Sermon for Sunday, July 2nd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Eze 28:1-10 ESV] 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god– 3 you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; 4 by your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; 5 by your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth– 6 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you make your heart like the heart of a god, 7 therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. 8 They shall thrust you down into the pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas. 9 Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a man, and no god, in the hands of those who slay you? 10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD.”
New Testament reading:
[1Jo 4:1-6 ESV] 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
[Mat 24:3-14 ESV] 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
[2Th 2:1-6 ESV] 1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
A term that has come into our English language in the last decade or so is FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out. It is actually in the Oxford Dictionary now, and to that extent, it is a real word. FOMO.
It a term used for that psychological struggle many people have with the great concern that they will be left out, or miss something great and regret it for years to come. FOMO is especially prevalent in our modern society. Whereas in pre-technological society, you would have a modest number of events to attend from your own family and church, today the options are nearly endless. For one, our families are more spread out. Traveling to weddings and funerals is a difficult business. And then, there may be five events scheduled at the same time, especially on a nice Saturday in the summer.
And so you may worry that, if you don’t attend, people will think you don’t care. Or you may worry, that something really tremendous might happen, and you’ll have missed it.
Well, while this term FOMO is a modern one, the idea is as old as time. FOMO goes back through all of human history, because … humans are humans. And the people in the Bible, they too suffered from such psychological challenges. They too had FOMO.
We may be concerned about missing a big event, but the Christians at Thessalonica were concerned that they had missed the biggest event of all. And what is that? The return – the second coming – of Jesus Christ.
Though Paul had spoken with them in person and had written a previous letter to them, they yet were misunderstanding or confused on the return of Christ.
Perhaps there was “spiritual warfare” going on. While Paul preached the truth, others came in with lies to deceive the church.
Paul now is writing a second time, to correct an error. Christ has not yet returned. Have no worry, have no fear, you have not missed out.
We see here the importance of correcting an error, or addressing a rumor, quickly. Paul doesn’t want to leave the Thessalonians in a state of confusion. In fact, they may be in a state of terror if they believe the Lord has returned but not gathered them up.
In the first chapter of this epistle, Paul had briefly mentioned the return of Christ. Now he focuses on it. He says “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” [REPEAT: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…”]
From all context and evidence, these two things occur at the same time. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him. Though both are mentioned in verse 1, the gathering together is not further described. It had been described in 1 Thessalonians. Paul there had said “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.” That is the gathering, together with the Lord. And, as Paul continues, in chapter 2 of 2nd Thessalonians, he speaks of these events (the gathering together, and the coming of the Lord) as “The day of the Lord.”
On that day, Paul said in the 1st chapter, those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, but the Lord will be glorified in his saints, and his saints will be glorified in him.
But the Thessalonians seem to have heard other ideas about the coming of the Lord. They haven’t necessarily fallen into error, but they may be confused. And so Paul writes to them reminding them of the things that he told them while he was still with them. And cautioning them against error.
Here he warns them not to be deceived. And he mentioned three means of deception in particular.
“Do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by A SPIRIT or A SPOKEN WORD, or A LETTER seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way.”
Let’s look at these in more detail. A SPIRIT, A SPOKEN WORD, or A LETTER.
1. Do not be deceived by a spirit.
First he says “do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed by a spirit.”
What does this mean?
Calvin say that “By the term spirit he means pretended prophecies.” [REPEAT: pretended prophecies]
We have the warning “Don’t be taken in by people’s visions.”
Rather, as John tells us in 1st we are to “test every spirit” to see whether they are from God. Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.
We “test spirits” by comparing them with the word of God.
In the word of God we have stability. There we have the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. And so, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, we are not to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”
So it is with the Thessalonians. If some “pretended spirit” comes you way, cast him out.
And these “pretended prophets” are not just a hypothetical. They existed in Paul’s time and in ours. John warned “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” And Jesus warned, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”
And in the New Testament, such groups are mentioned like the Judaizers and the Nicolatians in Revelation. Then, by name more precisely are the errors of Philetus and Hymanaeus who Paul warns about in 2 Timothy. In fact, Paul’s warning against them is on the same subject as he is writing here to the Thessalonians. He says that Philetus and Hymanaeus have “swerved from the truth saying that the resurrection has already happened.” A similar error must have reached Thessalonica previously.
So do not be deceived by pretended prophecies.
In our day there are many. And especially as it pertains to the return of the Lord, many claim special insight and visions of the end of the world. Such persons believe that God has revealed to them PRIVATELY what He has not revealed PUBLICLY to the Church in the Scriptures. And if this were 1 or 2 persons claiming to have such visions, we could compare them with the Scriptures and so test them for validity. But there are thousands, if not millions, of people who claim each their own insight into the end times. This makes it impossible for us to investigate. We’re best to stick to the word of the Lord, not being tossed to and fro with winds of doctrine, not “upsetting the faith of some,” and not “being quicken shaken in mind or alarmed.” For we have the “firm foundation” of God’s word and the “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers who build up the body of Christ, so that we attain the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood. (as Paul says in Ephesians 4)
So there is the warning against Spirits. Then there is the warning against the spoken word.
2. Do not be deceived by a spoken word.
There is perhaps a contrast here with the written word. The Word of God is written for all to know it. A spoken word can change. A politician may speak one way to one audience and speak another way to a second audience. But, if he writes something for the newspapers, it can only be written one way.
