Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31: Exodus 12:14-13:16; Psalm 25:16-22; Proverbs 6:12-15; Matthew 20:29-21:22


            Exodus:  God gives Moses the specifics of future Passovers, memorials of the day the Lord passes over the Hebrew homes. It is to start with seven days of eating unleavened bread starting on the 14th day of Abib, the first month. If anyone eats leavened bread during this time, he is to be cut off from Israel. The first and seventh days are holy assemblies and no one may work on those days. It is to be kept forever.
            Moses calls the elders and tells them to kill the lambs and put the blood on the doors. This rite is to be a statute forever for them. When future generations ask, they will be told what it means, when God passed over the Hebrew homes and killed the firstborn in the Egyptian homes.
             At midnight, the Lord killed the firstborn in Egypt passing over the Hebrew homes. Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron and tells them to go with all the people and animals. The Egyptians are glad to have them go because they fear they will all be dead if the Israelites don’t leave. The people take all the goods that the Egyptians gave them. There are 600,000 men, not including the women, children, and animals. They don’t have time to prepare food so they take unleavened bread. It was exactly 430 after their ancestors arrived in Egypt.
            Moses gives more instructions about the Passover. Only circumcised people may eat it, so a foreigner must first be circumcised if he wants to join in the feast. The lamb must be completely eaten in the house and no bones broken.
            Moses then explains that all the firstborn of Israel people and animals belong to the Lord because he spared them during the Passover. Now, they must be dedicated to the Lord that means animals are sacrificed or killed. They may substitute a lamb for a donkey. All firstborn children must be redeemed. This is to be explained to future generations as well.
            Psalm 25: David asks God for grace because he is lonely and afflicted. He asks God to consider all his troubles and to guard his soul. He adds all Israel to his request for deliverance.
            Proverbs: This is a description of a worthless person and his calamity.
            Matthew: Jesus leaves Jericho and heals two blind men on the way. He later come to Bethphage and the Mount of Olives. He waits there after sending his disciples to get a donkey with her colt. When they get back, Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem as crowds spread their cloaks and branches on the road. They essentially proclaim Jesus as king.
            He then goes to the temple and drives out the people selling inside the temple. Then blind and lame came to the temple and he healed them. Then children cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:15). The chief priests and scribes try to get Jesus to stop the children but he affirms their praise is appropriate.
            Jesus leaves the temple and goes back to Bethphage. The next morning he sees a fig tree without fruit so he curses it and it withers. The disciples are amazed. Jesus says that if they had faith without doubting, they can do the same thing or move mountains. They will receive what they ask in prayer if they have faith.

What Stood Out

            Exodus: “The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead’” (Ex 12:33).
            Psalm: “Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!” (Ps 25:20).
            Proverbs: “Poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov 6:11).
            Matthew: “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matt 21:14).


