Coming Attractions: Apostasy!

Episode 29

II Thessalonians

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TruthI hope you had a fantastic Memorial Day. It’s Tuesday the 31st of May and I’m going to try to record, edit AND publish this week’s show all in one day. Tall order, but I’m going to try. BTW, It’s hotter than the dickens here in North Georgia and there is no chance of rain here at the farmstead. Of course, I know some of you have had so much rain lately that you cringe at the very word. I sure wish we could split the difference.

It’s not just hot, we are enduring daily air quality warnings. Gotta love the 21st century. My wife and I have some friends who spent their Holiday running back and forth to and from the hospital as their toddler son was admitted over the weekend with breathing problems and was  kept for a couple days for breathing treatments.  I’ve heard several similar stories, especially with elderly folk. It’s not good.

By the looks of my facebook/Twitter feeds, there are plenty of families who also didn’t get to celebrate due to a variety of crises. Please keep those with broken hearts and worry in your prayers today.

Today, we’re going to look at Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. It’s a very short letter, only 3 brief chapters, but it’s packed with some intense information, but before we get there, I want to take a side trip.

Those of you who have been to one of my (Re)Discovering The Bible classes or workshops, or who have  read Volume 1 of the (Re)Discovering series, know I’m a fan of some Bible Translations, and not much of a fan of others. I even include some brief Translation Review notes, because I know it’s hard to find a good translation fit, sometimes.

With that in mind, I’m going to periodically review a Translation here on the show. If there is enough interest and feedback, I may consider doing a YouTube version. But that’s a ways down the road.

I’m bringing up the whole Translation topic because I just finished reading the Bible in the Good News Translation and I’m starting the New Testament with the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

While the GNB is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d do a quick review of my experience to help those who are either new to Bible reading, or are looking for a useful translation for your own personal reading.

The New Testament portion of the Good News Bible was first published in 1966 under the name, Good News For Modern Man.  I wish I was too young to remember it, but I remember it only too well. I turned 10 that year and my parents got me a copy of it for either my Birthday or Christmas.  It was a little paperback and the illustrations were simple line drawings, similar to stick men.  Those illustrations were probably more popular than the actual translation ever was.

There was some controversy at its release. I remember even the evening news featuring the GNB in its commentary segment and lamenting the every day language being less poetic and captivating than the King James version.

I was fascinated by it.  Finally, I had a Bible written in a way that made sense to me. I could understand every word.  I read from it a great deal until I got my first copy of the NIV in 1973.  By the time the Old Testament portion of the Good News Bible came out in 1976, I was not much interested because I was sold out to the NIV.

When I moved to the United Kingdom in 1980, I saw that many congregations used the GNB as pew Bibles, so I got a copy.  It just didn’t flow right for me, so I put it aside and didn’t look at it seriously again until 2014 when I was first considering writing (Re)Discovering The Bible.

I was also looking for a replacement for the NIV, which I gave up on when the 2011 edition came out. I’ll leave that for another discussion.

Late last year, 2015, I decided to give the GNB a fresh look, so I chose to read it through from beginning to end during my daily devotions. I read between one and 6 chapters a day, depending on the day of the week, so it takes me about a year to get through the Bible. I finished Revelation last week, May 27 to be precise.

On the whole, I like it. The vocabulary is about that of a 12 year old. That is by design. The GNB was originally intended for people from Africa and Asia for whom English is a second language. It think the vocabulary is one of its real strong points. You won’t find any archaic words, or theological ones for that matter, that sometimes muddle up more traditional versions.

There were times I thought it was too simple and I wanted to talk to a grown up, but those times were rare. While I’m not a big fan of gender inclusive translations, as it feels like it’s acquiescing to Political Correctness, it wasn’t as big a deal to me in the GNB as it feels in the NIV. It feels more natural here rather than in some other versions. And it passes my ‘smell test’ on some of the verses I always check for interpretive translating when I’m checking out a new translation.

The GNB is a great translation for those new to Bible reading, for young people, and for English as a second language. I would recommend it for Churches that are teaching English as a second language to immigrants and refugees. It’s also extremely helpful for people who are not strong readers. Many give up on the Bible because the vocabulary and style are complex to them. The Good News Bible does a great job of eliminating that obstacle.

