On I Thessalonians: Not Leaving Context Behind

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).

The Protestant’s Purgatory

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Tetzel’s jingle has been replaced by the cash register’s ring, to the tune of best selling Left Behind books and movies.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 Christ and 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.

Contrary to brother Brainard, We have had the blessing of the First Advent. We await the Second. (link) Maranatha

“No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20)

Read. Return to God’s word. (Link)

Dispensationalism & the rapture

Dr. Ben Witherington is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. This is an excellent synopsis of where “Left Behind” came from, and it is NOT the Bible. For the exegesis of the supposed ‘Rapture’ passage in 1 Thessalonians see: https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/second-coming-rapture-vs-scripture-christian/

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See this excellent 7-minute video discussing the origins of Dispensationalism and the idea of a secret rapture, from NT Professor Ben Witherington III.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2014/10/08/the-rapture-uncaged/

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I want to be LEFT BEHIND

I want to be Left Behind, by James Michael Jones–reblogged below this text and my comments.

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  Matthew 24

[Text highlighted to show the parallels: came…coming…took…taken…]

[The other clear parallel between the days of Noah and the days of the coming of the Son of Man: people will be going about their normal business.]

Yes, some scholars see the “taken” as being “to judgment.”  Robert H. Mounce (New International Biblical Commentary), sees this as parallel with the ‘”taken away” by the flood’ (v. 39). Others think it is ‘left for judgment (e.g. NICNT) [This seems to be based on some presupposition rather than on the context which seems to be blatantly ignored]. But the two differing views do not detract from the key point–“The coming of Jesus marks a complete and permanent division” (Leon Morris) “. . . the decisive moment.”

“The sayings emphasize the completely unexpected nature of the Man’s coming” (AB).

THIS is the Parousia, the Second Advent, the final judgment, (vv. 27, 29-31, 44), not some secret “beam me up Scotty!” fiction. This context leaves “Left Behind” out in the cold. [The enigmatic saying about the vultures receives a variety of educated guesses.] And the context of the primary passage (which is distorted to fit the modern “Rapture” doctrine) also leaves the fiction behind. See the clear context of 1 Thessalonians– https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/second-coming-rapture-vs-scripture-christian/

Forgiveness Factor

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Left Behind will be released in theaters soon. One of the verses used to describe the Rapture is Matthew 24:40. It states: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.” According to supporters of the Left Behind series of books and films, no one wants to be ‘left behind’.

If you read Tim LaHaye’s book “Left behind” and watch the first “Left Behind” film, you do NOT want to be left behind. However, did Jesus believe the ones left behind had it bad? Read Jesus’ remarks in Luke 17:34-37 and you tell me. “‘I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.’ And they said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse…

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Christ’s Coming: 1 Thessalonians vs. ‘Left Behind’

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First Thessalonians 4: The Coming of the Lord

1But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming* of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (English Standard Version)

Thessalonians is one of the earliest books of the New Testament. (Some think the earliest. F.F. Bruce suggested the possibility that Galatians preceded it. But overall, James was probably the first.) Understandably, these new Christians in this new church had questions and misunderstandings that needed answers.

As v. 15  shows, (with reference to those who are still alive) this section answers questions about “the coming* of the Lord,”  parousia* in Greek. SEE Footnote. It begins in v. 13, the key verse of the context,  with Paul addressing their concern about fellow Christians who have already died. Were these who had died now at some disadvantage? What hope did those who still live have for them when Christ returns?

Verse 14 points to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the central theme of Christian hope concerning those who have died.

See 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul addresses the question of the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was the first fruits, and the resurrection of Christians is the final harvest, v.23 “at His coming (parousia)” when “we shall all be changed—in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (verse 52).

Verse 15 gives the key point of this passage (addressing the concerns of the Thessalonians) that, when Christ returns,  the living Christians have no advantage over those who have died.

Verse 16 describes, in familiar terms (for us who have the NT), Christ’s return (parousia). This is no secret event.

This Coming is described in the same terms as other passages about the Lord’s coming:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God….in the clouds…”

Acts 1 “…a cloud took him out of their sight….’This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'”

Dan 7  “…with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man”

Rev 1 “…Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him…”

Mark 13 “…then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven…”

1 Corinthians 15 We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

Verse 17 pictures the “we” who are still alive as following those who have died “to meet the Lord in the air…”

To meet [apantasin] the Lord… “When a dignitary paid an official visit (parousia) to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey [to that city] was called the apantesis” (F.F. Bruce,I &2 Thessalonians, WBC).  R.C. Sproul vivdly describes this historical usage by Paul–starting at 10:20 mark, here. 

See N.T. Wright speak of this, here.

Verse 18  (This is no Gnostic revelation of some new doctrine of a secret ‘rapture’.) The whole point of this passage is to encourage each other in the hope given to us regarding death through Christ’s death and resurrection.

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*Parousia. In the NT, parousia, with reference to Christ, refers exclusively to Christ’s Second Advent, his Second Coming, “…the coming of Christ at the end-time for the general resurrection, last judgment and the creation of the new heaven and earth.”--The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. “present” (II:899ff).

See two other posts: 1) NT Prof. Ben Witherington on origins of ‘rapture theory’ and 2) on the text of Mat. 24, “…taken and the other left”–the opposite of ‘rapture’ teaching. Here –I Want to be Left Behind. 

And here is a third faithful witness to true Bible teaching,  this warning Corrie Ten Boom(link) gave against false teaching:  “There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days.” 

On 2 Thess. See https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2023/01/20/the-protestants-purgatory/

Here is the new Prequel to these articles. https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2023/03/15/on-i-thessalonians-not-leaving-context-behind/

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