Friday, January 31, 2014

"Unless the Falling Away Comes First"

[Before you read this article, you might consider reading the article I wrote yesterday called Discerning Futuristic Texts in Scriptures. It serves as a foundation for this short study today.]

Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4,
"Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 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. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 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."
I'd like to analyze this text in two parts. Then I'd like to clarify a common misconception about this text by making a comparison to a passage in Isaiah 7. Ready? Okay, let's go!
"Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 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"
Paul is speaking here of the final return of Christ. Already, in chapter one, he's made the point that Jesus will one day be "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" just prior to meting out eternal judgment (vs. 7-9). The "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" here in 2:1 has in mind the same event. When Jesus is revealed from heaven, we will be gathered to Him. Along these same lines, Jesus says in John 14:1-4 that He will one day return to receive us unto Himself and take us to His Father's house. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul adds that we will be caught up together, with those saints who have already died, to meet the Lord in the air. "And thus we shall always be with the Lord." So the language is consistent throughout the New Testament regarding the return of Christ.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, Paul is addressing a misunderstanding that these Christians apparently had regarding Christ's return. They were being led to believe that Christ had already returned when, in fact, he hadn't. They still had reason to hope.

Here's where things get interesting...
"Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 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."
Again, these saints had been misled or deceived regarding Christ's return. In verses 1-2, Paul told them "not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled," but to remain eager and hopeful for His return. Here, Paul gives them something more substantive to latch onto.

Specifically, Paul argued that Christ's final coming wouldn't take place until a certain event, or series of events, had occurred. He mentions:
  1. The falling away
  2. The revealing of the man of sin, or son of perdition
  3. The appearance and self-glorification of the son of perdition in the Temple, which is also called the "abomination of desolation" (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15).
A thorough examination of the Scriptures will reveal, I believe, that Paul is speaking of the events surrounding AD70 and God's judgment against the Jewish nation. After all, the language here is comparable to that of Matthew 24:4-35. Jesus, in Matthew 24, spoke of deceivers and a falling away (vs. 10-14), and of the abomination of desolation. On this point, the Jewish historian Josephus says, "The Romans brought their ensigns into the temple, and placed them over against the eastern gate, and sacrificed to them there" (War, b. vi. chap. 6).

Paul likely wrote this second letter to the church in Thessalonica around 51-54 AD, approximately fifteen years before the events of 70AD took place. So Paul is telling these brethren that Christ's final coming wouldn't take place until God's judgment against Judea and the Jewish nation was executed by means of Titus and the Roman legions.

Some brethren are confused by this passage, however. Upon reading it, they conclude that the final coming of Christ would immediately follow these other events (of 70AD). After all, Paul does say that "that day (the final coming of Christ, ch) will not come unless the falling away comes first..." In other words, it is assumed that these two events took place "back to back." It is therefore posited that Christ's final return actually took place in 70AD or shortly thereafter.

With this question in mind, turn your attention to Isaiah 7:14-16. Ahaz, the king of Judah was confronted and threatened by Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel. God offered Ahaz a sign that Judah would prevail. When Ahaz refused a sign, God gave Him one anyways...
"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings."
As in 2 Thessalonians 2, there are two "events" under consideration here - (1) the birth of the Messiah and (2) God's judgment against Syria and Israel - the point being that God would judge these two sinful nations before the Messiah knew "to refuse the evil and choose the good."

Here's the point. Even though these two events are mentioned back to back, we know that hundreds of years separated them. God judged Israel and Syria long before Christ was born of the virgin Mary.

So in 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is not saying that Christ's final coming would immediately follow the events of 70AD, but that the events of 70AD had to occur before Christ's final coming.

