As I write this post, the temperature in Indiana has dropped into the negatives, the snow has ceased falling, and the wind is constant and bone-chilling. I have been writing the previous post’s on the view of Christmas (incarnation) from the standpoint of various people in the Bible and directly related to the Christmas story. I have been doing this because it seems that we, and by we, I mean our American culture, have lost NOT only a “proper view” of Christmas but a biblical one as well.
*A poll conducted back in 2017 asked 1,000 people nationwide, “How do you view Christmas today?” They have come up with some interesting responses. 43% of the respondents said they think “it is all or mostly cultural,” while 31.3% said it is an even mix between cultural and religious. Only 15% view it as most or all religious.
Part of the problem that has led to a shift in the past thirty years is the growing number of people who identify as “spiritual” but not religious. While numbers might not be “your thing,” what they represent should be. They reveal a decline in Americans viewing Christmas as a “religious” celebration and a rise in a secular view of it.
But that is not the only denominator that affects this cultural shift in America. Age also appears to play a role in it. In the 18-35 age group, 55.4% say they view Christmas as cultural rather than religious. The most interesting aspect of all this is the number of people that still plan on celebrating Christmas across America. “85% plan on celebrating Christmas even though they have different views of its meaning and significance.”
That is why these biblical viewpoints of Christmas from people involved in the first coming of Jesus are so vital. But the most important view is that of the “baby” Himself, Jesus Christ. What is His view of His birth, life, death, and resurrection? This is a view of Christmas, and our children and children’s children need to be reminded of the purpose of Christmas.
Jesus Christ came into the world through the virgin birth and was found lying in a lowly manger to display God’s love for us! “But God shows His love for (us) in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While mankind was lost in their sins (lust, greed, adultery, fornication, murder, hate, envy, blasphemy, etc), God made very clear His love for His creation and His desire to redeem them from the bondage of their sin through His Son Jesus!
“In this is the love of God made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that (we) might live through Him” (1 John 4:9). Our Children need to know that “that the reason the Son of God appeared (baby Jesus) was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Not so we can spend ourselves into debt and have a day or two off of work or school!
Jesus, Himself stated that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they (you and I) may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He also said of Himself, “The Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). His “view” is clear; His “purpose” evident.
So, why should we celebrate the birth of Jesus? Is it simply a “cultural” or secular holiday void of religious value? Is it just something we do no different than the Fourth of July or Labor Day? OR can it be that this day we celebrate has a vastly more significant value?
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . .” (1 Timothy 1:15)!
This is “the reason for the season.” This is the view of the triune Godhead. This is why we celebrate Christmas! God sent His only Son to pay the penalty for sin that I owe so that I would be made right with Him and enjoy Him forever!
Nothing anyone in this life can give us that is as important, as valuable, and indestructible as the salvation given to sinners through the gift of the baby in a manger over two thousand years ago-Jesus Christ!
I pray that we fully enjoy this greatest of gifts this Christmas season.
*Saint Leo University polling institute, an online poll
In our previous study, we began to focus on the response of Jesus to one of His disciples regarding the magnificence of the temple (1-8), otherwise known as the Olivet Discourse. This discourse involves all of chapter thirteen, so we are jumping back into it this week with our eyes on verses nine through thirteen.
Jesus had previously warned them about deception from false messianic impostors (v. 6) and falsely misinterpreting contemporary events (7-8). In these following verses, He warns them of the personal dangers faced while under persecution.
9 “But [a]be on your guard; for they will hand you over to the [b]courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.
FOCUS ONE: BEWARE (9)
This section begins with the Lord warning them to “watch out” or “beware.” He is exhorting them to keep their eyes wide open as these days approach. This word (blepo)is the same word used in verse five. It is often used literally as “to see” or “perceive.” In this context, it has the idea of perceiving or discernment. Jesus wants these men prepared for the suffering that is to come for their obedience and allegiance to Him.
He mentions councils and synagogues because these are the places and the people that will persecute them because of Him. “Councils” is the Greek word sunedrion, translated as council, court, or Sanhedrin. “These were local Jewish courts attached to the synagogues which tried charges of heresy and normal infractions of the law.” These local councils usually administered 39 stripes as a punishment after the person was stripped bare to the waist (13 stripes to his chest and 26 to his back). The synagogue is the place where such councils would meet.