            Exodus: I covered the Passover yesterday and how it relates to Jesus being the Lamb of God. So today, the focus is on the leaven. Whether the Hebrews identified leaven with sin at that point in their history is not mentioned in my commentaries. However, it must have soon become obvious as sacrifices with anything made with leaven was prohibited (Ex 23:18). The baked sacrifice is most holy and must not have leaven (Lev 6:17). An exception is made for a thanksgiving wave offering of bread taken from their home (Lev 23:17, Amos 4:3).
            Jesus compared leaven to the sinful teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 16:12). Paul also alluded to sin as being leaven when he referred to boasting, malice, and evil and that we are to be unleavened in Christ (1 Cor 5:6-8). However, leaven isn’t always used as a synonym for sin. Jesus used it to describe the kingdom of heaven permeating everything (Matt 13:33).
            The reason bread was unleavened for the first Passover is because of the haste in which the Israelites had to fee from Egypt. However, when describing the seven days leading up to the memorial of the Passover, there is a correspondence of unleavened bread with preparation for the Passover. It is so serious that anyone having leaven is to be cut off. Cut off often means killed or if not that, excommunicated. Either way, this means that the person can’t be part of the sacrificial system that is required for the forgiveness of sins. It would then be correct to view leaven as synonymous with sin. Removal of leaven and repentance would be synonymous. This fits with the preparation for the Passover being a symbol of our salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice. Without repentance there can’t be salvation. However leaven is a symbol and not the reality. So don’t think that we must get rid of our sins before we can be saved. We get rid of our sins because we believe in our hearts when the Holy Spirit regenerates us. The thanksgiving offering (not sacrifice) can be presented with leaven because the sins are covered by the sacrifice. That means that we, who are forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus can still come to God with thanksgiving even though we still sin.
            Psalm: When we are lonely or the world just seems to come tumbling down on us, this is a great passage to read. David is feeling all the trouble and distress along with loneliness (Ps 25:16-19). He turns to God and asks for his soul to be guarded before being delivered. (Ps 25:20). When depressed and feeling in the pits, this is what we need. We need God to guard our soul. Our innermost being, emotions, and thoughts are bombarded by the world so that we despair. But when we are immersed in our Lord, he will guard our soul and protect us. If we slip and give into them, we can trust him to restore and deliver our souls from that emotional pit.
            Proverbs: There is a parallel between the lazy man of yesterday’s reading and the worthless man of today’s reading. The lazy man had sudden poverty and the worthless man will have calamity suddenly. We may think we can sin and escape the consequences, but when they come, it seems sudden and without resolution.
            Matthew:  It is always amazing to read about fulfilled prophecies. Jesus knew the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 that the Messiah must come into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. It would be great to look behind the scenes to know if Jesus had previously arranged for the donkey and colt or if this was part of his omniscience, knowing where they would be tied and that the owners would willingly let them go. Maybe the owners recognized the disciples and followed with the crowd. However God did it, it happened and those who were familiar with Scripture knew that Jesus was declaring himself to be the king of Israel. They cried hosanna. According to Strong’s Concordance, it is an exclamation of adoration, a synonym for worship. No wonder the chief priests and scribes were so upset. The crowds and the children were worshiping Jesus. Calling him the Son of David, was designating him as the Messiah. The Pharisees and scribes had been fighting this all along. To them it meant the end of their superiority over the people. To the crowds it meant an end to foreign dominion. To us, it means our Savior has arrived as hosanna also means “Oh save!” (Strong’s).
            It is interesting that Jesus heals two blind men as he leaves Jericho. They join the crowd and follow him. Is it possible that this crowd followed him all the way from Jericho to Bethphage and into Jerusalem? Then, after clearing out the temple, more blind and lame people come to Jesus for healing. It shows that our King and Savior isn’t like the world’s kings, especially now. Security would be so tight that they couldn’t get near him. He would be so busy he wouldn’t have time to stop. It’s good to know our Savior cares for each of us.
            I’ll leave comments about the fig tree for the next time we encounter it in Mark 11:12-14, 20-25.


             Thinking about the fact that leaven is removed before subsequent Passovers reminds me that the exodus from Egypt is a symbol of salvation. That would mean that removing sin is what we do during our lives after we are saved. Rather than only doing it once a year as a memorial, I need to be careful to work on keeping sin out of my life, the ones that can spread. These are often the “little” ones.

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30: Exodus 10 – 12:13; Psalm 25:1-15; Proverbs 6:6-11; Matthew 20:1-28


