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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

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

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

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

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

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

The Man of Lawlessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur relates it more generally to Western society:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry posits that Paul wishes to comfort the Thessalonians:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the second half of verse 10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s final two verses discuss unbelievers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow, and for whatever reason, unbelievers think:

that sin is beneficial.

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

MacArthur says:

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

We have scriptural evidence for it:

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

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

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

Paul’s message here is:

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

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

Stand Firm

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

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

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

Next week begins the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

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

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

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

MacArthur takes up the story (emphases mine):

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no rest, mentally or physically.

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

It’s hard for us to imagine.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us:

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

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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

It is the first day of the new Church year.

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

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

The Gospel reading is as follows, emphases mine:

Matthew 24:36-44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

We have the same in Matthew 24:

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

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

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

Note Matthew 24:35:

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains why no one knows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur illustrates it for us:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says that material security breeds carnality:

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

He has a present day application for us:

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur confirms that Jesus spoke of men:

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

Henry leans towards salvation:

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

MacArthur interprets ‘taken’ as if in judgement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives us one example:

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

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

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

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

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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.

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last![a]

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Having concluded my study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I am proceeding to his two letters to the Thessalonians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary — the Revd Daniel Mayo, a contemporary, finished Henry’s work on 1 and 2 Thessalonians — states that after Paul founded the church in Thessalonica, he had to flee to Berea, then to Athens, leaving Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) behind (emphases mine):

Paul, being left at Athens alone ( 1 Thess 3 1), departed thence to Corinth, where he continued a year and a half, in which time Silas and Timotheus returned to him from Macedonia (Acts 18 5), and then he wrote this epistle to the church of Christ at Thessalonica, which, though it is placed after the other epistles of this apostle, is supposed to be first in time of all Paul’s epistles, and to be written about A.D. 51. The main scope of it is to express the thankfulness of this apostle for the good success his preaching had among them, to establish them in the faith, and persuade them to a holy conversation.

John MacArthur describes the church as fragrant in faith and blessing, like his own congregation of Grace Community Church in California:

I was drawn to Thessalonians because I really believe in my heart that this was a noble, wonderful, blessed church that brought great joy to the heart of the apostle Paul and that the letter, for the most part, is so very, very encouraging that I thought it might be fitting for us because I believe Grace Community Church to be an especially blessed and especially wonderful church and certainly one which has brought great joy to my own heart.  And in the study of this epistle I have already found many parallels between our own church and the church at Thessalonica.  And as this letter must have come to them as a great encouragement, as they were an encouragement to Paul’s heart, so I trust its truths will come to you as a great encouragement as you are an encouragement to my heart.

The European theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote cynically, “The church is like Noah’s ark. If it weren’t for the storm outside, we couldn’t stand the stink inside.”  One thing for sure, he didn’t go to church in Thessalonica.  There was no stink there.  In fact, there was just a sweet fragrance This rich letter exudes the sweetness of these precious people

This was the true church.  They were all redeemed in Christ.  They were all members of the body.  They were all true believers.  They were all real saints.  They were all the brethren of God’s children.  They were the beloved of God, sovereignly loved by Him and chosen for salvation.  And only that kind of church could emit such a sweet fragrance and elicit such an encouraging response

So the Thessalonians were the elect They were the real Christians, chosen by God from eternity past for salvation and eternal glory

BiblePlaces.com has a page on Thessalonica, recapping Paul’s rather short stay in the city, described in Acts 17:

He preached in the city’s synagogue, the chief synagogue of the region, for at least three weeks. His ministry was strong, and he established a Jewish-Gentile church, although it was more heavily Gentile (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul faced great persecution at the hands of the mob, he fled to Berea, but Thessalonians eventually forced him to leave there also (Acts 17:13-14).

I wrote about the violent attacks on Paul and Silas as well as a convert there, Jason. It was no better in Berea, which was equally blessed with new, faithful believers, however, the Jews from Thessalonica travelled over and persecuted Paul there, too.

The letters to the Thessalonians - Bible Study by Mark Day - Flatwoods ...Thessalonica was a strategic trade and military city, as you can see from the map, courtesy of Flatwoods Church of Christ.

BiblePlaces.com gives us its history to the present day:

Thessalonica was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads, one leading from Italy eastward (Ignatia Way) and the other from the Danube to the Aegean. Thessalonica’s location and use as a port made it a prominent city. In 168 BC it became the capital of the second district of Macedonia and later it was made the capital and major port of the whole Roman province of Macedonia (146 BC). In 42 BC, after the battle at Philippi, Thessalonica was made a free city. Today the modern city of Thessaloniki is the second most important city of Greece and home to a million inhabitants.

We do not know much about Thessalonica because the Greeks built Thessaloniki on top of its ruins. The following refers to a photo on the page:

Very little has been uncovered at ancient Thessalonica because Thessaloniki sits atop the remains. The area pictured above and at right was formerly a bus station; when it was moved in 1962, this 1st or 2nd century AD forum was revealed. Excavators found a bathhouse and mint dating to the 1st century AD below pavement surrounding an odeum. An inscription (30 BC to AD 143) from the Vardar gate bears the word politarches, the word Luke used in reference to the officials of the city before whom Jason was brought by the mob (Acts 17:6). The word does not appear in any other Greek literature but does match the archaeology of the site.

St Demetrios was a local 4th century martyr and is the city’s patron saint, showing that the Church is alive and well there. A basilica in the city is named after him.

Wikipedia tells us more about the city’s founding:

The city was founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages.[33][34] He named it after his wife Thessalonike,[35] a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedonia as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedonia the city retained its own autonomy and parliament[36] and evolved to become the most important city in Macedonia.[35]

Twenty years after the fall of the Kingdom of Macedonia in 168 BC, in 148 BC, Thessalonica was made the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.[37] Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic under Mark Antony in 41 BC.[35][38] It grew to be an important trade hub located on the Via Egnatia,[39] the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Byzantium,[40] which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium.[41] Thessaloniki also lays at the southern end of the main north–south route through the Balkans along the valleys of the Morava and Axios river valleys, thereby linking the Balkans with the rest of Greece.[42] The city became the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia;.[39]

At the time of the Roman Empire, about 50 AD, Thessaloniki was also one of the early centers of Christianity; while on his second missionary journey, Paul the Apostle visited this city’s chief synagogue on three Sabbaths and sowed the seeds for Thessaloniki’s first Christian church.

MacArthur tells us more about the history of the city and life in Thessalonica in Paul’s time:

The city was founded in 315 B.C. by a general, a Greek general under Alexander the Great whose name was Cassander He chose the place because of its thermal springs. He also chose it because it was the crucial northernmost point on the Aegean Sea He also chose it because it was right where the highway from the Orient to the West came He chose it because the Axios River flowed into that harbor area It was a tremendously strategic place

Thessalonica was one of three key cities in Macedonia, the other two being Philippi and Berea.  Paul visited all three.  In Achaia, the southern part, there were two key cities which Paul visited, Corinth and Athens.  When the Romans conquered the Greeks and they came in, they supplanted Greek rule in the year 168 B.C.  They took that northern part, Macedonia, and they divided it into four quarters They made Thessalonica the capital of one of those quarters and twenty years later they blurred out the division and had one Macedonia and made Thessalonica the capital.  In fact, from 146 B.C. on, Thessalonica was designated the capital of the whole province of Macedonia and had the nickname, “The Mother of Macedonia.”  It was a very strategic city

The only way to get to the east, of course, if you didn’t go on the Mediterranean Sea by water and you wanted to go on foot was just to walk along the northern coast area there and that was called the Ignatian Highway from the west to the east, to the east to the west.  It became a military road for the transportation of all the troops.  It became a trade route for from east to west.  And it went right across the top of the Aegean Sea and right through the city of Thessalonica.

.. It was a totally sheltered harbor, had a great river, as I said, the Axios River, and so it became a very thriving seaport.  The town was filled with soldiers.  The town was filled with businessmen, travelers, traders.  The town was filled with sailors.  It was a booming place.  It became famous for vice, famous for sexual perversion, prostitution was rampant and well organized.  History tells us that people built their homes in Thessalonica with no windows because crime was so rampant and out of control.  They would literally build a house with only a door.

Also, one of the characteristics of Thessalonica was that they would pain obscene paintings on the walls of their houses.  It was a very lascivious city.  Divorce was very frequent.  Babies were continually abandoned.  That was the old form of abortion. You just had your baby and let it die.  Murder was common.  And it was in that sewage pipe that the church lived in Thessalonica and I think that’s part of the reason in chapter 4 why the apostle Paul tells them in verse 3 to abstain from sexual immorality because they were in the middle of it.

Now because it was a thriving trade area, the Jews came there in great force, always enterprising.  They showed up in mass in Thessalonica.  In fact, there was so many of them that they had a very large synagogue in that city And that became the starting point for Paul’s evangelism.  That is, by the way, unlike Philippi.  You remember when Paul went to Philippi there weren’t even enough Jewish men to constitute a synagogue?  Well, there were in Thessalonica because that was the hot spot for trade, for business, for commerce.

.. You might also want to know that the Jews remained there throughout all the centuries until World War II when Hitler went to Saloniki, took 60,000 Jews out of that city and executed all of them So the city has had a fascinating and long, long history.

The emperor of Rome at the time that Paul arrived, which would have been 350 years after the city was founded, the emperor was a man named Claudius Claudius didn’t deserve to be the emperor. He didn’t deserve to be a leader of anything.  He only became leader because his uncle, Gaius, was murdered. They say, about Claudius, all kinds of things. We can’t be certain exactly what was true.  Some writers say he was epileptic.  Some say he had fits and seizures. Some say he was crazy.  All agree he was a stuttering, slobbering man who had total incompetency.  But he was in charge of the Roman government.

MacArthur says that Paul’s letter to the congregation indicates he was there for longer than three sabbaths:

… I think that he was in the synagogue three Sabbaths, but I believe there’s ample reason to assume he was in Thessalonica some weeks longer than that And you say, “Why is that so?”  Well, because it’s evident that he involved himself in work Chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians verse 9, “You recall our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”  He must have opened up his tent-making or his leather-working business to some degree and actually functioned in some work capacity, which he would not have done if he was only there two weeks with a Sabbath on each end and one in the middle.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:8 he says that, “We were working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you.”  Well they wouldn’t have been a burden if they were only there for two weeks.  So he must have spent three consecutive Sabbaths in the synagogue. And then from there moved out of the synagogue and continued his labor of evangelism.

It’s amazing that Paul’s stay, as short as it was, produced such a marvellous group of believers in such a decadent city:

Think about that church. They’re coming out of lifelong Judaism.  They’ve got all that Judaistic baggage.  Or they’re coming out of paganism.  And it’s a brand new baby church and he’s only there at most a few weeks and they’re living in a city that is just drowning in vice.  And how are they going to be matured?  And Paul and Silas and Timothy are gone. And Silas and Timothy are down in Berea where it’s a little easier to stay and even there Paul couldn’t stay and he left and went to Athens And from Athens he went on to Corinth and stayed there for 18 to 22 months and established the church there and strengthened the church there and ministered there for a prolonged period of time.

But who is taking care of the Thessalonians?  I mean, a tiny little church with no leadership and no help, so young in the Lord, weeks old and in a sea of paganism and trying to come out of the massive encumbrances of Judaism. We could well understand that Paul would be deeply concerned.  When he left Thessalonica and traveled about 50 miles, or two and a half days walk to Berea, and had a good reception there, he probably thought in his heart, “I’d like to go back to Thessalonica, we need to go back when it cools down.”  But it didn’t cool down.  The heat from Thessalonica came to Berea and forced him out of there, forced him to Athens and God wasn’t working in Athens and he went from Athens to Corinth and there the Lord worked and he ministered.

