that God is the Father of believers.  May I add that is an unusual emphasis?  Usually in the epistles of Paul God is seen as the Father generally, or God is seen as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rarely is He seen as the Father of believers.  That is true but that is not the main feature or emphasis of his fatherhood in the epistles or for that matter in the gospels.

But here is an appropriate emphasis for a little church being approached intimately in a time of severe persecution.  They are the subject and the object of a loving Father’s tender care.  And he notes, of course, the key word there, the word “in.” We are in God our Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And here he’s simply reiterating their vital union with God and with Christ. 

MacArthur gives us more on the timing of this second letter, which Henry’s commentary says was written in AD 52:

Sometime around the spring he wrote that first letter that we have studied called 1 Thessalonians.  He then stayed in Corinth where he wrote that letter for about eighteen to twenty-two months, so he had a long visit there.  But after having written that first letter early in his stay at Corinth, he writes the second letter.  And it’s only months later.  In other words, maybe some time from November through February is when he wrote this second letter This means a few months have passed and he’s gotten another report.  We don’t know where the report came from.  We don’t know the source and we don’t know the specifics of it.  But obviously he has heard further word and the further word about the Thessalonian church prompts him to write a second rich and wonderful letter to them.

The first thing you note if you read 2 Thessalonians is that he talks about persecution and endurance.  So we can assume the persecution had continued.  The persecution maybe escalated.  The heat perhaps had been turned up.

The second thing you’ll note as you read this letter is that there still remained confusion over the Second Coming of Christ.  ... And there may have been a false letter, that is a letter said to be from Paul that was not from Paul that had been given to the church at Thessalonica with some error in it. They, thinking it came from Paul, bought into it and it created some of the confusion.  So there is the possibility that they had a false Pauline letter that had created some of their problems.

Furthermore there were other false teachers who said that suffering means the end is present with you.  You’re living in the end.  And so that confusion continued about the Second Coming and that is apparent in the second letter.

The third thing that must have come to him in the report was that some of the people were believing that Jesus was coming in any split second.  And as a result of that, because they were already living in the end, and Jesus would be there in any moment, they were not working They had ceased to work and were becoming leeches on the Christian community and so the issue of indolence and laziness and a failure to work becomes a very important part of this letter.

Paul says that ‘this’ — the Thessalonians’ steadfastness in the face of persecution and affliction — is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, for which they are also suffering (verse 5).

I am not sure that 21st century audiences would appreciate the import of that or find it of much comfort, so here is Henry’s explanation, which, although he does not use the word, says that suffering for the Christian faith is a form of sanctification:

Their faith being thus tried, and patience exercised, they were improved by their sufferings, insomuch that they were counted worthy of the kingdom of God. Their sufferings were a manifest token of this, that they were worthy or meet to be accounted Christians indeed, seeing they could suffer for Christianity. And the truth is, Religion, if it is worth any thing, is worth every thing; and those either have no religion at all, or none that is worth having, or know not how to value it, that cannot find in their hearts to suffer for it. Besides, from their patient suffering, it appeared that, according to the righteous judgment of God, they should be counted worthy of the heavenly glory: not by worthiness of condignity, but of congruity only; not that they could merit heaven, but they were made meet for heaven. We cannot by all our sufferings, any more than by our services, merit heaven as a debt; but by our patience under our sufferings we are qualified for the joy that is promised to patient sufferers in the cause of God.

MacArthur points out that persecution will never destroy true faith — but it will destroy false faith:

Let me give you a principle.  Persecution destroys false faith.  Persecution destroys false faith.  Persecution never destroys true faith.  Persecution destroys false faith.  You remember Matthew 13 verses 20 and 21 Jesus talked about seed that fell into the ground, the ground was rocky, the plant came up for a little while.  As soon as persecution came, it died.  Persecution destroys false faith.  It never destroys true faith.  And somebody says why?  And the answer is, because true faith is indestructible, true faith is indestructible Luke 22:32, Peter looked at Jesus in the moment of his failure, Jesus looked back at Peter and said, “I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.”  Why is it indestructible?  Because Jesus Christ will never let it be destroyed It is indestructible.  No matter how stressing, no matter how hard, no matter how troubled the times and events, no matter how deep, deep the pain, no matter how severe the persecution, the only thing that gets destroyed by persecution is false faith.  That’s why we always say that persecution produces a pure church.

So, what happened to the Thessalonians?  They were real. They were in God and in Christ, the genuine recipients of grace and peace.  And therefore when the persecution came and the heat was turned up, all it did was increase their trust.  Why?  Because persecution drives the true believer to whom?  To GodRemember 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says, “I had this thorn in the flesh.”  Where did he go?  “Three times I went to the Lord.”  Trouble, persecution, distress, affliction, pain drives the true believer to the Lord and when you’re driven to the Lord you learn to know Him more deeply and the more you know Him the more you trust Him and that’s how trust grows.  I would go so far as to say it is hard for faith to grow without difficulty, without persecution or affliction or trouble or trials or stress because God has no opportunity to draw you to Himself and display His love and mercy and power So, the true believer accepts all of this and finds his trust in God is growing.

The Apostle says that God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict the Thessalonians (verse 6), and indeed, any other believer, then and now, to the end of time.

Henry says:

A punishment inflicted on persecutors: God will recompense tribulation to those that trouble you, v. 6. And there is nothing that more infallibly marks a man for eternal ruin than a spirit of persecution, and enmity to the name and people of God: as the faith, patience, and constancy of the saints are to them an earnest of everlasting rest and joy, so the pride, malice, and wickedness of their persecutors are to them an earnest of everlasting misery; for every man carries about with him, and carries out of the world with him, either his heaven or his hell. God will render a recompence, and will trouble those that trouble his people. This he has done sometimes in this world, witness the dreadful end of many persecutors; but especially this he will do in the other world, where the portion of the wicked must be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

MacArthur looks at the word ‘just’ in that verse:

Verse 6: “It is only just.” It is only just to give relief to those who are afflicted and to the other believers. It is only just.

Think about that. That is a startling statement. It is only just to repay, antapodidōmi – very, very strong word. It is only just. It is essential to God’s nature as holy, to God’s nature as righteous, to God’s nature as just. It is essential that He give relief, it is right to do that. This is an amazing thing to think about. We can understand that it is right, that it is just, and therefore it is necessary for God to punish and repay with vengeance those who rejected Him. We can understand that kind of divine justice.

MacArthur also explains ‘affliction’ used in verse 6:

How is that vengeance, that retribution and that punishment to be meted out?  First of all, in verse 6 it says, “God will repay with affliction.”  That means with pain.  It will be a painful execution of judgment, of justice.  Furthermore in verse 9, this penalty to be paid will be eternal.  It will be an eternal pain, eternal destruction, he calls it.  The word means ruination.  In other words, man as to any value or any purpose or any worthiness will be ruined.  It will be the ruination of that individual, eternally ruined and eternally to bear pain.  Further, that is defined as being away from the presence of the Lord and away from the glory of His power.  No evidence of the presence of God.  He will not be there.  No manifestation of the glory of His power.  To be in that place called hell prepared for the devil and his angels is to be utterly apart from any representation of God or any display of His power whatsoever, left only to the underworld of fallen angels in their unmitigated, wickedness and punishment and unrelieved and eternal pain.  That’s retribution.  That’s what happens when Jesus comes.

Yet, while God will justly punish persecutors and others among the wicked, the persecuted and His other faithful servants will find relief when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (verse 7).

The world has not seen Jesus Christ in His full glory and power having been at the right hand of the Father since the Ascension, but at the Second Coming — at some point in future — those alive at the time will experience it. It will be a longed-for relief for those who belong to Him and a terrifying reality to those who are not His. Those who have already died will experience their final judgement. Those whose souls have been at rest with Him will receive their glorified bodies and join Him forever in heaven. Those who have been in hell will receive their final condemnation, sometimes referred to as the second death. All decisions will be final. There will be no second chances.

MacArthur discusses ‘revealed’:

The key statement in this text is in verse 7, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” The Lord Jesus shall be revealed. Verse 10 says it in a briefer way, “When He comes.” The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is then the theme here. Ever and always the Christian reads the Scripture and it points to the climax of history being the return of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus, as He is called there in verse 7, is now at the right hand of God. He has been exalted as the sovereign Lord of the church, as the faithful High Priest unto God for His people. But the day is coming when He shall be revealed.

Currently He is hidden. He is so much hidden now that the majority of the world probably believes that He is not even alive. But He shall be revealed. Presently we love Him though we have not seen Him. Some day we will see Him and love Him fully.

Also:

The word “revealed” means disclosed, unveiled, it is the apokalupsis, the apocalypse, the unveiling, the revealing.  As we have been noting in our study of the book of Revelation, Jesus came the first time veiled, He came the first time hidden in human flesh so that His full glory was not seen.  The second time He is unveiled, He is revealed, and He comes in full glory

Continuing that thought, Paul says that Jesus will reveal Himself in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey His Gospel (verse 8).

MacArthur reminds us of His own words in Matthew’s Gospel:

Paul is not inventing this, nor is it the first time that the Scriptures have talked about this two-fold coming. Jesus Himself made it abundantly clear that the nature of His coming would be two-fold. In Matthew chapter 13 Jesus says in verse 40, “Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness and will cast them into the furnace of fire, and in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That’s the retribution. When He comes the angels will collect the ungodly and cast them into hell.

Later on in Matthew chapter 24 He says, verse 30, “The Son of Man comes, He comes on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory and He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”

In Matthew 13 the angels gather the ungodly for burning. In Matthew 24 the angels gather the elect, the godly, to take them into the kingdom and then they will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, as it said also in Matthew chapter 13. 

MacArthur says:

So, Jesus promised this, not only in the passages that I read, but in numerous other passages that at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ there would be a two-fold work. And all humanity falls into one of those two categories. The whole world will experience the return of Christ. Every eye will see Him. Every human being alive or dead who has ever lived or is living at the time will experience the effect of the Second Coming either for relief or for retribution. All of destiny ultimately falls into those two categories.

Paul here, as I noted, is echoing what Jesus promised, that he would come and that there would be a gathering together of the ungodly and that they would be cast into hell, which is vengeance, wrath and punishment. Jesus promised that was the purpose of His coming and Paul reiterates that at this particular point in this text. Actually there isn’t any text that I know of — and I have scoured them all obviously in the New Testament — there isn’t any text in the New Testament outside the book of Revelation that is as poignant and potent in portraying the fierceness of the Lord Jesus as the executioner of the ungodly as this one. It is a very strong statement that the Spirit of God makes through the pen of Paul.

Also:

The Lord appears in the Old Testament with His angels. Christ appears in His second coming with the same angels because they are the same angels. There were only the angels that were created at the same time, they don’t reproduce. The same angels that surrounded God in the Old Testament will surround Christ in His return, which is to say that Jesus is God or He carries the same angels with Him as the ministers of His authority.

And then … What do we mean, “He comes in flaming fire”? This is not the kind of fire that you get from lighting something with a match or a torch. This is not a wood fire. This is not a gasoline fire, this is not any kind of temporal, earthly, physical fire. It is the fire of His glory. And you see it all the way back in the third chapter of Exodus where Moses comes to the burning bush, “And the angel of the Lord appears to him in the blazing fire from the midst of the bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.” What kind of fire is that that is burning but doesn’t consume anything? It’s the glory fire of the presence of the Lord. Moses on Sinai referred to it.

But let’s look at chapter 19 of Exodus. “It came about on the third day when it was morning. There were thunder and lightening flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain” – Mount Sinai – “a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

“Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai. And when the Lord came down there was an earthquake and there was thunder and there was fire.” Again, this is not physical fire, this is the fire of God’s glory, the blazing shekinah glory of God manifest. It is a fire, however, that consumes sinners in the spiritual sense.

Continuing from verse 8, Paul says that those who do not know God and those who have not obeyed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and away from the glory of His might (verse 9).

We must remember how much God hates sin. In fact, He required blood sacrifices as expiation for sin, culminating with Christ’s one perfect oblation on the Cross. However, those who do not know about that or have rejected it will not receive its benefits.

MacArthur explains:

Sin deserves death and sin deserves hell and sin deserves judgment and sin brings vengeance.  Man is not helpless.  Man is not some kind of careless victim.  He chooses his sin.  He chooses rebellion.  He chooses unbelief.  And the threat of God’s vengeance and Christ’s judgment is God’s way of making the path of the transgressor hard.  It’s a deterrent; it’s a roadblock on the way to hell.  When people fail to heed God’s call and continue in their sin, God is just in meting out a right punishment.  That’s why Romans 1:18 says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men because God is just.  All sin must be punished.  It is just, verse 6, for God to repay. It is just.  This is the reason why.  It’s an old principle.  It’s not a new one.  God has always operated on this principle

First of all, the retribution will be dealt to those who do not know God, who do not know God.  That means to say they have no personal relationship with God.  They may imagine that they know Him, they may know about Him, but they do not in the truest and purest sense know God.  And therein lies the problem.  Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”  Knowing God is the key.  But people who do not know God are going to feel the retribution.

You say, “Well now wait a minute.  How is it that they are responsible for knowing God?  How can everyone be responsible?”  Back to Romans 1 again.  “The wrath of God is revealed” verse 18 “from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

What do you mean they suppress it?  That which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them.  God has planted the knowledge of Himself within every person.

I think that’s what John had in mind when he said, “Christ is the light that lights every man that comes into the world.”  There is the knowledge of God that is there.  And then not only is it on the inside but on the outside. Creation makes His invisible attributes visible.

So they do know God on some level, “But because they do not honor Him as God or give thanks, but became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened, professing to be wise they became fools.  They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and crawling things.  Therefore God gave them over.”

When man had the knowledge that could lead him to the true knowing, he rejected it.  And so we can say that hell is for people who don’t know God … 

There’s a second definition of these people who will feel the retribution. Not only are they the ones who persecute Christians but they belong to a larger group of people who do not know God. And then he adds, “Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

Here are some whose guilt is even intensified. It is one thing to have the knowledge of God innately, to have the knowledge of God from creation on the outside and be responsible for that and turn from that basic knowledge, that perceivable intellectual knowledge and to turn away from God. It is something else then to reject the gospel of our Lord Jesus. That even brings a greater guilt. The hottest hell, the severest punishment is reserved for those who rejected the gospel. All those people who perished in Old Testament times, all those people who refused the knowledge of God which was available to them, who refused to know God truly will suffer forever in hell. But their punishment will not exceed the punishment of those who trampled the gospel. Since Jesus came and died and rose again, there is a greater responsibility, and for rejection of the gospel, there is intensified guilt.

Some people don’t know God because they reject that basic knowledge that God has given them and they never have any more knowledge. And so their rejection is at that level. Some people reject God even though they have heard more about Him, they’ve read about Him, they’re exposed to Christianity, they still reject God. There are all kinds of levels of information in which people can still not know God. But the pinnacle is when you have heard the gospel and you have listened to the story of the cross and the resurrection and reject that, that is the most intense guilt that brings about the severest punishment, the hottest hell, the greatest vengeance.