I hope this makes sense. If you have any questions, please comment below.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Discerning Futuristic Texts in the Scriptures

Three major future conflicts are addressed in the New Testament:
  1. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD
  2. The Roman persecution against the church
  3. The final return of Christ
Each of these three events was spoken of by means of prophetic, apocalyptic language. God's judgment. Christ's appearing. The Day. An "end" of something. Now, I'm not saying that these three events were/are parallel in scope or severity, just that much of the language is the same. And because much of the language is the same, it's very easy to merge any combination of these events, or to misinterpret the specific application of a related text. For example:
  1. Many wrongly apply the language of Matthew 24:4-35 to the final return of Christ even though the context and wording makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was speaking of the localized destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
  2. There is a lot of controversy over whether the New Testament writers were addressing the Jewish persecution or Roman persecution against the church in places such as Revelation.
  3. Along the same lines as (2), the date of the writing of Revelation is the source of much debate. Was it written in the 60s regarding God's impending judgment against Israel? Or was it written in the 90s regarding God's impending judgment against the Roman empire?
  4. The so-called "AD70 Doctrine," which has become more and more popular among brethren in recent years, wrongly interprets all such futuristic texts (including 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 2 Peter 3) as applying to AD70.
These are a few of the errors and misunderstandings that come to my mind at the moment. I'm sure there are many, many others.

The question of this article is this:
How do we discern the application of such texts? To be more specific, how can we know if a text applies to God's judgment against Israel in AD70, God's judgment against the Roman Empire, or God's judgment against the world (i.e. the final return of Christ)?
I freely confess that it has not always been easy for me to discern, especially when it comes to God's judgment against Israel and Rome respectively. For example, while I am a "late date" proponent of Revelation, I can see and understand the "early date" argumentation. However, I do believe that there are a few rules that, if followed, will guide us to the right conclusions on this matter.

Simply put, context is key. Consider these examples:
  1. If the context points to a localized event, we cannot ignore the context and apply the text to a global event. Consider Matthew 24. Jesus says what He says in response to the disciples' question about the fate of the temple (vs. 1) and then tells those in Judea to "flee to the mountains" (vs. 16). Clearly, Jesus was foretelling a localized event. Therefore, those who apply this text to the final return of Christ are in error. 
  2. Many want to apply the book of Revelation to the "end times." In fact, this is the prevailing few in most contemporary churches. However, a simple reading of Revelation 1 will show that John was writing to churches that existed in the first century (1:4), to comfort them in THEIR period of tribulation (1:9), and to assure them of God's judgment against THEIR enemies (6:10-11). This is the most important rule of all: again, context is key!
  3. In 2 Peter 3, we can rest assured that Peter is speaking of the final return of Christ (whatever that entails) and NOT God's judgment against Israel or the Roman Empire, for the simple reason that the stated scope of the events are global, not local in nature. Peter compares the destruction of the world by fire to the former destruction of the world by water. Just as Noah's flood was global, so also is this event global.
  4. Regarding the many texts that speak of God's judgment, the context will typically indicate whether the judgment is universal or specific. In Matthew 24:30, we're told that "the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." While this sounds universal in scope, the context tells us that God's judgment here (through Christ) was being meted out against those in Judea (vs. 16) during that generation (vs. 34). Sure, the language is very dramatic, but that is the nature of apocalyptic language (Ezek. 32:7-8; Isaiah 13:9-13)). By way of contrast, the judgment described in 2 Corinthians 5:10 takes place "before the judgment seat of Christ" and involves "all" men. And Christ's coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is followed by our entrance into eternity - so Paul cannot be speaking of AD70 or some other localized form of judgment...even if the language is similar.
Whenever you're studying such a text and pondering its application (to AD70, to God's judgment against Rome, or to the final return of Christ), you must consider the context.
  1. Is the writer describing a local or global event?
  2. Does the event precede eternity (if stipulated in the text)?
  3. Is the target of God's judgment specified - Jews only, Rome only, the whole world?
  4. Is the statement literal or figurative?
  5. Are there specific clues within the text that pinpoint its application?
Lord willing, I will write a follow-up article on this tomorrow. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions on this, please feel free to comment below.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Defining Deception & "Concealment"

Recently, on my Facebook page, I wrote a status update that resulted in a very interesting conversation about deception. The conversation was SO interesting that I'd like to offer my thoughts on the issue here.