Not only would they face Jewish courts and be publicly flogged, but they would also face Gentile civil authorities (Acts 12:1; 23:24; 24:27). As these men meet courts and people who disdain their teaching, they would be a witness to the gospel during their defenses. “Their witness to the gospel during their defenses would become, in God’s judgment incriminating evidence against their persecutors.”
10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 And when they [a]arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you at that time; for you are not the ones speaking, but it is the Holy Spirit.
FOCUS TWO: BE STEADFAST
Matthew adds to verse ten, “and then the end will come.” Not only will these twelve disciples play a part in the propagation of the gospel, but so will you and I and those that follow after us until the Lord returns!
Take notice of what the Lord say’s regarding being arrested for the sake of Christ and His gospel. “Do not worry beforehand what you are to say.” I feel that many of you are, like me, a worrier. How can we not be anxious over such things? Being arrested, separated from loved ones, rights and privileges taken away, and being interrogated? Certainly, cause for anxiety.
But our Lord says that even though such persecution is terrifying (notice that He is not oblivious to our humanity), we are not to be anxious in anticipation of those events. They will happen. But God is controlling all aspects of it! Even to the extent that at “crunch time,” our very testimony before such authorities has less to do with “us” and more to do with His Holy Spirit speaking through us (v. 11).
One commentator notes: “This assistance, however, did not guarantee acquittal.” Should that encourage us?
12 And brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and [a]have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by everyone because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
FOCUS THREE: BEAR UP AGAINST
If you haven’t grasped it yet, these days will be terrible. Notice the various ways in which opposition will come to those who follow Christ.
Brothers betraying brothers
Parents betraying children
Children betraying parents
Everyone (all kinds of people) will hate you
These are tough words to hear. Believers’ family members will betray them to the authorities at this time, and they will be “put to death.” As dark and disheartening as these words are to our hearts, they are not the final word! “But it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (v. 13).
In other words, the person who has “remained loyal to Jesus and the gospel” until the end of his life on this earth will “experience the consummation of his salvation.”
As hard as it is presently to think about such things happening to us and those we love, Jesus encourages us with the fact that His people will Persevere (patiently suffer) through these times.
Let me be clear on this point. Our perseverance in no way produces our salvation, “It is Spirit-empowered perseverance and proof of the reality of salvation in the one who endures.” Jesus Christ promises His people that He will eventually deliver them from such evil circumstances and welcome them home to His eternal abode!
Be strengthened, dear Christian; such suffering can be endured when it’s understood in light of God’s eternal plans rather than our temporal ones when it is viewed in light of His receiving the glory due to His name and all things corrupted by sin being made new!
In our previous study, we looked at positive, godly influences that a believer needs to have in their life. People like this live in “a manner worthy of our Lord,” indifferent to the circumstances of the day. Such people stand out in our congregations, and it is such people Paul urges us to look for and follow their example.
In this study, we will be looking at the opposite of godly influences, enemies of the cross!
18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even as I weep, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their [a]appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who have their minds on earthly things. 20 For our [b]citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;21 who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with [c]His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 4 Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, [d]whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Unworthy examples (18-19)
Some people live their lives as “enemies of the cross.” The Apostle is weeping as he writes those words. Brothers and sisters, does such rebellion in the lives of those around you cause you to cry? Does it cause you a-n-y distress of soul? Paul is not speaking of believers who stumbled into sin or who may be facing tough challenges in life and are dealing with doubts, depression, or things like that which they will inevitably work through.No, he is speaking about non-Christians.
These non-believers can be found inside a church, just as well as outside it. These were people who were adding works to their faith for salvation (2,3). Christ isn’t enough, they say, so they are constantly pursuing some form of fleshly merit to gain righteousness. Another group Paul may have been speaking about would be the “antinomians.” These were people who were a law unto themselves. They confessed Christ with their lips but denied Him with their lives. They practiced loose living; they were religious but denied the cross, loved the world, and lived for their flesh.
These are examples we are to turn away from, even call them out!
Such lives patterned after the flesh, living for this world and then adding religion to it, are lives that are destined to destruction (v.19).
But, it is not likely that all these people Paul is speaking about are out-and-out pagans.
