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John F MacArthurIn the UK, polls have showed that Britons, particularly younger ones, have no intention of working.

The latest Government findings came out on January 22, 2023. The BBC reported (emphases mine):

Most of the 2.7 million “inactive” people under 25 are students, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The majority of them don’t want a job.

This was also true in 2021, as CityAM informed us:

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows of the 13m Brits who are not looking for work, over half said they were doing so because they did not want to work.

In 2015, a student posted the following message on The Student Room forum. Granted, she sees the possibility of owning her own small business but only just:

I’m 22 now and it’s slowly dawned on me that I have no intention of working/having a career. I find most work boring and I am simply not inspired by the rat race. I think I want to be a small business owner and a stay at home mother.

It seems with feminism most women just aren’t looking to go down the ‘small job, husband and babies’ route anymore. Am I the only one who doesn’t want to work…at all ?

Maybe a small online store or something and a husband and kids. Nothing more (?)

Anyone else ?

The benefits balloon stretches back at least to 2013, possibly earlier. On April 24 that year, the Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, the then-Secretary of State for Welfare and Pensions said:

Around 1 million people have been stuck on a working-age benefit for at least three out of the past four years, despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work.

Ten years on, The Spectator reports that real figures show that five million Britons are receiving out-of-work benefits. Their figures have been disputed, but in November 2022, the magazine’s editor Fraser Nelson explained how the data were put together. For now, this is the message:

How can 20 per cent of people in our great cities be on benefits at a time of mass migration and record vacancies? It’s perhaps the most important question in politics right now, but it’s not being given any scrutiny because the real figures lie behind a fog of data

Every month, an official unemployment figure is put out on a press release – and news organisations are primed to cover it. It’s normally about 1.2 million looking for work: the problem, of course, is so few Brits are actually doing so

The true benefits figure is not to be found on a press release, but buried in a password-protected DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] database with a six-month time lag …

The five million figure ‘seems to be incorrect,’ Full Fact said in their email to us. ‘According to the most recent statistics, there are around 1.5 million people claiming out-of-work benefits.’ But the real figure is more than three times higher – but rather than reply to them, I thought I’d write this blog for anyone interested …

DWP data is now on Stat-Xplore, a versatile open data tool. The password bit is deceptive: you can bypass by clicking ‘Guest log in’ to find an Aladdin’s Cave of data. Look at the dataset ‘Benefit Combinations – Data from February 2019‘. Click Table 5, then click ‘Open table’ to get the numbers …

Nelson has posted graphs and a map to illustrate his figure of five million.

He concludes:

To fail to match up 1.2 million vacancies with at least some of those on out-of-work benefits is not just an economic failure but a moral one. But to solve a problem, you need to recognise a problem. Officially counting all five million people on out-of-work benefits would be a good way to start.

Living a life of idleness, however, is nothing new.

St Paul grappled with the same problem two millennia ago when he planted a church in Thessalonika (present day Saloniki).

The following passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is one example of his command to work:

Warning Against Idleness

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.[d]

John MacArthur explains why we must work in ‘Work: A Noble Christian Duty, Part 3’, from July 19, 1992.

There were reasons why some in the congregation were not prepared to work:

As we have said in the past … they perhaps have been influenced by some of the Jewish background of the scribes who thought that anything other than studying the law was an unworthy way to spend your life They surely were affected by the general Greek attitude that work was demeaning and sordid and base and low and belonged only to slaves and not to freemen

And they probably had had those predispositions somewhat exaggerated by virtue of the fact that someone had come along and told them that they were already in the day of the Lord and the return of Christ was imminent and there probably wasn’t much use in doing anything other than evangelizing and studying the Word of God.  And so they had given themselves to that happily because of their disdain for work anyway.  Problem was, at least long term, if you can call several months long term for the Thessalonians in that Paul had dealt with it when he was there.  Several months later, when he wrote them the first letter, he dealt with it, and here he is writing a second letter and dealing with it a third time.  They didn’t want to work.  It was beneath them. 

Homer, the famous Greek writer, had said that the gods hated man.  And the way they demonstrated their hatred was to invent work and punish men by making them work This kind of philosophy being existent in that time, it found its way into the lives of those people and thus, when they became converted, it found its way into the church.  Becoming a Christian doesn’t change everything immediately.  We will always have residuals of our past, and we will always to one degree or another be affected by our culture.  And so here in this church in which so many good things had happened, a genuine conversion, a genuine godliness, they were not slack in spiritual service, they had a work of faith and a labor of love, and they did it with patience and endurance because they hoped in the return of Christ.  They worked hard at ministry, but they didn’t want to do the jobs that they had to do in the world, at least some of them

And so Paul was dealing with a church that had its spiritual life on target and was doing well, excelling spiritually, but they had this one problem that dominates the church in terms of its conduct, and that was that there were people there who didn’t work.  They then became a burden on everybody else, and it wasn’t that they couldn’t work, it wasn’t that they had a physical disability, it wasn’t that there wasn’t a job available, they refused to work, seeing it as beneath them or not a priority for those engaged in kingdom enterprises. 

MacArthur cites American statistics on work from 1980 to 1991:

I suppose 25 years ago, a situation like this would have struggled to be relevant in our time then because America was a hard-working country 25 years ago In fact, the American work ethic has always been hailed as sort of the supreme work ethic of the industrialized world.  We have always sort of set the pace for productivity and enterprise – up until more recent years, that is.  Last year, Charles Colson and Jack Eckerd, who heads the Eckerd Company, which operates drug stores in other parts of America, they wrote a book and the title of their book is Why America Doesn’t Work.  Now, that’s really a new thought, a new concept for our culture, for our society.  The subtitle is, “How the decline of the work ethic is hurting your family and future.”  The future of America is changing dramatically.  There are other nations that are putting us to shame in terms of work habits and a work ethic. 

In their book, they point out that we have in America declining rates of productivity, the loss of competitive position in some world markets, and workers who aren’t working And they concluded it is a bleak picture.  And I suppose they ask the right question, the question we would all ask at that point:  What has happened to the industry and productivity that made this country the marvel of the world at one time? …

We have an ethical malaise all the way from the jet set corporate leaders down to the person working at the bench.  The whole concept of work has so dramatically changed, it no longer has a transcendent motive.  There’s no longer something beyond me to make me perform at a certain level.  Thus, the meaning of work has been sapped from everybody from the top to the bottom, to some degreeObviously, some people still work harder than others. 

A 1980 Gallup Poll conducted for the Chamber of Commerce found that people still believed in work-ethic values, 1980, they still believed.  That’s over ten years ago.  Eighty-eight percent said working hard and doing their best on the job was personally important.  But were they doing it?  They said they believed it, it was still sort of in the air in 1980, but were people working hard?  1982 survey came along.  In that survey, it was reported that only 16 percent said they were doing the best job they could at work.  Eighty-four percent admitted they weren’t working hard – 84 percent.  So you can see they were still holding on to a residual ethic that didn’t translate into how they functioned, which meant that it was somebody else’s transcendent value, somebody else’s ethical value imposed on them externally but not truly believed. 

Working hard, they said, was important but they weren’t doing it, so how important was it?  Eighty-four percent also said they would work harder if they could gain something from it.  And now you can see that the ethic is not transcendent, the ethic is utilitarian.  It’s all tied in to what I get out of it, what’s in it for me.  And that’s part of the cynicism of our society.  That’s part of the direct consequence of the 60s’ moral revolution, which is a rejection of transcendent values. 

God is not an issue in anything.  He is not an issue in the way I conduct my sexual life, He is not an issue in my marriage, He is not an issue at my job, He is not an issue in education, He is not an issue anywhere.  God is not an issue; therefore, there is no value beyond myself.  So whatever is enough to get me what I want is enough.  It is a kind of societal economic atheism In fact, psychologist Robert Bellah calls it radical individualism Surveying 200 middle-class Americans, this UCLA professor discovered that people seek personal advancement from work, personal development from marriage, and personal fulfillment from church.  Everything, he says, their perspective on family, church, community, and work is utilitarian.  It is measured by what they can get out of it, and concern for others is only secondary. 

Down to specifics, James Sheehy, an executive with a computer firm in the upper echelons of the work strata, saw first-hand how this kind of utilitarian value was affecting work He wanted a better understanding of the expectations and psyche of younger employees.  Looking at what the future held, what kind of people were going to come up in this generation to work in his company?  What would they be like?  So he decided the best way to find out was to spend his vacation taking a job in a fast-food restaurant He wrote most of his coworkers were from upper income families, they didn’t need to work but they wanted extra spending money.  He watched and listened as his coworkers displayed poor work habits and contempt for customers.  His conclusion was, “We have a new generation of workers whose habits and experiences will plague future employers for years.” 

He writes, “Along with their get-away-with-what-you-can attitude and indifference to the quality of performance, their basic work ethic was dominated by a type of gamesmanship that revolved around taking out of the system or milking the place dry.  Theft, skimming, and baiting management were rampant and skill levels surprisingly low.  The workers saw long hours and hard work as counter-productive.  ‘You only put in time for the big score,’ one said.”  After recounting his experience, Sheehy concluded, “Get ready, America.  There’s more of this to come from the workforce of tomorrow.” 

Doesn’t sound too good if you happen to be an employer, does it?  A recent Harris Poll showed 63 percent of workers believe people don’t work as hard as they used to.  Seventy-eight percent say workers take less pride in their work.  Sixty-nine percent think the workmanship they produce is inferior, and 73 percent believe workers are less motivated and that the whole trend is worsening and the numbers are going up

Imagine. If people felt that way in the 1980s, and it is probable that Britons also did at the time, we are now into a second generation of people who don’t care about work, with a third generation on the way.

MacArthur says:

The more and more people demand recreation and idle time, the more corrupt they will become.  The two go hand-in-hand.  An escalating pornographic, sinful, wicked culture is sped on, the slide is greased, by a shrinking commitment to work.  And we fill up all that time with things that feed the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. 

He lays out why work is a God-given command:

Now, our society may not have a choice but they have to accept this, but as Christians, we can’t accept this.  The Christian faith does not accept a utilitarian work ethic.  The Christian view of work is transcendent.  That is, it escapes me and my world and directs its attention toward God

First, work is a command from God.  Six days shall you labor.  God commands us to work.  Secondly, work is a model established by God for it was God who worked for six days and then rested on the seventh, and God, of course, is the worker who continually sustains the universe Man, being created in the image of God, then, is created as a worker.  Thirdly, work is a part of the creation mandate.  In other words, what I mean by that is it is the role of man.  Stars shine, suns shine, moons shine, on the earth plants grow, animals do what they’re supposed to do, rocks do what they’re to do, mountains do what they’re to do, water does what it’s to do, clouds do what they’re to do, and we do what we’re to do.  As Psalm 104 says, all of creation moves in a normal course and part of it is man rises, goes to work until the setting of the sun.  It is creation mandate.  It is how we contribute to the processes of life in God’s wondrous creation. 

Work is a command.  Work is established as a model by God.  Work is part of the natural creation.  Fourthly, work is a gift from God.  It is a gift from God.  It is a gift through which we glorify Him and the wonder of His creation as we produce things, putting on display the genius of God who created us, in all of our abilities.  It is a means by which we can glorify our Creator.  Just as the beast of the field gives me honor, as Isaiah said, and just as the heavens declare the glory of God by what they do, and we sit in awe of them, so man declares the glory of God, the wonder of His creative genius by doing what he has been given the ability to do.  Work is a gift from God, not only to glorify Him but to give meaning to life.  Work is a gift from God to give us something to do, which avoids the idleness that leads to sin

Work is a gift from God also to provide for needs.  Work is a gift from God so that we can serve each other.  And lastly, in the Christian work ethic, work is to be done as if the boss was the Lord Himself.  It says in Colossians chapter 3 and Ephesians 6 that we’re to work as unto the Lord and not men. 

So the Christian faith does not sanctify the kind of attitude we’re seeing in our own country toward work.  In fact, as I said, 25 years ago, this message may have seemed a bit obscure when America was working productively.  Now it seems to be rather on target for we are suffering today with some of the things that Paul faced in the Thessalonian church But as Christians, we have to establish the standard

I often watch BBC Parliament, not because I love MPs or the Lords, but in order to gain a better insight in to what they are doing to us, the British people.

The number of Opposition — Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP — MPs who complain that the Conservative government isn’t giving enough handouts, when clearly it is, as we can see from the aforementioned statistics, is mind-numbing.

Moving to MacArthur’s and his congregation’s personal experience, and still tied in to that, this is what happens when work is suggested:

It is an aberrant unbeliever that doesn’t work.  The tragedy of those people, the real tragedy, is that they are so deep in sin and so deep particularly in the sin of drunkenness and irresponsibility and immorality that they have put themselves in the position they’re in And I again say I’m not talking about people who are genuinely in despair, and I’ve seen those people all around the world.  But there is a mass of people who shouldn’t eat because they will not work. 

We see them here at the church They come by and they want money and they want food and we suggest work and they leave.  I was told today by one of the gentlemen in our church, serves with the police department, that they will hold a sign – they’ve tracked them – they will hold a sign, “I need work, homeless, need work,” and recently in one of the shopping centers just a couple of days ago they were tracking to find out what was going on None of them got jobs but they were averaging $15.00 an hour in donations One policeman told me he went by and offered a lady a sandwich purchased at a fast food place and she said, “What’s this?” and he said, “Well, it says ‘homeless and hungry,’ so I’m just giving you this to eat.”  She put it in a bag and he said to her, “Well, aren’t you hungry?”  She said, “I’ll eat it when I get home.” 

So you need to be careful about that.  Sometimes the car is parked around the block and the stash is growing in the back of the car.  Just have to be careful because there are people who don’t work because they won’t work, not because they can’t work.  And if you don’t work and won’t work, then you don’t eat, that’s what the Bible says.  There needs to be an opportunity for you to earn your own food and you need to take that opportunity, and again I want to say this:  It may be that in some cultures there is not enough work to go around and that a person couldn’t do enough work to really make the whole living, then in generosity and charity and love, we make up the lack, but we don’t feed the indolence

Even our blessed Jesus encountered a crowd of this type. After He had fed the Five Thousand, they returned the next day for another miraculous meal. They became angry when He refused them and said that He was the bread of life, which is infintely more important, then and now. John 6 has the story.

MacArthur interprets the episode:

Jesus, you remember, in John chapter 6, fed the multitude and it was a large crowd.  We talk about feeding the 5,000 but it says 5,000 men, so wherever there are 5,000 men, there have to be 5,000 women, at least, and throw in a few thousand mother-in-laws and grandmas, sisters and aunts, and throw in 15,000 kids, at least, and you’ve got a crowd somewhere between 20 and 50 thousand It could have been a massive crowd and Jesus fed them all.  You remember He had those five little cakes, five loaves, they’re actually little barley cakes, and two pickled fish and He just created food.  And I’ll promise you, it was the best lunch they’d ever had because it bypassed the world …

Now, do you realize when He said no to breakfast, I really believe that their anger was turned on Him because in an agrarian society like that, they had to work with the sweat of their brow to produce their own food They didn’t go down to some market and flip out food stamps or a check or a credit card or whatever it is, they didn’t go to a fast food restaurant.  If they didn’t work that day, they didn’t have the food to eat.  And not only a matter of preparation, but a matter of provision.  And so when Jesus – when they saw Jesus make food, they thought they had just found the Messiah who would bring the ultimate and eternal welfare state.  “We don’t even need food stamps, just show up and He passes it out.  And you don’t even have to get in line to collect it, they serve it.”  And when time for breakfast came, they were there and he left, and I think their anger and hostility turned on Him because they knew then what He could do but He refused to do it He could have done it for us as well, but He knows the value and the benefit and the purpose of work.

