Friday, May 26, 2017

Restoring Unity to Paul’s Epistles: A Refutation of Tom Ballinger’s Defense of the “Acts 28” Theory, Part 4 (With the Voice of the Chief Messenger; The "Word of the Lord" in 1 Thess. 4:15)

“With the Voice of the Chief Messenger”

Ballinger: In Matthew 24, when Jesus comes in the clouds He will come with angels. And He shall send forth His angels (:31). In I Thessalonians 4 and I Corinthians 15, when Jesus comes in the clouds He will come with angels. He will descend from heaven with … the voice of the archangel (:16). Michael is the archangel and the prince of Israel (Daniel 12:1-2) and where Michael goes so do his angels. There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels (Revelation 12:7).  

An “angel” or a “messenger” is one whose role or office involves delivering a message, carrying out a decree or executing the purpose of another, and does not necessarily refer to a particular class or category of celestial beings (see, for example, Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24; 9:52; Acts 12:15; 2 Cor. 12:7; James 2:25). Significantly, both John the Baptist and Christ are prophetically referred to as “messengers” in Malachi 3:1.

Ballinger assumes that Michael is the “chief messenger” referred to in 1 Thess. 4:16. Is this a valid assumption to make? After all, Michael is referred to as the “chief messenger” in Jude 9, so why shouldn’t he be understood as the same “chief messenger” of 1 Thess. 4:16? I believe there are good reasons to believe that Paul did not have Michael in view here.

Let’s first consider some verses from the book of Daniel that I believe can help shed some light on this subject. In Daniel 10:12-14, we read the following words spoken to Daniel by a celestial messenger (probably Gabriel; see Daniel 8:16; 9:21):

“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The chief of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the first chiefs, came to help me, for I was left there with the chief of the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

And in verses 20-21, we read:

“Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the chief of the kingdom of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the chief of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your chief.”

Finally, in Daniel 12:1 we read: “In that era Michael shall stand up, the great chief who is standing over the sons of your people. Then an era of distress will come to pass, such as has not occurred since there was a nation on the earth, until that era.”

What we discover from the above verses is that there are several “chiefs” among the celestial messengers. Some are on the side of God and the saints, and others are antagonistic toward God and the saints (with the latter “chiefs” seemingly opposing the former whenever they can). Among these “chiefs” is Michael, who is referred to as “your [Daniel’s] chief” and as “the great chief who is standing over the sons of your [Daniel’s] people.” Among the celestial messengers, then, Michael is to be understood as the chief messenger of Israel (just as there is a chief messenger of Persia, a chief messenger of Greece, etc.).

Thus, Michael’s dispute with the Adversary over the “body of Moses” (Jude 9) makes perfect sense when we realize that Michael is the chief messenger of Israel. But do we have any good reason to believe that Michael is the chief messenger in view in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? No. In fact, I think there are good reasons to believe that, rather than having Michael in view, Paul understood Christ himself to be the “chief messenger” whose voice (and, I believe, trumpeting) will be heard during the event described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17.

We know that Paul did not have Daniel’s people, Israel, in view when he prophesied concerning the “dead in Christ rising first” and the snatching away of the living and the (formerly) dead in Christ to meet the Lord in the air. The saints whom Paul had in view as being snatched away to meet Christ in the air are those who, at that time, constituted the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15-19; 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Rom. 12:4-5). This distinct category of saints simply cannot be identified with, or understood as equivalent to, either national Israel or the chosen remnant among Daniel’s people.

During the “Acts period,” the body of Christ existed alongside both national Israel and the chosen Jewish remnant, and, even during this time, consisted primarily of uncircumcised, non-proselytized gentiles. The majority of the members of the body of Christ never were Israelites/Jews, and the minority of those who were (like Paul and Barnabas) understood themselves to have been called through a different evangel to a different expectation that was distinct from Israel’s, and as having joined a body of believers that consisted primarily of gentiles (and which, consequently, could never have been identified with Israel). 

This was the case even within the Thessalonian ecclesia to whom Paul wrote, as is implied by 1 Thess. 1:9 and 4:3-5. What Paul wrote in these verses only makes sense when the recipients of this letter are understood as having consisted primarily of gentiles who were formerly involved in idol-worship and other activities that the “nations also who are not acquainted with God” were involved in at the time.

