Richard Bauckham…in his book
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
“The gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount. Mark’s gospel was written well within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses”
The historicity of the gospels is better attested than any other ancient writing.
2 Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
The authors of scriptures employed their own personalities, perspectives, styles…but the Spirit ensured that they wrote what God wanted them to write.
“Your word is truth” Jesus said…John 17:17
For something to be true it means that it corresponds to reality.
Scripture is truth with no mixture of error.
Sometimes people cite supposed errors in Scripture but they are almost always the result of wooden, nonsensical readings…flippant readings…or just plain ignorance about the purpose and design of the Bible.
Often, it’s because they expect the Bible to “speak” differently than they do, or any other literature does.
The Bible uses ordinary speech, like we do “The sun rises”
The Bible uses loose quotations, like we do “There were about 50 people there.
The writers give differing ordering/perspective of events, just like we do, to fit their purposes… Are we reporting to a commander, boss, or police officer regarding fact?
Are we telling story to some friends and having a laugh?
Are we sharing our hearts about how we felt during a certain time?
-It is likely, or probable that we have all told the same true story, in ways that sound like three different events?
-Why, because there are different reasons for the telling…communication of truth is not merely the recitation of bare fact, in fact…that is often not enough to know the whole truth.
The Biblical writers told us what they wanted to tell us not always what we wanted them to tell us…and not always how we wanted them to tell us.
But the bottom line, Jesus affirmed the OT as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
The NT was written by eye witnesses or was confirmed by those eyewitnesses to Christ’s life and teaching.
The Bible has internal consistency, a huge number of existing ancient manuscripts, it matches what is actually is there in the world around us and it “works” …it has actual power to bring change to those who believe it and apply.
It is God’s word.
Why am I saying all this?
I said last week you have three options in regard to who you will trust with your life purpose and eternal destiny…self, others, God.
I mentioned that if you try to say “I will trust God but not the bible” then are you back to…self, others.
If God had not been so kind as to give us his written word, then we would have to rely on human wisdom and understanding…my own, or someone else’s…to know what is real and true.
But God is there…and he has spoken…in general through what he has made, the creation…but specifically…through Jesus, and the Bible.
This week we are in 2 Thess. 2,3
I am going to speak to both chapters, because Paul didn’t have chapter and verse in his letters and they can sometimes hamper our ability to understand key points…because we stop our line of thought where Paul did not stop his.
This is not a book for arm chair futurists, drinking coffee, watching the news and predicting the end times…hammering out theories online or breathlessly reading one speculation after another.
These two personal letters were written for Christians of all ages who are slandered, fired from their jobs, jailed, and killed for their faith.
It is for Christians in AD 64 when fire destroyed 2/3 of Rome, and Nero, being blamed for the fire…said those wicked Christians were behind it…turning the people’s wrath from himself to them.
It was the first persecution of the church by the Roman empire, it would not be the last…Christians were put on poles, covered in oil and used as torches to lit Nero’s garden.
They were sewn into animal skins and torn apart by wild dogs…this was written for them.
It was written for Christians in Armenia, slaughtered by the millions, in the early 20th century.
And for Christians across the former soviet union…who for 70 years suffered in the terrible prisons…their fate revealed to world by Alexander Solzineistn’s, expose, the Gulag Archipelago (island chain of prisons) and by Richard Wurmbrand, “Tortured for Christ.”
And it’s for Christians today in too many places to mention…
Who are experiencing what feels like nothing less than the end of the world…and are wondering… “have I missed something?”
My point of this is that if we don’t see this through the eyes of those actually suffering for their faith…we will miss the point.
But we do not have to persecuted for our faith to be touched by God’s word to us in these letters…it is powerful for all who suffer…and all do in fact suffer…or will.
Back to the church at Thessalonica…they are not intellectually debating end times ideas…they are terrified that they are missing something eternally important…and it matters because, right now…a loved one is in jail…right now a Roman solder is knocking at the door.
They have heard lots of rumors…supposedly Paul himself has said the end has begun…some had begun to live foolishly because of these beliefs.
Some people were freaking out, some were dropping out in Thessalonia.
When Jeff Wenzel, a good friend had died.
I was walking out of the room where the family had gathered “pre-funeral” into the sanctuary
I noticed Jeff’s dad was really struggling.
I had seen it before in similar circumstances…I recognized what was happening.
Well-meaning friends and family began to offer true, but ill-timed words of comfort
The problem was…he couldn’t take all that in in that moment…his brain was frozen.
I put my arm around him and spoke in his ear…”Breath, hold it…let it out…breath, hold”
He was hyperventilating from stress and was not able to process what was happening around him…or what people were saying.