Before he had left Athens, Timothy had come to join him.  And now by the time we get him into Corinth, he’s kind of settling down a little bit and it’s probably the spring of A.D. 50, just a few months since the church at Thessalonica was founded.  And he has been so concerned to find out about them, he sends Timothy back.  And Timothy goes back and Timothy comes with a report and the report is what caused the letter because Timothy comes back and says they’re doing super. They’re elect. They’re elect.  You’ve got an elect church. It’s going to be okay.  They’re redeemed.  They’re pure.  And that’s why Paul in chapter 3 is so exhilarated.  He says in verse 6, “Now that Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news of your faith and love…” and then in verse 7 he says, “That’s why we’re comforted.  Ah, this was an elect church, a church that could contribute all of its success to the power of God, the grace of God.  For God’s own purposes, He had kept this church wonderfully pure in the midst of the morass of pagan filth, in the midst of theological confusion, in the midst of traditions, this little group was true and pure.  And so to them he writes these words, verse 1, “Paul and Silvanus.” That is the Roman equivalent of Silas, his Jewish name, “And Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

MacArthur points out that Paul did not refer to himself as an Apostle because they had already recognised he was a holy, sincere man dedicated to Christ:

Apparently in Macedonia his apostleship was never in question.  He wrote two letters to the Thessalonian church which is in Macedonia, he wrote one letter to the Philippian church which is in Macedonia and in none of those three letters did he identify himself as an apostle.  Apparently that was not an issue, the church never questioned his authority and they had not been besieged by someone who had and thus become confused about it So he simply says, and I love the simplicity, “Paul.”  There’s something humble about that.  And then he links with himself as if they’re all equals, “Silas,” who was a Jewish coworker with Paul, a faithful servant of the Lord, a wonderful instrument.  And then he mentions Timothy, a young man that he had met in Lystra. Acts 16 tells about it.  He had helped him in Philippi and later come to Thessalonica.  He was Paul’s son in the faith.  He was the one to whom he would give the mantle as at the end of his life he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him.

So, it’s the three of them and they all know about the Thessalonians.  Timothy has gone and gotten a report.  Paul was there when it started and Silas is with Paul and so the Thessalonians are precious to all of them And so Paul sort of collects them into this wonderful introduction and says, “This letter comes from us to the church of the Thessalonians.”

MacArthur explains the Greek word for church:

One little thought about the word “church,” ekklsia.  It’s a word related to the Greek word kale, which means “to elect,” ek kale, to elect.  This is the elect.  The word “church” means the called out ones, the elect ones.  And so again the emphasis is there.  “Paul and Silas and Timothy to the elect ones of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s a very unusual expression for Paul, but a very wonderful one.

Here is 1 Thessalonians 1, which is in the Lectionary:

Greeting

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

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

Grace to you and peace.

The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly[a] mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

One could not expect a higher accolade from Paul than that.

Here is the first half of 1 Thessalonians 2:

Paul’s Ministry to the Thessalonians

For you yourselves know, brothers,[a] that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

That brings us to today’s verses.

Paul credits them for being imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea, because the Thessalonians suffered the same things from their own countrymen as the Judeans did from the Jews (verse 14).

Henry says:

The word wrought effectually in them, not only to be examples unto others in faith and good works (which he had mentioned before), but also in constancy and patience under sufferings and trials for the sake of the gospel: You became followers of the churches of God, and have suffered like things as they have done (v. 14), and with like courage and constancy, with like patience and hope. Note, The cross is the Christian’s mark: if we are called to suffer we are called only to be followers of the churches of God; so persecuted they the prophets that were before you, Matt 5 12. It is a good effect of the gospel when we are enabled to suffer for its sake. The apostle mentions the sufferings of the churches of God, which in Judea were in Christ Jesus. Those in Judea first heard the gospel, and they first suffered for it: for the Jews were the most bitter enemies Christianity had, and were especially enraged against their countrymen who embraced Christianity. Note, Bitter zeal and fiery persecution will set countrymen at variance, and break through all the bonds of nature, as well as contradict all the rules of religion. In every city where the apostles went to preach the gospel the Jews stirred up the inhabitants against them. They were the ringleaders of persecution in all places; so in particular it was at Thessalonica: Acts 17 5, The Jews that believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar.

MacArthur says that Paul must have told the Thessalonians about the churches in Judea:

… they had become imitators of other believers, namely those in the churches of God and Christ Jesus in Judea.  We cannot assume that they had any occasion to meet those saints in Judea.  We can assume that Paul must have given them some input as to the kind of life those saints in Judea lived.

I can imagine if I were in Paul’s situation going to a pagan, Gentile city, going to a Jewish synagogue to evangelize Jews and then going out into the streets to evangelize Gentiles, that I would want to give them some kind of a model of what a church was, that I would want to…to instruct them on some of the life patterns of noble saints that they could learn from so I can make the assumption that Paul probably told them about other Christians, probably told them about the founding of the church in Jerusalem, probably told them that with the martyrdom of Stephen the Jerusalem church was scattered and that it was scattered, it re-identified itself in other places all around Judea then gave birth to daughter churches And by the time the Thessalonian church was founded there was a sprinkling of little churches throughout Judea and maybe not so little after that.  And that those believers in Judea would have been longer in the faith than the brand-new Thessalonians and more mature by virtue of years of walking in the Spirit and therefore were models for them to follow There may have been some specific things that Paul told them about those Christians in Judea that they could pattern their own lives after.

But they were a…a wonderful group of Christians because they imitated Paul, Timothy and Silas, they imitated the Lord, and here he says they even imitated the saints in Judea.  And the highest form of honor is imitation, isn’t it?  You really honor someone when you pattern your life after them.  And so that’s the second thing that sort of marks the nobility of this little church is that they honored the saints. They honored the saints by patterning their lives after them.  “For you, brethren,” and the word “for” is an indicator that there’s an added confirmation of their positive reception of the Word.  They received the Word and the confirmation of that is what it did in their life to make them imitators of other mature believers.  They were mimicking the believers in Judea as they had mimicked Paul, Timothy, and Silas and attempted even to mimic the Lord.  They paid the highest honor by imitation.  The greatest respect… They had respect for Christ, they wanted to imitate Him.  They had respect for the preachers, they wanted to imitate them.  They had respect for the rest. They were willing to imitate them.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s ‘churches of God in Christ Jesus’:

Now would you just note “the churches of God in Christ Jesus” is a very interesting little phrase Just to point out to you, plural “churches”; there is one church in the sense that we are all one in Christ, but the Scripture is very clear too that there are local assemblies identified as individual churches.  And there were then churches scattered around Judea, notice he calls them “churches of God.”  Assemblies, gathering togethers of which God was the source; God’s gospel, God’s church, God’s churches, they belong to Him.  He’s their sovereign, electing, saving, sanctifying source and you can study the New Testament and you will find the term “church” used in general for the church and you will find it used in specific for local assemblies, such as 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; etc.  But in all cases — please notice — it is the churches of God in Christ Jesus All true believers are in Christ.  Back to chapter 1 verse 1: “In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Galatians 1:22, the churches of Judea which were in Christ, in union with the living Christ.  And these churches to whom he refers were in Judea.

Continuing on the Jews who were guilty of this persecution, Paul says that they killed Jesus and, historically, the prophets, driving Paul and sometimes his companions out of where they were preaching; as such, they displease God and oppose all mankind (verse 16).

Henry explains the verse:

Upon this occasion, the apostle gives a character of the unbelieving Jews (v. 15), enough to justify their final rejection and the ruin of their place, and church, and nation, which was now approaching. (1.) They killed the Lord Jesus, and impudently and presumptuously wished that his blood might be on them and their children. (2.) They killed their own prophets: so they had done all along; their fathers had done so: they had been a persecuting generation. (3.) They hated the apostles, and did them all the mischief they could. They persecuted them, and drove and chased them from place to place: and no marvel, if they killed the Lord Jesus, that they persecuted his followers. (4.) They pleased not God. They had quite lost all sense of religion, and due care to do their duty to God. It was a most fatal mistake to think that they did God service by killing God’s servants. Murder and persecution are most hateful to God and cannot be justified on any pretence; they are so contrary to natural religion that no zeal for any true or only pretended institution of religion can ever excuse them. (5.) They were contrary to all men. Their persecuting spirit was a perverse spirit; contrary to the light of nature, and contrary to humanity, contrary to the welfare of all men, and contrary to the sentiments of all men not under the power of bigotry.

MacArthur says that those Jews who rejected the word of God, having heard it, will be judged severely. That said, God wants His chosen people to come to believe in Christ:

He still calls Jews in this age to salvation in Jesus Christ and I praise Him for those in our church family from Israel who believe in their Messiah. And someday He will call that nation to Himself.

For the Jews at the time of Paul and Jesus, and even today, for the most part, are a people to be sad for because they had the greatest spiritual privilege and opportunity and they are lost without their Messiah and damned to hell. The Jews had started the fires of persecution with the killing of Jesus. They had then continued the fires of persecution everywhere Paul went, rejecting Christ, rejecting the churches, spreading the fact that Christianity was not true. And Paul sees them in contrast to this church in Thessalonica.

Look at the three contrasting characteristics. Number one, their rejection of the Word. The Thessalonians received the Word, the Jews rejected the Word. Notice verse 15, “Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out.”

You say, “What does that have to do with the Word of God?” It had everything to do with the Word of God because all of those are simply the folks who were proclaiming it. The Lord Jesus came to speak the truth. The prophets had preached the Word of God. The apostles were proclaiming the gospel. They killed Jesus, killed the prophets, drove the apostles out not because they didn’t like their personalities, but because they rejected their message. They would not receive the Word no matter who brought it. The noblest of men had brought it through their history, namely the prophets, the men of spiritual virtue, the men of God. They killed them. Then came Jesus Christ Himself, perfect, flawless, without sin, who literally banished disease from Palestine in the time of His life, blessed everyone who came near. They killed Him, too. And now they were pursuing all the…all the rest of those who preached the gospel, to kill them as well. No matter who brought it, they rejected it. They rejected it at such an extreme level that they had to assassinate those who preached it.

Paul also said that the Jews hindered their ministry to save the Gentiles, ‘so as always to fill up the measure of their sins’, but God’s wrath has come upon them completely (verse 16).

Paul wrote the Thessalonians around 20 years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but the Apostle could see, if not that specifically, a judgement that would befall those who rejected God’s Son.

Henry says:

(6.) They had an implacable enmity to the Gentiles, and envied them the offers of the gospel: Forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved. The means of salvation had long been confined to the Jews. Salvation is of the Jews, says our Saviour. And they were envious against the Gentiles, and angry that they should be admitted to share in the means of salvation. Nothing provoked them more than our Saviour’s speaking to them at any time concerning this matter; this enraged the Jews at Jerusalem, when, in his defence, Paul told them, he was sent unto the Gentiles, Acts 22 21. They heard him patiently till he uttered these words, but then could endure no longer, but lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live. Thus did the Jews fill up their sins; and nothing tends more to any person or people’s filling up the measure of their sins than opposing the gospel, obstructing the progress of it, and hindering the salvation of precious souls. For the sake of these things wrath has come upon them to the uttermost; that is, wrath was determined against them, and would soon overtake them. It was not many years after this that Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jewish nation cut off by the Romans. Note, When the measure of any man’s iniquity is full, and he has sinned to the uttermost, then comes wrath, and that to the uttermost.

MacArthur explains the Greek used in that verse:

Verse 16, “With the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins, but wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”  That’s a frightening text.

This construction shows result and-or purpose. The result of their hostility, the purpose of their hostility is that they are filling up the measure of their sins.  Literally it says they always heap up their sins to the limit.  This point says, as it did in Matthew 23:32, to a very well defined point at which you’ve reached your limit.  You remember back in the antediluvian culture when God said, “My Spirit will not always (what?) strive with men.”  There comes a point at which you’ve filled it up.  Your fathers always fill it up, Jesus said Matthew 23:32, and here Paul says, “And you always fill it up.”  You always run your sin to the absolute limit, and once the cup begins to overflow, judgment is inevitable.  So he says, “Wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”  They had reached the apex.

The apostasy of Israel had gone all the way to killing Christ and killing the messengers of Christ.  That’s it.  That language, by the way, comes from Genesis 15:16 where it says, “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.”  That’s the first time we hear that kind of phrase.  It means that God doesn’t act in judgment until iniquity has reached a certain point, and then He acts.  He says here the Jews were ahead of the pagan Amorites. They always fill it up.  And when the cup is full, judgment is inevitable.

Notice the verb there, “wrath has come.”  Has come, already arrived, has come; this use of the aorist tense, I believe, affirms something that is so inevitable and so certain that it can be spoken of as if it has already come to passFirst of all, he could be referring to the tremendous sweeping devastation and massacre of 70 A.D.  But more than that, he’s talking about a final eschatological wrath when they face the God whom they have rejected as individuals.  The kind of sin they’re committing here is the kind of sin that is not just associated with a military defeat. It’s associated with an eternal damnation.  It’s reminiscent of John 3:36.  Do you remember this verse where Jesus says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who doesn’t obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God (what?) abides on him.”  It’s already there waiting until the moment of release.

So, what is Paul saying?  All the prerequisites for future, eternal damnation have been met. The cup is full.  You have come to the limit of your sin, murdering the Messiah, murdering His preachers.  There will come a temporal judgment in the destruction of JerusalemThere will come an eternal judgment to you as individuals in the destruction, the unending destruction of hell.

