The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:1-9

Let’s begin our journey through Matthew chapter 24. Did you read Matthew chapters 21 to 23 to get the overall context–the lead up to Matthew 24, the Olivet Discourse?

  1. Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came to point out the temple buildings to Him.

the temple buildings: Mark (13:1) notes that one of the disciples exclaimed “Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” This complex took 46 years to build (John 2:20) and was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was built of stones weighing up to 400 tons and was capable of accommodating up to one million people. Think about that.

2. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”  

  • Truly: Amen!Jesus often used this word when about to say something extremely surprising and unbelievable—as if to warn them they were about to be shocked—see v.34. And so this event was the most shocking and tumultuous thing any Jew could imagine would happen. This struck at the very heart of Judaism, their religion, God’s house. This was unimaginable, incredible, beyond belief.
  • you: 2nd person, plural—these disciples are specifically addressed here and throughout this discourse and not for people of future times. Jesus provokes these disciples to ask questions.
  • not one stone: The destruction of the temple will happen because it was now no longer God’s house, but ‘desolate’ (Mat 23:38) and by then Jesus would have made the sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 10:9, 12, 14, 18). See also Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 21:24. The Roman army under Titus destroyed the temple in 70 AD along with the city of Jerusalem.

3.  As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”

  • on the Mount of Olives: After ascending the mount they would have a clear view of the subject of Jesus’ shocking prophecy.
  • privately: Mark wrote that Peter, James, John and Andrew were present (Mk 13:3). Luke identified the questioners as ‘they’ who were some of those who admired the temple area (Luke 21:5-6). Jesus spoke these words to people in his generation, not future generations.
  • So the disciples had two questions for Jesus: a ‘when’ question about the destruction of the Temple buildings, and a ‘what’ question about ‘his parousia’ and ‘the end of the age’ which are inseparably bound in one sign (singular) to come.
  • coming: (Grk ‘parousia’) means ‘presence’, a period, a state, not an action—Strong’s G3952. The word implies a visit or visitation and this one is of judgment and wrath. It is also for His people a coming to be present with them—God with them! Abiding in us!
  • age: Grk aionos, not ‘kosmos’ world as in KJV. This is about the end of an age, the Mosaic age, the old covenant age—here and in the other occurrences of this phrase in this discourse. See 1 Cor 10:11—Paul wrote about his age which was already at an end. Hebrews 9:26 says ‘Jesus appeared at the end of the age, to put away sin.’  Jesus first coming was a past event, marking the beginning of the end of a period, the end of the Jewish or Mosaic age.
  • The term ‘the end’ is repeated in vs. 4, 13, 14, so it is critical to know what is meant by ‘end’.
  • Their questions used the terms ‘parousia’ and ‘end of the age’ as Jesus had already taught the disciples about his coming and the replacement of the current age (see Mat 16:27-28).
  • The discourse that follows vss.4-36 must be seen as Jesus answering the disciples’ two questions—when these things will happen and what will be the sign of His presence. The central issue is Jesus’ coming in judgment on Israel and the Temple which no longer was fit for his presence among them and his parousia (presence) among a new ‘nation’ of the elect.   

4. Jesus answered them “See to it that no one misleads you.

  • Jesus warned them—they were likely enough to be misled. We can be misled too if we think these words are addressed to us!

5. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.

  •  The times were awash with end-of-age and coming of Messiah beliefs, Josephus talks about these in his Jewish Wars 9:3’.

6. You will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  

  • Today end-time preachers use these texts to frighten people that his return is near. But It is clear Jesus was prophesying here to his disciples, not to 21st Century readers. It is nonsense to hold that what was ‘near’ for these disciples (‘you’) can be ‘near’ for us today.
  • At the Jewish council, Gamaliel mentioned uprisings led by Theudas and Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:35-38).
  • Jesus here dealt with the ‘when’ question and continues this until at least verse 15.

7. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places, there will be famines and earthquakes.

  • nation against nation: See Josephus Jewish Wars, b. 6, 9:3. Coffman concludes “Such things as famines, wars, and earthquakes seem to have been multiplied during that period”. Also Albert Barnes Commentary
  • earthquakes: John Gill comments that “at Crete, and in divers cities in Asia in the times of Nero: particularly the three cities of Phrygia, Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae; which were near to each other, and are all said to perish this way, in his reign.”

8. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

  • birth pangs: Jesus had spoken to these disciples of ‘the regeneration (Grk, ‘paligenesia’= rebirth, renewal) when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne (Mat 19:28, Luke 22:28) as pictured in Daniel 7:13-14, and following his ascension into heaven (see Acts 2:33-36)—not in any worldly ‘millennium’ as taught by many endtime teachers. These disciples will live through all these things—this is just the beginning of birth pangs.
  • But they are not to fear, as something much, much more heavenly and serious will happen.
  • Jesus continues warning them not to be misled. Political conflicts, famines and earthquakes have been commonly reported in history and preachers then and today have often used current troubles in to convince hearers of the imminent end of the world.

9. “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

  • Then:here is one of several time stamps e.g., v.10, which show that the narrative is a unity.
  • Deliver you: Jesus was prophesying to those who asked the questions not to us today. This was part of the disciples’ inevitable sufferings “because of My namewe find recorded in Acts and epistles and foreshadowed in Mat 23:34.
  • Tribulation: The word tribulation or suffering is used multiple times in the NT, and here is not connected to the “great tribulation” Jesus would refer to in v.21.
  • all nations: Strongs 1483 (ethne); better translated ‘multitudes’ including Jews and Gentiles.

To be continued . . . .

The Olivet Discourse

In coming posts I aim to show that Jesus, in answering the disciples’ questions on the Mount of Olives, predicted the end of the age and his coming (Parousia) within his own generation. They were left in no doubt that He would come in their generation.

Matthew, Mark and Luke were not mistaken either, writing down what would happen and which history confirms. Paul, Peter, John and James in their writings of the New Testament show they believed His coming was imminent. Soon.

The “last days” in the New Testament refers to the end of an era, an age and not the end of time. The end of the long Mosaic age. The end of one age and the beginning of a new age. A New Covenant.

Futurist commentators say that our Lord’s ‘second’ coming is yet to happen and many of them teach that event is soon. If that is true, it follows from the texts that we face a time of great falling away, a most terrible ‘great tribulation’ while Satan’s kingdom triumphs.

But good news! We do not face what Jesus referred to as ‘the great tribulation’. We will not be ‘left behind’. Such erroneous views promote despair and an escape mentality. Many people want to opt out, some with the wish to be raptured, to escape the spectre of dying. To get out of this terrifying world.

Yet Jesus prayed for his disciples “ I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

We are called to bear witness to Jesus, his death and resurrection and his matchless character, power and authority at the right hand of the majesty on high. He is present with us, his new creation, his holy nation, within our lives, at home in our hearts, in a new covenant of the Holy Spirit.

All Jesus’ predictions, all of them, that we read here in the Olivet discourse came true together in amazing detail. Glory to God and to the Lamb forever for ‘He shall reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet, and then the end shall come’!

We are using as a basis here the Matthew, chapter 24, NASB version —plus some references to parallel texts in Luke and Mark.

Jesus answered two questions put to him by the disciples—a ‘when’ question and a ‘what’ question.

The coming of the Son of Man, the end of the age, is about judgment on apostate Israel, the rejecters of Jesus Messiah, a judgment which will use earthly means, the Roman armies. It is not about the end of the world.

Before we begin, let us understand some important principles which must guide our interpretation.

First, context. This discourse must really be seen in the wider context of the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is especially so in Matthew. The reader should understand the narrative leading up to chapter 24, at least from chapter 21 and understand Jesus’ caustic and condemning words to the scribes and Pharisees and in the parables in chapters 21-23 of Matthew.

Reading of Chapter 23 is critical—for example, the ‘eight woes’ (vs.13-33) followed by the charge that their leaders will persecute those he will send and the terrifying prediction that “upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (vs.34-36). This is the same generation mentioned in Mat 24:34.

As you know, there are no chapter divisions in the original texts. It is a continuous narrative.

Second, this discourse was addressed to four of the twelve apostles at a particular point in time and place. It was not addressed to disciples beyond that generation, let alone to today’s readers. Of course, these four hearers imparted what they learned to other disciples in their lifetime.

We must resist the all too common habit of applying Jesus’ words to us, as if he was speaking to 21st-century readers about our future. Of course, this applies to all the texts in the New Testament, although we are edified by seeing how the truth of the gospel applies to us. There are many words recorded as spoken by Jesus to his disciples which cannot apply to us today. God gave us scriptures for us but they were not written to us!

Matthew 24 is often dubbed “the Little Apocalypse” because of the symbolic nature of verses 29-31. Jesus used cosmic collapse language, understood by Jews, Hebrew thinkers, and was frequently used by the prophets speaking from God about judgment.