While I won’t be switching to it as my regular personal Bible, but I do recommend it.  And, you can find copies quite inexpensively. I have a giant print edition that cost me about $12 for a paperback. Plus its available on YouVersion, Bible Gateway, e-Sword  and other apps as a free downloadable application. It’s hard to beat free.

I will include some links in the show notes for you in the event you’d like to check it out for yourself. If you have questions or comments, use the comments feature on the show notes at samburtonpresents.com or email me: samburtonpresents@gmail.com.

Just as an FYI, I’ve started reading through the Holman Christian Standard Version, but I’ve only read four chapters so far, so it’s way too early to make an assessment. I’m only using it for my New Testament reading at the moment. Stay tuned.

Ok, now let’s get back to 2 Thessalonians. Since all the background is the same as for 1 Thessalonians, I’ll simply refer you back to episode 28 for all that information.

15:21 This second letter is extremely brief and is dedicated to following up on the matter of Jesus return that gets raised in chapter four of the first letter.

The entire letter, all three chapters, is focused on events and repercussions of Jesus return.

In Chapter 1, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be strong in the face of the persecution they are enduring.  Starting inn verse 10 he says the Believers will marvel at Jesus glory when He returns and that  if the Believers remain strong they will be vindicated for their perseverance. Anyone who’s ever suffered for their faith probably wonders if it’s all worth it.  This chapter is appreciated by anyone in that place.

It’s also worth backing up and parking for a minute to take a look at verses 8 and 9 where Paul  declares that those who reject Jesus will suffer a quite a different fate.

Of particular note is that in addition to those who reject Jesus, punishment awaits those who ‘don’t know’ Him.  It is assumed by a casual reading that ‘don’t know’ means ‘aren’t aware’, but that is not the case here.  The word used here is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to ‘concern yourself with’, or ‘pay attention to’.

In short Paul is saying disaster awaits those who choose to remain ignorant about Jesus as well as those who reject the Gospel.  I often tell a story about a young man I met in Bishopbriggs Scotland. He had come to Bible Study and had no Bible of his own. As I was driving him home, I offered him one as a gift, and he said ‘No, absolutely not. If I accept it, then I’ll have to read it. If I read it, I’ll have to do what’s in it and I have no intention of doing that. So, no thanks.”  While honest, and a little amusing, this chapter of 2 Thessalonians suggests voluntary ignorance is a dangerous road to travel.

In context, he is talking about the Jewish unbelievers who are persecuting the Thessalonian Believers. Some of them have outright rejected Jesus while others remain voluntarily ignorant and don’t do their homework. Either way, the end result is the same.

By application, I bet we all know many people who haven’t formally heard and researched the Gospel then rejected it, but rather they simply won’t do their own homework and dismiss Him. If the Gospel is true, the consequences are quite severe.

Then in verse 9 he says they face a severe punishment of eternal destruction.  Some would love that to say they are snuffed out. Unfortunately, that’s not what he says. In the first place, snuffing out is not eternal, it’s a one time act. And it isn’t punishment, because once the snuffing is complete, there is no remorse, regret or anything else. It’s peace. It’s over. In point of fact, the implication of the language is forever dying, but never dead. It’s like Groundhog day, reliving the same misery, without hope of waking up or getting out of the dream. Its totally consistent with the rest of Biblical teaching on Hell.

Paul changes direction a little in chapter2 and addresses rumors going around that say the 2nd coming has already happened.  He then offers a couple of specific signs to look for to recognize when the Return is getting close. These are especially significant.

Paul says that we should expect a great ‘rebellion’ followed by the arrival of ‘The man of sin’, aka The Antichrist.  Current popular thought is that this rebellion and Antichrist are secular or political and affect the world in general. But for most of Christian history that has not been the interpretation.

The context, and interpretation of most scholars before the late 1800s, was that this ‘rebellion’ would come from within the Church and the ‘Antichrist’ would come from within the Church.