One commentator says: “In all probability they were “professing” Christians, but whose lives were so profligate (recklessly extravagant, wasteful and amoral), that it was clear to Paul that they had never been regenerated, probably not even members of the Philippians church. Think about it. This entire letter would have been much different if “many” such people were in that church. These were people in the Christian community as a whole and therefore posed a danger to every church.”
But dear Christian, we have been changed, have we not? We have been transformed by the renewing of our minds and therefore ought to have nothing to do with the ways of this world. To do so is nothing short of compromise!
Our God has graciously saved us from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40). We now have the mind of Christ, so we can think, act and behave like Him (1 John 2:6). God has given us a new spiritual and moral capability, which continues and matures throughout our lives- as we obey His will, His word, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
We are eagerly awaiting our savior to return for us. This expectancy should spur us on to a higher and holier manner of conduct as we await His return.
This is the goal, the prize that we are to be running the race for, as we will see in our next point!
The goal and prize (20-21)
Dear Christian, our citizenship is in Heaven.
As citizens of heaven, longing to see our king, King Jesus, we are eagerly waiting for Him to return for us, because as Paul wrote the Corinthians, “he shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7-8). This is what Paul meant when he wrote back at the beginning of this letter that, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). This is our goal; Christ is our prize! “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:28).
“In these early days of the church the doctrine of the last things had three great points of focus,” Boice comments: “The return of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the body and the final judgement. Of the three the most significant was Jesus Christ’s return, This was the blessed hope of the Christians; it was for this they prayed. With this thought they comforted one another in the face of sorrow, persecutions death and martyrdom. We can imagine that as they lay in prison, suffering and tormented, often near death, they looked for His coming and thought that perhaps- – – in an instant – – – -and without warning – – – -Jesus would appear and call them home.”
“As they entered the arena to face lions or looked up to the face of their Executioner, many would have thought with joy in their hearts, “perhaps this is the moment in which Jesus will return; even now, before the beasts can spring or the ax can fall, I shall be caught up to meet him.”
But this is not the only place in our Bible that teaches us of this blessed doctrine of our Lord’s return. The return of Jesus is mentioned in every NT book except Galatians and the much shorter books of 2nd and 3rd John and Philemon.
Peter called it “our living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Paul called it our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). John wrote, “look, He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7).
Such truth ought to impact our lives in profound ways and be manifest in the ways we relate to the world around us and the things and people in this world. Christian, are you honestly expecting the Lord’s return? Is that evident in the way you are living?
“If you are motivated by prejudice against others, black, white, rich, poor or whatever, than the return of the Lord has not made a proper impression on you. If you are contemplating some sin, perhaps a dishonest act in business, sex outside of your marriage, cheating on a test or tax return, or whatever, then the return of the Lord has not made a proper impression on you.”
John wrote, “dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, Just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Perhaps you are reading these words, and you are not “eagerly” awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. You think that you are a pretty good person. After all, you haven’t killed anybody, YET! You give money to charity, attend church sometimes, and are better than many people around you. So, you may be thinking, why do I need a savior? Why do I need this, Jesus?
Let me share this illustration with you from Ray Comfort because it is very telling:
“What if I were to offer you a handful of $1 000 bills or a glass of water, which would you choose? The $1,000 bills, of course—anyone in his right mind would. But, what if you were crawling through a desert, dying of thirst, and you were offered a glass of water or a handful of $1,000 bills, which would you take? The water, of course—anyone in his right mind would. We call that “circumstantial priorities.” Your priorities change according to your circumstances.
Friend, If there were a way to find forgiveness of sin and life everlasting, would you want to know about it? The answer is “yes,” of course it is—anyone in his right mind would. The Bible speaks of riches beyond our wildest dreams—the riches of “everlasting life”—and they are offered in the form of cool, clear water: “Let Him that is thirsty come, and whoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).”
Right now, you may not be interested in the offer, but if you reject it, on judgment day, your circumstances will radically change, then it will be too late.”
So, please, turn to Christ Jesus; he is the wellspring of living water!
Can you see the importance of this doctrine? One commentator has said that: “the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a bit like a clothesline that supports the clean wash. If the line falls, the doctrines of the faith fall. Where the resurrection stands, everything else stands with it” (Boice Com. Pg. 221).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves all the essential teachings of Christianity.
