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Signs of the End of the Age September 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 24:1-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples depart from the temple. Although His disciples are still in awe of the temple, He asserts that it will be devastated.

They respond by asking Him when:

  • the temple will be devastated
  • He will fully reveal Himself as the Messiah
  • will be the final end of the age of man.

He responds by warning them to keep their eyes open so that they would not be deceived. While there will be:

  • many false Messiahs who will deceive others
  • constant wars and rumors of wars
  • famines and earthquakes throughout the world

these events only mark the beginning of the final end of the age of man.

Later, true believers will be arrested, afflicted and even murdered – since they identify with Him. False teachers will deceive false believers, and false believers will betray true believers. Yet true believers will be saved after enduring these trials, and the Gospel message will be proclaimed throughout the world.

Now when they see that which is abhorrent to God that causes devastation in the temple – as referenced in Daniel 11:31 – they should flee. Those who are on their housetops should not attempt to retrieve their belongings, while those who are in their fields should not attempt to retrieve their outer cloaks. Moreover, pregnant women will be ripped open, and infants will be smashed to pieces. They should pray that their escape would not be hindered by the weather or by Sabbath-day laws, as they are witnessing the worst period in world history. He notes that if that period were not immediately curtailed, then no one would be saved – yet God will immediately terminate it so that those whom He has chosen will be saved.

He then asserts that some will try to deceive them by claiming that the Messiah has fully revealed Himself. Yet when the Messiah fully reveals Himself, that event will be public and glorious.

At that point, the entire universe will disintegrate – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 13:10. They will see Him in heaven. While all unbelievers will mourn this event, His angels will gather all believers throughout the world and bring them into His kingdom.

He concludes with the following lesson: just as when a fig tree puts forth its leaves, it is time for summer, so when they see all these things, it is time for them to be brought into His kingdom.

Thoughts: In verse 4, Jesus warns His disciples to not be deceived regarding the timing of His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Irvingism and Mormonism have been only too successfully used as arguments for rejecting the whole doctrine of the second coming of Christ. Let us watch and be on our guard.

While I am (somewhat) familiar with Mormonism, I had never heard about Irvingism before I read that quote, spurring me to learn about Edward Irving. Based on my brief investigation, it appears that Edward Irving was simply another preacher who attempted to predict the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps repeated failures to predict the timing of that event should spur believers to resist the temptation to “control God” by making such predictions. By not fixating on particular times and dates, we place His Second Coming into the hands of the Father, trusting that He will exercise His sovereignty on some future date.

Here, Jesus presents a list of catastrophic events that will occur before His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

One main subject of this part of our Lord’s prophecy is the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. That great event took place about forty years after the words we have now read were spoken. A full account of it is to be found in the writings of the historian Josephus.

On a related note, I read through several transcripts of sermons by John MacArthur on this passage; in one of those sermons, he asserts:

Now, some people have tried to say that this is a sermon about the destruction of Jerusalem, that this whole sermon was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. For many reasons that is impossible, as we’ve tried to point out in our previous message.

It is apparent that there is no single interpretation of this passage, and I am not prepared to resolve that debate. Given that the pastor at my previous church emphasized the significance of authorial intent in reading Scripture, I would posit that Matthew’s original audience would have understood Jesus’ prophecies in light of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I would also posit that they would have had no concept of a future desolation that would last for seven years. That being said, I could be wrong on both of these points; thus, I anticipate learning the correct interpretation of this passage in the next life (or even in this life).

In verse 34, Jesus notes that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, these verses teach us that until Christ returns the Jews will remain a separate people…The continued existence of the Jews as a distinct nation is undeniably a great miracle: it is one of those evidences of the truth of the Bible which the unbeliever can never overthrow…The Jewish nation stands before the world a crushing answer to unbelief, and a living book of evidence that the Bible is true.