While some translations use the word revolt or rebellion, many older translations say ‘falling away’, which is a better rendering of the Greek which is sometimes translated apostasy. Both the context and language declare that before Jesus returns, there will be an abandonment of historic beliefs (which Paul later says will come from false teacher who are scratching ‘itching ears’. The Church will be ripe for the ultimate deceiver who will build on those false teachings and will present himself as the Messiah, in fact he will declare himself to be God and exalt himself over anything called god.

One of the sad misinterpretations of this passage is that from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation until the late 1800s was that the prophesy refers to the Roman Catholic Church as the apostasy and the Pope as the ‘Man of Sin’.  I disagree with that as much as I do modern interpretations that view the man of lawlessness as primarily a secular leader.

I realize I’m moving from Survey to commentary in this episode, but I can’t find a way around it. So I will just go on.

Paul goes on with his message and eventually calls the work of the Antichrist a ‘strong delusion’ backed up with actual signs and miracles. It’s interesting that the word strong is literally the word from which we get ‘energy’ or ‘energetic.’  The Delusion is active and aggressive rather than subtle or discreet. And it will be extremely convincing.  Especially in light of the forsaking of Truth by the Church.

The Antichrist will offer great miracles as his so called proof of authority. We have always been hoodwinked by signs and wonders. Remember Jesus warned that it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign. It is never the miraculous that is the arbiter of accuracy. It is the Truth.  But by the time the Man of Sin arrives on the scene the apostasy will be well advanced. By that time ‘the one who keeps the apostasy and Antichrist at bay will be taken out of the way.’

25:54Simply put, Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit who confirms His word and the truth will be pushed out of the picture. He will no longer be a part of the Church. I am convinced that will include the Bible. Just watch. Even the Bible will be left behind and everything will be about feeling, experience, sensuality.

If you can look around at the abandonment of Truth and historic doctrine in Churches and not be terrified by 2 Thessalonians 2, I don’t know what WILL scare you. I believe the ‘falling away’ or ‘rebellion’ has begun.  Just this morning I read a survey that 70 percent of the population, including 40 percent of those who claim to be ‘practicing Christians’  do not believe in absolute morality. They either believe everything is relative or they give it no thought at all. Think about it, on any given Sunday, 4 out of every 10 people in Church with you, have abandoned the notion of absolute Truth in favor of an a la carte faith. Choose what you want and disregard the rest. The ‘falling away’ has begun. It’s not yet complete and perhaps we can still turn the ship around, but things look bad.

You absolutely much do your own homework and draw your own conclusion, but I am persuade that we are living this chapter.  And as a result, my sense of urgency in preaching and evangelism is off the meter.

In chapter 3, Paul moves away from the end times teaching to how we should behave.  Most scholars suggest that in anticipation of Jesus coming back, people were quitting their jobs and living off the Church. Paul says, no, get back to work. Be prepared for Christ’s coming, but live responsibility until it happens.

I think there’s another thought here though. Many travelling evangelists were living off the hospitality of the Churches rather than doing any real work. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he and Silas didn’t take, they gave. We should not let these frauds get away with being lazy, useless, greedy hustlers.

Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. There are still a large number of hustlers out there living off the Church. It’s time to call them out. It’s time to stand up for what’s true and what’s right. There’s no time to waste.

Wow, I think it’s time to stop or I’ll go on for like, ever. You can tell that I get pretty fired up over this small but major letter. So I’ll say, that’s all I got, and leave you to go back and read the two Thessalonian letters again and seriously consider them. As always email your questions or post them in the comments section.

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Dead Vs Living: Who Wins The Race When Jesus Returns

 

 

Episode 28

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Man it’s gorgeous here in North Georgia right now. After a crazy heatwave in April, May has rocked. We’ve had decent rain, nice days and fantastic sleeping weather at night. The bad news is, it’s over. All good things come to an end. This too shall pass, yada yada .  Starting tomorrow, we will feel like we’re living on the face of the sun. We’ll have high temperatures and crazy humidity. Here in Georgia, we call that summer. I fear it more than I ever feared winter in Northern Maine.

