Considering the “Rebellion” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, Paul writes these words:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
There are several important points in this passage:
1) He is speaking about the Second Coming (v. 1);
2) Someone had written a letter pretending to be Paul (v. 3);
3) He mentions the “man of lawlessness,” who we know as the Antichrist (from 1 John 2 & 4).
What I want to focus on is the short phrase in verse 3: “unless the rebellion comes first.” What is the “rebellion”? There are several possibilities:
1) The delusion that the man of lawlessness will have over the world, leading to a wholesale rejection of the true God (see MT 24:9-13, 23-25; 2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 13:5-10);
2) A falling away of those claiming to be Christians: They reject the salvation of Jesus Christ and the truth of Scripture (see 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-9, 4:3-4);
3) A return of all people to the wickedness of the pre-Noah time (see Rev. 20:1-10);
How do we understand these possibilities, and do we need to worry about them in our walk with Christ? We’ll explore this in the sermon next week (May 19th), with more to follow on our Pastor’s Page.
Considering Our Society and the Words of Scripture
By Timothy C. Turley
The American Moral Climate in 2019
What are we to make of the moral climate in our country? Does the church need to “get up to date” with the times, or is something else going on? How does the Bible apply to our present situation?
God created humanity in His image and likeness, but that image was quickly marred by human sin. Sin grew rampantly, leading the Lord to take several measures: 1) The Flood, 2) the shortening of lifespans, and 3) the dispersal of people throughout the world. God then began the process of revelation and salvation, revealing His will and purpose to humanity (beginning with Abraham in Gen. 12 and continuing throughout the Bible).
God’s will for marriage was given to the people of Israel in the Law. From creation God intended marriage to be between a man and woman, and the Law gave guidance to God’s people on how to live holy lives. All sexual activity outside the bond of husband and wife was sinful, including adultery, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, etc. Were God’s people always faithful to this? No, but they did know His revealed will.
The early church inherited the Old Testament and its sexual ethic. Jesus agreed with Genesis 2:24 (the husband and wife become “one flesh,” see MT 19:4-6), and called His people to be “pure of heart” (MT 5:8) and to seek complete holiness (MT 5:48). Jesus noted that He did not “come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill them” (MT 5:17ff) and in his interpretation of the Law He stressed the need to be fully faithful from the heart (MT 5:21-48).
The rest of the New Testament writings follow suit: Marriage was holy (Heb. 13:4) and sexual sin was an enemy of Christian purity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, Heb. 13:4). In Romans 1:18-32, Paul identified the worlds’ sins with their rejection of God, and this included sexual practice (note also the sins in 1:29-32).
A clash between Christian holiness and the world’s morals took place in Corinth in the 50’s. Paul had taken the gospel there, and spent years trying to get the Corinthians to recognize that sexual sin was still sin! What happened? The Lord’s call to holiness was not only victorious in Corinth, but in the next centuries became the predominant sexual ethic for all of Christendom, including our country. It was God’s Spirit working in His people that brought about this change, and the wickedness of the world was reined in by God’s revelation in the Scriptures. Were God’s people always faithful? No, but His will had been made clear. Did people still sin? Of course, but it was recognized as sin.
What is happening now? The sinful practices of the past have once more broken through, unleashed by the American sexual revolution. Many people refuse to accept the Bible as God’s revealed will (or accept God, for that matter!), declaring that they will no longer submit to the “truth claims” of “evil religion.” Some do try to keep “Jesus,” but blaspheme Him by claiming their own views for Him, re-making Him in their image! Many Christians, who have friends practicing all kinds of lifestyles, do not know enough about God’s word to even deal with this – and assume the world’s position that Bible-affirming Christians are, in fact, simply bigots! Are we? Or is our home in a place “not of this world” (the Kingdom of God, see JN 18:36) that we are called to bring into this world (“the light of the world, see MT 5:14)? Yes, that’s our call, but it is not easy! We need Jesus’ help, and there’s more to be said!
What Does God’s Word Say About Christian Holiness?
Many Americans think that sexuality is a personal choice and is not considered sinful, so long as consent is involved. The problem is that this is a modern idea and conflicts with the Scriptures. Since we believe that the Bible is God’s revelation, we have a very real problem. Please note the texts below (I have included only New Testament texts):
1 Timothy 1:8-11
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Several things we learn from these passages:
- All sexual sin is included, with none emphasized over the others;
- There is no biblical way to divorce sexual sin from Christian holiness;
- Note the order given in 1 Cor. 6 & Col. 3: These sins precede salvation; once forgiven, they are no longer part of the Christian life;
- The Spirit of God bears fruit in the lives of Christians, while our human nature leads us into sin, and away from the Lord (Gal. 5)!
