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IGNITION, IGNOMINY, IGNORANCE
and the LIGHT OF ENDLESS DAY
I Thessalonians 4, 5, II Thessalonians 1
II Peter 3 notes that a great conflagration, to terminate this universe, is to come. It is well that it is so, for in this vast, resounding annihilation of the material construction which is our present universe, we learn that there is to be a burning up of the works of this world. What more appropriate, in its spiritual, moral, ethical and intellectual harlotries, as if ANY thing which is ungodly, unjust and ruinously resolute is to be achieved by much endeavour, and what is unselfish, sacrificial for truth, upright and good, but especiallyl what is godly, is to be negated, ruined, spoiled, trespassed upon, slandered or seduced. It has had its day. It comes... to pass.
However, this is not our current topic, and it is mentioned rather for clarity of contrast with what IS our topic. While, then, this implosion and dissipation is the final end of this world, there is much to occur before this last post is sounded, so uproariously, for the position of WORLD, in the series, the world, the flesh and the devil. That triple sink for sin, exhibited in its pride and folly by I John, has more to come than mere removal.
Thus, it is not that conflagration which is our current concern, but ignition which concerns us today; and that we refer to the prior and more directly spiritual arousal to light and life, even to one far nearer to hand. In view is that work of God which comes, like a shaft of brilliant light into the increasingly dark room occupied by much of creation, when His incandescent power and glory comes to expose and banish iniquity before Him in judgment. Here it is not the EARTH which goes, but those ON the earth which find their come-uppance, their Judge and His rule. The King who was vicariously sacrificing Himself at Calvary did not leave without notice of return; and specifically emphasised, as seen in Luke 24, that FIRST were the sufferings - as then being accomplished, but afterwards came the glory.
This Prince of Life, this Light, He comes to an earth no more insulated from exposure, than the prisoners at Nuremberg, from their judges. In 'flaming fire' He comes to overturn, overthrow, demolish the pretensions of and eliminate the rule of that final dark episode of the antichrist, seeking to displace God direct, and rule in His stead.
This arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ, which comes into this arrogation of divine name and place on this earth but useless pretenders, terminates the abuse of liberty and the vehement persecutions which have for so long in so many with such violence, wreaked havoc on the church, both by sedition within and slaughter without.
It is this moment of coming history to which we look for clarity today, when Christ, the Lord returns in power to rule ON THIS EARTH (Revelation 5:10, 12:10, 20:4, Matthew 19:28), as in I Thessalonians 1. Then the Redeemer will show in strong light the royalty of eternity as it shines on the temporality of this passing earth, now no more inflated like worthless money which has lost its edge; and He will judge between sheep and goats (Matthew 25), as His resplendent rule gives to this earth (Isaiah 11, 59:20ff., 65) that for which it has long sought in vain, and then, frustrated, abandoned to the lists of hopelessness.
All this must be upon this earth, before its time of departure comes. It will not live to crow over the Cross, but to find for its inhabitants NO OTHER WAY but that, as it lies, self-blasted and divinely disciplined in its horrors of disregard, incompassion, and wilful incomprehension.
Last time, Christ the Lord departed this world, after rejection, humiliation, crucifixion and resurrection, and left the Gospel, according to the plan announced centuries beforehand as also from His own mouth before He left.
This time, at the end of it all when He is done, then this present world departs and leaves His children with Him. It is like a stage show: you put up the stage, have the action, the drama, remove the stage and review the participants. Stages do not make themselves; actors do not invent themselves; but what does make both, does not ignore either!
This world ? It is to go; but it is not gone yet! As you see in Matthew 25, there is business to be done!
How long the earth has mocked; but the echo returns for due assessment before the eye of God. When the weeds are removed for incineration (Matthew 13), then the righteous shine forth like the sun in its righteousness.
The Gospel of the Lord, the God of the Gospel, the children of God, His peace, righteousness love and power, these remain (Zechariah 9:7, Revelation 5, 21-22, Psalm 90:1-3, 119:142, 89:14, Daniel 9:24, Deuteronomy 32:4, James 1:17).
These things are in their due order. What then is to come, and how does it unfold ?
We are most fortunate in this, that just as God has shown for millenia the main struts of the drama, predicting as suffices for showing who it is Who is talking, so now the rest of the saga is revealed, as much as we need; and it is MUCH.
Thus, associated with the return of Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord of all, whether to those in surrender to His majesty or to those in vain opposition to His judgment, there is a sequence of events. We see this first earlier in Thessalonians, in I Thess. 4:13-18.