In the article “What Is Your Hope?” Ballinger attempts to defend his view that the Thessalonian believers (and, by implication, the body of Christ as a whole at that time) shared Israel’s eonian, earth-based expectation with the following assertion: “But the believers of Thessalonica were followers of the churches of God which are in Judaea (I Thessalonians 2:14).” Aside from the fact that the word mimetes in this verse would be better translated “imitators” rather than “followers” (as it is in the CLNT), Ballinger completely ignores the context in which Paul wrote this. Had Ballinger quoted the rest of the verse, the reader would’ve known exactly in what way the Thessalonian saints had become “imitators of the ecclesias of God which are in Judea.”

According to Paul, the saints to whom he wrote had “suffered the same, even you by your own fellowtribesmen, according as they also by the Jews…” In other words, the Thessalonian believers had endured persecution from their own “fellowtribesmen” (or “countrymen”) just as the ecclesias in Judea had from the Jews. It is in this way that they had become “imitators” of them. This is perfectly consistent with the view that Paul had in view two different categories of saints with two distinct expectations. Moreover, the fact that Paul contrasted the “Jews” (as a people group) with the “fellowtribesmen” of the persecuted believers in Thessalonica further confirms the fact that the saints to whom Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians (or at least the majority of the saints within this ecclesia) weren’t Jewish, but rather gentile.

 Since Paul - in contrast with Peter or James – wasn’t addressing a group of believers consisting primarily of those among the twelve tribes of Israel (or even gentile proselytes to Israel) in his first letter to the Thessalonians, it follows that the “chief messenger” of this particular body of saints couldn’t have been Michael (who, again, is the chief messenger of Daniel’s people, Israel).

There is further evidence that the “chief messenger” referred to by Paul is someone other than Michael. In contrast with Christ’s words in Matthew 24:30-31 and John’s prophecy in Revelation 19:11-14 (for example), Paul doesn’t say anything in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 about Christ coming with any (let alone all) of the “holy messengers.” Rather, we read of “the Lord Himself descending from heaven.” And immediately after this, we read that Christ will be descending “with a shout of command.” In other words, Christ’s voice will be heard as he’s descending (as a “shout of command”). 

Thus, when Paul goes on to add “with the voice of the Chief Messenger,” he can be understood as referring back to (and expanding upon) what he’d just said concerning the “shout of command.” This means that the “Chief Messenger” whom Paul had in view is none other than the Lord himself. Like the nation of Israel, the body of Christ (which is a multinational/multiethnic body of people) has its own “chief messenger.” But our Chief Messenger isn’t Michael; our Chief Messenger is Christ himself, the Head of “the ecclesia which is his body.”

It is the voice of Christ alone that will be heard as a “shout of command” as Christ descends from heaven to the atmospheric region where the meeting in the air will take place. However, in contrast with what we read in John 5:25-29 (cf. John 11:43), it is not the voice of Christ that directly results in the resurrection referred to by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-17. Rather, it is the sounding of a trumpet, as revealed by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:51-52: “Lo! a secret to you am I telling! We all, indeed, shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall be changed, in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trump. For He will be trumpeting, and the dead will be roused incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

Notice that it is both those saints who will still be alive and those who will be dead who will be “changed.” For those still alive, the “change” will involve “putting on immortality,” and for those who are dead it will involve being “roused incorruptible.” Thus, we see from verse 52 that both the change of the living and of the dead is connected with the sounding of the trumpet, for both are said to occur “at the last trump,” when “he will be trumpeting.” This is contrary to what Ballinger states at one point, when commenting on Paul’s words in 1 Thess. 4:16 (according to Ballinger, “the shout is for the dead; the trumpet for those alive”). In any event, the fact that the sounding of this trumpet will result in people being vivified is highly significant, for this can be understood as revealing the identity of the one who will be trumpeting.

The “Word of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15

Ballinger: “When writing about the resurrection…in I Thessalonians 4 Paul said, This we say unto you, by the Word of the Lord…(:15). Paul was quoting and using the Word of the Lord to show them their hope. The hope found in I Thessalonians 4 with its trumpet, angels, shout and voices was written down in “the Word of the Lord.””

Let’s first take a look at what Paul actually wrote in 1 Thess. 4:15-17, and then we’ll examine Ballinger’s assertion that in v. 15 Paul was referring to something “written down in ‘the Word of the Lord.’” Here’s 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:

For this we are saying to you by the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose, for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord.”