What About Our Modern Perspectives?
One of the main arguments of the last 20 years is the issue of “homosexual orientation.” Some have claimed that since they were “born this way” (their assumption) their same-sex attraction is normal for them, and if it is normal, then it is not sin. Two points:
1) The continued developments in the LGBTQ communities have
undermined some of these arguments. Now that “gender is fluid” (their term) it is difficult to maintain that orientation is fixed. The very definition of “trans” is that it is not fixed!
2) More important is the biblical perspective. Orientation is not a biblical
issue, practice is! The suggestion that the Lord was ignorant of orientation fails to remember just who God was – and is! There are no new perspectives that render the Scriptures irrelevant.
What the Bible does say (Paul in Romans 3:23-24) is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” All of us sin and have weaknesses (where we are tempted)! The writer of Hebrews wrote, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In trying to follow Jesus we are to put aside “every weight” (those things that hinder us: sins in general) and that “which clings so closely” (those places where we really struggle – those where we are weakest).
All of us have specific areas where we struggle (and these may seem normal to us) but that does not mean that those actions are not sinful. I have heard men say that monogamy is not possible for them, so adulterous activity is their norm. Just because they call it normal does not mean it isn’t sin (EX 20:14, MT 5:27). God’s word defines what is appropriate and what is sinful: We don’t get to re-write it to fit our personal issues – or to allow them! We often try to rationalize our own sins, but what we think and what is true are not always the same. That’s why we are encouraged to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). God is at work in us through His Holy Spirit, guiding us to a faithful understanding: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jesus, John 16:13).
John wrote, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (I John 3:4-6). His point is not that we can be perfect (see Romans 3:23!) but that if we know the Lord we cannot settle into a lifestyle of sin. The writer of Hebrews calls that “sinning deliberately” (HB 10:26) and in God’s Law it said, “the person who does anything with a high hand… shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment (Numbers 15:30-31).Living in open rebellion toward God is not a safe place to be, but that’s what happens when we refuse His word!
What is the Biblical Response?
To date we have looked at: 1) Sexual sin is still sin, despite what our culture says; 2) Scripture shows that modern views of sexuality clash with Christian holiness; and 3) Sinful lifestyles cannot be excused because they seem normal to us. Today we look at the various responses by the Christian churches.
Note two important statements found in the N.T.:
1 Corinthians 6:11 – And such were some of you. But you were washed, you
were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and
by the Spirit of our God.
Colossians 3:7-8 – In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
But now you must put them all away…
Paul taught that sinful lifestyles may precede our conversion to Christ, but that receiving the saving grace of Jesus puts those things in our past. This has been the message of 2,000 years of Christian history and is clearly what God’s word reveals, yet in our day there is a varied Christian response. Some of the viewpoints of various Christian groups are:
- The Episcopal and Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches have gone along with the culture, even ordaining ministers who are gay (and approving and conducting gay marriage). They ignore the Scriptures, finding them outdated and limited to the past. Note: Other Presbyterians have disagreed, leading to new denominations, and some American Episcopalians have revolted, calling themselves “Anglican.”
- The United Methodist Church is now in crisis over this issue, with leaders on both sides of the argument (biblical authority versus cultural
appeasement) trying to mediate an acceptable compromise. Their
goal is to keep the church together so that both sides will be happy!
- Most Baptists hold to the truth of Scripture, but there are Baptist congregations that accept the gay lifestyle as normal (CBF). Local, state and national Baptist organizations often remove fellowship with congregations that do this.
- In general, most churches are “welcoming” (everyone is invited to worship) but are not “affirming” of those lifestyles, maintaining the biblical witness. Some are intent on sharing the truth of Scripture, while others attempt a low profile, hoping to avoid controversy.
Why the varied response? Why is there not one clear authentic witness by all Christians and churches? If one accepts the Scripture as God’s revealed word, there is ONE response. It is when we try to fit in with the world that trouble comes. Some questions to consider are:
- Is it faithful to compromise Scripture to find the world’s acceptance?
(1 John 2:15-17)
- Is this a late-20th, early 21st century aberration due to the rejection of God’s word, or have modern Americans stumbled on new truth?
