While sitting with my bed-ridden mother during the afternoon, I outlined First Thessalonians after reading her a Psalm.
Paul ends this letter, “I charge you before the Lord to have this epistle read to all the brethren.”
In days gone by, when we received a letter in the mail from family or friends, we read the whole thing. When we pick up our Bibles and turn to any epistle, we should first read the whole thing before we begin a piecemeal reading of it.
Context makes clear the mistakes of that special sect of fellow American evangelicals who find their “Left Behind” drama and movies here in Thessalonians.
3:6 “But Timothy has just now come to us and has brought us good news…He has told us…”
Paul had waited eagerly for news about his Thessalonian converts. That is why they sent Timothy to them, 3:1,2.
This news prompts Paul to “pray to see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (3:10).
His prayer ends: “…so that He may strengthen your hearts that you may be blameless and holy in his presence when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
This is the New Testament hope, the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ.
Then, Paul begins, “Finally…” (4:1) with exhortations on how to live. The last of these exhortations begins in chapter 4 at verse 13, encouraging them NOT “to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.”
THAT is the key concern of this section which begins at 4:13 and ends at 5:10, which points to Christ “who died for us, so that whether we live or die, we will live together with him.”
“Therefore encourage one another…”
The news which Timothy brought (3:6) must have included the concerns of some of those Christians at Thessalonica regarding fellow believers who had already died. Would they be at some disadvantage at the Coming of the Lord?
Addressing this concern is Paul’s focus in that section. The exposition of this section is here (link).
While the Greek word for church, εκκλεσια, ecclesia, is not mentioned after Revelation chapter three, the saints, which are the church, certainly are mentioned after Revelation chapter three. Those saints are mentioned at least fifteen times after Revelation chapter three.
There is an argument in some circles, that since the word ‘church’ is not mentioned in Revelation after chapter three, the church is absent during that period. This type of argument is known as an argument from silence. That is a rhetorical fallacy that uses the absence of evidence as actual evidence in support of the argument. Article Continues here (link)
Left Behind. “The videos sit on my desk with a note to my family so that when I am taken they will know what happened and have another chance to be saved.” (Unless they were on that airplane which crashed into the ocean when the Christian pilot was taken.)
“As soon as the coin in the coffers ring, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Tetzel’s jingle has been replaced by the cash register’s ring, to the tune of best selling Left Behind books and movies. With “sales total over 80 million copies, according to publisher Tyndale House” (2016). Yet, a host of those readers have never read Thessalonians. Most do not read a whole letter, but just out-of-context, cherry-picked verses.
“Left Behind: The Rise of the Antichrist” movie, which shows a world where Christians have already been taken, gives the church a prime teaching moment to point Christians BACK TO THE BIBLE.
A significant sect of fellow evangelicals will invest hours and days reading the books and watching the movies. It is clean entertainment. But they will never sit for an hour, diligently study, and read the Bible in context. The context is clear. The letters to the Thessalonians teach us that Christ returns for his own AFTER the Antichrist rises.
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christand our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition…
…THEN the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.
…Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught,…—Second Thessalonians 2
That “coming” (parousia) and “gathering” are one event as the single article (the) makes plain. “Indeed, they are the two parts of one great event.”–Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the New Testament.
John Calvin on Second Thessalonians 1:1,2–
The meaning therefore is, “As you set a high value on the coming of Christ, when he will gather us to himself,…
…I earnestly beseech you by his coming not to be too credulous, should any one affirm, on whatever pretext, that his day is at hand.”
Second Thessalonians 2:1 is a “reference to the event described in 1 Thess. 4:17.”–F. F. Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary.
First Thessalonians teaches us about that coming (parousia) and gathering. Read it, here (link). (This is where the Left-Behinders bring more confusion.) Do it. Be a disciple. Do not settle for the bane of memes and memory verses (link). Read God’s word in context.
The Left-Behinders want us to accept their special, extra-biblical knowledge which divides this event and gives us two separate, non-biblical comings.
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; butin these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; butthis is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘And inthe last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh
In the New Testament, the Last Days were inaugurated by Christ’s First Advent and will be consummated by Christ’s Second Advent. We, now, all live in these Last Days.
“The expression is found in the LXX [the Greek translation of the OT], where it not infrequently refers…to the days of the Messiah….in Jesus the new age, the Messianic Age, has appeared…”–The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
Too often, unknowing Christians relegate these to the future or think that only now have we entered them, as for example, when interpreting Paul’s words to Timothy:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good,…–2 Timothy 3
But Paul was describing his own day, as the concluding line shows:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.–Deuteronomy
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”
The Jews again picked up stones to stone him.–John 10
Deuteronomy, Chapter Six (verses 4-9), presents the first section of the “Shema” which means simply, listen; take heed; hear and do.
