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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

“Ready for His Righteous Repayment” - Tribulation Particulars: Apostasy and Antichrist - 2 Thessalonians 2

The seven year long Tribulation period that is coming is transitional period that leads from our present fallen world with Satan as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) into the next period in world history, the righteous kingdom age with Christ as King for a thousand years. The Tribulation is a time of God’s righteous outpoured wrath on a Christ-rejecting world (Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15). It is a period that prophetically will bring the world into full focus on Israel and the Holy Land (Daniel 9:24-27). It is also a time during which Satan will do his most obstinate, rebellious, maniacal best to defy God and His plans. But He will be soundly defeated (Rev. 19 and 20).


The purpose of the Tribulation is that through God’s strong hand His wrath would wake up Israel to their Messiah Jesus making them a force for the spread of the gospel in the Tribulation period (cf. Revelation 7 and 14). God’s just judgment on the world during this time is also meant to shake up Christ rejecters so that they would repent of their sins and turn to Jesus. (Unfortunately we know most will persist in unbelief – cf. Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9-11). Lastly, God’s judgment on the world will serve as a type of fumigation of this world to prepare it for the return of Jesus Christ at the Second Coming when He will descend to the Mount of Olives, establish His capitol in Jerusalem and rule this earth for a Millennium (cf. Zech. 14; Rev. 19-20).


Christians, (those genuinely born again of the Spirit through faith in Christ by God’s grace) will not go through the Tribulation. Christians are saved from the coming wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). The means by which Christians will be saved from the coming period of wrath is the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church described by Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-11).


If Christians aren’t going through the Tribulation why should they care to know about the Tribulation? When Jesus taught His disciples about the Tribulation period He said it would be a time unmatched in history. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). We may see events in history that are similar to those found in the Tribulation (e.g. wars, natural disaster, plagues, persecution). But the intensity of the events of the Tribulation will dwarf what has occurred previously in history or will ever happen again. There is a build up to the Tribulation. That being the case Jesus in His Olivet discourses exhorted His followers to “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mat. 24:44). “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:37). “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36). Why would Jesus tell us to watch? If this is something believers will not go through, why would Jesus speak in such detail about it and then tell His followers to be watchful?


We are to watch because, as Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians these end times events will come “as labor pains upon a pregnant woman” (1 Thess. 5:3). These events will show themselves gradually in increasing intensity so to a certain extent we will be able to gauge the season in which the end times events are unfolding (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).


In the opening lines of Revelation John says, “Things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1).  The word “shortly” (Greek en tachei) speaks of something speeding up. The idea is much like a tachometer with the revolutions per minute of an engine revving higher and higher. Tachometers have redlines that revving the engine beyond a certain point will lead to damage of the engine that could be terminal. The events of the end times and in particular the Tribulation period will at first appear at an idle speed but then they will rev up to redline explosive levels. If that is the case we will be able to notice the increasing intensity of the developing prophetic events.


Here’s the reason why we should be ready and watching for the Tribulation: If we pay attention we will be able to discern the pieces of the prophetic puzzle falling into place. If we watch and pray we will see the pre-Tribulation impregnation of the world with the events that will be fully birthed in the Tribulation. And if we can see the beginning of Tribulation pieces falling into place and the Rapture of the church occurs before that Tribulation, then we know that it’s almost time to go home, to be Raptured by Jesus out of this world. That is why we should be aware and ready for the Tribulation.


The Thessalonians thought the Tribulation period was upon them. They had been shaken because of this. If the Tribulation was upon them it meant they weren’t righteous. God was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only 10 righteous people were in the cities. If the Tribulation had come upon them it apparently meant God didn’t see them as righteous; they were not saved from their sins (cf. Genesis 18). If they were righteous then it meant God wasn’t because they were recipients of an unjust wrathful judgment on justified in Christ people. And if the Tribulation was upon them it meant they couldn’t trust God’s word (1 Thess. 2:13) or the Apostle Paul who had previously taught them about the end times and the Rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-11). So you can see why it was important for Paul to address this confusion.


In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 Paul will lay out some particulars of the Tribulation. By doing this he will show that the Tribulation wasn’t upon the Thessalonians; he will sooth their heart; strengthen their faith; and help them to be informed and ready for the future. And while the Tribulation did not come in their lifetime, it just may occur in our time. So Paul’s inspired letter is important for us to study closely so we can discern the times in which we live. Hopefully we are living in the times leading up to Jesus’ return and the culmination of all things. So let’s go to the word and see some of the particulars of the Tribulation.


2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 (NKJV) - Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,


Paul opens his description of the particulars of the Tribulation by referencing the base point of the Rapture. It is at the Rapture; before the Tribulation period begins that there will be a “gathering together to Him” of Jesus followers. 


We know that Paul is referring to the Rapture (which occurs before the Tribulation) and not the Second Coming (which occurs at the conclusion of the Tribulation) because it is at the Rapture that Jesus comes for His saints “our gathering together to Him,” to rescue and remove them from the world to save them from God’s coming outpoured wrath (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:17). At the Second Coming Jesus comes with His saints (Zachariah 14:5; Revelation 19:14). At the Rapture Jesus comes “in the clouds” to receive His saints (1 Thessalonians 4:17). At the Second Coming Jesus comes with His saints to the earth on the Mount of Olives to defeat those who have surrounded Jerusalem and begin His reign on earth (Zechariah 14:3-4). If Paul were referring to the Second Coming then you would have a situation where the saints on earth at His coming would rise up to meet Jesus in the air and then make the largest U-turn in the history to return with Him to the earth. That just doesn’t jive with the prophetic revelation of Jesus returning to earth.


not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.


The issue at hand is whether or not the Tribulation is upon the Thessalonian Christians. But if that were the case, it would also imply that the Rapture had occurred and they had been left behind. The Thessalonians found that possibility very troubling. It shook their faith. It would mean God had treated them unjustly by leaving them where he was pouring out His wrath. It would also mean His word and promise were unreliable. And it would shake their faith for the future; their hope.


Those teaching such a falsehood did so “by spirit” or insinuating it by tones in conversation, “by word,” by actually saying as much, “or by letter, as if from us,” which implies the false teachers were using Paul’s name on pseudepigraphal letters that taught their falsehood. Pseudo means false. Pigraphal refers to writings. False teachers would circulate their falsehoods with the names of apostles used to lend them credibility.