            Exodus: God continues to harden Pharaoh’s heart in order that all the Israelites, sons and grandsons will know that God is the Lord. Moses tells Pharaoh that locust will cover the land tomorrow. Pharaoh’s servants plead with him to let the people go. He calls Moses and Aaron back and tries to negotiate for only the men to go worship the Lord. But Moses says everyone including livestock must go. Pharaoh won’t allow it so God sends the locust with a wind. They eat all of the green plants. Pharaoh repents and admits his sin. The Lord sends a wind to take the locust into the Red Sea. Then the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart so he won’t let the people go.
            Without warning, the Lord has Moses stretch out his staff and darkness comes on the land for three days. The land of Goshen with the Israelites still had light. I wonder how those who don’t believe in miracles try to explain that one. Pharaoh calls Moses and tells him all the people can go but not the livestock. Moses explains they need the livestock for sacrifice and all must go because they don’t know which animals are needed for sacrifice. The Lord hardens Pharaoh again and he won’t let the people go. Pharaoh threatens to kill Moses if he comes again.
            The Lord tells Moses there will be one more plague and they will be free. So they are to ask their neighbors for loot. The Lord gave Moses and the Israelites favor in the Egyptians’ sight.
            Before leaving Pharaoh, Moses tells him that the firstborn of everyone, man and animal will be killed at midnight, but not among the Israelites. This is the Lord showing the distinction between Egypt and Israel. The Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart so he did not listen.
            The Lord explains the Passover. He establish this month as the first month of the year and the tenth of the month to take a lamb without blemish and kill it at twilight. They are to spread the blood on the doorposts and lintel of their houses. They are to eat the lamb with bitter herbs. They are to eat full dressed ready to leave in haste. God will kill the firstborn of Egypt bringing judgment upon the gods of Egypt. However, the blood on the Israelites’ doors will be a sign to the Israelites. When God sees the blood, he will pass over them and go on to the Egyptians.
            Psalm 25: David expresses his trust in the Lord and not to be put to shame. It is done by God leading him. David remembers his youthful sins and asks that God not remember them. He affirms that God instructs sinners and God’s ways are faithful. David asks to be pardoned for God’s name’s sake and speaks of the blessing of the one who fears God and is instructed by him.
            Proverbs: This is a warning about being lazy.
            Matthew: Jesus tells another parable. This one is also about the kingdom of heaven being like a man who hired workers for his vineyard. During the day, he would find workers at different times. The first agreed to work for a denarius. Those hired later were to work for what was right. Even to the last hour of the day, he hired people. The foreman was instructed to pay everyone a denarius starting with the most recently hire to the ones who worked all day. The ones who worked all day thought they would get more but didn’t and grumbled. The owner reminded them of the agreement and it was his right to pay, as he wanted.
            Again, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be condemned to death and executed by Gentiles, but raised on the third day.
            Right after that, James and John’s mother asks that her sons be on Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom. He asks them if they are able to go through what he is about to go through and they answer they can. He agrees they will but, the positions of left and right are for those his father has prepared. The other ten disciples heard it and were upset. Jesus reminds them all that to be great in the kingdom they need to be slaves. He points to himself being a ransom for many rather than coming to be served.

What Stood Out

            Exodus: “I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Ex 10:2)
            Psalm: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Ps 25:1).
            Proverbs: “Poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov 6:11).
            Matthew: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matt 20:15).


            Exodus: God’s plan is beyond our understanding. I’m sure Moses and the Israelites were in awe as God brought down the plagues on the Egyptians but left the Israelites alone. What a change this must have been for them. Previously they had grumbled when the Egyptians increased their labor after Moses asked to let them go. But now, God tells them that this is all being done so that the Hebrews would know that God is the Lord. The Lord also exalted Moses in the eyes of the Egyptians and made the Hebrews favorable in their sight so that they might plunder Egypt as they left. But that was not the most important part of the plan. God’s plan is always to glorify himself and he did this not just for Moses and the people, but for all generations of that would follow. That even extends to us who believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We can read these accounts and know that God is the Lord. Anyone who has a Bible can read this and know the same thing.
            It is interesting to see how many times Pharaoh lets the people go only to reverse his decision. His servants must have thought he was going mad. The country is being ruined because of his stubbornness. The Lord provides us a clear example of a person who is ruled by his own sinfulness. Yes, God hardens his heart over and over, but what is already in his heart would probably have been enough. He is like an abuser who batters his loved ones then begs them to come back. He promises he loves them but repeats the pattern when they return. He is like an alcoholic who promises reform but always returns to the bottle. I could name any sin and it’s the same. Until there is a radical regeneration of the heart by the Holy Spirit, nothing changes. Sure, some people clean up their outward act but not their heart. Without saving grace, it is impossible to make heart change.
            When it comes to the Passover, God shows us exactly what it takes to make the change. In the imagery of the Passover, we find the solution to our sin problem. It takes the death of an innocent lamb and its blood to spare the Hebrews of the same fate that befalls the Egyptians. In the same way, it takes the innocent blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God to take away our sin (John 1:29). When we trust in the blood of Jesus to save us from our sins, we can turn from being an abuser, drunkard, gossip, slander, or whatever because the Holy Spirit regenerates and changes us. He gives us a heart that is not hardened but one of flesh, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek 11:19). We don’t have to have a hardened heart like Pharaoh because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
            Psalm: I really resonate with “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Ps 25:1). This is an image of complete surrender and trust in God. Here it is Lord, my soul, my very being, all that I am. I yield it to you and stop trying to set my own course. I turn from my desires and look for what you want me to be. The sins of my youth and my rebellious ways, the Lord does not remember (Ps 25:6). What a relief that is. When I trust in him, I won’t be put to shame. He will not drag out my sins to display before the world now or at the judgment. If they are exposed in this world, it will be for his glory, just as Pharaoh’s sins brought glory to God. But for his name’s sake, he has pardoned my sins (Ps 25:11) and it reminds me that it isn’t anything I’ve done to earn that.
            Proverbs: We can understand theology from nature and we can understand it from the Word of God. This is great example of a theologian using nature and developing a theological truth. “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov 6:6). It helps that God inspires the theologian, Solomon. To boil it down, a lazy person will end up in poverty and want (Prov 6:11).
            Matthew: Jesus’ parable of the kingdom compared to a man hiring people to work in his vineyard reveals several things about the kingdom of God. The first is that Jesus brings people into his kingdom at different times of their lives. They are invited, not compelled to come into the kingdom, neither can they come by their own efforts. Some come early in their life (the ones hired early), others come later (those hired later), and some come just before the day (this life) ends. We must remember they were invited into the kingdom and then they worked. They didn’t work to get in (Eph 2:8-10). So the grumbling workers are those who think that their long labors in the Lord are those who have lost their perspective. They forget they were on the outside and invited to come into the kingdom. They knew the cost and the reward but they thought they should get more for their long labor. The denarius could represent salvation, but that doesn’t fit with salvation being a gift. The denarius could be the rewards in heaven but doesn’t seem to fit either. Rather I think the denarius is a prop Jesus used to get people thinking about who is first and who is last in the kingdom. Those who think they should be first think too much of themselves and will be last. Those who are last don’t think they will get much but get much more than expected. The bottom line is that Jesus is sovereign and we shouldn’t tell him how to do things.
            This parable can’t be use to assert that we have the right to do whatever we want with our property. It doesn’t mean we can be unfair with our resources. We have to follow the laws.
            So Jesus tells again about his death and resurrection. What is the result? James and John’s mother asks Jesus to let her sons be on his left and right in his kingdom. Mark records this as James and John asking (Mark 10:35). Perhaps they put Mom up to the task. However it happened, it is astonishing that they heard the parable, heard Jesus talking about his death and then were so callous as to ask to be first in his kingdom. They are also so bold as to think they can endure what Jesus will. They are clueless.
            However, Jesus is patient with them. That’s the way he is with all of us. We may ask him for crazy things but he says yes or no. He doesn’t slap us down. However, he does remind us that to be first in his kingdom is to be a slave to the others. We are not called to exercise authority over other but to be servant-leaders. Jesus is the prime example. He came to serve and be a ransom to purchase us from our sins and bring us into his kingdom.


