Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1

If I have died to sin (Romans 6:2), why do I still struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-25)?

If he was a slave of sin, but is now a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18), how can it be that Paul, the model Christian, laments his wretchedness in his struggle against sin (Romans 7:24)?

If the “old man” has been crucified, why does he still influence my behavior to sin?

I was musing on these and other weighty issues this morning and was led to consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As I meditated on Colossians 3:1-12, I discovered that the apostle Paul deals with several of these meatier matters here in this passage, so I decided to devote two or three articles to teaching on this.

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST

What Paul is going to now teach in Colossians 3:1-12 is all contingent on his implied assumption in the first verse, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if the person described has, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing. But if you have been raised up with Christ, Paul’s teaching will be amazing and encouraging.

TWO QUICK COMMANDS

To his “raised-up-with-Christ” audience, the apostle issues two commands: seek and set. Since you are a born-again (John 3:3) believer in Christ, “Keep seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1b).” Keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Keep thinking about your heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Keep eagerly waiting for our Savior from heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). And again, since you have been raised up with Christ, “Set your mind on the things above (3:2).” Your sight is to be fixed upward. Allow your mind to dwell on noble things (Phil. 4:8). Renew your mind through the Word (Eph. 4:23; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:2). These blessings are only possible if you have been raised up with Christ.

DOCTRINE: SPIRITUAL DEATH AND LIFE, AND GLORIFIED WITH CHRIST

Now Paul adds doctrinal truth to his teaching. A word about doctrinal truth: Doctrinal truth is universal in that it applies to all persons in a defined group without exception. Our “defined group” is all those who have been raised up together with Christ. The doctrinal truth is, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3).” So, we see that, according to Paul’s teaching, all true believers have “died.” In some real sense, we have died, and yet it is obvious that we also live. How do we untangle this knot? This is a complex subject that we will attempt to address briefly. Because of the sin of Adam and the Fall of man, all people without exception are born into the world with a bent toward sin and with a love of sin. This “old self” (Colossians 3:9) is a slave of sin (Romans 6) and, unless and until this person is raised up together with Christ, they continue to be under God’s wrath and judgment because of their sin (Romans 1:18). If they physically die in this state, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. But the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the news that when anyone who is living in the “old self” hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies, their “new self” (3:10) comes to life, and that person is raised up together with Christ. At that moment, that person has died to their old life of sin and they have been raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Their “old self” has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), but they live to the glory of God. So, in that sense the believer has died, yet they live. And since Paul is teaching doctrinal truth, this “died-yet-living” is true of all believers.

Finally, in Colossians 3:4 we learn still more doctrinal truth about those who have been raised with Christ. Since you have been raised with Christ, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Paul speaks unambiguously about that time in the future when Christ will be revealed. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus Christ is going to appear from heaven in blazing glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). It is a certainty that Christ will be revealed, but “When Christ is revealed,” what will be true of those who have been raised up together with Him? “Then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” This is the doctrinal truth that the apostle here declares: All those who have been raised up with Christ in life will be revealed with Him in glory in the resurrection. Those who have been raised with Christ will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:30). (See also Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17.)

SUMMARY OF RAISED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST (COLOSSIANS 3:1-12) PART 1

Here is what we have discovered so far, in Colossians 3:1-4. “Therefore, since you have been raised up together with Christ:”

  • Keep seeking the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • Set your mind on the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • You have died in a spiritual sense, because the “old self” that loved sin and that lived a life of sin, has died (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • Your new life of holiness and obedience to God has begun (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • When Christ is revealed in glory, you also will be revealed in glory (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)

The next lesson will continue with this passage and will see more of what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3:1-12.

SDG                 rmb                  2/27/2021

Eschatology: Entering a new culture

Reading biblical eschatology, especially in books like Revelation and Daniel, is like being a stranger in a foreign country. The Bible student is suddenly immersed in a confusing culture of strange language and unfamiliar customs and alien sights and sounds. All that they have learned and experienced in their native country is of little value as they try to make sense of the new environment.

What is the student of eschatology to do? The student must study end-times literature (“eschatology” = study of last things) with the humility of a traveler going to a foreign land, having the attitude of an observant learner. Here is what this looks like:

“Oh, wait! I have heard that phrase before. That seems to be an important phrase. I wonder what that means.”

“Now, wait a minute. When my host said this word, that happened. So, that word must mean this.” And so on, through countless iterations, the learning continues.

As time goes on, the traveler develops theories about the language and the culture, and then begins testing those theories to see if they are true. “Let me see. I think this means that. Does this mean that? Oops! Awkward moment! No, maybe this doesn’t mean that.” Gradually, step by step the culture begins to make sense. Words that were once strange become familiar and useful. Sights and sounds that were once alien and confusing become normal.

Time and humble observation are the keys. Couple humble observation with a system for capturing and connecting your observations and, over time, you will understand the culture. If you are humble and patient and diligent, you may eventually be mistaken for a native.