Let no one deceive you by any means;


Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to not allow themselves to be deceived in any way or “by any means.” There is one sure fire way to protect yourself from deception. The best protection against false teaching, cults, heresy, and those who would try to manipulate and abuse you is the truth of God’s word (John 17:17; Eph. 4:15). . Therefore our best defense against deception is to study and know God’s word. To the Colossian church Paul exhorted, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). In his letter to his protégé Timothy Paul exhorted, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There is no substitute to knowing God’s word as best you can. I would encourage you to read through the Bible each year. Commentaries and devotionals have their place, but they can never replace the direct prayerful study of God’s word and relying on the Holy Spirit to illuminate its contents (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:9-14).


for that Day will not come unless


Now Paul is going to address the false teaching that the Tribulation had come upon them by giving particulars about the prerequisites to the Tribulation coming. Paul is going to indicate what must happen before the Tribulation period takes place. By doing this and showing these things have not taken place he proves the Tribulation has also not yet come about. What are these prerequisites to the Tribulation?


the falling away comes first,


The first prerequisite to the Tribulation is “the falling away.” The phrase “falling away” is a translation of the Greek term apostasia. We get the English term apostasy from this word too. But the basic literal meaning of apostasia is a removal, a departure. The word can also mean backsliding, rebellion, or apostasy, but the basic meaning is a departure.


I believe the Spirit who inspired these words (2 Tim. 3:16-17) chose the term apostasia to communicate a dual prerequisite sign for the Tribulation. I believe that apostasia points us to a departure and removal of the saints from the earth in a pre-Tribulation Rapture of the saints. Secondly, I believe that leading up to the Tribulation period we will see an increased apostasy; a departure from sound scriptural doctrine in the church. Interestingly, when we look at the church of today we do see an increase in deviating from God’s word and sound doctrine; we do see a rise in apostasy. New Evangelicalism is watering down and redefining the classic and true definition of Biblical inerrancy (i.e. that the Bible in its original autographs is without error: God does not err; The Bible is God’s word; therefore the Bible does not err). We see a rise of Replacement Theology where Israel is cast aside and replaced by the church. Replacement Theology awkwardly tries to take God’s promises to Israel and apply them to the church. Where such attempts come up against difficulty in transferring God’s promises to Israel to the church then scripture is allegorized to force an application. Cults are on the rise as well. The gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone is being altered. Segments of the “church” are now teaching that faith in Christ is not the solitary necessary mandatory criteria for a person’s being forgiving their sins, born again by the Spirit, and entering God’s kingdom. The truth of the necessity of being born again is purposefully neglected and discarded. Yes, apostasy is on the rise.


There is something very important for us to grasp here. Understand that the idea of an apostasy implies that not everyone in the church is of the true church. Apostasy means there are tares among the wheat in the church (Mat. 13:24-30). Just because you attend a church doesn’t guarantee you will be among those who are raptured and ultimately spend eternity with the Lord. Not everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus is a follower of Jesus (e.g. Matthew 7:21-24). Each person should take Paul’s closing cautionary words to the Corinthians to heart – “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5). If you aren’t already, get serious with God. Examine yourself to see if you are truly genuinely saved. Is Christ in you? Without Jesus in you by the Spirit you do not belong to Him (cf. Romans 8:9-10).


If apostasy is on the rise we can be sure that the time of the Rapture is near. Look up my brethren, our redemption is drawing nigh!


The Rapture and rising departure from the faith are the first two prerequisites for the Tribulation to occur.


and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,


Paul here refers to a third evidence of the Tribulation and that is the revelation or public rise of the Antichrist. Satan is a deceiver. He is a counterfeiter. He sees himself as “God Almighty” or deserving of such a place. And he will counterfeit Jesus with a false christ, an antichrist. The prefix “anti” in the original language does not only mean opposite of or opposed to, it means instead of.


The Antichrist will be a “man of sin.” He will be a man and he will be the embodiment of sin. He will deceive and encourage sin. He is referred to here as “the son of perdition.” “Perdition” (Greek apoleiai) means destruction, destruction, waste. “Perdition” is a name for hell because hell is a place for ruined people, people who have forfeited all good because of their sin. The Antichrist will be a “son of perdition” because he will be known for the destruction, waste and ruin he leaves in his wake. Those who follow the antichrist, who take his mark, will be ruined (Rev. 16:2; 19:20).


The Antichrist figure will be the prime and most powerful political world leader during the Tribulation. The book of Revelation devotes an entire chapter to him (Rev. 13). He will mesmerize and manipulate unbelievers throughout the world. How will he be able to gain such power? Satan the counterfeiter will counterfeit the incarnation of God in Christ by himself incarnating himself in Antichrist. The Bible says, “The dragon [Satan] gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (Rev. 13:2).


Now in the days of the writing of 2 Thessalonians, throughout history and up to our day, while there have been many with the “spirit of antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3) “the Antichrist,” the particular figure with this title has not come to power. The spirit of Antichrist is characterized by lying, denying Jesus is the Christ, and denies the Father and the Son. We see this spirit on the rise. But we do not see the rise of Antichrist. The Antichrist has not been revealed. Therefore the Tribulation could not be what the Thessalonians are experiencing.


who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.


The most identifiable action of the Antichrist will be that he opposes and exalts himself above all other authority both politically, ecclesiastically and militarily in this world, but also over and against God Almighty Himself. The Antichrist will exalt himself as “God.” He very literally will insert himself in the place of God in God’s most Holy Temple.


The Antichrist will exalt himself in a particular place. The Antichrist will exalt himself as “God” “in the temple of God.” This is important. While the Temple was still standing when Paul first wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, no one had exalted himself as God in the Temple. Some would say that Antiochus Epiphanies did this. Some would say that the presence of Roman standards with emblems of pagan gods brought into the Temple in 70 AD fulfill this. But the Tribulation did not ensue and any such figures fail to meet the requirement of being a world figure.


What is important for us today to recognize is that in order for the Antichrist to exalt himself in the Temple of God THE TEMPLE MUST BE REBUILT. There is no Temple of God standing today. But if ever the Temple is rebuilt or we here of plans for it’s rebuilding, then we need to be ready because a major part of the Tribulation period will be in place when the Temple is rebuilt. Keep an eye out for this.


Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?


Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what he had previously taught them. As we see this reminder by Paul to them it should urge us to regular review and check up on the prophetic teachings of scripture. We need to be like “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times” (1Cchronicles 12:32).


And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.

Paul refers to something “restraining” (Greek katecho) something holding back, hindering, preventing, restraining. Paul tells the Thessalonians “you know what is restraining.” We may not know immediately what is restraining but they knew. And whatever is restraining is holding back the revealing or rise to power of the Antichrist. This is what Paul means when he says, “that he may be revealed in his own time.” The context is Paul speaking about Antichrist. And the thing to understand here is that God has a time for this Antichrist to rise to power. That tells us that God is in control; Satan is not in control. Satan and his diabolical counterfeit incarnation are being restrained by God. The Antichrist cannot rise until God says so. And we know that before the Tribulation and rise of Antichrist God’s saints must be raptured out of the way.


For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work;


Ever wonder how evil can so rapidly and thoroughly proliferate? I’m sure the Thessalonians were wondering that as they were persecuted for their faith. Don’t you wonder how our own nation could so rapidly decline and fall away from its Christian heritage? It’s mysterious to us.