However, compared to what’s going on in India, our summer is a Holiday Resort. Over the weekend I posted some articles about a severe drought that is affecting many parts of the country. (The photo on the left is a dry well).  I’ve also had reports from friends who live there or who support ministries there and they all say water in stricken areas is in short supply.  Many wells are completely dry. Places where the water table is normal 20 to thirty feet deep are reduced to just a few inches. Schools  and colleges are cancelled and orphanages are spending large sums of money to have water shipped in.  I am going to ask you to pray for these hard hit places. Pray for rain, and pray for aid. If you want to participate in providing assistance, I’m going to provide links in the show notes to some agencies I believe in, who can give you more information.

Also, before we get on with the program, I’m not sure I’ve ever announced to you all that Brittan and I are planning to return to Scotland in 2017 to serve the Kingdom there. I lived there for 13 years and feel drawn by God to return and serve again. Please pray for us as we are kicking off our fundraising efforts. It’s going to be quite a challenge, but our God is bigger than any challenge. If you want to follow our plans or keep up with news, we have a Facebook Page called, “Points North Ministry”. It’s going to get pretty active beginning in early June.  These are exciting times. BTW, I have no intention of ending the broadcast when we go, I’ll just be recording from someplace other than the camper.

Alright, lets get to the program.  The next two weeks, we’re looking at Paul’s 2 letters to the Thessalonian Church. I seriously considered doing both letters in one book, but there is enough material that I think its wise to do two broadcasts.

One of the things that fascinates me about these two letters is the fact of how personal the letters are, when Paul had only spent a short time there.  You can read about the founding of the Church in Thessalonica in Acts Chapter 17.  There are only a few verses dedicated to Paul’s time there.

No sooner had the Church been planted, when the Jews stirred up trouble for the fledgling congregation and Paul was forced to leave town. After a brief time in Berea, Paul goes to Athens and eventually to Corinth.  Most scholars and traditions tell us that Paul wrote the Thessalonian letters during the 18 months he was in Corinth. That being the case, it is likely that 1 Thessalonians was the very first of Paul’s letters and was written in approx. A.D.51.

One of the first things you’ll notice as you read through this first letter is how frequently Paul offers words of encouragement to them. I’m sure part of the reason is that Paul may be feeling a bit bad that he didn’t get to stay longer and he might be reminding them that he really cares for them and that his visit was not just a hit and run.

But is also seems obvious that the persecution from the Jews lingered long after Paul’s departure and was likely still in progress when Paul wrote.

It’s hard for us to imagine how tough it was for the early Christians. We have our political hassles here in the U.S. but the early believers faced genuine discrimination and outright physical persecution. But despite that, Paul begins the book by commending the Church for their perseverance and successful efforts.

Chapter two has many similarities to parts of 1 and 2 Corinthians where Paul defends his own behavior and compares it to many of the charlatans and persecutors who have less noble intentions. It seems that Paul and his company were constantly harassed by Jewish antagonists and the ‘Judaizing Christians’ who were trying add the law of Moses to the Gospel. It must have been exhausting for Paul. I know it would be for me.

Chapter 3 is spent telling them that Timothy had returned to Corinth from Thessalonica brought and encouraging report. Paul is excited to hear it and is disappointed that he was unable to go.

Chapters 4 and 5 are the real meat of the letter. As he does in most of his letters, Paul encourages the Believers to live holy lives both towards outsiders and towards one another.

He begins by calling them to sexual purity. It’s amazing how many times the new testament letters address sexual behavior. It’s tempting, in our 21st century world of easy access and anything goes, from Game of Thrones to instant porn on the world wide web, to think promiscuity is something new, but even a cursory reading of the Bible will rebut that notion. Immorality is not new, not by a long shot. Technology has merely provided us new ways to act out our physical desires. We’ve merely added digital and virtual reality opportunities, with robot lovers just over the horizon. We could spend a lot of time there, but I think we won’t do that today. We’ll get to it, but I don’t want to get distracted from the main message of this first letter, which begins in 4:13, runs through the end of the book and continues in the second letter.

Paul is intent of helping the Thessalonian Believers to a greater understanding of life after death and live in hope of Christ’s return.  Chapter 4 is one of the clearest presentations of the Believer’s hope that you will ever hear or read. So let’s park here for a little bit and take a closer look.