That phrase at the end of verse 16, “wrath has come upon them to the utmost,” eis telos, is used in John 13:1 where it says of Jesus, he looked at His disciples, having loved them which were in the world he loved them eis telos. It means He loved them to the limit.  He loved them to the extreme limit, to the very end, to the perfect expression of love.  Same phrase.  He will damn them to the limit, to the fullest expression of judgment.  And he’s saying the judgment is now irreversible, the cup is full, the judgment cannot be avoided.

Also:

They had a hostility in them, but it most directly and primarily was directed at hindering the apostles from preaching the gospel to the Gentiles so they could be saved. It wasn’t that they were racially prejudiced. That’s not Paul’s point. They were religiously prejudiced. They didn’t want the gospel which they resented being preached to anyone. Hostile to God’s purposes, hostile to everybody, says Paul. And it shows up because they tried to keep everybody in their sins by not letting the gospel be preached to them, though they didn’t realize that was the implication. They’re hostile to all men, not that they hate all men, but that they prevent us from giving them the gospel. They’re interfering with gospel preaching. Boy! That is a dangerous thing, a dangerous thing.

The end of Jesus’ speech to the disciples in Matthew 10, He says, “If you receive a prophet, you will receive a prophet’s reward. If you receive a righteous man, you will receive a righteous man’s reward.” You better be careful how you treat the spokesmen for God. But these were interfering with gospel preaching.

MacArthur concludes:

The application today is we need to be thankful for those who believe and receive the Word and honor the saints by imitating their lives and those who persevere in trials, showing their hope and faith that perseveres to eternal glory, but we need to be sad for those who reject the Word, those who hinder the preaching of the gospel, those whose only ultimate suffering will be that of hell. We have to have a heart of compassion. One writer says this. “Paul is writing here about particular Jews, those who have shown hostility to God’s messengers and not about the Jews in general. Further, what Paul says about them is valid only so long as they persist in their hostility to God and the gospel. If this view is correct, Paul is not guilty of anti-Semitism. What he says here about the nearness of God’s wrath is true for those Jews who persist in ungodliness, but does not contradict the hope that he holds out in Romans that the present time of Jewish opposition to the gospel will be followed by a turning of the people to God.”

Beloved, we should be zealous to show the love of Christ to Jews and lead them to the knowledge of their Messiah. We should desire to do the same thing for Gentiles. The choice is the same. Will you be a person who receives the Word? That’s salvation. Who imitates the saints? That’s sanctification. Who perseveres to the end? That’s glorification. Or will you be a person who rejects the Word? Who hinders the saints and the work they set out to do? And who will endure only punishment? That’s condemnation. The choice has always been the same; blessing, cursing, never different. 

It must not have been easy for the Thessalonians. Many others would have fallen away from the faith, but they remained true to it:

We can assume in the weeks that passed before he wrote this letter back from Corinth to them that during that time that hostility had escalated. During that time it had probably accumulated more Gentile animosity and, of course, we know that they were accusing Paul of being nothing but a fake and a phony and a charlatan and a fraud, a false teacher, one who wanted sexual favors, money, possessions, power, prestige. That’s why he writes chapter 2 verses 1 to 12 to answer that.

But this little church had endured all of that.  They had endured the persecution.  And Paul saw it as an evidence of their real Christianity.  They had counted the cost.  They willingly entered the narrow gate to walk the narrow way.  They paid the price. They took up the cross. They followed Christ.

How can you tell a true church?  By the way they received the Word, by the way they honor the saints and imitate them and by the way they endure the difficulties.  This is a people to be glad for, a people to be glad for. 

What an amazing example of faith in action, against all odds.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

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.

The Third Sunday after Trinity is July 3, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

10:2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

10:3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.

10:5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’

10:6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

10:7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

10:8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;

10:9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,

10:11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

10:16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

10:17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

10:18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.

10:19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long exegesis requiring a cup of tea and perhaps a snack.

Today’s reading follows on from last week’s, which was about the Samaritans’ rejection of our Lord’s planned visit, the fury of James and his brother John at the refusal and the Lord’s subsequent refusal to accept three potential disciples.

What we learned about Luke 9 was that it represents a turning point in Luke’s account. Jesus has but one year of ministry left; what we discover through to Luke 19 is how He trains and prepares His disciples for His imminent death.

‘After this’ — meaning after Jesus turned down the three offers of discipleship from men who were deeply flawed with internal conflicts — He appointed 70 — some translations say 72 — disciples, sending them in pairs to towns and places where He intended to visit (verse 1).

These disciples were heralds, or, in today’s parlance, advance men.

There are some numbers in the Bible that are referred to as divine numbers, because they have a religious significance. The number three is significant for the Persons of the Trinity. Twelve is another: the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the significance of 70:

As in the choice of twelve apostles Christ had an eye to the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes, and the twelve princes of those tribes, so here he seems to have an eye to the seventy elders of Israel. So many went up with Moses and Aaron to the mount, and saw the glory of the God of Israel (Exod 24 1, 9), and so many were afterwards chosen to assist Moses in the government, in order to which the Spirit of prophecy came unto them, Num 11 24, 25. The twelve wells of water and the seventy palm-trees that were at Elim were a figure of the twelve apostles and the seventy disciples, Exod 15 27. They were seventy elders of the Jews that were employed by Ptolemy king of Egypt in turning the Old Testament into Greek, whose translation is thence called the Septuagint. The great sanhedrim consisted of this number.

In the beginning of Luke 9, Jesus had already given the Apostles His own gifts, sending them out to preach and heal. Now it is the turn of these 70 or 72 disciples.

Jesus sent them out in pairs for mutual support: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful but the workers to gather it were few; therefore, it was important to ask the Lord of the harvest for more labourers to gather the harvest (verse 2).

Henry says that the harvest refers to lost souls, those whom the Jewish hierarchy neglected. The disciples were to bring them to salvation, especially with the presence of Christ in the region:

They must be duly affected with the necessities of the souls of men, which called for their help. They must look about, and see how great the harvest was, what abundance of people there were that wanted to have the gospel preached to them and were willing to receive it, nay, that had at this time their expectations raised of the coming of the Messiah and of his kingdom. There was corn ready to shed and be lost for want of hands to gather it in. Note, Ministers should apply themselves to their work under a deep concern for precious souls, looking upon them as the riches of this world, which ought to be secured for Christ. They must likewise be concerned that the labourers were so few. The Jewish teachers were indeed many, but they were not labourers; they did not gather in souls to God’s kingdom, but to their own interest and party. Note, Those that are good ministers themselves wish that there were more good ministers, for there is work for more. It is common for tradesmen not to care how few there are of their own trade; but Christ would have the labourers in his vineyard reckon it a matter of complaint when the labourers are few. (2.) They must earnestly desire to receive their mission from God, that he would send them forth as labourers into his harvest who is the Lord of the harvest, and that he would send others forth; for, if God send them forth, they may hope he will go along with them and give them success. Let them therefore say, as the prophet (Isa 6 8), Here I am, send me. It is desirable to receive our commission from God, and then we may go on boldly.

Matthew’s account also includes our Lord’s mention of the harvest.

John MacArthur tells us about that and the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus, in His humanity, felt for the lost souls:

Go back to verse 35, Matthew 9:35.  Jesus was going about all the cities, all the villages, and this is in Galilee.  And He was teaching in their synagogues.  He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, healing every kind of disease, every kind of sickness.  “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.'” That statement was born of His compassion. It was born of His compassion.  Everywhere the Lord went in His ministry, and particular in Galilee, but everywhere else the Lord went in His ministry, He was moved with compassion.

For example, if you go through Matthew, you see Matthew 14:14 in addition to this, Matthew 15:32, Matthew 18:27, Matthew 20 verse 34, and it will say, “The Lord was moved with compassion, the Lord felt compassion.”  Luke 7:13, “The Lord was moved with compassion.”  And again other places in Luke; this is just a sampling.  The Lord moved through His ministry literally overcome with compassion.

Now this word is the strongest word for “compassion” in the language, the Greek language.  It refers to a deeply felt sympathy.  It refers to a deep pain that comes from empathy or affection.  You feel this one.  It actually comes from a root word that has to do with abdominal painYou feel it in the pit of your stomach where suffering emotions are felt even by folks like us.  What it’s saying is the Lord felt an aching in His stomach.  It is to say the Lord was nauseated physically.  You see Him, for example, at the tomb of Lazarus in the 11th chapter of John and the picture of Him there is first He’s sobbing and then He’s groaning, and then He bursts out into tears and then He shudders over the plight of sinners when He sees the reality of a dead Lazarus and a weeping Mary and Martha.  And it’s not all this agony simply over Lazarus and Mary and Martha because He was going to raise him from the dead and stop all the pain, but it’s the agony of seeing that as an illustration of the horrendous suffering in the world.  Lazarus was an illustration of what all of humanity goes through.  And Jesus literally sobbed, groaned, burst into tears, and shuddered with agony

MacArthur tells us of the horrifying plight of the lost souls, the lost sheep, that Jesus saw through that compassion:

Isaiah said about Him, “He would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”  And Matthew, as I said, uses the strongest word for “compassion,” one that indicates that the Lord had a deep ache, a pain, a nauseating churning in His stomach over the future condition of the unregenerate, as well as their present state.  Look back at that passage in Matthew.  It says He saw them as distressed and downcast, eskylmenoi and errimmenoi. Those two words mean worn out, exhausted, or literally flayed, skinned, like sheep whose shepherds had not only exhausted them, not fed them, but then flayed them, as it were, injured them, wounded them.  The second word, errimmenoi, means thrown down, lying prostrate, totally helplessHe looked at the sheep of the shepherds of Israel, the scribes and the Pharisees and religious leaders and their sheep were not healthy, they were not well fed, they were not well watered, they were not well cared for, they were literally wounded and injured, they had been attacked and assaulted and left for near dead by their evil false shepherdsAnd these people would have some kind of vague craving for satisfaction and not have any idea how to find it.  As Psalm 111:4 says, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” That’s describing God, and here is God in human flesh and His heart is literally achingOn another occasion He wept over the city of Jerusalem, the ache was so profound.  He looks at the people of Israel and He sees them like flayed, mangled corpses.  They’re sort of like road kill sheep who have been totally destroyed by their own shepherds.  And there they lie bewildered and desolate.  They have been treated mercilessly.  They have been devoured by their own shepherds, as Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13.  And so He is so overwhelmed with sympathy for them that He says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

However, there is another meaning to ‘harvest’ and that is one of burning chaff during the time of reaping. The farmer saves the good crops and burns whatever was unproductive. This refers to judgement.

MacArthur has more:

The Jews knew about a harvest. They knew about a harvest. The prophets had talked about a harvest. In fact, Joel chapter 3 verse 12, “Let the nations be aroused and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat. I’ll sit to judge and all the surrounding nations, put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Come tread, for the winepress is full, the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision, for the Day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon grew dark. The stars lost their brightness as the Lord roars from Zion.” That…That’s the harvest. It’s the harvest of the final judgment. And that’s why the compassion of the Lord is excited because He sees these people on a path to devastation. He sees them not only in their stricken condition, but in their disastrous future. He looks ahead, down human history, as it were, and He sees many who will be literally devastated, depressed and destroyed by false leaders, false shepherds. And His heart aches over them because they’re headed for the final harvest and it is a harvest of judgment. The New Testament follows that imagery. The Lord Himself in Matthew 13 verse 30 talks about the wheat and the tares growing together and He says they will grow together until the harvest. And the time of harvest will come, I’ll say to the reapers, “Gather up the tares. Bind them in bundles to burn them. But gather the wheat into My barn.” Again, the harvest is the end of the age when the angels gather together God’s people and put them in His kingdom, that’s the barn, and gathers together the ungodly and they burn forever in hell. That is clearly explained later in Matthew 13 verse 39. “The enemy who sowed the tares is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are angels. 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, they’ll gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, all those who commit lawlessness, cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That’s the harvest … It’s not a harvest that we often think about like there are all those souls that need to be harvested for the gospel. That’s not the imagery. The imagery is this, these unredeemed, unconverted people, deceived and left destitute by their false religious leaders and fake shepherds, are headed toward a harvest of judgment and it is a massive harvest. It is a worldwide harvest. It reminds us again that few there be that find the narrow way. The mass of humanity are headed toward a divine harvest.

And in verse 14 of chapter 14 of Revelation, we read further and more specifically about that harvest. Listen to these gripping words, “I looked and behold, a white cloud. Sitting on the cloud was one like a Son of Man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” That was the tool of harvest. “And another angel came out of the temple crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap because the hour to reap has come because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth and the earth was reaped.” The next few verses carry the imagery. “Another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven. He also had a sharp sickle and another angel, one who had the power over fire came out of the altar and called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle and said, ‘Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth because the grapes are ripe.’ And the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth and threw them into the great winepress of the wrath of God.”