It is very important to realise, as scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “Jerusalem remained the focal point of everything that the Jews were and did. Jewish identity was bound up with, and focused upon, a single city, and within that city a single shrine.” Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God.1994.

Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity

Peter’s First Letter-2

Once a week we look together at Peter’s first letter to people in various places. We see how he was encouraging them, preparing them. A most important, earth-shattering event was to take place. Terrible judgment was about to come on many back there in Jerusalem and Judea. The fabulous temple there and the Jewish religion as known for centuries, would be destroyed and replaced by a new creation (Mat 21:43-46). This would impact them and many Jews where they lived. Here we look at the first half of chapter 2.

In this part of his letter, Peter calls on his readers to thirst for the “pure milk of the word like newborn babies, if they have tasted the kindness of the Lord” and put aside all malice, envy, slander, hypocrisy etc.

Think how much the Lord has blessed us all abundantly! There’s much more. So let’s keep thirsting after the pure milk of God’s word to grow our salvation!  So important to long for the word of God. Look, it doesn’t matter how mature we think we are. The Lord’s blessing is inexhaustible. He wants us!

Yes, grow up in your salvation. Salvation is not merely getting newborn, started. There’s a big future idea, a whole of life growth of our salvation, as Peter reminded them several times in his letter.

So where to go? Peter says go to Jesus. Where else? Jesus is the One to come to—his open arms. He is the “chosen and precious.” Quoting from Isaiah 28, Peter identifies Jesus as like the most important stone in a building. That’s the cornerstone. It has to be laid exactly, in line, dead level, plumb. Then the building will follow the right design.

“Look, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone and who believes in him shall not be disappointed”.

Jesus said if you don’t gather with him, you are scattering (Luke 11:23). Do you want to be building for God? Well, you have to strictly follow the playbook! Jesus is “the living stone that was rejected by men but chosen by God”. You have to build on the true rock, His words. Anything else is on sand. Anything else is useless. What God has not planted will be pulled up by the roots (Mat 15:13). This is serious.

This building design called for these newborns to be stones too—living stones! Each was being built up into a spiritual house for a special role of offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus.

And so are we today—part of the house that He is building, against which the gates of hell will not stand.

Peter wrote (v7) this precious situation belongs to the followers of Jesus. Quoting Ps 118:22, he showed that the stone which rejected, actually became the very head of the corner! Then he added that others stumble because they are disobedient to the word not following the designer. For these, Jesus the precious stone was “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence” (Isa 8:14) and doom awaits them.

These “builders”—the disobedient, were the Jews of that generation and their system, those who rejected their messiah, that wicked generation.

He goes on to tell his readers (v9) “you are a chosen race, you are a royal priesthood, you are a holy nation, you are the people of God’s own possession! Peter used those very same terms from Moses (Deut 7:6) applying them to these newborn Gentiles and Jews. There’s a whole new creation being formed here, a whole new nation. with the bad tenants, Jewish elites and their fleshly system will be destroyed as Jesus had foretold in Mat 21:43 and a new spiritual one will be formed.

Why are his readers new-born? That they “may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” That is our role, our privilege today. We are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).

He recalls what the prophet Hosea wrote “once you were not a people but now you are the people of God. You once had not received mercy but now you have received mercy (Hosea 1:10). This points to a mostly Gentile readership. These newbies are the true people of God! And so are we who believe today.

Applause!

All this came from the pen of a Jewish born fisherman, but now since born from above through the resurrection of Jesus with whom he had walked for 3 years, a mere 30 years had past. Amazing.

Only 30 years previously! He could never forget when they nailed Jesus to the cross and then God raised Him up as He had foretold.

We struggle to grasp the reality, to feel, to enter in to those historic scenes—it all happened so long ago.

Peter’s readers are the forerunners of a totally new society and they have great responsibility, never seen before. So Peter urges them, aliens and strangers, to keep their behavior excellent among the outsiders. They may be slandered as evil by others but will see their good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation.

This phrase ‘day of visitation’ is fascinating. It seems Peter had in mind an ‘end-times’ event (see 1 Pet 4:7).

The glorious light of God’s people show that God’s judgments are righteous and this will be acknowledged in the coming judgment.

So their behaviour would be very important. Let’s talk more about that next time.

Peter’s First Letter–1

Once a week, we a small ekklesia, are looking at an amazing scriptural letter by Peter who described himself as an apostle (a sent messenger) of Jesus Christ. He wrote to people he describes as aliens, strangers, they don’t belong here. How can that be?