But notice that with eschatology, as with a foreign culture, you are required to adopt it. You do not impose your views on it, but you patiently and humbly conform to this unusual, unfamiliar, God-breathed Scripture, as you adopt it as your own. In other words, you do not conform the inspired Word to your ideas, but rather you allow the Word to teach you its ideas. In our analogy, the Word is the native, and we are the foreigners.

To give a personal example, I moved to Russia in January of 1997 to begin what turned out to be three years of “missionary” work with the Navigators, a US-based parachurch organization. I lived in a small town called Pushkin outside of St. Petersburg. I immediately entered a foreign culture where I could not talk (I did not speak Russian at the time) and where I had difficulty walking, since the streets were covered with ice and snow. If I had entered that environment resolved to teach the people of Pushkin how to speak English and to convey to them the pleasures of peanut butter, I think that I would have been frustrated. A better approach was to resolve to learn Russian and to try to walk on ice and to eat what they eat and to adopt their culture as my own. By God’s grace, that is what happened.

You can see the analogy with eschatology. Perhaps one of the reasons why Americans have difficulty with understanding eschatology is that most Americans have never had to adopt a foreign culture. That means most Americans have never been through the process of humble observation needed to change their perspective and to see things through a different lens. But eschatology is not like gospel or like narrative history or like Psalm or Proverbs. When studying eschatology, you must adopt the culture of eschatology or you will remain a foreigner and the culture of eschatology will be forever confusing.

SDG                 rmb                 2/17/2021

Who is the first horseman in Revelation 6:1-2?

OVERVIEW – This article presents a step-by-step exegesis of Revelation 6:1-2. This exegesis employs techniques that are helpful when studying biblical eschatology, especially in the book of Revelation. The article also presents an overview of the flow of the book of Revelation and introduces the idea of three phases: the “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last day.

A tour through the book of Revelation can be a bewildering journey, as visions of dragons and beasts and serpents writhe in our head, and angels blow trumpets and pour out bowls of wrath. What does all this mean? And how are we to interpret all this so that it makes sense?

To help shed some light on how to understand the apocalyptic language of Revelation, I wanted to look at a sample passage and seek to interpret it so that we know what it says.

GETTING OUR BEARINGS

Before we begin looking at the details of Revelation 6:1-2, the specific verses under consideration, we must do our preparation work. We must establish where we are in redemptive history. In what “phase” are we? To answer this question, and thus to complete our “homework,” some background is needed.

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 4-20

The contents of Revelation chapters 4-20 speak about the events in heaven and on earth during the time-period from the ascension of Christ after His resurrection to His return on the Last Day, when He will judge the earth. Then Revelation 21-22 describes the new heavens and the new earth. While Revelation 4-20 addresses the entire time between Christ’s advents, the great majority of this section of Revelation focuses on the end of the age, a period called “the end-times,” shortly before the return of Jesus Christ from heaven.

So, earlier I mentioned “phases.” What do I mean when I say “phases?” After Jesus commissions His church (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20), He ascends to heaven. Christ’s ascension inaugurates a long phase called the “thousand years,” which is explicitly mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. This is not a literal “thousand years” but is a figurative expression simply meaning a long period of time when the church is fulfilling its mission of proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18). During this “thousand years,” the church is relatively unhindered in its task of being Jesus’ witnesses.

But history is linear and is moving toward a definite end. Jesus is certainly coming back and all the prophecies about the end of the age and about His return must be fulfilled. Therefore, at a time determined by God, the “thousand years” will end, and the final phase of history will begin. Revelation 11-13 gives three different expressions for this final phase: “time, times, and half a time,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days.” Since these three expressions all equal a literal forty-two months, I refer to this phase as the 42 months*. Again, this is not a literal 42 months, but is a figurative expression simply meaning a fairly short period of time. It is during the 42 months* that the prophecies about the end of the age are fulfilled and the world is made ready for Jesus’ Second Coming.

After the 42 months* are completed, the world experiences the Last Day, also known as “the Day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns, the righteous are glorified, and the unrighteous are forever condemned to the lake of fire. Thus, there are three phases in the Revelation 4-20: The “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last Day.

TACKLING THE PASSAGE

Having gotten some orientation to the overall flow of Revelation, we now encounter another difficulty in interpreting portions of the book, which is determining where a specific passage is located in redemptive history. In the previous section we defined three phases, but how do we turn to Revelation 6:1-2 about a rider on a horse with a crown and a bow, and fit this passage into the right phase and how do we understand the passage’s meaning? We will tackle this step-by-step.

First, a little more context is needed. Back up to Revelation 5 and notice that chapter 5 is about the Lamb, who is the Lion from the tribe of Judah, who “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals (5:5).” This Lamb is worthy because He “purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).” This is obviously the victorious Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, risen from the grave and now ascended to heaven. He is worthy to break the seals.

From earlier study, we know that Jesus’ ascension to heaven inaugurates the “thousand years.” The breaking of the first seal in Revelation 6:1-2, therefore, must be at the start of the “thousand years.” As a reminder, during this phase, the church is proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18).