A year later he told me the most helpful thing he heard that day was “breath”
These chapters are Paul telling a hyperventilating, super stressed church…”Breath”
And, to a part of the church he tells them…”get back out and there get to work!”
Some had quit their jobs and were mooching off others because of the hysteria surrounding end times rumors.
Since they were not busy they had become busybodies…a person who meddles in the affairs of others.
They were stirring up controversy…adding stress to people’s lives…they are not busy leading a productive life so in their idleness, boredom, or just overall discontent…they undermine the productivity and peace of other people’s lives.
John Piper wrote,
So, while in chapter 1 Paul’s teaching on the second coming was designed to help the Christians keep on believing and loving each other through persecutions and suffering, now in chapter 2, Paul’s teaching on the second coming is designed to counteract the hysteria and get them back to work.
So, we could say: the aim of eschatology in chapter 1 is steadfastness in suffering, and the aim of eschatology in chapters 2 and 3 is steadfastness in doing good works and earning a living.
Let read part of chapter 3 first:
3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 6 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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 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. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
So, in verses 10–11, Paul tells those who have stopped working, and who keep asking you for food, “We are not going to keep supporting you in this idleness of yours. You need to get back to work, and stop meddling in others’ affairs.”
Then in verse 12 he says to them, “Do your work quietly and earn your own living.”
Then verse 13: “No matter how long the affliction lasts, and the Lord’s coming is delayed, do not grow weary in doing good. Fill your lives, short or long, with gainful employment of doing good work, and volunteer employment of doing good works. Don’t be idle.” (https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-second-coming-not-before-the-man-of-lawlessness)
That’s the practical situation, how did all this come about anyway?
Go back to chapter two, let’s read:
2 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 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.
So people are “shaken in mind” (their mental stability was off, not thinking well) and “alarmed” (freaked out)…by hysteria surrounding the rumor that the end had already come…or at least begun.
“The day of the Lord” was a famous OT phrase for the coming of God to bring justice on earth.
It was used by Christians to describe the Lord’s second coming.
The rumor was that Paul was actually teaching this.
Some had quit jobs, some were running around crying the “sky is falling”…they were out of their minds.
“Breathe” Paul tells them.
It is ironic that those because of “end time” perspective were dropping out of life needed others to stay engaged, work, and pay for their food.
Paul wisely said, if they are not going to work, they aren’t going to eat.
In addition, only those who are not fully living their own lives have the time and energy to tell others how to live theirs…it is a lack of being busy with faithfulness to God that creates a busybody.
They need to remember his last letter… “Mind your own business, work with your hands, take care of yourself and others, and win the respect of those outside the church.”
Let’s read on…
3 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, 4 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. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 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. 8 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. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
He answers their questions…but not all of ours.
Why doesn’t he give more detail, why doesn’t he answer the obvious questions that this would raise?
Evidently, he already had in person…
5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
Bummer…we would love to have that information…but clearly God didn’t think we needed it so we don’t.
We have what God in his wisdom has given us regarding these topics.
This passage is known to be the most difficult and obscure in the whole of Pauls’ writings…and that ought to tell us to be humble and careful about it…but instead it has given rise to some strange speculations.
We won’t do that today…because what we have is enough information to:
- Stay ready
- Stay encouraged
- Stay engaged
God has given us just the right amount to keep us curious but then the right balance so that our curiosity does not make us (or at least shouldn’t) silly.
- The Lord hasn’t returned
- Now be encouraged
- Be faithfully and fully engaged with your lives
Now obviously the Lord had not physically returned, I mean, how would they not know if he had?… but the Day of the Lord was thought to be a complex series of events.
Like D-day was the beginning of the end of the War in Europe…there would be many more months of fighting and a whole series of events before V-day…the end of the end would come.
They thought D-day had occurred the “end had begun”…and people were freaked out…wondering what to do.
So, Paul puts them at ease by telling the complex of events that signal the end have not all happened.
- First, a great rebellion against God will occur
-There have been a lot of them…but this one will be clearly notable.
- This rebellion will include a “man of lawlessness”
-This has been associated through the years with whoever the current historical bad guy is:
The fact is there have been many throughout history who have done Satan’s work, so John wrote of many “anti-Christs” (1 John 2:18)
That is a warning against our quick association of the man of lawlessness with any particular person in current affairs.
So there have been and will be a lot of these kind of anti-Christ’s…and then there will be the final one.
How will we know if this is the final one?
We will know when we know…that is the whole point of Biblical prophecy.
Paul’s point is…breath…you haven’t missed anything.
And the end hasn’t come and though evil still appears to be winning…it does not win in the end.
Be ready: the end is always near
Be faithful: do what is in front of you to do
Be encouraged: God’s purposes will stand
Okay, so there will be a great rebellion and a man somehow leading this rebellion…what’s the holdup?