In Hebrews 10 that is clearly stated. “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If you reject the truth in Christ, that sacrifice, “There’s nothing else for you but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment.” All you’ve got to look forward to is a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries, hell. If you reject Christ, all you can expect is judgment and hell. And then in verse 28 he says, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If you reject the Old Testament, if you reject the Law of Moses, you’re going to suffer. “But how much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

If you reject the gospel, a severer punishment comes. And then verse 30, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” and then verse 31, “It’s a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” You see, when you don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, you bring upon yourself the severest retribution, the severest vengeance.

Acts chapter 17 and verse 30 and 31 reiterate this. It says in verse 31…30, there was a time when God overlooked things “but now declares all men everywhere to repent because…” actually “He now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed, the man whom He raised from the dead, even Christ.” There was a time when God was more tolerant but now He commands everyone to repent because He sees the judgment coming at the return of Christ …

This gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is a command. That is why God will come in vengeance because you who disobey the command have flaunted yourself against His authority. It’s a command to be obeyed. That’s why Paul talks about the obedience of faith in the book of Romans. So when the gospel is preached, it is a command. When is the last time you said to somebody, “I command you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God commands you”? John the Baptist didn’t come along and say, “It would certainly be wonderful if you would repent,” he said, “Repent, or else.”

On that fateful day, Paul says, Jesus will be glorified in His saints and will be marvelled at among all who have believed, because they believed in Paul’s testimony (verse 10).

Henry says:

And then the apostle’s testimony concerning this day will be confirmed and believed (v. 10); in that bright and blessed day, 1. Christ Jesus will be glorified and admired by his saints. They will behold his glory, and admire it with pleasure; they will glorify his grace, and admire the wonders of his power and goodness towards them, and sing hallelujahs to him in that day of his triumph, for their complete victory and happiness. 2. Christ will be glorified and admired in them. His grace and power will then be manifested and magnified, when it shall appear what he has purchased for, and wrought in, and bestowed upon, all those who believe in him. As his wrath and power will be made known in and by the destruction of his enemies, so his grace and power will be magnified in the salvation of his saints. Note, Christ’s dealings with those who believe will be what the world one day shall wonder at. Now, they are a wonder to many; but how will they be wondered at in this great and glorious day; or, rather, how will Christ, whose name is Wonderful, be admired, when the mystery of God shall be finished! Christ will not be so much admired in the glorious esteem of angels that he will bring from heaven with him as in the many saints, the many sons, that he will bring to glory.

These are Paul’s closing verses in 2 Thessalonians 1:

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

MacArthur gives us something to consider when comparing Christianity with other world religions:

We are in God our Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ ... No religion of the world talks like this.  It is not said that you are in Confucius, or you are in Buddha.  That is not the way the world speaks religiously.  No one in the Muslim religion is in Mohammed, or in Allah.  Such terminology is unique to Christianity because we know that the Bible teaches that when one puts faith in Christ there is then an intimate union of life, shared life in which we are indivisibly united with the living God and the Lord Jesus Christ We have a common life. This is the mystery that Paul unfolds in Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 3 where he talks about the union that we have. This is what he had in mind in Galatians 2:20, that mystical life union that we have with Jesus Christ. And so that marks our identity as a truly genuine believer.  We are in God, in Christ, sharing a common union of life with them both.

It is also essential to note and certainly Paul had it in mind, verse 1, he combines God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; verse 2, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  And by putting those two together on an equal footing — the Son is placed alongside the Father you can see the emphasis on the deity of Jesus Christ.  It is always interesting to me that this is done without any comment, without any need to sort of explain this.  If indeed Jesus were not God, if He were not equal to God, then there would need to be some explanation here for putting God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ together as the ones in whom the believer is deeply united in eternal, spiritual life.  And furthermore in verse 2, there would need to be some explanation as to how God and the Lord Jesus Christ both can be the source of grace and the source of peace if Christ is not in fact God.

But the New Testament makes no effort to try to explain such equality because such equality is in fact the obvious truth of the New Testament So he is saying, you are not only gathered into a place called Thessalonica, but you are enfolded into God and you are enfolded into Jesus Christ And as such, you are the recipients of ongoing grace and the recipients of ongoing peace grace simply being God’s favor to the sinner; peace being the result of that favor And you have it not once in the past, but ever and always in the present.

That sums up the benefits of Christianity perfectly. Who could ask for more? It is so sad that so many settle for less.

Paul has more on the Second Coming.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

May I wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

In 2023, there are three choices of readings for January 1, which falls on a Sunday.

One can choose from the Holy Name of Jesus, the First Sunday after Christmas Day (Year A) or New Year’s Day:

Readings for New Year’s Day — the Holy Name of Jesus (all Lectionary years)

Christmas 1 – Year A (all readings)

Readings for New Year’s Day (general, all Lectionary years)

I have chosen the last one, the Gospel for which is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long post, because there are important points to understand about this passage and Matthew’s Gospel in general.

How is it, one might ask, that we have a reading about Christ’s Second Coming when we are still in the Christmas period of the Church year?

John MacArthur explains the reason why:

Now let me say something that maybe you’ve never thought of in these terms. The remarkable thing about Christ is not His second coming. The amazing thing about Christ is not His return. The wonder of wonders is not that Jesus will come in glory and judge the world. The amazing marvelous incredible indescribable mysterious truth is not that He will come the second time, but that He came the first time to do what He did. It is amazing that a holy God came to forgive sinners, not that a holy God comes to judge sinners. You understand that? The wonder is not the second coming, the wonder is the first coming, that He condescended to redeem us, to love us when we were unlovely, to provide a salvation into which any man can enter, any woman can enter by a choice. The wonder of wonders is that He stooped to be what we are, that He stooped to die our death, to bear our sin, to be separated from God. That is the wonder of wonders. The fact that He comes back to judge sin is not remarkable at all. That is only utterly consistent with His nature. And if you go back to the Old Testament, you find that God has always been a God who judges sin. And so we are not surprised at all that He is going to come and ultimately do that and finally do that and deal with sin in a final way. What is remarkable is that He came to redeem sinners who were worthy only of His judgment. And so He will come and we should not be so surprised that He will, since He is an infinitely holy God. And when He comes to judge, it is going to be a scene that language has strained to attempt to communicate.

Those who know Matthew’s Gospel recall that Chapter 25 has two parables of warning, that of the Ten Virgins and that of the Talents, or Bags of Gold.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins has stuck with me since I was in my formative years, because it seems so contemporary. It is about preparedness, yet, as it was in my schooldays, there are always those who are unprepared and expect others to pick up the slack for their carelessness:

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

MacArthur says that Jesus spoke these words the day before the Last Supper:

Here with the privacy of His disciples, having been found on the Mount of Olives, as He has left the temple ground and now talks with them in the privacy of the evening, Wednesday before His Friday crucifixion, He shares with them that He indeed is the Son of Man who is also the King who will come and judge to establish His kingdom.

Here we have our Lord’s description of His Second Coming. While our Lord has infinite love and will take His saints with Him to glory, He will also come in judgement for those who preferred to live a life of sin, in league with Satan and the world.

MacArthur explains what Matthew’s Gospel is meant to convey to the Jews, his primary audience:

Mark’s purpose was not to present Christ as King. Luke’s purpose was not particularly to emphasize Christ’s Kingship either and neither was John’s. The gospel which is intended to present Christ as King is Matthew. And that is why the great emphasis of the second coming comes in the gospel of Matthew because Matthew is wanting to present to us the triumph of the regal King, the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is why Matthew is the one chosen to give this passage.

Let me just remind you of Matthew’s emphasis. Matthew has focused primarily on Jesus as the King – King of Israel, King of glory, the one with the right to rule, the majestic one, the regal one. That has been his emphasis. And it falls into three basic categories. First of all, Matthew treats the King revealed – the King revealed. In other words, as the person of Christ unfolds in Matthew, He unfolds as a regal person. Whereas Mark treats Him as human; Mark emphasizes His humanity; and Luke talks about His servanthood; and John emphasizes His deity. Matthew’s emphasis is on His royal character, His Kingship.

And first of all, he emphasizes that the King is being revealed. For example, it is Matthew that has His ancestry traced from a royal line. It is Matthew who has His birth being dreaded by a rival king who is threatened by another king coming on the scene. It is Matthew who makes great emphasis on the wise men, who are oriental king makers, who come and offer Jesus homage and present Him royal gifts. It is Matthew who emphasizes that He has a herald to announce His coming as kings always did. It is Matthew who tells us that in His temptation, as it reached its climax, Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world knowing that indeed He was entitled to them all. It is Matthew who emphasizes that Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount the standards of His kingdom. It is Matthew who uses the miracles of Jesus as His royal credentials, who emphasizes that His teaching was the royal law, that His parables are the mysteries of the kingdom of which He was the King. He is hailed by Matthew as the Son of David, a royal name. He claimed royal rights as the Son of God. He made a royal entry into Jerusalem and claimed absolute sovereignty. He told a story about a king’s son and He told it about Himself and it’s recorded in Matthew. And while facing the cross, Matthew records that He looked beyond the cross to the reigning and the glory that would follow. It is Matthew who emphasizes His commanding power over legions of angels. It is Matthew who records for us His last words, “All power has been given unto Me in heaven and in earth, go ye therefore” – in other words, He is commanding as a monarch who has all authority for such a command. So Matthew makes a great emphasis on the Kingship of Christ being revealed.

Secondly, on the Kingship of Christ being rejected. Matthew all the way through not only presents the regal character of Christ, but also shows how He was rejected as King. Before He was born, His mother was in danger of being divorced. Worse than that, she was in danger of being stoned as an adulteress. And so it could have been that His life would have been snuffed out before ever He could have reached the throne. At His birth all Jerusalem was troubled, and Herod who was threatened by the thought of another king on the scene sought to kill Him. And in the plains of Bethlehem, not longer after the angelic choir was absent and silent, those little hills began to ring again, but it wasn’t with the songs of angels, it was with the weeping and the mourning of mothers who were crying as their babies were being slaughtered, as Herod attempted to stamp out the would-be king by obliterating every child under the age of two.

And it is Matthew who tells us that Jesus had to escape for his life to Egypt. And then when He came back to His own homeland, He hurried away to live thirty years in obscurity in a non-descript off-the-road village called Nazareth where He was without honor and where on one occasion the people of the city itself tried to throw Him off a cliff and kill Him. Matthew makes a point of telling us that even His herald was imprisoned and eventually his head was chopped off. And it is Matthew who reminds us that Jesus had no place to lay His head. He was accused of being a drunkard. He was accused in Matthew of being gluttonous. He is accused of being from hell, from Satan, having a demon. And as he records His own parables, they mark out the rejection that was thrust against Him, how it was desired by people to take His life, to kill Him as they had killed the prophets who spoke about Him. And even in His death it is Matthew who has Him say, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In none of the other gospels, then, is the regal presentation as complete or is the rejection as complete as it is in Matthew.

But finally, Matthew presents Him not only as the revealed King and the rejected King but as the returning King. And in chapter 24 and 25, there is this great sweeping sermon of our Lord about His second coming. And it is not the first time it is mentioned in the gospel of Matthew. It is mentioned previous to this on several occasions in our Lord’s conversations with His disciples. It was of major importance to the Lord and of major importance to Matthew as well. In Matthew 16:28, “Verily I say unto you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Verse 27, “The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels and reward every man according to His works.” Matthew 19:28 similarly says that He will come in the regeneration and the Son of Man will sit on the throne of His glory and that the disciples will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel and so forth. So He has spoken about it before to the disciples, but now in a great sermon embracing two chapters, the Lord speaks of His second coming and Matthew records it as the completion of His presentation of the royal character of Jesus Christ. He is coming as regal reigning sovereign King – that’s the message.

Jesus said that when the Son of Man — He Himself — comes in glory, accompanied by all the angels, He will sit on His throne of glory (verse 31).

MacArthur tells us:

And so Christ will come and not alone, but with His mighty angels in flaming fire. And He will take vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And they will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. And then He will be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe. So there will become a dividing then, there will be vengeance and punishment to those who do not obey, and there will be glory and honor and reward and respect toward Him for those who do know Him through Christ the Savior. So that is the judgment that occurs at His coming. It’s indescribable, but He comes with all of His holy angels

Now Revelation 19 needs to be considered for a moment because this describes the scene itself in detail. In Revelation 19:11, “I saw heaven opened.” The doors of heaven all of a sudden swing open in the vision of John, and what is revealed is a white horse and one sitting on it called Faithful and True. By the way, this is the second time heaven opened in the book of Revelation – the second time. The first time heaven opened was in chapter 4 verse 1, “After this I look and behold a door was opened in heaven.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary discusses the term Son of Man, one which Jesus often used of Himself:

Here, as elsewhere, when the last judgment is spoken of, Christ is called the son of man, because he is to judge the sons of men (and, being himself of the same nature, he is the more unexceptionable); and because his wonderful condescension to take upon him our nature, and to become the son of man, will be recompensed by this exaltation in that day, and an honour put upon the human nature.

MacArthur says that Jesus called Himself the Son of Man so that we could relate better to Him and to avoid further blasphemy charges from the Jewish hierarchy:

So it is the Son of Man who is none other than Jesus Christ. I don’t think we need to take a lot of time, but only to remind you that the most familiar, the most common, the most used title by Jesus of Himself is Son of Man. He called Himself that all the time. That was His choice title for Himself. And I believe there were several reasons for that. Reason number one was that it confirmed His humiliation. It affirmed that it was an incarnation, that God had come all the way to being man. It was an affirmation of incarnation, of submissiveness, of the servant heart, the servant spirit, of coming not to be ministered unto but to minister and give His life. He became one of us. And Son of Man emphasized His condescension, His humiliation, His identification, His understanding, His sympathy with men. He became what we are. That was one reason He used it.

The second reason that I believe this was a good choice and common to our Lord’s use was that it tended to be less offensive then if He were to call Himself Son of God all the time. If He were to call Himself Son of God constantly, He would have created more hostility than He did, at least initially. Calling Himself Son of God continually in front of the Jewish leaders would have fomented problems beyond the problems He had. And of course, as you well know, after three years of ministry they finally took His life with great hostility. It’s very likely that had He continually called Himself Son of God, the whole plan could have been brought to a halt a lot earlier and things that God had intended to accomplish would not have been accomplished. And of course that kind of conjecture is only conjecture since He didn’t call Himself Son of God but may explain to us some reason why He didn’t.

Thirdly, if He had called Himself continually Son of God, not only would His rejectors have been more angry, but His friends might have been more pushy. Had He called Himself Son of God or had He even called Himself King, had He called Himself all the time Messiah, there would have been even a greater pressure put upon Him by the people to take over the kingdom, to take over and rule, to dominate, to overthrow the Romans. So I believe Son of Man was the lowest title, the lowest profile that Jesus could take. It is a denial of any significant title. It is simply saying, “I’m one of you. I’m a son of man.” That’s all. It is true He was also Son of God; it is true He was also King of Kings; but had He paraded those things outwardly, it would have changed the whole series of events. And so He communicates Himself as Son of Man to emphasize His humiliation and identification, to deflect hostility and to deflect those who would force Him to become a King, as obviously many wished to do and even tried to do in Galilee.