1. It proves the deity of our Lord (Romans 1:4)
2. It proves our justification before God (Romans 4:25)
3. It proves that the believer in Christ can have a supernatural victory over sin in this life (Hebrews 7:25; Jude 24).
And dear Christian, it is also the un-shakeable evidence for our resurrection!! Because He lives, we too shall live! That is the testimony of Jesus Himself (John 14:19)!
This is why Paul says what he does in this scripture in our text. The truth is, there is an encouragement to press on despite the many obstacles in our way:
1. Jesus is living
2. Because He lives, we shall live
3. And take note: because He was transformed, we shall be transformed! (21)
Jesus is going to transform this body, your body, “in its humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.” (21)
This should encourage those folks to press on and comfort them and anyone who has lost loved ones that were believers. Death is a scary thing. Attached to the thoughts of it are thoughts of wasting away in sickness, the terror of a sudden accident, its connection to our sinfulness.
But friends, in none of those horrific thoughts, in none of those circumstances, does death have the final word, Amen? That is not the end of the story for those who are in Christ!
Here and in many other places in our bibles, we are taught that we will meet again in the presence of our savior, Jesus Christ. We will meet in transformed bodies— and sin, sickness, sorrow, and the like will all fade away— and be no more in light of the renewing, holy work of Christ on our behalf.
Jesus said: “I am the way the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father, but through me.” (John 14:6)
What an encouragement for these believers in Philippi. What a powerful exhortation to “press on to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (Phil. 3:14)
So, because of these things, Paul says: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, whom I long to see, my joy and my crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” (4:1)
We have a glorious savior, the aid of the Holy Spirit to grant us spiritual victory in this life and ultimately the one to come. And, we have a fantastic future with Christ!
So let us walk with wisdom. Wisdom from the word of God, as we pursue the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
BRIEF INTRO: These passages mark a change in focus from what Paul had written about in the first part of this letter. In the previous passages (12-26), Paul wrote about what had been happening with him (in prison). In verses 3-11, Paul had expressed his relationship (to) and thoughts (about) the Philippian believers, including his prayer for them. He was thankful to God for them because of their faithful participation with him in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was confident of God’s continued work in them and so-could-pray- with all confidence that they would “abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that they may approve the things that are excellent in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” (10)
In verses 12-26, we looked at the last time we were together; Paul explained his situation and response. He was imprisoned, and there were Christians, some who were seeking to cause him additional distress, preaching Christ from envy and selfish ambition. Paul realized that God was using all of this in his ministry to the praetorian guards that were watching him and even beyond it, encouraging others to be bolder in their proclamation of the gospel.
Paul rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed regardless of the motives of the preachers or his circumstances. We saw that while Paul thought that he would survive his imprisonment to continue in ministry to them, he also knew that he could also die, but for Paul, to live was Christ and to die was gain (21), so either outcome would be deliverance for him.
As we come to verses 27-28 in this study, we find that Paul changes the focus (from himself) to the Philippians. The transition in vs. 27 is straightforward, and he now begins to address specific issues with them.
FOCUS ONE: Paul now begins to speak of their conduct, their behavior as “saints in Christ Jesus (as he called them in vs.1). Some people think and live as if their conduct after salvation is not that important; after all, they say, I attend church, read my bible and pray, so what’s the problem?
The problem is two-fold. First, and it should be evident to all of us, there is more to the Christian life than attending church, reading our bibles, and praying. All of those things are reasonable and necessary for a Christian to practice. Without them, we would be weak, immature, and cold in our walk of faith. But God is also concerned with how we conduct ourselves, not only inside the church but also outside. There is a particular way, now that we have been redeemed, in which we are to live our lives! Our New Testament is very instructive on this topic.
The second thing I would say is that our scripture is very clear about how we are to conduct ourselves as forgiven, Justified, and adopted children of the living God. Now, this may not be evident to us in reading our translations this morning. Still, I think as we look at this a little deeper, as we delve into the original language, we will see God’s clear intention (and that begins for us) by zooming in on the words “conduct yourselves.” What does that mean? Why is it so significant to grasping everything else Paul is saying to these believers in the following verses?
We find the answer to those questions by turning to chapter 3:20. Here we see in Greek a different form of the word we are looking at in verse 27 in our text. I want you to take special notice that our “citizenship,” and that is the critical word here, our citizenship is in Heaven. The term used in Greek is (pol-it-yoo-mah). Paul was very wise in using this word here, as he also was, as we will see back in chapter one, where he used another form from the same root word.