            Being a servant-leader is tough. It goes against our grain, that is, it goes against our flesh – our sinful nature. It is natural to want to be in the limelight. That is the problem with any sin. Sin is natural for us. So I must remember to put to death what belongs to the sinful nature and put on Christ, the perfect servant so I can be a servant.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29: Exodus 8 – 9; Psalm 24; Proverbs 6:1-5; Matthew 19:13-19:30


            Exodus: God continues to direct Moses in demanding that Pharaoh let the Israelites leave Egypt. Since he does not comply, God brings frogs out of all the waters. The frogs invade houses, ovens, bowl, and crawl all over people. The magicians did the same (oh thrill, more frogs). Pharaoh says he will let the people go and asks Moses to ask the Lord to make them go away. Moses asks when to make sure Pharaoh know it is the Lord’s doing. Pharaoh replies tomorrow (why not now?). The frogs all die the next day and stink up he land.
            The same scenario is repeated with a few minor differences for the following plagues. Gnats come up from the dust of the land. The magicians can’t do it so they tell Pharaoh it is from the Lord. Swarms of flies are the fourth plague. This time the land of Goshen where the Hebrews live is spared. Pharaoh says they can go but reneges as soon as the flies are gone. The fifth plague is upon the livestock of the Egyptians where all die. The sixth plague is boils on the Egyptians. The magicians can’t even stand before Moses.
            The seventh is hail that kills everyone that is in the open and all livestock that is in the open. Many Egyptians who fear the Lord bring in slaves and livestock but others ignore the warning. Barley is ruined but not the wheat. Pharaoh admits he has sinned
            Pharaoh hardened his heart over the frogs, flies, and hail. The Lord hardened his heart over the boils. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened over the gnats and livestock without mention of whether he did it himself or God did it to him.
            Psalm 24: In the first six verses, David declares that the whole earth belongs to the Lord. Only those who are pure can stand before him. They are blessed by God. In the last six verses, David expounds on the King of Glory, the Lord of hosts.
            Proverbs: The passage is about what to do if you have put up security (co-signed) for a neighbor. If you have done it, go quickly and get out from under it. You have made yourself subordinate to them. Get out like a bird trying to get out of a trap.
            Matthew: One more thing about children – don’t keep them from Jesus.
            A rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. He says he has. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor and follow him. The man then turns and leaves.
            Jesus tells his disciple that it hard for rich people to be saved. That really bothers them and asks who can be saved. Jesus replies it is only possible by God. The disciples, still concerned say they have left everything, so what will they have.
            Jesus tells them they will rule with him when he comes back. Whatever they left in this lie, they will have one hundred times over in the next. But many who are first here will be last there and vice versa.