There’s another reason. I think He chose to use Son of Man because it provides such a profound contrast to the titles that He will have when He comes in His glory. And it helps us to understand the distinction between the first and second coming of Christ. It provides a marvelous contrast, which contrast is pointed up to us here in Matthew chapter 25. Notice verse 31, He calls Himself Son of Man; then in verse 34, “Then shall the King;” in verse 30 – verse 40, rather, “And the King shall answer.” It isn’t long now in this particular message before He turns from Son of Man to King. But He starts out with Son of Man so that they might know who the King is. Right? If He just said, “When the King shall come,” somebody might say, “Well, it’s other than Him.” So He says, “When the Son of Man comes, then will the King say” – and He affirms that He is both Son of Man and King. Son of Man, humble, condescending, humiliated; King, glorious, sovereign, reigning, judging, establishing His kingdom. And so here He turns a corner. Beloved, this is very, very significant. He does not call Himself King up to this point. He tells a parable about a King’s son. He tells a parable about a King who is God the Father. But now He calls Himself King. It’s time to talk about His return. It’s time to talk about His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It’s time to look beyond humiliation and beyond condescension and see the one who will come in blazing glory. So the emphasis is on the kingship.

And may I remind you, too, that He’s talking, as 24:3 tells us, privately to His disciples – privately to His disciples. He maintained the privacy of His message about Kingship.

MacArthur says that the number of all the angels is an impressive one:

When He comes with all the holy angels with Him, not some but all of them. Ten thousand times ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, an innumerable number, when He comes with all of them and all of His glory and all of His saints and when He sits on His glory throne – when He sits on His glory throne, that’s the time this judgment takes place.

Henry says the angels will be there to serve their Lord:

… his holy myriads, who will be not only his attendants, but ministers of his justice; they shall come with him both for state and service. They must come to call the court (1 Thess 4 16), to gather the elect (ch. 24 31), to bundle the tares (ch. 13 40), to be witnesses of the saints’ glory (Luke 12 8), and of sinners’ misery, Rev 14 10.

Jesus spoke here of all the people alive at His Second Coming. Unbelievers will not have a second chance to repent or believe:

So during that period there will be saved Jews and saved Gentiles. Those people will be persecuted by the Antichrist. Many of them will survive his persecution. So they will be alive at the end. There will also be the ungodly. The ungodly will be devastated by the judgments of God during that period. Some of them will survive. So at the end of the tribulation time you have saved and unsaved people, from all over the globe, who have survived the judgment of God and the holocaust of Antichrist. They have lived through the plagues. They have lived through the disasters, the diseases, the wars, the wrath of Christ and the wrath of Antichrist. They have lived through the judgment on the armies at Armageddon, and there are still multitudes, multitudes left. But all of those who are left, who haven’t faced God in death to be judged. will now face Him in His second coming. All the people. The word ethnē means peoples. So either a person faces God in death for judgment or at the second coming of Jesus Christ. And if you’re counting on waiting till then, remember this, it’s too late then. When the bridegroom comes, if you don’t have oil in your lamp, the door will be shut and you’ll never get in. There’s no second chance. And what happens here is irreversible, as verse 46 says, “Some go into everlasting punishment, others into everlasting life.” So what happens here is irreversible.

Also:

when He comes, in the moment of His coming there will be an instantaneous judgment. I don’t believe that when He comes there’s going to be a gap of time for people to decide what they want to do. It’s verse 31, “When the Son of Man comes.” Verse 34, “Then shall the King say,” and so forth. It’s when He comes, then He judges. There’s no reason to assume an interval.

Jesus continued, saying that all the nations of the world will be gathered before Him, and He will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats (verse 32).

He will put His sheep at His right hand and the goats at His left (verse 33).

Henry explains:

the Lord knows them that are his, and he can separate them. This separation will be so exact, that the most inconsiderable saints shall not be lost in the crowd of sinners, nor the most plausible sinner hid in the crowd of saints (Ps 1 5), but every one shall go to his own place. This is compared to a shepherd’s dividing between the sheep and the goats; it is taken from Ezek 34 17, Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle. Note, 1. Jesus Christ is the great Shepherd; he now feeds his flock like a shepherd, and will shortly distinguish between those that are his, and those that are not, as Laban divided his sheep from Jacob’s, and set three days’ journey between them, Gen 30 35, 36. 2. The godly are like sheep—innocent, mild, patient, useful: the wicked are like goats, a baser kind of animal, unsavoury and unruly. The sheep and goats are here feeding all day in the same pasture, but will be coted at night in different folds. Being thus divided, he will set the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left, v. 33.

MacArthur has more:

All people are going to be separated. They’re only going to be separated into two classes: Sheep and goats, in this analogy. Sheep go into the kingdom, goats go out of the kingdom. So there will only be two classes of people. As my grandfather used to say, “The saints and aints.” Only two classes of people, the redeemed and the unredeemed, the saved and the lost, that’s the basic classification into which everybody falls ultimately and eternally. There are only two destinies, heaven and hell.

And so that division must be made in regard to all people. There is no distinction here, beloved, about Jew or Gentile. That is not a distinction made particularly in this text. It’s just all the people. And the distinction here has nothing to do with ethnic identity, it has only to do with relationship to Christ. All the people. Now you say, well who are these people? Well, they have to be people that are alive when Jesus comes again. That’s what I want you to understand. They will be people alive on the earth at the coming of Christ.

Jesus, referring to Himself as King, said that He will beckon those on His right hand — those whom His Father has blessed — to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (verse 34).

That is a significant verse. Jesus spoke of election, predestination and inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the kingdom of God.

Recall that, in those days, being adopted put one — always a man, in legal terms — ahead of the other family members. The adopted man became the head of the household and the man who adopted him took a back seat. The adoptive father’s sons took a back seat. The adopted son was in charge of everything: the estate, family decisions and so on. Why? Because the adoptive father considered him to have greater intelligence and capability than his own sons.

MacArthur addresses the importance of the right hand:

The right hand is the hand of blessing. The right hand is the hand of honor. The right hand is the hand – are you ready? – of inheritance – of inheritance. That is the preferred hand. The sheep here are preferred in the analogy. As I said, they are submissive; they are gentle; they are docile. The goats are unruly and rough and rugged and so forth and they represent those who are the non‑blessed …

By the way, in Greek, Roman, and Talmudic sources, the good people in any kind of adjudication, any kind of a trial situation, always went to the right side of the judge. So this fits that pattern. “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth” – or the world.

Henry points out the individuality of our relationship with God through His Son and our inheritance of His kingdom. This is one of the few times Henry uses ‘you’ in his commentary:

It is prepared on purpose for them; not only for such as you, but for you, you by name, you personally and particularly, who were chosen to salvation through sanctification.

Henry discusses what lies behind election and predestination with regard to the kingdom:

It is prepared from the foundation of the world. This happiness was designed for the saints, and they for it, before time began, from all eternity, Eph 1 4. The end, which is last in execution, is first in intention. Infinite Wisdom had an eye to the eternal glorification of the saints, from the first founding of the creation: All things are for your sakes, 2 Cor 4 15. Or, it denotes the preparation of the place of this happiness, which is to be the seat and habitation of the blessed, in the very beginning of the work of creation, Gen 1 1. There in the heaven of heavens the morning stars were singing together, when the foundations of the earth were fastened, Job 38 4-7.

Secondly, The tenure by which they shall hold and possess it is very good, they shall come and inherit it. What we come to by inheritance, is not got by any procurement of our own, but purely, as the lawyers express it, by the act of God. It is God that makes heirs, heirs of heaven. We come to an inheritance by virtue of our sonship, our adoption; if children, then heirs. A title by inheritance is the sweetest and surest title; it alludes to possessions in the land of Canaan, which passed by inheritance, and would not be alienated longer than to the year of Jubilee. Thus is the heavenly inheritance indefeasible, and unalienable. Saints, in this world, are as heirs under age, tutored and governed till the time appointed of the Father (Gal 4 1, 2); and then they shall be put in full possession of that which now through grace they have a title to; Come, and inherit it.

MacArthur offers us this analysis:

First of all, “Come” – here comes number one point – “ye blessed of My Father.” That emphasizes the source of their salvation. You are blessed of My Father. You are entering into the kingdom because My Father has determined to bless you. Here you have sovereign grace beautifully expressed. By the way, the phrase in the Authorized, “You blessed of My Father,” in the Greek literally says, “My Father’s blessed ones.” You are coming into My kingdom because God predetermined sovereignly to bless you. He redeemed you out of His sovereign love. So verse 34 expresses the innate reality of redemption and salvation and justification.

And then it says, “Come you who are the blessed who belong to My Father, inherit” – inherit, which implies something very important. You inherit something because you are born into a family. Right? It implies again that they belong to the family of God, to which you belong by faith. You inherit what is yours because by faith you have become a joint heir with Christ, if we can sort of borrow Paul’s thought in Romans 8. So you are the elect by sovereign grace, the chosen to be blessed by the Father. And you are those who inherit because you belong to the family by faith, you are sons of God. And so you see the source of salvation and you see the gift of salvation given to those who are the children of God.

Further it says, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” And that again emphasizes the selectivity of salvation. When God prepared the kingdom it was for you that He prepared it. You were chosen; you were ordained to this; you are those whom the Father designed to love. So you have the source of salvation in the Father’s blessing, desire to bless, you have the reception of salvation in the faith that brings you into the inheritance, you have the selectivity of salvation in the fact that the kingdom was prepared for those people. Let me tell you something, whoever it was prepared for are going into it. God isn’t going to lose any and He knows who He prepared it for.

And then a further thought. It was prepared from the foundation of the world. Now that emphasizes the eternal covenant that God made with Himself to redeem a people selected before the foundation of the world. Who are these people going in? They’re not just people who got involved in social action. They’re not just people who did good deeds on the earth. These are those chosen from the foundation of the world by sovereign God to receive His grace and be blessed and who responded by faith and became His heirs in the family. And all of that soteriological richness is compacted in verse 34. And that can’t be missed, that can’t be missed.

Jesus said that those inheriting the kingdom will have given Him food when He was hungry, drink when He was thirsty or a welcome when He was a stranger (verse 35).

They were the ones who gave Him clothing when He had none or cared for Him when He was sick or visited Him in prison (verse 36).

The righteous will respond by asking when they did any of those things (verses 37-39).

The King — Jesus — will respond by saying that when they did those good deeds towards ‘the least of these who are members of my family‘, they did them to Him (verse 40).

MacArthur explains:

The good deeds mentioned in 35 and 36 are not the primary emphasis. The primary emphasis in identifying these people is in verse 34. The good deeds are the fruit of the redemption defined for us in such simple yet profound terms in verse 34. And the people who get confused by this passage get confused because they perhaps haven’t looked as closely as they ought to look at verse 34. And looking at verses 35 and 36 alone might provide some difficulty

The real fact of salvation is in verse 34. The proof of it is in verses 35 and 36. They are only outward evidences of an inward sovereign grace

it isn’t the deeds alone that qualify them. It’s their redemption which issues in those deeds. So when He says, “Come in on this basis,” He is judging them according to their works but only insofar as their works are a manifestation of the redeeming act which God foreordained in their behalf

Verse 37, now watch this, “Then shall the righteous answer Him saying” – stop there for a minute. Who answered Him? The good deeders, the good doers, the philanthropists, the social activists? Then answered Him – who? – the righteous. And that is not just forensic. That is, it’s not just declared righteousness, it’s real righteousness. It’s imputed righteousness. And here again we are reminded that the reason these people do this is because they are made righteous in Christ. And this is the outflow of that miracle. It’s the righteous, it’s the blessed of the Father, it’s the inheritors of the kingdom, it’s the predetermined and foreordained who demonstrate their righteousness in good deeds

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.’” What a statement. Who are His brethren? Well Hebrews 2:11 and 12 says He’s not ashamed to call us who believe His brethren. I believe He’s referring to the redeemed people. I believe He is simply saying this, “Whatever you do to meet the need of a fellow Christian, you do to Me.” Is that not right? Because, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” 1 Corinthians 6:17. “Nevertheless I live, yet Christ lives in me,” Galatians 2:20. Paul celebrates that again and again, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Christ is in His people. What is done to me as a Christian is done to Him. He is so intimately identified with me.

Back in Matthew 18 He says, “When you receive one such little child,” Matthew 18 – I think it’s 4 and 5 there – “When you receive one such little child in My name, you receive Me.” And He means there not a physical child but a spiritual child. When you receive another believer and you open your arms and you meet their need and you embrace them and you take them in and you strengthen them and you encourage or you help them or whatever, you accept them, you do it to Christ. Whatever you do to another believer, you do to Christ. That’s the bottom line. That’s the simple yet profound truth that the Lord is endeavoring to communicate. Whatever you do to a fellow believer, you do to Christ. It’s that simple. And that is a truth that is oft indicated in the texts of Scripture. “He that receiveth you,” Matthew 10:40 says, “receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me.” Boy that’s another dimension. When you open your arms to a fellow believer, you’re receiving Christ. And when you’re receiving Christ, you’re receiving the Father whom Christ represents. It’s a tremendous thought. What you do to another believer is what you do to Christ.

After addressing the saints, Jesus will turn His attention to those on His left, saying that they, the accursed, will depart from Him into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (verse 41).

Henry answers all the questions of those who might think our Lord will offer a reprieve:

[2.] If they must depart, and depart from Christ, might they not be dismissed with a blessing, with one kind and compassionate word at least? No, Depart, ye cursed, They that would not come to Christ, to inherit a blessing, must depart from him under the burthen of a curse, that curse of the law on every one that breaks it, Gal 3 10. As they loved cursing, so it shall come unto them. But observe, The righteous are called the blessed of my Father; for their blessedness is owing purely to the grace of God and his blessing, but the wicked are called only ye cursed, for their damnation is of themselves. Hath God sold them? No, they have sold themselves, have laid themselves under the curse, Isa 50 1.

[3.] If they must depart, and depart with a curse, may they not go into some place of ease and rest? Will it not be misery enough for them to bewail their loss? No, there is a punishment of sense as well as loss; they must depart into fire, into torment as grievous as that of fire is to the body, and much more. This fire is the wrath of the eternal God fastening upon the guilty souls and consciences of sinners that have made themselves fuel for it. Our God is a consuming fire, and sinners fall immediately into his hands, Heb 10 31; Rom 2 8, 9.

[4.] If into fire, may it not be some light or gentle fire? No, it is prepared fire; it is a torment ordained of old, Isa 30 33. The damnation of sinners is often spoken of as an act of the divine power; he is able to cast into hell. In the vessels of wrath he makes his power known; it is a destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. In it shall be seen what a provoked God can do to make a provoking creature miserable.