Concluding on Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, MacArthur says:

So here were these Thessalonians and they wouldn’t work.  And so he says if they don’t work, don’t let them eat.  That will help them get the message.  That’s survival. 

In our world, able-bodied people, believers or not, should be made to feel guilty for depending on the taxpayer for their daily bread. As The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson said above, it is a moral issue.

Whether we like it or not, work is the order of the day. We must provide for ourselves to the fullest extent possible.

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Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 3:1-5

Pray for Us

Finally, brothers,[a] pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured,[b] as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.[c] And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

———————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post explored Paul’s discussion of the Antichrist, ‘the lawless one’, who will come one day, controlled by Satan. When Jesus returns, He will kill the Antichrist with ‘the breath of His mouth’, but not before unbelievers — the damned — are in thrall of what he does. This, Paul says, is because God has condemned them for refusing ‘to love the truth and so be saved’. Therefore, God punishes them with ‘a strong delusion’ so that they can do nothing but ‘believe what is false’.

Today’s verses are in the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

As he did from all of his churches, Paul sought the prayers of the Thessalonians for his continuing ministry.

John MacArthur describes this message from Paul to his friends in Thessalonica:

It’s very tender. It’s very personal. It is Paul saying this is what I expect from you, this is what I cherish in terms of your Christian conduct.

He asks them to pray for him and his associates Timothy and Silvanus (Silas) that the Word of the Lord — the Gospel message — may speed ahead and be honoured, as was the case with in Thessalonica (verse 1).

Matthew Henry points out the importance of prayer, especially for our absent friends, including the clergy (emphases mine):

I. The apostle desires the prayers of his friends: Finally, brethren, pray for us, v. 1. He always remembered them in his prayers, and would not have them forget him and his fellow-labourers, but bear them on their hearts at the throne of grace. Note, 1. This is one way by which the communion of saints is kept us, not only by their praying together, or with one another, but by their praying for one another when they are absent one from another. And thus those who are at great distance may meet together at the throne of grace; and thus those who are not capable of doing or receiving any other kindness may yet this way do and receive real and very great kindness. 2. It is the duty of people to pray for their ministers; and not only for their own pastors, but also for all good and faithful ministers. And, 3. Ministers need, and therefore should desire, the prayers of their people. How remarkable is the humility, and how engaging the example, of this great apostle, who was so mighty in prayer himself, and yet despised not the prayers of the meanest Christian, but desired an interest in them.

MacArthur says:

He desires that they be prayerful. “Finally, brethren,” verse 1, “pray for us.” The shepherd wants the prayers of his people. Now think about it for a moment. Paul was without equal as a gifted, powerful, competent, effective minister. He had immense natural abilities, brilliant, logical, persuasive, erudite, educated, trained, religious, spiritually minded, perceptive, experienced. He had it all. But all that natural ability and all that education and all that religious training and all that experience and all of that skill, highly developed through the years, was not the source of his great power and it was not the source of his usefulness. It was the power of God at work in him that transcended his natural giftedness; that made him the man that he was for divine purposes. He himself confessed in Colossians 1 verse 29, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” He had no confidence in his flesh. And he knew that whatever success he had was not related to his natural giftedness or any of those things which had occurred in his life on the human level, but to the very power of God surging through him. He was dependent on the Lord entirely for every aspect of his ministry. He even said, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” He knew where his power source was.

And consequently there are frequent pleas for his people to pray for him. And those pleas underline and underscore how strongly he leaned on divine power. I sometimes think that those in ministry who are least naturally gifted … get the most prayer because people assume that naturally gifted people don’t need any. Nothing could be further from the truth. There may be greater temptation for those more gifted to trust in their own giftedness. There may be greater possibility for human ingenuity to take over for the power of God in the unusually gifted than in those who are more humbly gifted. Thus those with the greater gifts may be those with the greatest need for prayer.

Some translations use ‘glorified’ instead of ‘honoured’ in that verse.

Henry explains the prayer petition that Paul requests and applies it to us today:

Observe, further, what they are desired and directed to pray for; namely, (1.) For the success of the gospel ministry: That the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, v. 1. This was the great thing that Paul was most solicitous about. He was more solicitous that God’s name might be sanctified, his kingdom advanced, and his will done, than he was about his own daily bread. He desired that the word of the Lord might run (so it is in the original), that it might get ground, that the interest of religion in the world might go forward and not backward, and not only go forward, but go apace. All the forces of hell were then, and still are, more or less, raised and mustered to oppose the word of the Lord, to hinder its publication and success. We should pray, therefore, that oppositions may be removed, that so the gospel, may have free course to the ears, the hearts, and the consciences of men, that it may be glorified in the conviction and conversion of sinners, the confutation, of gainsayers, and the holy conversation of the saints. God, who magnified the law, and made it honourable, will glorify the gospel, and make that honourable, and so will glorify his own name; and good ministers and good Christians may very well be contented to be little, to be any thing, to be nothing, if Christ be magnified and his gospel be glorified … Note, If ministers have been successful in one place, they should desire to be successful in every place where they may preach the gospel.

MacArthur says that Paul has borrowed from Psalm 147:

Pray that God’s Word, he says, may spread rapidly.  The Greek verb trechō means literally “to run.”  Pray that the Word may run.  He’s borrowing this concept, shows his knowledge of the Old Testament, from Psalm 147:15 where it says, “God’s Word runs very swiftly.”  So he says pray that the Word will run like a powerful runner, like a strong runner moving unobstructed and unhindered, making rapid progress

Pray that the Word will go rapidly.  Pray that when I’m given opportunity I’ll open my mouth.  Pray that when I’m ready to open my mouth God will open a door so I can speak, and then when I get the opportunity, pray that I’ll say what needs to be said; always asking the church to pray for the success and the spread of the message.

In 2 Timothy 2:9 he reminded young Timothy the Word of God is not bound.  I might be; it isn’t.  Pray that it will move powerfully through the land.

And then he adds this, “And be glorified,” and be glorified.  What does that mean?  It simply means appreciated, honored, respected, extolled, admired.  He’s simply saying that it will be received with a proper response, that people will hear the gospel and they will affirm it to be the gospel, the saving truth.  He’s talking about acceptance.

Paul also wanted the Thessalonians to pray that he and his associates be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all men have (the gift of) faith (verse 2).

MacArthur reminds us of the danger Paul constantly faced:

He also knew the meaning of persecution. He faced difficulty. He faced a solitary life. He faced danger constantly. He usually was self-supporting, usually had to preach to people who didn’t want to hear what he said in places where he never was invited to start with. Life for him was one unending challenge and the threat of death was imminent. He bore in his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He faced death on a daily basis. And he knew he couldn’t succeed in his own human flesh and he was dependent upon the power of the Lord and he knew that power was released through the prayers of his people.

He was experiencing trouble in Corinth, where he was writing this letter:

… as he writes this he’s in the city of Corinth. Things haven’t gone well. The 18th chapter of Acts records what was going on in the city of Corinth and as I said, it wasn’t good. There was a hostile reaction to the gospel. Chapter 18, verse 6 tells us the Jews resisted and blasphemed and he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads, I’m clean. From now on I go to the Gentiles.” He hit a stone wall there, not like Thessalonica, not like Galatia. And so he is in…in the context of that resistance as he writes. I believe that he wrote this letter some time after that initial resistance and he wants the gospel to break through, to really break through, and so he says, “Will you please pray that it will spread rapidly and be accepted?”

There’s a second thing he asks in verse 2.  “And that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men for not all have faith.” What is this?

First he asks for the success of the message.  Secondly: The safety of the messengers.  “That we may be delivered,” rhuomai, rescued, saved.  “Not for self-preservation alone, not for personal comfort or safety alone, but because if we’re not protected then the message won’t be heard.  Pray that the message will go forth successfully and the messengers will be unhindered.  Paul was always facing hostility.  We’ve already read about it in the book of Acts.  I can remind you at the end of Romans 15, he says, “Pray for me that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient,” disobedient to God. Pray for me that I’ll be able to carry on my ministry.

In Corinth, as I said, there was tremendous resistance. And perhaps after he wrote this letter it really blew sky-high because in Acts 18 verse 12 it says, “Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. The Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat.” The whole Jewish population were united in hostility against the gospel and they made an issue out of it. They even took, in verse 17, Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, began beating him in front of the judgment seat. A riot really ensued. Paul is in the context of this resistance and he’s pleading with them to pray for the success of the message and the safety of the messenger.

Now would you note also that he identifies who is dangerous: Perverse and evil men. “Perverse” literally is the word “out of place.” This is the only time in the New Testament it’s used of a person. It’s always used of some object that got lost, something that’s out of its proper place, something improper. Here it means some person who is out of his proper place, who is perverse, unrighteous; one writer says “morally insane.” And then he adds evil, malignant aggressive wickedness. Pray for us that we will be rescued from the threats and the power of morally insane, perverse, aggressively wicked people who want to shut our mouths so the message can’t be preached. Pray for us.

I would echo that. Pray for the success of the message as I preach and pray for safety and security for the messenger. Maybe the persecution isn’t the same today as it was then, but it’s still out there.

And then he adds a note of explanation, “For not all have faith.” The Thessalonians probably assumed that because they responded in such a wonderful way, because the Jews and the Gentiles together responded to the gospel, that this might be the norm. Now remember, Paul had just been with them a matter of really just a few months, weeks. And they probably thought their response would kind of be the pattern and he says to them, “Pray regarding this hostility because not all have faith.” It is possible to interpret that two ways. Some might say, “Not all have the faith,” the definite article being there, talking about the content of Christian faith. But I would take it that what he’s saying here is not all believe. Either way, it comes out the same. Not all are Christians and unbelievers are the ones who are hostile. No, everyone isn’t going to respond the way you did, so the beloved apostle calls for the intercession of the church so that the Word may move rapidly and triumphantly and the messengers will not be hindered by hostile unbelievers. That’s his prayer.

Henry has a practical application of the verse for us:

(2.) For the safety of gospel ministers. He asks their prayers, nor for preferment, but for preservation: That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, v. 2. Note, Those who are enemies to the preaching of the gospel, and persecutors of the faithful preachers of it, are unreasonable and wicked men. They act against all the rules and laws of reason and religion, and are guilty of the greatest absurdity and impiety. Not only in the principles of atheism and infidelity, but also in the practice of the vice and immorality, and especially in persecution, there is the greatest absurdity in the world, as well as impiety. There is need of the spiritual protection, as well as the assistance, of godly and faithful ministers, for these are as the standard-bearers, who are most struck at; and therefore all who wish well to the interest of Christ in the world should pray for them. For all men have not faith; that is, many do not believe the gospel; they will not embrace it themselves, and no wonder if such are restless and malicious in their endeavours to oppose the gospel, decry the ministry, and disgrace the ministers of the word; and too many have not common faith or honesty; there is no confidence that we can safely put in them, and we should pray to be delivered from those who have no conscience nor honour, who never regard what they say or do. We may sometimes be in as much or more danger from false and pretended friends as from open and avowed enemies.

Then Paul segues to the Thessalonians by saying, ‘But the Lord is faithful’, meaning to him and to them; the Lord will establish them (keep them steady) and guard them against the evil one, Satan (verse 3).

Henry explains:

1. What the good is which we may expect from the grace of God-establishment, and preservation from evil; and the best Christians stand in need of these benefits. (1.) That God would establish them. This the apostle had prayed for on their behalf ( ch. 2:17), and now he encourages them to expect this favour. We stand no longer than God holds us up; unless he hold up our goings in his paths, our feet will slide, and we shall fall. (2.) That God will keep them from evil. We have as much need of the grace of God for our perseverance to the end as for the beginning of the good work. The evil of sin is the greatest evil, but there are other evils which God will also preserve his saints from—the evil that is in the world, yea, from all evil, to his heavenly kingdom.

2. What encouragement we have to depend upon the grace of God: The Lord is faithful. He is faithful to his promises, and is the Lord who cannot lie, who will not alter the thing that has gone out of his mouth. When once the promise therefore is made, performance is sure and certain. He is faithful to his relation, a faithful God and a faithful friend; we may depend upon his filling up all the relations he stands in to his people. Let it be our care to be true and faithful in our promises, and to the relations we stand in to this faithful God.

MacArthur sees the verse as Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians to keep trusting God, regardless of what happens, e.g. persecution:

… he says, “This is what I want to happen in your life.” There’s a certain sense in which he feels at arm’s length, “and I can’t be there to insure it, but this is my desire for you.”  Verse 3: “But the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

What he’s saying to them is, look, no matter what happens, no matter how hostile they are, no matter how severe the persecution and trials and trouble, no matter what might happen, you know this, your Lord is faithful. Keep trusting.

Any pastor who is away from his people would want from the depths of heart that his people remain faithful to the God who is faithful to them.  In contrast to faithless men in verse 2 is a faithful Lord in verse 3.  And no matter what may come in trials and no matter what may come in persecutions, the Lord’s plan for you will come to pass, He is faithful.  Why Paul sure gave testimony to that at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no one supported me, all deserted me but the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.”  Everybody else was gone, but He was there, He’s faithful.  I wish we had time to go through the Old Testament and the New to see how many times the Bible tells us the Lord is faithful. The Lord is faithful …

He will strengthen you, he says, he will strengthen you, stērizō. There’s that word from which we get steroids, make you strong, make you firm, establish youThat’s talking about the inside, strengthening your inner man, giving you an inner security.  He’ll build you up on the inside and protect you from the evil one on the outside.  He will fill you with internal strength and He will shield you from the evil one, most likely a reference to Satan.  It could be translated, “From the evil,” but it is better to see it as “The evil one, Satan.”

In the inside He’ll strengthen you.  On the outside He’ll shield you so that you’re never hit with satanic arrows that are going to destroy you and you have the internal strength to maintain your faith.  There is your great security, beloved.  No matter what comes or goes, a faithful Lord will strengthen you on the inside and guard you from attacks by the enemy on the outside.

I suppose Jude had it all when he said this, “He is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy.”  He will strengthen you so you don’t fall.  He will protect you so Satan cannot destroy you.

Paul says that he has confidence in the Lord about the Thessalonians, that they are doing well and will do what he commands (verse 4), i.e. obey the Gospel message.

MacArthur reminds us that the Gospel is a command to obey God through obedience to Jesus Christ:

The pastor has spent his time teaching the Word of God, in a sense, commanding. Remember Paul said to Timothy, “Command and teach.” Teaching has the note of authority because we give you the Word of God. And Paul has the desire for his people that they maintain a pattern of obedience. Verse 4, “We have confidence,” and it’s a very positive approach to this exhortation, “we have confidence in the Lord,” not in your flesh, “but in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command”

Were these personal commands by Paul? No, he was simply passing them on. They came from God. He’s essentially saying to them what he noted about them back in chapter 4 of his first letter. He said, “You ought to walk and please God just as you actually do walk, that you may excel still more.” You’re already doing it. I want you to do it more. I want you to do it better. Here he says it again. You’re already doing it. I want you to continue to do it in the future.

Do what? Obey my commands. Scripture is command. Did you know that? It is command. Scripture in Psalm 19 is called, “the commandments of the Lord.” Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Do you know that even the gospel is a command to repent and believe? All injunctions are commands. And so he says I want to see your continued, sustained, ongoing obedience and I’m confident in the Lord that you will continue by His strength to obey as you have been obeying.

Paul concludes this section of his letter by praying that the Lord direct their hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ (verse 5).