He wanted to encourage them, to prepare them, for a most important, earth-shattering event was soon to take place. Terrible judgment was about to come on many back in Jerusalem and Judea. The temple and the Jewish religion as known for centuries, Judaism, would be destroyed and replaced by a new creation. This would also seriously impact them and many traditional Jews where they lived.

We read they were in various places, scattered throughout Pontos, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These were real places in the Ancient World. It’s interesting if you check Acts chapter 2 you find those same places mentioned among the many other regions, from which people had come to Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. Acts 2 describes how on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.

So Peter was addressing some of those same people who had heard him proclaiming on that day some 25 or 30 years previously. These would have gone back to their homelands and no doubt bore witnesses for Jesus by the power of the Spirit where they lived.

Peter calls them chosen by God the Father, sanctified by the Holy Spirit and sprinkled with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was amazing thinking for a man who was still ‘Jewish’ (as most early believers were) to put Jesus alongside the Holy Spirit and the eternal living Lord God, the Father. One God.

Here we see a a typical salutation of a letter in the Ancient World.

Peter then reminded them about the living hope that they had through Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection is the basis of the way, the truth and the great story of Jesus. Without the resurrection there would be no faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There would be no Christians.

They had been truly reborn through God’s great mercy! We are all utterly dependent on his mercy. Born again to a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection of Jesus. Remember that happened only 25 or 30 years previous to his writing!

For us, it’s now 2000 years ago. That time lapse makes it harder for us but for these people it was fresh in their memory.  Just think, you can remember so many things clearly that happened 25 or 30 years ago in your life.

Jesus had been killed and then came alive!

Peter’s readers are described as a possessing an inheritance that is reserved safely in heaven for them. They were already enjoying that sure hope! They were strangers and aliens here on Earth, like we are today but there’s an inheritance waiting for us who believe that’s reserved for us in heaven too! What a fabulous investment.

In the meantime, these aliens were protected by the power of God through faith for a full salvation he says is ‘ready to be revealed in the last time’.  They believed they were in the ‘last days’ when their salvation would be revealed.

Peter mentioned this idea of the ‘last time’ several times in his writings. This salvation ready to be revealed the original word is apocalypse. That brings to mind the time of the end. Peter saw his writing as fitting into that period. His readers could greatly rejoice in this understanding, even though now for a ‘little while’, short time—not a long, long time.

A little while and then things will radically change for them. If this mighty change was in a little while for them, how can it be soon for us today?

For a short time they will have various trials. Difficulties will prove the genuineness of their faith. Really it’s when we are subject to trials that our faith is is proven, tried out.

That experience, that assurance is much more precious than gold which is perishable. Peter reminded them that the testing by fire would be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ.

 His appearing, his coming and Peter goes on to say that although you have not seen him you love him and though you do not see him now you believe in him and you greatly rejoice with joy in express expressible and full of glory.

He went on to talk more about this wondrous salvation now experienced by God’s people.  All those OT prophets prophesied of the grace that would come. They tried to work out this mystery. We had studied them together—how they accurately foretold the coming of the messiah and the suffering that he would experience.

They never experienced what these Peter wrote to had experienced. Even the angels in heaven were ignorant of what those early believers understood. So us also today!

In view of what will take place ‘in a little while’, Peter goes on to appeal to them to modify their behaviour, to prepare themselves for action, and fix their hope completely on the grace about to be brought to you at the revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ.

Clearly they were expecting the coming, the revealing, of Jesus within their lifetime.  They must not be conformed to the former life which they had in their ignorance. and so they needed to conduct themselves appropriately during the (very short) time of their stay on the Earth.

Today we too must be prepared. We too must live appropriately. We also are not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from a futile way of life inherited from our forebears. We too have just a little while! The Father will impartially judge according to each person’s work, Peter reminds us.    For “all flesh is as grass and withers. But the word of the Lord abides forever.”

What does ‘This Generation’ mean?

Jesus said: Assuredly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Jesus prophesied these unforgettable words to four of his disciples on the Mountt of Olives as recorded in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:30.

It is critical to understand which generation Jesus meant. Taking the plain meaning without any bias, Jesus was referring to his generation.

But some scholars say Jesus must have meant a future generation. 

Some insist Jesus meant the word “race”,  i.e., the Hebrew race. They reason that because the Hebrew race remains today, the coming of Jesus has not taken place, putting his coming far into the unknown future.

