Day 347: 2 Thessalonians 1-3; More on the Second Coming of Christ

People the claim that they know when the second coming of Christ is, or when the day of the rapture is going to happen, or even when the final judgment will begin often seem crazy to us.  Those folks like Harold Camping, and others that have sought to lead people astray by teachings these false doctrines are often the source of ridicule, mockery, and criticism from both inside and outside the church.  We may think that they are the first, today the world has survived over 150 documented predictions (thank you wikipedia) of the end of the world, ranging from hundreds of years before Christ to as recently as December 31 of last year.  If that comforts you, then just know that we only have about 20 or so more documented apocalyptic events to get through, the closest of which is supposed to happen on February 22 of next year, the farthest out being about 10 to the 100th power years away when the “heat death” of the universe takes place.  Clearly these predictors have not read or taken seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 24, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

You may think this inconsequential to the reading for today, but sadly it was to address confusion such as this that Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonian church.  There was, apparently, a great deal of confusing surrounding the final judgment and it seems as though there might have been another letter than came to the church in Paul’s name claiming that the final judgment had already begun.  People quit their jobs, sold all they had, and just waited for Christ to return.  Sound familiar?  This is what the followers of Harold Camping did in the days and weeks before his predicted dates of Jesus’ return.  Sadly, and I do mean that in some ways, it did not happen.  As I have said many times before though, the Bible is the given revelation of God’s self by God Himself to His people and the world.  There is no hidden code that is contained within its pages.  It is the Gospel of God’s mercy and grace that is seen in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and that is testified to by the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people.

2 Thessalonians is one of the books from which we get a great deal of pre-Revelation, post-Gospel understanding of the events of the second coming of Christ as well as other elements that will be part of this process including “the man of lawlessness.”  This person is commonly known as the “anti-Christ,” a figure who appears towards the end of time in opposition to Jesus Christ and the Church.  This figure, perhaps a single person or maybe a political or corporate entity, will exalt himself over God and all other gods, and will even proclaim himself to be God.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 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 is revealed, the son of destruction, 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?  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, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  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.

A great deal of the end of time theology has been popularized in the Left Behind Series, an outcropping of pre-millennial dispensationalism.  This is a line of belief about the second coming of Christ that is drawn largely from a small amount of single verses that are woven together as proof texts to shallowly support a “doctrine.”  This line of belief claims a great deal of literal understandings of the final days of the earth, even drawing on the prophets as predictors of the future (which was not their primary function), and then drawing out a timeline from their reading of Scripture.  This includes a the popularized notion of a rapture, which comes from an interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which has basically no Scriptural support (or other Scriptural support) whatsoever.

Indeed, Jesus talks about a great number of people who will come in His name (recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21), and that these people will be those who try to lead the believers in Christ astray.  I think, when we take these whole passages, as well as some of the other discussions that are had on the second coming of Christ, what we see is that all of creation is moving towards this time, and has been since the fall.  God is always at work for the restoration of all things, and there are forces of evil at work in this world that are dramatically opposed to this work.  Many have indeed come as “men of lawlessness,” and some have even claimed to be divine.  Many of the Roman leaders were like this, at times the leaders of the Roman Catholic church have walked this line, and there have been many leaders (the most prominent of which was Adolf Hitler) who have sought to rule the world and have even co-opted the church and the Gospel to support their cause.  Paul’s warning, as well as Jesus’ words tell us that we need to open our eyes to the greater happenings of things in the world.  This isn’t an encouragement to look for conspiracies and plots, nor is it encouragement to look at all the natural disasters as signaling the end of the world, and neither is it encouragement to say that “wars and rumors of wars” are signals of the immediate coming of Christ.  All of these things have been happening since the fall of humanity.

So what should our response be?  Paul says stand firm in the face of it, holding to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus in the midst of uncertainty.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  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.

He also says that we need to not be idle.  The notion of selling all you have, quitting your job, and just sitting around and waiting for the coming of Christ is entirely antithetical to Biblical teaching.

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



Day 300: Luke 10-11; Learning to Pray

Today’s reading encompasses a great deal parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.  I am planning on covering some of that tomorrow.  Our reading today also touches on the Lord’s prayer, or at least Luke’s version of it.  Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life, and therefore I think that our Lord’s teaching on prayer should be mentioned sometime in this blog.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is somewhat shorter than it’s Matthew counterpart though, so we will be drawing from both sections.

