Note: In today’s Letter, Jack gives us a lesson in recent history of how people’s mindset have changed just within the last 20 years about the evidence of Bible prophecy. J.L. Robb’s column, “Polar Vortexes and Aurora Borealis” also applies historical facts to the weather news of today.
It seems like only a few years ago that the biggest challenge facing anyone teaching Bible prophecy was establishing that these could be the last days.
Twenty years ago, the first part of any column or script was dedicated to proving that we are living in the times spoken of by the Hebrew prophets.
And I usually had to be cagey about how I did it. In those days, if you mentioned Bible prophecy too soon, you’d lose your reader.
It was necessary to start with something secular and work one’s way back to the Bible to keep from being marginalized right off the bat as a prophecy nut.
That was then. This is now. And the challenge has shifted. I note that many secular sources spend their time arguing why thesearen’t the last days.
The ‘last days’ concept has leapt the religious fence and entered the realm of popular mythology.
Given the secular fears of the effects of global warming, planet-killing asteroids, solar-generated flesh-eating gamma rays and other potential mass extinction events – they aren’t having any easier time now than I did them while making the opposite arguments.
We’re living in a totally different world than we were – in the old world, we knew that Islam was “one of the world’s three great monotheistic religions” but that was about the extent of what we knew or how it affected our lives.
Until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, many thought of Baghdad and their first association would be “1001 Arabian Nights”. The mention of Islam conjured up images of Lawrence of Arabia, not Osama bin-Laden.
We were living then at a time of comparative peace and safety. The Soviet Union was dead. The Russian Bear seemed mortally wounded. The European Super State was well on the way to full unification thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
During the eight years of the Clinton administration, all of America’s defense capabilities were ‘down-sized’ as intelligence agencies were de-funded, military readiness and troop strength was reduced, US military bases at home and abroad were scrapped.
Thanks to the ‘peace dividend’ the Clinton economic ‘miracle years’ made America think it could have its cake and eat it too. In his first State of the Union speech, Clinton told America how he was going to ‘revitalize’ the economy.
By cutting the US military and intelligence services and “capturing the peace dividend for investment purposes,” he told Congress in his 1993 SOTU speech.
If ever there were a time in living memory when America andIsrael were living in relative peace and safety, it would be at about the time Clinton made that speech. Israel had not yet entered into the Oslo agreement.
Greater Israel was yet intact, despite two years of constant intifada. No Arab land attack could successfully penetrate Israel’s existing buffer zones in the Golan, the West Bank, the Sinai and Gaza Strip.
The intifada was annoying, but Israel’s continued existence was not an issue of daily concern. One of the verses I quoted most often during those years was from 1 Thessalonians 5:3:
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
In those days, it seemed to me that the focus of the lesson being taught by Paul was the warning of sudden destruction. The Bible is a living Book, and twenty years ago, that was the focus – the warning. Because the Bible is alive, the same passage takes on a new focus as we move into the relevant time frame.
Paul used the same imagery that Jesus had – birth pangs. Let’s dwell there for a moment.
Labor pains come on suddenly, but they soon settle in to a regular pattern that distinguishes them from false labor. As they grow closer together and more intense, and other signs of imminent birth make themselves known, a clearer picture begins to emerge.
By the time the actual event happens, enough signs are in place to know that it is time to get the catcher’s mitt and the salad spoons and move into position.
When I read 1st Thessalonians Chapter Five from the perspective of twenty years later, I find the focus of the lesson has shifted somewhat.
Nobody is saying ‘peace and safety’ anymore. And it seems probable (since 9/11) that nobody will be saying it again within the scope of my lifetime. Instead of ‘peace and safety’ what we’re hearing in the West is ‘generational’ war.
And what Israel is hearing is “prepare for all out war.”
In Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians, he writes of the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our gathering together unto Him.”
Take a second to clear your mind and then ask yourself with me what the Thessalonians could have thought Paul was talking about.
Paul is writing to a small church that he himself planted – these are intimate friends. What could they have thought Paul meant when he spoke of, “our gathering together unto Him”? If I wrote to you of our “gathering together unto Him” what would you think that I meant?