Or, this “spoken word” may be an alleged saying of Paul or one of the other apostles. Paul is warning “don’t believe everything you hear.”
If you do, you will be “quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.”
The term “quickly shaken” is actually that of “tossed” like a ship in the sea. As soon as you go left, you are going right again. As soon as you go forward, you go backward. Such is not the Christian life. We are not to be tossed to and fro by the winds of doctrine.
Now, you may experience a time when someone brings a challenging doctrine to you. You know it is false, but you’re not sure how or why. Here, my caution is, do not answer right away but say “I’ll have to think about that.” Bad ideas come upon us suddenly, but good ideas take more time in the thought.
Hold fast to the Word of God, and like the Bereans, examine the Scriptures daily to see if the things you are being told are true.
Then we have a third warning: Do not be deceived by a letter “seeming to be from us.”
3. Do not be deceived by a letter
Paul is saying, “Our teaching does not change.” So if someone writes “Paul has changed his mind, and the Lord is not coming after all” or “Paul has changed his mind, and we’ve missed the coming of the Lord,” then you know such a letter to be false.
So Paul warned about fraudulent letters in his time. And so the Christians were sure to acknowledge only genuine writings among the Scriptures of the New Testament. The Liberal scholars will tell you that half of Paul’s letters were not written by him. And their reasoning is poor, to say the least. Paul writes in a different vocabulary in his pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, but this is because there is a different recipient (a person rather a church) and not a different author. And, in the early church, there were no doubts about Paul’s letters being genuine. They even had a seal of authenticity, as he says at the end of this letter:
“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.”
This point alone makes it unlikely that Paul was the author of Book of Hebrews, for he does not write his name in it.
Well, the subject of Paul’s warning here not to be deceived by Spirit, spoken word, or letter is in regards to the false idea that “the day of the Lord has come.”
And so Paul is writing to encourage them. No fear, for you have not missed out on that greatest gathering of the saints at the coming of the Lord. The end is not yet.
Similarly, Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel
[Mat 24:4-6 ESV] 4 “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
The end is not yet. They have not missed the gathering. How are they to know this? Because there are two things which must occur first. Two things that must occur before the Lord returns.
1. The rebellion
2. The revealing of the man of lawlessness
“we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed,”
1. The Lord does not return until after the rebellion.
The Greek term is “apostasia.” So this “rebellion” is translated in some Bible versions as “the falling away” or “the apostasy.”
This is a “falling away from the true religion.” A defection. And evidently, not just of a single person but of many.
This will occur before the return of Christ.
Some people who confess Christ will be found to be hypocrites, never having embraced Him as Lord and Savior.
We’re not told much about this rebellion. But we do have:
[1Ti 4:1 ESV] 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,
No doubt throughout Church history there have been some who have departed from the faith. But here we are looking at a greater “rebellion.”
It is a precarious job to attempt to apply current times to this “rebellion.” No doubt, many throughout history have seen rebellion in their own time and declared it to be near the end.
And perhaps we have joy in the fact that the church is growing in places like China and the Middle East. But, the situation in American and especially in Europe looks a lot like a great rebellion.
Church membership in American hit its peak (in percentage terms) some time in the 1960s. And while membership in recent decades has declined drastically, it actually isn’t as low it was in the early days of America. There is rebellion today. Is this “THE REBELLION”? I cannot say.
But there are many signs of today being uniquely evil in world history. Men and women do what is right in their own eyes, like those of the time of the Judges. And depravity is expressed more a more. Our times have seen people being even more creative with their sin, not just making “mistakes” but sinning intentionally, even having “pride parades” to promote their sin.
You need not wonder why the Islamic world calls us the Great Satan. Outside of the Christian Church, the secular West is very evil.
In America, and throughout the world, the Sabbath is ignored and desecrated. We have certainly declined as a people and as a nation in our following of the Lord. Rebellion is a apt description.
But Paul tells the Thessalonians not only that the Lord’s coming is after the rebellion, but he also says that it is after the revealing of the man of lawlessness.
2. The Lord does not come until the man of lawlessness is revealed.
The identity of the man of lawlessness or the man of sin I shall, Lord willing, address next week in the morning sermon.
Here first we have merely have the point that this man “who opposes and exalts himself” must be revealed before Christ’s return.
Paul had told the Thessalonians of this when he was with them.
So we have some simple truths:
Truth: the Lord shall return.
Truth: The Thessalonians have not missed Christ’s return.
How is it possible to miss? It cannot be missed. The coming of the lord will be obvious. Very loud and bright. “The trumpet will sound.” And all eyes will see Christ.
So the gathering of his people – the dead being raised imperishable and the living being caught up with Christ in the sky – has not yet occurred, neither in the time of the Thessalonians not yet in our time. Though some say “Christ returned in destruction in 70 AD at the fall of Jerusalem” that event does not live up to the New Testament description of the Lord’s coming and the gathering of all the saints.
Did we miss the gathering?
Simply, we haven’t missed out on the gathering of the saints. And “we ain’t gonna miss out.” It is a promise of God that he will gather us together on the last day. Through whatever persecution we go through, and whatever rebellion occurs — even the arrival of the man of lawlessness — through it ALL, we are to have NO FEAR of missing that greatest day, the day of the Lord.
Do not be deceived. The Lord Jesus Christ is coming. Come, Lord Jesus Christ. Maranatha. Amen.