Most Christians are quick to condemn deception as a form of lying. According to Webster's Dictionary, it is defined as, "1: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive; 2: to create a false or misleading impression." We can easily see that deception is sinful if we're going by the first definition. After all, to make an untrue statement - to lie - is condemned in places like Ephesians 4:25 and Revelation 21:8.

However, let's give greater thought to the second (modern) definition of deception...
"to create a false or misleading impression"
If you've ever studied the Old Testament, then I'm sure you've noticed that many of God's most faithful servants, on occasions, created "a false or misleading impression."
  1. God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and to lead them through the wilderness to the land of Canaan. When Moses first confronted Pharaoh, he said, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness" (Exodus 5:1). Then, in verse three, he added, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword." Moses and Aaron were implying that the Israelites would return from the wilderness after sacrificing and feasting unto the Lord. Of course, they would do these things...but left out the fact that they wouldn't be returning. Did they "create a false or misleading impression?" It seems so.
  2. The story of Gideon's 300 men which we all love so much is a story of deception...that is, if it's deceptive "to create a false or misleading impression." In Judges 7:18-20, when Gideon's 300 men surrounded the camp, blew their trumpets, broke their pitchers, held up their torches and cried out "the sword of the Lord and of Gideon," were they not trying to give the impression that there were many more than 300 men surrounding the Midianite camp? And it worked!
  3. When the Lord sent Samuel to anoint a new king to replace King Saul, Samuel replied, "'How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.' But the Lord said, 'Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.'" (1 Samuel 16:2-3). Samuel's true mission was to anoint a new king, but God authorized Samuel to engage in subterfuge to conceal the true nature of his mission. So, with God's approval, Samuel created "a false or misleading impression."
There are certainly other examples, but these three should cause us to step back and reconsider our view of deception. If it is deceptive to "create a false or misleading impression," and if all deception is lying, and if lying is sinful (which, of course, it is), then not only did the Jews of old totally get this wrong, but even God has been guilty of lying. This conclusion is untenable because we know that "it is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18).

So clearly, we need to rethink our traditional view of deception.

Then again, the word "deception" (in its many forms) is always condemned in Scripture. In the New Testament especially, it is always tied to false teachers (Matt. 24:11; Rom. 16:17-18) and even to Satan (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14; Rev. 20:3). As far as I know, the word is never used in a positive way.

So, based on a modern definition of deception, we cannot condemn it across the board lest we condemn God's prophets of old, and even God Himself. But then we cannot say anything positively about it in lieu of the biblical usage and definition of it. We must therefore conclude that definition #2 - "to create a false or misleading impression" - is not universally condemned in Scripture nor reflected in the Scripture's use of deception. In other words, the word "deception" as it is used throughout God's word does not have in mind the practice of "[creating] a false or misleading impression."

With this in mind, we either have to call definition #2 something OTHER than deception, or we have to be careful to define what we mean when we condemn deception. To make things simple, I'm going to come up with a replacement word for definition #2 of deception: concealment.

This brings me to my main point, or question, I should say...