But first, try to imagine this. It is the year 1944, and Germany is at war with England. Now suppose you have dual citizenship in both Germany and England, and you are living in Germany. How will you be treated?
Conversely, suppose you have dual citizenship in Germany and England and live in England during the Blitz; how would you be treated?
In either case, you would be forced to renounce your citizenship in the opposing country and declare your loyalty to the country in which you found yourself in that dreadful time. There would be no middle ground.
They would have never allowed dual citizenship in Germany and England during WWII, and we cannot have dual citizenship in this world. They are diametrically and violently opposed to one another! We cannot belong to the Kingdom of God by living in Christ AND belong to the kingdom of darkness at the same time.
At this time in their history, the people of Philippi were living as (colonists) while their “citizenship” was in Rome. They had rights and privileges afforded to them as such, and with those rights and freedoms came rules, expectations, and obligations for them, as citizens of Rome, to respect and fulfill.
In the same way, Christians, you and I, if you have trusted in Christ for your salvation, live on this earth as citizens of the United States of America, and with that comes rules, obligations, and responsibilities. But we also have our citizenship elsewhere, in HEAVEN! We have “Dual” citizenship, if you will. One is temporary and fleeting, the other eternal and unchangeable! We live as citizens of America and are very proud of that citizenship. With it comes rights and privileges only Americans have, but also, with that being said, the place we now belong to, the place that expects our full allegiance, the place that accepts us as its own is Heaven, and that is all because of what Jesus has completed for us! We have a “homeland,” we have a king, we have rights and privileges afforded to us BECAUSE we are citizens of Heaven.
That is what Paul is saying in chapter three. But back in 1:27 (turn there), Paul uses the same word with a different ending to encourage these believers to live appropriately (here, he uses the word pol-it-yoo-om- ahee). These words “conduct yourselves” translate a political term that would mean a lot to the Philippian believers. These Philippians were proud of their status as Roman Citizens (Acts 16:12, 20, 21). The earlier members of this church in Philippi would remember that Paul used his Roman citizenship to bring about a speedy, dignified release from prison (Acts 16). So, this imagery is rich in its cultural background, and Paul pointedly uses the imagery to challenge these believers and US, as we read it, to live as those who have higher and vastly more effective citizenship, that one we read about in 3:20!
Church, this is important for us to understand because the word used here for “conduct yourselves” means “behave as a citizen.
A citizen of what? HEAVEN!
FOCUS TWO: Because these believers are citizens of Heaven (as seen in 3:20) and the Lord is their king, Paul encourages them to behave as a citizen of the king would behave! And take notice too, that Paul makes it very clear that they are to act this way whether he is around or not, whether he comes to see them or not (27).
But this is not the only place Paul speaks of their obedience. Look over at chapter 2, verse 12. Paul is acknowledging that they are obedient believers! They are not “men pleasers,” playing a game. No, they, he says, are even “much more in his absence”! In other words, Paul said there, and he says here, that citizens of Heaven are to be consistent in their behavior to honor their King, King Jesus, whether they are being watched or not.
Dear Christian, how is your behavior these days? Are you striving to live, God helping you, as a consistent, faithful, persevering citizen of Heaven? Are you conducting yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, as Paul here states?
Well, the “manner” in which Paul instructs these believers to live was undoubtedly a needed reminder. They were struggling with disunity (Euodia and Syntyche 4:2), false teaching (3:1), and opposition from within and without (1:28), so how “pastoral” of Paul to remind and encourage them with these truths.
So, with all that in mind, let’s dig into this a bit deeper.
FOCUS THREE: “(Only) conduct yourselves (imperative) in a manner worthy of the gospel.”
Paul has only one thing that he is concerned about here, “only” this, how these believers should behave.
I am going to quote someone here that is much more able in the Greek language than I am, and I am stressing the point here because it is so crucial to our understanding of everything else Paul says here:
“Now, this verb (conduct yourselves), I want to tell you four things very quickly about this verb. It is in the present tense. And the impact of this is that Paul is saying, ‘Every moment of every day you are to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel. This is to be your daily lifestyle’. So, number one, it is in the present tense. This is a permanent obligation. As long as you are on this earth, it is obligatory that you conduct yourself in this manner. Second, it is in the middle voice. And when they parse a verb, that means that the responsibility lies with every one of us. It is not active. It is not passive. It is in the middle, which means we must take the reins and assume this responsibility for ourselves. This is a decision that each one of us must be daily and continually making. No one else can make this choice for us.