The word “mystery” (Greek musterion) is not so much a hide and seek idea. It’s not as though God has hidden certain things and people have to figure it out. But musterion simply refers to things that have not yet been revealed by God. The church was a “mystery” until it was revealed in Christ at Pentecost (cf. Eph. 2:11 – 3:21). The “mystery of lawlessness” refers to a lawlessness that will be revealed in the Tribulation. Such lawlessness will be pervasive in the Tribulation. Legislation will be used not to protect and guide but to throw off restraint. And such lawlessness “is already at work.” There is a spirit of lawlessness. An example of such lawlessness already at work would be the present day legislation to allow for the murder of unborn children and the legalization of same-sex marriages. What we are seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg of what will be during the Tribulation.



only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.


Paul gives further information on the restraining force. This restraining entity is not an inanimate entity but in some way a personal “He.” And this “He” will be “taken out of the way.” This has led to some commentators (and I agree with them) to interpret these words as referring to the Holy Spirit who works in and through the church to restrain evil in the world. Before Antichrist can be revealed the church must be raptured or “taken out of the way.


And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.


Only when there is a noticeable apostasy and true believers have been raptured can the “lawless one,” the Antichrist “be revealed. We may look at this figure and fear him. But the Antichrist is no problem for the Lord. “The Lord will consume” the Antichrist, “with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Notice that the One who is coming is Jesus and that Jesus is referred to here as “the Lord.” Jesus is “the Lord,” He is God and he is in control. Jesus never ceases to be in control, no matter how bad things look, Jesus is in control.


The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,


Now Paul gives us particulars about the working of the Antichrist. He is the “lawless one” which means he will be characterized by throwing off restraint of God’s law and law in general. Antichrist will revel in anarchy, rebellion, and revolution.


Antichrist will operate “according to the working of Satan.” Satan is a liar, deceiver and murderer (John 8:43-44). Therefore Antichrist, the instrument of Satan, will serve to implement all of Satan’s anti-God and antichrist ambitions. Antichrist may very well try to lead people to worship Satan. Antichrist will be closely connected, either overtly or covertly, with the worship of Satan. He may promote and redaction of Biblical history to sympathize with the serpent of old.


Antichrist will be powerful. He will function “with all power.” This implies he will appear to have “all power,” no one will be able to challenge him. He will rise to a position of world prominence.


Antichrist will be associated with “signs, and lying wonders.” Antichrist, powered by Satan, will be able to perform “signs” (Greek semeion) which are used to establish him as having supernatural resources and which will establish and evidence his power. But “lying wonders” (Greek terasin pseudous) or false omens, false portents. Antichrist will be able to perform supernatural signs that give a false credibility to him. He will associate his authority and power as coming from an otherworldly source. That source some people will be deceived into believing is God. But in reality the Antichrist’s otherworldly source is Satan.


The only way we can keep from being deceived is by the discernment and illumination of the Spirit in those who are born again (1 Cor. 2:12-14; 1 John 2:27; 4:4). Have you been born again? Have you experienced the second birth; a spiritual birth through faith in Jesus?


10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.


Who is it that the Antichrist and in reality Satan deceives? The Antichrist will use powerful “unrighteous deception among those who perish.” “Perish” (Greek apollumi) means ruin, lostness, destruction, to be put to death, lost, perish. What characterizes those who “perish”? Paul defines the perishing as those who “did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Those who willfully choose to NOT receive the love of the truth that God sent in Christ and in His word, those who reject God’s truth that could have saved them are those who Antichrist and Satan will own.


No one will be able to say on judgment day, “The devil made me do it!” Those who perish and join Satan in hell are those who were offered an opportunity to love God’s truth that could have saved them but chose not to. A willful rejection of God’s truth is what damns people and sets them up for deception by the devil.


11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,


Understand this principle that Paul lays out here: when you reject God’s truth  you open yourself to delusion. Notice Paul states that “God will send them strong delusion.” God will allow those who refuse His gracious gospel to be deluded by Satan. Satan and Antichrist are in instrument of God’s judgment on the lost.


“Strong delusion” (Greek energeian planes) means literally working of error. Energeian means working, power, and efficiency. Planes means wandering from the path of truth, error, delusion. What is the nature of this strong delusion? Paul refers to this delusion that God will send and give people over to as “the lie.”


That “lie” (Greek pseudo) is preceded by a definite article “the” indicates that there is a particular lie god will give people who refuse his grace over to. What might “the lie” be? I believe “the lie” points us back to the first lie. The first lie occurred in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). It was delivered by Satan who had the form of an attractive serpent. This “lie” has three parts.


First, “the lie” began with getting Eve to question God’s word. “The lie” of Satan the serpent began with the words, “Has God said?” Similarly we can be sure that “the lie” we will see used by Antichrist in the end times will aim at undermining trust in God’s word. We see this today as inerrancy and inspiration of God’s word the Bible is under attack.


Second, “the lie” involved adding to God’s word. The serpent commented to Eve, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Satan misquoted God’s word and twisted its spirit. Indeed, God had said Adam and Eve could eat of every tree in the Garden except for “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:16). God’s word gave Adam and Eve only one restriction. Satan’s misquote of God’s word made it seem like God restricted them from eating of any of the trees in the Garden. Satan therefore manipulated God’s word to make God seem unreasonable, unfair, restrictive, and a tempter who put luscious trees all around Adam and Eve but then wouldn’t let them eat from them. Ever feel God’s word is unfair, unreasonable, or restrictive? Guess who is feeding you those lies? That’s right, Satan!


Third, “the lie” involved outright disobedience to God’s word. The serpent got Eve to question God’s word and then see it is unreasonable and unfair, then he hit her with an outright blatant temptation to defy and disobey God’s word saying, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4). Look at what’s going on in these tempting words. The serpent says to Eve, “You will not surely die.” In other words God lied to you. In other words, God doesn’t have the will or power to cause you to die if you eat of that tree.” And look at “the lie” about God’s character, His love, - “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, God is withholding information from you to protect Himself. God doesn’t want you to be all you can be. God wants to keep you from fulfilling who you should be. He doesn’t want any competition and He knows if you eat of that fruit you will become “God.” This is a strike at the heart of the God of love. Satan attacks God’s love because his view of love is not to restrain in any way. But true love does warn and retrain those it loves when danger is around. Satan, who wants to be “God,” tempts Eve with a false promise that she could be “God.” He uses these words to tempt Eve to outright disobey and rebel against God just like he did! And in Eve’s and Adam’s following Satan’s lie they threw off the protective covering of God and took on the shackles of sin.


God is going to give those who choose to reject Him a strong delusion and that delusion is they will give in to a mistrust of His word. Antichrist will deceive those who will perish by undermining God’s word to them, twisting God’s word and then getting them to outright disobey God’s word all by misrepresenting God.