Both Matthew and Luke’s prayer begin with praise and acknowledgement of God’s holiness.  “Father, hallowed (or holy) is Your name.”  As we enter into prayer, I think that this is a good and appropriate way to orientate ourselves to the one we are praying to.  As creatures of the creator, redeemed sinners coming before a gracious and holy God, it is important for us to remember our true place in the world.  Though God invites us to pray and encourages us to bring our needs before Him, God is still God and we need to remember and acknowledge this as we enter into His presence.

The next words that both Luke and Matthew record are that of asking God to bring His Kingdom.  We pray “Your Kingdom come…” and related to this in Matthew is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  While talk of the Kingdom of God differs in the idea of what this means, the reference to God’s work on earth throughout history towards the restoration of creation is certainly at or near the center.  Ultimately, this is the will of God too, to bring all of creation back to its original state, the perfection in which it was created.  God has been working for this throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ coming which hailed the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  Right now we are living in the time in between that and when we will see it in its fullness, the already but not yet period where we are waiting for God to bring all this to an end and reconcile all things to Himself.

It is at this point, when we have oriented ourselves before God and prayed for His will in the world that we then turn to our own needs.  We ask God for “our daily bread” knowing and trusting that God is going to give us all that we need for life.  Jesus talks about through throughout His ministry and teaching, telling us not to worry and showing us how God will provide as He always does.  I think what is important here, not that God’s provision isn’t important or anything because it most definitely is, would be the order in which these things come in the prayer.  Too often we come before God and just rattle off a list of things that we need as if God was some sort of a cosmic vending machine.  Jesus is showing us the appropriate way in which we should be praying to God, the appropriate orientation and therefore the appropriate order.

Jesus moves on from there to asking the Lord for forgiveness.  Again, I think that this is an appropriate place for this, and not just because this is where Jesus put it.  Coming from the Reformed Tradition, and being quite dutch in my heritage, I know what it is like to feel bad about the things that I have done or those things that I failed to do.  So very often we focus in on the fact that we are sinners and need forgiveness.  We are sinners…  we are sinners… Lord have mercy… forgive us… Apart from the things that we need, I would say that this section is the place at which we find ourselves praying so very often.  Yet we don’t need to be stuck in “guilt mode prayer.”  We are not people that have no hope, we live in the reality that grace has already been extended to us!  Jesus has died!  We have been forgiven!  Yes, we sin… but we are FORGIVEN!  This is our current reality and we need to live into it rather than just focusing in on our sins.

Finally we come to the last part of this prayer.  This can probably be the most confusing part of it as well.  Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  God doesn’t tempt.  He doesn’t even make bad things happen to us.  So why do we say this?  I think a more contemporary translation that we use at seminary maybe makes a bit more sense here: “Save Us from the time of Trial.”  Perhaps it just seems to fit more with the phrase in Matthew “deliver us from evil (or the evil one).”  I think it makes more sense with what we know about God as well.  God is not the source of evil, but He does allow us to go through difficult times.  Jesus knew this as He was teaching his Disciples this prayer.  He too would face evil in its greatest assault.  Though Jesus did not want to go through this time, and even prayed that God would take the cup from Him (save us from the time of trial?), yet He resigned to what the will of God the Father was and willingly went through it (deliver us from evil?).  I think that these fit seamlessly together here and round out the Lord’s prayer quite well.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory forever, Amen.



Day 298: Luke 6-7; Jesus' Teachings in Luke

Jesus’ teachings in today’s readings are kind of like a mini Sermon on the Mount.  Unlike the book of Matthew, Luke does not combine the majority of Jesus’ teachings into one single place.  This is one of the reasons why Biblical scholars question whether or not the sermon on the mount was an actual event, or if it was just Matthew’s compilation of Jesus’ teaching.  In either case, the fact is that it is Jesus teachings and the truth that is contained therein is indeed Truth and important for our lives.