(2 Timothy 3:14-17, particularly 3:16-17)
- Were all Christians, including the Apostles, wrong for 2,000 years?
(1 Corinthians 6:11, Colossians 3:7-8)
- Are we confusing PC (political correctness) with JC (Jesus Christ and his will!)? Everyone claims Jesus for their argument, but since he is the “Word of God” (John 1:1ff), doesn’t that mean that he agrees with Scripture? That will be our next topic.
Hijacking Jesus, and Other Excuses for Ignoring the Bible
Are modern Americans really supposed to take the Bible seriously? With all our scientific knowledge and technological advances, can we rely on a book written so long ago? There are many people who would answer that with a resounding “No!” Why? There are many reasons, but one of the most important is because it limits what we want to do. In the desire to control our own destinies, we refuse anyone or anything that challenges our freedom. Since God constantly calls us to His will, and not our own, well…we just can’t have that!
Critiques of the Bible are rampant in our culture. At Christmas and Easter the media tells us about the latest scholarship, and what modern scholars affirm (which isn’t a lot!). Books are written about problems with the Bible, ignoring the continued support it receives from archaeology and cosmology (Yes, the Big Bang Theory proposes there was a beginning, just like Genesis 1 and Hebrews 11!). We are encouraged to see the Bible as an outdated relic, no more important to us than Homer or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Still, an amazing curiosity remains!
Despite the ignoring (and ignorance) of the Bible, many still want to hold on to the message of Jesus, at least the part they like. Jesus said, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This love is exemplified by Jesus’ death on the cross and is the love that flows into the lives of those who have received His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Despite this authentic message, what most of the world hears is only “love,” and it’s not the love just described by the words of Scripture!
Here are some sample opinions I’ve heard or read: Jesus is all about love. He would not condemn anyone who was in love with someone else, no matter who that person is. He would agree with me if he were alive today. I like Jesus, he loves everyone. I don’t like Christians, though, because they misuse Jesus. He is always loving. If we’re loving (however “love” is defined) then we’re more like Jesus than those hypocritical church people! Jesus would not tell anyone in love that it could be wrong.
These statements reveal people who want Jesus on their side but are totally uninformed as to what Jesus said and did. I noted above that his love is defined by what He did for his disciples (and us); we must also note that Jesus did not endorse sinful actions. He called us to be “pure in heart” and to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (MT 5:6, 8), and pointed us to God’s perfection (MT 5:48). While caring for others, He still confronted them with their sin, and called them to hear and follow his words. Those words were recorded in the Scriptures, along with the rest of God’s revelation that Jesus trusted and endorsed (“Scripture cannot be broken,” John 10:35). Jesus divorced from the Scriptures is a figment of our imagination, not the Lord! Why do so many think they can speak for him and put their words in his mouth? Because they do not know his words or the words of the Bible, the words revealed to us by God: Jesus speaks for himself!!
Epilogue: So How Do We Respond?
One of the main reasons that some Christians accept the LGBT movement is that they know someone who fits one of those lifestyles. They seem to be nice people, and it is difficult to imagine them in any way living in rebellion toward God.
We never know a person’s heart. Most of the people we know (friends, family & others) we do not know well. This is just reality (for an extreme example, after a shooting the neighbors often say, “He seemed to be nice guy. We never had any trouble”). We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (RM 3:23): Niceness doesn’t save anyone!
The old maxim is “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but acceptance is NOT love. In ignoring God’s word and proclaiming sin okay (by today’s standards) we are failing to fulfill God’s call to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We should always be loving, but the love of Christ does not condone sin.
In 1 John 4:1ff, we are told to “test the spirits,” which is the Christian discipline of discernment. We do this with so many issues, asking, “Is this from the Lord? What do the Scriptures say?” Then we take it to the Lord in prayer, leaning on the guidance of his Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jesus, JN 16:13).
Why do so many people come to different conclusions about these issues? In an earlier article I noted, “If one accepts the Scripture as God’s revealed word, there is ONE response. It is when we try to fit in with the world that trouble comes.” So why do people reject the Scriptures and claim another message from the Holy Spirit? One of the greatest weaknesses in American Christianity is our failure in listening to the Holy Spirit. So often we hear our own thoughts and call them God’s!