12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


Lastly, the purpose of God sending them strong delusion of “the lie” is to leave no doubt about their just condemnation. “Condemned” (Greek krino) means judged, separated, decided, determined, condemned, punished, and decided. These “who did not believe the truth” will be condemned for their sinful decision.


We are given insight into the nature of their decision to not believe when Paul says of them, “but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” “Pleasure” (Greek eudokeo) refers to delighting in, consenting to, approving of, delighting in. “Unrighteousness” (Greek adikia ) refers to wickedness, injustice, wrongdoing, Instead of God’s righteousness offered in the truth of Christ these people chose to accept “the lie” and reject God. They then delight in, consent to, and approve of wickedness and those things which God abhors. Can anyone doubt that we see such a mystery of lawlessness at work and creeping over our world today? This is the spirit of antichrist. This will all climax in a proliferation of evil during the Tribulation period. It’s a time that has yet to come. It’s a time you don’t want to be around to experience.


Having covered some pretty heavy and serious Tribulation particulars Paul ends this chapter with some encouraging words and a benediction blessing.


13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord,


Paul expresses his thankfulness for these faithful young in the Lord believers. He always thanks the Lord for them. He reminds them that they are “beloved of the Lord.”


because God from the beginning chose you for salvation


God loves them and “from the beginning chose you for salvation.” They can trust in the faithfulness of God to save them from His righteous coming wrath.


through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,


And Paul reminds them of God’s means of encouraging them and helping them grow in their relationship with Him. “Through sanctification” God will continue to help them grow in understanding and their spiritual maturity. “Sanctification” (Greek hagiasmo) refers to consecration, holiness, sanctification; it refers to growing in faith and spiritual maturity. How do we live a sanctified life in Christ? “By the Spirit” who works in us and through us to give us “belief in the truth.” The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the scriptures (1 Cor. 2:9-14) and obey them (1 Peter 1:2). The Spirit working God’s word in us and helping us apply what He reveals to us is how we grow and mature in our faith (2 Tim. 3:16-17).


14 to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Paul reminds them of God’s calling “by our gospel” and that the end of that gospel is “obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They had received Jesus as their Savior and Lord. According to the gospel the Father in love sent His only Son Jesus to die for our sins and whoever believes in Jesus is forgiven and given eternal life (e.g. John 3:16). Their salvation brings glory to God in Christ. Paul reminds them of this blessing.


15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.


Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “stand fast” (Greek steko), stand fast, persevere.  In other words he tells them “don’t give up!” Yes they are going through hard times but they need to press on.


Paul exhorts them to “hold the traditions you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” He tells them to live by His teaching. “Traditions” (Greek paradosis) refers to “any kind of teaching, written or spoken, handed down from generation to generation.” [1] Traditions are good when they truly align with the word of God. In this verse traditions are referred to by Paul in a good sense. However, Jesus pointed out the danger of relying on traditions when they contradicted or undermined scripture (Mark 7:3, 9, and 13). When Paul wrote to the Colossians he warned them about the dangers of human traditions that could cheat believers and rob them by preventing them from the fullness of scripture truths (Col. 2:8).


Traditions, along with human reason and personal experience are important but each of these must always bow to the authority of the word of God. [2] Traditions or any teaching that is outside of scripture must still be verified by and obedient to scripture. Human reason is important. We should ponder and think and use the minds God has given us. But what we think and reason about things must again bow to scriptural authority. Lastly personal experiences we have may excite our feelings and be a source of rich blessing as we taste the reality of God in our life. But human experiences must always be substantiated in scripture. If we have an experience, can we find a similar experience in the Bible? If not our experience becomes questionable.


16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace,


Paul concludes this section with an awesome benediction. Paul speaks very personally saying, “our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.” “Himself” is an emphasis on Jesus’ personal involvement in their lives. Paul is inserting that personal touch of Jesus in this benediction. And Paul again links Jesus with “and our God and Father” which exalts His deity. He also refers to “God and Father” as “our God and Father.” Again a personal touch for these persecuted believers. Paul is communicating that Jesus and the Father are right there with them.


Jesus Himself and their Father “has loved us and give us everlasting consolation.” God has loved us by sending His Son Jesus to redeem us on the cross. “Consolation” (Greek  paraklesis) means exhortation, encouragement, or comfort. And this comfort is “everlasting” (Greek aionian) it will last forever. The trials and persecution they are experiencing can be overcome with this everlasting comfort that comes from God in Christ who loves them. The same is true for us. No matter what we go through Jesus is there to comfort us.


Jesus Himself and their Father in love has also provided them “and good hope by grace.” “Hope” (Greek elpida from elpis) is faith for the future or expectation of future good. “Good” (Greek agathein from agathos) is a rich word defined with such words as good, perfect, complete, upright, kind, benevolent, useful, acceptable, wholesome, beneficial, goods, good deeds. The hope Paul speaks of here couldn’t have been more hopefully described than using this word for “good” hope. This “good hope” isn’t something we manufacture ourselves from within. This “good hope” is a gift of God’s grace to be received by faith. When we are going through trials and hardship, persecution, what we need to do is simply take God at His word and live by “good hope” that the future belongs to Him and to us in our relationship to Him in Christ. Try that next time you are really going through a hard time that seems to destroy your hope; by faith live on with a bright expectation for future God that God has promised in His word. You won’t be disappointed.


17 comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.


The personal Jesus and our Father who loves us, gives us an eternal comfort, good hope, all as a gift of His grace, may this personal loving Jesus and Father of heaven “comfort your hearts and establish you in every good work.” Those are beautiful words. They were not in the Tribulation. God hadn’t forgotten them. God was not pouring His wrath out upon them. Yes, they were going through hard times of persecution, but they must persevere.


Paul promised that by God’s grace He would continue to comfort  them and “establish” them. “Establish” (Greek steridzo) means fix in place, stand steady and firm, to stand strong. Paul’s prayerful benediction was that they would stand strong in heart by the comfort God provides.


And Paul exhorts them to minister onward. They were not to be stifled or stop ministering because of their difficulties but they were to continue on “in every good word and work.” They were not to allow the enemy to stop them from furthering the plans of God. They were to cease every opportunity to minister with “every good word and work.” They were to minister in word and deed. There is something to be said to pressing on and continuing to minister even through difficulties. When we stop ministering because of hardship the tendency is to look inward or to focus on personal circumstances. This can lead to getting down in spirit and even depression. Instead the best tonic for trials is often to minister and look to help others despite our difficulties. This is the point Paul makes in this closing benediction.


Paul therefore in these verses lays out the particulars surrounding the Tribulation. The Thessalonians were apparently under severe persecution. However the persecution and suffering they were experiencing was not from God but from the world and the devil. Having heard Paul’s particulars about the Tribulation here he could begin to revive their hope in Christ. And that is what Paul does with a stirring benediction that exhorts and encourages these persecuted brethren to press on for the glory of God.