Certainly, the Thessalonians were already experiencing that, but Paul wanted it to be enduring and ever-expanding.

Henry explains the beauty of the verse, which is one of blessing:

It is a prayer for spiritual blessings. Two things of the greatest importance the apostle prays for:—1. That their hearts may be brought into the love of God, to be in love with God as the most excellent and amiable Being, the best of all beings; and this is not only most reasonable and necessary in order to our happiness, but is our happiness itself; it is a great part of the happiness of heaven itself, where this love shall be made perfect. We can never attain to this unless God by his grace direct our hearts aright, for our love is apt to go astray after other things. Note, We sustain a great deal of damage by misplacing our affections; it is our sin and our misery that we place our affections upon wrong objects. If God directs our love aright upon himself, the rest of the affections will thereby be rectified. 2. That a patient waiting for Christ may be joined with this love of God. There is no true love of God without faith in Jesus Christ. We must wait for Christ, which supposes our faith in him, that we believe he came once in flesh and will come again in glory: and we must expect this second coming of Christ, and be careful to get ready for it; there must be a patient waiting, enduring with courage and constancy all that we may meet with in the mean time: and we have need of patience, and need of divine grace to exercise Christian patience, the patience of Christ (as some read the word), patience for Christ’s sake and after Christ’s example.

MacArthur says:

Paul’s expectation, because of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people, because they had an obedient inner man delighting in God’s command, was that they were going to be all right.  But he wanted them to continue spiritual growth.  And in a sense, that’s really what he’s saying in this verse.  “May the Lord direct your hearts.”  The word “direct” here means to make straight, “heart,” your inner person.

The word “direct” is used in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 of removing all the obstacles and hindrances out of the way and opening up a path.  May the Lord open up a path for you so that your inner man can move down that path.  He doesn’t want any static here, nothing stationary.  You aren’t there yet.  I want the Lord to open the path to clear the trail and to move your inner man down that path. To what?  Into the love of God.

Is that objective or subjective?  Are we talking about into God’s love for you, or your love for God?  And the answer is probably both.  I love that ambiguity in the epistles.  The Greek language provided the original writers a certain ambiguity that resulted in the fullness of the truth.  Down the path into God’s love for you and your love for Him … For you technicians that’s the objective and subjective genitive. And when you look at it, you can’t tell the difference in the original language and we feel that that’s because they’re both there. 

Go down the path deeper and deeper into God’s love for you which is going to cause you to love Him more and more. And secondly, he says, I want the Lord to lay out the path and push your inner being down the path into, notice it, the steadfastness or the patience of Christ. That can be either one; his patience with us or our patience in His strength through endurance. I want you to go down the path learning more and more how patient, how enduring Christ is over your sins and your problems and your struggles and even how greater you can understand His own endurance in His own struggles, and then consequently have a greater endurance of your own.

I want you to know more about God’s love so you can love Him more. I want you to know more about Christ’s endurance so you can endure more. I want you to grow spiritually in your love and in your endurance. That’s his point. You’re not there. I want you to advance in love and advance in patience under persecution as Christ did.

In other words, Paul wants them to pursue the lifelong process of sanctification, which they had already begun. He wants them to continue on that Christian journey, which should never be static.

MacArthur summarises the duty of congregations to their clergy:

What is the duty then of the people to the pastor? The sheep to their shepherd? To be prayerful on his behalf, that his message may succeed and that he may be safe in the proclamation of it. Their duty to him is to continue in their faithful trust in a faithful Lord who will never allow them to be weak on the inside and who will never allow them to be assaulted beyond what they are capable on the outside but will always be there to strengthen and protect them; and the duty to be obedient, to continue in the presence or absence of the shepherd to follow obediently the commands which he gave them from God …

So, with a growing love and a growing endurance of the difficulties of life, the pastor wants his congregation to obey, trusting in the faithfulness of the Lord and praying always for the shepherd. No pastor could ask more than that from his people, that they be prayerful, trusting, obedient and spiritually growing. That’s my desire for you, that God may be glorified in His church.

Next week’s verses conclude 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18

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

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.

————————————————————————————————————————-

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

The First Sunday after Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, is January 8, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 3:13-17

3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

3:16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.

3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Today’s verses describe the beginning of our Lord’s ministry.

Matthew Henry’s commentary provides the context:

The fulness of time was come that Christ should enter upon his prophetical office; and he chooses to do it, not at Jerusalem (though it is probable that he went thither at the three yearly feasts, as others did), but there where John was baptizing; for to him resorted those who waited for the consolation of Israel, to whom alone he would be welcome. John the Baptist was six months older than our Saviour, and it is supposed that he began to preach and baptize about six months before Christ appeared; so long he was employed in preparing his way, in the region round about Jordan; and more was done towards it in these six months than had been done in several ages before.

Henry has a practical application for us:

Christ’s coming from Galilee to Jordan, to be baptized, teaches us not the shrink from pain and toil, that we may have an opportunity of drawing nigh to God in ordinance. We should be willing to go far, rather than come short of communion with God. Those who will find must seek.

John MacArthur says there is proof that Jesus was 30 years old at the time:

We know that Jesus began His ministry when He was 30.  We know that because Luke 3:23 tells us that. 

MacArthur reminds us that the intention of Matthew’s Gospel is to prove to the Jews, beginning with His lineage, that Jesus is the Messiah and the King of kings. This was another pivotal moment for the Apostle to record:

We come to the last paragraph in the 3rd chapter of Matthew Matthew presents the Lord Jesus Christ as King.  That’s Matthew’s particular approach.  He wants the world to know that Christ is the promised King, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the King of kings, and Lord of lords John’s major message is that Jesus is God; and in every paragraph almost in the entire gospel of John, John points up something of the deity of Christ.

Well, in almost every paragraph of Matthew, Matthew is dealing with the kingly nature of Christ, and no different as we come to the end of the third chapter, for here we find the commissioning of the King Matthew doesn’t say it in those terms, but that is precisely what occurs.  In the majesty of the moment, Matthew does manage to capture in all of its fullness.  There’s something strikingly majestic about this text.  All of the anticipation of the previous texts seems to come to fulfillment here, because, as we come to Matthew 3:13, we read the words, “Then cometh Jesus.”  And really, for the first time, the Lord Jesus appears upon the stage Up until this time it has been preparatory.  Matthew has been commenting on various elements in the beginnings of Jesus: His birth, the things surrounding His birth, His forerunner, etc.  But now, finally, Jesus steps onto the stage.  Jesus takes the place of prominence.

The anticipation that has been building since the beginning of this record is now fulfilled.  In chapter 1, verses 1 to 17, we saw the ancestry of the King In chapter 1, verses 18 to 25, we saw the arrival of the King, His birth.  In chapter 2, verses 1 to 12, we saw the adoration of the King, the worship given to Him by the magi In chapter 2, verses 13 to 23, we saw the attestation to the King That is, He is attested to be the King by the fulfillment of specific prophecy. And in chapter 3, verses 1 to 12, we saw the announcer of the King, John the Baptist And now, finally, after all of that, we come in chapter 3, verses 13 to 17 the arrival of the King If you wanna add another one, the anointing of the King.

This is, as it were, His coronation.  This is His commissioning, the beginning of His ministry.  It’s a rich and a blessed section of Scripture.  The King comes out of 30 years of seclusion, 30 years of obscurity, 30 years of being hidden, as it were, finally to manifest Himself to the world.  John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, has made ready the path.  The way is prepared.  The path is straight, and from the quiet seclusion of Nazareth, the Lord Jesus comes to inaugurate His work, to assume His office, and He is commissioned.  He is crowned, as it were, in a very wonderful way right here …

Now, I want us to see three aspects to the commissioning of Jesus Christ First, the baptism of the Son.  Second, the anointing of the Spirit.  Thirdly, the word of the Father, and you will notice that all the Trinity is involved – the baptism of the Son, the anointing of the Spirit, and the word of the Father This is a very important passage for instruction on the Trinity, because all of them are here synonymously, all acting at the very same time; and if you’re looking for a passage in which to find the Trinity, this is as good as any.

Thirty years of peaceful preparation, thirty years of being in Nazareth, now comes to an end.  That is all buried, and the King comes for the storm and the stress of the unique work that God has commissioned Him to do.

Matthew says that ‘then’ Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptised by him (verse 13).

MacArthur says there is no more detail on what ‘then’ denotes:

Now, you notice the verse begins with “then.”  This is very vague.  Doesn’t tell us much of anything.  We don’t know when the “then” was other than the fact that the “then” hooks us up with the time of the ministry of John the Baptist. 

Our Lord was among other people at this time. He did not request a private audience with his cousin:

… in Luke chapter 3 and verse 21, a parallel passage.  The Word of God says, “Now when all the people were being baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized.”  Now Luke then tells us that Jesus came when all the other people were coming.  This was no private audience with John.  This was no little, intimate tête-à-tête.  This was no secret commissioning.  Jesus just came along with everybody else, and we will see the absolute significance of that in a little while.

MacArthur also points out the verb ‘came’, which is ‘cometh’ in his translation:

You’ll notice that he uses the word “cometh.”  Very interesting word, paraginomai.  It is a word that has multiple meaning potential, but it is a word that is used specifically in many places to refer to making a public appearance It was a word used sometimes to speak of the arrival of a teacher, somebody who was to take a public, a significant place in public vision or the public eye.  In fact, it is the same verb used in verse 1, “In those days came John the Baptist.”  It seems to be used, then, at least in some cases, for the initiation of a public ministry. And so, in that sense, this text is saying, “Then Jesus, initiating His public ministry, came from Galilee.”  And, by the way, Mark 1:9 adds, “From Nazareth in Galilee” …

He came unto John, specifically, His cousin and His forerunner; and here it’s kind of a, like a relay race John is about to pass the baton to Christ.  This is the phasing out of the ministry of John and the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus would have walked quite a distance:

We don’t really know exactly where on the Jordan River John was, but it could’ve been as much as a 60-mile walk for the Lord to get there; and, at this time, He’s coming alone Just beginning His ministry.  Nothing really has taken place at all.  He steps out of the obscurity of Nazareth, walks maybe as much as 60 miles, makes His public appearance, initiating His ministry.

John ‘would have prevented’ — wanted to prevent — Him from doing so, saying that he was the one to be baptised by Him, not the other way around (verse 14).

MacArthur thinks it is possible that the two cousins would have met at some point when they were children:

Now, perhaps Jesus and John knew each other.  I know they knew about each other.  I know Jesus knew about John, the forerunner, ’cause He was omniscient I know John knew about Jesus, because they were cousins You say, “Well, how does that, how does that prove that John knew about Him?”  Well, for many reasons.  Perhaps when they were babies they may have played together.  Perhaps when they were little children, they may have spent time together.  Then John went his way into the wilderness, and Jesus remained in the seclusion of Nazareth.  John staying for his lifetime in that wilderness area.  Perhaps they never met again, but I’m quite confident that John knew that Jesus was the Messiah.  There’s several things that help me to understand that.  One is that Elizabeth called Jesus Lord; and if she, John the Baptist’s mother, believed He was Lord, there’s no question in my mind that she would’ve passed that on to her son. And the very fact that he is instantly recognizing Jesus here and recognizes Him for who He is is another indication that, indeed, he knew. 

John rightly points out that he himself is human and therefore prone to sin. Therefore, the Lord should be baptising him.

John’s was a baptism of repentance, and he did not grant it to all who approached him.

MacArthur reminds us:

John’s treatment of Jesus is the very opposite of the way he treated the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Verse 7, they came to be baptized, and “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come for baptism, he said to them, ‘O generation of vipers, who’s warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits befitting repentance.’

Now, listen, he refused to baptize the Pharisees and the Sadducees because they weren’t repentant.  You see that?  He refused to baptize them because they were impenitent.  They were sinful.  Here, he refuses to baptize Jesus because He is sinless and has nothing to repent of. And so the whole idea makes no sense to him.  He who towered above the Pharisees and the Sadducees – who thought they towered above everybody – finds himself bowed in deepest humility before Jesus.

Jesus answered John saying, ‘Let it be so now’, in order for righteousness to be properly fulfilled; then John consented (verse 15).

MacArthur explores the verse:

It was a baptism of sinners, and John was, in effect, saying, “If You do this, You’re just saying one thing, Lord, and I don’t know how You can possibly say it when You’re sinless.”  John is saying, “If You enter my baptism, You enter it on these terms, and that’s it.”  Well, what’s the answer?

Well, let Jesus give it Himself, in verse 15.  By the way, these are the first recorded words of Jesus since He was 12 years old and spoke to His mother and told her He had to be about – What? “His Father’s business.”  This is the first time He’s said anything other than that in all of Holy Scripture since His incarnation, and they are words with royal dignity and humility.  Verse 15, “And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.’  Then he consented to him … 

Now, Jesus does not deny that He is a superior and John is an inferior. He does not deny that John needs also to be baptized, because John is a sinner.  He does not deny that John needs repentance.  He does not deny that He doesn’t need it; but He says, “There’s a special reason, John, and permit it to be so now.”  This is an idiom.  “I know it’s unusual, but let it go this time.  Allow it now.  Yield to Me this time.  It’s unusual, but it’s necessary.”

Why?  “For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”  The phrase “thus it becometh us” means “it is proper for us to do this.”  “This is okay, John.  This is right to do, even though I have no sin, and even though you’re a sinner, even though it is a baptism of sinners, it is a baptism of repentance.  We’ve gotta do it.”  And notice the “us.”  “For thus it becometh us.”  “We both have a part.  You must do this to Me, and I must have it done.”  Why?  “To fulfill all righteousness.”

Now, here’s the key.  “To fulfill all righteousness.”  Does it mean that Jesus wants to do everything that’s righteous?  Yes.  That Jesus wants to do all the righteous good deeds?  Yes.  That whatever good work there is, Jesus will do?  Yes.  Is baptism such a good work?  Yes.  Then perhaps Jesus is simply identifying with it as an act of righteousness.  It was repentant sinners who came to that water.  It was righteous men and women who came to that water; and is Jesus simply identifying with all the various acts of righteousness, all the various acts of godliness and holiness?  Well, certainly, in His life He did that.

Henry says that Jesus followed all religious precepts, and baptism was no different. Furthermore, by being baptised, He set a divine ordinance that we should follow. Baptism is a sacrament in the Church:

Our Lord Jesus looked upon it as a thing well becoming him, to fulfil all righteousness, that is (as Dr. Whitby explains it), to own every divine institution, and to show his readiness to comply with all God’s righteous precepts. Thus it becomes him to justify God, and approve his wisdom, in sending John to prepare his way by the baptism of repentance. Thus it becomes us to countenance and encourage every thing that is good, by pattern as well as precept. Christ often mentioned John and his baptism with honour, which that he might do the better, he was himself baptized. Thus Jesus began first to do, and then to teach; and his ministers must take the same method. Thus Christ filled up the righteousness of the ceremonial law, which consisted in divers washings; thus he recommended the gospel-ordinance of baptism to his church, put honour upon it, and showed what virtue he designed to put into it. It became Christ to submit to John’s washing with water, because it was a divine appointment; but it became him to oppose the Pharisees’ washing with water, because it was a human invention and imposition; and he justified his disciples in refusing to comply with it.

As for John’s consent:

The same modesty which made him at first decline the honour Christ offered him, now made him do the service Christ enjoined him. Note, No pretence of humility must make us decline our duty.

When Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God — the Holy Spirit — descending like a dove and alighting on Him (verse 16).