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. – Rev. 6:1-2

 Our attention will now focus on the second verse, since it contains the information needed to interpret the meaning. The questions are, “Who is this rider? What does this rider symbolize?” In interpreting Revelation, it is crucial to find the clues that are placed in the text to aid in discovering the meaning. What do we observe in this text? We see a white horse, and its rider has a bow. He has been given a crown, and his mission is conquering and to conquer.

There are two more important clues that are not in this immediate context. The first clue is to note that, in Revelation 19:11-12, which is the climax of the entire book of Revelation, there is another Rider on a white horse, and on His head are many diadems (crowns). This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ in His awesome Second Coming. A Rider on a white horse with many crowns. The comparison should be obvious.

The second clue is contained in the Greek word for “conquer” (from “conquering and to conquer”), which is nikao. In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, all seven churches are given a promise from Jesus Christ if they “overcome.” The Greek word for “overcome” is nikao. Yes, that is correct: “overcome” and “conquer” are the same Greek verb, nikao. This suggests that what Jesus declares to the seven churches (to overcome) is what we see happening in the first horseman (conquering and to conquer).

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

In Revelation, white always symbolizes righteousness. This is without exception, so white is a huge clue. A white horse is, therefore, determinative in associating this rider with Jesus and His saints. We have also just pointed out that Jesus Christ will return on a white horse, crowned with many diadems (Revelation 19:11-12). This identical symbolism of the white horse confirms that the rider on the first horse (6:2) is related to Jesus and His church. These are obvious clues that cannot be ignored or dismissed.  

The rider is given a crown. It should be noted that this is the only one of the four riders (Rev. 6:1-8) who receives a crown. In Revelation, who else is given a crown? In Rev. 2:10, the church at Smyrna, representing the persecuted church, will be given the crown of life, if they remain faithful until death. In Revelation 12:1, there appears “a woman clothed with the sun,” representing the faithful saints of the Old Testament. “On her head was a crown of twelve stars.” Thus, we see that it is the faithful church that is given a crown. It is the same thing in the case of the first horseman. He represents the faithful church and receives a crown.

Notice that this horseman in Revelation 6:2 only has a single crown. “A crown was given to him.” By contrast, remember that Jesus had many diadems (Rev. 19:12). And this is as it should be. Jesus, the victorious Conqueror, is worthy of many diadems, while the faithful church, the representatives of the Conqueror, receive only a single crown.

What is the mission of this horseman on the white horse? His mission is “conquering and to conquer.” “Conquering” speaks of the ongoing, steadfast pursuit of the mission. “Conquering” conveys the idea of determination and persistence. “To conquer” declares the goal in uncompromising terms. The faithful church persistently, steadfastly continues in its mission, and the church will continue until the mission is decisively accomplished.

The rider also “had a bow.” Notice that the rider has the mission of conquering and to conquer, but his only weapon to accomplish this colossal mission is a single bow. The mission seems impossible, with too little ammunition to defeat even the weakest enemy. But although the bow appears to be weak and ineffective, it is actually “mighty before God for the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4).” For the bow represents the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The faithful church wields the bow of the gospel to conquer the hearts of men and women and bring them into the church.

THE MEANING OF THE FIRST HORSEMAN – SUMMARY

All the pieces have now been explained and the clues have been examined. Now we are ready to both correctly place this first horseman in redemptive history and declare what he is picturing for us. When the Lamb (Jesus) breaks the first seal, one of the four living creatures calls the church (the rider on the white horse who has been given a crown) to begin her task of proclaiming the gospel (using the bow) for the ingathering of the elect into the church (conquering and to conquer). This task of proclaiming the gospel will continue throughout the “thousand years.”

SDG                 rmb                 2/14/2021

Biblical Prophecies and Eschatology

One of the most distinguishing marks of the Bible is its many prophecies about the future. In this, the Bible is unique among all books ever written. No other book, and certainly no other “religious book,” contains anything like biblical prophecy, but in the Bible, prophecy is common. The Bible makes predictions about things that are going to take place centuries or even millennia in the future, and then those prophecies come to pass.

Another distinctive of the Bible is the God-centered worldview it contains from Genesis to Revelation. Part of this God-centered worldview is the concept that history is linear. “History is linear” means that God has determined the beginning of history and God has also appointed the end of history. God is eternal, but His creation is not, and things will not endlessly go on as they are. Jesus Christ is coming back, and so the creation is hurtling toward the end at the rate of sixty seconds a minute.

Combining the idea of “prophecy about the future” with the concept that “there is an end to history,” we arrive at a working definition for eschatology: The study of the Bible’s prophecies about the end-times (also known as “last things”). This article will consider end-times’ prophecy and some thoughts about how to do that study.

What is the purpose of a prophecy? A prophecy is given in the Scriptures so that, when that prophecy is fulfilled, it will again be demonstrated that God is the one who has planned all things (Romans 4:21) and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).” For this reason, when God makes a prophecy in His Word, He not only guarantees the fulfillment of that prophecy, but He guarantees that the fulfillment of the prophecy will be recognized. For example, in Isaiah 7:14, the LORD made a prophecy that “The virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Then, more than 700 years later, God fulfilled that prophecy in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:23). The virgin, Mary, was with child and she bore a Son, Jesus, who was Immanuel, “God with us.” Prophecy made. Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized. And this pattern, of “Prophecy made – Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized,” is repeated literally hundreds of times, especially regarding the first advent of Jesus Christ. Prophecies made. Prophecies fulfilled and recognized.