The harvest is associated with wrath. Wrath at the end of the tribulation, wrath at any point at the coming of Jesus Christ, it is the wrath of God at the end of time. And so the Lord looks at the people and His heart is just overturned. He is literally sick in His stomach because He sees the future all the way out to the great, horrific wrath of the final harvest. And to compound the matter, back to verse 2, the laborers are few. You’ve got this mass of humanity moving toward judgment and only a few laborers, only a few.

Therefore, prayer was — and remains — important:

That leads to a second essential motive and that is prayer.  You stand there and say, “Well how are we going to do anything about it?”  And the Lord says in verse 2, “Therefore,” in consequence, “beseech,” beg, plead with “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  You don’t just pray for the salvation of people. You do that, 1 Timothy 2 makes it clear. “Pray for all men, for kings and those in authority, and everybody else to be saved.” You don’t just do that though. You pray that the Lord will raise up more missionaries, that the Lord will save more and send more.  By the way, the Lord of the harvest, isn’t that an interesting phrase?  Who is the Lord of the harvest?  The judge.  John 5:22 to 29 says, “The Father has committed all judgment to Christ.”  So Christ is going to be the judge.  Christ is the executioner.  This is amazing.  The Lord Himself, the Lord of the harvest says, “Pray to Me and ask Me to send laborers to go out to deliver people from Me.”  It’s amazing.  It is the Lord Himself in 2 Thessalonians 1, the Lord Jesus, who is “revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  It is Jesus who is the Lord of the harvest.  It is Jesus who is the one who comes back with the sword in his mouth.  It is Jesus who brings the sickle along with the angels who attend His return.  It is Jesus who is the judge.  It is Jesus who is the executionerAnd it is also Jesus who is the one who hears your prayer and sends the people to deliver those who are perishing from His execution.  You can put it this way. Pray to Jesus to send somebody to deliver people from Jesus.  Pray to the Son of God and ask Him to send more messengers to reach this great harvest to deliver them from the Son of God.  Saved from what?  Saved from hell, yes.  But saved primarily from the God who sends you there and the God who sends you there has delegated that authority to His Son, so the Son says, “Pray to Me and ask Me to send messengers to preach a gospel so sinners can be delivered from Me.”  Amazing.  Amazing depth and profundity.

Jesus told His disciples to go on their way; He was sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves (verse 3).

In other words, they were to expect rejection, possibly persecution.

However, as Henry says, one of the gifts that Jesus gave the disciples was courage, which would give them fortitude and perseverance:

They must set out with an expectation of trouble and persecution: “Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves; but go your ways, and resolve to make the best of it. Your enemies will be as wolves, bloody and cruel, and ready to pull you to pieces; in their threatenings and revilings, they will be as howling wolves to terrify you; in their persecutions of you, they will be as ravening wolves to tear you. But you must be as lambs, peaceable and patient, though made an easy prey of.” It would have been very hard thus to be sent forth as sheep among wolves, if he had not endued them with his spirit and courage.

In the next several verses, Jesus, as He did with the Twelve, instructs the disciples on how to evangelise, beginning with their personal behaviours.

They were not to carry any purse — money bag — or bag for clothes and possessions, no extra pair of sandals; furthermore, He told them not to greet anyone along the way (verse 4).

With regard to material possessions, they were to go with what they had on them already and nothing more. They were to trust that He would ensure they would have what they needed.

With regard to refusing to greet strangers along the way, this refers not to a simple greeting of ‘Hello’ or ‘Good day’ but developing a relationship with people, which could prove to be a distraction.

MacArthur says that Jesus implied urgency with these instructions:

The Lord just collects seventy who have denied themselves, taken up their cross, followed Him. They are genuine and true believers. They have entered into His kingdom. That’s enough, go your way and tell them I’m coming. The mission is immediate. It is urgent. The time is short. The cross is only months away. There are many, many, many villages and towns all across Judea and Perea, across the Jordan, that need to be ready for His coming and they need a full explanation of who He is so that when He gets there they’ll be ready to receive what He has to say. Evangelism is immediate. And I say this, if you are a Christian, I don’t care if you were saved five years ago or you were saved yesterday, start today with your ministry of evangelism. It’s urgent. Today is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6. This is the time, don’t wait.

Henry cites a precedent in the Old Testament for going on a mission without a bag and not to greet strangers along the way:

They must not encumber themselves with a load of provisions, as if they were going a long voyage, but depend upon God and their friends to provide what was convenient for them: “Carry neither a purse for money, nor a scrip or knapsack for clothes or victuals, nor new shoes (as before to the twelve, ch. 9 3); and salute no man by the way.This command Elisha gave to his servant, when he sent him to see the Shunamite’s dead child, 2 Kings 4 29. Not that Christ would have his ministers to be rude, morose, and unmannerly; but, (1.) They must go as men in haste, that had their particular places assigned them, where they must deliver their message, and in their way directly to those places must not hinder or retard themselves with needless ceremonies or compliments. (2.) They must go as men of business, business that relates to another world, which they must be intent in, and intent upon, and therefore must not entangle themselves with conversation about secular affairs. Minister verbi est; hoc age—You are a minister of the word; attend to your office. (3.) They must go as serious men, and men in sorrow. It was the custom of mourners, during the first seven days of their mourning, not to salute any, Job 2 13. Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and it was fit that by this and other signs his messengers should resemble him, and likewise show themselves affected with the calamities of mankind which they came to relieve, and touched with a feeling of them.

MacArthur tells us more about the ancient meeting of greeting someone:

greeting in the ancient Near East was a big event kind of thing. You stayed and you got involved. Don’t depend on friendships to sustain you. Don’t depend on making relationships with people so that they provide for you. Don’t…don’t go the human route. Just go, don’t stop to make relationships, and know this, I will provide even if you have no human relationships to depend on. That’s the great lesson of trust. You’re going to have to be cared for by strangers you don’t even know, people you haven’t even cultivated a relationship with. This is just trust. You go, you trust, wherever God sends you, you go, you preach the gospel, you leave the results to the Lord. If you have nothing, you go, He provides. If you have everything, you go, you use what you have and if you ever come to a point where you have need, you know He’s going to step in and make provision. Don’t worry about the friendship side of it. Keep the message clear … But it is interesting that this was not friendship evangelism which may be…some people may overrate. I think friendship evangelism is good, you should evangelize your friends, but I don’t think you should wait to evangelize someone until after you’ve made a friendship. I don’t think that’s necessary. People are saved by the power of the gospel, not by the power of a friendship.

Jesus told them about where they were to stay and how to handle the initial greeting at those homes.

The disciples were to proclaim peace to that house (verse 5). If someone there shared in that peace, it remained with them, but if someone refused the offer of peace, it would return to the disciples (verse 6).

Henry says:

“You will meet with others that are no ways disposed to hear or heed your message, whole houses that have not one son of peace in them.” Now it is certain that our peace shall not come upon them, they have no part nor lot in the matter; the blessing that rests upon the sons of peace shall never come upon the sons of Belial, nor can any expect the blessings of the covenant that will not come under the bonds of it. But it shall return to us again; that is, we shall have the comfort of having done our duty to God and discharged our trust. Our prayers like David’s shall return into our own bosom (Ps 35 13) and we shall have commission to go on in the work. Our peace shall return to us again, not only to be enjoyed by ourselves, but to be communicated to others, to the next we meet with, them that are sons of peace.

Where they did find a home of peace, the disciples were to stay there and not seek another abode; they were to eat and drink what was provided, as that was to be their only wage (verses 7, 8).

Henry says that we should learn not to be fussy about our hosts’ food nor, as did some of the ancient Jews, enter into rigid beliefs about nourishment:

Be thankful for plain food, and do not find fault, though it be not dressed according to art.” It ill becomes Christ’s disciples to be desirous of dainties. As he has not tied them up to the Pharisees’ superstitious fasts, so he has not allowed the luxurious feasts of the Epicureans. Probably, Christ here refers to the traditions of the elders about their meat which were so many that those who observed them were extremely critical, you could hardly set a dish of meat before them, but there was some scruple or other concerning it; but Christ would not have them to regard those things, but eat what was given them, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

MacArthur has more about our Lord’s proscription on moving from house to house and taking a wage. That is how false prophets made their money:

This was all about authenticating the integrity of the messengers because it was very typical of false prophets, false teachers everywhere who were itinerant, they were like ants, they were all over everywhere And they were looking for the…for the most comfortable situation They were looking for the place where they could get the most money.  They would go into a place; they would go into a home. They would take whatever the home had to offer They would then go somewhere else They would keep moving up the ladder, taking money from as many as they could and bettering their circumstances That was the pattern.  False teachers are always in it for the money They’re always in it for filthy lucre How often do you meet a false teacher, long-term false teacher who hasn’t managed to make money off his lies and deceptions?  That’s why they do what they do.  Some of them make an awful lot.

Typically the itinerant preachers would take advantage of as many people as they could, as many houses as they could and as many comforts as were available Jesus says when you find a worthy place, you find a son of peace, for the sake of fellowship, for the sake of comfort, for the sake of discipleship and for the sake of integrity and sincerity and honesty and as an example that sets you apart from false teachers, stay there, don’t seek a better place Don’t seek any other food than what they give you.  If the food is meager, so be it; if it’s unappetizing, tough luck.  If it’s different than you’re used to, you’ll have to learn to endure it.  Whether it’s clean or unclean, whether it’s idol food, whether it’s a Jewish house or a Gentile house, stay there, accept the accommodations and accept the food Don’t be discontent.  Let them see that you live for the peace gospel; you don’t live for your own personal gain This will set you apart from false teachers very rapidly.

Jesus said that, where people accepted them, the disciples were to cure the sick telling them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (verse 9).

What does that message mean?

MacArthur says that the kingdom of God is moving throughout human history, but especially for those sons and daughters of peace, because the long-awaited Messiah was in their midst and would be in person soon:

It has arrived. Eggiz is the Greek verb. It has arrived and nothing can stop it I don’t know if I can give you the picture, but the kingdom is moving and it’s moving through human history and finally the acceptable year of the Lord has arrived, the Messiah is here, the kingdom has come in the fullness of the very King Himself And for the people who were sons of peace, this was the fulfillment of all their dreams, all their aspirations, all their hopes, all their longings, all their desires The kingdom had come for their peace The kingdom had come for their peace.  It’s here now today and for all who believe in the King and submit their lives to Him, all who repent of sin, trust Christ and submit to Him, they enter into the kingdom.  The kingdom is peace to them.  We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  When you embrace the King, you enter the kingdom of peace.

However, for those places that did not welcome the disciples (verse 10), Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet in that place — in the traditional Jewish way — and warn them, ‘Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near’ (verse 11).

That warning was to be made public, as MacArthur explains:

Don’t steal away quietly in the night. “Go out in the streets and say…” Go right in the middle of the street in that place and make a public announcement.  Expose that rejection at the widest level possible.

The idea is not to pronounce some quiet judgment on rejecters but a public judgment.  Declare openly God’s absolute displeasure with that rejection Make it as public as it possibly can be made.  And make it known that they have rejected the King and the kingdom of peace and then say this, verse 11, “Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.” Can you imagine that vivid thing going on?  They stand in the middle of the town wiping off the dirt from that town from their feet?  That in the ancient Near East was the most demonstrative expression of disdain.  When the Jews went into a Gentile country and came back, they shook the dust off their garments. They washed the dust off their feet so they didn’t bring Gentile dust into the holy land.  That showed their hatred, their disdain for the Gentiles.  And here are the servants of the King, the kingdom messengers, missionaries who came in with the message of grace and a message of peace and a message of salvation and they leave town with a message of judgment, of warning, of condemnation, of disdain, a message literally of punishment We will have nothing to do with you and symbolically, of course, and neither will the King, except to treat you in this same way with the same disdain and the same rejection that you have treated Him.  “If they don’t receive you” means as back in chapter 9 verse 5, “as for those who do not receive you as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”  The apostles did it and now the seventy are doing it Show God’s displeasure openly before the whole town and do it with an abject lesson.

MacArthur says that this applies even today:

It is literally the testimony of God against those rejecters that they are acting out.  You can’t let people sort of come into the church and hear the gospel, or go to them and give them the gospel and then they don’t receive and quietly go away It demands a strong, final gesture, effort, proclamation of the reality of the implications of that rejection That is the last appeal, you see.  You have to understand what you’re doing.