I love the way Paul describes death as sleep. Death looks so permanent and so strong, that a huge percentage of humans fear it. One of our most basic desires is to wonder what happens after death. While many secularists and materialists dismiss life after death as a fantasy, their arguments sound hollow to an overwhelming majority of the species. Instinctively and intuitively we know that this life is not all there is, or at least, we crave it to be true. Nearly all religions have some form of afterlife doctrine whether it be reincarnation, ‘moving into the light’, becoming one with the universe or hanging around like ghosts. This innate desire or fear is what allows many psychics and mediums to make a fortune offering comfort to the public.

Christianity offers comfort because our hope comes from One who was publicly executed and buried, yet showed up for breakfast three days later. He is not some disembodied spirit seen only by a central character on stage or sitting in a candle lit room. He was seen by literally hundreds of eye witnesses. The resurrection of the dead, first that of Jesus, then the promise of resurrection for the rest of us, is the central focus of Gospel Preaching in the Book of Acts. The point of every sermon preached in that important book is the resurrection. Christianity stands or falls on it.

With that in mind, Paul says in 4:13, the resurrection should provide a different response to death that it does for those who don’t believe. He calls them, those who have no hope.

There are those who would say that the word sleep, surmises that those who die just nap until Jesus returns. In fact, there are entire denominations build around ‘soul sleep’ as their primary distinction.  And, to be fair, from our perspective, living in time and space, that’s the way it looks.

But we have to also consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians in his second letter, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Both of those things are true.  The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 looks at death from the perspective of time and space. The 2nd Corinthian verse looks at death from an eternal perspective. Once we pass from this life we enter into a new one, a new dimension you might say, where time and space are meaningless. It is a challenging concept to get our heads around because we have never experienced anything other than our dimension and it’s timeline limitations. A few years ago, the television series, ‘Fringe’, which is one of my all time favorite series, tried to grapple with it, but while entertaining, came up empty handed.

It’s far easier to look at death and afterlife from what we understand by experience that to think in eternal, abstract terms. So we will leave that for the moment, but it’s going to rear its head again in just a moment. Stay tuned.  The main thing, is Paul is focused on our bodies, which remain tied to this physical realm even after death.

In 4:15, Paul tells us that those who have died in Christ, will rise before we join the Lord. Lets look at the drama in verses 16 and 17. Christ returns, it isn’t secret, it isn’t a mystery, it’s accompanied by a trumpet blast and a shout heard round the world.

In verse 16 he says the dead will rise first. But go back to verse 14 where he says that those who died in Christ will return with Him. Huh? What?

Two things. First, think outside the box. Death is physical, but our spirits live on. In some crazy, awesome act of power, the spirits of those who have already passed will return with the Lord and will somehow be reconnected with their bodies. That is going to be one incredible show.

Only after that, those who are alive at the return will be join them with Jesus. How is that possible?  Paul goes into some greater detail when he writes to the Corinthians. In chapter 15 he writes that we will be changed. Our time and space bodies will take on an eternal form or nature; one that’s not subject to the ravages of time or limited by space or victimized by the effects of sin.

It’s beyond our ability to visualize, but well within our ability to believe and hope.

Death is not the end. Jesus resurrection defeated death and His return will be the end of the grave and corruption. Incredible. Death is not all powerful. It’s just a blip on a screen. That’s why he says in verse 18, we should encourage one another with that hope.

Paul begins chapter 5 as a natural response to the excitement provoked by chapter 4. So, when will this happen? Soon? He says, I don’t know. It’s going to be a surprise. Live like it’s today, but be prepared for it to be a long way off.

Isn’t that one of the hardest things to do? It sure is for me. We’ll see next week that it was for the Thessalonians, too.

When all is said and done, the thing that keeps me going in a crazy, topsy turvy world, is the awareness that the grave is defeated and one day, maybe this day, Jesus is coming to make all things new. That dog hunts.

And that’s all I got. Please email me or use the comments section of the show notes to share any thoughts or ask any burning questions. Oh, and if you get a chance and haven’t done it, please leave a review on iTunes. It really helps in promoting the show. Thanks in advance.  Next week we’ll dig into 2nd Thessalonians and look at ‘The Man of Sin – Is Damien For Real?”  Until then, have a great week. Be blessed and be a blessing.

 

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