Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Before the Pangs Begin: A Defense of the Imminence of the Snatching Away (Part One)

Introduction

In Revelation 1:3, we read the following: “Happy is he who is reading and those who are hearing the word of the prophecy, and who are keeping that which is written in it, for the era is near.” And toward the end of the book, we're told that a messenger declared to John, “You should not be sealing the sayings of this prophecy of this scroll, for the era is near (Rev. 22:10). But what is the “era” that’s being referred to in these two verses?

Based on the immediate and broader context in which the expression “the era is near” is found, we can conclude that the “era” in view is that during which the events prophesied in “the word of the prophecy” (i.e., the Book of Revelation) will be taking place. This “era” will arrive when the first prophesied events described in Revelation begin to occur. But what does it mean for this era to be “near?” It can’t mean that this era was going to arrive within the lifetime of John (or within the lifetimes of the original recipients of the book he wrote). But neither can the nearness of this era be understood as compatible with the idea that 500 years (or more) of prophecy-fulfilling time must elapse before the era can arrive (as some believers apparently believe to be the case). Such a position as this would empty the word “near” of any intelligible meaning. So what does it mean for this era to be “near?”

To better understand what this means, let’s consider the chronology of events found in Peter’s words in Acts 2:16-21. At the beginning of Peter’s message, he pointed out that the miraculous occurrence of which his listeners had become witnesses while assembled on Pentecost was the fulfillment of that which the prophet Joel had uttered concerning the “last days” (Acts 2:1-17). Significantly, when quoting Joel, Peter included the portion of Joel’s prophecy that clearly refers to the events that will be leading up to, and signifying the soon occurrence of, Christ’s return to earth (vv. 19-20). From this fact we see that Peter (and those to whom he spoke) knew that, with the arrival of the Messiah into the world, the “last days” had arrived as well; from a prophetic standpoint, little time had to elapse before the kingdom of God would be set up on the earth. The fact that Jesus of Nazareth – the man Israel had rejected and crucified – was “the Christ, the Son of God,” implied that the coming of the kingdom of God was “right around the corner,” prophetically speaking.  

This is in accord with the fact that, since the arrival of Christ into the world, the kingdom of God has been “near” (Matt. 3:1-2; 4:17; 10:5-7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:1-11). This doesn’t mean that the kingdom was supposed to come within the lifetimes of Christ’s disciples (and then got “postponed”). Rather, the nearness of the kingdom of God means that, from a prophetic standpoint, little time needs to transpire in order for it to arrive. And since the kingdom of God will be coming during the “era” referred to in Rev. 1:3 and 22:10 (see Rev. 11:15-18), it means that the arrival of this judgment-filled era is even nearer than the coming of the kingdom itself.

When we understand the word “near” from a prophetic standpoint, it simply indicates that little time needs to transpire in order for this era to arrive. In other words, there is no long sequence of prophecy-fulfilling events (or long period of prophecy-fulfilling time) that must unfold or transpire before the era referred to in these verses can arrive. Rather, the nearness of the era in which the prophesied events of Revelation will be occurring means that the first prophesied events that will be occurring during this era are among the next prophetic events to occur in the future. But what, according to Revelation, are the next prophesied events that are to occur? Answer: The earliest prophesied events to occur are those that are associated with the opening of the first four seals of the seven-sealed scroll (Revelation 6:1-8), and which Christ referred to as “the beginning of pangs” in Matthew 24:8 (I’ll have more to say about these events in part two of this study).

Keeping in mind the prophetic imminence of these future events, the position for which I’m going to be arguing in this study could be summarily expressed as follows: Whereas the return of Christ to the earth to restore the kingdom to Israel will be the climax of the series of judgments that will begin with the opening of the seven-sealed scroll, the coming of Christ described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 will take place before these prophesied events begin to take place. According to this view, then, the snatching away of the body of Christ is even more imminent than the era that will begin with the opening of the seven-sealed scroll and the “beginning of pangs.”

Here is the argument I’ll be defending to arrive at this conclusion:

1. The company of saints to which the Thessalonian believers belonged (i.e., the body of Christ) will be snatched away from the earth before the coming indignation of the day of the Lord begins.
2. The events associated with the opening of the first four seals (Rev. 6:1-8) will be expressions of God’s indignation during the day of the Lord.
3. The snatching away of the body of Christ will take place before the events associated with the opening of the first four seals – i.e., the beginning of pangs – begin to occur.