As I was saying in talking to a prominent person not too long ago, at the end of our two-hour conversation, I just said, “You have to understand the consequences. You have to understand the consequences.  To reject Jesus Christ is to be rejected by Jesus Christ and that is to spend all eternity in torment in the punishments of hell.”  I don’t discharge my responsibility if I don’t say that That in itself, while a statement of judgment, is also a last appeal.

So this is the message and this is the messenger’s responsibility Find those who hear, give them the truth, and the kingdom will come in peace.  When you find those who don’t hear, you give them the truth and the kingdom will still come but will come in punishment.  Look at the end of verse 11, how interesting, “Yet be sure of this,” even where a rejection occurs, “be sure of this, the kingdom of God has come near.”  You know, the picture is this, folks, the kingdom of God is moving inexorably through history and you are either getting swept up in the kingdom or crushed by it That’s it.  It is the dominant reality in existence in the spiritual realm.  The kingdom of God is moving. It is moving through the world and it is gathering those who bow to the King in peace and it is crushing those who reject it.  That is the gospel It is good newsBut it is the worst news to those who refuse it The kingdom moves.  Preach the kingdom.  It’s no effort to change the strategy.  There’s no effort to…nothing here that says, “You know if they reject you, go back and retool the gospel.  Hang around and make some friends.”  It doesn’t say that.  Give the gospel, the gospel is the gospel When heard is either believed or rejected When believed it brings peace When rejected it brings punishment But be sure of this, you will not avoid the kingdom.  You will not avoid the King.  Every human being, whoever has lived on the planet will stand one day before the King and either that King will say, “Enter into the joy of your Lord,” or He will say, “Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.”  But He will render the final judgment on everyone because there’s only one King in the world, there’s only one King in the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  His kingdom is for peace or it is for punishment It is for salvation, forgiveness and heaven, or sin, guilt, judgment and hell.  We are this generation’s kingdom missionaries and God calls us to this same challenging task.

Now we get into some of the Lectionary’s sins, the omitted verses. Their omission proves MacArthur’s point. We can’t just have the positives, we also have to have the warnings. Here they are:

12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[b]

In verse 12, Jesus meant that any town that rejected His imminent arrival and the word of His disciples would suffer a worse judgement than Sodom.

Henry says that this is because Sodom rejected Lot’s warnings but these towns were rejecting the Messiah and Lord of all who was ministering to the people:

The Sodomites indeed rejected the warning given them by Lot; but rejecting the gospel is a more heinous crime, and will be punished accordingly in that day. He means the day of judgment (v. 14), but calls it, by way of emphasis, that day, because it is the last and great day, the day when we must account for all the days of time, and have our state determined for the days of eternity.

As for verses 13 through 15, you can read more about the significance of our Lord’s mention of them. This is my post from Forbidden Bible Verses, which are also Essential Bible Verses:

Luke 10:13-15 – condemned towns: Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum; Sodom, Tyre and Sidon

Because the people in these towns actually saw and heard Him, yet disbelieved or were indifferent, Jesus says their punishment will be greater than that of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus explained the judgement by saying that whoever rejects the disciples rejects Him and that anyone who rejects Him rejects He who sent Him, meaning God the Father (verse 16).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of that verse:

If you think it’s going to be bad in eternity for the people who rejected the law of Moses, it’s going to be worse for the people who’ve rejected Jesus Christ.  There are degrees of punishment in eternityThere are degrees of suffering in hellAnd the more you know about the gospel and reject it, the severer will be your punishment.

To make it very practical, if you’re a non-believer, being in this church and hearing the gospel is high-risk behaviorYou’d be better off to climb Everest in a snowstorm or jump out of an airplane with a parachute with a huge hole in the middle of it.  Or better yet, jump out of an airplane with an umbrella than to sit in this church and listen to the gospel because the implications of rejecting it are so severe forever.  Don’t just come here, sit, know more and more about the gospel and continue in your rejection and not expect to be eternally held accountable for that rejection.  The severest eternal punishment belongs to those who rejected the most exposure to the gospel.

You say, “Why are you telling all this to us?”  Because this is exactly the point of the text.  Let’s go back to Luke 10.  This is the point of this text.  Let me pick up the text in verse 12, Luke 10:12.  “I say to you, it would be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.  Woe to you, Chorazin, woe to you, Bethsaida, for if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago sitting in sack cloth and ashes.  But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you?  You will be brought down to Hades,” or hell.  “The one who listens to you listens to Me.  The one who rejects you rejects Me.  And he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”

The message here is very clearThere are comparative punishments in hell.  The more exposure you have to the glory of Christ, the more potential judgment you will receive if you reject it.

Turn over to the 11th chapter of Luke. This is not an isolated teaching from Jesus, it is oft repeatedIn the 11th chapter of Luke verse 29, the crowds were increasingHe began to say this generation is a wicked generation.  It seeks… It was a religious one, it was steeped in Judaistic religion, but it was wicked by Jesus’ judgment.  “It seeks for a sign and yet no sign shall be given it but the sign of Jonah for just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation.  The queen of the south shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”

This is an interesting statement.  Jesus is saying the queen of the south, the pagan, Gentile queen at least was so stunned and struck by the glory of Solomon as to come and give honor to Solomon, and here when a pagan woman gave honor to a great king like Solomon, she demonstrated the appropriate response to the glory of a man.  You, who are Jews, who are the people of God’s promise, cannot even give honor to one far greater than Solomon who comes to youAnd so in the Day of Judgment the queen of the south, that is to say a pagan, is going to stand up to your condemnation She showed an attitude toward a man that you didn’t even show toward the Son of God.  You’ll be condemned even by what she did.

Luke’s account then gives us a glimpse of joy as the disciples returned rejoicing that, when they invoked the Lord’s name, even the demons submitted to them (verse 17).

Henry says:

Though only the healing of the sick was mentioned in their commission (v. 19), yet no doubt the casting out of devils was included, and in this they had wonderful success. 1. They give Christ the glory of this: It is through thy name. Note, all our victories over Satan are obtained by power derived from Jesus Christ. We must in his name enter the lists with our spiritual enemies, and, whatever advantages we gain, he must have all the praise; if the work be done in his name, the honour is due to his name. 2. They entertain themselves with the comfort of it; they speak of it with an air of exultation: Even the devils, those potent enemies, are subject to us. Note, the saints have no greater joy or satisfaction in any of their triumphs than in those over Satan. If devils are subject to us, what can stand before us?

MacArthur expands on the theme of joy:

Joy is the operative word. We’re going to talk about joy here. The seventy returned with joy. Nobody died in this effort. They were willing. They came back and after going out in all these towns and being rejected in many places, being certainly put out of town, run off, having to give warnings, shake dust off their garments, pronounce judgment. They also had spiritual success. There also, as always, was a remnant out there that responded positively. They gave up their lives. They gave up their comfort, their money, their popularity. And what they got in return for that was joy. They returned after their first effort into these various towns and villages all over the place where Jesus was going to eventually come. And they were full of joy. And we ask the question immediately, “Where did the joy come from?” In the light of such a demanding call to discipleship, where did the joy come from? …

Reason number one: divine power over Satan’s kingdom, divine power over Satan’s kingdom. Verse 17, “And the seventy returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name'” …

The key phrase, “in Your name.” That is, by Your power. There was no other power that could command demons. You remember the exorcist in the 19th chapter of Acts, they were trying to cast out demons and the demons said, “Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?” You have no authority over us. It may…it may not have been that they even particularly went to cast out demons, it doesn’t say when it tells about the power they had back earlier in chapter 10. It says in verse 9, “They had power to heal the sick.” It doesn’t say specifically that they were given power to cast out demons, they may have been. But it may well have been that when they were preaching the gospel, the power of the gospel was delivering people who responded and believed and therefore the demons were thus overpowered and perhaps manifestly so. They saw the power of Christ flowing through them, conquering the power of Satan …

In other words, you’re going to invade the kingdom of darkness and rescue the souls of men and womenPaul says that was my commission and I was obedient to it.  Well who wouldn’t be?  What a calling.  And it’s true for us.  I mean, think of how your life really should matter.  When you go out and faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, you literally invade the kingdom of darkness to rescue the souls there.  Through your faithfulness to the proclamation of the message, the power of God flows to awaken the dead, give sight to the blind, and rescue the perishing as the old hymn put it, out of the kingdom of darkness, literally, Colossians 1:13, transferring them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.  This is what we do.  Is that cause for joy?  To have your life matter like that?  What else matters?

Jesus said that He knew of their success against the powers of darkness, telling them that He saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning (verse 18).

MacArthur explains the Greek words from the original manuscript:

You guys were out there, you were preaching, people were hearing, they were being delivered.  I was watching.  I was watching, theōreō in the imperfect tense. I was a spectator continuously.  It’s not talking about a one-time event, the fall.  Not talking about a one-time event, the temptation.  Not talking about a one-time event, the future, although I think He saw the future fall of Satan in that.  I think that was in certainly in His mind and in His view.  But for this moment He was saying, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”  Have you ever been in a lightning storm?  Sha-koom! And then it’s black.  Sha-koom! And then it’s black.  Choo! And then it’s black. And choo! It’s black.  And I was watching you.  Satan in a final flash and then the soul was rescued and he was goneThen I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.

Jesus told the disciples that He had given them authority over all unpleasant beasts, such as snakes and scorpions — synonymous with evil spirits — and over the power of the enemy; therefore, nothing could hurt them (verse 19).

‘See’ in that verse is sometimes translated as ‘Behold’, an emphatic word that demands attention.

MacArthur has more on this verse:

The thought might be, “You know, we could get ourselves in trouble with the forces of hell and that might not be too good.”  So immediately in verse 19 Jesus says this, “Behold,” a startling fact is coming, that’s why He uses this term “behold.”  “Behold, I” love that, the divine sovereign Lord have given you, perfect tense in the past with continuing effect, I have permanently given you exousia, dominance, right, authority, “power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall injure you.”  Wow!  They might not like you and they might want to stop you but they can’t.  I, the sovereign divine Lord, have given you permanently as My own the power and dominance that gives you the right to tread upon serpents and scorpions.  Sounds like the Marine image, doesn’t it?  Serpents and scorpions… He’s not talking about the literal animals, bugsThat’s metaphorical for demonsSatan is viewed as a serpentIn the book of Revelation chapter 9, demons have tails like scorpions and a scorpion king over them. The angel of the abyss called Abaddon and Apollyon.  In Revelation 16 demons are like slimy frogs.  These deadly kinds of creatures, serpents and scorpions, are metaphors for the subtle, sneaky, deadly demons.  Those are well-known symbols, by the way, of evil spirits.

Jesus concluded by saying that, while that power was a real cause for joy, there was a greater one: the fact that their names were written in heaven (verse 20). Therefore, they would know salvation.

MacArthur explains the reference to names written in a book, an ancient custom of the time:

In Jewish thinking there was a Book of Life. Exodus 32:32 and 33 talks about it, Psalm 69:28 talks about it, Isaiah 4:3, Daniel 12:1, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8. There was a Book of Life and God has written the names of His own in the book.  That’s the way they did it in ancient timesIn towns they had a book and all the citizens who were in good standing were in the bookGod has a book and all the citizens of heaven have their name thereAnd He says your names are there because you’re My true disciplesIf you’re going to rejoice supremely, rejoice in that.

I would like to close with an observation from MacArthur which is particularly pertinent to atheists and agnostics.

People have said to me, ‘He’s your God, not mine. I have nothing to fear from a so-called Last Judgement.’

MacArthur explains that unbelievers live in a kingdom, just as believers live in the kingdom of God. Both kingdoms will fall under divine judgement:

… when you become a Christian, you enter a kingdom.  In fact, the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:13 says you’re delivered out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.  Lest people get the wrong idea, if you’re not in the kingdom of God, that doesn’t mean you’re free, you’re just in the kingdom of darkness and you’re under another sovereign, and that sovereign is Satan and you’re a slave to sin Everybody lives in a kingdom You just live in the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light, the kingdom of Satan, or the kingdom of the Savior.  You live in a kingdom.  You are subject to the authority and the power of the enemy of your soul, or you are subject to the authority and power of the Savior of your soul.  You are either in the kingdom that ends up in hell, or the kingdom that ends up in heaven.  You’re either a slave to sin, or a servant of righteousness.  Don’t be under any illusion that somehow coming into the kingdom of God takes away all your freedom You really have no freedom except the freedom to sin You can choose your poison, that’s all.