Henry explains our Lord’s baptism, which was short and at the water’s edge, because He was and is without sin:

Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water. Others that were baptized staid to confess their sins (v. 6); but Christ, having no sins to confess, went up immediately out of the water; so we read it, but not right: for it is apo tou hydatosfrom the water; from the brink of the river, to which he went down to be washed with water, that is, to have his head or face washed (John 13 9); for here is no mention of the putting off, or putting on, of his clothes, which circumstance would not have omitted, if he had been baptized naked. He went up straightway, as one that entered upon his work with the utmost cheerfulness and resolution; he would lose no time. How was he straitened till it was accomplished!

MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that Jesus had a full immersion baptism.

I agree with Henry. Jesus had no need of a full immerson baptism because of His sinless nature.

However, this is what MacArthur says:

Baptidzo – well, before we look at the word, the context helps us, and so does the concept.  Now, listen, if John the Baptist had a baptism that symbolized conversion — the word “repent” means “conversion” — if it symbolized a transformation, if it symbolized a purification, a washing of sin, it would seem to me that immersion is the only proper picture.  It isn’t just a little dribble on the top.  It’s a cleansing.  It’s a washing, so the very significance of the baptism of John points to immersion.  Further, if Jesus was using this as a symbol of His death and resurrection, that also points to – What? – immersion.  Trickling water on someone’s head does not fit the symbolism of dying, being buried, and rising again as immersion does.  Further, it says, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.”  Whatever kind of baptism this was, He had to go into the river to get it.  Certainly not necessary for sprinkling or pouring.

Now, I would add that verse 6 says, backing up, “They were baptized by him in the Jordan.”  “In the Jordan.”  Now John was baptizing in the Jordan River.  The word en, e-n in the Greek, is translated “in,” is used often interchangeably with the word eis, which means “into,” and I won’t take the time to show you all the parallel passages. But the two words are used interchangeably, and when they are used interchangeably for the same incident, “into” is the stronger word.  We take “in” to mean “into,” and in other accounts of the baptisms of John, we find the word “into.” And if the word “in” here is used and elsewhere “into” is used, we would take “into” as the strong word, and this word then would have the meaning of “into.”  Now, maybe you’re “out of it” listening to that.  Maybe that wasn’t too clear, but that’s the truth anyway.

And I’ll tell you something interesting.  It says in John chapter 3, verse 23, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.”  Now, there’s no reason to be concerned about where there’s the most water if you’re sprinkling.  “There was much water there” – water that could be used for immersion.  And in the 8th chapter of Acts, and verse 38, “And Philip and the eunuch went down into the water.  Both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.”

So it seems to me that the references, and, by the way, there is no reference to sprinkling anywhere in the entire New Testament.  The only word we ever have in reference to baptism is baptidzo By the way, Old Testament proselyte baptism was always immersion.  Read Leviticus 14, verses 8 and 9.  So you have the Old Testament standard of immersion.  You have the idea of “into” — the preposition used frequently in reference to it.  You have the concept that much water was there.  They went down into the river.  They came out of the river.  You have the picture of death and resurrection.  You have the idea that this is a transformation that is symbolized.  All of this seems to point to immersion. 

Henry discusses the significance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, a bird much referenced in the Bible. ‘Canticles’ in the next paragraph refers to the Song of Solomon:

He descended on him like a dove; whether it was a real, living dove, or, as was usual in visions, the representation or similitude of a dove, is uncertain. If there must be a bodily shape (Luke 3 22), it must not be that of a man, for the being seen in fashion as a man was peculiar to the second person: none therefore was more fit than the shape of one of the fowls of heaven (heaven being now opened), and of all fowl none was so significant as the dove. [1.] The Spirit of Christ is a dove-like spirit; not like a silly dove, without heart (Hos 7 11), but like an innocent dove, without gall. The Spirit descended, not in the shape of an eagle, which is, though a royal bird, yet a bird of prey, but in the shape of a dove, than which no creature is more harmless and inoffensive. Such was the Spirit of Christ: He shall not strive, nor cry; such must Christians be, harmless as doves. The dove is remarkable for her eyes; we find that both the eyes of Christ (Cant 5 12), and the eyes of the church (Cant 1 15; 4 1), are compared to doves’ eyes, for they have the same spirit. The dove mourns much (Isa 38 14). Christ wept oft; and penitent souls are compared to doves of the valleys. [2.] The dove was the only fowl that was offered in sacrifice (Lev 1 14), and Christ by the Spirit, the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God. [3.] The tidings of the decrease of Noah’s flood were brought by a dove, with an olive-leaf in her mouth; fitly therefore are the glad tidings of peace with God brought by the Spirit as a dove. It speaks God’s good will towards men; that his thoughts towards us are thoughts of good, and not evil. By the voice of the turtle[dove] heard in our land (Cant 2 12), the Chaldee paraphrase understands, the voice of the Holy Spirit. That God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, is a joyful message, which comes to us upon the wing, the wings of a dove.

Henry looks at the purpose of the Holy Spirit in our Lord’s ministry:

He saw the Spirit of God descended, and lighted on him. In the beginning of the old world, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Gen 1 2), hovered as a bird upon the nest. So here, in the beginning of this new world, Christ, as God, needed not to receive the Holy Ghost, but it was foretold that the Spirit of the Lord should rest upon him (Isa 11 2; 61 1), and here he did so; for, [1.] He was to be a Prophet; and prophets always spoke by the Spirit of God, who came upon them. Christ was to execute the prophetic office, not by his divine nature (says Dr. Whitby), but by the … Holy Spirit. [2.] He was to be the Head of the church; and the Spirit descended upon him, by him to be derived to all believers, in his gifts, graces, and comforts. The ointment on the head ran down to the skirts; Christ received gifts for men, that he might give gifts to men.

A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (verse 17).

Henry says that this was the sign that God was reconciling mankind unto Himself through His Son Jesus:

See here how God owns our Lord Jesus; This is my beloved Son. Observe, [1.] The relation he stood in to him; He is my Son. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, by eternal generation, as he was begotten of the Father before all the worlds (Col 1 15; Heb 1 3); and by supernatural conception; he was therefore called the Son of God, because he was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1 35); yet this is not all; he is the Son of God by special designation to the work and office of the world’s Redeemer. He was sanctified and sealed, and sent upon that errand, brought up with the Father for it (Prov 8 30), appointed to it; I will make him my First-born, Ps 89 27. [2.] The affection the Father had for him; He is my beloved Son; his dear Son, the Son of his love (Col 1 13); he has lain in his bosom from all eternity (John 1 18), had been always his delight (Prov 8 30), but particularly as Mediator, and in undertaking the work of man’s salvation, he was his beloved Son. He is my Elect, in whom my soul delights. See Isa 42 1. Because he consented to the covenant of redemption, and delighted to do that will of God, therefore the Father loved him. John 10 17; 3 35. Behold, then, behold, and wonder, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that he should deliver up him that was the Son of his love, to suffer and die for those that were the generation of his wrath; nay, and that he therefore loved him, because he laid down his life for the sheep! Now know we that he loved us, seeing he has not withheld his Son, his only Son, his Isaac whom he loved, but gave him to be a sacrifice for our sin.

Returning to Matthew’s theme of Christ’s Kingship, MacArthur says:

His divine nature needed no special gift.  It needed no strengthening; but, you see, there were two parts that we need to understand here that were taking place in terms of His humanness.  One, He was being anointed for service; and two, He was being granted strength in His humanness.  The Spirit came to anoint Him for kingly service.

Isaiah 61:1, listen to this: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek.  He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” – etc. – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach.”  The Spirit of God came upon Him in His humanness to empower Him to preach, to anoint Him as the Prophet of God.  In Acts 10:38, the writer says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit.”

You notice that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth.”  That’s His human identification.  So His humanness was anointed He was inaugurated into His kingly office.  He was empowered for ministry.  His humanness needed to be strengthened.  Do you know that?  He grew weary.  He grew thirsty.  He grew tired.  He grew hungry.  His humanness needed strengthening, so the Spirit of God descended to announce, “This is the King.  This is the Anointed,” and to strengthen Him in His humanness for His ministry

And, finally, there was one other part to His commission – the word of the Father Verse 17, “And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'”  Now, listen, there’s one thing about a sacrifice Whenever a sacrifice is offered to God, it has to be the right one True?  Without spot, without blemish, and that is precisely what God is saying.  “This One, who identifies with sinners, this One who is to be the dove of sacrifice.  I say in Him I am well pleased.  I accept Him as the sacrifice.”  Great statement …

And so, beloved, what do we see in the commission here?  He is chosen to be a king, but His, but His throne is gonna be a cross.  He’s chosen to be a king, but He’s gonna die, a sin offering.  And so He is commissioned.  By baptism, He identifies with sinners and pictures His death.  By being anointed with the Spirit, He is empowered to minister a ministry that ultimately will make Him a sacrifice.  The dove of sacrifice.  And by the Father’s word, He is said to be the worthy sacrifice.  What an introduction.  What a beginning.  What a ministry was His.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Yesterday’s post covered the early years of Benedict XVI’s papacy, from 2005 to the beginning of 2010.

Today’s post will cover a few more news items from 2009 before moving on to the remainder of this good man’s time in the Vatican.

He certainly had his cross to bear between 2005 and 2013. For whatever reason, the world’s media were dead set against him from the beginning. Many bishops and priests opposed his liberation, for lack of a better word, of the Tridentine — Latin — Mass so that it could be more widely celebrated. Pope Francis shut that down, but it is still possible to attend a Latin Mass in some churches, e.g. Cannes and Nice.

Furthermore, some Catholic traditionalists did not consider Benedict to be traditional enough. To an extent, I agree. Then again, it would have been impossible for him to do away with the Novus Ordo, what my mother and I called Modern Mass, and the other ill-judged reforms of Vatican II. For those reasons, I became a Protestant in the 1980s.

I read some years ago that, near the end of his papacy, Benedict was unable to go into parts of the Vatican without feeling as if he were under spiritual attack, not because he was a bad servant of God but because he was a good one and that Satan wanted his soul. Some months after I read that article, Benedict resigned. If what I read was true, who can blame him? He deserved temporal and spiritual peace. Now he rests with the Lord for eternity.

2009 Easter address

On April 12, 2009, Pope Benedict gave his Easter message, that year’s Urbi Et Orbi. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,

From the depths of my heart, I wish all of you a blessed Easter.  To quote Saint Augustine, “Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra – the resurrection of the Lord is our hope” (Sermon 261:1).  With these words, the great Bishop explained to the faithful that Jesus rose again so that we, though destined to die, should not despair, worrying that with death life is completely finished; Christ is risen to give us hope (cf. ibid.). 

Indeed, one of the questions that most preoccupies men and women is this: what is there after death?  To this mystery today’s solemnity allows us to respond that death does not have the last word, because Life will be victorious at the end.  This certainty of ours is based not on simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact of faith: Jesus Christ, crucified and  buried, is risen with his glorified body.  Jesus is risen so that we too, believing in him, may have eternal life. This proclamation is at the heart of the Gospel message.  As Saint Paul vigorously declares:  “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  He goes on to say: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:14,19).  Ever since the dawn of Easter a new Spring of hope has filled the world; from that day forward our resurrection has begun, because Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savour the joy of eternal life.

The resurrection, then, is not a theory, but a historical reality revealed by the man Jesus Christ by means of his “Passover”, his “passage”, that has opened a “new way” between heaven and earth (cf. Heb 10:20).  It is neither a myth nor a dream, it is not a vision or a utopia, it is not a fairy tale, but it is a singular and unrepeatable event: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who at dusk on Friday was taken down from the Cross and buried, has victoriously left the tomb.  In fact, at dawn on the first day after the Sabbath, Peter and John found the tomb empty.  Mary Magdalene and the other women encountered the risen Jesus.  On the way to Emmaus the two disciples recognized him at the breaking of the bread.  The Risen One appeared to the Apostles that evening in the Upper Room and then to many other disciples in Galilee. 

The proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection lightens up the dark regions of the world in which we live.  I am referring particularly to materialism and nihilism, to a vision of the world that is unable to move beyond what is scientifically verifiable, and retreats cheerlessly into a sense of emptiness which is thought to be the definitive destiny of human life.  It is a fact that if Christ had not risen, the “emptiness” would be set to prevailIf we take away Christ and his resurrection, there is no escape for man, and every one of his hopes remains an illusion Yet today is the day when the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection vigorously bursts forth, and it is the answer to the recurring question of the sceptics, that we also find in the book of Ecclesiastes:  “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’?” (Ec 1:10).  We answer, yes:  on Easter morning, everything was renewed.  “Mors et vita, duello conflixere mirando:  dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus – Death and life have come face to face in a tremendous duel:  the Lord of life was dead, but now he lives triumphant.”  This is what is new!  A newness that changes the lives of those who accept it, as in the case of the saints.  This, for example, is what happened to Saint Paul …

Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra!  The resurrection of Christ is our hope!  This the Church proclaims today with joy.  She announces the hope that is now firm and invincible because God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  She communicates the hope that she carries in her heart and wishes to share with all people in every place, especially where Christians suffer persecution because of their faith and their commitment to justice and peace.  She invokes the hope that can call forth the courage to do good, even when it costs, especially when it costs Today the Church sings “the day that the Lord has made”, and she summons people to joy …  To him, our victorious King, to him who is crucified and risen, we sing out with joy our Alleluia!

Five new saints

On Sunday, April 26, 2009, Benedict canonised five new saints.

The Telegraph reported:

Speaking in a packed St Peter’s Square, the Pope praised each of the five as a model for the faithful, saying their lives and works were as relevant today as when they were alive.

The Pontiff singled out the Rev Arcangelo Tadini, who lived at the turn of the last century and founded an order of nuns to tend to factory workers – something of a scandal at the time, since factories were considered immoral and dangerous places. Tadini also created an association to provide emergency loans to workers experiencing financial difficulties.

“How prophetic was Don Tadini’s charismatic intuition, and how current his example is today, in this time of grave economic crisis!” Benedict marvelled in his homily.

The only non-Italian canonised Sunday was Nuno Alvares Pereira, who helped secure Portugal’s independence from the Spanish kingdom of Castile, leading Portuguese forces in the critical Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

After leaving the military, he entered religious life as a Carmelite and changed his name to Nuno de Santa Maria. He dedicated himself to the poor, never taking the privileges that would have been afforded to him as a former commander.

He is remembered as a national hero today in Portugal, with street signs named after him in many towns, but also as a humble man of great spirituality

Also canonised on Sunday was Bernardo Tolomei, a nearly blind monk who founded the Benedictine Congregation of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto in the 1340s. He died in 1348 along with 82 of his monks after leaving the safety of his monastery to tend to plague victims in Siena.

The Pope praised his dedication, saying he died “as an authentic martyr of charity.”

The others canonised were Gertrude Comensoli and Caterina Volpicelli, 19th century Italian nuns who founded religious orders.

He has presided over a handful of canonisation ceremonies in his four-year pontificate, and has left it to other Vatican officials to officiate at beatification ceremonies …

Beatification is the first step to possible sainthood. The Vatican must certify one miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession for beatification, and a second miracle that occurred after beatification for the candidate to be declared a saint.

Address to the academic community in Prague

On September 27, 2009, Benedict addressed the academic community in Prague, reminding everyone of the true purpose of education — truth and reason:

Mr President,

Distinguished Rectors and Professors,

Dear Students and Friends,

The great changes which swept Czech society twenty years ago were precipitated not least by movements of reform which originated in university and student circles. That quest for freedom has continued to guide the work of scholars whose diakonia of truth is indispensable to any nation’s well-being.