The snatching away: before the day of the Lord begins

In Philippians 3:20, Paul wrote the following concerning the expectation of the believers to whom he wrote: “For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour, also, the Lord, Jesus Christ…” Although “the heavens” is the realm in which those belonging to “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body” (Eph. 1:22) will be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:1-2, 7-8), it is “out of” this realm that we’re awaiting Christ, our Saviour. In accord with this fact, we read that the believers in Thessalonica were “waiting for [God’s] Son out of the heavens” (1 Thess. 1:10). The words translated “waiting for” and “awaiting” in these two verses indicate that Paul and the saints to whom he wrote were expecting to meet Christ at some future time. And the words “out of the heavens” in 1 Thess. 1:10 and “out of which” in Phil. 3:20 indicate that this anticipated meeting with Christ is going to place when Christ leaves (and is thus “out of”) his current heavenly location.

Paul went on to refer to this anticipated meeting with Christ several more times in his first letter to the Thessalonians: 

“For what is our hope, or joy, or wreath of glorying? Or is it not even you, in front of our Lord Jesus, in his presence? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thess. 2:19)

“Now may the Lord cause you to increase and superabound in love for one another and for all, even as we also for you, to establish your hearts unblamable in holiness in front of our God and Father, in the presence of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (1 Thess. 3:12-13)

“Now may the God of peace Himself be hallowing you wholly; and may your unimpaired spirit and soul and body be kept blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ! Faithful is He Who is calling you, Who will be doing it also.” (1 Thess. 5:23-24)

In each of these verses, it’s evident that a time is coming when everyone in the body of Christ (“all His saints”) will find themselves in the presence of Christ himself. However, as with 1 Thess. 1:10 and Phil. 3:20, it’s not revealed in these verses where this future meeting with Christ is going to take place. All that can be deduced – based on what’s said in 1 Thess. 1:10 and Phil. 3:20 – is that this meeting with Christ won’t take place where Christ is, presently (i.e., in the heavens). Thankfully, God hasn’t left us in the dark on this important subject, for in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 we read the following revelation from Paul:

“Now we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are reposing, lest you may sorrow according as the rest, also, who have no expectation. For, if we are believing that Jesus died and rose, thus also, those who are put to repose, will God, through Jesus, lead forth together with Him. 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. So that, console one another with these words. ”

Although the focus of this study is not on the evangel (or “gospel”) by which God calls the elect to the expectation referred to in this passage, I can’t help but say a few things concerning it in light of Paul’s reference to our faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. According to Paul in v. 14, “Christ died.” We know from other passages in Paul’s letters – such as 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 – that Christ’s death was “for our sins” (i.e., its purpose was to procure the elimination of mankind’s sins, and the condemnation to which sin leads). However, Paul doesn’t mention this particular element of his gospel here. In accord with the subject introduced in verse 13, Paul simply affirmed the fact that Christ died. In other words, Christ – after breathing his last on the cross – ceased to exist as a living, sentient being capable of thinking, feeling and volitional activity (for more on this important topic, see my article, “Paul’s Gospel and the Death-Denying Doctrines that Contradict It”). And in this lifeless state, Christ was utterly dependent on his God and Father to restore him to a living existence. But after three days, God did just this when he roused his Son from among the dead and – in the words of Hebrews 7:17 – bestowed on him “the power of an indissoluble life.” And just as we believe “that Jesus died and rose,” so we can have confidence that, through Jesus, God will do the same for all who die (cf. 2 Cor. 4:13-15).

Now, it’s my understanding that the awe-inspiring event being described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 pertains distinctly to the saints in the body of Christ. However, it should come as no surprise that not everyone holds to this position. In fact, it could be argued that the predominant view within “mainstream Christianity” (both in my lifetime and for much of “church history”) has been that the coming of Christ described by Paul in the above passage is the same coming of Christ that we find described in (for example) Revelation 1:7:

Lo! He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall be seeing Him – those, also, who stab Him – and all the tribes of the land shall be grieving over Him. Yea! Amen!”