This is how you must view the spiritual realities of life

I wish when we preached the gospel we talked more about it like that We talk so much about sharing Christ, like you’re inviting people to get in on something that’s the sort of superficially enjoyable What we’re asking people to do is to come into a kingdom and submit their lives entirely to a King, an absolute monarch who has the right to determine everything without our consultation and who has revealed His will to us in the pages of the Word of God and calls on us to live in absolute submission and obedience to that revelation.  It’s not about your self-satisfaction. It’s not about your self-promotion or your self-fulfillment. It says: We’ve been saying about self-submission and self-suicide, it’s the end of you because you’ve had enough of you. You refuse to associate any longer with the person you are.  You’re sick of the kingdom of darkness, you’re sick of the kingdom of sin and Satan and you are now ready to submit yourself to the benevolent, gracious, loving Lord and King Jesus Christ who will give you forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal blessing in His perfect kingdom.

There is a sense in which God is King over the whole universe, His kingdom rules over all, Psalm 103 says.  But we’re not talking about that sort of universal kingdom, the realm of His creation.  We’re talking about the spiritual kingdom in which He rules over the souls of those who have come to Him through Christ This is what we preach, but we preach a kingdom and nothing less and we preach a King and no one less and this King is an absolute monarch.  That is why it says in Romans 10 that if you want to be saved, you must confess Jesus as (what?) Lord.  And Lord is the name above every name.  Lord is the name in which every knee bows.  Lord is a synonym for King.

My sincere thanks to anyone who made it this far, however, this reading has several eternal truths which needed exposition and explanation.

May everyone have a blessed Sunday.

Bible and crossThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 5:7-12, 26

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers,[a] still preach[b] circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

——————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s telling the Galatians that if they accept circumcision they have to accept the whole of Mosaic law, thereby severing themselves from Christ. So he encourages them to live through the Holy Spirit by faith in the hope of God-given righteousness.

Paul is full of righteous anger at the Judaizers’ corruption of the Galatians’ Christian faith.

John MacArthur summarises the severity of what the Judaizers are attempting to do (emphases mine):

the issue here has to do with an aberrant form of Christianity, which is no different than a pagan religion, as we will dramatically see in this passage. And what Paul is attacking in this entire letter is the idea that you can tamper with the gospel of salvation

… It’s not an anti-Christian religion they taught. It’s not even Judaism itself that they taught. It is a distorted form of Christianity that says salvation comes by faith in Christ plus your works. It’s the combination …

Paul is writing Galatians in a state of righteous anger, the kind of righteous anger that I think is missing from much preaching today. And while we certainly do preach all that the Scripture declares, and that means the love and compassion of God, there is a place for righteous anger over the false doctrines that have found their way into Christianity and seduced people as they were attempting to seduce the Galatians.

Now in the opening of the fifth chapter Paul confronts these false teachers. In the first six verses we looked at last time he confronts their false doctrine, helps us to understand what it does, and then from verse 7 to 12 he looks at the character of false teachers, the very work that marks them. Now remember in the big picture, this whole letter is defending the gospel of salvation by faith alone. And the first two chapters he defended it by his own apostolic testimony. And then in chapters 3 and 4 he defended it from Old Testament Scripture, because it was always the way of salvation – by faith alone. And now in chapters 5 and 6 he defends the true gospel by the experience of the believers in Galatia and the work of the Holy Spirit which they had always seen manifest in their life.

So we’re in that section. But before he starts to talk about the work of the Spirit in their life, which is a manifestation that they have genuinely been saved by faith, he lays down an all out assault on false doctrine and false teachers. There is not a worse position for any human being to be in than to be a false teacher propagating lies from hell, lies that twist Scripture to pervert the true gospel, which then clouds the reality of the only way of salvation. So that’s what’s on his mind in these opening twelve verses

So Paul, first of all, then in this chapter goes after the false doctrine, and we saw that in verses 2 through 6. Now let’s come to verse 7, and I want you to understand this portion and the gravity of it as we go. And I’m going to keep reminding you, we’re talking here not about an agnostic, not about an atheist, not about a blatant God-hater, not about a Christ-hater and a Christ-denier, not about some religion that attacks Christianity, we’re talking about people who declare that they are the people of the true God, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior, but they add works to faith. Such forms of Christianity abound.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they were running the Christian race well — a well-known metaphor of his — and asks them who hindered them from obeying the truth (verse 7).

There is much to look at in that verse.

First, Paul’s use of running.

MacArthur tells us:

Paul liked to use the metaphor of a race, very popular form of activity in the ancient world.

Matthew Henry gives us further insight on the metaphor:

Note, (1.) The life of a Christian is a race, wherein he must run, and hold on, if he would obtain the prize. (2.) It is not enough that we run in this race, by a profession of Christianity, but we must run well, by living up to that profession. Thus these Christians had done for awhile, but they had been obstructed in their progress, and were either turned out of the way or at least made to flag and falter in it.

Secondly, as to who is hindering, Paul clearly knows it is the Judaizers and perhaps one among them in particular. However, he wants the Galatians to think about those people or a person.

MacArthur says that Paul wants them to consider the following questions:

They’re passing themselves off as scholars of the Old Testament. They were very likely connected to the Pharisees. They are the kind of people who would let you think that they came from Jerusalem, that they have the authority of James, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, that they bear some apostolic weight. “They have a credential or so to impress you. But let’s be honest; who are they really who hinder you? Who are they?

This holds true for us, too:

In the larger scheme of things today they may be religious leaders. They may wear robes. They may be priests, they may be patriarchs, they may be popes or cardinals or bishops, they may be pastors, they may be whatever. They may have titles, education. But who are they really?

Henry has much to say about this and why it is important for the Galatians — and all Christians experiencing hindrance — to reflect on the source of it:

He very well knew who they were, and what it was that hindered them; but he would have them to put the question to themselves, and seriously consider whether they had any good reason to hearken to those who gave them this disturbance, and whether what they offered was sufficient to justify them in their present conduct. Note, (1.) Many who set out fair in religion, and run well for awhile–run within the bounds appointed for the race, and run with zeal and alacrity too–are yet by some means or other hindered in their progress, or turned out of the way. (2.) It concerns those who have run well, but now begin either to turn out of the way or to tire in it, to enquire what it is that hinders them. Young converts must expect that Satan will be laying stumbling blocks in their way, and doing all he can to divert them from the course they are in; but, whenever they find themselves in danger of being turned out of it, they would do well to consider who it is that hinders them. Whoever they were that hindered these Christians, the apostle tells them that by hearkening to them they were kept from obeying the truth, and were thereby in danger of losing the benefit of what they had done in religion. The gospel which he had preached to them, and which they had embraced and professed, he assures them was the truth; it was therein only that the true way of justification and salvation was fully discovered, and, in order to their enjoying the advantage of it, it was necessary that they should obey it, that they should firmly adhere to it, and continue to govern their lives and hopes according to the directions of it. If therefore they should suffer themselves to be drawn away from it they must needs be guilty of the greatest weakness and folly.

Thirdly, is the issue of obeying the truth, which some of us might find an odd turn of phrase, yet, our commentators explain why it makes sense.

Henry says:

Note, [1.] The truth is not only to be believed, but to be obeyed, to be received not only in the light of it, but in the love and power of it. [2.] Those do not rightly obey the truth, who do not stedfastly adhere to it. [3.] There is the same reason for our obeying the truth that there was for our embracing it: and therefore those act very unreasonably who, when they have begun to run well in the Christian race, suffer themselves to be hindered, so as not to persevere in it.

MacArthur says much the same and delves further:

Now what does it mean to obey the truth? That is a key interpretive phrase in this section. To obey the truth essentially in the New Testament means “to believe the gospel.” It means “to believe the gospel.”

I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but the gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is not God sharing with you, it is God commanding you. I think we even as believers, when we go out to present the gospel would do well not to talk about sharing the gospel, but talk about commanding people to believe, because that’s what the gospel does: it calls for obedience.

In the sixth chapter of Acts we see an illustration of this: “The word of God kept spreading; the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem. A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” An act of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is an act of obedience to the gospel, which is a command, which is a command.

In Romans chapter 2 this kind of language continues – just a few illustrations of it. Romans chapter 2 talks about those who are ungodly as “selfishly ambitious” – verse 8 – “and they do not obey the truth. They do not obey the truth, but rather obey unrighteousness. For them is coming wrath from God and indignation.”

In the sixth chapter of Romans, verse 17, Paul says, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed. You actually became slaves of righteousness.” It is a call again to obedience and a call to slavery. You are called to be a slave of Christ and a slave of righteousness.

As Paul comes to the end of Romans, in the fifteenth chapter and the eighteenth verse we see this kind of language again: “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles, obedience to the gospel command.”

At the end of Romans chapter 16, verse 26 say, “Now the gospel, the preaching of Christ, the mystery of the revelation of Christ is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God.” There’s the word “commandment.” “The gospel is a commandment of the eternal God, made known to all nations, leading to obedience of faith.” The gospel is a command.

And then we find on the other side, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, that, “God will send the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,”2 Thessalonians 1:8“dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power,” destruction on those who do not obey the gospel. It is the obedience of faith. It is the obedience to the truth. It is the obedience to the gospel. Trusting in Christ is a command, it is a command.

Paul continues, saying that whatever the Galatians are being asked to do is not from him who calls them (verse 8).

Who is ‘him’ in that verse?

Henry says that it could be referring equally to God or Paul himself:

To convince them of their folly herein, he tells them that this persuasion did not come of him that called them, that is, either of God, by whose authority the gospel had been preached to them and they had been called into the fellowship of it, or of the apostle himself, who had been employed as the instrument of calling them hereunto. It could not come from God, for it was contrary to that way of justification and salvation which he had established; nor could they have received it from Paul himself; for, whatever some might pretend, he had all along been an opposer and not a preacher of circumcision, and, if in any instance he had submitted to it for the sake of peace, yet he had never pressed the use of it upon Christians, much less imposed it upon them as necessary to salvation. Since then this persuasion did not come of him that had called them, he leaves them to judge whence it must arise, and sufficiently intimates that it could be owing to none but Satan and his instruments, who by this means were endeavouring to overthrow their faith and obstruct the progress of the gospel, and therefore that the Galatians had every reason to reject it, and to continue stedfast in the truth which they had before embraced.

However, MacArthur thinks that Paul is referring to the doctrine of the effectual call, therefore, ‘him’ refers to God:

… notice verse 8: “This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” This is an effectual call, the call of God to salvation, the God who called you into salvation.

By the way, whenever you see anything about God calling in the Epistles of the New Testament it’s always the effectual, saving call, not just an open gospel call. It’s the call to salvation mentioned in Romans chapter 8, that whom He called He justified. It’s the call that awakens the dead sinner and regenerates him and gives him life. It’s that call. “The God who called you and gave you life is not the one who sent these teachers with this persuasion.”

Paul says that a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough (verse 9). Occasionally, we see someone misusing that verse, as if it is something positive. It is not.

That expression is used more than once in Scripture and the message is always negative.

MacArthur explains:

This is tragic, verse 9: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” We all know what yeast is, right? And yeast is a picture in Scripture of permeation. It’s usually used of evil influence, permeating evil influence.

The Jews before the days of unleavened bread would remove every particle of leaven from their homes. Part of that feast was to recognize that they needed to get rid of the permeating influence of sin, and so this was a symbol of that. Leaven operated on the principle of fermentation, as you know, so it was a good illustration of moral and spiritual corruption. These false teachers contaminate the church, they corrupt the church.

By the way, this is a common proverb, verse 8, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 5:6. It’s the same thing: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and he’s talking about again the influence of sin and the influence of evil and the evil of false doctrine in the church.

But it all really kind of began in the New Testament with the words of our Lord in Matthew 16; and again he was talking about the most religious Jewish people – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Matthew 16:6, Jesus said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, of the leaven.” What did He mean by that? Well, down in verse 12, “They understood that He didn’t say to beware of the leaven of bread,” – not the bread itself – “but the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

So it was our Lord who used the idea of leaven as a permeating evil influence, referring to the teaching of the Pharisees who were the most fastidious, legalistic Jews. And here the apostle Paul picks it up, as he does in 1 Corinthians 5. It’s similar to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 17, where he says that the teaching of false doctrine eats like gangrene. It’s that same kind of corrupting, permeating influence. I suppose in the modern world where we now have a more comprehensive understanding of the pathology of disease, the Lord might have used, if He were saying it today, the cancer of the Pharisees and the cancer of the Sadducees – a symbol of invisible, permeating corruption.

Paul then adds a message of encouragement, saying that he has confidence in the Lord that the Galatians will maintain their faith in and obedience to the truth and that whoever is guilty of attempting to corrupt them will bear the penalty, ‘whoever he is’ (verse 10), implying that there is a dominant Judaizer among them.