While the meaning of “this generation” is also debatable, Ryle’s thoughts remind me of Paul’s assertion in Romans 11:25-32 concerning the ultimate salvation of the Jews. If Ryle’s interpretation of “this generation” is correct, then it is all the more remarkable at this point in world history that the Jews continue to exist “as a distinct nation” – since Ryle could not have anticipated the Holocaust. Indeed, I wonder if God is actually displaying His sovereign plan in continuing to preserve the Jews as “a separate people”; if so, when will He restore them to His favor and enable them to acknowledge the identity of His Son, Jesus Christ? That is an event that should spur all believers to rejoice in His abundant grace.

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Jesus Sends Out the Twelve March 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 10.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus commissions His twelve disciples – giving them the right to cast out demons and heal the sick.

These twelve disciples include:

  • Peter (the foremost in rank) and his brother, Andrew
  • James (a son of Zebedee) and his brother, John
  • Philip and Nathanael
  • Matthew (formerly a tax collector) and Thomas
  • James (a son of Alphaeus), Judas (a son of James), and Simon (full of zeal)
  • Judas (from the town of Kerioth).

He states that their mission is to preach to the Jews that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. They should trust that God will meet their needs, and they should focus on those who are open to their message – while rejecting everyone else.

He then asserts that people will persecute them – since they oppose Him. Thus, they should choose their words wisely while treating their persecutors with humility and gentleness. They should also trust that God will sustain them in the midst of their persecution.

He exhorts them to fear God and preach boldly – since He determines the destiny of their souls. Indeed, their loyalty to Him – or lack thereof – will be revealed on the day of judgment. If they are loyal to Him, then they – and those who are open to their message – will be rewarded, even if their loyalty leads to death.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Jesus asserts that those who hear the Gospel message and reject it will be punished more severely than those who never heard it. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It will not save us to have lived in the full sunshine of Christian privileges, and to have heard the Gospel faithfully preached every week. We must experience acquaintance with Christ; we must receive his truth personally; we must be united with him in life; we must become his servants and disciples.

Given Ryle’s thoughts, one might ask: what does it mean to “experience acquaintance with Christ?” My thought is that as we continue to serve Him with our gifts and abilities, we will come to a deeper understanding of Him (and ourselves). Indeed, I have found that serving Him reveals my weaknesses and faults; for example, I often judge those whom I serve, and that judgmental attitude is occasionally revealed in my words and deeds. Also, I often fall short of the standards that I have set for myself, which can be frustrating. Yet I continue to serve, knowing that God will work through me to bless others; He will also enable me to (painfully) draw closer to Him in the process.

In verse 16, we see that Jesus calls His disciples to display wisdom. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

In this, however, as in every other respect, our Lord Jesus Christ himself is our most perfect example: no one was ever so faithful as he, but no one was ever so truly wise. Let us make him our pattern and walk in his steps.

Indeed, Jesus faced many challenges during His ministry; for example, He had to strike a perfect balance between 1) performing miracles and 2) keeping news of them from spreading (as that could have fueled premature attempts on the part of the Jews to proclaim Him as their political Messiah). We also see that He treated those in need with humility and gentleness – while treating His opponents harshly. As believers in a complex world, we need wisdom and strength from Him to advance His kingdom; properly chosen words and deeds are valuable instruments in that regard.

In verses 35-37, we see that Jesus states that His disciples may need to sever family ties in order to follow Him. I must admit that I am relatively fortunate in this regard, as I was raised in a Christian home. Thus, I greatly respect any believer who was not raised in a Christian home – especially if their family opposed their decision to place their trust in Christ. I cannot fathom the notion of being persecuted by one’s own family; since I tend to attempt to please others and minimize conflicts, I wonder if I would have followed Christ if I had been raised by unbelieving parents. Perhaps we should continue to pray for believers who are being persecuted by their families; we should ask God to grant them the wisdom and strength that they need to stand firm in their faith and bless their relatives – in the midst of their pain and frustration.

The Church Persecuted and Scattered June 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 8:1b-3.

Summary: In this passage, the Jewish aristocracy fomented persecution of the church in Jerusalem – spurring many believers to flee to other parts of Judea and Samaria. Saul played a key role in this campaign of persecution, as he arrested many believers.