This eon-consummating return of Christ to earth (when he comes “with all the holy messengers” to deliver believing Israel from her enemies) is described by Christ himself in Matthew 24:

“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Mankind in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land shall grieve, and they shall see the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory.”

And in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, Paul referred to this coming of Christ as follows:

“…it is just of God to repay affliction to those afflicting you, and to you who are being afflicted, ease, with us, at the unveiling of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful messengers, in flaming fire, dealing out vengeance to those who are not acquainted with God and those who are not obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ–who shall incur the justice of eonian extermination from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His strength–whenever He may be coming to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who believe (seeing that our testimony to you was believed) in that day.”

All of these verses describe Christ’s coming at the end of this eon to establish the kingdom of God on the earth (cf. Rev. 11:15 and 5:10), and will not take place until after most of the prophesied judgments described in the Book of Revelation (e.g., the cataclysmic events associated with the seals, trumpets and bowls) have occurred. And based on what we read in the above passage, it’s evident that everyone in the body of Christ will be present for this spectacular event, and will be accompanying Christ when he is unveiled from heaven with his powerful messengers at this time. However, despite the fact that those in the body of Christ will be enjoying “ease” at this time (in contrast with those who will be incurring “the justice of eonian extermination”), I don’t believe that this event will mark the beginning of our “ease.” Whereas the coming of Christ referred to in 2 Thess. 1:6-10 will be the climax of the “era” during which God’s indignation will be expressed through various judgments, I believe the coming of Christ described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 will take place before these events (and the era to which they belong) will begin to take place.

After referring to the Thessalonian saints as “waiting for [God’s] Son out of the heavens,” Paul then referred to Christ as “our Rescuer out of the coming indignation” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Concerning these words, A.E. Knoch wrote, “The picture is vivid one. A great storm is brewing. We are not in it, but we can see it coming. Just before it falls on us we are snatched out of its destructive path.” The Greek preposition translated “out of” in the expression “our Rescuer out of the coming indignation” is the word ek. Paul’s use of this word does not suggest that those in the body of Christ will actually be going through the coming indignation when Christ, our Rescuer, comes from heaven to rescue us. According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 233), the preposition ek is used “to denote separation” and, more specifically, “to introduce the place from which the separation takes place.” The same word ek also appears in the expression, “waiting for His Son out of (ek) the heavens.” Just as Paul’s use of ek here denotes a separation (for in order for Christ to be “out of the heavens” he has to leave, or separate himself from, the heavens), so our being rescued by Christ “out of the coming indignation” will involve our being separated from the coming indignation.[1]

Thus, although it’s possible that the rescue could take place just as the coming indignation is about to arrive, there could also be an interval of undefined duration between the rescue of the body of Christ, and the arrival of the coming indignation. But what, exactly, is the “coming indignation” from which Paul expected the saints to whom he wrote to be rescued? Later, in 1 Thess. 5:9, Paul went on to write that God had not appointed those in the body of Christ “to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” From the immediate context, we know that Paul was referring most directly to the indignation that which will be manifested during the day of the Lord. In 1 Thess. 5:1-3 we read the following:

“Now concerning the times and the eras, brethren, you have no need to be written to, for you yourselves are accurately aware that the day of the Lord is as a thief in the night -- thus is it coming! Now whenever they may be saying ‘Peace and security,’ then extermination is standing by them unawares, even as a pang over the pregnant, and they may by no means escape.”

Based on the words, “you have no need to be written to,” it’s evident that Paul had already personally taught the Thessalonians on the subject of the day of the Lord. Although we don’t have the advantage of having been personally instructed by Paul on this subject, we do have access to the inspired writings on which his teaching on this subject was likely based. And in these writings, it’s evident that the day of the Lord will be a time characterized by God’s indignation. For example, in Isaiah 13:6-13 we’re told that the day of the Lord will come “as destruction from the Almighty” and will be an expression of God’s “wrath” (or indignation) and “fierce anger.” We’re also given one of the main purposes for this day: it will be to “punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity,” as well as to “put an end to the pomp of the arrogant” and to “lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.” In other words, the day of the Lord will involve the punishment of the wicked and the humbling of the proud and arrogant. But what is God’s indignation?