That which Paul referred to as being “by the word of the Lord” is the information found in the above three verses (beginning with “…that we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose...”). Now let’s consider the following three options for what, exactly, Paul had in mind when he referred to “the word of the Lord”:

(1) Paul was referring to something written in the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., Genesis through Malachi).

(2) Paul was referring to something that Christ is recorded as saying in the Greek Scriptures (e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

(3) Paul was referring to something that Christ told him directly (i.e., at some point subsequent to his initial encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus).

We can rule out option one, since there’s no place in the Hebrew Scriptures in which the information found in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 was previously revealed (Ballinger surely would’ve referenced this verse or passage in defense of his position had such a verse or passage existed). But what about the second option? It can be dismissed for the same reason as the first. There is absolutely nothing said by Christ in the four Gospel Accounts that contains the specific information that Paul made known to the Thessalonians in the above three verses (if there was, why didn’t Ballinger provide his readers with a chapter and verse?).

The closest possible thing to what Paul wrote that can be found in any of the Gospel Accounts is in Matthew 24:30-31 (which is part of Christ’s “Olivet Discourse”). However, the differences between these verses and 1 Thess. 4:15-17 should be evident from even a superficial reading, and cannot simply be ignored or dismissed just because one’s doctrinal theory (Acts 28 or otherwise) demands that the same event be in view in both passages. The information revealed in each passage is in no way the same, and Paul is clearly not quoting the words of Christ in Matthew 24:30-31 (or elsewhere).

Notice that the very first thing that Paul wrote as being “by the word of the Lord” - and arguably the main truth that Paul was intending to convey to the Thessalonians in this passage, in order to console them (v. 18) - is something that is completely absent from what Christ declared to his disciples. Not only this, but nothing is said by Christ about anyone’s being resurrected or meeting him in the air at this time (either before, when or immediately after “all the tribes of the land” see “the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory”). The reader is encouraged to read part one of my study on the snatching away for why the “assembling” of Christ’s “chosen” from “the four winds” involves living, faithful Israelites from all over the world being brought to the land of Israel (via angelic agency), where Christ will be at this time, and has nothing to do with anyone’s being resurrected or snatched away to meet Christ in the air.

Here’s Ballinger again: “Paul was quoting and using the Word of the Lord to show them their hope. The hope found in I Thessalonians 4 with its trumpet, angels, shout and voices was written down in “the Word of the Lord.””

Based solely on what Ballinger says above, one would think that the only thing Paul was wanting to make known to the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 was that their hope involved a future event in which there will be “[a] trumpet, angels, [a] shout and voices” (Gee, thanks for the informative and comforting words, Paul)! But of course, Paul was making known to them something much more specific and informative than that.

As we’ve seen, the very first piece of information Paul makes known to the Thessalonians as being “by the word of the Lord” is that “we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose…” Paul isn’t merely talking about some vague future event that will involve (in some vague, unspecified way) a “trumpet, angels, shout and voices.” No; he’s providing us with specific chronological information - information that is revealed nowhere else in Scripture.

Where, outside of this passage, are we told that, “Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord”? Nowhere. We can therefore conclude with certainty that option (3) is correct. When Paul wrote “by the word of the Lord,” he was, without question, referring to something that the Lord (Christ Jesus) told him directly, at some point subsequent to his initial encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus[1] (notice also that, after Paul referred to the “word of the Lord” in v. 15, he referred to Christ Jesus as “the Lord” four more times in this same passage).

It should also be noted that Ballinger doesn’t even get the details that he does mention correct. Paul makes no mention of “angels” (plural) or “voices” (plural) in 1 Thess. 4:15-17; rather, Paul refers to “the voice of the Chief Messenger” (which is the voice of our Lord himself as he descends from heaven to the earth’s atmosphere just prior to the snatching away of the body of Christ). Why did Ballinger put these words in the plural instead of being faithful to what Paul actually wrote? Was this, perhaps, an attempt by Ballinger to link Paul’s words in this passage to what is said by Christ in Matthew 24:31 and by John in Revelation 8-11 (where we do read of “angels” in the plural and “voices” in the plural)? As we’ll see a little later, this seems likely.

Part 5:

[1] The word translated “word” here (logos) denotes “the complete expression of a thought, not a grammatical but a logical word, referring to a whole account” (Knoch). See, for example, John 4:39, where we read of “the word of the woman” who testified concerning Christ (see also v. 41, where we read that “many more believe because of [Christ’s] word”). 

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