I address you as one who has been a professor, solicitous of the right to academic freedom and the responsibility for the authentic use of reason, and is now the Pope who, in his role as Shepherd, is recognized as a voice for the ethical reasoning of humanity. While some argue that the questions raised by religion, faith and ethics have no place within the purview of collective reason, that view is by no means axiomatic. The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason – be it in a university or in the Church – has a purpose: it is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university. Indeed, man’s thirst for knowledge prompts every generation to broaden the concept of reason and to drink at the wellsprings of faith. It was precisely the rich heritage of classical wisdom, assimilated and placed at the service of the Gospel, which the first Christian missionaries brought to these lands and established as the basis of a spiritual and cultural unity which endures to this day. The same spirit led my predecessor Pope Clement VI to establish the famed Charles University in 1347, which continues to make an important contribution to wider European academic, religious and cultural circles.

The proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth. Nevertheless, that autonomy can be thwarted in a variety of ways. The great formative tradition, open to the transcendent, which stands at the base of universities across Europe, was in this land, and others, systematically subverted by the reductive ideology of materialism, the repression of religion and the suppression of the human spirit. In 1989, however, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit. The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity. It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity’s own peril. It is to this yearning that religious faith, the various arts, philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines, each with its own method, seek to respond, both on the level of disciplined reflection and on the level of a sound praxis.

From the time of Plato, education has been not merely the accumulation of knowledge or skills, but paideia, human formation in the treasures of an intellectual tradition directed to a virtuous life. While the great universities springing up throughout Europe during the middle ages aimed with confidence at the ideal of a synthesis of all knowledge, it was always in the service of an authentic humanitas, the perfection of the individual within the unity of a well-ordered society. And likewise today: once young people’s understanding of the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, they relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of how they ought to be and what they ought to do.

The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, towards a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation towards truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good

An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs. In the end, “fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom” (Caritas in Veritate, 9). This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities. Surely we must reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man …

Benedict extends welcome to disaffected Anglicans

On October 21, 2009, without notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Benedict extended a sincere welcome to disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, even granting them permission to use Anglican liturgies.

The Daily Mail reported:

The Pope paved the way for tens of thousands of disaffected Anglican worshippers to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining parts of their Protestant heritage. 

Those who convert could even be able to keep traditions including the Church of England’s historic prayer book – a major concession …

But the Vatican offer, which would allow conservative Anglicans who do not accept women bishops or gay rights to cross to Rome under the leadership of their own bishops, deepened divisions within the Church of England last night.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said it showed that relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics were closer than ever.

However, evangelical traditionalists accused him of a lack of leadership.

The offer of an ‘Apostolic Constitution’ applies to all 70million Anglicans across the globe.

Anglican bishops would be called ‘ordinaries’ in the Roman Catholic Church. Anglican priests can already be accepted as Roman Catholic priests, even if married, but no married Anglican is allowed to become a Catholic bishop.

In a letter to Church of England bishops and primates of the Anglican Communion, Dr Williams said he was ‘sorry’ there had been no opportunity to alert them earlier to Rome’s announcement.

Church of England authorities appear to have learned about the offer just before they offered their own concession to Anglo-Catholics earlier this month over plans for future women bishops …

The Pope’s offer follows secret talks last year with the two Church of England ‘flying bishops’ – whose job is to minister to Anglo-Catholics who do not recognise women priests. Yesterday they admitted the meeting for the first time.

Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham and Bishop of Richborough Keith Newton said in a statement: ‘We were becoming increasingly concerned that the various agendas of the Anglican Communion were driving Anglicans and Roman Catholics further apart. It was our task, we thought, to take the opportunity of quietly discussing these matters in Rome.’

Visit to the UK

Benedict visited the UK in 2010.

On March 17, the Mail posted his itinerary:

The Pontiff will use his visit to ‘give guidance on the great moral issues of the day’ and his itinerary includes a speech on civil society in Westminster Hall that is certain to reflect on controversies over religious freedom, different attitudes to homosexuality, and abortion …

The cost of the Pope’s travels and organising his events will be £15million, which will be shared between the Government and the Church. The taxpayer will have to pick up the cost of policing including protecting the Pontiff from hostile demonstrators. This cost is not yet known.

Benedict’s itinerary will include visiting the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, conducting the beatification service for 19th century theologian Cardinal Newman in Coventry and praying with other church leaders at Westminster Abbey.

On April 26, the Mail reported that a young civil servant sent an offensive email about the Pope’s upcoming visit stating, among other things, that he should open an abortion clinic. As this was a state visit, it nearly caused a diplomatic incident:

An Oxford graduate who sent a ‘seriously offensive’ email suggesting the Pope should open an abortion clinic ahead of the pontiff’s visit to Britain will keep his job in the civil service, it emerged today.

Steven Mulvain, 23, who once listed ‘drinking a lot’ as a hobby, emailed the document, which also included the suggestion of launching a range of ‘Benedict’ condoms, to Downing Street and three Whitehall departments.

It is believed that Mr Mulvain … escaped punishment because he was given authorisation to send the memo by a more senior civil servant, who has since been ‘transferred to other duties’.

However, the shock e-mail threatened to plunge the Pope’s state visit into jeopardy with ‘dark forces’ within the Foreign Office casting a shadow over the trip, Vatican officials declared yesterday.

A well-placed aide in the Vatican said: ‘This could have very severe repercussions and is embarrassing for the British Government – one has to question whether the action taken is enough. It is disgusting.’

However, when the Pope arrived in September, all went well. Even the media covered his visit in a respectful way. The Queen acknowledged the Holy See’s help in resolving the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In my post, I wrote:

The Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday morning (September 18) was beautiful and dignified, with the Eucharistic Prayer and a few of the other prayers said or sung in Latin (1968 Novus Ordo), but the real highlight was when the Pope walked out of the cathedral to hundreds (probably thousands) of youngsters from every diocese in England. Wow — you would have thought they were glimpsing a rock star — screams of delight which brought real smiles to BXVI’s face. His talk to them was the most spontaneous that I have heard him give on this trip. Although he had his speech typed up, he looked up from it most of the time, making eye contact with them. The kids were so energised, and I think that he was, too. He told them how important prayer was and to discern Christ’s direction in their lives and careers. He told them how important it was to make time for daily prayer and — silence. So important.

Blessing the 2012 Olympics

On July 12, 2012, Benedict blessed the Olympic Games:

Let us pray that, according to God’s will, the London Games are a true experience of fraternity among the people of the Earth.

I send greetings to the organizers, athletes and spectators alike, and I pray that, in the spirit of the Olympic Truce, the good will generated by this international sporting event may bear fruit, promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the world. Upon all those attending the London Olympic Games, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Benedict’s resignation

On February 11, 2013, Benedict XVI announced his resignation, something a Pontiff had not done for 600 years, since Celestine V.

That evening, lightning hit the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

On February 12, USA Today reported:

An apparent photo of a lightning bolt striking St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican Monday night (left) — the same day that Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, stunning the world — has gone viral.

Filippo Monteforte, a photographer with Agence France Press, told England’s Daily Mirror that “I took the picture from St. Peter’s Square while sheltered by the columns. It was icy cold and raining sheets. When the storm started, I thought that lightning might strike the rod, so I decided it was worth seeing whether – if it DID strike – I could get the shot at exactly the right moment.”

Monteforte waited for more than two hours and was rewarded for his patience with not one but two bolts, the Mirror reported.

But could it be fake? One expert, AccuWeather meteorologist and lightning photographer Jesse Ferrell, thinks it’s real. In addition to the account from Monteforte — a trusted and well-known photographer — Ferrell sees telltale signs of a genuine lightning strike.

“I believe the photo is plausible, and since it was taken by a professional, with potential video to back it up, I’d say that the photo is legitimate,” Ferrell writes on his blog.

Also, he notes that thunderstorms were present in Rome Monday afternoon, according to several Facebook users.

The article closes with a video of the dramatic lightning strike, something to behold. With the second bolt, it looked as if the dome was going to explode.

Benedict’s last official act was to address the College of Cardinals in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall on February 28, 2013. That was the first day of his retirement. He became Pope Emeritus.

Traditionalists were appalled at the resignation and wondered what it meant for future Popes. Could they be pushed out of the way by senior clergy or by laypeople? In any event, Benedict seemed to have no regrets, and Francis clearly became flavour of the month to most people, including those in the media.

90th birthday

The Pope Emeritus celebrated his 90th birthday in Rome with fellow Bavarians.

April 16, 2017 also happened to be Easter Sunday.

Breitbart has an article and photos from the day, which shows him enjoying a stein of beer. His guests are dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing.

Benedict gave a rare speech inside the Vatican. He said:

My heart is filled with gratitude for the 90 years that the good God has given me.

There have also been trials and difficult times, but through it all He has always led me and pulled me through, so that I could continue on my path.

The article continued:

Surrounded by friends and well-wishers from his native Bavaria on his birthday, Benedict said he was full of thanks in a special way for his “beautiful homeland,” adorned with “church towers, houses with balconies filled with flowers, and good people.”

Bavaria is beautiful, Benedict reminisced, “because God is known there and people know that He has created the world and that we do well to build it up together with Him.”

“I am glad that we were able to gather together under the beautiful blue Roman sky,” he continued, “which with its white clouds also reminds us of the white and blue flag of Bavaria—it is always the same sky.”

“I wish you all God’s blessings,” he said. “Carry my greetings home, as well as my gratitude to you. How I enjoy to continue living and walking about amidst our landscapes in my heart.”

Church ‘on the verge of collapsing’

Two months after his 90th birthday, on July 16, 2017, Benedict prepared a written message to be delivered by his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, in Cologne Cathedral at the funeral Mass of his close friend, Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Breitbart reported:

In the text, Benedict said that Cardinal Meisner “found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination.”

What moved me all the more, Benedict said, was that, “in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”

This appears to have been in response to Pope Francis lack of response to Cardinal Meisner’s question, a dubio:

Notably, Cardinal Meisner was one of the four cardinals who presented a series of questions, or “dubia,” to Pope Francis last September, asking him to clarify five serious doctrinal doubts proceeding from his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) concerning Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, the indissolubility of marriage, and the proper role of conscience.

The other three prelates who submitted the questions to the Pope were Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna; and Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.

When Pope Francis failed to respond to the dubia, the four cardinals published their questions publicly last November.

“The Holy Father has decided not to respond,” they wrote. “We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.”

Final visit to brother, also a priest

On August 3, 2020, Sky News reported that Benedict had travelled to Germany to see his brother, the Revd Georg Ratzinger, for the final time.

Afterwards, he had a bout of shingles, although, fortunately, they were on his face rather than around his waistline:

Sky News reported on the visit between the two priestly brothers:

The 93-year-old retired pontiff has become very frail and his voice is barely audible, author Peter Seewald told German daily Passauer Neue Presse.

However, German-born Benedict met with Mr Seewald on Saturday and appeared optimistic, adding that he might pick up writing again if he regains his strength, according to the paper.

Benedict visited his native Bavaria in June to pay his ailing brother Reverend Georg Ratzinger a final visit.

Mr Ratzinger, aged 96, died shortly afterwards.

It was Benedict’s first trip outside Italy since 2013, the year he resigned the papacy.

The retired pope has lived in a monastery in Vatican City since shortly after his retirement.

Spiritual testament

On August 29, 2006, Benedict XVI finalised his spiritual testament, which the Holy See released upon his death on December 31, 2022:

When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.

I thank my parents, who gave me life in difficult times and prepared a wonderful home for me with their love, which shines through all my days as a bright light until today. My father’s clear-sighted faith taught us brothers and sisters to believe and stood firm as a guide in the midst of all my scientific knowledge; my mother’s heartfelt piety and great kindness remain a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough. My sister has served me selflessly and full of kind concern for decades; my brother has always paved the way for me with the clear-sightedness of his judgements, with his powerful determination, and with the cheerfulness of his heart; without this ever-new going ahead and going along, I would not have been able to find the right path.

I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I would like to thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through time and again. I thank the people of my homeland for allowing me to experience the beauty of faith time and again. I pray that our country will remain a country of faith and I ask you, dear compatriots, not to let your faith be distracted. Finally, I thank God for all the beauty I was able to experience during the various stages of my journey, but especially in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second home.

I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way.

What I said earlier of my compatriots, I now say to all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused! Often it seems as if science – on the one hand, the natural sciences; on the other, historical research (especially the exegesis of the Holy Scriptures) – has irrefutable insights to offer that are contrary to the Catholic faith. I have witnessed from times long past the changes in natural science and have seen how apparent certainties against the faith vanished, proving themselves not to be science but philosophical interpretations only apparently belonging to science – just as, moreover, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith has learned to understand the limits of the scope of its affirmations and thus its own specificity. For 60 years now, I have accompanied the path of theology, especially biblical studies, and have seen seemingly unshakeable theses collapse with the changing generations, which turned out to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher, etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann, etc.), the Marxist generation. I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.

Finally, I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord may admit me to the eternal dwellings, despite all my sins and shortcomings. For all those entrusted to me, my heartfelt prayer goes out day after day.

Tomorrow’s post will conclude with lesser-known facts about and insights into Benedict XVI.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post was an exegesis on the Epistle reading from Ephesians 1 for All Saints Day.

In it, I cited John MacArthur’s sermons on Ephesians 1 from August 2021.

Two of those sermons have something more in them: a focus on Christ for the Church and MacArthur’s premise that God has passed divine judgement on us, as Paul discussed in Romans 1.

MacArthur is not normally given to pronouncements of divine judgement in our current era. Nor does he take up socio-political causes, which makes ‘Our Great Savior, Part 1’ and ‘Our Great Savior, Part 2’ all the more interesting.

Let’s look at the second half of Romans 1 (UKESV), emphases mine:

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them.

I’m old enough to remember that the United States — the world as I knew it, and I was only a child at the time — began changing in the mid-1960s. Every year got stranger and stranger. By the end of the decade, protests took place at universities all over the nation and a particularly violent one occurred at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968.

The role of the Church

Interestingly, one of MacArthur’s favourite books, an anthology on the Reformation, The Reformation of the Church, was published in 1964.

MacArthur points out that, as long ago as then, the Church was failing in its duty:

… in that anthology of those writers from the seventeenth century, Iain Murray wrote a forward, my dear friend Iain Murray. He wrote this in that same year, 1964—and listen to what he said; and I’m quoting, “At a time when the Christian faith is commanding so little influence on the nation, the church herself should be engaged with questions which affect her own life rather than the life of the masses of the people.”

Wow.

Church has continued to become more worldly in a variety of ways, none of which need mentioning because we all know what they are:

When the church begins to focus on the masses of the people and what the people want, it loses its influence. It almost sounds counterintuitive. Church “experts” would tell you that if the church wants to reach the world, we have to find out what the world wants—when just the opposite is true. The Christian faith will always, always lose its influence when it tries to accommodate the world. You get the opposite results than what you hoped for.