Essentially, God’s indignation is his “negative” response to sin, as expressed in retributive judgment upon the unrighteous and unbelieving. A well-known example of past expressions of God’s indignation would be the various judgments that came upon Egypt prior to the exodus of Israel. In Exodus 6:6 and 7:4 these calamities are referred to as “great judgments” from God, and from what we read in Psalm 78:43-50, it’s clear that these judgments were understood as expressions of God’s indignation. We also read that God overturned Sodom and Gomorrah “in his anger and in his fury” (Deut. 29:23), and that if Israel forsook the covenant that God made with them, he would deal similarly with them (vv. 25-28). Significantly, we’re told that God’s judgment of unfaithful Israel would be an expression of his “anger,” “fury” and “great wrath” (cf. 2 Kings 22:13, 17; 23:26; 2 Chron. 29:8-9; 34:21, 25; etc.). Even God’s refusal to allow the stubborn, unbelieving Israelites who left Egypt to enter his “rest” (or “stopping”) is said to have been an expression of his “wrath” or “indignation” (Psalm 95:10-11; Heb. 3:7-11).

Given the clear connection between God’s indignation and the day of the Lord (both in the larger context of 1 Thessalonians as well as in the Hebrew Scriptures), we can reasonably conclude that the “coming indignation” of 1 Thess. 1:10 refers to the indignation of the day of the Lord.

Now, notice Paul’s expression, “the times and the eras” (or “the times and the seasons”) in v. 1, above. This expression echoes a similar expression used by Jesus shortly before his ascension to heaven. In Acts 1:6, we read that the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” This question by the disciples was a valid one, and was undoubtedly informed by the teaching which they received from Christ concerning the kingdom of God during the forty-day period leading up to the day of his ascension (Acts 1:3). In v. 7, Christ answered their question as follows: “It is not for you to know times or seasons [or, “times or eras”] that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Since the divine judgments of the day of the Lord are preliminary to the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, Christ was essentially telling his disciples that it would not be revealed to them when, exactly, the day of the Lord would come.

Keeping this fact in mind, let’s consider what Paul went on to write: “…for you yourselves are accurately aware that the day of the Lord is as a thief in the night -- thus is it coming!” The expression “as a thief in the night” simply means “suddenly and at an unknown time.” Thus, that of which the Thessalonian believers were “accurately aware” is that the day of the Lord will be coming suddenly, and at a certain time of which those on whom it is coming will not be aware.

Significantly, Peter (who, of course, was present when Christ declared what he did in Acts 1:7) similarly affirmed that the day of the Lord “will be arriving as a thief” (2 Peter 3:10). Notice that Peter’s statement is unqualified; there is no indication that Peter believed that the day of the Lord wouldn’t be arriving as a thief for those to whom he wrote. Rather, Peter simply affirmed that this day will be “arriving as a thief.” And since, when this day arrives, everyone living on the earth at the time will be in it (cf. Luke 21:35), it’s reasonable to conclude that the day of the Lord will arrive as a thief for everyone who will be living on the earth when it arrives. That is, when the day of the Lord finally comes, it will come suddenly, and at a time of which those living on the earth at the time are not aware.

Now, in verses 4-5, Paul continued the subject introduced in the previous verses as follows:

“Now you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day may be overtaking you as a thief, for you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness.”

Although the Thessalonians were “accurately aware” that the day of the Lord would be coming “as a thief in the night” (i.e., they knew for a fact that it was coming suddenly and at a time that was unknown to those on whom it’s coming), Paul did not expect them to be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief. But how can this be?

First, it must be noted that, when Paul told them that they weren’t “in darkness,” he wasn’t saying that they were aware of when the day of the Lord was coming (for, again, Paul had just said that they were “accurately aware” that the day of the Lord was coming “as a thief in the night” – i.e., at an unknown time). Rather than being a reference to a supposed lack of ignorance concerning when the day of the Lord was coming, their being “not in darkness” should be understood as a reference to their status as believers. Notice how Paul immediately went on to say, ”for you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness.” It was because they were “all sons of the light and sons of the day” that they weren’t “in darkness,” and their being “sons of the light and sons of the day” is a description of their status as believers. In 2 Cor. 6:14-15, Paul used similar “light” and “darkness” imagery when contrasting believers and unbelievers. The same imagery is also found in Ephesians 5:6-11, where Paul exhorted the believers to whom he wrote as follows:

“Let no one be seducing you with empty words, for because of these things the indignation of God is coming on the sons of stubbornness. Do not, then, become joint partakers with them, for you were once darkness, yet now you are light in the Lord. As children of light be walking (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), testing what is well pleasing to the Lord. And be not joint participants in the unfruitful acts of darkness, yet rather be exposing them also…”

The fact that Paul didn’t want those to whom he wrote to be living as those on whom God’s indignation was coming does not at all mean that Paul believed that those to whom he wrote might’ve been in danger of suffering God’s indignation. Paul’s expectation concerning their salvation (and their avoidance of indignation) was not based on the conduct of those to whom he wrote, but on the fact that they had a different status than those on whom God’s indignation was coming. The saints to whom he wrote were “children of light,” and – in accord with their special status – they’d been “sealed with the holy spirit of promise,” which is “an earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment, to the deliverance of that which has been procured” (Eph. 1:13-14). So there was no way that God’s indignation could come upon them. And – as we’ll see shortly – the same could be said for the Thessalonian saints.

In Colossians 1:9-14 we find a similar expression of confidence in the destiny of those to whom Paul wrote that is based on their status as believers/saints rather than on their conduct or “walk” (and notice, again, the contrast between “light” and “darkness”):

“Therefore we also, from the day on which we hear, do not cease praying for you and requesting that you may be filled full with the realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, you to walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God; being endued with all power, in accord with the might of His glory, for all endurance and patience with joy; at the same time giving thanks to the Father, Who makes you competent for a part of the allotment of the saints, in light, Who rescues us out of the jurisdiction of Darkness, and transports us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we are having the deliverance, the pardon of sins…”

After providing a conduct-related exhortation in verses 10-12 (“…walk worthily of the Lord…”), Paul followed up with an affirmation of their status-related destiny as saints (verses 12-14). Even if the believers to whom Paul wrote this letter failed to “walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work,” it wouldn’t change their status as those whom God had made “competent for a part of the allotment of the saints, in light,” and as those who’d been rescued “out of the jurisdiction of Darkness” and transported into “the kingdom of the Son of [God’s] love.”

In light of these observations, we may understand Paul’s words in 1 Thess. 5:4-5 as follows: because the Thessalonian believers had a different status (being “of the day” rather than “of the night” and “of the darkness”), they would not be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief. But the only way Paul could’ve believed that those to whom he wrote wouldn’t be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief is if he believed that the company of saints to whom they belonged wouldn’t be on the earth at the time when the day of the Lord arrived. That is, Paul must’ve believed that the snatching away referred to in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 was going to take place before the day of the Lord was present. Consider the following argument:

1. The day of the Lord will be “coming as a thief in the night” upon those living on the earth at the time when it arrives.
2. Paul did not expect the day of the Lord to overtake those to whom he wrote as a thief.
3. Paul did not believe those to whom he wrote would be present on the earth when the day of the Lord came.

Even if it was argued that one could somehow avoid being overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief (e.g., by somehow discovering the exact time at which it’s going to be arriving and being adequately prepared for its arrival), Paul couldn’t guarantee that those to whom he wrote – or any believers in the body of Christ, for that matter – would be so prepared. Although Paul could exhort the saints to whom he wrote to live a certain way, he couldn’t guarantee that his exhortations would be heeded by any given individual. Paul had no more control over the conduct of the saints to whom he wrote than he has over the saints today. And yet, Paul still seemed confident that, by virtue of our status as ”sons of the light and sons of the day,” we who are in the body of Christ won’t be overtaken by the day of the Lord when it arrives as a thief in the night. But this could only mean that those who have this particular status won’t be on the earth when the day of the Lord arrives. As W.B Screws remarked, “If we were to be here when the day of the Lord comes, it would come to the great majority of us a thief; for saints are asleep on the job. Only one out of several thousand is awake. The only reason why the day of the Lord will not come on us as a thief is we will not be here when it comes. We will have been snatched away to meet the Lord in the air, before that day comes” (www.theheraldofgodsgrace.org/Screws).

From this argument we can conclude that, when Paul wrote to the Thessalonian saints, he believed that the company of saints to which they belonged (i.e., the body of Christ) was going to be snatched away from the earth before the day of the Lord came.