How do we distinguish between concealment and deception? I'm going to lay out a few principles that ought to help us to have discernment here...
  1. It should first of all be understood that we can never justify lying for reasons stipulated above. If we are making "an untrue statement with intent to deceive," we are lying, and we have sinned. Everything we say must be true and accurate to our knowledge.
  2. "The fruit of the Spirit is...faithfulness" (Galatians 5:22). The Greek word here is pistis and in this context, means "fidelity." It's the idea of being trustworthy and reliable. We're told in other places that our "yes" needs to mean "yes," and our "no" needs to mean "no" (Matt. 5:37; 2 Cor. 1:17-22). The word of a Christian, in other words, ought to mean something. If we make a statement that detracts from our fidelity and trustworthiness, we have violated this principle. Others shouldn't have to second-guess us or question the veracity of our words. This ought to cause us to reflect deeply and carefully on anything that might be construed as deception. More than that, this ought to even discourage us from the regular practice of concealment. If, whenever I'm backed into a corner (in an argument), I resort to half-truths and distortions, or if I am disingenuous, I am not being "faithful" and therefore I am being indirectly dishonest, if not directly so. Such MUST be avoided at all costs.
  3. In the three examples I cited toward the beginning of this article (of Moses, Gideon and Samuel), not only did these men utter 100% truth (even if they didn't reveal the whole truth), there were no harmful consequences from their words or actions. To put it another way, they were not being self-serving or lacking in faith. They weren't being impulsive to the potential detriment of others or their own reputations. Rather, they were acting in good faith toward God, with His will and His glory in mind. Did they hold back some critical information? Yes. But can we really compare them to the child who, in a self-serving manner, to avoid punishment, doesn't tell the whole truth, and creates a false impression? I don't think so. To better understand the difference here, consider the example of Abraham in Genesis 12. As they arrived in Egypt, he said to Sarah, "Please say that you are my sister, that it may be well with you for your sake, and that I may live because of you." Technically, Sarah was his they weren't lying. But clearly, they were creating "a false or misleading impression." Was this an innocent display of concealment (as I've defined it)? I don't think so for the following reasons: (1) God had made promises to Abraham and surely wasn't going to let him be killed by Pharaoh. Abraham should have known that God would protect him. (2) His actions placed his wife, Sarah, in danger. In that day and age, assassinations and political turmoil were commonplace. (3) Furthermore, when Pharaoh did take Sarah to be his wife, he could have fornicated with her, thus tarnishing her purity. This was only prevented because God stepped in to save her from such defilement. Abraham's actions were short-sighted, reflected a lack of faith in God, and put others in peril. For these reasons, Abraham's actions here cannot be placed alongside those of Moses, Gideon and Samuel.
A brother whom I respect presented the following scenario to me: let's say that a preacher travels to China for the purpose of preaching the word and strengthening the churches, and yet when he is asked by Chinese officials what his purpose is for coming into the country, he replies, not with the details of his preaching plans, but by saying, "I have come here to teach." Is he creating a false or misleading impression? Yes. Is he concealing the true nature of his mission? Yes. Is he telling the whole truth? No. Is he guilty of deception? Should we condemn his actions? I don't think so. If so, we must also condemn Samuel's actions in 1 Samuel 16.

The intent of this article is not to muddy the waters or stir up controversy. Just as we often write articles to define fornication, lasciviousness, truth, and many other things that the world misunderstands, there is equal value in developing a proper view and definition of deception. As I've stated in this article, such misunderstandings have serious consequences. Clearly, we cannot condemn something that God Himself has done and/or authorized.

We want everything to be black and white. As a result, we often stretch meanings and overextend biblical principles to "simplify" sin. Painting with a broad brush may be easy, but that doesn't make it right. There is no doubt that lying is sinful. Nor is there any doubt that deception, as it's often defined (both in modern and biblical contexts), is sinful. However, there is something that we sometimes call "deception" and sometimes condemn, that doesn't appear to be condemned in Scripture. The attempt of this article has been to better understand this particular question. I hope I have offered some clarity on this issue, rather than more confusion.

If you can offer any advice or insight on this issue, please feel free to respond below. I don't claim to understand all of this perfectly or to have a corner on the truth.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

5 Biblical Reasons to Believe in Six Literal Days

In the face of such "compelling" evidence for the evolutionary timeline, many Christians have abandoned a literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1. Others have gone a step further, denying the literal nature of Genesis 1-11. There are many different viewpoints that allow for what we call "Theistic Evolution," which is the belief that God used the evolutionary process (and billions of years) to form the universe as we know it. These viewpoints, such as the "Day-Age Theory" and the "Literary Framework Theory," paint the early chapters of Genesis as symbolic and/or poetic in nature.