Especially if, as Paul did, I directly connected it to the imminence of the Day of Christ? But even if I didn’t – what else, in context,could “our gathering together unto Him be referring to?
In any case, Paul tells them not to worry about it until some other signs fall into place.
“Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?”
Wait! That’s right, this is Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians! What did Paul tell them before that prompted him to remind them he had already addressed “these things” previously?
In Paul’s First Letter he warned of coming destruction, like ‘birth pangs’ and “they shall not escape.”
Let’s revisit the relevant passages in context.
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
What is the context here? The times and seasons and the coming of the Lord “like a thief in the night.” What does ‘a thief in the night’ suggest to you?
A thief in the night seldom announces his presence or intention. A successful night burglar makes his appearance in secret.
The 2nd Coming of Christ is a world-wide, ‘behold, He cometh with clouds and every eye shall see Him’ event accompanied by angels, massive earthquakes and (presumably) major explosions as the armies of earth turn their weapons of destruction against the Prince of Peace.
If a ‘thief in the night’ paints the picture of a secret coming, the Bible’s description of the Second Coming is more in line with a global a ticker-tape parade.
So in context, this cannot be referring to the Second Coming of Christ. Can it? Remember, this is what Paul was referring backto from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3-4)
They shall not escape. . . but ye brethren. . Who are they and how do they differ from ye here? Can you see it, yet?
Paul explains that ‘they’ are children of the night, in darkness, whereas ‘ye’ are children of the light, to whom Paul admonishes to put “on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”
Stay with me in context here.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 Paul is assuring the Thessalonians that the Lord hasn’t returned. Is it possible that they thought the 2ndComing had occurred and they missed it?
That Jesus had appeared with clouds, vanquished the enemy, resurrected the dead and judged the nations. . . and they missed it? Can you make that make sense?
So what could they possibly have thought that they missed?
Paul writes, “remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” Paul was referring in his Second Letter to his First Letter. This isn’t that hard to figure out, given the topic is the same.
So what things was Paul referring back to? What had so shaken the Thessalonians in mind and troubled in spirit that Paul found it necessary to revisit it in a follow up letter?
Paul taught the Thessalonians extensively about the Rapture. Many of the most obvious Rapture passages are in his letters to the Thessalonians and those to the Church at Corinth.
They feared they had missed the Rapture and that they would be left behind to face the Wrath of God in the Tribulation. Why else would they be worried at all? If everybody was going to be left behind, then why even bring it up?
Could it have anything to do with what had Paul taught them previously?
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
Paul expounded on his Rapture teaching from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 saying that “whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” and reminds them that this doctrine is given to comfort them, for they feared they were left behind to face the Tribulation.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
This isn’t a salvation message Paul sent them. He is writing to the Church members. They are already saved.
Paul isn’t writing to the Thessalonikans to tell them being saved will sustain and comfort them. Paul makes a specific promise that the ‘brethren’ are not appointed to wrath’ — in reply to their fear they had been left behind.
There is no other logical explanation. They feared they had been left behind for something which means that they missed something else. Can you find another meaning in there?
They thought that Nero was the antichrist and so therefore they feared they had somehow missed the Rapture. Paul explains to them in his Second Letter that they couldn’t have – and then he explains why. Paul outlined the order of events as follows:
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now letteth will let, until He be taken out of the way. And THEN shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.”
So here’s what the Thessalonians were taught. The Church was not appointed to wrath. The fact that they were still a restraining influence indwelt by the Holy Spirit proved He had not been removed. And so therefore, that “Wicked” could not yet have been revealed.
Nero wasn’t the antichrist because the Church would be withdrawn with the Holy Spirit before the identity of the antichrist can be revealed.
Twenty years ago, when I read Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, the lesson focus was what it meant when everybody started talking about peace and safety. They aren’t talking about that anymore.
I read the same passage today and the Lord has an entirely different lesson focus – one more appropriate to our advanced time frame. What is the lesson?
First they shall say peace and safety – followed by the fear of sudden destruction. Then the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout and the voice of an archangel and the dead in Christ will rise first, followed by the living believers who will receive their resurrection bodies next.
And then shall that Wicked be revealed. . .