These scholars avoid the obvious meaning in the context of the gospel, dogmatically committed to a future return of Jesus, instead of simply accepting that Jesus spoke of the closeness of His coming.

Jesus prophesied to those disciples on the Mount of Olives, that He would return before His hearers’ generation had passed away. Yet the same people accept that Jesus spoke literally about the coming fall of the Jerusalem temple among other events. So then there is no logical reason to exclude the coming of Jesus.

There is no doubt the disciples took Jesus’ words “this generation” to mean soon, at the door, at hand. They knew His coming was imminent, perhaps even in their lifetime. We see it in their writings.

Their letters in the N.T. frequently reflect their expectancy of a soon coming, though the hour and day were unknown. We read of their warnings, their urgency to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God and their urgings to live righteously.

They knew Jesus warned them to get the Kingdom of God proclaimed in the towns of Judea before His coming (Matthew 10:23).

Check these references out for yourself: Rom 13:11-13, 1 Cor 10:11, Phil 1:6,10, 1 Thes 1:10, 4:17; 2 Thes 1:7; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:2, 9:28, 10:29; Jas 5:3; 1 Pet 1:5, 7-9, 13, 17, 20; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 19).

Now let’s look at some instances of Jesus’ phrase this generation in the gospels, paying close attention to the context of each. You will see they consistently refer to the people alive then as Jesus spoke (and this list is not exhaustive):

Mat 12:45. . . the last of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Mat 12:41-42. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented. . . The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment. . .

Mark 8:12. Why does this generation seek . . sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.

Mark 8:38 : “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels”.

Here Jesus warned people in that crowd that some of them, this generation, will be alive ‘when He comes in glory!

Luke 17:25. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Mat 17:17. O faithless generation, how long shall I bear with you . .  the crowd who had no faith to heal

Mat 23:35-36. Assuredly, I say unto you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Jesus’ phrase all these things is repeated in Mat 24:34, Mark 31:30, and Luke 21:30.

Mat 24:34f, Mk 13:30f, Lu 21:30f. NKJV. Assuredly, I say to you,this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

All three synoptic gospels! And all three carry the word assuredly! (Grk amen) and the affirmation that though heaven and earth could pass away, his words stand forever!

So who would dare to change his plain words?

In Mat 23 we read Jesus’ savage attacks on the Jewish ruling elites of that current generation: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Then after the 7 woes, we read verses 31-36:

Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Further, this particular generation was condemned to such a great extent, that Jesus warned those weeping women as He was led to the cross saying: Weep not for me but for yourselves and your children . . . as he knew what terrible times they would face (Luke 23:28).

Conclusion

In the Olivet discourse of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the generation named by Jesus can only mean the generation of people Jesus was addressing.

We can see that this is consistent with the other numerous references of his using the phrase this generation.

There is no logical or hermeneutical reason why we should not believe and accept that Jesus spoke literally about “all these things will come upon this generation.” (Mat 24:34).

Our Amazing Hope

Isaiah 51:11

Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their hearts. They shall obtain gladness and joy and sighing and sadness shall flee away.

Now, here in Brisbane, Australia, most of us we face all the hype –if not the hope–of the Olympics coming to Brisbane. And people will be waiting for the event.

And as a dear friend of mine said today on his fb page “I guess the closer 2032 comes the greater the excitement”

He then said “and yet as we wait for the return of Christ there will be little mass hysteria but on that day the whole world will know that the King has come.”

Well . . . . ! Not all of us!

No.

Some of us, admittedly not many believers, are NOT actually waiting for the return of Christ, believing as Jesus told his students on the Mt of Olives (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) that he “assuredly” would come before some of his listeners had passed away (see Mat 16:28, 24:34, Mk 13:30, Lu 21:32).

Ha! We are certainly waiting for that wonderful moment, not far off especially for us ‘oldies’, when “we, the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come singing unto the (heavenly) “Zion”,

and everlasting joy shall be upon our hearts.

We shall obtain gladness and joy and sighing and sadness shall flee away.”!

Yes!

Assuredly!

This now is our blessed hope.

An Interesting Inside Story

I saw this comment to a dream by Praying Medic (www.prayingmedic.com) by one David Gracely. July 21, 2021

“If the Communists want to rail against “white privilege” they only have themselves to blame because that is what they want taught in the public schools.

It is called the Theory of Evolution and the full title of Darwin’s book is “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.”

Darwin favored the elimination of the Negro and Australian peoples because he looked upon them as inferior. Hitler took Darwin to heart. So did Karl Marx who wanted to dedicate Das Capital to Darwin, who declined his request.