Henry says:

possibly he may point to some one particular man who was more busy and forward than others, and might be the chief instrument of the disorder that was among them; and to this he imputes their defection or inconstancy more than to any thing in themselves. This may give us occasion to observe that, in reproving sin and error, we should always distinguish between the leaders and the led, such as set themselves to draw others thereinto and such as are drawn aside by them. Thus the apostle softens and alleviates the fault of these Christians, even while he is reproving them, that he might the better persuade them to return to, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free

MacArthur says that God will mete judgement and punishment to anyone preaching a false gospel:

When someone gets inside a church and tampers with the church the punishment is severe. When someone says they’re a believer, a true believer, and they introduce their error and their corruption to the church, the Lord is very serious in His response

So what is the impact of false teachers? They hinder the truth, they do not come from God, they contaminate the church, and they end in a face-to-face judgment with God.

Paul goes on to give the Galatians another matter for consideration: if he is preaching circumcision — as he must have been accused of doing — then why is he facing persecution, when, surely, if that were the case, the offence of the Cross is no more (verse 10)?

MacArthur explains that verse from the Jewish perspective of the day:

Paul was persecuted. He once persecuted the church. After his conversion he was persecuted, and the primary source of persecution of Paul came from the Jews. Yes, the Gentiles also persecuted him, but particularly the Jews persecuted Paul. They dogged his steps. The Judaizers doing what they were doing was a form of anti-Paul effort. It was a kind of persecution. They didn’t have the authority to inflict wounds on his body or make him a captive; they wouldn’t be able to do that unless he was back in Jerusalem in their country. But they were persecuting him by dogging his steps with false doctrine, trying to undermine everything he did.

But notice what he says there: “Brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” Somebody must have said, “Well, Paul, wait a minute. You’re inconsistent, you preach circumcision.”

What in the world would they have in mind with that? Very simple. Back in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Acts … Paul came to meet a young man by the name of Timothy. Paul met Timothy, was impressed by Timothy’s righteous life, godliness; he was a believer in Christ. His father was a Gentile, but his mother was Jewish. Timothy had never been circumcised, but he was a believer in Christ.

Paul had him circumcised. Somebody probably told the Judaizers about that and said, “Look, you even preach circumcision.” And Paul is saying, “If you think I preach circumcision, why are you persecuting me, if that’s what you want and you think I’m doing it?” Well, of course they didn’t think that. They persecuted him because he didn’t preach it.

But then that brings up the issue of Timothy. Why did he do that? Very simple reason. Timothy was already a believer; it had nothing to do with salvation. But he would have had no access to synagogues. It would have been the natural thought of Jews that he had a Gentile father and he had a Jewish mother. Since he wasn’t circumcised, he must be a pagan, he must have taken his father’s religion. This would have made it difficult for Timothy to minister along with Paul. So Paul accommodates the Jewish expectation by having Timothy go through this surgery so that he will be accepted as one who has embraced Judaism like Paul, and together they can minister to the Jews. It was nothing more than that.

And it was obvious he didn’t preach that or do it any other time, or they wouldn’t persecute him for not preaching it. “If I preached circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” He’s saying this: “If I was preaching circumcision the Jews wouldn’t be stumbling over the cross.”

Now you have to understand what he means by that. The Jews had two problems with apostolic preaching. Problem number one was a crucified Messiah. That was a problem. That was a stumbling block to them, because they thought Messiah was going to come be a king, not a crucified victim of pagans, Romans. That was a problem.

But there was an even greater problem, and that was that Paul was saying, “We had no obligation as believers to adhere to the Mosaic ordinances.” That was a bigger problem. Those Judaizers knew it, because I told you, in chapter 6, the Judaizers believed in Christ and the cross, but they also wanted to embrace the whole Mosaic ritual so that their friends would accept them.

Paul would have been accepted if he had believed in a crucified Messiah, Jesus Christ, but held onto the trappings of Judaism if his message had been, “You have to believe in Jesus Christ crucified and adhere to the Mosaic law, and then you will be saved.” But Paul didn’t preach circumcision, he didn’t preach Mosaic law, and that’s why they were after him with such vicious passion.

Paul concludes this section with an outrageous statement, wishing that whoever is unsettling the Galatians would just emasculate themselves (verse 12). Wow.

MacArthur says that it was a way of saying that the Judaizers were nothing more than pagans — and that it was a message he hoped would filter back to them once the Galatians had received this letter:

Galatia was adjacent to Phrygia. Phrygia was known for the worship of Cybele … a pagan goddess. This was a dominant worship in the area; and the priests of Cybele and the very devout worshipers of Cybele had themselves castrated. They became eunuchs, eunuchs for the purpose of the worship of Cybele. This is sheer, gross paganism.

Why would Paul ever say this to these Jewish teachers? What he is saying is this: “If you accept circumcision and the Mosaic rituals and rules, you might as well go ahead and castrate yourself and become a full-blown pagan, because that’s what you are.” This shows you how extreme any deviation from the gospel is. “You are a full-fledged pagan. You might as well do the most severe things pagans do.”

I can’t imagine what happened when they read that verse. They would be devastated. The Judaizers when they heard it must have been infuriated. They saw themselves as God’s representatives; they were full-fledged pagans. There is no room for any alteration of the gospel of salvation by faith. Any deviation and you might as well become a eunuch in a pagan religion, because that’s what you are.

The rest of Galatians 5 and nearly all of Galatians 6 will be coming up in Year C’s readings in the summer of 2022. Those will be read on the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity.

As such, our exploration of Galatians for today ends with the instruction for the Galatians not to become conceited, provocative and envious (verse 26).

Henry says that this refers back to Paul’s exhortation earlier in Galatians 5 to serve and love one another:

He had before been exhorting these Christians by love to serve one another (Galatians 5:13; Galatians 5:13), and had put them in mind of what would be the consequence if, instead of that, they did bite and devour one another, Galatians 5:15; Galatians 5:15. Now, as a means of engaging them to the one and preserving them from the other of these, he here cautions them against being desirous of vain-glory, or giving way to an undue affectation of the esteem and applause of men, because this, if it were indulged, would certainly lead them to provoke one another and to envy one another. As far as this temper prevails among Christians, they will be ready to slight and despise those whom they look upon as inferior to them, and to be put out of humour if they are denied that respect which they think is their due from them, and they will also be apt to envy those by whom their reputation is in any danger of being lessened: and thus a foundation is laid for those quarrels and contentions which, as they are inconsistent with that love which Christians ought to maintain towards each other, so they are greatly prejudicial to the honour and interest of religion itself. This therefore the apostle would have us by all means to watch against. Note, (1.) The glory which comes from men is vain-glory, which, instead of being desirous of, we should be dead to. (2.) An undue regard to the approbation and applause of men is one great ground of the unhappy strifes and contentions that exist among Christians.

We might wonder why were there Judaizers at all?

MacArthur surmises that they wanted to have a foot in each camp — Jewish and Christian — to avoid persecution:

And you might wonder why would they ever do such a thing; and the answer’s given you in chapter 6 of this letter, verse 12: “They desire to make a good showing in the flesh, and so they try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

They didn’t want the persecution that came on them when they said they believed in the cross of Christ. This is a critical point. They had believed in the cross of Christ, but they were not going to exclude their Judaistic works, because it was enough to bear the stigma of believing in a crucified Messiah without being accused of the Jews of abandoning your Judaism. If they did that, they would have been persecuted. It’s as if to say, the Jews could tolerate them believing in Jesus as the Messiah, even though it was a stumbling block to them if they continued to adhere to the law of Moses. So they were trying to hold on to their Jewish community by making this good showing in the flesh in addition to saying they believed in the cross.

Then verse 13, “Those who are circumcised do not even keep the law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.” They want to be able to say to their Jewish community, “No, no, no, we’re supportive of Judaism. No, no, this Christianity is just a branch of Judaism, and we still believe, you know, the law. The law has a place, it has the priority place.” They wanted to hold onto that for their own personal social benefit.

Next week’s post concludes this exploration of Galatians.

Next time — Galatians 6:17-18

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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:7-10

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
    and bend their backs forever.”

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

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reminder to his Jewish converts that their forefathers had disobeyed God from the time of Moses, yet He always keeps the remnant of His faithful — His elect — from generation to generation.

Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine below):

This is called a remnant according to the election of grace; they are such as were chosen from eternity in the counsels of divine love to be vessels of grace and glory.

Paul reminded his audience that the people of Israel, with hardened hearts, did not find what they were looking for, although the elect did (verse 7).

Having a hardened heart can be spiritually perilous, as Henry explains:

Some are chosen and called, and the call is made effectual. But others are left to perish in their unbelief; nay, they are made worse by that which should have made them better. The gospel, which to those that believed was the savour of life unto life, to the unbelieving was the savour of death unto death. The same sun softens wax and hardens clay. Good old Simeon foresaw that the child Jesus was set for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel, Luke 2:34.– Were blinded; eporothesan–they were hardened; so some. They were seared, and made brawny and insensible. They could neither see the light, nor feel the touch, of gospel grace. Blindness and hardness are expressive of the same senselessness and stupidity of spirit. They shut their eyes, and would not see; this was their sin: and then God, in a way of righteous judgment, blinded their eyes, that they could not see; this was their punishment.

To reinforce the reminder, Paul cites Isaiah 29:10

For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

… and Isaiah 6:9 (verse 8):

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,[a] but do not understand;
keep on seeing,[b] but do not perceive.’

That is the worst place to be in this life, the worst judgement from God.

Henry tells us this was true in Isaiah’s time, in Christ’s time and extends to the present day:

this hardening work has been in the doing; some among them have been blind and senseless. Or, rather, ever since the first preaching of the gospel: though they have had the most convincing evidences that could be of the truth of it, the most powerful preaching, the fairest offers, the clearest calls from Christ himself, and from his apostles, yet to this day they are blinded. It is still true concerning multitudes of them, even to this day in which we live; they are hardened and blinded, the obstinacy and unbelief go by succession from generation to generation, according to their own fearful imprecation, which entailed the curse: His blood be upon us and upon our children.

Paul concludes his message to the Jewish converts by paraphrasing Psalm 69:22-23 (verses 9, 10):

22 Let their own table before them become a snare;
    and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.[a]
23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
    and make their loins tremble continually.

Henry says that, in those verses, David foretold the suffering of Christ from His own people:

David (Romans 11:9,10), quoted from Psalms 69:22,23, where David having in the Spirit foretold the sufferings of Christ from his own people the Jews, particularly that of their giving him vinegar to drink (Romans 11:21, which was literally fulfilled, Matthew 27:48), an expression of the greatest contempt and malice that could be, in the next words, under the form of an imprecation, he foretels the dreadful judgments of God upon them for it: Let their table become a snare, which the apostle here applies to the present blindness of the Jews, and the offence they took at the gospel, which increased their hardness. This teaches us how to understand other prayers of David against his enemies; they are to be looked upon as prophetic of the judgments of God upon the public and obstinate enemies of Christ and his kingdom. His prayer that it might be so was a prophecy that it should be so, and not the private expression of his own angry resentments. It was likewise intended to justify God, and to clear his righteousness in such judgments.

Those who continue to reject God cause God to impose this judgement, as John MacArthur explains:

they were hardened by some outside power, some outside force. And that force is none other than God Himself. They were hardened by God. You say, “Does God harden people?” Well do you remember chapter 9 verse 18, “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy and whom He will, He hardens.” And who was his illustration in chapter 9? Who is the illustration of God hardening? Who was it? Pharaoh, God hardened Pharaoh …

When God hardens it is a result of a process of willful rejection of true righteousness, a process of hardening, hardening, hardening, hardening … When God moves in with judicial, final, judgmental, condemning, hardening of the heart, it is as a result and response to a continual process of willful rejection. It is a judicial thing that comes to those who continue to reject, who continue to reject, who continue to reject.

However, God always has His remnant of believers.

Later in the chapter, we will see that Paul says this rejection of much of Israel is only temporary, until the Gentiles are fully in God’s fold.

Paul addresses the Gentiles in the next part of Romans 11.