Now, the prophecies about the first advent of Jesus have all been fulfilled, because Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh almost 2,000 years ago. But there are many prophecies in the Bible that are still unfulfilled because those prophecies are concerning Jesus Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the age. Even though these prophecies of Jesus’ return are yet unfulfilled, their purpose is the same as the purpose stated above and their guarantee is the same as the guarantee above. God has written prophecies about the end of the age for the purpose of proving that He has planned all things and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. God is glorified by making then fulfilling prophecies. This also means that, since God has made these end-times prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ, He has guaranteed their fulfillment and has guaranteed that their fulfillment will be recognized.

These two ideas about prophecy, that end-times prophecy will fulfill God’s purpose and that all end-times prophecies are guaranteed fulfillment and recognition, justify the effort involved in discerning the meaning and the timing of the end-times prophecies in the Scriptures. Since all the prophecies of the end of the age will certainly be fulfilled, then the disciple of Jesus is encouraged to “make careful searches and inquiries seeking to know when we can anticipate the revelation of Jesus Christ (adapted from 1 Peter 1:10-13).”

While making careful searches and inquiries, it must also be acknowledged that the study of eschatology is hard work, and there are special challenges when studying end-times’ prophecy.

  1. The first thing to try to figure out is if this vision or passage is about the end of the age or about Jesus’ return at all, or is it about something else entirely?
  2. What is the nature of the prophecy? Since many of the prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ are given in figurative, apocalyptic language, it can be difficult to discern what is being prophesied. Discerning this is critical, for if the nature and meaning of the prophecy are not correctly discerned, then it is impossible to recognize the prophecy’s fulfillment.
  3. Understanding prophecy demands a thorough knowledge of all of Scripture. The more Scripture you have in your head, the more material the Holy Spirit has to use in showing related words and phrases and visions. Also, a deep familiarity with the whole Bible helps you to understand the language and the idiom of Scripture.

All these steps in exegesis require skill, prayer, and patience. Skill means gathering good exegetical tools and learning to use them well. Prayer is needed for the Holy Spirit’s insight. Patience keeps you moving forward in the study and prevents giving up. And all of this is meaningful because prophecy glorifies God. So, we willingly sacrifice ourselves (Romans 12:1) to see what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).

WHAT PROPHECIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

We have established that God will certainly fulfil the prophecies He makes in His Word. Guaranteed. Our task is to identify God’s prophecies in the Scriptures and then interpret them such that they form a cohesive picture. So, what are some of the prophecies we need to examine in our study of the end-times? A partial list follows.

Resurrection * (1 Thess. 4)                             The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9)

The apostasy (2 Thess. 2)                               The man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2)

The beast (Rev. 13)                                         The false prophet (Rev. 13, 16)

The 144,000 (Rev. 7; 14)                                 Time, times, and half a time **

Forty-two months **                                      1,260 days **

The trumpets (Rev. 8-9)                                  The seals (Rev. 6)

The “four horsemen” (Rev. 6)                        The battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16)

The bowls of wrath (Rev. 16)                          The two witnesses (Rev. 11)

The “thousand years” (Rev. 20)                      The great white throne judgment (Rev. 20)

The little horn (Daniel 7)                                 The small horn (Daniel 8)

The rider on the white horse (Rev. 19)           The lake of fire (Rev. 19; 20)

NOTE “Millennium” = “thousand years”      * Resurrection includes “the rapture”

** These three expressions are what I refer to collectively as the 42 months*.

And there are others, but the main point is this: God has placed these prophecies in His Word for His glory. They will certainly come to pass, and they will be recognized. This is what makes the study of eschatology so exciting and rewarding.

SDG                 rmb                 2/11/2021

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty – Part 2

“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.” – Isaiah 8:12

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:6

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

On January 29, I had posted an article about possible feelings of fear in this age of rising confusion and evil.   There is no doubt that our world today supplies us with reasons to fear. A lot of people, myself included, see a marked increase in evil in many spheres and at many levels, and it is unsettling. Things in which we used to trust as rock-solid and unchanging have collapsed and worst-case scenarios are common. Most challenging of all is that the trajectory into the future seems to be for things to get more chaotic and for losses to continue to outpace gains. Yes, the view is troubling and we as believers can be tempted to think that God is no longer in control and that Satan and wickedness have gotten the upper hand.

A BIBLICAL VIEW OF GOD’S CONTROL

Before we consider “the prince of the power of the air (Ephesian 2:2),” Satan, who is “a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44),” we need to make sure that our own thinking is on solid ground. That means that our first task is to establish a correct view of God’s control. What does it mean when we say God is in sovereign control of all things?