Thoughts: We see that the Jewish aristocracy completely disregarded the advice of Gamaliel regarding the Gospel message. The nature of their response to the Word – including murdering Stephen and fomenting persecution of the believers in Jerusalem – reflected their misguided zeal for God. Indeed, they believed that they were honoring Him by punishing those who were:

  • spreading a false doctrine concerning Him
  • accusing them of murdering Jesus of Nazareth – when they had simply punished that blasphemer for rebelling against their righteous authority and inciting others to follow His lead.

In the rest of this book, we will see how God displayed His sovereignty by utilizing the misguided zeal of the Jews to fulfill His Kingdom plan; whenever they opposed His Word, it continued to advance.

To the Church in Philadelphia December 10, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 3:7-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus Christ commands John to write to the minister of the church in Philadelphia. In particular, He praises them for shunning apostasy – even in the face of persecution. He states that He will preserve them from trials and cause their persecutors to submit to them. He promises that those who shun apostasy will serve as a monument to what God has done through them.

Thoughts: I certainly hope to meet the believers from the church in Philadelphia in the next life and learn how they responded to this letter. I hope to ply them with queries such as:

  • why did Christ state that they had “little strength?”
  • how did they shun apostasy in the face of persecution?
  • were they able to convert any of the Jews who persecuted them?

To the Church in Smyrna November 23, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 2:8-11.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus Christ commands John to write to the minister of the church in Smyrna. In particular, He commends them for their spiritual wealth – even though they are destitute. He also steels them to face impending persecution. Indeed, He promises that those who overcome persecution will never die a spiritual death.

Thoughts: I certainly hope to meet the believers from the church in Smyrna in the next life and learn how they responded to this letter. I hope to ply them with queries such as:

  • who were the Jews who opposed them in Smyrna?
  • why were they imprisoned?
  • who persecuted them in Smyrna?
  • did that persecution last for ten days?

I should also note that they are a paragon for modern-day believers, since they stored up spiritual riches even though they lacked worldly riches. Indeed, we should focus on reducing our attachment to worldly wealth and increasing our attachment to spiritual wealth. This is a challenging task for believers in First World nations – yet we know that God can help us overcome the snare of worldly wealth.

Thanksgiving and Prayer May 12, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

Summary: Paul begins by commending the Thessalonians – indeed, he is bound to constantly give thanks to God for them – as they are increasing in their faith and their love. In fact, he uses them as examples for other churches to follow, since their faith endues them with perseverance – sustaining them in their trials.

Paul then states that the persecutions that godly people endure from the wicked demonstrate that God will one day be the Judge of the world; moreover, these persecutions prepare believers for His kingdom. Moreover, it is necessary that the wicked be punished for their crimes; in this way God refreshes the Thessalonians – and Paul – as they endure persecutions. Indeed, Christ will bring dreadful judgment on His enemies as He brings the angels with Him to display the glory of His kingdom. Christ will inflict vengeance on unbelievers, who are ignorant about God and have contempt for Him. Unbelievers will be punished by:

  • destruction without end
  • an undying death.

At that time Christ will irradiate the godly with His glory; in particular, the Thessalonians are included with God’s holy people, since they accepted Paul’s preaching as Christ’s witness.

Paul notes that he prays for the Thessalonians, since they are constantly in need of God’s help; God’s grace is responsible for the whole progress of their salvation, and so he prays that His power would help them in a special way to reach the final goal. Paul concludes by praying that the Thessalonians would promote the glory of Christ – which is linked to their glory.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that God will punish the wicked for their persecution of believers. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

Some may ask whether it is right for us to desire vengeance, for Paul promises it as if it is correct to want it. I answer that it is not right to want vengeance on people in general, for we are commanded to wish them well. Besides, although we may in a general way desire vengeance on the wicked, yet, as we are not yet able to determine who they are, we should seek everyone’s welfare. In the meantime, the ruin of the wicked may be rightly looked forward to, provided our hearts are pure and controlled by zeal for God and there is no feeling of inordinate desire.