What Stood Out

            Exodus: “And  the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils” (Ex 9:11).
            Psalm: Who can stand in God’s holy place, “He who has  clean hands and  a pure heart,
who does not  lift up his soul to  what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Ps 24:4).
            Proverbs: “Save yourself … like a bird from the hand of the fowler” (Prov 6:5).
            Matthew: “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matt 19:20-21).


            Exodus: God’s sovereignty is often underestimated. So far in the Bible, it has been evident in many way. When it comes down to it, we will often admit that God is sovereign except when it comes to influencing individuals. In today’s reading, Pharaoh specifically hardened his own heart after several plagues. However, the Lord hardened his heart over the boils. In the chapters 10, 11, and 14, God again hardens his heart. This is the Lord doing what only he can do and only he has the right to do. If there is any doubt about God doing this verses Pharaoh’s own wicked desires, the same thing is told about others. Paul says, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor,  eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day’” (Rom 11:7-8). We can wonder about his and we can struggle against it. But this is what the Bible says.
             The magicians were the first to point out that God was behind the plagues starting with the gnats. They couldn’t duplicate them. I mentioned before that there is much we don’t know about the spiritual realm and what those connected to evil can do. However, they know who is in control and in this case, they admitted it. Still, there isn’t any evidence that they are willing to yield to God, even when they can’t even stand up because of their misery. It reminds me of James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even  the demons believe—and shudder!” It takes more than believing in God to be saved. It requires voluntary submission, not even forced submission as the magicians encountered will save a person.
            Here is an odd things to ponder as we go through the plagues. All the livestock were killed by the plague on livestock. Yet there were still livestock in the fields when the hail was brought. We shouldn’t become dogmatic about some of the wording in the Bible. We have to look at the Bible as a whole to understand when God says all. In this case it does not mean every single animal died.  
            Psalm: This Psalm is all about our glorious God. He is our creator so all of creation belongs to him (Ps 24:1-2). He is holy and only those who are pure can stand in his presences (Ps 24:3-4). The righteous of all generations can trust him for salvation (Ps 24:5-6). The will be day when he will come through the gates of Jerusalem (Ps 24:7, 9). He is strong and mighty, he is the Lord of hosts (Ps 24:8, 10).
            Proverbs: I watched a quail run into a large net I had hanging by our shed. The bird frantically and rapidly made his way free. He never slowed down until he got past the edge and flew away. That is a picture of how we should try to get out from under having co-signed for a loan (Prov 6:5). Of course the best course is to have read this and refused to co-sign in the first place. Other verses of warning are suffering harm (Prov 11:15); you lack sense if you do (Prov17:18); and just don’t do it or you could lose even your bed (Prov 22:26-27).
            Matthew: When Jesus talked with this young man about having eternal life, he didn’t mention one thing about believing in him, or some of the other things we are told by Jesus or the Gospel writers. He doesn’t say that he must confess Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9). He point the man to the commandments, and not even to all of them. The astounding thing is that the man says he has kept them all. Obviously, the man had not heard or understood Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Otherwise, he would have known that anger is the same as murder (Matt 5:21-22) and lust is the same as adultery (Matt 5:27-28). And what about honoring his mother and father? Did Jesus know something about his attitude toward his parents? Did he really love his neighbors?
            The man was so self-righteous that he didn’t recognize his own sin. So Jesus takes one more poke at his heart. Sell everything and give it to the poor. Where were his treasures? They were not in heaven, but on the earth. Jesus knew that until we recognize our sin an repent, confessing him as Lord is only lip service and not the relationship that he requires.
            The disciples had learned that a wealthy man is one who is blessed by the Lord. There are many instances where this is true. David, Solomon, Abraham and others were wealthy and the Psalms repeat it often as in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children  begging for bread.” Now Jesus tells them it is hard as a camel to go through the eye of a needle as it is for a rich man to be saved. There is no gate in Jerusalem, nor has there ever been one called the eye of a needle whereby a camel would have to get on its knees to go through. That was made up sometime between the 9th century and the 15the when it was first used. The clear unmistakable meaning of the common idiom is that it was impossible.[1] However, Jesus makes the point that with God it is possible.
            Think about that. We can’t save ourselves. Like the young man, we all have something in us, a favorite sin, whether it is pride or something else that makes it impossible to be saved. It isn’t until we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit that we can respond to Jesus and be saved (Titus 3:5). Ephesians 2:1 says we were dead in our sins. Dead people don’t respond. We must be make alive and that is why it is impossible for a rich man, poor man, woman, slave, or whatever to be saved. When God does it he gets the glory. If we could do it then we could boast and Paul says that we can’t, except in the cross (1 Cor 1:27-29, Gal 6:14).
            Their understanding has been turned upside down. What will become of them? What will become of us who have placed our trust in Jesus for our salvation? We will reign with him in his kingdom. He will make up to us in the eternity all that we had to give up in this life. Choose where you want your treasures. Some will make it but instead of being rich in heaven they will be poor because they didn’t invest in the kingdom (Matt 6:19-20).