Next time — Romans 11:11-15

bible-wornThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 2:12-16

God’s Judgment and the Law

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

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

Romans 2 is about God’s judgement. Last week’s post discussed Paul’s verses addressed to the Jews, which said that God will reserve His harshest judgement for those who know the most about Him. In Paul’s era, those were the Jews, because God gave Moses the law for them to obey. Therefore, God would judge the Jews first. God would then judge the Gentiles by their own standards of behaviour:

11 For God shows no partiality.

Paul develops this further by saying that all sinners, with or without the law, will perish upon judgement (verse 12). Paul is talking about those who commit serious sin. Nearly everyone in the world would agree that there are some things no decent person does: murder, physical or mental harm, theft. Some theologians call this shared morality common grace, by which the Holy Spirit moves among all of us to prevent us from destroying each other. This is an introduction:

How societies hang together (common grace, natural law, Noahide Laws, philosophy)

Paul tells the Jews that it is not sufficient to hear the law, one must also abide by it (verse 13). Only then can one be justified before God.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Now, the word for “hearers” is not the usual word. It is not the normal word akouō, which is the normal word to hear, but it is akroatēs, and it’s used specifically of pupils who hear because they’re constantly in the educational process … “Those whose business is hearing,” and that is exactly what the Jews did in the synagogues, didn’t they? They heard and heard and heard and heard, it was read to them week after week after week after week after week, it was explained to them and they were literally professional hearers. But it is not to the ones who make it their business to do the hearing, it is to the ones who make it their business to do the doing that justification comes

That’s why James warns us, you see, in the same way. James says, “But be ye doers of the Word and not” – what? – “hearers only because if you are, you are deceiving your own selves.” What a deceit. God’s law doesn’t protect hearers from judgment. No, the more they hear, the deeper the judgment.

Paul says that even the Gentiles, who are not under God’s law (verse 14), do the decent thing because of their consciences (verse 15).

MacArthur elaborates:

Their conduct proves they know what is right and wrong. Their conduct proves that there is available within, them residing in them, the law of God.

Sometimes pagans pay their debts. Is that in the law of God? Yes. They honor their parents. There are many people who do not know Jesus Christ, do not know God, never read the Bible, who love their wives. There are many wives who so love their husbands. There are many people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ who care for their children and there are many children who care for their parents. There are many of them who believe it’s wrong to kill. There are many people who’ve never known Jesus Christ or the message of Christ or the Bible or the meaning of the gospel who would feed the hungry, who would help a man who was sick or a woman who was sick. Pagans will tell the truth sometimes. They will even seek to do justice. They will struggle for equity. You see, all of these things reveal an internal human code of ethics that is the law unto themselves.

We see it in our human system of justice. We see it in our humanitarianism and the humanitarianism and the justice around the world even in very obscure and isolated peoples. Sometimes it’s warped, but in any society you ever see, you will find some of those heathens exercising things which they do naturally that are in direct line with God’s law, and they therefore show that that law is in them.

The Stoics said that in the universe there were certain laws operative which a man broke at his own peril, and the Stoics, who were utterly pagan philosophers, said they are the laws of health, the laws of morality, and the laws governing life and living. And the Stoics called all of these laws phusis, which means nature. They said men are to live kata phusin, they are to live according to what is natural. The Stoics actually said that these laws were natural to man. You see, man can recognize that there is a right, that there is a code of ethics. The very fact that man has a guilty conscience is because he violates the very code of ethics that’s in him. There’s a sense of right and wrong, and when men naturally do something that lines up with the law of God – and they do it all the time – they show that the law of God is written in them.

The unregenerate world, you see, does do relative human good. They do not do good in terms of spiritual righteousness. They do not do good in terms of good that is based on the right motive because nothing is truly good unless it is done for the glory of God, right? But they do good in a relative human sense, and when they do that, they show the law of God at work, though unwritten, at work in their heart. They will do good in the right manner if not for the right motive.

I think about Cyrus in the Old Testament who did good. He let God’s people go. I think about Darius. I think about Artaxerxes. And they are even commended. Ezra, chapter 7, commends Artaxerxes. Pagans who did good on behalf of God’s people. What about the city clerk in Ephesus? A pagan who quieted the rioters. What about Romans of high standing in Acts 23 who protected Paul? And even the barbarians who showed unusual kindness to Paul in building a fire in Acts 28 to warm him?

Man is totally depraved in the sense that he cannot do anything that is righteously good or that is good toward God or that is good as revealing God. But he can do a man kind of good. But every time he does that, he proves that there is a law within him that points to that as good. Are the heathen lost? Yes. Can they claim ignorance? No. First, because of creation. It is around them. And they can perceive within their own minds God in that creation, and secondly, because of their conduct, they prove that there’s a law within them.

Paul concludes by saying that, according to the Gospel, God, through His Son, will judge them accordingly (verse 16).

MacArthur believes that God will bring unbelievers who are very good in their conduct to Jesus:

The sum of it is this, people: Creation, conduct, conscience, contemplation, what they do, how they deal with the good and bad in their own life and how they deal with it in the lives of others indicates that they know the law of God as written in them. Now, here is the most important thing I’ve said yet. The sum of it is this: If they live up to that much light, and they accept that much light, God will reveal to them the full light of Jesus Christ. I believe that with all my heart. You see, that’s what it says in Acts 17, “He is not far from us if we would feel after Him.” You see? If they would just take what they have and accept that. John 7:17 – mark it down. “If any man wills to do My Father’s Will, he shall know of the teaching.” If the willing heart is there, he’ll know.

Paul calls the Good News ‘my gospel’. That does not mean his personal gospel, but the one he is preaching about Christ Jesus.

Matthew Henry explains:

According to my gospel; not meant of any fifth gospel written by Paul, as some conceit; or of the gospel written by Luke, as Paul’s amanuensis (Euseb. Hist. lib 3, cap. 8), but the gospel in general, called Paul’s because he was a preacher of it.

Henry says that Christ’s future judgement of the world is a reward from God to Him for His humiliation on the Cross:

It is good for us to get acquainted with what is revealed concerning that day. (1.) There is a day set for a general judgment. The day, the great day, his day that is coming, Psalms 37:13. (2.) The judgment of that day will be put into the hands of Jesus Christ. God shall judge by Jesus Christ, Acts 17:31. It will be part of the reward of his humiliation. Nothing speaks more terror to sinners, or more comfort to saints, than this, that Christ shall be the Judge. (3.) The secrets of men shall then be judged. Secret services shall be then rewarded, secret sins shall be then punished, hidden things shall be brought to light. That will be the great discovering day, when that which is now done in corners shall be proclaimed to all the world.

Those who have spent their lives mocking or blaspheming Christ will rue the day when it comes to their final, and just, judgement.

Paul goes on to focus on Jewish conduct, more about which next week.

Next time — Romans 2:17-24

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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 2:6-11

6 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking[a] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

——————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the first five verses of Romans 2, wherein Paul addresses the Jews, the first people to know God. Paul tells them not to be self-righteous because they also are guilty of the same sins as Gentiles.

He continues his message about divine judgement — rewards for some, punishment for others — throughout the chapter.

John MacArthur sums the first 16 verses of this chapter as follows (emphases mine):

In these 16 verses, the apostle Paul gives us six principles for divine judgment, the six factors by which God judges men … Number one, God judges on the basis of knowledge. Secondly, on the basis of truth. Thirdly, on the basis of guilt. Fourthly, on the basis of deeds. Fifthly, on the basis of impartiality, and sixthly, on the basis of motives.

Now, keep in mind as we are looking at the second chapter of Romans that this chapter is not in isolation but is a part of a very large picture in which Paul presents the gospel of Jesus Christ. Back in chapter 1 verse 16, he brought up the gospel of Jesus Christ. And then beginning in verse 18, he starts to explain what it is. “Gospel” means good news, but before you can hear the good news, you have to hear the bad news. And so for chapter 1 and 2 and the first part of chapter 3, the news is all bad. Man is sinful, he is immoral. Even at his highest ethical point, he falls short of God’s standard, and he is under the stain and the condemnation of sin

We see the word ‘works’ in verse 6, however, this is not about the error of ‘salvation by works’, but how well we obey the Ten Commandments. Do we love God? Do we love our neighbour? Do we pray and worship God? Do we seek to know Him better? Do we treat those around us — from our parents, to our siblings, to our relatives, to those outside the home — kindly? Do we keep our minds on godly things or are they in the gutter? Do we read or watch things that cause us to sin (e.g. through lust or violence)? Are we honest with others? Are we envious of others? Do we argue? This is what Paul means by ‘works’: what our everyday conduct reflects about our inner lives.

Therefore, Paul says, God will judge us by our ‘works’ (verse 6): our conduct towards others and towards God.

Believers, particularly traditional pastors and bible scholars, speak of ‘sanctification’, another way of saying progressing through God’s grace in faith to righteousness. It is a lifelong journey. It is not easy, yet this is what God calls us to do. This is what Paul is talking about.

Paul says that God will reward the righteous. To the faithful souls who patiently — despite worldly irritations or setbacks — strive in sanctification, he will give them eternal life (verse 7).

On the other hand, God will punish severely those who disobey Him by contending with Him through sin (verse 8). Every sin is a contention — a quarrel — with God.

Matthew Henry says:

In general those that do evil, more particularly described to be such as are contentious and do not obey the truth. Contentious against God. Every wilful sin is a quarrel with God, it is striving with our Maker (Isaiah 45:9), the most desperate contention. The Spirit of God strives with sinners (Genesis 6:3), and impenitent sinners strive against the Spirit, rebel against the light (Job 24:13), hold fast deceit, strive to retain that sin which the Spirit strives to part them from. Contentious, and do not obey the truth. The truths of religion are not only to be known, but to be obeyed; they are directing, ruling, commanding; truths relating to practice. Disobedience to the truth is interpreted a striving against it. But obey unrighteousness–do what unrighteousness bids them do. Those that refuse to be the servants of truth will soon be the slaves of unrighteousness. [2.] The products or instances of these frowns: Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. These are the wages of sin. Indignation and wrath the causes–tribulation and anguish the necessary and unavoidable effects. And this upon the soul; souls are the vessels of that wrath, the subjects of that tribulation and anguish. Sin qualifies the soul for this wrath. The soul is that in or of man which is alone immediately capable of this indignation, and the impressions or effects of anguish therefrom. Hell is eternal tribulation and anguish, the product of wrath and indignation. This comes of contending with God, of setting briers and thorns before a consuming fire, Isaiah 27:4. Those that will not bow to his golden sceptre will certainly be broken by his iron rod. Thus will God render to every man according to his deeds.

Paul says that God will judge everyone, including the people to whom He first revealed Himself: the Jews.

Furthermore, because He made a holy covenant with the Jews, they will be the first to receive rewards or punishments. Why? Because, historically, He has had the longest relationship with them. He sent His Son to them in order to make the New Covenant: the ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

This is why God will punish the evil among them first, then the Gentiles (verse 9).

Similarly, He will reward the righteous among them first, then the Gentiles (verse 10).

Paul closes this set of verses by saying that God is an impartial judge (verse 11).

MacArthur says that Paul is speaking here only of judgement, not of salvation:

Now, as we approach verses 6 to 10 and then just close with just a thought about verse 11, I want you to understand one very important thing. Paul is not talking about salvation here, so get that out of your mind or you’ll be confused. He doesn’t talk about salvation until chapter 3 verse 21. He is simply dealing with one of the elements of judgment. He doesn’t say how the righteous people got righteous or he doesn’t say why the unrighteous people were unrighteous, he just says you can judge them by their works.

Also:

At the time of judgment in the future, when God sends the righteous into His eternal heaven and the unrighteous into an eternal hell, the ones who enter into eternal heaven will be those who have sought. You see it there? They have sought. They do seek for glory. That doesn’t say they deserved it. They just sought it. They had aspirations for what was heavenly and godly. They sought for glory and honor and incorruption. And they’ll receive the glory and the honor and the peace of eternal life for they are the ones that have worked good. And I submit to you that if there is no such good work visible in a life, then there is no genuine salvation. If this text says anything, it says that. And if it doesn’t say that, it doesn’t say anything. We will be rewarded, then, for our deeds because they are the proof of the righteousness within us. And in the third chapter, he’ll tell us how to get the righteousness of God within us, and this applies to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. God will give heavenly and eternal blessing to the Jew and the Gentile

Well, let’s jump the gun on Paul a little bit and go over to chapter 3 verse 21. The righteousness that God desires, the righteousness of God apart from the law, is manifest. In other words, it isn’t going to happen through your own self-effort of trying to keep some rules, even though they be the right rules. It is the righteousness of God that comes – verse 22 – by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that what? Believe. Verse 24 says we’re justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Now, that’s really all you need to know, beloved. The way and the only way to produce the righteous deeds is to possess the righteousness of Christ. And the only way to possess the righteousness of Christ is by faith in His redemptive work. Do you believe that He died God incarnate for your sin? Do you believe that He rose again for your justification? Do you believe that He ever lives to make intercession for you? Do you believe that He’ll come back to complete the redemptive plan? If you believe and you receive Christ, He gives you the capacity by the implantation of His own eternal life to produce righteous deeds. And when the day comes that judgment is to occur, God will see the record of a righteous life and know that such a life could only be the product of the indwelling presence of the living Christ and grant eternal life.

Paul has much more to say about judgement of Jew and Gentile alike. To be continued.

Next time — Romans 2:12-16

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