There are many voices competing for our attention these days, seeking to influence us to forsake the Bible and its clear truth. If we listen to these worldly voices, we will adopt an unbiblical view of God’s control that sounds much more like our unsaved neighbor than it does a child of the King who calls God his or her Abba, Father. In that case, our view of “God is in control” says that “my life is peaceful and safe, and the world is getting better and better every day, so I know God is in control.” The most serious problem here is that, with this view of “God’s sovereignty,” God is accountable to me and each day He must again prove to me that He is still in control by keeping me safe and comfortable. This is an abominable error!

On the other hand, a biblical view of “God is in control” says this:

  • God has declared in His word that He is in control of all things, and His word is truth (John 17:17)
  • God has demonstrated that He is in control of all things by displaying His control in myriad episodes recorded in the Bible
  • God has demonstrated that He is in control of our lives by ordaining the events of our salvation and by providentially guiding the events of our lives
  • Therefore, since He has proven He is in sovereign control of all things, God has commanded us to trust Him

RECONCILING SATAN’S ACTIVITY WITH GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

Now we turn to a consideration of Satan and his activity in the world. How can God’s sovereign control be reconciled with Satan being able to increase evil and lawlessness in the world? Doesn’t a rise in Satan’s work of chaos and strife and violence indicate that God is not in complete control?

The short answer is, “No.” God remains in complete control, but as the world moves toward the end of the age, God will manifest His sovereign control by using Satan’s activity to take history in a new direction. At the appropriate time, God will begin to fulfill all the prophecies about the end-times that are written in His Word so that the world will be prepared for the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.

Despite his reputation, the Bible reveals that Satan is merely another character on the Lord’s stage. As Judas was chosen as one of the Twelve because the Lord Jesus needed a betrayer, so Satan has been created because the Lord required someone to do the grand evil acts scripted into His great drama. The Lord needed someone to tempt Adam and Eve, and Satan was ordained as the tempter (Genesis 3:1-6). God needed someone to test Job, so Satan was selected for that part (Job 1, 2). Someone was needed to test the Lord Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), so Satan received that part, as well. So it will be in the future, when Satan is released from the abyss (Revelation 20:3, 7) to play his role as God’s supporting actor, accomplishing what God created him to accomplish and moving history toward the end of the age. In his role, the devil will accomplish exactly as much destruction and lawlessness and sin as the Lord planned for him to accomplish before the foundation of the world . . . but not even the slightest bit more. Satan will freely choose to do all the evil that the Lord has sovereignly ordained for him to do, and he does not get to adlib. He is an actor on God’s stage, and he enters and exits the stage according to the Director’s precise instructions. He can do no other.

Therefore, we need not be frightened when we see Satan doing those things the Bible declares he must certainly do. The Lord Jesus Himself told us these things would surely take place and He told us these things so that we would not be frightened when they came to pass. (Consider Matthew 24:5-13, 21-28) Instead, when we see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25), we can have these responses:

  1. Have strong confidence in God’s Word, for we see what the Bible has clearly predicted coming to pass.
  2. Increasing joy of anticipation, for we will see Jesus soon! (Matthew 24:33)
  3. Resolve to persevere to the end, for now the time is short (Matthew 25:13).
  4. Draw closer to one another, draw together for encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  5. Send roots deeper into Christ so that we can stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-18).

SDG                 rmb                 1/31/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3)

Back on January 21 I published a blog post introducing an end-times Bible study on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. The title of that post was not terribly creative: “End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study.” As I have further considered this study, I have decided to publish the long articles as “pages” on my “Roy’s Reflections” site and to announce each long article with a blog post, summarizing the longer article and also providing a link to the “page” for those who want to read more. So here is the first of my announcements. I hope you enjoy the study. rmb

WHY THIS STUDY OF 2 THESSALONIANS 2?

The Lord has given us eschatological passages (passages about the end of the age or “last things”) in His Word to show us “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” Jesus Christ will surely return to this earth bodily in power and glory (Acts 1:11) and will draw history to a close, and there will certainly be a generation of people who will see Him coming on the clouds (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-31). Given the unprecedented events of recent history and the general trajectory of events into the future, I have wondered if, perhaps, we might be that generation of people. That is, does what the Bible describe as the events at the end of the age bear any resemblance to what we see swirling around in our world today? This study through 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 is an attempt to answer that question.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT TODAY? THE APOSTASY

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3

In this article the subject will be “the apostasy” from 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The apostasy (“rebellion” in the ESV) is one of the “gating events” mentioned in this passage, for Paul says that “it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first.” Thus, according to Paul’s teaching, the apostasy must take place before Jesus will return. Our study of the apostasy, then, should answer two questions: 1) What exactly is “the apostasy?” and 2) Has the apostasy taken place yet? If we can answer the first question satisfactorily and then answer “yes” to the second question, we can be confident that at least this end-times event is not preventing His return.

The article then goes on to attempt to answer these two questions (above) and then to draw some conclusions.

Link to article: End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3) – Roy’s Reflections

SDG rmb 1/27/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study

Because the unprecedented events of recent history have been happening very quickly and because things that seemed far-fetched only a short time ago are now matters of fact and reality, I felt the desire to write a series of blog posts on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, one of the clearest passages in the Bible on the events that will take place at the end of history. This section of Scripture presents key information about the events and personalities of the end-times, the time just before the return of Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2 also provides connections to other eschatological passages in the Bible, which enables us to form a clearer and more cohesive picture of last things.

OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY

The study will be presented in a series of blog posts which cover the features Paul presents to his readers in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. This blog will be an introduction to the study, including an overview of the entire passage and a consideration of the context of the letter of 2 Thessalonians. Subsequent posts will examine each of the major features (events, personalities, etc.) of this passage and attempt to clarify their place in the end-times mosaic. This examination of the major features of the passage will also show connections and similarities with other Scriptures, demonstrating that the Bible presents a consistent and discernable vision for last things. The purpose of the study is to help us be ready and be on the alert (Matthew 24:42, 43, 44; 25:10, 13) for Jesus’ return. The goal of the study is to show that, while we are aware that Jesus could return at any time, there are end-times events occurring almost every day that persuade me that Jesus could be very “near, right at the door (Matthew 24:33).” Recognizing the time should move us to greater urgency with our task of proclaiming the gospel and should remind us to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE

The letter of 2 Thessalonians was written by the apostle Paul around AD 52. Paul wrote two letters to these new believers at Thessalonica to encourage them in the face of persecution and to remind them of the things that he (Paul) had taught them when he founded the church a few months before. Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians contain eschatological (end-times) passages. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 gives details about the resurrection of believers, both those who have already died (“fallen asleep”) when Jesus returns and those who are still alive when He comes. 2 Thessalonians gives a picture of the actual return of Christ in 1:6-10, as well as giving details of the events which lead up to Christ’s return in our subject passage in 2:3-12. The reason Paul is writing 2 Thessalonians 2 is that some people had been spreading the news that the day of the Lord (i.e., the day that Jesus returns) had already come (2:1-2). Paul says, “not so.” “Let no one in any way deceive you (2:3).”

Paul then goes on to explain in 2:3-12 the way future events will unfold to convince the believers in Thessalonica that they have definitely not missed the day of the Lord. First, there are two events that must take place before the day of the Lord can come: The “apostasy” and the revealing of the man of lawlessness (2:3). (I am going to refer to these as “gating events,” because, until they happen, they effectively prevent the day of the Lord from occurring.) When he is revealed, the man of lawlessness makes a huge show of himself and even displays himself as being God (2:4). But “now” the man of lawlessness is being restrained until his time has come (2:6-7). Then, when he is finally revealed, “the lawless one” will engage in the activity of Satan and will show off with signs and false wonders (2:9). With every “deception of wickedness,” the man of lawlessness will deceive the unrighteous because they did not believe the truth of the gospel (2:10). God then sends on the unrighteous “a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false (2:11).” The unrighteous will thus be condemned because they did not believe the truth (2:12), and the Lord will slay the man of lawlessness with the breath of His mouth at His coming (2:8).

These are the events that we want to unpack over this series of blogs to see what they reveal about the end-times.

EVENTS AND TOPICS TO BE COVERED IN THE STUDY

Here are some of the events and topics that will be covered in these blogs:

  • The apostasy (2:3) (“gating event”)
  • the man of lawlessness – his revealing (“gating event”), his activity, his source of power, his end. Many cross-references and similarities to other Scriptures and other figures.
  • The “restrainer” (2:6-7)
  • The “Parousia” (coming) of Jesus (2:8)
  • The “deception of wickedness” (2:10)
  • “A deluding influence” (from God) (2:11)

CONNECTIONS WITH OTHER SCRIPTURE

In this study, we will be looking at other eschatological passages in the Scriptures, particularly in Daniel and Revelation, and will see that, while a single passage may leave us confused about its meaning, a second or a third passage or verse as cross-reference or comparison can make the obscure clear. Hopefully by the end of this study, there will be a greater understanding of eschatological terms and concepts, and a clearer understanding of the overall flow of end-times in general. It is my opinion that, if we meet these goals, we will sense a greater urgency to live for Jesus and the gospel.      

SDG                 rmb                 1/21/2021

Why should we study end-times?

            Since the disciple of Jesus is to be living in anticipation of our rapture (or death), why should we study the end-times? Besides the obvious reasons for studying anything in the Bible, there are two prominent reasons for spending time in the eschatological passages of Scripture.

The first reason is that studying the end-times and then seeing these events coming to pass in our lifetime increases our sense of urgency and causes us to work harder. How does that work? Imagine that you are a forty-five-year-old American believer in good physical health. As you look out at the future, you could reasonably expect forty more years before your death. Nothing is guaranteed, but, based on statistics, an expectation that you would live forty more years would not be imprudent or unreasonable. In this case, if you had something that you wanted to accomplish for the Lord or had a special mission that you wanted to complete before you died, you would have a slight sense of urgency, because you felt that you had forty years or so to get it done.

But now suppose that you were that same forty-five-year-old American believer in good health and were studying last things in the Bible and began to see happening on your morning Internet news feeds events that were predicted by the Bible as events of the end-times. At first cautiously and then with increasing excitement, the news articles began to sound more and more like fulfillment of the biblical prophecies and, as your conviction began to grow, you began to seriously contemplate the possibility that you might not quietly live out your days in serenity, but you might be raptured before your physical death or you might even be martyred. In other words, an any-minute return of Jesus would supply a sense of urgency that a “normal” Christian life would (potentially) lack. You would get after your kingdom projects with vigor.