[5.] If into fire, prepared fire, O let it be but of short continuance, let them but pass through fire; no, the fire of God’s wrath will be an everlasting fire; a fire, that, fastening and preying upon immortal souls, can never go out for want of fuel; and, being kindled and kept burning by the wrath of an immortal God, can never go out for want of being blown and stirred up; and, the streams of mercy and grace being for ever excluded, there is nothing to extinguish it. If a drop of water be denied to cool the tongue, buckets of water will never be granted to quench this flame.

[6.] If they must be doomed to such a state of endless misery, yet may they not have some good company there? No, none but the devil and his angels, their sworn enemies, that helped to bring them to this misery, and will triumph over them in it. They served the devil while they lived, and therefore are justly sentenced to be where he is, as those that served Christ, are taken to be with him where he is … The fire is said to be prepared, not primarily for the wicked, as the kingdom is prepared for the righteous; but it was originally intended for the devil and his angels. If sinners make themselves associates with Satan by indulging their lusts, they may thank themselves if they become sharers in that misery which was prepared for him and his associates.

Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, will tell the condemned that they gave Him no food, no drink (verse 42), no welcome, no clothes and no visit in prison (verse 43).

Henry says that these are sins of omission, similar to the servant who buried his talent, the gold, that his master gave to him:

Now, [1.] All that is charged upon them, on which the sentence is grounded, is, omission; as, before, the servant was condemned, not for wasting his talent, but for burying it; so here, he doth not say, “I was hungry and thirsty, for you took my meat and drink from me; I was a stranger, for you banished me; naked, for you stripped me; in prison, for you laid me there:” but, “When I was in these distresses, you were so selfish, so taken up with your own ease and pleasure, made so much of your labour, and were so loth to part with your money, that you did not minister as you might have done to my relief and succour. You were like those epicures that were at ease in Zion, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph,Amos 6 4-6. Note, Omissions are the ruin of thousands.

[2.] It is the omission of works of charity to the poor. They are not sentenced for omitting their sacrifices and burnt-offerings (they abounded in these, Ps 50 8), but for omitting the weightier matter of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. The Ammonites and Moabites were excluded the sanctuary, because they met not Israel with bread and water, Deut 23 3, 4. Note, Uncharitableness to the poor is a damning sin. If we will not be brought to works of charity by the hope of reward, let us be influenced by fear of punishment; for they shall have judgment without mercy, that have showed no mercy. Observe, He doth not say, “I was sick, and you did not cure me; in prison, and you did not release me” (perhaps that was more than they could do); but, “You visited me not, which you might have done.” Note, Sinners will be condemned, at the great day, for the omission of that good which it was in the power of their hand to do. But if the doom of the uncharitable be so dreadful, how much more intolerable will the doom of the cruel be, the doom of persecutors!

Then the accursed will respond by asking when they neglected the Lord (verse 44).

The Lord will respond by saying that whatever they neglected towards the least of His people, they neglected unto Him (verse 45).

MacArthur brings us back to the five foolish virgins and to the servant with the buried talent:

You remember the virgins? It didn’t say, “And five virgins went into the wedding and five were shut out for being vile, immoral, ugly, gross, evil, wretched sinners.” No, it wasn’t what they did that left them out, it was what they didn’t do. They didn’t get any oil. The point there was that they didn’t have oil. It was something they didn’t have, they didn’t do. Not something they did that damned them. There’s nothing you can do in terms of sin. No matter how gross that sin is that results in your damnation, it’s what you don’t do. It’s the failure to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the same with the servant. The third one who got one talent, it wasn’t what he did, it was what he didn’t do. He just buried it and paid no attention to it that damned him and sent him to outer darkness.

The virgins weren’t vile they were just negligent. And the servant wasn’t immoral, he just did nothing. And people are damned to hell by what they don’t do. And what they don’t do is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the absence of righteousness. It is the absence of the love of God that comes through faith in Christ. It is the absence of those kind of deeds that demonstrate righteousness and demonstrate God’s love. It is the absence of the sin of – it is the presence of the sin of unbelief, the absence of faith.

Jesus concluded by saying that those who neglected Him and His people will depart into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go on to eternal life (verse 46).

Of the former group and their fate, Henry says:

Note, (1.) The punishment of the wicked in the future state will be an everlasting punishment, for that state is an unalterable state. It can neither be thought that sinners should change their own natures, nor that God should give his grace to change them, when in this world the day of grace was misspent, the Spirit of grace resisted, and the means of grace abused and baffled. (2.) The wicked shall be made to go away into that punishment; not that they will go voluntarily, no, they are driven from light into darkness; but it bespeaks an irresistible conviction of guilt, and a final despair of mercy.

I also read this passage as a warning about death. We do not know the time or the hour for that eventuality, either.

MacArthur says:

when any person dies they immediately enter into that judgment right then. And the decision of their eternal destiny is rendered.

At the Second Coming, those of us who died previously will all appear to have our verdicts at death renewed and those who are saints, whose souls have been at rest with God since their death, will receive their glorified bodies, just as Christ received His at the Resurrection.

Henry says:

Note, The judgment of the great day will be a general judgment. All must be summoned before Christ’s tribunal; all of every age of the world, from the beginning to the end of time; all of every place on earth, even from the remotest corners of the world, most obscure, and distant from each other; all nations, all those nations of men that are made of one blood, to dwell on all the face of the earth.

While this is hardly the cheeriest passage for the New Year, it does provide food for thought as to a resolution for the coming 12 months.

We worry so much about resolving to do something about our physical appearance or health. Is it not time to pay more attention to our spiritual state in the year ahead? We know not the hour …

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauThe First Sunday of Advent is on November 27, 2022.

It is the first day of the new Church year.

As such, we move to a new year in the Lectionary, from C to A, for our readings, which can be found here.

In addition, as we are in Advent, the colour of the celebrant’s vestments is purple until the midnight service on Christmas Eve.

The Gospel reading is as follows, emphases mine:

Matthew 24:36-44

24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

If this reading sounds familiar, we had Luke’s version a fortnight ago on the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, Year C.

The Gospel readings for Advent and the last Sundays after Trinity/Pentecost are designed to encourage us to think about our own mortality and repentance.

Our Lord’s discourses on His Second Coming take place in the same circumstances, just a few days before the Crucifixion. In Luke 21, His disciples admired the beauty of the temple.

We have the same in Matthew 24:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Luke places his Second Coming discourse at the temple. By contrast, Matthew’s is at the Mount of Olives:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Note Matthew 24:35:

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christ here assures us of the certainty of them (v. 35); Heaven and earth shall pass away; they continue this day indeed, according to God’s ordinance, but they shall not continue for ever (Ps 102 25, 26; 2 Pet 3 10); but my words shall not pass away. Note, The word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth. Hath he spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power, and virtue. See 1 Pet 1 24, 25. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Luke 16 17. Compare Isa 54 10. The accomplishment of these prophecies might seem to be delayed, and intervening events might seem to disagree with them, but do not think that therefore the word of Christ is fallen to the ground, for that shall never pass away: though it be not fulfilled, either in the time or in the way that we have prescribed; yet, in God’s time, which is the best time, and in God’s way, which is the best way, it shall certainly be fulfilled. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.

John MacArthur summarises the events of that Passover week leading up to this discourse and what was going through the disciples’ minds:

He has done signs and wonders to prove His kingdom power.  He has recently denounced the false religious leaders of Israel.  He has cleansed out the temple of all of the godless enterprises that were being done in that place.  He has also announced that there will come soon a desolation of the whole temple complex, and He even has pronounced the truth that He would come in glory.  And all of these things have led them to believe that it must be very, very soon.  In fact, Luke 19:11 says they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear I mean it seemed to them that He was there announcing Himself as King, He was there destroying the false religious system that existed in order that He might establish the true spiritual kingdom promised to them by the prophets of old And so they were filled with anticipation. 

Jesus said that, of the day and the hour of His Second Coming, no one knows when it will happen, not the angels, not He Himself, only the Father (verse 36).

MacArthur explains why no one knows:

It is a day and an hour we’re looking at, not an era.  We don’t know what generation it’ll come upon, but we do know this, that whatever generation it starts with, it’ll end with, right?  That’s verses 32 to 35.  The generation that sees the beginning is going to see the end because it’s going to come so fast …

God has chosen not to reveal that specific moment and to give no specific sign of that specific moment.  And there’s reason in His great wisdom for that.  If men knew the exact moment when the Lord would come, they might be godless until just short of that moment.  Or even the people who were prepared might be living in panic or might be giving up, thinking the time was too short.  Life would become hopeless if you knew exactly when the Lord was going to come.  There could be no plans, there could be no ongoing relationships, and everything would be affected dramatically by that knowledge.  So the Lord has chosen not to give us that knowledge but to live every moment expecting His coming, every moment expecting His intervention, so that there is preparedness all the time.  If the world knew the very moment of the coming of Christ, it would dawdle itself away thinking that in that last and final moment it might take the steps to make things right just in time and so God has not told us that.  So no man knows that.  It is hidden from men. 

And then He says, “No, not the angels of heaven.”  Even the angels don’t know it.  The natural world does not know it and neither does the supernatural world

Furthermore, if you remember in Matthew 13, it tells us that the angels are the agents of judgment in the second coming When God reaches out to judge the world and gather men into that judgment, He sends His angels who are the reapers, you remember, to gather the wheat and the tares in So angels are very involved in the judgment activity.  In verse 31 of our chapter we’re looking at now, the angels are the ones sent out to gather the elect as well.  So though angels are the intimates of God and though they are face-to-face with God in a spiritual sense, doing His bidding, and though they are the agents of judgment and the gathering in of the godly and the ungodly in that time of Christ’s coming, they – in spite of all of that – do not know the exact moment.  God has chosen not to reveal it to them.  And He has His reasons. 

Then we come to the question of when Jesus Christ came to know the day and the hour. From the time of either His resurrection or ascension, He knew:

Now, the better manuscripts of Matthew indicate to us that it also should be included in the text “nor the Son” – “nor the Son.”  In Mark 13:32, which is the parallel passage, it is definitely included by Mark, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels who are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”  And it would be best to include it here in Matthew.  I think in the New American Standard and the New International version, they correctly do include it.  Jesus says, “Even the Son of Man doesn’t know” – “even I don’t know.”  And, of course, this has created all kinds of interesting discussion How is it that Jesus Christ, who is God, cannot know something?  How is it that Jesus Christ, who is God, who is omniscient – which means He knows everything – can’t know something or doesn’t know something? 

Well, that’s, I believe, rather easily explained if we understand the meaning of His incarnation.  Jesus Christ is fully God, very God of very God,  theologians used to say He is God fully and totally because you can’t be part God, He is all God.  But when He became a man, He voluntarily restricted the use of His godhood, of His divine attributes It wasn’t that He laid the attributes aside; it wasn’t that He set His deity aside; it was that He restricted the use of those things.  He had them as instruments but chose not to pick them up and use them.  So He lived, as it were, without using His omniscience unless the Father told Him to use it. 

We know He was omniscient on some occasions.  John 2, He says He needed not that anybody should tell Him what was in the heart of a man because He knew what was in the heart of a man.  There are many indications of His great knowledge, of His divine knowledge.  But He restricted the use of His omniscience to those things which the Father desired Him to know.  That is the design of the incarnation.  When the Bible says He became a Son, He took upon Him the form of a servant.  It means that He submitted Himself to that which the Father wanted Him to do, that which the Father wanted Him to say, and that which the Father wanted Him to know.  That’s why in John 15:15, you have a very, very important verse in understanding Christ.  It says this – Jesus speaking to the disciples – “Henceforth, I call you not servants for the servant knows not what his lord does.  But I have called you friends” – now listen to this – “for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.” 

In other words, Jesus’ knowledge in His incarnation was qualified by what the Father had revealed to Him And the Father revealed things to Him through Scripture; that is, the Old Testament, as He studied the Scripture, through experience as He walked in the world and saw the moving of the power of God, and through direct revelation.  But Jesus limited His knowledge to what the Father chose to reveal to Him He didn’t have to do that but He chose to do that to play the role of a servant to accomplish the redemption of mankind.  It’s a very important concept so that when it says He humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant, was made in fashion as a man, and so forth, it means that He limited the use of those attributes.  And if you studied, for example, in the passages that deal with His early life, you will remember that it says Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, you remember, and favor with God and man.  He grew in wisdom …

Now, it is my own personal feeling that after the resurrection, this was revealed to Him That when He came out of the grave in the glory of His resurrection life, it says in Matthew 28:18, He said to His disciples, “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and earth.”  And I think what that’s saying is nothing is missing; I have authority over all things.  And then in Acts 1:7, He said this:  “But unto you it is not given to know the times and the seasons which My Father has put in His own power,” and He doesn’t include Himself anymore He says “unto you it isn’t given.”  So it may well be that after the resurrection, His knowledge was complete.  It’s as if the Father only revealed to Him the next great event, and He never revealed to Him the full moment of His second coming until He had already come out of the grave and accomplished the resurrection, and then the Father opened to Him the next event in His marvelous, marvelous work. 

Therefore, Jesus knew the day and the hour, if not at His resurrection, then at His ascension:

when Jesus entered into His glory, if not immediately after His resurrection, certainly after His ascension, He then was entered back into the fullness of that which He had before the incarnation and this moment right now, He knows fully when that second coming moment will be But in the midst of that incarnation, that had been abandoned in favor of learning what the Father would tell Him and nothing more. 

MacArthur believes that God is waiting for an excess of sin, iniquity that has reached its limit:

He is allowing sin to run its reckless course, to spend itself, to ripen to the point where it will be fully, finally, and forever harvested. 

Paul wrote similarly to the Thessalonians about the Jews who had prevented the Gospel from being spread. My Forbidden Bible Verses post from Sunday, November 20 discussed Thessalonians 2:16:

16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last![a]

The persecuting Jews of Paul’s time hadn’t been divinely judged at that time, which was 20 years before the destruction of the temple. Nonetheless, Paul was saying that they had sinned to such an extreme that God’s judgement was as good as done, on earth and in the next life. When iniquity has reached its full extent, God acts.

However, there is another equally important reason God has timed the Second Coming perfectly, and that is because He wishes to save as many people as possible from judgement, Jew and Gentile alike:

… that reason is indicated to us in Romans chapter 11 verse 25 And it says, “I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, this unrevealed truth, lest you should be wise in your own conceit, but blindness, that blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.”  The fullness of the Gentiles speaks of the gathering in of the church in this age.  And I believe another reason the Lord waits is for the gathering of the church.  I believe He is waiting to gather all the saints whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  He is waiting to collect the Gentiles who will forever and ever and ever throughout eternity give Him glory, give Him praise, give Him honor, give Him adoration and serve Him.  He is gathering together occupants for His eternal heaven to praise and glorify His name.  And also, after “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – verse 26 says – “so all Israel will be saved.”  There has to be also in the future the salvation of Israel, that Jew and Gentile together through all eternity may praise God. 