The Church is not called to be worldly but to reveal Christ to the world:

In another statement, “It has become customary for us to act as though the gospel could progress on earth independently of the condition of the church.” Great statement. We think that the character of the church plays apparently a minor role in reaching the world with the gospel. In fact there are so many, these days, so busy trying to find out what the world wants that it’s a very popular notion that the worst thing a church can do, that wants to reach the world, is act like a church. That is the devil’s lie. For the church to reach the world it must refuse to be like the world. It must refuse to define itself by what the world wants, what unbelievers want, what the unconverted desire. The church has one obligation, and that is to be what the Lord of the church commands—not focused on the culture but focused on Christ, not focused on passing social issues, the desires of the devil’s children, but solely on the will of the Lord. Only when churches are what Christ wants them to be are they useful in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

There is nothing in the Bible, in particular, the New Testament, that says the Church should conform itself to the world. Conforming to the world is one of the devil’s best tricks. As I write from England now, I can see that the Anglican Church is on its knees. It is not alone:

Clearly, churches have little influence in the world because they are trying to give the world what it wants, rather than obey the Lord who is the head of the church. There is no text in the entire New Testament that commands the church to give lost sinners what they want; on the other hand the church is to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, to confront the culture as the church. There is nothing in the New Testament that calls the church to change social structures, to be engaged in political efforts, economic efforts. The church that effectively reaches the lost is the church that is relentlessly devoted to being what the Lord of the church commands His church to be. If a church has little influence in the world, don’t ask what the world wants, ask what the Lord requires. Be the church. It has always been our passion here to obey and honor and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no interest in what the children of the devil want a church to be; that is irrelevant. And furthermore, beyond being irrelevant, it invites the devil in.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a blueprint for the Church and Christian behaviour. The first three chapters focus on the holy mystery of Christ’s bride and the last three chapters tell us how we must act as His followers.

The Reformers, being well read in Scripture, devised the ‘formal principle’, which defines a true church:

The formal principle was simply what the Reformers identified as the truth: that the Word of God is the sole authority in the kingdom of God, and therefore in the church. So the church is to be whatever the Word of God tells it to be. That is the formal principle. We have only one divine revelation for the life of the church, and that is Holy Scripture. And when you get into the New Testament epistles like Ephesians and the rest of them, you find that they are designed to make sure that every subsequent generation of Christians and churches understands the will of the Lord for their life and conduct.

And that is true of the epistles in general, but particularly true of Ephesians. Early on in the ministry here, I wanted to dig into Ephesians because it’s so absolutely definitive as to the life of the church. Here is heaven’s instruction book for the church to be the church. There’s not a word in it about what the world wants. Nothing about how to engage politically, socially, culturally. It’s all about how to follow the Lord who is the head of the church, how to be consumed with Christ. That’s why the epistle begins essentially in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Everything is in Christ, everything. It’s all about our relationship to Christ. It’s all about knowing Him, loving Him, adoring Him, declaring Him, and becoming like Him. That’s what the church needs to be. The more it’s like the world, the more it forfeits its influence. The more it tampers with the world, the more divisive it becomes, the more cantankerous it becomes, the more fractured it becomes, the more exposed its weakness becomes. It is a deadly danger for the church, any church anywhere, to be anything other than what the Lord of the church has designed the church to be. And we have all the information in the revelation of the New Testament.

So as we look at the book of Ephesians, we’re going to notice that in the first three chapters the emphasis is on doctrine—that is what we believe. And the last three chapters is the practical section—how we behave. And how we behave is predicated by what we believe.

The memorable line in the film Field of Dreams was ‘Build it and they will come’.

John MacArthur’s Grace Church in southern California has been predicated on Scripture since its founding in the late 1960s. He never used gimmicks or church growth strategies. He didn’t have to. Because he, his other pastors and elders focus on the Bible and on doctrine, the pews are filled for every service. They also have a thriving Spanish-speaking ministry. Thousands of people attend Grace Church every week.

Beyond that, MacArthur also has the Master’s Seminary. Its graduates go on to plant churches around the world.

He says:

Paul’s prayer is that the church would focus on fully understanding what is theirs in Christ. Every faithful pastor should be leading His church into the deep knowledge of Christ. Every faithful pastor must live in the constant expression of a desire to see the church filled with the wisdom and knowledge that comes with a deep revelation of Christ. This is the church being the church, being Christ-centered. Certainly this is my prayer for Grace Church.

God is answering that prayer, most assuredly.

Divine judgement?

Now we come to Romans 1. I placed it at the top, however, so that we could read it whilst contemplating what has happened to the Church and our world over the past six decades.

MacArthur believes that we are living out Romans 1 and that God has left the Western world to its own devices:

If there would ever be a nation of people who held the truth it would be certainly our nation, as well as most of the Western world. We have had the Bible. We’ve had the revelation of God. We all are very much aware that that has been rejected in our nation wholesale; and as a result of that, the wrath of God has been revealed. It is revealed against any society, any culture, any people, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, who turn from God; and that’s exactly what our society has done. And Romans chapter 1 defines the wrath of God. It says this is what it is. God, when He judges a society for rejecting Him, turns them over to a sexual revolution. It’s explicit. We have had that, 30 years ago I suppose, the sexual revolution; that was the first sign of divine judgment. He lets men go into sexual unrighteousness, pornography—really the death of any sense of biblical morality.

The final step is God’s giving people a ‘reprobate mind’:

Reprobate mind is a nonfunctioning mind; and what that means is the final step in divine judgment is a kind of insanity, where nothing makes sense. And out of that, Paul in Romans chapter 1 lists a long list of every imaginable kind of wickedness and sin, that will literally flood and drown a society. In the middle of that list, of course, is deceit and the hatred of God.

So there’s a reason why this country is in the insanity that it is in, and it is the judgment of God. God has allowed this nation that has rejected Him to go down the path of Romans 1 … to the point where there is an insanity that really makes no sense to any thinking person. It’s a reprobate mind, it’s a mind that does not function. And out of that mind that doesn’t function comes every imaginable kind of evil.

It was John Calvin who made the interesting statement that when God judges a people He gives them wicked rulers. When God judges a people He gives them wicked rulers. So this judgment of God, that has sent us down this careening path of transgression, iniquity, and sin, is also aided and abetted by wicked rulers because they tend to be the architects of all of this—if not overtly, certainly covertly.

Mankind cannot ‘fix’ what God has divinely ordained:

So I just want to say that you have to look at this in the light of divine judgment. What is happening in our country—the chaos, the insanity, the nonsense, the things that you can’t figure out, the confusion, the disorder, the disruption—is all part of divine judgment. And if you understand it that way you’re going to realize that you can’t fix it, you can’t fix it. The next election will not fix it. No election will fix it. A new governor in California will not fix it. It cannot be fixed; it is divine judgment, and it is obviously unleashed on us, and we’re in the final stage, the stage of insanity.

The folly of all follies in a situation like this is to think there’s anything you can do in the human realm to stop the divine judgment of God. That’s not possible. This is God judging, and He laid it out in detail. We are under judgment at a severe level, the most severe level revealed in Scripture, short of final, global judgment yet to come in the end of the age, and eternal judgment in hell. What is wrong in this country is not fixable; this is God bringing judgment.

However, MacArthur says that God will protect His faithful people:

The good news is that He protects His people in the judgment, that His cover is over us. We are in the shelter of His protection. We are saved from the wrath to come, and we are protected in the current judgment.

MacArthur says that we must have convictions — hills to die on — as we live through this era:

I was at camp this week with a thousand teenagers over in New Mexico, and the seniors from Grace Church got together and wanted to have a question and answer session. It was wonderful; I love doing it. And perhaps the most telling question came from—these are high school seniors—they said, “What do we need to know, facing university, facing college, going forward? What protections should we have?” And I said, “You need two things, two things, without which you will be a victim of the world. Number one: You need conviction. You need conviction. You have to have some non-negotiables, you have to have some hills you die on. And you have to know why, and you have to be able to substantiate those in the Word of God and in your own conscience. Without convictions you are a cork in the surf; you’ll end up wherever they take you. You need convictions.” And what a blessing to have been, for most of them, brought up in the influences of Grace Community Church where they have those convictions from those who surround them here; and for many of them, their own families. You have to have convictions.

Your convictions are the immovable pillars of your character. They’re the structure. Because what they’re going to want to do in the university is crush those convictions because they’re biblical convictions, and they’re true. And the world is ungodly, and the world is run by Satan, who’s a liar. They’re going to attack you with lies, and they’re going to attack your convictions about God, about man, about sin, about righteousness, about conduct, about morality, about everything. You have to have convictions.

The second thing you have to have is critical thinking, critical thinking. And I think for this particular period of history, this is what is most under attack. And let me tell you how to look at that.

Universities these days—certainly in the humanities side of things, universities these days are concerned about ideologies. You hear a lot about that, an ideology. What do they mean by an ideology? It’s just another word for a philosophy. But ideologies in the current climate are seductive and attractive to people because they are mindless, they are mindless.

Here’s how an ideology works: “What’s wrong in America? White privilege. What’s wrong in America? Systemic racism. What’s wrong in America? Abuse of women.” They want you to buy into the fact that everything that’s wrong in America can be explained by an ideology. They don’t want you to think critically about it.

“What’s wrong in America? Some people have money, and others don’t. What’s wrong in America? Corporations are getting rich, and people are being abused. What’s wrong in America?” They can be reduced to an ideology, a simple, single idea. This is stupidity. And universities are really bent on teaching people to be stupid. This is infantile. You can’t say, “What’s wrong in America? Systemic racism,” no matter what it is; if the bus doesn’t show up on your corner on time, “Well it’s systemic racism.” If you have mold on your bread, “Well it’s systemic racism.” That’s the stupidity of that oversimplification of everything—that is easy for people to suck up and be seduced by it because it’s a one-size-fits-all answer to everything, and you can put your brain in a bag and bury it. You have to think critically. You have to understand.

Then MacArthur describes the pandemic and post-pandemic period. What an amazing analysis:

For example, I’ll give you an illustration. In the United States 99.9 percent of the population survives COVID; that’s a fact. You can’t mesh that up with the behavior they’re requiring. How about this one: “Get vaccinated.” And you’re saying to yourself, “Well let’s see, they lied about Russia. The FBI lies. CIA lies. The National Health Organization lies. The World Health Organization lies. The CDC lies. The director of all of this lies, because he says something different every time he opens his mouth. The politicians lie. They lied about an incident in Chicago. They’re just lies and lies and lies and lies and lies.” And then they say to you, “Be vaccinated; it’s good for you.” I know why people aren’t getting vaccinated—because people don’t believe they’re being told the truth. It’s simple. It’s just the old Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried, “Wolf, wolf, wolf, wolf,” there never was a wolf. And when there was a wolf, nobody showed up.

You can’t keep lying and then expect people to believe you. You have to think critically and thoughtfully and carefully. You have to realize, CDC reports death rate from the normal flu last year was 99 percent lower. Oh, really. What happened to the flu? Where did it go? It went into the COVID statistic.

The chaos of deception and lies forces you, if you want to navigate the world in which you live, to think critically. Are there things wrong with capitalism? Capitalism can be abused, just like socialism is abused. Anything can be abused because sinners are engaged in it. Any kind of relationship, any kind of anything in human relationships is going to have good, bad, and indifferent. But what they want you to do is accept the—buy the package, and shut down alternative discussions. That’s why they cancel culture, because they want you to buy the ideology, they don’t want you to think critically. But we think critically because we think biblically, and we have the mind of Christ. First Corinthians 2:16, “You have the mind of Christ.”

I don’t want to get caught up in philosophy, which is another term for human wisdom. I don’t want to get caught up in empty deception. I don’t want to get caught up in something just passed down from person to person in tradition. And I certainly want to get above the stupid level of the ABCs. You can’t reduce me to some simplistic moron. Human wisdom is infantile compared to divine wisdom.

So look at verse 9, Colossians 2. Look, we don’t pay any attention to that, but we pay attention to Christ, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made” —what? —“complete.” Everything we need is in Christ. First Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.” We have the mind of Christ.

That’s what I told those high school students: convictions, critical thinking. Think like a Christian. Think like Christ. Think biblically. Don’t be kidnapped by lies.

MacArthur says that the Church has a vital role to play during divine judgement:

I just want you to understand that the church has one great responsibility in the midst of this judgment. It’s not to try to fix what’s wrong in society. That same chapter, Romans 1, gives us our mandate. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Christ], for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and the Gentile.” Our responsibility is to preach the gospel—not to be ashamed of the gospel but to preach the gospel, which is the only answer. The only hope is Christ, and the only appropriate response to Christ is to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, and to embrace His glorious gospel.

I guess what I’m saying to you is don’t expect it to get better. But it raises the stakes for what we as believers in the world are called to do. And while so many churches, so many churches, ranging from the liberal churches to the even evangelical churches, are caught up in trying to fix what’s wrong in the world—everything is a result of judgment, even the racial hostility, the insanity of teaching people to hate and living on vengeance and revenge. All of these kinds of things are part and parcel of what happens to a culture when God lets them go. They go to an insanity where nothing makes sense. That’s where we are.

For us, we know the truth because we have the mind of Christ in the Word of God. And our responsibility is not somehow to figure out how to fix the world, but how to proclaim the gospel that can deliver people from the world, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The church needs to focus on the person of Christ; and sadly it’s all over the place on social issues, which cannot be fixed, first of all, because people are sinful. And what’s wrong in the world, in society, is a reflection of sin. And secondly, because that sin is compounded when God removes normal, divine restraint, and it becomes a judgment. So the judgment is that sinners get what they want, and it gets worse and worse and worse

You have to see those things for what they are. They’re not fixable; they’re a reflection of fallen sinfulness, a reflection of a nation that has abandoned God, and a reflection of divine judgment itself.

Ultimately, the Church must be a haven in times of judgement:

The church needs to become Christ-centered. For the church to reach the world, it has to stop trying to be like the world, because why would you want to identify with a society under judgment? Understand that what’s going wrong in our society is divine judgment. We have to be the church. We have to be the haven; we have to be the eye of the hurricane; we have to be the safe place. We have to be the place where Christ is exalted and the Word of God is proclaimed, truth is known and believed and lived and taught. We have the mind of Christ, and it’s in the pages of Scripture.

I will return to British politics in my next post. See if we are not under divine judgement, too, as our once great United Kingdom is in a state of collapse in so many ways. No matter what our politicians advocate and try, everything gets worse. It’s unfixable for the time being.

All Saints Day is November 1.

Readings for Year C can be found here, including links to the exegeses on the Gospel reading from Luke, his version of the Beatitudes.

The Epistle is as follows, emphases mine:

Ephesians 1:11-23

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The first half of this passage concerns predestination: God’s choosing His elect.

The doctrine of election, or predestination, is confusing to the point that people make jokes about it. Old-school Presbyterians have and still do place much emphasis on election. Some say that one can be predestined, commit murder and still be saved. Not so. Others wonder if they are part of the elect and pray for those who do not have faith, some of whom who come to belief later in life.

John MacArthur explains more about election, borrowing a quote from the famous 19th century English evangelist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved.” You can’t think for a moment that you are supposed to figure out whether you’re elect; that’s absurd. As Spurgeon said, we can’t run around and see if people have an E stamped on their back. But you are commanded to believe, and, “You’ll die in your sins if you believe not on Me,” Jesus said. The reality of all of this is you have an apparent paradox in every major doctrine in Scripture that brings God together with man.

Paul mentions predestination when he says that, in Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of Him — God — who accomplishes all things according to His counsel and will (verse 11).

God does this, Paul says, so that we, setting our hope on Christ, live for the praise of His glory (verse 12).

Paul tells the Ephesians — and those of the churches surrounding Ephesus —  that when they heard the Gospel and believed it, they were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit (verse 13), as belonging to God and His Son.

In examining these verses, MacArthur unpicks the confusion many of us face when we think of predestination:

All of this is God’s plan. Go back to verse 11: He is the one “who works all things after the counsel of His will,” energeō. He energizes everything. So when you think about salvation, I want you to think about it as the purpose of God, the will of God, the plan of God, the intention of God. He chose you.