It stresses judgment and love; mastery and mercy; delinquency sated and exposed, grace shown and prevailing, all in its time, its order, its sequence of events. We have considered something of this in earlier pages, and SMR pp. 502-520 may be found interesting to some in this; but here, we are searching in Paul's letter to Thessalonica, to see the developments as they go. First, in this Chapter, we plan to look at passages before II Thess. 2; and in the next, at that very chapter itself. In this, exposition will be given to secure understanding, with application as seems most just and needed.
THE WAY IT GOES – I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Paul here gives an outline of coming events, to assist those at Thessalonica to realise their position, and knowing the end, not to grieve at the steps in between.
First, when the time comes, just as Christ died and rose again, so He will come again to bring up from the dead, those who are His, and to these will then be joined those who are still alive on this earth, at His advent, a vast impact that separates, often called His parousia (parousia), or appearing. Great will be that first arousal, as heavenly powers perform on multitudes, what was first demonstrated in Christ’s own resurrection. The saints of the Lord then are swept, as also shown in Matthew 24, from this earth: the whole body of them, past and present, like a new and composite body of Christ (as in Isaiah 26:19): these rise from the annals of history to the personal company of Christ, where their spirits have long been; but now come into creation their entire beings, in this general resurrection of HIS people.
We peep for a moment to II Thessalonians 1 to see that the Lord comes to be admired in those who believe, and in Revelation 20 you see what is called the millennium*1, where the “earth shall be covered with the glory of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Volcanic indeed, and with spiritual power as in the creation, is this final Day and outcome on earth, starting with the general resurrection of believers, continuing with their assemblage in the marriage of the Lamb, proceeding with the Lord's return with all His saints to this earth, and pouring out into that victorious vindication of righteousness in the liberated earth to be ruled where subterfuge can no longer use its guile, and oppression has no more ground (Isaiah 11, 65). Then will that millenial period be terminated when the wicked, with hearts disguised, finally erupt: their very base, this earth, being removed, giving no more ground for their follies (Revelation 20). To fight God, you need the strength which God gives; but this testing time finishes.
Meanwhile, we look to the glorious appearing of Christ (Hebrews 9:28, Acts 3:19ff., 1:7ff., Matthew 24:36ff. as here in I Thess. 4), not at a moment of some savant's call, but from heaven, from that, His eternal hinterland as the eternal and living Word of God, when time parts, like waves before a ship, at His deliberate and foretold coming. It is there that He is to be until the times of refreshing being fulfilled (Acts 3:19ff.), and the maturity of things complete in the divine plan, He comes to take His own people from this world's deteriorating situation and the last strivings of its seduced scenario. He comes as its folly develops and envelops more and more, in the pulsations of iniquity, like a tornado brewing off some coast, trepidatiously tendering its onset, in the confines of sin and judgment.
When He comes, the tribes of the earth will mourn (Revelation 1:7), but we who know God, will rejoice that He has come for us, will come with us, and will reign on this earth, till its time also is fulfilled, and it goes. For this we confidently wait, as many have waited for the other enterprises of God since the creation, which He has announced: it is a glorious appearing, and great is the test preceding it.
THE WAY TO GO – I Thessalonians 5:1-11
What then is the equipment, fit for this Appearing of the Lord
(1), to collect His people: before the ferment finally erupts,
with the brightness of His coming, when He comes
(2) with His saints
(I Thessalonians 3:13)
- that great event following the ‘marriage of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19), when all, resurrected, meet in heaven ?
First note this: Not near in Paul’s time, this Day IS now close, for time has past! Indeed, the pattern which Christ pronounced for His coming is now nearly complete, as you find, placing the Bible side by side with new and past events: and these foretold events, they hurry, in torrid profusion.
The Jews are back, Jerusalem is with them (cf. Luke 21:24), the Gentiles are in a pitiful, grievous mess, anxious and embroiled on many sides, murders mount to the skies; and the world whizzes into more and more sophisticated difficulties, as God is provoked continually, even sex being treated as a gender-indifferent toy, not a program for production in the aura of mutual love and understanding, before the Maker of the procreators.
When the time for the Day DOES come, says Paul, then they will SAY Peace! But do not be deceived. THAT is a prelude to Christ’s return, when their odious self-assurance becomes the preparation for the incinerator. What equipment for this ? Wear then as a breastplate, faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation, remembering that God did NOT appoint us to wrath but to obtain salvation.
Make sure that you by faith have booked that appointment with the Lord! (cf. Matthew 22:1-10), being clothed with His righteousness, given, and His salvation, without merit of yours, but only of His, imputed, reckoned, given by grace, to you. Take it by faith, like a breastplate, in the love of God, its strength better than steel. Of appointments, there is none more important.