What Paul goes on to say in verses 6-11 confirms this understanding of verses 4-5:

Consequently, then, we may not be drowsing, even as the rest, but we may be watching and be sober. For those who are drowsing are drowsing at night, and those who are drunk are drunk at night. Yet we, being of the day, may be sober, putting on the cuirass of faith and love, and the helmet, the expectation of salvation, for God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him. Wherefore [i.e., for this reason], console one another and edify one the other, according as you are doing also.”

Based on Paul’s exhortation that the Thessalonian believers be “watching” [gregoreuo, to remain in a state of wakefulness] and “be sober” (rather than “drowsing, even as the rest”), some have erroneously supposed that Paul’s expectation that these saints wouldn’t be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief was based on their own conduct (e.g., their “watching” and being “sober” rather than “drowsing”). However, such is not the case. For, in verses 8-10, it’s clear that Paul’s reason for believing that the Thessalonian believers wouldn’t be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief was that God had not appointed them to indignation. Instead of being appointed to indignation, they’d been appointed to “the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But why haven’t those in the body of Christ been appointed to indignation? In Romans 5:9, Paul wrote, “Much rather, then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him.” For Paul, being saved from indignation through Christ is based on the believer’s justification – i.e., his being declared just, or righteous, by God (a status which we’re elsewhere told is “through the faith of Christ”). And since the justified status of the believer is not affected by his or her conduct, Paul was able to confidently affirm that those to whom he wrote had not been appointed by God to indignation. Although Paul clearly wanted the Thessalonian believers to live in a way that was consistent with their status as saints (which involved “watching” and being “sober” rather than “drowsing”), it was because of their justified status as believers (”for you are all sons of the light and sons of the day”) – and not because they were “watching” rather than “drowsing” (which may or may not have been the case) – that made it possible for Paul to declare that God had not appointed them to indignation. Thus, although it was Paul’s desire that the saints “be watching and sober” rather than “drowsing,” he knew that, because of their justification, they had not been appointed by God to indignation. And it was by virtue of this fact that Paul did not expect the Thessalonian believers to be overtaken by the day of the Lord when it comes “as a thief in the night.”

Notice that, in verses 9-10, Paul went on to affirm that, instead of being appointed by God to indignation, those to whom he wrote had been appointed to “the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We know that the “indignation” to which they hadn’t been appointed includes that which will be manifested during the day of the Lord. But what about the “salvation” that Paul had in view? In the context, the “salvation” to which Paul was referring is that which will involve being snatched away from the earth to meet Christ in the air, so that believers may be “living at the same time together with Him.” It will be by means of this salvific event that those in the body of Christ will be rescued from the indignation of the day of the Lord, and will not be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief.

Thus, even if the saints to whom Paul wrote didn’t heed his exhortation to “be watching and sober” (and were instead “drowsing”), their failure to “watch” and remain “sober” wouldn’t change their justified status and their appointed destiny. It’s because of this that Paul could affirm that, whether one is watching or drowsing, all who are in the body of Christ will still “be living at the same time together with [Christ]” (which, of course, is the promise given to those who will be snatched away to meet Christ in the air).

Consider the following argument:

1. It is because the Thessalonian believers had been appointed by God to the “procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (rather than to indignation) that Paul believed the day of the Lord wouldn’t be overtaking them “as a thief.”
2. The salvation to which they’d been appointed will involve being snatched away from the earth to be with Christ, so that they “should be living at the same time together with Him” and “always be together with the Lord.”
3. The snatching away of those in the body of Christ will precede the coming of the day of the Lord.

But just how will the day of the Lord begin? This question will be answered in part two of our study (https://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2019/05/before-pangs-begin-defense-of-imminence_15.html).



[1] The same term ek is found in 2 Corinthians 1:10, where Paul had in view his being rescued by God from what would’ve been certain death (see verses 6-8; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-27, where Paul provides more details regarding the various trials and perilous, near-death situations he’d faced). A similar use of the word ek can be found in 2 Tim. 4:17, where Paul wrote of being “rescued out of the mouth of the lion.” This expression is clearly figurative, and suggests the idea of being rescued from imminent danger or some perilous situation.

1 comment:

  1. Aaron, Just a word of thanks for part 1 of your blog. Much insight clarification you have provided. I'm excited on to part 2.

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