So there’s been a time going on since the first coming.  We’ve waited all this two thousand years and He’s not yet come.  And the reasons are twofold One, that sin may ripen; two, that the redeemed who have been planned for His glory eternally may be brought to that eternal glory.  So it is for sin and for salvation. 

Jesus said that, as things were in the time of Noah, so they will be when the Son of Man comes again (verse 37).

It took Noah 120 years to build the ark to God’s specifications. Noah was not a natural builder. He was originally a preacher. Those who lived around him laughed at him, because they lived in a desert.

Consider that every moment of every day for those 120 years, every bit of that ark was a daily call for them to repent of their sins or be destroyed in the flood, which did come to that part of the world. Talk about the patience of God! And still, the people laughed.

Imagine what it will be like just before the Second Coming.

MacArthur illustrates it for us:

You know, not only do people not know the day and the hour the Lord is coming, but most of them aren’t even going to care Even with all the signs and all the wonders and all the things going on, they’re not going to care.  They’re not even going to think about it.  They won’t even be considering that as an alternative.  It’s hard to imagine that.  I mean it’s really hard to imagine that.  They’ll be scoffing and mocking like in 2 Peter chapter 3.  And they’ll be getting out their little slide rules and they’ll be getting out their little charts and they’ll be fussing around with their computers and they’ll be analyzing the universe to try to explain scientifically why everything’s going haywire Why there are earthquakes and why there are all kinds of movements in the heavens and why the tides are all messed up and why the moon goes out and why the sun isn’t working properly and why daylight has been shortened and why there’s blood in the seas and there’s bitterness in the fresh water and why people are slaughtering each other and why there are terrible massacres all around the world They’re going to be trying to figure all this out sociologically, scientifically, rationallyBut they’re not going to look to the truth of the Word of God

Jesus had more to say about Noah’s era. People were preoccupied with a comfortable life, eating and drinking, marrying and giving people in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark (verse 38).

Henry says that their comforts and passions consumed them. The same was true before the destruction of the temple in AD 70:

Eating and drinking are necessary to the preservation of man’s life; marrying and giving in marriage are necessary to the preservation of mankind; but, Licitus perimus omnes—These lawful things undo us, unlawfully managed. First, They were unreasonable in it, inordinate and entire in the pursuit of the delights of sense, and the gains of the world; they were wholly taken up with these things, esan trogontesthey were eating; they were in these things as in their element, as if they had their being for no other end than to eat and drink, Isa 56 12. Secondly, They were unreasonable in it; they were entire and intent upon the world and the flesh, when the destruction was at the door, which they had had such fair warning of. They were eating and drinking, when they should have been repenting and praying; when God, by the ministry of Noah, called to weeping and mourning, then joy and gladness. This was to them, as it was to Israel afterwards, the unpardonable sin (Isa 22 12, 14), especially, because it was in defiance of those warnings by which they should have been awakened. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die; if it must be a short life, let it be a merry one.” The apostle James speaks of this as the general practice of the wealthy Jews before the destruction of Jerusalem; when they should have been weeping for the miseries that were coming upon them, they were living in pleasure, and nourishing their hearts as in a day of slaughter, Jam 5 1, 5.

Jesus continued, saying that the people of Noah’s time knew nothing of the flood until it came to sweep them away; so shall it be when the Son of Man returns (verse 39).

Henry says that material security breeds carnality:

First, Therefore they were sensual, because they were secure. Note, the reason why people are so eager in the pursuit, and so entangled in the pleasures of this world, is, because they do not know, and believe, and consider, the eternity which they are upon the brink of. Did we know aright that all these things must shortly be dissolved, and we must certainly survive them, we should not set our eyes and hearts so much upon them as we do. Secondly, Therefore they were secure, because they were sensual; therefore they knew not that the flood was coming, because they were eating and drinking; were so taken up with things seen and present, that they had neither time nor heart to mind the things not seen as yet, which they were warned of. Note, As security bolsters men up in their brutal sensuality; so sensuality rocks them asleep in their carnal security. They knew not, until the flood came. 1. The flood did come, though they would not foresee it. Note, Those that will not know by faith, shall be made to know by feeling, the wrath of God revealed from heaven against their ungodliness and unrighteousness. The evil day is never the further off for men’s putting it far off from them. 2. They did not know it till it was too late to prevent it, as they might have done if they had known it in time, which made it so much the more grievous. Judgments are most terrible and amazing to the secure, and those that have made a jest of them.

He has a present day application for us:

The application of this, concerning the old world, we have in these words; So shall the coming of the Son of man be; that is, (1.) In such a posture shall he find people, eating and drinking, and not expecting him. Note, Security and sensuality are likely to be the epidemical diseases of the latter days. All slumber and sleep, and at midnight the bridegroom comes. All are off their watch, and at their ease. (2.) With such a power, and for such a purpose, will he come upon them. As the flood took away the sinners of the old world, irresistibly and irrecoverably; so shall secure sinners, that mocked at Christ and his coming, be taken away by the wrath of the Lamb, when the great day of his wrath comes, which will be like the coming of the deluge, a destruction which there is no fleeing from.

MacArthur provides this analysis of the comparisons with the people of Noah’s time:

It’s almost unbelievable that they knew not, that the people in the time of Noah didn’t know it was going to rain because they had had somebody telling them that for 120 years Noah was a preacher of righteousness.  And he preached righteousness and judgment.  And he gave them a very large sign of coming judgment by building a massive boat, an ark.  Literally the word means “wooden chest.”  This was the symbol and the sign, 120 years in building, that God was going to bring a devastation to drown the world.  And it says until the Flood came and engulfed them, they didn’t realize it They just went on eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage.  In other words, they went on with the routines of life, literally ignoring the preaching of judgment, literally ignoring the sign and the symbol of the coming Flood And so it will be in the day of the second coming of Christ

They will ignore even the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; they will explain it away; they will rationalize it away. They will do something with it other than accept what it intends to purvey, what it intends to communicate, what it intends to say.  And when Jesus comes, they’ll be shocked.  Hard to imagine, but such is the blindness of the human heart.  Such is the darkness of the human mind.  Listen, they couldn’t even tell when God Himself walked in their midst.  Why should they be better able in that period to understand than they were when Jesus was here?  When the truth is, all hell having broken loose on the earth in that age, sin will be worse than it’s ever been. 

So they’ll not see the truth.  Oh, there will be a great salvation.  The Jews will be redeemed and there will be a great redemption among the Gentiles, as Revelation 7 says.  But there will still be a massive, worldwide populace of people who, having lived through all of the unbelievable events which we’ve chronicled in chapter 24, will still find the second coming of Jesus Christ occurring to them in an unexpected way It’s unbelievable.  In spite of all the signs

Also:

You see, in the days of Noah, people ignored the truth, didn’t they?  Do you know how long Noah preached?  Second Peter 2:5 calls Noah a preacher of righteousness.  Do you think he just built a big wooden chest – that’s the word ark, it’s a – the word is the word for a wooden chest, he built a big wooden chest in the middle of the desert and told people there was going to be a flood And they laughed because it had never rained.  There was no such thing as rain.  And there was no water there.  And you know how long he built that boat?  A hundred and twenty years and they laughed and they ridiculed and they mocked and they derided him. 

But 2 Peter 2:5 says he was a preacher of righteousness.  He wasn’t just a boat builder, he was a preacher.  Before he was a boat builder, he was a preacher.  And for 120 years while he built the boat, he must have been asked a million times, “Why are you building the boat?”  Right?  “Why are you building the boat?”  And that was the trigger for the sermon, “Because God is going to judge the wickedness of this world, and only those who put their faith in Him are going to escape.  And I’m building the boat as a way of escape.  Would you like to come on?”  And they laughed and they laughed and they mocked.  For 120 years, they went on with life as usual while he preached judgment, preached judgment, preached judgment, and demonstrated it to them by building a great big wooden chest right in the middle of everywhere so everyone could see it And they didn’t buy it.  And I’m sure the first time a raindrop hit somebody’s nose, they thought a dinosaur sneezed behind a hill or something.  Still wouldn’t believe it.  They didn’t want to believe that.  They could have come up with all kinds of excuses not to believe that. 

Jesus described simultaneous salvation and damnation in the next two verses.

Henry says that this took place when the temple was destroyed. No Christians in Jerusalem perished, a historic fact:

When ruin came upon Jerusalem, a distinction was made by Divine Providence, according to that which had been before made by divine grace; for all the Christians among them were saved from perishing in that calamity, by the special care of Heaven. If two were at work in the field together, and one of them was a Christian, he was taken into a place of shelter, and had his life given him for a prey, while the other was left to the sword of the enemy. Nay, if but two women were grinding at the mill, if one of them belonged to Christ, though but a woman, a poor woman, a servant, she was taken to a place of safety, and the other abandoned. Thus the meek of the earth are hid in the day of the Lord’s anger (Zeph 2 3), either in heaven, or under heaven. Note, Distinguishing preservations, in times of general destruction, are special tokens of God’s favour, and ought so to be acknowledged. If we are safe when thousands fall on our right hand and our left, are not consumed when others are consumed round about us, so that we are as brands plucked out of the fire, we have reason to say, It is of the Lord’s mercies, and it is a great mercy.

Jesus said that two — two men, that is — are in the field working, one will be taken and one will be left (verse 40).

MacArthur confirms that Jesus spoke of men:

The word “one” in verse 40 is masculine in gender … The man’s task in that particular agricultural part of the world in that time was to be in the field …

Not forgetting women, Jesus said that two of them would be grinding meal — grain — together; one will be taken and one will be left (verse 41).

MacArthur says:

The “one” in verse 41 is feminine in gender … the women were there with the stone, the mill, grinding that which was harvested by the men. 

We can interpret ‘taken’ as being saved or judged. Either is correct.

Henry leans towards salvation:

We may apply it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the separation which will be made in that day. He had said before (v. 31), that the elect will be gathered together. Here he tells us, that, in order to that, they will be distinguished from those who were nearest to them in this world; the choice and chosen ones taken to glory, the other left to perish eternally. Those who sleep in the dust of the earth, two in the same grave, their ashed mixed, shall yet arise, one to be taken to everlasting life, the other left to shame and everlasting contempt, Dan 12 2. Here it is applied to them who shall be found alive. Christ will come unlooked for, will find people busy at their usual occupations, in the field, at the mill; and then, according as they are vessels of mercy prepared for glory, or vessels of wrath prepared for ruin, accordingly it will be with them; the one taken to meet the Lord and his angels in the air, to be for ever with him and them; the other left to the devil and his angels, who, when Christ has gathered out his own, will sweep up the residue. This will aggravate the condemnation of sinners that others shall be taken from the midst of them to glory, and they left behind. And it speaks abundance of comfort to the Lord’s people. [1.] Are they mean and despised in the world, as the man-servant in the field, or the maid at the mill (Exod 11 5)? Yet they shall not be forgotten or overlooked in that day. The poor in the world, if rich in faith, are heirs of the kingdom. [2.] Are they dispersed in distant and unlikely places, where one would not expect to find the heirs of glory, in the field, at the mill? Yet the angels will find them there (hidden as Saul among the stuff, when they are to be enthroned), and fetch them thence; and well may they be said to be changed, for a very great change it will be to go to heaven from ploughing and grinding. [3.] Are they weak, and unable of themselves to move heavenward? They shall be taken, or laid hold of, as Lot was taken out of Sodom by a gracious violence, Gen 19 16. Those whom Christ has once apprehended and laid hold on, he will never lose his hold of. [4.] Are they intermixed with others, linked with them in the same habitations, societies, employments? Let not that discourage any true Christian; God knows how to separate between the precious and the vile, the gold and dross in the same lump, the wheat and chaff in the same floor.

MacArthur interprets ‘taken’ as if in judgement:

It’s based on that picture of the flood sweeping men away into death.  Two are going to be in the field when that final devastating flood of fire comes. And one is taken in judgment. Two at the mill and one is taken in judgment.  And the other left – the other left – what are they left for?  They’re left to go into what?  Into the kingdom ... They are the redeemed So you’ll have people on the job.  Some will be believers and some will be unbelievers.  The unbelievers will be swept away and the believers will be preserved. 

Jesus told His disciples — and us — to stay awake, to be aware, for we do not know what day the Lord is coming (verse 42).

Henry tells us that sleep is akin to sinfulness. All of us will die, so we need to be prepared:

Note, It is the great duty and interest of all the disciples of Christ to watch, to be awake and keep awake, that they may mind their business. As a sinful state or way is compared to sleep, senseless and inactive (1 Thess 5 6), so a gracious state or way is compared to watching and waking. We must watch for our Lord’s coming, to us in particular at our death, after which is the judgment, that is the great day with us, the end of our time; and his coming at the end of all time to judge the world, the great day with all mankind. To watch implies not only to believe that our Lord will come, but to desire that he would come, to be often thinking of his coming, and always looking for it as sure and near, and the time of it uncertain. To watch for Christ’s coming, is to maintain that gracious temper and disposition of mind which we should be willing that our Lord, when he comes, should find us in. To watch is to be aware of the first notices of his approach, that we may immediately attend his motions, and address ourselves to the duty of meeting him. Watching is supposed to be in the night, which is sleeping time; while we are in this world, it is night with us, and we must take pains to keep ourselves awake.

Be ye also ready. We wake in vain, if we do not get ready. It is not enough to look for such things; but we must therefore give diligence, 2 Pet 3 11, 14. We have then our Lord to attend upon, and we must have our lamps ready trimmed; a cause to be tried, and we must have our plea ready drawn and signed by our Advocate; a reckoning to make up, and we must have our accounts ready stated and balanced; there is an inheritance which we then hope to enter upon, and we must have ourselves ready, made meet to partake of it, Col 1 12.

Jesus gave a practical analogy: if the owner of a house knew when the thief was coming, then he would have stayed awake and not allowed his house to be broken into (verse 43).

Jesus meant that He will return suddenly, like a thief in the night. Thieves move quickly. By prefacing it with ‘understand this’, He was putting emphasis on it.

MacArthur explains the verse:

“But know this” – or “I think this” – it could be an imperative, it could be an indicative.  I like to think it’s an indicative.  That is, it states a fact Comparing with verse 42, “You do not know what hour your Lord does come, but you do know this.”  I mean this is obvious.  You do know this.  “That if” – and it’s “if” with a condition in the Greek that is contrary to fact – if and he doesn’t, but if he did, if the householder had known in what watch, that is, in what three-hour period during the night. The Jews divided the night into four three-hour periods from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.  6:00 to 9:00, 9:00 to 12:00, 12:00 to 3:00, 3:00 to 6:00.  He says, “If a householder knew what hours in the middle of the night the thief would come, he would have watched and allowed his house – not allowed his house to be broken into.”  Literally the Greek word for breaking in is “digging through”

So He says you don’t know when the Lord’s coming, but you do know this, if a man knew when a thief was coming, if he knew in general, not the minute or even the hour, but if he just knew the general watch, if he knew the general timeframe, he sure would be ready for him when he got there, right?  He sure would.  And that’s what He’s saying.  That you do know.  Any fool knows that if a robber’s coming and you know he’s coming, you’re going to be ready for him when he gets there. 