Don’t’ be taken unawares! (cf. Matthew 24:36-51). What then does the Lord prescribe ? It is what He always has prescribed. The prescription is of peace within, through pardon paid without, on the Cross; it is of purity within, through guilt borne without; it is of cleansing through repentance and the blood of Christ, which speaks of His bearing of guilt and since it is prelude to His resurrection, the thrust of creation which produces purged, purified and new people, the children of God. There is no change. It continues as sure as God is, for generations in His word, prefigured in the Old Testament, as well as predicted, and now fulfilled, applied, till the time comes to render accounts (Luke 24:24-26, John 5:19-23, Acts 17:30-31 cf. TMR Ch. 3, Barbs 17).
These are made up of those who can PAY, and only Christ is sufficient to cover the debt of sin, for you cannot pay, using sin as credit, and being sinners, you have no merit which stands before God. Hence this group is the redeemed; and the other one is the exclusives who, too good to be realistic, have no need of redemption, and so have no place in heaven, which demands perfection on entry (Matthew 22, Revelation 21-22).
There is a connection to the Redeemer, and it is called FAITH. When it is acting, the Gospel is received, God is satisfied in justice and judgment, pardon is procured, peace is proclaimed and God living in you, makes His will known by His word written and His Spirit who applies His covenant and helps His people to live by the Lord, within it, acting on His premises and promises as given by the Lord.
Faith ? Here then is faith, that you KNOW that God has not appointed you to wrath (I Thessalonians 5:9 -10); there is no such appointment for you who believe. It is not to wrath, but to salvation that your appointment refers; it is not to the spiritual firing squad, but to the spiritual life-Saver that you have come, and that has but one result, the OBTAINING of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. You have faith ? Believe it. You do not ? What then is your interest, that you talk about it!
Do you not yet realise, then, that He died for us, and that it had an outcome, an issuance, so that whether you live or die, who are His, life together with Him is the result: it is called eternal life for the very good reason that this is the OUTCOME, where there is an INCOME of faith; and that once this is the case, then your personal interest, investment, position, placement and reception is such that as Peter puts it, you are KEPT by the POWER of God to an inheritance which does not dissipate, which does not tarnish, which is reserved in heaven for you, so that none could usurp or perish your place (I Thess. 5:10).
Simply, He said it, you receive it, by faith. THIS is the faith that overcomes; HE is the God who acts for those who wait for Him, who rejoice in His ways (Isaiah 64:5). It is not a matter of form or effort; it is a matter of coming clean by being MADE clean, and being cleansed, being informed with faith, and believing, receiving what He says. It is not will or intellect or consciousness or any other thing which is crucial to the point at this level: it is that it be done! The promises of God are integral to His being; His word is eternal, and as Christ, incarnate, coming as man to you, so that you could come, purged, pardoned, invested with His Spirit, to Him and there live, without perishing, forever.
It is this, and not some lesser thing which is involved in the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23), and a gift ? it is never earned (Romans 5:17, Ephesians 2:8, 10:1,11:6). Paul then is moved to pass through one of the most magnificent exhortations in the Bible, as I Thessalonians 5 closes, praying that the Lord might sanctify them wholly, spirit, soul and body, while declaring, "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." Put YOUR faith in Him; HE is FAITHFUL who will fulfil it, for the sheep that enters by Him is HIS, and all His sheep never perish (John10:9,27-28). To what an appointment is this to which those whom He has saved come, every one!
THIS, it is far more sure than the moon or sun, the stars or the universe; for it is word of the Maker of all these prodigies of might, which come by His word and go at His declaration; but His word, it stays though heaven and earth depart (Matthew 24:35), and those who are His, they may wait for Him to return with a confidence greater than that 2 plus 2 equals 4; for this relates to OUR minds, true though it be, while that, it is the export from the mind of GOD, Himself, the Lord of glory, who has TOLD you of HIS appointment.
THE WAY THE WEIGHTS MOVE – II Thessalonians 1:1-10
At I Thessalonians, we come starkly to Christ’s regal return (2), and face the fact that many like those in this Church to whom the apostle speaks, are suffering persecution. For this you suffer, he says; but it is an indication that you are found worthy for the kingdom of God, by that very fact. It is by faith His people so suffer, following His example and rule; as by faith you live and work. Repayment is from the Lord who will redress accounts when He comes, giving to you who have lived for Him, rest. Then, revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, the Lord takes vengeance on all evils, on those who do not obey the Gospel (1:8), and there IS no other Gospel but that of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, nor will there ever be (Galatians 1:6-9, Revelation 14:6, 5:1ff.).