You probably noticed some familiar passages in today’s reading, especially in chapter 6.  This is Luke’s version of the beatitudes.  They are fairly similar to the beatitudes found in Matthew with a few minor differences here are there.  Sometimes I think that we get these things a bit misconstrued.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are poor,” and we think that we need to make ourselves poor so that we can be blessed.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are hungry,” and we think that maybe we should eat less food so that we can be blessed.  The same goes for weeping and even being insulted by others because of our faith.  Jesus is saying that the people the truly experience these things due to the nature of their lives will be blessed, even though they endure hardships now.  He is not instructing people to go out and look for ways to be sad, to make people upset, or to be poor for the sake of receiving blessing.  Indeed, it is the people that, through the living of their lives and the true “shema style” loving of God, find themselves in these situations that are promised blessings, perhaps not in this life but in eternity.

Immediately after speaking of blessings, Jesus turns to woes for those in the opposite situations.  Again, I think we have a tendency to get these things mixed up.  Jesus says, “woe to you who are rich,” and we then think that monetary wealth is something that is inherently bad and those who have it are doomed.  Jesus says, “who to you who are well fed now,” and we start to wonder if we ate too much at our last meal.  He talks about those who laugh and those who are well spoken and we wonder how we are to integrate this teaching into our daily lives.  Should we not be happy?  Should we not be spoken well of?  How are these things, which seem to be really good, actually terribly awful for us in our lives?

It is a matter of the heart.  Jesus is making reference to the way that people live, to the circumstances that they find themselves in naturally and what they decide to do with them.  When Jesus talks about prayer, He says that those who pray aloud so that other people could see them are wrong for doing so, yet He doesn’t say that prayer is bad.  I think this same idea applies here as well and He is speaking against the corruption that He noticed around them, as He mentioned when He was preaching in Nazareth.  Some people will find themselves wealthy in life and others poor.  The wealthy are blessed in a way that they are able to give away a great deal to those in need.  Yet many of them were not doing this.  In fact, they were using their wealth to oppress the poor and Jesus says that the wealth they seek on earth will be their only reward while those that are oppressed will raised up in eternity.  The same goes for those who laugh or for those who are spoken well of.  While these things in and of themselves are not  bad things, those who seek only their own pleasure or their own fame will receive just that… and only that.  While those who are brought low on earth will be raised up for God is a God of justice.  He has a special place for those who are lowly, those who are forgotten by the world.

Jesus is describing here, as I said before, the application of the Shema in its truest form, the greatest commandment that He affirms to the religious leaders (likely the only thing they agreed upon actually).  But the Shema, and its subsequent commend to “love your neighbor as yourself” are not simply outward actions, they are to be heart transformations.  I would encourage you to read the post on the Shema again.  It helps to bring things a bit more into perspective.  This is the highest and truest calling of the people of God out of which flows everything that Jesus is talking about here and throughout His ministry.  We are not to be those who love God with just our lips, but that we would turn our hearts toward Him, and show others this great grace that is offered that they too may be healed.



Day 297: Luke 4-5; Jesus' Ministry Begins

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ birth and the preparation for ministry that took place before Jesus in the work of John the Baptist.  Today we look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He is baptized by John and then proceeds into the wilderness to be tempted.  As we talked about in Matthew, Jesus life in many ways parallels the journey that the people of Israel took to get to the promised land and to be the people that God called them to be.  While they never actually realized this calling, or at least never fully actualized it, they did follow this same path of “baptism,” wilderness wandering, and eventual entrance into ministry in the promised land.  We don’t often equate Israel’s presence in the promised land as being that of ministry.  They killed, or were supposed to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and then occupy it as an inheritance.  However, remember that Israel was also called to be a light to the nations, a community that was to represent the world to God and God to the world.  Sadly, like I just said, this was never fully realized… at least not until Jesus came to earth.

I think its funny that most of the crown that has gathered to hear John’s teaching really have no idea what is transpiring before them.  Jesus shows up and John recognizes Him, yet it is the greater of the two who requests baptism from the lesser.  Upon protest though, which we see in the account of Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and we see heaven open.  The Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice speaks, affirming Jesus as the Son of God to all the people gathered.  This happening is one of the fundamental ways in which we understand baptism.  Baptism has to do with identity.  As a member of the Reformed Church in America, we practice infant baptism where we acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life, that they are a member of God’s people and an heir to the covenant promises of God.  In this, we acknowledge the child’s true identity.  While John’s baptism was one for the forgiveness of sins, which in many ways is also a change in identity from sinner to forgiven, when Jesus was baptized, He too was given a specific identity.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Jesus’ baptism confirmed the identity that was already present… much like we believe infant baptism does to the child of believing parents.