And the Lord’s coming is often likened to the coming of a thief.  And it would be good at this point to say that it is not because it is a criminal coming.  The likening of the Lord’s coming to a thief, which occurs here, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, Revelation 16:5, Luke 12:35-40, which I’ll show you in a moment. It also occurs in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and following.  And those places where the Lord’s coming is likened to a thief, it is not that Christ is like a thief, it is that Christ will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief comes suddenly and unexpectedly That’s the only analogy.  That’s the only analogy. 

Jesus ended His discourse by saying that we must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (verse 44).

This refers to death as well as the Second Coming, as Henry explains:

We know not the day of our death, Gen 27 2. We may know that we have but a little time to live (The time of my departure is at hand, 2 Tim 4 6); but we cannot know that we have a long time to live, for our souls are continually in our hands; nor can we know how little a time we have to live, for it may prove less than we expect; much less do we know the time fixed for the general judgment. Concerning both we are kept at uncertainty, that we may, every day, expect that which may come any day; may never boast of a year’s continuance (James 4 13), no, nor of tomorrow’s return, as if it were ours, Prov 27 1; Luke 12 20

… his saying “I come quickly.” obliges us to be always expecting him; for it keeps us in a state of expectancy. In such an hour as you think not, that is, such an hour as they who are unready and unprepared, think not (v. 50); nay, such an hour as the most lively expectants perhaps thought least likely. The bridegroom came when the wise were slumbering.

It is best for us to get our spiritual house in order, starting now, so that we are ready for our deaths:

Note, First, We have every one of us a house to keep, which lies exposed, in which all we are worth is laid up: that house is our own souls, which we must keep with all diligence. Secondly, The day of the Lord comes by surprise, as a thief in the night. Christ chooses to come when he is least expected, that the triumphs of his enemies may be turned into the greater shame, and the fears of his friends into the greater joy. Thirdly, If Christ, when he comes, finds us asleep and unready, our house will be broken up, and we shall lose all we are worth, not as by a thief unjustly, but as by a just and legal process; death and judgment will seize upon all we have, to our irreparable damage and utter undoing. Therefore be ready, be ye also ready; as ready at all times as the good man of the house would be at the hour when he expected the thief: we must put on the armour of God, that we may not only stand in that evil day, but, as more than conquerors, may divide the spoil.

In studying the Gospels, we notice that Jesus often told parables about being prepared for the master or the bridegroom.

MacArthur gives us one example:

the Lord very often taught the same lessons using the same illustrations or very closely related ones As any good teacher knows, you repeat good things and you repeat good illustrations in different settings because they’re helpful to people And the Lord here in Luke chapter 12 is also concerned in warning people about His second coming He says, “Let your loins be girded about and your lamps burning, and you yourselves like men that wait for their lord when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks you may open unto him immediately.”  I mean, be ready so that when he comes back, everything is as it ought to be.  “Blessed are those servants whom the lord when he comes shall find watching.  Verily I say unto you that he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve them.” 

Amazing.  When the Lord comes back, if you’ve been faithful, He’ll sit you down to eat and He’ll serve you.  That’s the kingdom.  If you’re prepared when He comes, you’ll sit down with Him in His kingdom and He will serve you.  And if He should come in the second watch or come in the third watch and find them so, then blessed are those servants because they’re ready whenever He comes They know He’s coming.  They don’t know when it is, but they’re ready.  “And this know, that if the owner of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not permitted his house to be broken through.  Be ye therefore ready also for the Son of Man comes at an hour when you think not.” 

Now you can go back to Matthew 24.  It’s the same idea.  It’s the same basic lesson.  It’s the same idea that He has given here, that when He comes is a devastating judgment.  When He comes is an immediate glory for the redeemed.  So be ready.  And since we don’t know when it is, and no one knows when it is, and no one can know when it is, we need to be ready at all times – at all times.  So alertness and readiness. 

Advent readings are to remind us of repentance and new life. John the Baptist preached before Jesus began His ministry. Advent is that time of preparing ourselves for His coming to earth as a humble infant to save us as the adult who died humiliatingly for our sins.

The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity is on November 13, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:5-19

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

21:8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

21:9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (specified below).

We are approaching the end of our Lord’s ministry, as He delivered this discourse during what we commemorate as Holy Week, or Passion Week.

John MacArthur says:

This is our Lord’s own sermon on His Second Coming. And it comes at a very, very appropriate time because from the human viewpoint, it looks as if His coming has been a total disaster and abysmal failure, a massive disappointment. It is, when we come to verse 5, still Wednesday, Wednesday of what is known as Passion Week, the week in which our Lord is crucified. On Thursday the betrayal will take place. And on Friday He will be crucified by the Romans. It is Wednesday. It is only going to get worse, a lot worse from the human viewpoint. In fact, from the human viewpoint, His life is worse than a failure, it is a disaster. And so it is on the brink of what appears, from a human viewpoint, to be a tragic end that our Lord gives to us the real story of the end bound up in His return to earth in the future.

Some of our Lord’s disciples were admiring the beauty and magnificence of the temple and the gifts therein dedicated to God (verse 5).

The Jews considered the temple to be God’s house, wrapped up with prayer and worship.

However, Jesus replied that the day would come when not one stone of the temple would lay on top of another; all would be thrown down (verse 6).

The disciples must have found His response shocking, especially as they viewed Him as the Messiah and expected a magnificent kingdom on earth.

They asked Him when this would take place and by what sign (verse 7), so that they would know what to expect.

MacArthur says:

The word in the Greek is parousia. It means presence…presence.  And it really was used of a king who had arrived and would continue to dwell among his people.  So what they’re really asking is this, “Now that You are here, what are we looking for that will inaugurate the work that You’ve come to do?”  They don’t see Him there and going away and coming back several thousand years later.  They see His parousia, His presence, and they want to know: You’re here, what sign are we looking for that’s going to inaugurate all our messianic expectations?  That’s their question and it comes in response to His statement about the tearing down of the temple in verse 6, that not one stone will be left upon another that will not be torn down.

They were still hopeful about an earthly kingdom, but Jesus was saddened by what had happened in the days beforehand:

this is Wednesday, all day long He has been in the temple which He had cleansed the day before, throwing out the buyers and the sellers, the corrupt money changers and those who were extorting money at exorbitant prices out of people by disqualifying the sacrifices they brought and making them buy sacrifices from them. Jesus had done that at the beginning of His ministry and He had to do it again. There was no question in the minds of His followers that the system was corrupt. They knew it was corrupt because they had grown up in it. They knew it was corrupt because they had been saved out of it. Of course, His disciples, for the most part, affirmed Him as Messiah. They had come to believe in Him as Messiah. They had been taught by Him and He had taught them plenty about the corruption of the Jewish religious system. He had spoken very strong words about the Sadducees, Pharisees, the scribes, the religious leaders. They knew exactly how He felt. He had cleansed the temple the day before, cleansed it at the beginning of His ministry. He had just finished a prolonged speech or sermon against the leaders of Israel in which He pronounced repeated judgment and damnation curses upon their heads. And He made very clear that Jerusalem was cursed, the religious system cursed. And because its effect had reached the nation as well as the city, the whole nation would bear the curse. And, in fact, He had told them on a couple of occasions that the land and the people and the temple was desolate and was falling under the judgment of God. Now He gets very specific and says, “This judgment is going to mean the dismantling of the temple itself.”

The first four verses of Luke 21 are about the poor widow who goes to the temple to donate her last two coins. As we saw last week, the Sadducees who ran the temple got incredibly rich off of the sacrificial system. Those overseeing the donations allowed that destitute woman to give her final coins, rather than saying, ‘No, you’re fine. You keep those coins for yourself’.

MacArthur tells us:

He has preached His last message, His last warning. He’s had His last discussion, His last dialogue confrontation with the leaders. It’s over. The last thing that we know that He did in the temple was sit down because He was drained and weary. And as He sat down in the Court of the Women, He looked across opposite Him to the treasury and He watched the people putting money in and He saw the widow come by in the first four verses of chapter 21, and He watched the widow put in her last two cents to go home to die. And He hated the kind of religious system that would take the last two cents out of the hand of a defenseless, destitute widow. And that was the final scene with Jesus in the temple, so corrupt, so corrupt that those whom He accused of devouring widows’ houses are doing just that and He watches a widow give up her last two cents because that’s what that religious, legalistic system required of her if she was to buy her salvation and blessing from God. And He has had all that He can take of this system.

Furthermore, according to Matthew’s account, He wept over Jerusalem:

And so, He leaves the temple. We know this from the parallel passage in Matthew, the parallel passage in Matthew, the end of chapter 23. He closes the sermon against the false leaders with these words, verse 37, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were unwilling. Behold, your house (that is your temple and your city and your nation all encompassed in your house) is being left to you desolate. For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'” And He implies there that there’s going to be a long time of desolation; desolation upon your house, destruction and emptiness upon your house for a long time until you acknowledge Me.

The temple was said to be the ne plus ultra of its time. Herod the Great began the immense construction project, which grew and grew with time. Herod was not in the slightest bit religious, but he wanted his name on the temple in his memory.

MacArthur describes the temple:

What a stunning place. What an amazing place, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Some writers say it was the greatest building in the world, most impressive. Before it was actually completed, it was being built and decorated for eighty-five years, about fifty years of building at the time our Lord walked out on that Wednesday. It had been started by Herod the Great in 19 and 20 B.C. It was an unbelievable building project. And the Jews were so concerned that it would be sacred that Herod actually trained priests to be masons and carpenters and craftsmen so that there would only be people who understood holy things who were actually leading the work. And it went on and on and on and on, nearly fifty years by the time Jesus walked out. Fifty years of the best that you could ever imagine. Every stone in that place was made of mezza, white brilliant stone available in the land of Israel that can be finely cut and polished so that it looks like marble. It was a staggering project.

I’ve seen models, reconstructive models of the best estimate of the Herodian temple. It’s indescribable. As to its myriad porticos, colonnades, plazas, patios, rooms, multiple level upon level upon level, all the way up to the parapet around the highest level which had to be fenced in so the people didn’t fall at one particular point on the southwest corner. It’s about a 400 foot drop to the valley below, Kidron. Massive walls, massive colonnades, porticos. It’s a staggering facility. To imagine this thing coming down is stunning

prior to this there was another temple there built by Zerubbabel after the restoration from Babylonian captivity. The Babylonians destroyed the Solomonic temple. But Zerubbabel’s temple looked more like a fort, and maybe didn’t get any higher than three stories. It lacked the glory of the Solomonic temple and so Herod came along and said, “Look, this is an inadequate temple for the God of Israel. I will build a greater one, far greater one.”

His real reason was not to honor the God of Israel. His real reason was to immortalize himself in this great building. So work began in the 18th year of his reign and went on long after his death. They took the old temple, Zerubbabel’s temple, and they flattened it to the ground right down to the bedrock. They laid massive new foundation stones, some of which are still there and visible today. Construction, as I said, went on and on and on and on. The place got larger and larger and larger and larger and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of people.

As Jesus foretold, the end of the magnificent complex came in AD 70, at the hands of the Romans:

On August 29, 70 A.D., Titus Vespasian, the great Roman general, came in after a long siege and they began burning the colonnades, the great porticos and colonnades that surrounded the outer courtyards and there were numbers of them. And then some soldier on his own against the wishes of Titus, historians tells us, took a torch and threw it into the Holy Place. And they tried to put it out but they couldn’t save it and down came the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The whole thing was torched. There were about 6,000 people, Josephus says, who were trying to seek refuge in the temple who were consumed in the conflagration and died and there were tens of thousands more that were massacred by the Romans throughout the city of Jerusalem. The priests, Josephus tells us, tried in a feeble way to defend their temple. They got up on the highest parapet where there were spikes driven up like this to keep the birds from perching there and they were pulling the spikes out and throwing them at the Romans in a useless effort to stop the horrible destruction.

Returning to what Jesus told the disciples, they must have wondered how exactly that destruction would take place:

So as they left, they look backed at this massive, glorious, incredible building, must have been wondering about the words of Jesus that they had already heard just a day before, that it was coming down. It was the grandest of Herod’s many massive building projects. Its eastern front, its eastern front, the side they would be seeing as they went out the east and down the little slope at the backside of the mountain, across the Kidron and up the Mount of Olives, the eastern side was completely covered in gold plating so that it looked like one massive piece of solid gold. In the morning sun, the sun would roll up over the top of the Mount of Olives. It would reflect itself in such a blaze that it would blind someone who didn’t cover his eyes just to look at the temple. And in the evening when the sun was on the other side, its golden glory was only subdued but still impressive. By all accounts, it was the most beautiful building in the world.

MacArthur says that, according to the historian Josephus, a deceiver told people to gather in the temple and they would be safe:

Some false prophet, Josephus says, had told people that if they go there they would be safe from the Romans. Six thousand people huddled for safety in the temple and were consumed by the fire.

In response to the disciples’ question as to when this would take place, Jesus gave an interesting response.

He did not say when it would take place. Instead, He told them not to be deceived — led astray — because many would falsely claim they were He and that the time was near (verse 8).

Henry explains why Jesus responded that way:

Now as to this, he gives them a needful caution (1.) “Take heed that you be not deceived; do not imagine that I shall myself come again in external glory, to take possession of the throne of kingdoms. No, you must not expect any such thing, for my kingdom is not of this world.” When they asked solicitously and eagerly, Master, when shall these things be? the first word Christ said was, Take heed that you be not deceived. Note, Those that are most inquisitive in the things of God (though it is very good to be so) are in most danger of being imposed upon, and have most need to be upon their guard. (2.) “Go you not after them. You know the Messiah is come, and you are not to look for any other; and therefore do not so much as hearken to them, nor have any thing to do with them.” If we are sure that Jesus is the Christ, and his doctrine is the gospel, of God, we must be deaf to all intimations of another Christ and another gospel.

Once again, what Jesus told the disciples came true.

MacArthur says there were many false prophets and many were executed:

Many false teachers came after Jesus had gone and claimed to be the Messiah and that the kingdom was going to begin … they were executing one a day, according to Josephus, false claimants, as insurrectionists.

Jesus told the disciples not to be terrified by wars and insurrections because those had to take place first, but the end will not follow immediately (verse 9). Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (verse 10).

Henry says that Jesus was telling His followers that they must approach such situations with wisdom rather than fear:

… trust therefore in him, and be not afraid. Nay, when you hear of wars, when without are fightings and within are fears, yet then be not you terrified; you know the worst that any of these judgments can do to you, and therefore be not afraid of them; for,” [1.] “It is your interest to make the best of that which is, for all your fears cannot alter it: these things must first come to pass; there is no remedy; it will be your wisdom to make yourselves easy by accommodating yourselves to them.” [2.] “There is worse behind; flatter not yourselves with a fancy that you will soon see an end of these troubles, no, not so soon as you think of: the end is not by and by, not suddenly. Be not terrified, for, if you begin so quickly to be discouraged, how will you bear up under what is yet before you?