The second reason for spending time in the eschatological passages of Scripture is to persuade us beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus is certainly coming back. That one day the resurrected Jesus Christ is returning from heaven to earth to destroy all the unrighteous and to judge the world is a lot for a new believer to take in. The events of the end of the age seem so fantastic that they almost cannot be real. Then the adversary, Satan, whispers his doubts in your ear and the world adds its ridicule and scoffing, and the believer who is not scripturally rooted and grounded can become effectively agnostic in their beliefs. Before long, they have abandoned the return of Christ as Christian myth, not realizing that they have unwittingly actually gone apostate. A Christianity without a returning Christ is an anemic fairy tale.

But now picture the believer who has a sure grasp of Scripture and who is not intimidated by the apocalyptic language of end-times prophecy. This disciple reads and studies the whole word of God with prayerful diligence. All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and so all Scripture is to be understood and enjoyed in a godly walk with the Lord. Yes, some of the eschatological passages are difficult to understand fully, but they are not inconsistent. Jesus has certainly been resurrected and He has ascended to the Father’s right hand and there will be a day when the Father sends Him back to gather all His people to Himself and to judge all the unrighteous to eternal punishment. All the Scripture affirms this, and the Scripture cannot be broken. God cannot lie, and His Word is therefore always true. Therefore, the disciple of Jesus is to work hard to understand the difficult end-times passages and thereby to become more and more convinced of the soon-coming return of Jesus. The more the disciple studies the Scripture, the deeper the roots go and the more convinced they are of all that the Scripture declares, including the bodily return of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Satan’s whispers are ignored and the ridicule and scoffing of the world becomes the noise of fools who are perishing. Christ is coming back, and it could be today, and I am looking up.

SDG                 rmb                 1/6/2021

What if Jesus was coming back in six months?

Today is January 6, 2021. This morning I was planning to continue with another post on suffering, but the political events of the day led me otherwise. With the Democrats winning both Senate races in Georgia, the Democratic Party now controls the White House and both houses of Congress. This means that, when Joe Biden is sworn in as President on January 20, there is no legislation that cannot be passed into law. Based on the radical nature of the Democratic platform, I anticipate seismic changes in the American form of government that will probably include intense pressure of the followers of Jesus in this country. So, while a post on suffering is also appropriate, I decided to write an article on what the believer is to do if we see that the Lord Jesus is coming back soon. rmb

            QUESTION: If you were convinced that Jesus was coming back in, say, six months, how would your life change?

            CORRECT ANSWER: Based on Matthew 24-25, where the disciple is urged repeatedly to be ready and on the alert for the return of Jesus, and based on the witness of the New Testament documents, where Jesus’ return is presented as imminent, the correct answer should be, “Except maybe in terms of degree and urgency, nothing would significantly change.”

NOTES:

  • Plans and strategies that were longer-term (a year or more out) would be evaluated, then either compressed or abandoned.
  • Plans that were deemed still valuable and viable would be ruthlessly prioritized for Kingdom impact and accelerated.
  • Expenditures would accelerate to make sure that I did not meet the Lord with a bunch of unneeded money in my possession.

This question is more important now than ever. Jesus’ coming is certainly nearer now than it has ever been, but maybe, with all that is going on in the world, it is close in absolute terms. The believer is always to be living with their own death or their rapture in view so that they will make the most of the time (Ephesians 5:15-16). If Jesus were going to appear in six months (or if you knew you were going to die in six months), how would you live for the next six months? This is the fundamental question. What is your answer? Are you ready?

SDG rmb 1/6/2021

Psalm 110 – Part 1: The LORD speaks to the Lord

NOTE: This post is longer than most because it is intended to teach how to interpret and understand difficult and complex verses of the Bible. So the purpose is primarily INSTRUCTIVE. rmb

Jesus is the central figure in the Bible. The more a person reads and studies the Bible, the more obvious this becomes. Jesus is the subject of the prophecies and the foreshadows and the types in the Old Testament, as the people of God looked forward to the Messiah’s coming. He is the regal King of the gospels, as He displays His deity through His miracles and His teaching, and He is the suffering servant of the Lord, enduring His passion and dying His sacrificial death on the cross. He is the Firstborn from the dead as He rises victorious from the grave, the resurrected King of kings and the one who ascends to the Father’s right hand. The New Testament looks back to His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection, but the New Testament also looks forward to His Second Coming, when He will descend from heaven as the Judge of all the earth to “tread out the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:15).” From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is the subject of the Scriptures. He is the glorious one, the star of the show.