In 1 John 2:26-27, we read, “26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” Important issues and decisions are best dealt with in a close walk with Christ, and the “anointing” is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Living in Christ is our daily call, and John wrote that the Holy Spirit is our gift: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We have the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him” (JN 14:17). Just as the words of Jesus agree with all of Scripture, the Holy Spirit does not speak a message opposed to God’s word; instead, He guides us “into all the truth” – God’s truth!
How can we do a better job of hearing the Holy Spirit? The writer of Hebrews warned immature Christians to grow up, telling them that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (HB 5:14). How do we become able to discern God’s word and will? By “constant practice,” by living lives that are anchored daily in the life of Christ himself!
On the Way to the Cross
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
This verse has always fascinated me: Knowing that the time to make his final trip to Jerusalem had come, Jesus “set his face to go.” “To be taken up” meant the cross, and despite what that would mean to Jesus, he began a determined journey to give his life for us.
Like Jonah, I might have been tempted to run in the opposite direction. Jonah was not called to die, but to proclaim God’s judgment to Nineveh so they would repent. Jonah did not want the people of Nineveh to live: They were the enemies of his own people, Israel, and he feared that God would forgive them. He feared God’s mercy so much that he took a boat going in the opposite direction, was tossed in the sea, and swallowed by a great fish. He finally went to Nineveh, preaching to them through gritted teeth.
Contrast that with Jesus, who was the embodiment of God’s mercy. With no sin of his own, he was determined to go and bear our sins so we might be saved. Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21) and “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
On the Way to the Cross – Part 2
Jesus “was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” Mark 9:31-32
This is the second time Jesus tried to explain to his disciples what was going to happen when he went to Jerusalem. The first time Simon Peter rebuked him, and the third time James and John followed his warning with a request for the first positions of power in his new kingdom! They did not get it, which is made clear Mark 9:31 – “They did not understand.”
It is difficult to understand why they did not understand! Jesus’ statement seems very clear, and they were accustomed to his use as “Son of Man” for himself: Yet they did not comprehend what he said. He was going to give His life for our sins, while they thought he was going to be made King!
One of the reasons they did not understand may have been their expectations for the Messiah. The truth He spoke did not fit the mental images they had of what the Messiah would be. His very clear words could not penetrate what they assumed to be true. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? So often we hear God’s word or read the Scripture, but years of presumption blind us to what is right there before us! Paul wrote that only the Holy Spirit can remove the veil that blinds us to God’s truth (2 Cor. 3:16ff).
On the Way to the Cross – Part 3
23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:23-24
Jesus had arrived at Jerusalem for his final Passover and some Greeks attending the festival wanted to meet him. They were Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel but had not yet taken on the Law and circumcision (converted to Judaism). They first spoke to Philip, who then corralled Andrew; they then both went to ask Jesus to meet with them.
Jesus’ answer was apparently “no” for that specific request, but at the same time he announced good news for those who made the request, as well as for all of us! The “hour…for the Son of Man to be glorified” had arrived: Jesus had come to Jerusalem to give his life for the sins of the world. He used agriculture to explain: One grain of wheat is just one grain until it is planted, then it grows into a plant that produces many grains. In the same way, his death on the cross (and burial and resurrection) would result in the salvation of all people, Jews and Gentiles included. He came to bear fruit: The redemption of the world!
In John 17:20, he prayed for all those (including us) who would believe! 20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Wow!
On the Way to the Cross – Part 4
31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 12:31-33
Jesus said this shortly after Palm Sunday, as he began the last week of his life (and incarnation). He had said earlier that “his hour had not come” (John 2:4), but with his arrival in Jerusalem "the hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). That hour would mean the Cross, and in John 12:31-33 we discover its import.
Jesus said that through the Cross the world would be judged and the “ruler of this world cast out.” That “ruler” was Satan, who until the Cross held sway over this world (note that Jesus did not correct Satan’s claim in Luke 4:6, but pointed that worship belonged only to God!). Satan sought to destroy Jesus through Judas, the Jewish leaders and the Roman executioners, but discovered that death could not contain Jesus. Through the resurrection Jesus was declared “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) and through him we all have the promise of salvation and eternal life. Satan is now a defeated enemy, who knows that his days are numbered (Rev. 12:7-17, 1 Peter 5:8).
Since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), He has made it possible for us to be saved. Our decision on accepting Christ’s salvation becomes our moment of judgment: Those who believe have eternal life, while those who refuse remain under God’s wrath (John 3:16, 35-36).