When will this happen?
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way
There are many ideas as to what or who Paul is referring to as this “restrainer”
The Church, the gospel, the Holy Spirit, rule of law…fact is, we don’t know.
What we do know is that God is in charge…the end will come at the “proper time.”
Whatever this “leash” is, the one restraining evil…God holds the end of it…we don’t know who or what the leash is…we do know the one who holds it…that’s enough.
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
Paul doesn’t give us details about this man…he goes straight from his appearance to his destruction by the Lord Jesus.
Because his purpose is not the satisfaction of curiosity but a challenge to faithful perseverance.
The whole point of this is “breathe”
God’s sovereignty is not and will not be challenged…the lawless one will come…and he will be destroyed…that’s pretty much the story…at least as much as you need to know now.
In fact, just the appearance of the Lord (his splendor) will be enough to destroy him.
Now, Paul gets practical…
9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
What’s practical about that?
It’s practical as both warning and protection against being deluded.
He gives the reason people will be vulnerable to Satan’s work through this final man of lawlessness (and every other “anti-Christ” along the way)
What do you see that makes people vulnerable…verse 10?
“They refuse to love the truth.
Who would refuse to love the truth?
Well, I don’t always love it and neither do you.
When the truth doesn’t align my deepest desires or goes against some of my greatest fears…I don’t love it.
But, by God’s grace…I do love the truth of the Gospel.
And that is where Paul goes next…he goes to encouragement…their source of courage and hope…no matter what comes next…THE end, THEIR end…or just faithful plodding in the meantime…
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
See, they did not refuse to love the truth…they responded to God’s offer.
15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Perhaps you wouldn’t have done it this way?
Maybe, if we were God (scary thought)…we would have given more or less or different information about the end than what we have.
But remember how we began this morning?
2 Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
Look at the next verse…
3:17 “…so that the man (woman) of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
We have all that we need to live as we should…not all that we wish we had to satisfy every curiosity.
We are “thoroughly equipped”…even if our curiosity is not thoroughly satisfied.
We have all we need to live faithful lives through whatever God has for us.
The Bible was written for all people, in all times…it has application not just for a few people living right there at the end of all things.
It has application for all people living in all times.
If you were hiding in terror in AD 60 as you saw Christians being used burning garden torches…if you lay in a Romanian cell in 1950 , sick and tortured and lonely
…or if you look around you now and wonder if your struggles matter, if there is meaning in all this…
15 ….stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Of course our lives as Christians here in America are better than those in persecuted lands…
But for the one suffering with severe, ongoing depression and anxiety…there may be equal but not worse suffering than you what are feeling.
Suffering is relative to sufferer…and no suffers more than one person can suffer.
To the one who has lost a child, or a spouse…or is facing painful death at the hands of disease…suffering is suffering.
C.S. Lewis “We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the “unimaginable sum of human misery”…there is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.”
His point is that trying to add up the “total of human” suffering and somehow making that a larger case against the existence or goodness of God doesn’t work.
My point is to say this…we can, at times, over focus our own suffering…and at those times it can be helpful to remember others sometimes do have it worse.
At other times, and this is an equal danger…we can under play our suffering…and imagine that others always have it worse…and we should feel weak and ashamed for what we feel.
For Christians at all times…whatever the personal nature their suffering…whether it is at the hands of a wicked man of lawlessness…the final anti-Christ…or some in between version of him…
Whether it is the mental anguish of depression, suicidal anxiety…or devastating sadness of the loss of one you thought you could not live without…or painful illness.
The hope is the very same…The end of this current age began when Christ came…the end of this current age will be complete when Christ returns.
Now, in these last days…
-Be Faithful: Don’t stop working, or playing with kids, or going to church, or exercising your body.
-Be hopeful: Don’t let your mood be swayed by what you hear, read, or even think…stick with the truth you know.
-Let your minds be unrattled by what goes on around you and in you: believe the truth
-Let your heart continue to learn love the truth: this is ultimate factor in our spiritual immune system health.
-Let your behaviors prove the hope you have…honoring God and winning the respect of those who don’t know him.
If you hoped for more detail regarding the man or lawlessness, or the timing of the end…you can take that up with Paul someday.
But in the meantime…you might ask why it is you are disappointed with the lack of unnecessary detail…when God has clearly given us all we need for all he has called us to.
I imagine not many are disappointed though, I find more people are relieved to know that no one actually knows the details…God alone does.
And we can, because of the gospel…know God…who knows the details and who is in charge of them…down to very hours of our lives.
The gospel is true.
God is alive.
God is powerful.
God is good.
Now…breathe…and stay busy…peacefully not anxiously busy.