Are you going through a trial? Are you fearful of what is going on in the world at the present? Understand what God’s word says about the end times. Tap in to God’s graciously provided comforting encouraging loving resources. Don’t tap out. Stand fast in God’s grace. Prepare yourself for whatever is ahead of us. More than two thousand years later, we have even more reason to prepare!



[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“Ready for His Righteous Repayment” - Tribulation Purpose: God’s Righteous Repayment - 2 Thessalonians 1

As we mentioned in the introduction, the main topic of 1 Thessalonians was Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to be ready for the return of Jesus at the Rapture. 2 Thessalonians is another inspired exhortation from Paul to the Thessalonians. This time he further aims at getting them ready for the return of Jesus by providing them with more details about the end times as they relate to the return of Jesus.

Apparently false teachers had crept into the church fold at Thessalonica and taught that the persecution coming upon the Thessalonians was evidence that the final latter days seven year Tribulation had begun and the Thessalonian Christians had been left behind and missed the Rapture. Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians to straighten out and clarify that that wasn’t the case and he does this by explaining what the latter days would actually be like in terms of the unfolding of prophetic events. That makes 2 Thessalonians important to us because we too need to have a handle on what to expect in the latter days leading up to the rapture of the church and Second Coming of Christ.


Judgment on those who Reach a Point of No Return


The first chapter of 2 Thessalonians speaks of the righteous judgment of God. There are a number of ways people of faith look at the idea of the judgment of God. Some relish and even rejoice in the idea of sinners getting “payback” in retribution for their sin and the pain it causes. Their mantra is “turn or burn baby.” Others look at the idea of God’s judgment sentimentally feeling judgment is not compatible with a God of love.  Finally, there are those who adopt a Biblical perspective on both God and His revelation of a coming righteous judgment on all humanity. This last group understands that Jesus has suffered the just wrath of God for the sins of the world in His crucifixion. Anyone who puts their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord will be forgiven their sins and given Jesus’ righteousness by the grace of God. This last group sees God in a balanced scriptural way as equally just and loving. This author is in that final group. The aim of this study is to transfer more people into this final group of Biblically informed balanced believers in Jesus.


People have difficulty sometimes with what the Bible has to say about judgment. They recoil at the thought of eternal punishment and final judgment. Admittedly this is a very challenging and serious topic of scripture. But it is a reality. It is going to happen. It is going to have eternal permanent consequences for those who persist in sin and reject Jesus as their Savior and Lord.


But judgment becomes more understandable and acceptable when we understand it is righteous judgment. This is not a worldly judgment where injustice is so often part of the mix. God is Holy (Isaiah 6). He is just (Psalm 18:2). He is impartial and fair (Romans 2:11).  He is merciful (e.g. Gen. 18:25). God prohibits the perversion of justice and fairness (Deut. 24:17; 27:19). Moses said the following of God in his song: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4). In Psalms it states, “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Psalm 33:5). God assures justice comes to the weak so that the powerful do not impose injustice on them (Psalm 72:4; 82:3). Righteousness, justice, mercy and truth are foundational to God’s throne: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14).


God has gone stupendously out of His way to establish His justice in His plan of redemption and justification. God has established a righteous Law to govern humanity and steer them along a way of abundant life. But humanity has broken such law and kicked against the disciplinary goads of God. God’s response? Did He annihilate humanity, scrap us and start over? No, instead He sent His own Son Jesus to pay the just price of consequence for our sin through His atoning death on the cross and then offer redemption freely by His grace to be received only by faith Humanity was and is guilty as sin. We are hopelessly lost in sin, doomed to and headed for eternity in hell. But God has reached down in Jesus and made a way for us to be righteously and justly forgiven through faith in Jesus (cf. Romans 1-5; 6:23). Incredibly the Bible states, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And He did this because He loved us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Humanity is inexcusably guilty of rebelling against their Creator. We are hopelessly lost in sin. But God Himself has provided a just solution to our sin through Jesus Christ. Then he offers that just solution and forgiveness of sin freely as a gift of His grace through faith in Jesus. How’s that for justice!


When we look at what God has done in Christ we come to see how wonderful His plan of redemption is. When we take into account His Genesis through Revelation plan of justice and redemption and the possibility of a personal eternal loving relationship with our Creator God of the Universe, it makes rejecting such a gracious offer that much more abhorrent and depraved. The sentence of eternal damnation is commensurate and appropriate for the offense (cf. Revelation 20-22). If we don’t’ see that the problem is with us not God.


When we look a little deeper and closer at those who resist the idea of God’s judgment what we find is not really a concern that God will judge unjustly, what we find is simply people who want to break God’s law take advantage and harm others through sin and not be held accountable for it. That is the real problem. People want to sin and do what they want to do with no thought of recompense or consequence for their behavior. That is really what motivates resistance to God’s judgment. And that is the perfect description of the unrighteousness and sin of those who rebel against God. 


The apostle John spoke of the deadening effects of continued willful resistance to the gracious outreach of the Spirit. John commented on such a condition when he stated, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them’” (John 12:37-40). It’s not that God prevents them from believing. It’s that God enforces the principle of reaping and sowing (Gal. 6:6-9). [1] They got to a point where they could not believe because they so persistently rejected God’s offer to believe. They could not believe because they would not believe. God solidified their decision.


When you reject the overtures of the Lord you don’t stay the same, you become harder, more calloused and calcified, deadened, desensitized to receive further offers and urgings to repent and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. And if the sinner persists in resisting the Spirit, a time evidently comes where they reach a point of no return; they lose the capacity to repent.


The following poem "The Hidden Line (The Destiny of Men)" by Joseph Addison Alexander (1809-1860) illustrates a point of no return where those who could once repent reach a depth of hardness of heart where they lose the capacity to repent or believe.


The Hidden Line

There is a time, we know not when,
A point we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.

There is a line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and his wrath.

To pass that limit is to die–
To die as if by stealth;
It does not quench the beaming eye
Or pale the glow of health.

The conscience may be still at ease,
The spirit lithe and gay;
That which pleases still may please,
And care be thrust away

But on that forehead God has set,
Indelibly a mark
Unseen by men, for men as yet
Are blind and in the dark

And yet doomed, man’s path below
May bloom as Eden bloomed;
He did not, does not, will not know,
Or feel that he is doomed

He knows, he feels that all is well,
And every fear is calmed;
He lives, he dies, he wakes in hell,
Not only doomed, but damned.

Oh, where is this mysterious bourn
By which our path is crossed;
Beyond which God himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost.

How far may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end, and where begin
The confines of despair?

An answer from the skies is sent,
"Ye that from God depart,
While it is called today, repent,
And harden not your heart."