My generation got the bum’s rush with the teaching of the Theory of Evolution in public schools in the 19t50’s. This is how that came about.

A very bright fellow worked for the Bureau of Standards, then the CIA, and finally worked for NASA, rising as high in the ranks as you could go without getting involved in politics. He was told by his superior to write up a schedule for the space program.

He was a very meticulous man and he wanted to do the job right, and so it took him two years to complete the job. He turned over his work to his supervisor who turned it over to President Eisenhower. Von Braun and his rocket team were ready to go. But President Eisenhower did nothing. The man who had labored so hard to make up the space schedule was not a happy camper with the President’s response. And then the Russians launched Sputnik and were lauded by our MSM to no end. The President asked the military to try to launch but failed at least twice. Finally he gave the green light to Von Braun and his rocket team and they were successful. But the damage had been done.

The cry went up by the liberal educational establishment.

“How come the Russians beat us into space? Why do they have better scientists then we do? Why, they teach their children the Theory of Evolution in school! That’s why they have better scientists. We need to teach our children the Theory of Evolution too”.

And so my generation got the bum’s rush with the Theory of Evolution.

How do I know about this inside story? Well, my dad told me about this shortly before he died in 2005. The man who wrote up that report was his oldest brother, Fredrick Gracely.”

With grateful thanks to David Gracely and Praying Medic–and Almighty God who gave us all we have. Ian.

The Thessalonians and the Parousia

The apostle Paul, writing about 51 AD to believing Christians in Thessalonica in the Roman province of Macedonia, expected with them, an imminent return of the Lord. Paul wrote they had turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for his son from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

As we read this letter today, bear in mind we are reading mail written to believers living 2000 years ago. We must reject the temptation to think we are being addressed by Paul. This is not about us.

The Thessalonians were anticipating the most profound life-changing thing to occur within their lifetime: the Parousia of their saviour! Yet they were deeply troubled and Paul was addressing their concerns.

First, let us ask: Were they still waiting for Jesus to come when they all passed away 2000+ years ago?

Think: Jesus’ second coming was near for these believers, so it cannot be near for us. And if Jesus’ return is near for us today, was Paul in error? If they had the wrong expectations, why didn’t Paul correct them? Why didn’t he write ‘sorry, you’ve got it wrong, Jesus won’t be coming back for a long, long, time.’

Now let’s look at that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 passage carefully in more detail.

 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as the rest of mankind do, who have no hope.

Paul’s concern as he wrote to these troubled believers, who were worried that those Thessalonians who had died before the Lord’s coming were going to miss out. Their concern was not about the truth of resurrection, as it was when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. For the Thessalonians the fact of the resurrection was not the issue.

14 for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

Paul reasoned: we believe Jesus died and rose, even so [Greek, kai houtos—likewise, it follows] God will bring with him’ those you are concerned for! Great news! Jesus’ resurrection guaranteed theirs also!

Isn’t this evidence that both Paul and his readers believed Jesus was coming soon, not aeons hence?

Some scholars think the bodily resurrection comes at the end of the Messianic age—still in the future.

But does that agree with Paul’s teaching? We ask, do all deceased believers now sleep for thousands of years before their resurrection? Are the Thessalonians and Paul still asleep in Jesus today? Let’s see.

Paul wrote some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Did God bring them ‘asleep’ i.e., with disembodied spirits with Jesus? Or had they been raised when the Lord descended from heaven as it plainly says in v16)?

Is there any hint this resurrection would not occur until 2000+ years hence, as some others claim?  Would that idea really comfort his readers?

15 for this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord — shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.

Now Paul gave them more details. He said what he wrote about this came from Jesus. If Paul was mistaken, was Jesus also mistaken? No way!  Recall that Jesus was ignorant of the day or hour of his coming (Mat 24:36), and so Paul could not be certain about it either.

Here we read of two distinct groups of long-ago saints at His coming: first, those ‘fallen asleep’ and second, those alive and who remain. Jesus had twice told His disciples that there will be some people hearing His words who will remain alive at His coming (see Mat 16:27,28 and 24:34,42,44).

Paul has now said enough to reassure his readers. But surprisingly, he continues with such extraordinary, strange remarks and making verse 17 perhaps the most puzzling in the NT:

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

Paul expects Jesus will descend from heaven; not to Earth, not to Jerusalem. The text in v17 mentions clouds and air for the meeting site, not Earth.