It is not Cadillac driven in ‘prosperity’. Bearing a cross is neither popular nor pleasant; it is a matter of the One for whom one bears it! For many, having it good as it is, the last thing they want is His way; and something such seems to be the way of some today, as in some Pentecostal churches, even arousing Press comment.
Who can claim ignorance ? The world is overflowing with data, with knowledge as Daniel 12 forecast for the time of the end of the Age. Increasingly, FEW can say, I DID NOT KNOW! God does not condemn for ignorance, but He states it is for rejection (John 3:19) of what is known! Yet how great now is that knowledge of Christ! He is coming to be glorified, admired by His saints; but not all will find Him admirable, or His coming desirable! The cunning devices of the ungodly unmasked, many faces will fall. Ignominy is their lot – ‘NOT NAME’, for their faces have open shame when truth is to be faced!
THE WAY FAITH WORKS WITH POWER
But NOW ? There are two functions to follow as you live for Him, before He comes. If you are really His, and thus to be found worthy of His calling, these will come too. They are these. Firstly, in you He will fulfil all the good pleasure of His goodness. Thus you are a receptacle which He fills (you do not produce the ‘liquid’ – that is the Holy Spirit, GOD gives it TO you, as a vine stock brings sap to the branch). It is His goodness, His strength, love, wisdom, grace and mercy which He gives, IN HIS OWN PRESENCE within (Colossians 1:27). Secondly, He fulfils in you “the work of faith with power.” Again, the power is not your own. It is first GIVEN, as a power plant is given power from the nuclear reactor. CHRIST is the wisdom and the power of God (I Corinthians 1:24), and you have HIM as resource, so that you may be “strong in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
Not only so, but it is by FAITH that this outside resource becomes internal, and mountains are moved, evils overcome and life is lived with abundance and vitality (Mark 11:22ff., John 10:10, Isaiah 40:26ff.): it is the work of FAITH with power. Faith means that you BELIEVE Him, and believing Him to be the One who saves, and who is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him” (Hebrews 7:25), you do NOT trust in yourself or anything about you, present or future, to secure this salvation, but you take it from Him, as you would title deeds to a house! If you trust the lawyer and estate agent that these are correct because of human rules, how much more do you take your inheritance, both sublime and sure from the hands of God Himself (Ephesians 1:11, I Thessalonians 5:9-10)! For each believer, it is APPOINTED, we read. Doubt is not humility; and holiness believes and receives.
That being so, then in the practical events of your life also, knowing His coming is near, you draw near and submitting them to Him, seek calling, power, appropriate graces and ability for service, in love and wisdom from Him. In the love of Christ, by faith, you proceed with confidence. Forget this world (I Cor. 7:31); in time it will be pleased to forget you, for it cannot stay: but God never forgets. Having come as Saviour to secure a place for you, for each Christian, as sin-bearer, He left as Lord to prepare that place for you as child of God (John 14, Gal. 3:1-13).
He will arrive for all who believe, His companions drawn away from this world. Look for that. It is not like Lot’s wife, who was drawn to it, and stayed. Instead, drawn to Him, you then leave as one, and make a farewell to this testing and challenging time, to find rest with Him who ALREADY gives rest to your spirit by faith, through the Holy Spirit, by promise (Mat. 11:28-30). It is then that He brings you rest from your labours (Revelation 14:6), as when school is out, the track is won, and the race is over; and you go home to the love which is His gift to you. It is then not an inferno, but the light of endless day (cf. Mat, 13:43). The issues are clear: called, come, and coming believe Him, and in Him: then when He comes, you are called home with all His people.
The issues are clear: called, come, coming, believe Him and in Him; then when He comes, you are called home with all His people. If not, then non-realisation of reality means non-conformity to truth, implies non-participation in eternal life, non-coverage of sin and non-compliance with the vast and over-arching plans of God, as if one chose to be under the foot of an elephant, rather than seated on his back; or to use the Pauline word, instead of 'sitting in heavenly places' (Ephesians 2:6).
FAITH brings these things to life BECAUSE by it you receive and know God, who HIMSELF brings them to life.
This then brings us to the end of this expository presentation, to enable a clear comprehension of the justice, peace, mercy, rationality and overarching wisdom in the entire saga and drama; and to see something of the panorama, so that its coverage of all issues, questions and criteria which might justly be raised, may be appreciated; for this is the nature of the word of God, that it is the word of GOD.
In our next Chapter, we shall seek to consider II Thessalonians 2 in its depiction of the very nature of the historical activities of evil, of iniquity, its focus; so that instead of conceiving with wallowing woes, the RESULTS it brings, as if this were the main feature, we may consider the NATURE of what incurs them!
*1 See Sparkling Life ... Ch. 10, SMR pp. 504-509, and Indexes.