- Joseph Addison Alexander -


That’s a sobering poem. It speaks of a point of no return for those who persistently resist and rebel against the loving outstretched hand of God. It speaks of those who, because of persistent decision to harden themselves against God are going down a broad road to eternal destruction. God will finally pronounce judgment and sentence the sinner to hell for eternity, but it is the sinner who has chosen that path and is all to blame for such a sentence.


Have you repented and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you received forgiveness for your sins? If not, don’t put it off. This may be your last opportunity to do so. Today, right now is the time to turn from your sin to God through faith in Christ to be forgiven your sins and experience your second birth; a spiritual birth as the Holy Spirit indwells you.


Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul opens his letter by expressing the equality of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no mention of any inferior position of Jesus. Jesus is simply joined to the Father in the introduction. This is evidence again of Jesus’ deity.

Paul traditionally opens his letters with an invocation of grace and peace. He never puts peace before grace and that is intentional. You can’t experience the peace of God until you receive the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Grace always precedes peace.

3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,

Paul had spent a good portion of his first epistle to the Thessalonians exhorting them to “abound in love to one another and to all” (1 Thess. 3:12). These Thessalonian Christians are growing in their faith and it is “fitting” for Paul to acknowledge and positively affirm that encouraging them to still more growth. They have been obedient and applied what he had instructed them to do previously.

But unlike his greeting in 1 Thessalonians, Paul leaves out the phrase “patience of hope” (compare 1 Thess. 1:3). Paul mentions the faith and love of the Thessalonians in the second letter, but leaves our mention of their hope. Why this omission by Paul? The issue which prompted Paul’s writing this second epistle to the Thessalonian church was that false teachers had come to the church and were teaching that the Tribulation had occurred and apparently the Thessalonian Christians had been left behind at the Rapture. The thought of this would have destroyed the hope of the believers to be removed from this world prior to the Tribulation when God would pour out His righteous wrath on a Christ rejecting world. Hope is faith that the future holds good. When you omit the Rapture you undermine hope. In His good plan God will remove His people and not pour His wrath out upon them along with the sinful world. God will, like He did with Lot at Sodom, remove His people before he pours out His wrath. It would not be righteous for God to pour out His wrath on His people along with the unrighteous. We are righteous in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) and God’s promise is that we are saved from His just wrath (e.g. Romans 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10).

In this second epistle Paul will clear up the confusion left by the false teaching that the Tribulation has already come by pointing out certain things that must occur before the Tribulation begins. The Rapture is imminent and can occur at any time; there are no events that have to precede it. But the Tribulation includes a number of events and developments that identify it clearly.

4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer;

Boasting about yourself is carnal and sinful. But boasting about others as a means of encouraging them is a healthy use of boasting. When was the last time you selflessly boasted about your spouses or your children’s or some other believer’s devotion to Jesus and growth in the Lord? There is a ministry of encouragement and we all should be partaking in it.

Here Paul is boasting about the Thessalonians’ “patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.” When Christians overcome trials we should affirm them and encourage them by recognizing their endurance and faith.

Notice that the patient endurance through trials by these saints is “manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God.” In other words, even though the enemies of God have persecuted and tried to destroy God’s people and His plans, that they have not been able to do so is evidence of God’s power and His righteous judgment. God’s judgment is always righteous. We will see how the Tribulation period is a period of God’s righteous judgment and outpoured wrath. Some define God in a way that carves away any idea or mention of His righteous wrath or righteous judgment. But God would not be just if He did not recompense those who victimize the helpless or act in unjust ways such a homicide or genocide.

But being persecuted is also evidence that we are walking a godly path. Granted, sometimes Christians bring on persecution or negative reactions from others because of their obnoxious behavior. But the bible states that those who seek to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).

6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,

The idea that God actually would repay those who trouble His people is not a popular idea in our day. People want to eliminate any parameters of righteousness laid forth in scripture. They insert themselves amongst God’s people on their own terms in deference to God’s terms. In doing so they attempt to relegate God to little more than a lifeless idol. But God is not an idol. God is real and He is sovereign and He will define and uphold His definition of right and wrong. Those who persist in resisting and rebel against God will incur His righteous judgment. That is the message here. A person ignores Gods Holy Word at their own peril.

7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,

Part of the purpose for the return of Jesus is to give rest and relief to God’s people who will be persecuted at the time of His return. This tells us that Christians in the latter days can expect persecution. It also tells us we can count on Jesus being “revealed” or returning in the clouds accompanied by the “mighty angels.” When Jesus comes back He is going to make a gigantic statement to this world.

The rapture of the church is the removal of those who are genuinely saved and spiritual born again from this world prior to the outpouring of God’s righteous judgment on a Christ rejecting world. Peter was inspired to write that “God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the Day of Judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). “Out of” in this verse is a translation of the Greek preposition ek which “does not mean ‘to protect them while they are going through it.’ It means “to be taken out completely.” [2] this is what God did in the case of Lot, his family and God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18).

 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus returns He will return to avenge the injustices perpetrated on His people. He will take vengeance on those “who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Failure or really refusal to know God who has made Himself known and knowable through Jesus Christ puts people in a position to be justly dealt with by Jesus. And disobedience to the gospel will be judged at the return of Jesus. Do you know God? Have you obeyed the gospel of Jesus?

9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

The punishment that will be implemented by Jesus on the unbeliever is described as “everlasting destruction” (Greek olethron aionian). “Everlasting” (Greek aionian) means everlasting, non-stopping, without end. It is the same word used to describe “eternal life” or “everlasting life” (John 3:15-16; Romans 6:23; Titus 1:2).

“Destruction” (Greek olethron) means ruin, death, destruction. It is a sudden loss of life and possessions. It is a loss of all that is dear or valuable. It is ruination; and existence characterized by ruin. Ruin is the spoiling and permanent damage of something valuable. A ruinous existence would be an existence where everything valuable and worth living for is lost, ruined.

Therefore the idea of “everlasting destruction” is an never ending existence where that existence would be described by uselessness, purposelessness, meaninglessness, that leads to emptiness and a sense of worthlessness, no value or goals to attain, a state of utter hopelessness where improvement and good are not possible. That is what the unredeemed sinner has to look forward to.

“Destruction” is not annihilation or that the unrepentant sinner will cease to exist. No, those who are justly punished with “everlasting destruction” experience a never ending loss of meaningful existence and all they hold valuable.

Probably the most dire and punitive consequence of such an eternal destruction is the sinner’s removal “from the presence of the Lord.” This is the opposite of what Paul had mentioned in his first epistle to the Thessalonians when he said we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). As Christians we look forward to an eternity in the presence of the Lord or as Paul was inspired to write it, “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (cf. 1Thess. 4:17). Since it is in the presence of the Lord where fullness of joy is found, this judgment of the sinner is one of eternal joylessness (cf. Psalm 16:11). There is nothing good about eternity in hell. There are no goals, no purpose for existence, no hope for change for the better. There is only an existence of eternal punishment. And there is no end to it. There will be no hope of a commutation of sentence or early release. There will be no release. By refusing Jesus they missed out on the blessing of “the glory of His power” meant to save them from the consequences of their sins.