From here Jesus is led by the Spirit that has just descended on to Him into the desert in which we learn that He both fasts and is tempted by the devil.  We don’t know much about the 40 days that Jesus spends in the wilderness apart from the fact that we are told He was tempted and didn’t eat.  It is at the end of this time that the Devil comes to Jesus and tempts Him directly.  There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between this experience and that of Moses at Mount Sinai while Israel in the wilderness.  He too was away for 40 days and there comes a point with the people are tempted as well.  Unlike the people of Israel though, Jesus doesn’t succumb to temptation but refutes the Devil not only with the Word of God, but with the heart of its true meaning.  In some ways I think Jesus is demonstrating the true and right use of the Scriptures as He is not just quoting random verses of the Bible to Satan but is speaking the true meaning of the Word, especially when the devil uses the words of Scripture against Jesus.

Finally, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, He goes to His hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue.  His first Scripture lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah, a teaching about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Messiah.  After reading it, Jesus tells them that the Scripture is fulfilled by His reading it.  Isaiah often talked about the joy and restoration that would come after the time of exile in Babylon saying that things would be different upon the return of God’s people to their land.  However, it wasn’t.  The people of Israel fell back into their old sins.  They were still not the light that they were called to be and still didn’t care for the least, last, and lost that they were called to.  Jesus’ coming signals the dramatic in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.  He comes and the Spirit of God is on Him to be the true Israel, the true human in the face of evil.  Not only does Jesus proclaim these things, but He enacts them as well, fulfilling all that is written about Him throughout Scripture.



Day 294: Mark 14-16; The End of the Book of Mark

The last 3 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, that which we have read today, are relatively unremarkable when it comes to the content of Jesus’ last days and its similarity to the other Gospels.  Granted, Mark’s writing style and quick moving through it are certainly different than that of Matthew, Luke, or John, the same material and details are still covered in the Gospel of Mark.  What I would like to discuss today is the unique and somewhat confusing ending of the book of Mark, and some of the issues surrounding the “additions” that were placed after Mark 16:8.

Before we do this, though, there is a very unique and obscure passage at the end of Mark 14, after Jesus is arrested we read these two verses about a “young man” who runs away naked after the officials try to arrest him with Jesus.  Considerable work has been done to ascertain the truth behind this person, who he was and why he was there.  While I think that this is an intriguing line of thought to follow, I think that focusing on him and trying to figure out if he was one of the disciples or anything of the sort is really missing the point of the passage.  Some have even tried to link him to the “young man” of Mark 16:5 who was sitting in the tomb after the stone was rolled away.  I think it would be foolish to say that these people are one in the same, especially considering the accounts of the other Gospels that say that it was an Angel of the Lord that rolled back the stone.  Arguments have been made for this idea simply by the fact that they use the same words to describe both characters.  This is a weak argument at best as the descriptor of “young man” applies in many different situations.  In any case, whether or not they are the same person, I think that when we look at Hebrew culture of the day we see a much greater purpose for the story of the young man running away naked.  Jesus has recently told His disciples that they would all fall away from Him, a comment that they vehemently denied themselves.  Yet, when Jesus was arrested, they all did fall away even to the point of shame.  See, in the Hebrew culture, to show one’s nakedness was a source of great shame.  I think, perhaps among other things, Mark is trying to convey the truth of the deep denial and rejection that set in with Jesus disciples, accompanying their fears as He was arrested.  They were truly exposed, their weaknesses laid out before the Lord.

The other really interesting thing that is presented to us here at the end of Mark is how he ends his writing.  The young man, assumed to be the angel of Matthew 28, says to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” So what do they do?  “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  The End.