These wars did not take place just before the destruction of the temple. Jesus was talking about the future.

MacArthur explains:

There is going to be war among nations, war between kingdoms, lots of time passing. What He’s describing here is history. Don’t be mistaken, long way off. But I will come.

As you break down His message starting in verse 8, He talks about the preliminaries to His coming, the things that are going to happen before He comes. Then starting in verse 25 He talks about His actual coming and then in verse 29, talks about preparation. So it’s preliminaries, then the promise of His coming, and then the preparation.

Jesus said that there will be great earthquakes and, in various places, plagues and famine; there will also be great portents and signs from heaven (verse 11).

MacArthur says that Jesus knew these were — and are — terrifying things for mankind:

It’s easy to become terrified. If I didn’t know what Scripture says, if I didn’t know God was sovereign, if I didn’t know God was on the throne and God was ordering history, this would be a terrifying world to live in. It would be a terrifying world to raise children in. It would be terrifying to think about your grandchildren, to think about your future in this world, especially with people out there making the worst case scenario all the time for everything that possibly could go wrong. And so the Lord understands that. And we can be terrified by the way things go in this world, even in a primitive world around the time of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a terrifying world to live in because it was marked by wars and disturbances. It was marked by terrifying things.

The dreadful portents and signs from heaven are likely to come at the very end.

MacArthur tells us:

Turn to Revelation 16, verse 17. “The seventh angel sounded.” This would be the last blast of trumpet judgments, the last bowl judgment, which is the last part of the last trumpet judgment. They’re kind of telescopic. “The seventh angel poured out his bowl on the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne saying, ‘It is done.” It’s over. This is the last judgment before Christ comes. “There were flashes of lightning, sounds, peals of thunder and there was a great earthquake such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it and so mighty.” John is given a vision of that last of all these great earthquakes. The great city was split into three parts, Jerusalem. The cities of the nations collapsed. “Babylon the great was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of her fierce wrath.” And again you have Babylon connected with the end.

How bad is this earthquake? Look at verse 20, “Every island fled away and the mountains were not found.” Huge hailstones, about 100 pounds each, came down from heaven upon men. And what is their response? “They blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.” Jesus said, “Expect great earthquakes. Expect them to escalate in a fallen, corrupted physical realm.”

And then: great signs from heaven. What should we expect in this period of history? Death at the hand of wild beasts? I’m sure that’s happened. Earthquakes? That’s happened and happening and will happen, escalating. Plagues? Yes. Famine? Yes. And even great signs from heaven. What could that be? Is it a meteor hitting the earth? That’s happened. What could it mean? …

Revelation 6 verse 12, “I looked when he broke the sixth seal and there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair.” That’s goatskin. Black means the sun goes out. The moon becomes like blood, dark as well. In the future there will be a great earthquake and the sun will go out and the moon as well, for it’s reflected light from the sun. “The stars of the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind and the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up. And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us.’” As long as you’re falling, fall on us “’and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb’ for the great day of the wrath has come and who is able to stand?”

The future, time of the tribulation, massive changes in the heavens above, massive. Look at chapter 8 and verse 3, another angel came, stood at the altar, has a golden censer. And verse 4 says, the smoke of the incense in that censer with the prayers of the saints went up before God out of the angel’s hand. The angel took the censer, filled it with the fire of the altar, threw it to the earth; a symbolic act. There followed peals of thunder, sounds, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. “And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared them to sound them. And the first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and were thrown to the earth. A third of the earth was burned up. A third of the trees were burned up. And all the green grass was burned up.” Fire coming from the sky.

“The second angel sounded. Something like a great mountain burning with fire” a meteor perhaps, “was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood. A third of the creatures in the sea had life, died. A third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded and a great star fell from heaven,” another heavenly body catapulted to the earth like a torch, “fell on a third of the rivers and the springs of waters.” The salt waters are devastated and so are the fresh waters. “The name of the star is called wormwood and a third of the waters became wormwood and many men died from the waters because they were made bitter,” or toxic. A fourth angel sounds, a third of the sun, a third of the moon, a third of the stars were smitten, a third of them might be darkened and day might not shine for a third of it and the night in the same way. You know what that means. All the tides are thrown off. Day and night is thrown off. All the crops are thrown off. Things can’t grow. Life is total chaos.

“And I looked and heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound.’” If it’s that bad with the first four, what in the world is going to happen with the final three?

This is the future of this planet. This is the future of humanity. This is the future of the world. Deceivers will flourish and abound in the name of Christ. False Christianity will cover the globe. Deception and disaster … Disaster will come and stay and grow and escalate until the final disaster.

Then Jesus tells the disciples what will happen before this. This, I believe, is the most pertinent part, because it has happened continuously throughout our two millennia and will go on to the end of time.

Jesus said that they — those in authority — will arrest and persecute you in punishment and judgement because of His name (verse 12).

I wrote about Luke 21:10-19 several years ago for my Forbidden Bible Verses series. At that time, I was using a Lectionary reading schedule from the Episcopal Church, which, fortunately, is no longer being used.

My post tells what happened to the Apostles that Jesus had under His care during His ministry, except for Judas. All were martyred, bar John, who was exiled to Patmos. That in itself was a type of martyrdom, too, although not as physically brutal and immediate as what the others suffered. St Paul was also martyred.

Jesus told them that persecution would give them an opportunity to testify in His name (verse 13), which Sts Peter, Stephen and Paul certainly did.

Henry explains:

God will bring glory both to himself and them out of their sufferings: “It shall turn to you for a testimony, v. 13. Your being set up thus for a mark, and publicly persecuted, will make you the more taken notice of and your doctrine and miracles the more enquired into; your being brought before kings and rulers will give you an opportunity of preaching the gospel to them, who otherwise would never have come within hearing of it; your suffering such severe things, and being so hated by the worst of men, men of the most vicious lives, will be a testimony that you are good, else you would not have such bad men for your enemies; your courage, and cheerfulness, and constancy under your sufferings will be a testimony for you, that you believe what you preach, that you are supported by a divine power, and that the Spirit of God and glory rests upon you.”

Jesus told them not to plan their defence in advance (verse 14), because He would give them words and wisdom that none of their opponents could contradict (verse 15).

The same holds true for us.

MacArthur says:

Ah, what a promise. Don’t worry, don’t be fearful. Don’t wonder whether you’ll be able to say the right thing in that hour, in that moment …

Don’t worry about what you’re going to say, the Holy Spirit who dwells within you will show you what to say, and in such a way that none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute you.

You can go through the book of Acts and you can see illustrations of this, how that when they were brought before the authorities they said exactly the right thing, for which the authorities had no response. Even in my little world, I have rested on this promise. I get myself in situations where I’m under fire from people who hate the gospel, sometimes on worldwide television. And people ask me, “How do you prepare for that?” And I have always said this, “I prepare for that by simply trusting in the Holy Spirit.” I’m actually excited. It’s an adventure. I’m eager to find out what I’m going to say. And sometimes I’ll replay it and I’ll say, “Wow! That was pretty good.” But they’re never a match for the truth. They’re never a match for the truth.

Yes, on the world stage there will come relentless persecution. Don’t worry, it’s going to come. You need to know it’s going to come because that will insulate you against it. You don’t need to be surprised by this.

Christians will also come under attack from family and friends, some of whom will put their nearest and dearest to death (verse 16).

Jesus, once again, was correct.

MacArthur says that Christianity is the only religion with martyrs, tens of millions of them through the ages:

No other religion has this history.  In many places in the world today, believers continue to be persecuted.  Muslim- and Hindu-controlled countries, especially Africa and the Middle East, especially murderous toward Christians; though other nations such as communistic states are also antagonistic and during the development of communism, Christians were massacred wholesale.  1997, an article in the New York Times reports, quote: “More Christians have died this century simply for being Christians than in the first nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ.” Twentieth century, more Christians died than in the nineteen centuries before, New York Times, February 11, 1997.

In addition, an incalculable number of faithful believers have been rejected by their families, hated by their parents, hated by their siblings, by their friends, arrested, beaten, persecuted short of death, all on account of loyalty to Christ.  There’s a relatively new book called The New Persecuted, published in 2002A Roman Catholic journalist, Antonio Socci: He estimates that in the 2,000 years of church history, seventy million Christians have been martyred.  The number is likely much greater since he minimizes the number of those executed under the Roman Catholic Church.  God knows. I don’t know how many but the numbers are staggering.

He also says that of these seventy million Christians, two thirds have been killed in the last hundred years.  He claims that an average of 160 thousand Christians have been killed every year since 1990; 160 thousand a year since 1990.

Persecution, like wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes and all the rest will continue to escalate until the Second Coming:

So was our Lord right when He said you can expect this in the time between My first and My Second Coming? He was right about the wars. He was absolutely right about the earthquakes and the plagues and the famines that they would increase and escalate and become worse and worse and worse. And we see it played out just the way He said it. Don’t think for one split second that the purpose of Jesus failed at the cross. Don’t think that what He intended to do didn’t come to pass. He laid out exactly what would happen and that’s the way it is in the history of the world. And it’s going to get worse, not better. If you think persecution of believers is going to go away, you’re wrong. The church is going to continue to be persecuted because it’s going to continue to be scattered for purposes of evangelism. And it’s going to continue to have to give its testimony of triumph in the face of persecution so to demonstrate its truthfulness and validity, and persecution will continue and get worse.

Jesus said that the disciples — and other believers in the ages to come — will be hated by all because of His name (verse 17).

Henry explains the hate that unbelievers have had throughout history:

They were hated of all men, that is, of all bad men, who could not bear the light of the gospel (because it discovered their evil deeds), and therefore hated those who brought in that light, flew in their faces, and would have pulled them to pieces. The wicked world, which hated to be reformed, hated Christ the great Reformer, and all that were his, for his sake. The rulers of the Jewish church, knowing very well that if the gospel obtained among the Jews their usurped abused power was at an end, raised all their forces against it, put it into an ill name, filled people’s minds with prejudices against it, and so made the preachers and professors of it odious to the mob.

However, Jesus said that no one who is persecuted will perish, not one hair on their head (verse 18).

The martyrs might have lost their heads or tortured alive in many other horrific ways, but the Triune God knows who has suffered, and they will be saved.

Henry says:

First, “I will take cognizance of it.” To this end he had said (Matt 10 30), The hairs of your head are all numbered; and an account is kept of them, so that none of them shall perish but he will miss it. Secondly, “It shall be upon a valuable consideration. We do not reckon that lost or perishing which is laid out for good purposes, and will turn to a good account. If we drop the body itself for Christ’s name’s sake, it does not perish, but is well bestowed. Thirdly, “It shall be abundantly recompensed; when you come to balance profit and loss, you will find that nothing has perished, but, on the contrary, that you have great gain in present comforts, especially in the joys of a life eternal”; so that though we may be losers for Christ we shall not, we cannot, be losers by him in the end.

Jesus ended this part of His discourse saying that endurance will gain us our souls (verse 19).

‘Endurance’: that word of which Paul was so fond, using it several times in his letters.

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

“It is therefore your duty and interest, in the midst of your own sufferings and those of the nation, to maintain a holy sincerity and serenity of mind, which will keep you always easy (v. 19): In your patience possess ye your souls; get and keep possession of your souls.” Some read it as a promise, “You may or shall possess your souls.” It comes all to one. Note, First, It is our duty and interest at all times, especially in perilous trying times, to secure the possession of our own souls; not only that they be not destroyed and lost for ever, but that they be not distempered now, nor our possession of them disturbed and interrupted. “Possess your souls, be your own men, keep up the authority and dominion of reason, and keep under the tumults of passion, that neither grief nor fear may tyrannize over you, nor turn you out of the possession and enjoyment of yourselves.” In difficult times, when we can keep possession of nothing else, then let us make that sure which may be made sure, and keep possession of our souls. Secondly, It is by patience, Christian patience, that we keep possession of our own souls. “In suffering times, set patience upon the guard for the preserving of your souls; by it keep your souls composed and in a good frame, and keep out all those impressions which would ruffle you and put you out of temper.”

The rest of Luke 21 is about the destruction of the temple and our Lord’s Second Coming in His own words. They are two different events.

I do not believe the following passages are in the Lectionary, and they are important to understand:

Luke 21:20-24 – Jesus, destruction of Jerusalem

Luke 21:32-38 – Jesus, Second Coming, be on guard, no excesses, no drunkenness

May all who persevered in reading this post enjoy a blessed Sunday.

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity is on August 7, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 12:32-40

12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

12:33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;

12:36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.

12:37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.

12:38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

12:39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.

12:40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week, we had the Parable of the Rich Fool, whom God called to his death just as he was contemplating building barns for his harvest and his goods.

Today’s reading is about the Second Coming of Christ.

In between the Parable of the Rich Fool and today’s verses is another instruction from Jesus, which is not to worry.

Here are those verses from Luke 12:

Do Not Worry

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 is all about our Lord’s instructions during the last six months of His life on Earth.

The discourse that Jesus gives in Luke 12 runs all the way through to Luke 13:9.

John MacArthur says:

At this point probably the buzz through the crowd to whom Jesus is speaking… Remember now, 12:1 to 13:9 is one discourse Jesus gave to a crowd, very large crowd, tens of thousands of people. And the buzz through the crowd would be, “Wow, this is pretty amazing stuff here.”

Jesus addressed the crowd as ‘little flock’, telling them not to be afraid, because God would give them His kingdom (verse 32).

Matthew Henry explains the words ‘little flock’:

This comfortable word we had not in Matthew. Note, [1.] Christ’s flock in this world is a little flock; his sheep are but few and feeble. The church is a vineyard, a garden, a small spot, compared with the wilderness of this world; as Israel (1 Kings 20 27), who were like two little flocks of kids, when the Syrians filled the country. [2.] Though it be a little flock, quite over-numbered, and therefore in danger of being overpowered, by its enemies, yet it is the will of Christ that they should not be afraid: “Fear not, little flock, but see yourselves safe under the protection and conduct of the great and good Shepherd, and lie easy.”

God will gladly give the faithful His kingdom as their inheritance:

[3.] God has a kingdom in store for all that belong to Christ’s little flock, a crown of glory (1 Pet 5 4), a throne of power (Rev 3 21), unsearchable riches, far exceeding the peculiar treasures of kings and provinces. The sheep on the right hand are called to come and inherit the kingdom; it is theirs for ever; a kingdom for each. [4.] The kingdom is given according to the good pleasure of the Father; It is your Father’s good pleasure; it is given not of debt, but of grace, free grace, sovereign grace; even so, Father, because it seemed good unto thee. The kingdom is his; and may he not do what he will with his own? [5.] The believing hopes and prospects of the kingdom should silence and suppress the fears of Christ’s little flock in this world. “Fear no trouble; for, though it should come, it shall not come between you and the kingdom, that is sure, it is near.” (That is not an evil worth trembling at the thought of which cannot separate us from the love of God). “Fear not the want of any thing that is good for you; for, if it be your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, you need not question but he will bear your charges thither.”