Death is a Door to Two Eternal Destinies, not Annihilation


In the book of Job the question is asked, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14). Asking the question is easy, but the difficult part is finding someone to answer the question with authority and experience. Death is the great equalizer. Everyone dies: men and women, rich, poor, educated and uneducated, everyone.


People often fear death. “The ancient philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) recognized that the fear of death was present in everybody and therefore he sought a way to remove that fear. Epicurus taught that humanity not need fear death because human beings are nothing more than a composition of atoms which at death simply disperse and that is the end of things. Epicurus didn’t believe there were any gods to fear or anything to face once a person breathed their last. His teaching of maximum pleasure in this life with minimum pain and suffering dictated that everything ends when death occurred.” The Epicureans believed, “When the dust has soaked up a person’s blood, once he is dead, there is no resurrection.” Maybe that’s the way you look at death. There’s an alternative for you to consider. 


Some people deal with death by simply saying death is the end of our existence. They say in one form or the other that death leads to an annihilation of a person’s existence and that we simply end.


Some “Christian” oriented people claim a conditional immortality, that those who are unrighteous and die in their sins without having accepted Jesus as Savior aren’t destined to spend eternity in a place called hell but will simply be annihilated. They say that only those saved from sin spend an eternal life with God. But God’s word uses the same words for an “eternal” or “everlasting” existence for those destined to either heaven or hell. There are restorationists who believe that the wicked are given a second chance to receive Jesus as Savior after they die and only those who persist in rejecting Christ are then annihilated. Then there are those who view that suffering in hell for the wicked will be limited and that after their just punishment they are annihilated. [3]


Those who hold to annihilationism because they do not believe eternal punishment is in harmony with the God of love (e.g. 1 John 4:8). They rely on scriptures that appear to support their position such as Psalm 73:27 which states, “For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.” They state that Jesus spoke of the broad gate that leads to “destruction” (Matthew 7:13). They define the Greek term aion which is translated as “eternal” in the Bible as not referring to being an everlasting time but only an age or period of time. They point to scriptures that speak of the end of evil and equate the perpetuaity of evil in hell, even that it is eternally punished, and say it is still an evil that exists and therefore contradicts verses that speak of evil’s end (cf. Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). Lastly they say that if there is a never ending place of torment it is only reserved for the devil, his demons, antichrist and false prophet (e.g. Rev. 20:10).


The people who justify the idea of annihilationism do so based on a skewed view of the nature of God. They say it would be unloving for God to punish anyone eternally. But God is loving and just. It is a huge error to project on God a worldly definition of “love” that is not just. Justice is getting what a person deserves in terms of punishment for sin. Granted God is merciful so that people do not get what they justly deserved but only based on the just payment for sin made by Jesus on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). God is even gracious; He gives us what we don’t deserve. But the sinner who rejects God’s offer of mercy and grace will only have God’s just recompense to look forward to in eternity. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and their judgment that follows, but there is a judgment that follows for the wicked (e.g. Ezekiel 33:11).


Throughout the Bible death involves the desolving of the body but the human spirit continues in existence (cf. 2 Thess. 1:9). The prospect of eternal life and not eternal punishment is part of the incentive and “good news” of the gospel (cf. Romans 5:21). The Bible speaks of eternal life for those who believe in Jesus (John 3:16) and it speaks graphically of a never ending punishment for those who die in their sins – “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed Me, for their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24; quoted by Jesus in Mark 9:44).  


Annihilationists have a shallow unscriptural definition of the justice of God only surpassed by their superficial understanding of the seriousness of sin. Therefore they misplace mercy toward guilty sinners who lived a life of constant rejection of God and willful ignorance to the countless offers of salvation made by God’s grace. All one has to do to view the seriousness of rejecting Jesus and that to do so warrants eternal punishment is to look at the cross. Jesus bore the sins of the world and the separation that sin works (Isaiah 59:1-2). Jesus was brutalized, beaten, scourged and crucified all to pay the debt of sin for any and all sinners who trust in Him as Savior. To reject Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is an offense deserving of an eternal punishment. To think anything less is a view that fails to grasp the depth of Jesus love and sacrifice.


Lastly, the idea that those who don’t go to heaven will be annihilated based on the idea that heaven could not be tearless (Rev. 21:4) if those there were aware of loved ones who were sentenced to hell for eternity. The argument goes that even if we are in 100% agreement with God’s justice we would be heartbroken eternally for their loss. But if God is able to wipe out the earthly memory of Amalek (e.g. Exodus 17:14; Deut. 25:19), of His unrighteous people (Deut. 9:14), of “those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16), and of the unmerciful (Psalm 109:14-16) why might He not be able to do the same eternally? Couldn’t God remove our memory of those He has justly removed from the book of Life? (Psalm 69:28;  Rev. 3:5). Perhaps there are no tears in heaven because God has blotted out the memory of those who are eternally punished for having rejected His Son and Gospel.

There is frequently great fear and uncertainty about death. Job says death is the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14). In the movie the Bucket List, a movie about coming to grips with death, one of the dying characters state, “We all want to go on forever, don’t we? We fear the unknown. Everybody goes to that wall. Yet nobody knows what’s on the other side. That’s why we fear death.”


There is One Person who has gone to that wall, passed to the other side and has returned to tell us what to expect. That Person is Jesus Christ. No credible scholar doubts that Jesus was an actual historical figure. Scholars also accept Jesus performed miracles. There is universal agreement Jesus was crucified and died. But it is the resurrection that makes Jesus the expert Who can answer our questions about death and if there is an afterlife.


Jesus tells us three things about life after death:


  1. Jesus tells us there is life (eternal life) after death.
  2. Jesus tells us that when a person dies there are two possible eternal destinies a person can experience; one negative; one positive; one to be avoided at all costs; one to be sought at all cost.
  3. Jesus tells us there is a way to assure and ensure that we experience a positive eternal destiny.
    First, that Jesus taught there was existence after death is seen in the following verses. The Sadducees denied the resurrection but Jesus said to them: “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:26-27). Jesus states that those who died in the past still have an existence. Jesus comforted His disciples by saying He was going away “to prepare a place for you” (cf. John 14:1-4). Jesus spoke of those who would “live forever” (John 6:58). This proves Jesus taught at least that righteous believers have an afterlife destiny to look forward to.