I know that my conscience is troubled whenever I desire vengeance on someone who has wronged me. Now I wonder if it is easier for believers who are being persecuted to “in a general way desire vengeance on the wicked”; are they more zealous for God as a result of their persecution, or do they desire vengeance on specific “wicked” people, namely, their persecutors? As for believers who are not being persecuted, are they tempted to suppress the certainty of God’s vengeance on the wicked as an unpleasant aspect of Christianity? I know that the concept of hell is rather bothersome for me, and so I rarely contemplate God’s judgment of unbelievers.

In verse 10, we see that Christ will show His glory in believers, and they will be glorified in Him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

There is an implied contrast between the present condition in which believers labor and groan and that final restoration. They are now exposed to the reproaches of the world and are looked on as being vile and worthless; but then they will be precious and full of dignity, for Christ will pour his glory upon them. The purpose of this teaching is so the godly may pursue their brief earthly journey as their minds are set on the future manifestation of Christ’s kingdom.

It can be inferred that Paul’s teaching in this regard encouraged the Thessalonians as they endured persecutions and other difficulties. Now believers who are not being persecuted face a major challenge: how do they apply this passage to their situation? If the world does not view these believers “as being vile and worthless,” can they eagerly await the time when “they will be precious and full of dignity?” These believers can grow complacent in their station in life and not anticipate the awesome benefits of Christ’s kingdom, as I know from my experience. Perhaps all believers need to be persecuted to some extent so they can long for “that final restoration,” though this is a controversial position.

Paul’s Longing to See the Thessalonians April 16, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Thessalonians that when he was bereaved of them for a short time, his affection for them had actually been inflamed (despite the physical distance between them). He had been steadfast in his efforts to see them again, yet Satan contrived to obstruct him at every turn. Indeed, his happiness – in some sense – is treasured up in them; since he has promoted the kingdom of Christ among them, he will take part in glory and triumph on the last day.

Paul then asserts that he esteemed the Thessalonians above himself, since he chose to be left alone instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. In particular, he deprived himself of Timothy – whom he commended – so that they could be consoled and stimulated in their faith. He reminds them that the persecution he experiences is inseparable from him being a Christian; as they had been forewarned about this, they should battle more valiantly against their persecutions. Paul concludes by telling the Thessalonians that he had been concerned about them – especially if Satan had prevailed in enticing them to evil.

Thoughts: In verse 18 of chapter 2, we see that Satan prevented Paul from visiting the Thessalonians while he was in Athens. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Luke relates that Paul was in one instance hindered (Acts 20:3), inasmuch as the Jews laid an ambush for him along the route he traveled. The same thing, or something similar, may have occurred frequently. It is not without good reason, however, that Paul ascribes the whole of this to Satan, for as he teaches elsewhere (Ephesians 6:12), we have to wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and spiritual wickedness.

Since many of the events in the life of Paul are not recorded in Scripture, we can only speculate as to how Satan hindered him in this case. Perhaps a believer in Athens became deathly ill just as Paul was about to travel to Thessalonica, forcing him to stay and take care of them. Also, perhaps Paul was about to leave Athens when he was stopped by a Roman official who refused to verify his travel documents (note that I am unsure as to whether the equivalent of a passport was required for travel within the Roman Empire; knowledgeable readers can clarify this point). In addition, perhaps robbers waylaid Paul as he was traveling to Thessalonica. Whatever the case may be, Satan was pleased with the final outcome: Paul could not see his Thessalonian brethren.

In verse 2 of chapter 3, we see that Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to evaluate the spiritual health of the Thessalonians and make a report to him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The apostle assigned to Timothy marks of commendation, that he might show more clearly how much he cared about the Thessalonians’ welfare. If he had sent them some common person, that would not have afforded them much assistance. And if Paul would have done this without inconveniencing himself, he would have given no remarkable proof of his fatherly concern about the Thessalonians.

Clearly Paul and Timothy had an extremely close relationship that enabled them to make a positive impact on the lives of many believers in the early church. Their bond was so strong, in fact, that perhaps Paul’s ministry in Athens would have been more successful if Timothy had not traveled to Thessalonica. This has heightened my anticipation of future strolls through the two pastoral epistles that are addressed to Timothy, which will allow me to delve into the nature of Paul’s relationship with his closest disciple. How did Paul make such a deep impression on Timothy and spur him in his Christian walk?