Paul tells them the ‘dead in Christ’ will rise first. They will not miss out on their experience of the Parousia. Is this not their resurrection from the dead—not a spiritual rising. They are raised first, before those who remain alive. Those who remain will also experience resurrection. There are no time limits given. Nobody in Christ will miss out! (Are we today not in a somewhat similar state as those remainers?)

Some writers (For example author, Mike Rogers, www.mikerogersad70.com) think the resurrection comes at the end of time at a single point-in-time event in the future. But this does not follow from the text.

Paul later explained to the Corinthians “Christ has been raised from the dead the first fruits of those who are asleep . . . so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Cor:21-27.)

The phrase each in his own order implies, not a mass collection of millions together, but one at a time—’each’ not ‘together’; ‘his’ not ‘they’. As Isaiah 27:12-13 prophesied, On that Day the Lord will thresh from the flowing stream of the Euphrates River to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, you sons of Israel. It will come about also on that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.  And Moses declared If any of your scattered countrymen are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you (Deut 30:4).

We can see Paul expected the Parousia soon, as did all the apostolic writers, but they said nothing about any post-Parousiabelievers like us, far in the future. Did they assume there would be no future?

Paul wrote ‘The last enemy that will be abolished is death’ (1 Cor 15:26). And Jesus did so—see Rev 20:14, Heb 2:14, 2 Tim 1:10. We all die one at a time (Heb 9:27) and when each dies, is not death abolished, one at a time? That’s what has been declared at funeral services for centuries.

Like Paul, I know that if my earthly tent is torn down, I have a building from God . . . That’s reassuring indeed! He goes on, For indeed, in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, since in fact after putting it on, we will not be found naked. For indeed, we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor 5:1-4). Can we gauge what joyous state Paul expected from this and other passages e.g., Phil 1:21-24? Seems like he couldn’t wait to be so clothed when he wrote that!

I can’t imagine Paul still ‘unclothed’, as a disembodied spirit. Can you?

Paul goes on with some puzzling details, but not about the nature of resurrection . . .

17 Then we who are alive, who remain, 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.

Note the adverb of sequencing, then. The original word is epeita meaning thereupon, thereafter, afterward (Strongs G1899). So this catching up was not simultaneous with the coming of Jesus with the risen saints. This leaves open the possibility those ‘remaining could be ‘caught up’ at any time.

Paul here used the 3rd person, we who remain, not ‘you’. Did Paul think he might be included among those remaining? Recall that both Paul and his readers expected a soon return of Jesus (see 1:10, 3:13). We know Paul was executed around 66/67 AD. Has Paul been raised or is he still ‘fallen asleep’, waiting for a ‘general resurrection’ at the end of time as some teach? I think not.

To the Philippians Paul confidently and eagerly wrote our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Phil 3:20f).     

We may wish Paul had said more. What happens to unbelievers? Or believers who will remain alive?

Reflect that the apostle John died an old man sometime after AD 98 in Asia Minor and Thomas died in AD 72 in India, both still alive and remaining on Earth after the time when all these things take place as Jesus declared to His disciples on the Mt of Olives recorded in Matthew 24, verse 34.  

Many more questions arise. Could Paul have been among the countless numbers brought with Jesus, all having died before the Lord’s coming—as he had—and already risen? If those who remain are caught up together with them, do they come together all risen and meet the Lord in the sky? Does this include the untold numbers of saints from the earliest of times? Fantastic, mysterious language!

Why did Paul, writing to the Corinthians 5 years later about the resurrection (1 Cor 15) not even hint there, or anywhere else in the New Testament, of such phenomena as we read in this letter?

Is there some other explanation of how they meet up with the risen believers in the air? Do you think all the remaining saints really took off, leaving behind their corruptible bodies, rising into the clouds and meet the Lord there with those who died in Jesus? Taking it literally raises many difficult questions.

Think about Paul’s use of that word ‘caught up’ (Greek hapazo, to seize, carry off by force)here: he was caught up into paradise (2 Cor 12:22f). Let’s consider how can all believers have already come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24)—just how have they come? What about John’s being ‘in the Spirit’ and being ‘called up here’ (Rev 1:10, 4:1)? And how Phillip could be suddenly ‘snatched away’ and was found at Azotus (Acts 8:39-40).

Are these not examples of ‘rapture’ without anyone leaving the Earth?

Paul was not that concerned with detailing the method of the Parousia—that was secondary. Comforting his readers’ fears was his objective. Paul was not writing a systematic theology for people living 2000 years in the future! Rather he writes to assure them that nothing can separate them from Christ (Rom 8:38).