But sometimes people get a little bit confused with this, and they wonder, “Well where is the necessary faith in that?” And it’s side by side, down into verse 13: “You also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed.” Salvation doesn’t happen apart from faith. Through the years that’s been a question that is asked of me over and over again: “How do those go together? If salvation is all of God, if it’s monergistic, if God does the choosing, God does the predestining, if God has to give the life to the dead person, if God has to do the regenerating, if God has to grant the faith, if God has to give the sinner sight and life in order to respond and believe—how is it the sinner’s responsibility? The answer is, I’m not sure the dynamics of that, but I know that God’s purposes in election never come to fruition unless someone believes the gospel. And we’ve been told to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

Rather serendipitously, the Gospel for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity in Year C, October 30, 2022, has the story of Zacchaeus, the despised chief tax collector, whom Jesus saved. Jesus knew who he was and Zacchaeus received Him joyfully. Luke 19:10 concludes the story with Jesus saying:

19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

I cited a sermon from MacArthur wherein he says God seeks us first, then we seek Him:

In our sinfulness, in our fallenness, in our reprobation, in our blindness, in our ignorance, in our association and relationship to the kingdom of darkness and under the power of Satan, we cannot seek after God. We do not seek after God.  There would then be no reconciliation, no salvation, no forgiveness, no hope of heaven if God did not seek after us.  God does the initial seeking.  God does the saving of those who apart from Him would hide themselves from Him like Adam and Eve, running from His presence with no capacity in them to ever turn and pursue Him …

And this is the work of the Son of Man.  The Son of Man in verse 10 is a title which Jesus used of Himself more than any other, by far … The word “seek,” zte, means to pursue, to look for, to search for.  To save means basically to rescue from harm, to deliver from danger And the amazing irony of it all is that God sends Christ to seek and to save those who are headed for His own wrath and judgment.

Returning to today’s reading, another essential component of predestination, or election, is that we must believe in Christ and confess Him as Lord. MacArthur says:

You cannot be a believer without believing—basic …

John 1:12, “As many as received Him”—that would be the same as believing—“to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Who becomes a child of God? Those who believe. Then verse 13, “Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” There you have the same thing again. It’s the will of God, not the will of man—and yet you must believe. In fact, if you don’t believe, you weren’t elect, because election will be confirmed by faith.

Another difficulty is sin. If the Holy Spirit is with us, whose fault is it when we sin?

MacArthur explains it this way:

If—whatever’s good happens in your life, you give Him the praise; whatever wrong happens in your life, you take the blame. There you are again with the same reality that you cannot do anything in the flesh, you can only do it by the power of the Spirit—and yet you are responsible to conduct your life in a sanctified way.

… that should encourage you because it means it’s a far more glorious issue than any human being could ever understand. But it doesn’t happen without believing. That’s why the New Testament is filled with the command to believe, to believe. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of God.”

It’s somewhat simpler than it sounds:

So we have an inheritance. The ground of that inheritance is basically predestination, verse 11. But the ground of that inheritance is also, according to verse 13, believing. Your responsibility is not to figure out God’s predestined plan; your responsibility is to believe. And whoever believes, the Lord will never turn away, right? So that’s the foundation understanding; the ground of our inheritance is bound up in God’s predestined plan and our response of faith.

Let’s look at the role of the Holy Spirit, because Paul says that the Spirit’s seal is the sign that we are pledged to that inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, for the praise of His glory (verse 14).

MacArthur tells us how the Holy Spirit helps us lead a sanctified life:

The Holy Spirit does illuminate us. The Holy Spirit is our resident teacher. The Holy Spirit does convict us of sin. The Holy Spirit does an ongoing work in our lives of enabling us to minister through spiritual gifts. But He is also “the Holy Spirit of promise,” and that is to say He guarantees the fulfillment of the future inheritance.

MacArthur tells us that a seal was very important in that era and in the Old Testament:

Now it says the seal of the Spirit: “You were sealed in Him.” What does this notion of sealing mean? Well let me see if I can just give you some illustrations of it. In looking at it maybe from different facets. First of all, we’d say sealing is a sign of security

You remember that Christ’s tomb was sealed with a Roman seal, which meant that no one could break that seal. No one had the power to break that seal unless they had more power than Rome. That was a way to secure something. And that is exactly what the seal of the Spirit is. We are secured, and we are secured by the Holy Spirit, and no one has greater power than He. No one can break the seal. The seal also in Jewish culture was a sign of authenticity. You remember back in 1 Kings 21 when Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard, and through Jezebel’s deception she got it for him by writing letters and sealing them with Ahab’s seal. This was the official mark of authenticity, the royal signature. So God seals us to secure us, and He seals us so that it is labeled that we belong to Him. We are legitimate, authentic sons of God

I think that’s a marvelous way to think of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who grants to us delegated authority to access all divine resources. Jesus said, “Ask anything in My name and”—what?—“I’ll give it to you—anything according to My will.” Being sealed with the Spirit is a sign of security, authenticity, ownership, and authority; and we exercise all those things as believers.

A pledge for us, on our behalf, is also involved:

So the ground of our inheritance is predestination and faith. The guarantee of our inheritance is the promise, the Holy Spirit of promise who secures us and our inheritance. One other comment on verse 14: The Holy Spirit is “given as a pledge”—not only a seal, but a pledge. What is a pledge? It’s the Greek word arrabōn. It’s used a couple of ways. One is “a down payment.” The Holy Spirit is the first installment on our inheritance yet to come. The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment on our eternal inheritance. And every believer has the Holy Spirit. “If any man have not the Holy Spirit, he’s none of His,” Romans 8:9. So the fact that the Spirit has taken up residence in us and we are the temple of the Spirit of God means that God has given us the first installment on our eternal inheritance. Arrabōn was also used another way: It was used for an engagement ring. So the Holy Spirit is for us not only the down payment to our future inheritance, but the engagement ring that means we are the bride, and we will be married to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Paul has a reason for writing these words to the Ephesians:

Paul is really calling on these troubled believers living in the worst life of their day to suffer patiently and wait with hearts full of praise for the eternal inheritance that was promised to them. He’s calling for them to understand the spiritual heavenly blessings that were already secured for them by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the elective purpose of God in eternity past, and they were just waiting for the full realization of them when they entered glory.

Ultimately, for us:

The ground of our inheritance is predestination and faith. The guarantee of our inheritance is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise who is both a seal and a down payment, engagement ring, a pledge. Finally, the goal of our inheritance. What is the purpose in all of this, end of verse 12? “To the praise of His glory”; end of verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.” God is going to finally redeem us into glory as His “own possession,” verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.” That is always the reason for everything. It’s not about us; it’s about Him.

This is what’s remarkable, and I want you to grasp this as a final thought. If you’re like me, you wonder why the Lord even tolerates you. After all, He is perfect—perfect in every way. It’s incomprehensible to imagine a situation where you are altogether, in every way, exactly what He wants you to be so that you have capacity for only one thing, and that is to bring praise to His glorious name. That’s what heaven is all about. It’s not about you getting your own mansion, it’s not about you traversing the New Jerusalem and counting the jewels; it’s about God having made you like His Son so that you fully satisfy His holy desire. You are to Him as His own Son is to Him. That’s your best life.

In the second half of this passage, Paul prays for the members of the church.

MacArthur says:

This prayer, you almost feel, is a kind of interruption in the flow of Paul’s revelation for the church. It’s almost as if he can’t go another step unless he offers a prayer for the church. He’s writing to the church in Ephesus; it’s been four years since he was there. Not only to the church in Ephesus, but Ephesus was a major town in Asia Minor, and there were other churches listed in Revelation 2 and 3; they also would have received this letter. He starts out with that amazing set of blessings, spiritual blessings in Christ; and then before he starts to go into some more detail about the church and what it believes and how it behaves, he raises a prayer starting in verse 15.

Paul is writing this letter in Rome, where he was being held prisoner.

He tells these Christians in Asia Minor that he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love towards all the saints, i.e. fellow believers (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Paul would have received reports of them, either written or in person:

Now he knows he’s writing to a true church because if you look at verse 15 he says, “I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints.” Why does he mention those? Because those are the evidences of true salvation: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and manifest love for the saints.

How did he know about this? How did he know that the Ephesian church was doing so well after four years? Well he says he heard; he heard about it. How would he have heard about it? He’s a prisoner in Rome, he hasn’t seen them in four years, he’s incarcerated. But prisoners could receive letters, and they could receive visitors. And over the period of time of his imprisonment he had received both letters and visitors. And the testimonies were always the same; it was about the faith of the people in Ephesus, and it was about their love for the saints. These are evidences of a true church.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that love of the saints, of greater or lesser degrees, brings heavenly blessings:

Faith in Christ, and love to the saints, will be attended with all other graces. Love to the saints, as such, and because they are such, must include love to God. Those who love saints, as such, love all saints, how weak in grace, how mean in the world, how fretful and peevish soever, some of them may be.

For the reasons of their future divine inheritance, which they are manifesting through their faith and love in anticipation thereof, Paul gives thanks as he remembers them in his prayers (verse 16).

Paul prays for their further spiritual enlightenment, that God, the Father of Jesus Christ and of all glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation (verse 17).

Henry explains:

The Lord is a God of knowledge, and there is no sound saving knowledge but what comes from him; and therefore to him we must look for it, who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (see v. 3) and the Father of glory. It is a Hebraism. God is infinitely glorious in himself all glory is due to him from his creatures, and he is the author of all that glory with which his saints are or shall be invested. Now he gives knowledge by giving the Spirit of knowledge; for the Spirit of God is the teacher of the saints, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We have the revelation of the Spirit in the word: but will that avail us, if we have not the wisdom of the Spirit in the heart? If the same Spirit who indited the sacred scriptures do not take the veil from off our hearts, and enable us to understand and improve them, we shall be never the better.—In the knowledge of him, or for the acknowledgment of him; not only a speculative knowledge of Christ, and of what relates to him, but an acknowledgment of Christ’s authority by an obedient conformity to him, which must be by the help of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. This knowledge is first in the understanding.

MacArthur says that we lack this teaching today, because churches have moved away from teaching and preaching about Christ. They have focused too much on worldly matters and losing their essential purpose — proclaiming Christ:

This is how the church should live. We should live with this consuming preoccupation with the person of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, He’s anticipated; in the New Testament, He’s revealed. And He is the revelation of God that is the most clear revelation. God spoke in time past through the prophets and the writers of the Old Testament. In these last days He’s spoken unto us by His Son. God is on display in Christ. To know Christ is to know all the riches of heaven that are yours because you are His. Churches struggle with this. They get caught up, they get seduced away from Christ

Everything is about knowing Christ. And so … Paul says, “That’s my goal in ministry, is to proclaim Him, proclaim Him.” I hear a lot of things from a lot of so-called preachers these days. I say this too often; I say, “Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about Christ? Why?” We proclaim Him. Completeness is in Him.

Paul continues praying, saying that with the eyes of the heart duly enlightened, the faithful may know the hope to which they are called, the riches of our Lord’s inheritance among the saints (verse 18). The faithful belong to Christ and He inherits us as His Church.

MacArthur ties that verse in with predestination and encourages us to set our minds on the life to come:

Now look at the sweeping reality of verse 18. I want you to understand the doctrine of election; I want you to understand the doctrine of predestination. Some people say, “If you believe in predestination it’ll make you lazy, it’ll make you indifferent.” If you really understand the doctrine of predestination it’ll make you thankful, and then it’ll make you holy, and then it’ll make you joyful, and then it will fill your life with security. You need to understand that you were chosen, predestined, called to eternal glory. It began with the choice and the calling, and it ends with “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”

The very inheritance of Christ is with the saints. It’s in union with the saints that Christ receives His inheritance, and we receive it with Him. Think about it. Before time began God chose you, predestined you to eternal glory, called you in time, granted you faith to believe the gospel, justified you, and set you for glory. And it’s going to take place, because in verse 13 it says, “You were sealed [unto that glorious end] by the Holy Spirit,” who is God’s guarantee, “the Holy Spirit of promise.”

So when you’re focusing on Christ, focus on that which is eternal. You have to fly over life in this world, go from eternity past to eternity future. Think on that: “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth.” It’s not going to get better, you can’t fix it; let’s set our affections in the heavenlies. We live; whatever happens in the world around us, we are just a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away. This is a very short time; and while we’re here we need to set our affections on things above. Contemplate the greatness of the doctrine of election. This doctrine is so powerful and so important.

Paul then writes of the immeasurable power of Christ towards believers, according to the working of that great power (verse 19).

MacArthur says that the Greek word means ‘energy’:

Christ is your protector

You not only understand the greatness of His plan, but you understand the “greatness of His power,” power “in accordance with the working of the strength of His might.” There are four words here that describe His power: the word “power,” the word “working,” the word “strength,” and the word “might.” He has the power. He has the energy, energeia, His “working.” He has the strength. He has the might.

This is the good news. He not only has a plan, He has the power to execute that plan.

Paul says that God gave His Son that power at the Resurrection, raising Him from the dead, and the Ascension, where He sits at His Father’s right hand (verse 20).

MacArthur tells us:

The resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ demonstrates the power of God to bring you through death out the other side into His presence, even as He did for His own beloved Son.

Christ’s power is above all earthly powers and above every name, not just now but for all eternity (verse 21).

MacArthur says:

Sounds like Romans 8, doesn’t it? What’s going to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?—and Paul lays out a litany of things. No—no persons, no things.

Paul concludes with the holy mystery of the Church. Everything and everyone is subordinate to Jesus Christ, who is head of all things and all people for His Church (verse 22), His Bride, his body of faithful people, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (verse 23).

MacArthur conveys Paul’s idea as being one of Christ’s dominion over everything:

the One who is head over all things, God gave to the church as the head. He didn’t give us angels, He didn’t give us a committee of godly men; He gave us the head of the universe as head of the church. And we are His body; and as “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” This is just overwhelming.

He lives in us. The one who has the universal, eternal, redemptive plan has the power to execute that plan, and is the person superior to all other persons and all other things; the One who is head over all things, ruler over everything, is ruler in His church. And not only does He rule His church, but He lives in His church. We are His body, and He fills us with His fullness. There’s so much doctrine and so much theology in this. This is the message we need to preach: It’s about Jesus Christ, who is absolutely everything, and the only hope of salvation and the only deliverance from judgment.

I hope that this explains more about predestination and our divine inheritance as believers.

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:1-8

18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

18:2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

18:3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

18:4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,

18:5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are nearing the end of our Lord’s lessons to His disciples and to the Jewish hierarchy, which began in Luke 9 and conclude in Luke 19.

The context for today’s reading is set in light of our Lord’s discourse in Luke 17 about His Second Coming.

This parable illustrates the need for perseverance and patience in God’s justice delivered through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus told a parable to His disciples about the importance of praying always and not losing heart (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

When we are praying for strength against our spiritual enemies, our lusts and corruptions, which are our worst enemies, we must continue instant in prayer, must pray and not faint, for we shall not seek God’s face in vain. So we must likewise in our prayers for the deliverance of the people of God out of the hands of their persecutors and oppressors.

Jesus said that in a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected the people (verse 2).

That means he was self-centred and corrupt.

John MacArthur says that this scenario would have been familiar to the disciples. The judge was a civil judge and not a religious one:

This is simply a city that Jesus fabricates in the story. But we can assume that since He’s talking to people in the land of Israel, it would be typical of a city in Israel. And what follows would be all too familiar to the people of Israel, for Israel, frankly, had much experience with widows and much experience with unjust judges. And here we meet such a judge, a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.