This is not merely for (some) believers in Philippi. This is for (every) believer in Philippi, but it is also for every believer, in every church, in every generation, on every continent, in every place. Third, it is in the imperative mood, which means it is a command. It is not an indicative statement (narrative). It is an imperative /command. It is not a mere wish. It is not a desire that Paul has for them. This is a commandment from God, through the apostle Paul, that requires the immediate obedience of every believer who has citizenship in the kingdom of God.”
With that being said, Flip back over to Phi 2:12-13. There is something else that needs to be observed there in our study. “So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to (will) and to (work), for his good pleasure.”
There is a lot packed into those few verses, and we cannot think through it all in this study, but I want you to notice who is working in us (God) and the results of His work (will, work).
We cannot be obedient without God doing this work in us! That should be so encouraging, Christian.
“Friends, are you a citizen of the kingdom of God? Have you entered into this kingdom by the new birth, by trusting in Christ alone for forgiveness of your sins? Then if so, this is directed at every one of us.”
BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, Paul had made it very clear to his readers what the outcome of the Lord’s return would be: the wicked will be judged and suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, the saints will be glorified. Paul did not give the Lord’s return an exact time because he didn’t know when it would happen. Only “the Father knows” when it will be (Matthew 24:36).
2 “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, regarding the [a]coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your [b]composure or be disturbed either by a spirit, or a [c]message, or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 No one is to deceive you in any way! For it will not come unless the [d]apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above [e]every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”
FOCUS ONE: It appears from how Paul begins this next part of his letter that some people were predicting the timing of the Lord’s return, and quite possibly even stating that the coming of the Lord for His saints, including those who have died up to this point, what Paul was explaining back in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, had already taken place. That caused many to be disturbed, confused and conflicted with what Paul had previously taught them with what they were presently experiencing.
In his first letter to this church, he explained how the day of the Lord would come like a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). With these messages and/or letters (v. 2) saying that the day of the Lord had come, and their thinking back to what Paul had previously taught them, confusion and panic arose. These false teachings stated that they were experiencing the judgments of the day of the Lord, otherwise known as the Great Tribulation judgments! “But if this were true, how could Paul’s previous instruction that they would be caught up and escape the wrath of God coming on earth be true (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)? Paul now writes what we are reading to straighten out the matter.” (1)
Paul’s exhortation for them to remain calm is affectionate (brothers) and respectful (we ask). Paul is concerned they might be easily unsettled regarding the false teaching and wants them to remain calm.
5 “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that he will be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only [f]He who now restrains will do so until [g]He is [h]removed.”
FOCUS TWO: The Thessalonians seemed to have the same problem that you and I are prone to have, i.e., short-term memory issues! In writing these following verses, he points out that he had told them these things before while he was with them (v.5). So, by way of reminder and for their encouragement, Paul brings to light the deception propagated among them (v.3).
The day of the Lord, Paul says, will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed (v. 3). What is this apostasy that is coming, and who is this man of lawlessness that will one day be exposed to the world? They are vital for us to understand because these are two significant developments leading up to the coming of the Lord.
Apostasy (Apostasia in Greek) means rebellion or the falling away. “It can mean either a political revolt or a religious rebellion, or a combination of the two. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word is used for rebellion against God (cf. Joshua 22:22; Jeremiah 2:19), and that is apparently the meaning here.” (2)
Some revolt or “departing” from Christ must take place. It seems clear that this departure from the faith and its subsequent rebellion against Christ will occur in the professing church. “It will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word” (1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Connected closely to this falling away is the arrival or uprising of the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction (v. 3-4). Paul says that he will “oppose every so-called God or object of worship and even “display himself as being God (cf. Daniel 8:11-14; 11:36-37). The descriptive name “son of destruction” reveals to Paul’s readers this person’s destiny-destruction!
Paul states that something is restraining him until the proper time for him to be revealed (v. 6). That statement shows two things:
1. He cannot be revealed until God says so!
2. Apparently, they knew something about this restraining influence that we do not. Something taught by Paul when he was with them.
Suggestions propagated for the identification of the restraining power.