            Embracing and accepting God’s sovereignty has been a huge blessing in my life. I have peace about things that others don’t. I don’t always remember that and have to be reminded, but I know that God is in control and the world is not spinning out of control. I still wonder what is going to happen but as long as I’m trying to do his will, I know that my future is secure. Maybe not in this life but in the one to come.

[1] See http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/camelneedle.htm for indepth discussion of the idiom.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jesus’ Return and Rapture of Christians – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The importance of teaching about Jesus’ return and the rapture is for hope. Hope for those who are grieving the death of a loved one and hope in the promise we will be with Jesus now and forever.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (ESV)

Uninformed about Death

Because we should not be uniformed about what happens to believers immediately after they die, I taught two classes about what happens after death. It was a fairly extensive study. I covered several Christian views and those of a couple of cults. The slide presentations and audio can be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLhibSr82KRQexq_QPG61xw. You can also start with my blog at https://ray-ruppert.blogspot.com/2015/10/what-happens-immediately-after-people.html and follow the series that I used to develop the teaching.

One of the reasons there is confusion about what happens between our death and Jesus’ return is the use of the word sleep. Jesus used the terminology for Lazarus’s death in John 11:11. His disciples misunderstood him at that time. Paul uses it to refer to those who have died in several verses (1 Thess 4:13, 15, 5:10; 1 Cor 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51). Peter also uses it in 2 Peter 3:4 referring to the death of our ancestors. It is with good reason they use the terminology because that is the view of the Old Testament as demonstrated in Daniel 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (NIV).

To add to the confusion, the Lord spoke of the wicked dying and never waking up in Jeremiah 51:57, “I will make her princes and her wise men drunk, Her governors, her prefects and her mighty men, That they may sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake up,” Declares the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts”(NASU). This can easily be construed to mean that the wicked will be destroyed, annihilated and cease to exist. Jesus made a similar statement in Matthew 10:28, “But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (NKJV). It isn’t without a lot of Bible study and analysis that we can come up with a comprehensive explanation of what happens to people immediately after death, whether they are Christians or not. People write books, traditions have been formed, but most people haven’t really thought it out, especially people who don’t place their faith in Jesus for salvation. 

Here is my short version of what I discovered after putting together the teaching I mentioned above: 
  • Christians will be conscious and not asleep after death. Sleep is a euphemism for death, not a statement of the condition of the person after death. Jesus made that clear in John 11:11-14.

  • When a Christian dies, he goes immediately to be in the presence of Jesus.
o   2 Corinthians 5:8 is clear. We are either alive here or with Jesus. “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (NLT). This is also seen in Psalm 16:11 and Phil 1:23.
  • Christians will have some sort of intermediate body that is recognizable as a human body.
o   Jesus had a physical body after His resurrection that could appear and disappear (John 20:19-29; Luke 24:30) before His ascension into heaven.
o   Jesus is the firstfruits of those who will be raised (1 Cor 15:23).
o   2 Corinthians 5:1-5 speaks of Christians taking off our current tents (bodies) and putting on heavenly dwellings (bodies) prepared for us by God who has given us this assurance by the Holy Spirit. The New Living Translations interprets it this way, “For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies” (2 Cor 5:3).
  • Christians will get a resurrected body when Jesus returns.
o   Resurrected bodies will be different from earthly bodies, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44 NKJV).
o   The dead will get new bodies as will everyone who is alive (1 Cor 15:50-53; 1 Thess 4:15-17).