But even though Jesus is the Person who dominates the Scriptures, it is not always easy to find Him in every passage of the Scriptures. What I mean is that sometimes Jesus is hidden by the mysterious way that a passage is written. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has inspired a passage in the Bible that is loftier than our current thoughts or that stretches our concept of who Jesus is. Because the Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), there will be times when we can understand the words that are used in a passage, but we may not understand the full meaning of what is being communicated. For those passages, we must slow down and dig deeper to find the treasure hidden in the passage. Psalm 110 is such a passage. This psalm was written by King David about 1,000 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and yet it tells amazing truths about the Lord Jesus and about what He will accomplish in His advents.

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” – Psalm 110:1

ASKING QUESTIONS TO UNDERSTAND THE VERSE

            At a first reading, this verse appears to be a complete mystery. The context of the verse is unclear, and the message of the verse is even less clear. What is this verse about? But before we despair, let’s see if we can ask some questions that may give us at least some direction.

            We have already established that Jesus is the central figure of the Bible. As we answer these questions, we will learn more about Jesus and about the whole flow of redemptive history and will see that this verse has a powerful message about Jesus.

  1. Who is speaking in this verse?
  2. To whom is He speaking?
  3. When does this conversation take place?
  4. What is the significance of “sitting at His right hand?”
  5. When will the promise of this verse be fulfilled?
  1. Who is speaking in this verse? First, we observe that the English text gives the name of the speaker as “LORD,” where the name is all capital letters. Why is this? We must understand that the original language of Hebrew had several names for God. The name translated as “LORD” is the Hebrew word “YHWH” or “Yahweh.” This is the covenant name for God that can also be understood as God the Father. Our God is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the context of this verse, we would understand this “LORD” to be God the Father. So, God the Father is speaking.
  2. To whom is He speaking? Now we encounter another Person referred to as “Lord,” but notice that only the first letter of that name is capitalized. Again, the English is attempting to capture the meaning of the original Hebrew. The name translated as “Lord” is the Hebrew word “Adonai.” This is a name for God, but it is obviously different from the LORD, who is God the Father. David refers to Him as “my Lord.” Who is this? There is only one suspect for this mystery. Amazingly, in this verse God the Father is speaking to God the Son, Jesus Christ. What the psalmist, David, is relating to us in this verse is an “inter-trinitarian” conversation between God the Father and God the Son.
  3. When does this conversation take place? To answer this question, we need to look carefully at what God the Father is telling God the Son. The Father is telling the Son to “sit at His right hand” until some future date. This means that there must have been some time before this conversation when the Son was not sitting at the Father’s right hand. When was there a time when God the Son was not at the Father’s right hand? That time was when the Son was sent by the Father to earth in His first advent. Now the Son has completed His mission and has accomplished His work (John 17:4; 19:30) and He is returning to heaven. What we see, then, is that God the Father is speaking to God the Son after God the Son, Jesus Christ, has finished His work of atonement on the cross, has been resurrected and has ascended back to heaven. Thus, we see that this conversation takes place when Jesus Christ ascends to heaven after His first advent.
  4. What is the significance of “sitting at His right hand?” We have already seen that this verse, Psalm 110:1, is telling us that Jesus Christ, God the Son, has completed His work of redemption and has ascended back to heaven. God the Father is telling Him to sit at His right hand. Jesus is to sit. Sitting is what one did after you had completed your work. To be invited to sit meant that your host was inviting you to rest from your labors. “You have earned a rest. Take a load off your feet!” Jesus had perfectly accomplished His mission and had completed His work, so now God the Father invites Him to sit down. (See Hebrews 1:3.) Jesus it to sit at the LORD’s right hand. The right hand was the place of highest honor. It was the place where the king placed his most trusted and valiant counselors. Jesus, who had always occupied that seat until His first advent, assumes the place of highest honor after His mission is accomplished.
  5. When will the promise of this verse be fulfilled? God the Father not only invites God the Son to sit at His right hand after His ascension, but He also gives the Son a promise, that He will make the Son’s enemies a footstool for the Son’s feet. Up till now we have been focusing on Christ’s first advent, but now the focus shifts to His Second Coming at the end of the age. We know from other passages of Scripture that there will certainly be a time in the future when Jesus will again rise from His seat in heaven and will again come to earth, this time as a wrathful Judge and as a terrifying warrior. All of Christ’s enemies will be trampled under His feet (Revelation 14:19-20; 19:15, 20-21).

WHAT HAVE WE DISCOVERED?

            As we have carefully and deliberately gone through this difficult verse of Scripture, we have been able to discover some powerful truths. We used thoughtful questions to dig treasure out of this mysterious verse and, by bridging between what we already knew and what careful observation revealed, we uncovered new things about Jesus and about the future of the world.

            The Bible is all about Jesus Christ, and we have learned from this one verse of this ancient psalm of David, written a millennium before Christ was born, that:

  • There is evidence of the Trinity even in the psalms.
  • Jesus will be sitting at the right hand of God the Father throughout the time between His advents.
  • There will be a time in the future when Jesus Christ will return to destroy all His enemies.
  • Jesus has perfectly accomplished His mission and His work of redemption in His first advent and is therefore worthy to sit at the Father’s right hand.

Therefore, we can be encouraged as we make our way through our walk through this life, because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father and that He is soon coming from heaven to bring us home to Him.

SDG                 rmb                  12/28/2020