What an ending right?  The most monumental, reality changing event in the history of the cosmos has just happened and no body tells anyone about it because they are afraid.  This actually fits in with the motif that has been created around this fleeing young man that we just talked about.  No one says anything, they just run away.  Now, there seems to be more to the story here as there have been additions that were added to the book later.  Whether or not they were added by Mark, or others along the way, they have made it in the canonical Bible which means they are of some significance.  They all, with the exception of the last few verses, carry with them the same theme of doubt and disbelief, a particular interpretation of the post resurrection disciples’ reaction to all these events.  Then Jesus shows up to all of them and rebukes them for their lack of belief and sends them out with power and authority.

I think that a focus on Mark’s audience here makes a big difference in these passages.  Remember that Mark is writing to a Gentile audience, likely Christians in Rome that are under great persecution.  Mark has just laid out for them the whole of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and then ended it by saying, “everyone was afraid, no one said anything, and no one believed.”  I wonder if this isn’t Mark’s particular way of pointing out the Roman Christians’ own reaction to the persecution that they were facing.  If we think of it in this way, I would suggest that not only do these obscure passages make sense but so too does the end of Mark and the few additions (written by whomever they were written by) make sense.  Our tendency is to fall away when we are faced with trials and persecution.  We cannot rely on our own strength.  We would even give in to being shamed by our own actions out of fear.  It isn’t until Christ shows us to strengthen us that we have the strength and courage to move outside of ourselves and tell the good news of the Gospel in the face of all resistance.  May we too find strength from this message, and hope as we ourselves are a light for the nations.



Day 293: Mark 10-13; Jesus' Ministry in Jerusalem

Unlike the Gospel of Matthew, there is a great deal of action that happens all at the same time as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Much of this we have read in Matthew’s account, but Mark covers a whole lot in a very short amount of time, as is normal for his writing.  Quite often, when we talk about Jesus being in Jerusalem, we tend to mention the Triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the Last Supper before Jesus’ death.  What we often tend to skip over is all of the interactions that Jesus has with people while He is in the city during this last week of His life.  Of particular notice, I think, is Jesus’ interactions with the religion leaders and how He continually subverts what they have set up as being their belief system.

The way the religious leaders approach Jesus often reminds me of the way that we as “church-goers” approach new people in our churches.  When the Pharisees or the Sadducees approached Jesus with a question about faith, theology, or doctrine, it wasn’t really because they had a question, it was because they wanted to test Jesus and find out whether He believed the same way that they believed.  They were also looking for a way to trap Jesus and get Him to say something wrong so that they could prove that He wasn’t a good teacher or someone that the people should listen to of follow.  This isn’t that much different from how we often treat new comers to our churches.  We do our best to make it seem as though we are a warm community that welcomes all into our fellowship.  We have people posted to greet everyone at the door, and time after the worship service in which we provide refreshments and enjoyable fellowship and conversations.  We even have people “sign in” so that we can send them a nice note thanking them for joining us for worship.  Yet, there are those that also take the role of the religious leaders of Jesus day too.

These are the people that go up to new families and guests that are visiting with a great and wonderful smile, asking them about their kids and about what they do, all the while analyzing every word that they are saying looking for something that might hint that their true “difference” from the community that they are trying to join.  If small talk doesn’t reveal anything, we might turn to politics or even religious matters, all in the name of “getting to know” our new “friend.”  What are we looking for?  Something that would make them different than us.  Maybe they have a differing political view.  Perhaps its a questionable job.  It might even be (and heaven forbid it if it is) that they don’t believe quite the same way that we do, or maybe they have questions about their faith.  Things like this send us into red-alert and we start talking to others about “the new family.”

There are many things that spur us to act like this.  Many if not all of them were probably similar reasons that the religious leaders questioned Jesus as well.  Fear is probably the greatest motivator here; fear of change or that the community will be disrupted because of new thoughts or questions.  We don’t want the boat to be rocked, we just want to be comfortable.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t want change either.  They had things working pretty well in their favor and the pressure that Jesus was placing on them was palpable.  So they plotted and schemed in their dark corners.  I’m sure their conversations sounded similar to what ours do today; “did you hear about Carol-Anne?  We should pray for her and her family… I heard that she… [insert gossip].”  We try so hard to make ourselves look pious and upright, but in the end, we too are just trying to nail them up on a cross for sins that we made up for them… that they likely didn’t commit… that were none of our business… and that they have already been forgiven for.