1. The state with its law and order- Paul respected the state (Romans 13).
2. The preaching of the gospel as a restraint to evil. That than could be Paul or other gospel preachers (grace being extended, even now)!
3. The Holy Spirit
Even though we may not be able to claim one or the other, one thing is true: God controls the future! He is in control of human history and is working all things out according to His sovereign will.
Paul had taught the Thessalonians about these things when he was with them, as I mentioned before, but they didn’t remember that these things would take place before Christ returns.
8 “Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will eliminate with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His [i]coming; 9 that is, the one whose [j]coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and false [k]signs and wonders, 10 and with [l]all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God [m]will send upon them [n]a deluding influence so that they will believe [o]what is false, 12 in order that they all may be [p]judged who did not believe the truth, but [q]took pleasure in wickedness.”
FOCUS THREE: In these last verses (8-12), Paul mentions two distinct people: the lawless one and the Lord, and one grouping of people, those who perish. Let’s begin with the lawless one. Paul says that his coming is in accord “with the activity of Satan.” Even though evil is restrained, Paul does recognize that to some degree, this lawlessness is “already” at work. Keep in mind that Paul’s already is the time of his writing (v.7)! This “mystery” of lawlessness is a satanic counterpart to the mystery of the gospel. “Implied may also be the notion that unless God opens our eyes we do not see evil for what it really is.” (1) When God’s appointed time arrives, this last restraint will be removed, and the lawless one will be seen for what he truly is.
His power will be displayed with counterfeit miracles and pseudo signs, and these things will deceive those who are perishing—this grouping of people I mentioned earlier (v. 10). Revelation 13:13 say’s that he will persuade people to worship the beast. The sad fact is that those who lack spiritual discernment will fall full-bore into his deceptive schemes and suffer the terrible fate of eternal destruction.
But, there is another personage to mention here, the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8)! Our Lord, Himself, will destroy this evil one with the “breath of His mouth” (v. 8). This language is similar to that used in Isaiah 11:4 and Revelation 19. The Antichrist will totally and unequivocally be destroyed at the appearance of His coming!
For further thought:
1. In what other ways can we be deceived? 1 John 4:1; Colossians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Can you find more?
2. In verse five, Paul seeks to remind the Thessalonians of things he previously told them. What do these verses remind us to do? Deuteronomy 6:12; Psalm 143:5. Why do we, at least in part, partake of communion ( 1 Corinthians 11:24)?
3. What do these verses urge us to do or not do regarding the possibility of apostasy in our own lives? Hebrews 3:12; 2 Peter 3:17; 2 Timothy 3:1-9.
4. What do these verses teach us about the Second coming of Christ? Revelation 1:7; John 14:3; Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:11.
4 “Finally then, brothers and sisters, we request and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us as to how you ought to [a]walk and please God (just as you actually do [b]walk), that you excel even more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you [c]by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”
Brief intro: Paul has come to a place in his writing where he is no longer “looking back” and expressing his personal reflections on his first missionary endeavor with them. He is now going to begin “looking forward” by giving these believers practical instructions and exhortations as to what is proper behavior in light of the commandments he gave them by the authority of the Lord Jesus (v.2). Paul gives them three aspects of Christian living that are pleasing to God. We are only going to be looking at two of them in this study: Their/our general conduct as believers (1-2) and sexual purity as a part of their/our sanctification (3-8).
FOCUS ONE: This chapter begins with the words “finally then.” Those words lead us to believe that Paul is coming to a close in his writing. That will eventually happen, but not here. Paul still has a few things that he would like to share with these believers that will instruct and equip them as they move forward in their faith. Paul uses that word here to introduce his final section of the letter, one that moves from their present condition to their future progress in developing holy character.
The word “brethren” as Paul is using it here does not mean “biological” siblings as it is used elsewhere (Matthew 1:2), but rather members of the same Christian community (John 21:23; Acts 9:30). He begins by “requesting” and “exhorting” these people to continue pursuing obedience to the word of God. Requesting something of someone is a gentle, more friendly way of asking someone to do something. Exhorting someone is by far a more authoritative manner in making a plea. Paul’s exhorting has such an authoritative tone to it because it includes the words “through the Lord Jesus” (vs. 2). So, I think we can surmise from this that his urging is a bit more than a request, but less than a command!