These points make it clear that after death we will have some kind of body, exactly what it is like, we don’t know. After Jesus returns, we will get a final, eternal body that is also going to be different. Paul emphasizes the differences of bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 as he speaks of the different glories of sun, moon, stars all of which are different. If Jesus is our model, then compare His resurrected body before ascension to His two appearances afterward, first to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3) and then to John on Patmos (Rev 1:12-16). Is this not an indication that our intermediate bodies after death will be something different from the eternal bodies after Jesus’ return?

Just a quick word about what happens to non-Christians. They die and suffer consciously for a time, as Jesus pointed out when He told of the rich man who died in Luke 16:22-25. He was aware of his surroundings, was able to speak, recognized Abraham, and was in anguish in the flames. They will stay there until they are resurrected after the millennial reign of Jesus on the earth. Then they will be raised for judgment (Rev 20:5, 12-14). Their immortal bodies will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15) where Satan was tossed previously (Rev 20:10). 

No Grief

Is it really possible not to grieve over the loss of a loved one? We must remember that Paul didn’t say we would not grieve but that we shouldn’t do it the same as those without hope. One of the most astounding passages in the Old Testament regarding grief over the death of a loved one comes from David’s loss of his illegitimate son born to Bathsheba due to his adultery. God told him the boy would die (2 Sam 12:14) and he became ill. While the boy was ill and dying, David fasted and prayed for the boy’s healing (2 Sam 12:16). His action resembled mourning. This action was so out of the ordinary that they thought that he would kill himself when he heard the boy died, which happened seven days later. David ended his fast. His servants could not understand his actions (2 Sam 12:17-21). So David explained it to them, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:22-23 RSV). 

Those with no hope (non-Christians) don’t have the assurance that they will see anyone again after death. Sure, some believe in reincarnation, various forms of heaven, and nirvana. But the truth is clear in all of those religions; there is no assurance. All of them depend on their own ability to be good enough to achieve their everlasting place. They can’t be sure they’ve done everything. They don’t have a Redeemer who has died and come back to tell them that He is the way. They don’t have a Savior who assures them that He has done everything necessary for their eternal salvation. 

With a Savior like Jesus, we don’t have to grieve without hope of seeing our Christian loved ones again. Our grief is different because we miss them now but have the assurance we will see them again. Note that this assurance is only for Christians. If our loved ones are not Christians, we don’t have the assurance we will see them again. We will grieve for them in the same way as the world does. This makes it all the more important to share the Gospel with them and live lives that will not turn them away from Jesus. 

Timing of the Rapture

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor 15:51-52 NASB)

If anyone tells me that they can prove without a shadow of a doubt that the rapture is going to come before, in the middle, or at the end of the tribulation, I know that they are wrong. Paul clearly says it is a mystery. Yes, there are verses that lean toward each of these doctrinal positions, and that is just the point of why it is a mystery. If multiple theologians over time have spent years studying Scripture and have come down on opposite sides of the controversy, then how can anyone have 100% assurance that one is correct and the others are not? I’ve done my studies over the years and have come to my conclusion. But I assure you that I’m not 100% sure it will happen the way I think, even though it is sound biblical exegesis. The reason is simple. There are verses that don’t fit smoothly together with the rest. It doesn’t matter if it is my view or the others, an honest theologian will admit that there are weakness in his or her argument and I’ve seen them in each of the three positions. 

One important thing to remember about this passage in 1 Thessalonians is that it doesn’t tell us anything about timing, other than it all happens at once. The rapture isn’t spread over several days, hours, or weeks. When Jesus comes back, that is it. We all are changed. We all will be with Jesus. All Christians are reunited. That is the encouragement that we get from this passage.

If you want to know my position, then you will have to read my lessons on the Book of Revelation. It only makes sense if you start at Revelation 1:1 and work through the whole book. So the first lesson is at https://ray-ruppert.blogspot.com/2011/12/bible-study-chapter-1-revelation-11-3.html. I think there are only 52 lessons, so take your time, I did.