Birgir Gerhardsson stated that we “can almost be sure that Jesus and his disciples started and ended the day with this” [The whole of the Shema].
This practice is “firmly rooted in his time.”
Jews of his day recited this twice a day.
The Shema was “always in Jesus’ mind throughout his whole life.”
F. F. Bruce: “The previous occasion of his enemies’ trying to stone him in the temple precincts was when he made the declaration, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8:58, 59). The claim implicit in that declaration was similar to that made more expressly in the words, ‘I and the Father are one.’”
Many Christians have turned this verse into a generic blessing on all who read this book. But the same may be said of reading any book of the Bible.
Or, they see it as a unique blessing which specifically refers to those who read this Book of Revelation. For some, it seems to almost become a magical formulation.
[Strange that we need to say this, but when John wrote that verse, Christians did not have a Bible they could open up, and then read the last book to obtain this blessing.]
But what we have here, in context, is the standard means by which the assembly heard the message written to them—that is, someone stood before the congregation and read it to them. We see this in these New Testament instructions:I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the brethren.--1 Thess. 5:27
And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.--Col. 4:1
John writes to seven churches, and in each church, someone would stand and read this to them. Read the letters to each of these churches, and imagine yourself reading these words before your fellow Christians. This blessing would give you much needed comfort and courage.
The climax of this blessing is given to those who “hear”--That is, to those who heed this command to obey. New Living TranslationGod blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.
29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?
—1 Corinthians 15
Paul begins (Ch. 15, read it) by reminding those in Corinth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and of the testimony of many witnesses to the Resurrection. The primary context of verse 29 (above) begins at 15:12.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
The Apostle proceeds to expose the fallacy of such a belief and the consequences of it:
“If Christ is not raised your faith is futile, you are still in your sins.” v. 17
[Apparently some in Greek Corinth held unto a Greek dualistic conception of immortality that negated resurrection. Remember, in Acts 17, the men of Athens laughed at the idea of Christ’s resurrection.]
Paul concludes his appeal to their reason, and then abruptly asks the question above, in verse 29.
The theological problem with this puzzling verse has prompted a myriad of solutions. No where else in Scripture or in the Church is such a practice noted. Bromiley’s solution (ISBE) suggests, “What is the value of baptism unto death, or of the death signified in baptism, if there is no resurrection?”
Gordon Fee (NICNT) notes that were not this verse such a problem, no one would have come up with such alternative meanings. The plain sense of the text is that “they” (who?) are being baptized for those who are “dead.”
Note that Paul does not address his readers, as in verse 17, “you.” He points his Corinthian readers to, what for us is an unknown, “they.”
But in shifting gears, Paul abruptly switches from an appeal to their reason to an ad hominem argument, a la Fee.
An ad hominem can be a “strategy of using [someone’s] own beliefs…against them, while not agreeing with the validity of those beliefs…”
As for this practice of baptism for the dead, we do not know who or whom; why or how. Fee concludes, “finally we must admit that we do not know.”
What we do know is that this obscure practice “lies totally outside the NT understanding both of salvation and of baptism.”
ISBE–The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
NICNT–The New International Commentary on the New Testament
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, . . . and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.
If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books,how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?
Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions” [1 Timothy 1:7]. (All emphases, mine)
John Calvin, in the 16th Century, made many wise comments on Genesis:
“He who would learn astronomy…let him go elsewhere….”
”Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.”
Chapter 16: Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
…Then I saw three impure spirits…They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
15 “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!”
Revelation in Context
The ‘Battle of Armageddon’ is one of the most misrepresented verses in the Bible by memory verse Christians who harden their hearts against reading God’s word in context.
Seven is the number of completeness. This completes God’s wrath at the end of time, just as seven days completed God’s creation.
It follows Christ’s Return. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war….And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations”Rev. 19
‘It is clearly the eschatological “battle of on the great day of
God Almighty” (vs. 14). –Geo. Eldon Ladd, Revelation
An eschatological battle, not a human battle. The armies are destroyed by “the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth” 19:21
“The ultimate reality is the Lord’s return. This is the event which is the focus of the expectation of the saints.” –Ladd
Contrast with Off-The-Wall Interpretation of Ray Comfort
“While no respected biblical scholars have named the nations [in Rev. 16:16] they do agree that certain nations will come together against Israel in one climatic end-time battle called Armageddon.”
If any scholar has made such an interpretation, it is not Bible scholarship, but eisegesis—reading his own preconceived notions into the text (think Left Behind).
The Publican, a Jewish tax collector, was a traitor, being hated as one who worked for the occupation force of a pagan power, Rome. In rabbinic literature “hatred was to be extended even to the family of the tax collector” (ISBE).
Just pointing to a tax collector praying in the Temple would have been a shock!