It is interesting that Paul is not intending to instruct them to behave differently, but to “excel still more” in doing what they are already doing (1:3,6,7,10; 2:14; 3;6; 4:1,9-10). One reason Paul probably added the words “through the Lord Jesus” to his appeal is because he knows that such an endeavor would never be successful without divine help.
3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to [a]possess his own [b]vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in [c]lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;”
FOCUS TWO: Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for you Christian? Paul very directly tells these believers that it is God’s will for them, and naturally for any believer, to “abstain” from any sexual sin. In our new lives as redeemed, forgiven, and justified children of God we are to refrain from sexual sin in any form whether that be heterosexual or homosexual. We are to “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
These Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment. Sexual frivolity was rampant. Fornication (porneia – The Greek word used) was practiced openly and people were encouraged to do so. Prostitution was considered a priestly duty and, crazy enough, extra-marital sex was viewed at times as an act of worship. No wonder Paul is concerned about this young church. Even though he rejoices in their spiritual progress so far, he knows that doesn’t mean that they didn’t sometimes fall into sin. These people grew up in a culture where God and His standards didn’t exist. But one day a man named Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, arrives and tells them about their creator and what He has done for them in the person of His son Jesus. This message went forth in power and the Holy Spirt convicted them of their sins and brought them to a repentant faith in the finished work of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9). They are now new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), “old things have passed away, behold new things have come.”
Now, as children of God with regenerated hearts, they are to move forward seeking to work out in their lives what has has been accomplished within their hearts (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul’s exhortation here is a personal one: “you abstain from sexual immorality;” “each of you know how to possess (control) his own vessel” (vv. 3-4). Such a work requires the exercise of self-control enabled by the Holy Spirit within them. So, Paul doesn’t just place this burden on them without giving them some guidance as to how they can affectively be obedient and gain the victory in this aspect of their lives.
You and I, contrary to modern psychology, are not the victims of our circumstances. We witness in biblical history as well as secular history, time and time again, people who overcame their present circumstances to go on and make their lives better. Unlike those who do not know the Lord as their savior and are caught up in their “lustful passions,” these Thessalonian believers as well as any believers, are not the victims of their present circumstances, sexual desire can be controlled with God’s help!
Paul doesn’t specify exactly how to control oneself and that is probably because there are several ways in which a person can accomplish this goal. One or another way may be useful to one person but not so helpful to another. So, each of us has to apply the necessary means that enable us to behave in a manner that set’s us apart from this world unto the Lord who redeemed us.
6 “and that no one violate the rights and take advantage of his brother or sister in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you previously and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for [a]impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Therefore, the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
FOCUS THREE: In these verses Paul transitions from the personal aspect of sexual purity and is now speaking of its relationship to others. A question that comes to mind is this: what does he mean by “transgress and defraud his brother in the matter?” I believe that Paul is saying that when a person does not stay within the confines of their marital relationship, they break God’s law, violate His revealed will, and therefore rob others of the sanctity of the marriage relationship. That sense of security, intimacy, and holiness of the relationship is stolen from others (Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4).
The act of fornication with someone else defrauds or robs that person by taking advantage of them. In “overstepping” God’s moral laws for sexual relationships, in this case with another believer, a person will rob them of the purity and sanctity of such a relationship that is set apart for the marital relationship. One commentator notes that: “this refers to all the destructive societal and spiritual implications of illegitimate sexual activity.”
So, Paul goes on to tell them, actually “solemnly warn” them not to behave in such a way because “the Lord is the avenger in all these things” (v. 6). There are many reasons stated within these scriptures that should lead them/us to obey our Lord in this area as well as any other area of our Christian walk, such as:
Overstepping God’s appointed boundaries and taking advantage of another person sexually are violations of His holiness (vv. 3,6,8).
The nature of His calling (salvation, sanctification, and glorification – v. 3;Ephesians 1:4-14).
These standards are God given and able to be obeyed because of His Holy Spirit within the believer (v.8).
To live in such a way is called “impure” or “unclean.” Such terms should never be used of a true follower of Jesus Christ. This kind of behavior is the opposite of holiness and must be abandoned. God has called us for better things (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:5; Colossians 1:12)!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Beginning in chapter four Paul begins giving some practical instructions for godly living to these believers in Thessalonica. What other instructions can you find in the New Testament that God wants you to obey? For example, Romans 12:1-2 .
How would it look in your life and how might it impact others if you “excelled still more” in your spiritual growth?