In this article, I'd like to give you five reasons to believe in six literal days...and why you should view the early chapters of Genesis, not as legend or poetry, but as historical narrative.
  1. The natural reading of the text demands literal days. It's true that we find symbolic and poetic texts in the Bible, but these texts are clearly identified. In Psalms, for example, we're told in many cases that these were songs. The metaphors and hyperbole are obvious. In Revelation, we're told in the very first verse that this is a book of symbols and signs. However, there is no such indicator in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. These chapters read as historical narrative. In Genesis 1, an "evening and...morning" are attributed to each day. If we're going to make the case that Genesis 1, or that Genesis 1-11, are symbolic or poetic in nature, we need to have some strong internal evidence.
  2. While many religious people attempt to harmonize the theory of evolution with the creation account, there are blatant contradictions between the order of evolution and the order of biblical creation. The Bible says that fruit trees came before fish, but the evolutionary theory says that fish came first. The Bible says that birds came before reptiles, but the evolutionary theory posits that reptiles evolved into birds. The Bible says that mankind came before thorns and thistles (which were a consequence of man's sin in Genesis 3), but the evolutionary theory says the opposite. Consider this: in Romans 5:12, we're told that "through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." So there was no death before Adam's sin. But, of course, the evolutionary theory sets forth that death dominated the earth for hundreds of millions of years before man ever emerged in the evolutionary process. By accepting even the timeline and order of Darwinian evolution, we are saying that Paul was wrong in Romans 5.
  3. Moses believed in six literal days. In Exodus 20, as God gave the Ten Commandments, He compared the work-week of man to the work-week of God (in creation). "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord your God...For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day" (vs. 9, 11). Clearly, Moses, the author of Genesis, viewed the days as literal days.
  4. The genealogies in Genesis 1-11 match the genealogies found elsewhere in the Bible. First of all, if Genesis 1-11 are not historical in nature - if these were just stories and legends - then why do we find genealogical lists included in the first place (Gen. 5, 10-11)? As one preacher put it, the very presence of these genealogical lists prove the historical nature and intent of Genesis 1-11. Beyond that, these genealogical lists are repeated with precision in other places in the Bible. Compare, for example, the list in Genesis 5 with that in 1 Chronicles 1:1 and Luke 3:23-38. And this is especially significant when you realize that in Genesis 5:1, we're told that 130 years passed from Adam's creation (on the 6th day) to the birth of Seth (after he was out of the Garden).
  5. Jesus and His apostles viewed Genesis 1-11 as "historical narrative." Wouldn't you agree that if Jesus viewed the creation account (and all of Genesis 1-11) as literal and true, that we should as well? In Matthew 19:4, Jesus quoted from Genesis 1:26-27 and then, in verse 5, quoted from Genesis 2:24. Rather than placing man's creation later in the earth's history, He placed man's creation "in the beginning" and viewed the account of the first marriage as literal. He also believed that Abel's blood had really been shed (Gen. 4 - Mt. 23:35). In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus reminded His audience of the account of Noah and the flood; He believed in the flood! Later in the New Testament, the apostles (inspired by the Holy Spirit), compared Jesus to Adam (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:45), made reference to the account of Cain and Abel (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 2:12), and believed strongly in the account of the flood (Heb. 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:1-7).
There are other reasons to believe in the literal nature of Genesis 1-11. Historical and archaeological evidence abounds for a young earth, a global flood and even the scattering of mankind (Gen. 11). But these five reasons from within the Bible itself ought to convince us (if we believe in the inspiration of the Bible) that the days of creation were literal days and that the events of Genesis 1-11 really happened.

Rather than interpret the Bible in light of man's wisdom, let us interpret man's wisdom in light of the Bible. The Bible is not a collection of fables and myths, but contains the literal history of the world. And considering its source, it is the most reliable and accurate historical record.

In closing, Genesis 1-11 serves as the foundation of the Scriptures. If we cannot trust these accounts, how can we trust any of the Bible? If we cannot believe in the literal nature of Genesis 1-11 because these things are "unscientific," how can we accept the virgin birth of Christ or the resurrection? Christians must not compromise the inspiration of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17). With patience and study, you will in fact discover that true science lines up with the biblical record.