Verses 16 and 17 contain highly symbolic, apocalyptic language like we find in Matthew 24:29-30 and in Revelation–angels, trumpets and the like.

Let’s try taking this not literally, but figuratively.

First, the remaining—including you and I today—are, and can be ‘caught up’, with those gone before, just like Paul was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:22ff). Was Paul here applying his experience to the Thessalonians as additional comfort?

And where? Well, not up into the air where the birds fly—Paul would have used a different Greek word, oranos.  No. Here Paul used the Greek, aer, not oranos (see Strongs). This aer is the air we all breathe, as God designed, spontaneously, the foundation of all life (Gen 2:7; 7:2,15), a ‘spiritual’ air, and a realm inhabited by spiritual beings (Eph 2:20), as Greek speakers in Paul’s day would have understood. In Greek mythology, aer was the god of the lower atmosphere in charge of the air breathed. (For more uses of the word aer see 1 Cor 9:2, 14:9; Eph 2:20; Rev 9:2, 16:17.)

In that space, we who believe remain forever with the Lord. Whether we live or die (Romans 14:8) we remain in a mystical union with Jesus that begins by faith and is with us for and into eternity. As William Neil wrote in his 1950 commentary of Thessalonians, being a part of that Body of which Christ is the Head. Jesus taught we already experience eternal life when we believe. And He said Truly, truly, I say to you, a time is coming and even now has arrived, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself . . (John 5:19-30)

 18 so, then, comfort one another with these words.

Would they have been comforted and encouraged if this was not going to happen in their lifetime? No.

If Jesus’ coming was near for them, as Paul wrote around 55 AD, and both they and their dead loved ones were raised and live eternally with Jesus, then the Parousia cannot be near for us today. If this happened to them as described and within their lifetime, then it is impossible for this be near for us.

Because we today look confidently to Jesus to raise each of us incorruptible in the future (though we cannot say when) we can conclude that Paul was writing figuratively in his earnest desire to comfort the distressed Thessalonians.

So we can take this figuratively and not literally. As I said, five years on when he wrote to the Corinthians, that mysterious language was absent. There he simply declared ‘I tell you a mystery’. Mystery!

When Paul writes to them by the word of the Lord (v.15), then we must take that literally: that we who are alive and remain . . .  shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. But in verses 16 and 17 it seems he was “prophesying in part, seeing dimly as by a mirror (NASB margin in a riddle)”?  Mystery!

Conclusion

I don’t believe that Paul taught that the Thessalonians were to be literally ‘caught up into clouds’. When I consider that Paul’s use elsewhere of his being ‘caught up’ and how other apostolic writers wrote of various ecstatic experiences, and his use of the Greek word, aer, helps me to make sense of this passage. 

If the Parousia is coming near for us today, as many teach, the Thessalonians all died without the comfort Paul was assuring them. So God did not come down from heaven and they were not ‘caught up’ then.

According to many Christian friends, this event is all in the future and it’s going to happen ‘soon’, 2000+ years after Paul wrote this letter? Has the meaning of the word ‘soon’ been changed to mean ‘sometime’?

Paul did not teach that the resurrection comes at the end of time as a single point-in-time event in the future. From what he wrote then, I can’t imagine Paul still now, ‘unclothed’—a disembodied spirit.

Paul concluded “so we will always be with the Lord”. Praise God! We can be encouraged as well—so shall we be also always with the Lord—nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38). That’s something so clear and concrete that all His brothers and sisters can be in agreement as one.

What do you think? I am eager to hear your comments, both positive or critical.

He rescues me

I was recently asked to share a story in answer to the question “Have you ever been rescued?”

Yes!

The Almighty living true God, the One whom Jesus called Abba (Daddy) rescued me in May 1959.

He rescued me from a life of wondering what life was all about and transformed me into a new existence which biblical writers call “eternal life”.

I was blind, I was lost, I was enslaved to my own desires, imaginings and inclinations. My worldview changed overnight.

Yes, I have been rescued in every way.

God sent a black man from Uganda and his companion from Tanzania. As I listened to his story and saw his joy, I knew I had to have what this man, these people, so obviously had.

Yes, truly I have been rescued.

And I have been continually rescued day by day and year by year since then and today, more than ever, I am thankful.

The mighty God maintains each of my 70 billion body cells every second.

So I am so grateful to Him and to those two East Africans, whom He sent to rescue me.