And while that seems a rather simple characterization, it is a very well chosen characterization because you find such references to people in literature from ancient times outside the Bible and this kind of description is used to describe the most wicked person, someone who has absolutely no reverence for God and no interest in people, no concerns regarding the law of God, the will of God and completely indifferent to the needs of people and their just causes.  This man is ultimately and finally wicked.  There is no way to penetrate this man’s wickedness either from the viewpoint of the law of God or from the viewpoint of the need of man.  He is not moved by reverence or worship and he is not moved by compassion or sympathy.  He has no interest in the first commandment, loving God; no interest in the second commandment, loving his neighbor.  He is the most wicked man …

Now the kind of court that a judge like this would be a part of would be a civil court.   In towns and villages, or in large cities, these civil courts were in a lot of locations.  Every little town had to have one and a place like Jerusalem would have many of these civil courts.  This is not a position of national responsibility in a religious court where they were interpreting the religious things, or the traditions, or the law of the Old Testament. This is a civil court, but nonetheless the judge would have a very serious responsibility before God to uphold the law of God and to uphold sympathy and compassion toward people.  Any judge in Israel would be very familiar with Old Testament instruction regarding being a judge.  Second Chronicles chapter 19, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah.  It says in verse 4, “Jehoshaphat lived in Jerusalem, went out again among the people from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers.  And he appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city.  And he said to the judges, ‘Consider what you are doing for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment.’  “Now then,” verse 7, 2 Chronicles 19:7, “let the fear of the Lord be upon you.  Be very careful what you do for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or injustice, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”

Everyone who was ever appointed to any judicial responsibility in Israel would know that passage very, very well.  But even in the Old Testament, in spite of the clear instruction of God, judges were corrupt.  Amos the prophet, chapter 5 verse 10, “They hate him who reproves him in the gate.  They abhor him who speaks with integrity.  Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, you will not live in them.  You have planted pleasant vineyards; you will not drink their wine, for I know your transgressions are many, your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.”  The gate is normally where the civil law was adjudicated.  These judges that Amos mentions are corrupt and will know the judgment of God.

But this kind of judicial corruption was not limited just to the Old Testament. It was also true in the time of our Lord Jesus.  Alfred Edersheim, who has written the classic Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the great history of that period of time, describes the judges in Jerusalem as being so corrupt that the people changed their title.  They were known as dayyaney gezeroth. That was the term used to describe a judge and his responsibility to deal with the prohibitions of the law.  The people called them dayyaney gezeloth. They changed one letter in the Hebrew which turned the expression “a judge dealing with the law” to “a judge who is a robber.” “Robber judges” became their title because they were so corrupt.  They did just exactly what the Bible said not to do, what God said not to do.  They showed partiality.  They were unjust and they took bribes.  The Talmud said they were so perverted in some occasions that they would actually pervert justice for one meal, for one meal.  And so, when our Lord says this is an unrighteous judge, adikia, meaning no sense of justice, dishonest and corrupt. He is defining what everybody would know by the description in verse 2, that he didn’t fear God and he didn’t respect man.

Let me look at that word “respect” for just a moment in verse 2, Entrepōmi, interesting verb, it means to be put to shame, to be put to shame.  In other words, this man had no shame.  Now remember the Middle Eastern culture then and even now is a shame-honor culture.  You do what brings you honor at all cost, you avoid all things that produce shame, you avoid shame like the plague.  That was typically the way life was lived.  And so the way to understand that expression “did not respect man” would be to understand it this way: He is not ashamed before people, he has no shame. He cannot be put to shame.  In fact, if you were to study Middle Eastern translations of this verse in Middle Eastern language, New Testament Syriac and Arabic, they never translate it any other way over the centuries than “he was not ashamed before people.”  He had no shame. He could not be shamed no matter what he did.  Good social behavior in those cultures basically was encouraged by an appeal to shame. 

In that city, a widow repeatedly approached him appealing for justice against the person who wronged her (verse 3).

Widows, then and now, were — and are — often in a precarious position if they have no male to help them fight their cause.

Henry says:

Note, Poor widows have often many adversaries, who barbarously take advantage of their weak and helpless state to invade their rights, and defraud them of what little they have; and magistrates are particularly charged, not only not to do violence to the widow (Jer 21 3), but to judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow (Isa 1 17), to be their patrons and protectors; then they are as gods, for God is so, Ps 68 5.

MacArthur tells us that a court of law was a man’s domain and that women were largely ignored. The Old Testament states that God’s people were to protect widows:

“There was a widow in that city and she kept coming to him saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’”  Someone has defrauded her.  In fact, someone has so seriously defrauded her that she is destitute.  Not only is she destitute by virtue of the fact that she keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming, which is our Lord’s way of pointing out that she really was in a situation where she had to have what was rightfully hers, but we know that her destitution goes beyond the financial, she apparently has no man in her life, no man in her family, not a brother, not a brother-in-law, not a father, not a son, not a cousin, not a nephew, not any man who could come to plead her case, because courts belonged to men. They did not belong to women, they belonged exclusively to men.  Men came to court. Women did not come to court.  The courts belonged to the men.  The only time a woman would come to court was when there was no man to plead her case.  This woman is alone. She represents the destitute, the powerless, the helpless, the deprived, the lowly, the unknown, the unloved, the uncared for, the desperate.  And it’s wonderful to use the illustration of a widow because her case is clear-cut, as far as the Old Testament goes, if not on a legal basis, purely on the basis of mercy that he should have done something to care for her.   Exodus 22 verses 22 to 24 talks about the responsibility to show mercy to a widow.  Deuteronomy 24 verses 17 and 18, Isaiah 1:16 and 17, and many other places, widows were to be cared for. Their needs were to be met.  This judge is utterly indifferent to her on a sympathetic side, on the side of compassion, but apparently she had the law on her side as well because she is asking for legal protection.  She has been defrauded.  Property, money which was life to her has been taken from her.

By the way, as a footnote, there are a number of interesting widows that Luke focuses on both in his gospel and in the book of Acts as well.  They were an important part of the ancient world.  Corrupt judges, there were plenty of them; and there were even more needy widows.

The judge refused to entertain her plea for justice but later said to himself that, though he did not fear God or respect man (verse 4), he would grant her justice so that she would not wear him out by continually bothering him (verse 5).

Henry says:

bad as he was, would not suffer him to send her to prison for an affront upon the court.

MacArthur gives us this analysis:

His wickedness is obviously toxic, it is compounded because he is in the role of a judge and he renders his judgments in regard both to the law of God and the needs of people and since he is not moved by either, he is, as Jesus characterizes him, an unrighteous judge.  The word “unrighteous” would mean dishonest, corrupt, unjust.  Not only is he this evil but he knows it and he’s comfortable with it.  In verse 4 he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect men.” This is not simply a definition of the man that has been placed upon him by those that know him, he agrees with it in full.  Here is the worst possible human being in a very, very important position of responsibility whose disregard for God and man has massive implications in regard to all the people who come into his court

Well consistent with his utter disdain for the commandments of God and any sense of justice and his utter disinterest in showing compassion to anyone, even a lowly widow, verse 4 says, “And for a while he was unwilling.”  He was just outright indifferent.  He is the worst kind of human being who is then the worst judge imaginable.  Just as the prodigal son was the worst possible profligate sinner and the older brother was the worst possible hypocrite.  Jesus is into painting these extreme pictures in his stories with just a minimum of language.  But if you can fill in the gaps, the people would understand that.  But it says in verse 4, “Though he for a while was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself…” Now we get a soliloquy like the soliloquy of the prodigal son who came to his senses and talked to himself. So this man speaks to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man.” He’s a self-confessed wretch, he holds nothing back.  He has no noble motive.  He is first to admit he has no noble motive whatsoever. 

The woman’s appeals would have been loud, characteristic of a Middle Eastern culture of powerless women:

But he says, in spite of that, verse 5, “Yet because this woman bothers me.” In the Greek, “She causes me trouble, she is irritating me.”  Every day she’s there.  Every day she’s pleading her case.  It’s becoming very troublesome.  I will give her legal protection “lest by continually coming…” “Continually” is eis telos, sometimes translated in the Bible “forever.”  She will come forever if I don’t get rid of her and “she will wear me out.”

He has no regard for God.  He has no regard for man.  But he has regard for himself.  He cares not for what pleases God.  He cares not for what pleases men.  But he cares a lot for what pleases him and this does not please him.  This is an irritating, troubling harangue that he hears out of this widow every single day that is intrusive and interruptive.  And by the way, I like that little phrase, “She will wear me out.”  But it’s a little more benign than the Greek.  The Greek is a verb hupopiazo, which means it’s a boxing term and it means to strike someone with a full blow in the eye She is punching me silly day after day after day. She is beating me up.  Some translations would be, “to blacken the face,” to indicate the severity and the strength of the blows.  She’s giving me a black eye, she’s beating me.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where Paul says, “I buffet my body, I punch my body with a fierce blow to beat it into submission.”  This woman is not just troublesome, this woman is painful.  This is more than I can stand and she’s going to do it eis telos, forever, if I don’t get rid of her.  So the powerful and impervious judge is defeated by the weak widow through her persistence.

Now you need to know something else, a little bit more about the Middle Eastern culture.  Women were really powerless.  I guess that’s a good way to say it.  They were powerless in the male-dominated culture; still largely true in Middle Eastern culture today.  But they were respected and they were honored.  And while they had no power, they did have honor and they could get away with things that men couldn’t get away with.  I was reading one Middle Eastern scholar who said, “A woman could scream and complain at the top of her voice relentlessly and get away with it because women are to be honored and respected.  And if a man did the same thing, he would lose his life.”  And so, even today sometimes you see pictures in the Arabic world of women who are pleading their case by screaming and yelling and this would be the crying day and night kind of relentless approach of this woman that is characterized hereThe crying day and night comes in the explanation in verse 7 So she’s driving this man to destruction in his own mind.  He’s got to get rid of her.  And so he rules in her favor.  Go back to verse 5, “I will give her legal protection.” That simply means I will vindicate her.  I will vindicate her.  It’s got the word dikēo in it, from which we get the word dikaiōs, righteousness, justice.  I will execute justice, righteousness on her behalf.  I will vindicate her.  I will avenge her.  I will do justice to her because I cannot tolerate her…her harangue any longer.  So that’s the story. That’s the illustration.

Jesus called on the disciples to take heed of what the unjust judge said (verse 6).

It is interesting that both commentators use the same expression about this parable.

Henry says:

This parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed. Christ spoke it with this intent, to teach us that men ought always to pray and not to faint, v. 1.

MacArthur says:

What’s the intention of this story? Go back to verse 1. Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. So here we find that the key to the parable is hanging on the door. Before you even get inside to the parable, the key is out there. This is a parable designed by our Lord to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.

Then Jesus implied that if the corrupt judge showed justice — left unsaid — how much more will the righteous, all-merciful God grant justice to those who cry out to Him day and night, asking if He will delay helping them (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

This is a “much more than” kind of comparison, this is a “lesser and greater” kind of comparison.  This is extreme.  You have the most wicked, impervious, impenetrable, indifferent human being doing what is right for someone about whom he has no feeling or interest.  And if a judge who is like that will do what is right for someone for whom he has no affection, do you think God will not do what is right for those who are His eternal elect, who are loved by Him before the foundation of the world?  And who cry out to Him day and night pleading for His glory to come and for them to be glorified with Him?

The elect are represented by the widow.  We are, in a sense, helpless.  We are, in a sense, at the mercy of our judge.  But this judge is not like God.  This judge is the opposite of God.  He is as unlike God as you can get.  God always does what is right by His own law.  God is always compassionate, merciful, gracious, tender-hearted, and kind.  And God will do what He says He will do to bring about the glorious manifestation of His own children who are loved by Him from before the foundation of the world.  The wicked, unjust, unloving judge will do what is right. What will a righteous, loving, holy God do?

The answer: verse 7, “Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect?”  Literally, “Make the vindication,” make the vindication.  Again “the vindication” comes from that same verb, dikēo, which is related to the word group “justify.”  Will He not justify?  Will He not vindicate His elect, those whom He has chosen for salvation?  First Peter 2:23 says, “God is the one who judges righteously.”  Romans 12:19 says that, “God has said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’”  Revelation 19:2, “True and righteous are His judgments.”  He will do what He has promised for His elect because His Word is at stake and He’s faithful to His Word, He’s faithful to His law, because He’s merciful, because He’s compassionate, and because He loves those whom He has eternally chosen.

Henry refers to earnest prayer as wrestling with God, which is what Jacob did and was blessed afterwards with the name Israel. That passage from Genesis 32 is one of today’s First Readings:

And herein we must be very urgent; we must cry with earnestness: we must cry day and night, as those that believe prayer will be heard at last; we must wrestle with God, as those that know how to value the blessing, and will have no nay. God’s praying people are told to give him no rest, Isa 62 6, 7.

Jesus concluded by saying that, contrary to the corrupt judge, God will quickly grant justice to the faithful, however, on that day of the Second Coming, will the Son of Man — Jesus — find faith on Earth when He returns (verse 8)?

MacArthur says:

He closes with a question, verse 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  What does that mean?  Jesus is just pensively asking the question that when He does come, given that it’s going to be a long time, will there be anybody left persistent like this widow?  When He does come, and He will, will He find people praying for His return?  I kind of think that if He were to come now He would find a whole lot of people who call themselves Christians with very little interest in that.  Genuine Christianity never loses its grip on God, never loses its trust in Christ, never loses its hope.  But we get easily distracted, don’t we?  And the Lord is trying to nail this down in a practical way.  When He comes, will He find His people still crying day and night eagerly waiting for His return?  Will we love His appearing?  Will we be crying out “Maranatha”? First Corinthians 16:22, even come, Lord, come, Lord.  Or will it be like in Noah’s day with just a few, or Lot today with just a few?

We live in hope, beloved, we live in hope.  We…We are true Christians and we have been given a tremendous promise.  This is how it’s all going to end.  In the meantime we suffer and we’re rejected and persecuted and alienated and the gospel is resisted and Christ is dishonored and sometimes maybe we think it’s going on too long and too long.  We continue to pray and plead for the glory of Christ, the honor of Christ.  And when you live that way and pray that way and plead that way, it changes everything about your life.  How you view every part of your life.  Yes it’s been 2,000 [years]. But our hope burns shining bright, and our love for Christ is still true and pure and our confidence that He keeps His Word is fast and firm.  And so we pray persistently calling on Him to come, to glorify Himself, to vindicate Himself, to punish sinners, dethrone Satan, establish a righteous kingdom and peace on the earth, reign as King of kings and Lord of lords and create the eternal new heaven and the new earth. We say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” and it ought to be on our lips day after day after day, says our Lord.  Live in that kind of anticipation until He comes.  And watch how it changes your life.

Henry mentioned Jacob’s earnest faith and the blessing he received.

I wrote more about the background of Genesis 32 a few years ago in ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son and brothers in Genesis’.

After he sold his birthright to Jacob for a mass of pottage, Esau wanted to kill him.

In Genesis 32, Jacob prayed fervently in this appeal to God:

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Today’s alternate First Reading tells us of Jacob’s wrestling with God and obtaining an enduring blessing for prevailing — overcoming:

Genesis 32:22-31

32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

32:26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

32:27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

32:28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

32:29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

My follow-up post discussed God’s blessing to Jacob in his 12 sons, ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son relates to the lost tribes of Israel‘.

One day, Jesus will be seen by God’s people as the Messiah.

For now, we can meditate on the faith and perseverance that Jacob showed.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

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