    Secondly, Jesus taught there were two eternal destinies. Jesus, in His account of a beggar named Lazarus and the rich man who died stated they each had an eternal existence but two very different destinies; one good; the other bad (Luke 16:22-23).  He speaks again of two eternal destines when He states:


  • Matthew 25:46 - And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


In Matthew 25:46 Jesus uses the same term for “everlasting” and “eternal” which is the Greek aionian. Both punishment and life are non-ending, perpetual, forever and ever. If one says punishment is not everlasting then the consequence is that life also would not be eternal. Jesus by using forms of the same word in speaking of punishment and life as eternal was indicating He viewed both as eternal. Jesus never taught that the unrighteous who die would be annihilated in any way. This is further confirmed in other parts of the New Testament (cf. Acts 24:15; Rev. 2:11).


In another passage Jesus said:


  • John 5:25-29 - Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Here Jesus speaks jointly of the “resurrection of life” and the “resurrection of condemnation.” Again He equates the two destinies in the same afterlife destiny.


These verses point to an afterlife and eternal existence for both the righteous and the wicked.


Finally, is it possible to determine our eternal destiny? Is it possible to avoid hell and secure heaven? The answer to this question is a clear YES! In Hebrews it states: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, (Hebrews 9:27). At death a person will be judged as to their eternal destiny. Upon death there is an initial determination of where a person goes to heaven or hell. The final sentence will be enforced later (cf. Rev. 20). In Luke 16 we see the reality of these afterlife destinies. The beggar is in the arms of Abraham and the rich man is in a place of torment. Both these places are real but temporary until the culmination and establishment of God’s final order as seen at the end of Revelation (cf. Revelation 21-22).


In John chapter 3 Jesus had a very down to earth conversation with a religious Pharisee named Nicodemus. You might think a religious man like Nicodemus would have a confident understanding about the afterlife but he did not. This shows us being religious does not secure heaven in the afterlife.


What did Jesus say was necessary to secure heaven in the afterlife? Jesus said a person must be “ born again” (John 3:1-18). The person who turns from their sins to God (repents) and receives Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, the afterlife will consist of an eternity spent with God.

But for those who reject this good news of the Gospel, their destiny will be spent in an eternity separated from God’s presence.


In Hebrews it states, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews9:27). When a person dies they will face judgment. This life is our only opportunity to be saved from our sins and receive eternal life so we can spend eternity with Jesus. But once a person dies they will receive their eternal destination based on the decision they made concerning Jesus in this life. This is why Jesus warned: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mat. 7:13-14).  


The most important decision a person will ever make in this life is whether or not they receive Jesus as Savior and Lord so that they can spend eternity with Him in the next life. Discussing death and the judgment it leads to may be frightening to some. It doesn’t have to cause fear in us. Listen to what one commentator states:


“G. B. Hardy, a Canadian Scientist, once said, "I have only two questions to ask. One, has anyone ever defeated death? Two, did he make a way for me to do it also?" The answer to both of Hardy’s questions is “yes.” One Person has both defeated death and provided a way for everyone who puts their trust in Him to overcome it as well. Epicurus may have believed that everyone fears death, but the truth is no one who trusts in Christ needs to be afraid. Rejoicing in this fact, the Apostle Paul wrote, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’" (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).[4]


“If a man die, will he live again?” Our answer is “Yes.” But the next answer is even more important and challenging – “Where will you spend your afterlife?”

10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

Paul points out that Jesus will be glorified and admired by believers when in the latter days He returns, and this is the result of those who believed at the initial time of this writing and them passing on the truth of God generation to generation.


11 Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Paul concludes the first chapter of this epistle with reference to his prayers for them. Paul prayed that “God would” or for God’s work to be fulfilled in the Thessalonians. The five things which follow in Paul’s prayer are a product of God’s working in and through the Thessalonians not them struggling and straining in their own strength to do something. the Thessalonians needed to live their lives in surrender to the Lord. That was their only hope of realizing spiritual success and heavenly reward. God must empower them to do what He called them to do. All we are and all we do begin with God.


What were the five things Paul prayed God would do in the Thessalonians?


First, Paul prayed “That our God would count you worthy of this calling” (1:11a). Paul’s prayer is God centered. He is praying for the Thessalonians but His focus is on God. His prayer is that when God looks at and assesses these believers that he “would count you worthy of this calling.” We are all called by God to live and do various things in this life. This prayer will help us discover our calling from God no matter the station in life He has sovereignly placed us. Wherever we are and whatever we do, it is a God ordained platform to fulfill His calling in our lives. Fulfilling our calling will happen if we cooperate in the rest of Paul’s prayer to these Thessalonians.


Second, Paul prayed that God would “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness” (1:11b). Why do we do what we do? Is it to create a feeling of satisfaction in us? Is it to gain a feeling of accomplishment by achieving goals? Those may be present  but they are only peripheral. Our objective and purpose in all we do in the name of Jesus is to “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness.” We need to seek God’s will and what His good plan and purpose is. Only when God’s “good pleasure of His goodness” is sought, only with that motivation in what we do, can we hope to be successful in a holy way.


Third, Paul prayed that God would fulfill “the work of faith with power” (1:11c). When you combine God and faith in work the result is powerful. We can’t work and our faith will be weak if we don’t rely on God and in particular the work of the Holy Spirit. That is the message and testimony in the book of Acts (Acts 1:8 and its fulfillment in Acts 2 and the rest of the book of Acts). Paul prayed for the practical application in life of God’s work in the Thessalonians.


Fourth, Paul prayed “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him,” (1:12a). That Jesus would be glorified is the ultimate objective of all God desires to do. In all that we do we should seek to glorify Jesus (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:31). It’s not about us it is about Him. We can’t do this in our own strength but we can do it by God’s grace.


Fifth, Paul prayed that all of this would be accomplished “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:12b). Paul wrote the Corinthians that all that he was and all that he could do was attributable to the grace of God working in him (1 Cor. 15:10). He wrote to the church in Rome that God’s grace was always more abundant that any sinful obstacle in their lives (Romans 5). Paul opened all his letters with a mention of the grace of God, including the ones written to the Thessalonians. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul references God’s grace in his prayer on behalf of the Thessalonians here.


As you consider this prayer what does it reveal to you? Are you relying on God; are you surrendered to His work in and through you? Are you answering and living for His call on your life? Is “the good pleasure of His goodness” your prime objective? Would you describe your work in faith as powerful? Are you seeking to glorify Jesus? Are you relying on the grace of God for all of this to happen in your life? Take some time. Answer these questions. They are important questions. Answering them correctly and surrendering yourself to God in light of them will lead to a life of blessing in this life and the next.


[1] Like with Pharaoh of Egypt who willfully chose to harden his heart and resist the commands of God, each success time of resistance his heart was hardened by God in line with his decision (compare statements of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart [Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17] and Pharaoh hardening his own heart [Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34] ).
[2] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1352). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
[4] – “Is There an Afterlife?”