Jesus told the crowd to sell their possessions and give to charity, to create a spiritual, heavenly ‘purse’ that does not wear out and cannot fall prey to a thief or a moth (verse 33).

Henry says that Jesus did not mean to literally sell everything and leave oneself a pauper but give away whatever prevents us from fully coming to Christ:

Sit loose to this world, and to all your possessions in it: Sell that ye have, and give alms,” that is, “rather than want wherewith to relieve those that are truly necessitous, sell what you have that is superfluous, all that you can spare from the support of yourselves and families, and give it to the poor. Sell what you have, if you find it a hindrance from, or incumbrance in, the service of Christ. Do not think yourselves undone, if by being fined, imprisoned, or banished, for the testimony of Jesus, you be forced to sell your estates, thought they be the inheritance of your fathers. Do not sell to hoard up the money, or because you can make more of it by usury, but sell and give alms; what is given in alms, in a right manner, is put out to the best interest, upon the best security.”

MacArthur says that Jesus is inviting the crowd into His Father’s kingdom:

So here is an invitation then to the kingdom But it appeals only to the desperate, only to the broken, only to the penitent, only for the hungry and thirsty whose desire to be delivered from sin and death and hell into the kingdom of righteousness, joy and peace is so strong that they would pay any cost.  So Jesus is saying what John the Baptist said, “Bring forth fruits unto repentance.”  You say you want to repent, do you?  Are you willing to give up everything?  Are you willing to make for yourself purses which don’t wear out?  In other words, instead of accumulating everything in this world in earthly barns, or earthly purses, are you…are you willing to put them in a heavenly purse, to put your treasure in heaven?  Are you willing to give up everything in a spiritual investment with God, who will return to you eternal dividends?  You will receive in heaven an unfailing treasure where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.

Jesus said that, where our hearts are, there will our treasure also be (verse 34). That is one of my favourite Bible verses.

MacArthur says:

So here is our Lord’s invitation.  It is an invitation to live in His kingdom.  It is an invitation to submit your life to the heavenly King and to invest everything into His careTo set your affections on things above, as verse 34 says, to put your heart in heavenHeart is kardia, cardiacIt means feeling, thought, desire, will, the core of life; everything in that heavenly investment.

Jesus then went into an allegory of a wedding feast, with the bridegroom not yet home and with waiting servants. This is His discussion of His Second Coming.

He said to be dressed appropriately — ‘for action’ — and have enough oil in the lamps, as did servants and slaves in that era (verse 35).

MacArthur explains that the length of time for a wedding feast in those days varied. No one knew when it would begin or end:

… a wedding feast was something that just sort of happened in a general sense at a general time rather than saying, you know, we’re going to have a wedding, it’s going to be Saturday at eight o’clock. They would say you’re all invited to a wedding. They would send out wedding invitations and it would say, like, “In the month of April and we’ll let you know when it starts.” And by the way, they would last … up to seven days or even more, depending on how wealthy they were, how many people came, and how much food there was available. They weren’t sure exactly when it would begin because all of the accumulation of the food and all that needed to be done was somewhat undetermined. And so here’s a perfect illustration. A master goes to a wedding. And he has to tell his people, “I…I don’t know when I’ll be back,” because that’s how weddings were. “So I’m just going to put you in charge of everything.” Now they could take it seriously or not so seriously.

MacArthur explains the attire, being dressed ‘for action’:

The Lord gives four analogies of readiness, OK?  Four analogies of readiness.  Now we’ll go back and look at verses 35 to 39 and it will all just unfold pretty simply.  Four analogies of readiness. Number one, verse 35, first half of the verse, “Be dressed in readiness.”  Literally, let your loins be girded. Let your loins be girded.  Everybody wore dresses in those days, everybody wore wrong…long robes.  They had a couple of holes for the arms and a hole for the head and you just threw on this robe.  You’ve seen all the pictures and film depictions of life in this period and it’s true.  They all wore these flowing robes.  If you were going to go into action that was a very, very inconvenient way to be dressed and so what they would typically do would be take a sash or some kind of belt and pull it around their waist and pull all of that loose material together.  And very often they would take the corners of their robes, pull them up through so that they would shorten them up so that they could move with more facility and more alacrity.  It was very important.  This goes even back to the Exodus, back in Exodus chapter 12 verse 11, the angel of death was going to come and it was moving time. After four centuries in Egypt, they were going.  And Israel was going out of Egypt.  God was going to deliver them.  And you remember what He said?  “You eat the Passover but you eat the Passover fast and you eat the Passover with your loins girded and your sandals on.” We’re moving out.

What is He saying?  He’s saying you’ve got to be ready to be goingIt’s going to happen so fast, it’s going to happen in a nanosecond, you don’t know when it’s going to happen. You better be ready to move.  The New Testament adds to that. There are a number of Old Testament uses of that phrase, 1 Kings 18:46, 2 Kings 4:29. It was a very familiar Jewish metaphor for readiness It also worked in the Roman worldPaul said that a Roman soldier, when he was talking about the armor of the Christian, had on a belt of sincerity or truthfulness, the belt of truth. And what he was saying by that is, look, if you’re going to engage in spiritual war, you’ve…you’ve got to pull the loose ends of your life together.  First Peter 1:13, “Gird up your minds for action.”  Pull in the loose ends of your lifeIt’s a metaphor for spiritual readiness, call to action to be ready to move and move fast.

Now on to the lamps:

Second metaphor is lamps. The first one is clothing. The second one is lamp, lamps. “Keep your lamps alight,” or “keep your lamps lit.” This is not time to be meandering around in the darkness. This is no time to be fumbling and stumbling. Be alert, be aware, be watchful, have everything ready. You remember the story in Matthew chapter 25, the parable that Jesus told about the ten virgins. And the ten virgins, you know, were the bridesmaids to the bride and they were supposed to be ready for whenever the bridegroom came. Weddings were really very hard to nail down in terms of time. They started when they started and they ended when they ended. You know, they started when everything was done and the preparations were made and the food was fixed and they ended when they ran out. And so they were sort of floating as to their beginning and their end. And in the case of Matthew 25, they were waiting and waiting for the bridegroom to come and He didn’t come and He didn’t come and it got to be night and dark and, of course now it’s midnight and some of them let their lamps go out. They weren’t ready when He came. That’s a metaphor of lack of preparation. The bridegroom came, the wedding took place, the door was slammed in the faces of the virgins who had no oil and Jesus is saying by that story…story, “You don’t know when the bridegroom is coming and you better be ready or you’re going to be on the outside. And outside is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Be ready when He comes. You don’t know when He’s coming.

Paul put it this way in Romans 13, “Do this knowing the time that now it is high time to awake out of sleep.” Wake up. “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” He’s saying that 2,000 years ago. “Let us cast off the works of darkness. Let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lust. It’s time to come to Christ. It’s time to live godly lives.” Jesus is coming, could come at any moment. You need to be alert, have the light on and not be in spiritual darkness.

Jesus told the crowd to be ready for the time the bridegroom returns — His Second Coming — so that they can be ready to open the door as soon as he/He knocks (verse 36).

MacArthur says:

Third picture, third metaphor is of servants. Clothing, lamps, and servants …

And so in verse 36 he’s saying, “You need to be like that. You need to be like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding feast which carries the idea of you don’t know when it’s going to be, so that he may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. You’ve just got to be there waiting so that when he arrives and puts one hand on that door, that door is open and you’re ready to receive him and give a full account of everything.”

Jesus went on to say that those servants or slaves who are ready for the master’s return will be blessed, because he will fasten his belt, call them to table and serve them himself (verse 37).

Now that must have struck the crowd as an amazing thought, because it was unheard of.

MacArthur says:

That’s turning the proverbial tables. When he comes home and he finds you ready, everything is ready, everything is as you know he would want it to be, you are prepared for his arrival. He is going to be so thrilled and so thankful for that that he is going to say, “Folks, sit down, I’ll cook dinner. I’ll feed you. You are now my honored guests.”

Jesus said that the slaves who were ready in the early hours of the morning and near dawn would be blessed indeed (verse 38).

MacArthur says that big households with servants or slaves set up a schedule so that a group of them would be on watch at various times starting in the evening and going into the early morning:

The Romans had divided the night military watch into four parts: six to nine, nine to twelve, twelve to three, three to six. The Jews divided into three parts. Scholars like to debate whether Jesus was thinking of a Jewish watch or a Roman watch and really, who cares? It’s not a critical point. Who knows what Jesus was thinking, we only know what He said, and He didn’t say either. The point is this, the second or the third watch would be late. In a Roman setting, it would be between nine and three A.M. and in a Jewish setting it would span basically the same amount of time. So you’re talking about a very inconvenient time when people would normally be asleep and they had finished their day of work and he said, “But you know what? If you’re ready in that most unexpected time, if you’re ready even if he comes in the third watch of the night, even if he comes in the dark when you should be asleep, and you’re ready, He is going to light everything, He’s going to set a table, He’s going to sit you down and He’s going to feed you.” And there’s another picture of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb at which the bridegroom Himself will serve His bride. When He comes and takes us to heaven, He will sit us at His table and He will serve us. That’s one of the great pictures of the love of Christ for His redeemed church. I understand the part that we serve Him. This is over the top, that He serves us. When He comes back and finds us faithful, He will serve us.

Jesus ended with a warning.

He said, ‘Know this’, that, if the owner of the house knew what time a thief would break in, he would have been on guard to prevent it (verse 39).

He ended by saying that we must be ready, at all times, because the Son of Man will return at an unexpected hour (verse 40).

In verse 39, we have our Lord’s fourth and final metaphor, that of the thief and the associated element of shock and surprise that accompanies a break-in.

MacArthur tells us:

one final metaphor here in Luke 12: that of a thief. Clothing, lamps, servants, and a thief, verse 39, “Be sure of this.” This is emphatic, obvious but emphatic, “that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into,” or literally, dug through, because houses were made out of mud and the thieves would dig through as verse 33 says, they would steal.  And so if a man knew when the thief was coming, he would make sure that no thief could do his dastardly work.  A thief’s stock-in-trade is surprise, when you don’t expect it.  I mean no thief is very successful who comes when you expect it.  They thrive on coming when you don’t expect it.  And this is the picture of the coming of the LordHe’s going to come like a thief, not in that he’s going to do damage, not in that he’s going to take something he’s not entitled to, but it’s the element of surprise that is carried in this metaphor.  Listen to 1 Thessalonians 5 verse 2, “You yourselves know full well the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night,” just like a thief in the night.  “But you, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you like a thief, for you are all sons of light and sons of the day.”  You’re ready, you have the lamps on, you have your loins girded and you’ve rendered your service to your Master and you’re ready to go.  He’s coming like a thief. Peter said the same thing in 2 Peter, using that same metaphor.  Once the Lord used it, they all started borrowing it from Him.  Second Peter 3:10, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  Revelation, we even have the same thing and here in chapter 16 and verse 15 says, “Behold,” this is the Lord talking, “I am coming like a thief.  Blessed is the one who stays awake, has the lamp on, keeps his garments,” that is, is dressed and ready to go.  And even back in I think it’s the 3rd chapter of Revelation, and verse 3, “Remember therefore what you have received and heard, keep it and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief” and here it is, “and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.”  That’s the concept of the thief, you don’t know when.  So be ready.

Luke has more quotes from Jesus on spiritual readiness:

How do we get ready?  How do you get ready?  First of all, you need to come to Christ.  We can go back to Luke 9, can’t we, on that one and it says in verse 23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”  Come to Christ, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life for My sake is the one who will save it.  What does a man profit it he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes.”  Get ready, He’s coming and you don’t want Him to be ashamed of you when He comes.

Listen to Luke 21:34, “Be on guard that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life and that day suddenly come upon you like a trap.  For it will come on all those who dwell on the face of all the earth, but keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Be ready to stand before the Son of Man when He comes.  This is a call to salvation.

Readiness also implies sanctification:

But there’s also a call to sanctification, a call to sanctification, and Peter gives us that call in 2 Peter 3:14.  He says, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things” I love this “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”  You want to be ready when He comes, not just because you belong to Him but because you are living a godly life.  You’re living a holy life.  Since we are looking for this coming, what kind of persons should we be?  Second Peter 3:11 says: “You are to be holy in your conduct and godly.”  He’s coming. He’s coming when we don’t expect it.  You need to come to Christ and be saved, to be ready when He arrives to be taken to glory and you need to be living a godly life to receive then a full reward when He arrives.

A lot of Christians think that the end of the world will come in our lifetime.

It might, but it might not. However, we will surely pass this mortal coil, and for that, we also need to be ready.

As to when the end of the world will come, I often think of one of the lines of O God, Our Help in Ages Past:

A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone …

MacArthur gives us reason to think the end of the world is coming, but, perhaps not yet. He cites 2 Peter 3:

… you say, “But…but He said He’s coming and it’s 2,000 years.” Verse 8, here’s the key. “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as (what?) a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” You’re talking about the eternal God who is beyond time. You say, “But still, what’s He waiting for?” You know, we want to crawl under the altar with the saints in Revelation, “How long, oh Lord, how long, how long? When are You going to come? When are You going to glorify Yourself? When are You going to judge the ungodly? When are You going to vindicate Your name and manifest the glory of Your people? How long? What’s He waiting for?”

Verse 9 tells you what He’s waiting for. “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness.” Some people accuse God of not…just not getting around to it, maybe, “but is patient toward you.” You? Who are you? The ones He’s writing to. Who are they? Verse 1 chapter 1, “Those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” You believers, what is God waiting for? Listen to me, He’s waiting for you because He does not wish that any of His own who have been chosen perish, but that all come to repentance, and God cannot come, He cannot return, Jesus can’t return until all the elect are redeemed. That’s what He’s waiting for. The reason for His delay is not that He’s negligent. It’s not that He’s careless. It’s not that He’s doing other things. He’ll come when His bride for His Son is complete. He’ll come when redemption is over. The fact that 2,000 years have elapsed is utterly irrelevant to the doctrine of imminence. It’s still imminent. I don’t know when He’s coming, but I’ll tell you this, it’s sooner than it’s ever been. A certain event, an uncertain time.

Until then, MacArthur gives us guidance for readiness:

One other comment from Luke and that is to ask the question. So what are we supposed to do now in the light of this? And that’s how Jesus begins that verse, verse 40. “You too be ready.” Be ready. How do you get ready? Abandon false religion, fear God, confess Christ, trust the Holy Spirit, be rich toward God, leave the world behind, seek His spiritual kingdom. That’s how you get ready. He’s coming and His coming is certain and powerfully and for the purpose of motivation, motivating every generation, its timing is uncertain. And so the message is, you better be ready, you better be ready.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

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