Posts Tagged With: eschatology

BONUS: An Introduction to the Thessalonian Letters

We now move from one of the last parts of the New Testament to be written (John) to one of the first (only Galatians and Mark may be older).  We know Paul was in Corinth when he wrote 1 Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:1-2), and we know from an archaeological connection to the mention of the Roman government official Gallio in Acts 18:12-17 that this places Paul in Corinth around AD 51 or 52.  By al appearances, 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after, maybe six months later.

There are some letters of Paul that scholars argue were not actually written by Paul; the Thessalonian letters are not two of these.  There is almost universal agreement that these are authentic Pauline letters.

We see from Acts 17 that Paul and Silas had quick, evangelistic success in Thessalonica even with prominent people in the city.  Just as quickly, though, unbelieving Jews came in behind them to counter their work.  Specifically, a mob was formed that chased Paul and Silas south to Berea and then to Athens, causing hardship for the new Thessalonian Christians like Jason and others.  We should notice the charge brought against Paul and Silas by their opposition: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).  Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia, a Roman colony widely inhabited by retired military officials in the Roman army and thus loyal to the king.  It is worth noticing that in this milieu, the kingship of Jesus was still so foundational that Paul and Silas did not back down from sharing this fact.

Have you ever done something in a hurry and just hoped it lasted?  If so, you understand why Paul wrote his Thessalonian letters.  We don’t know exactly how long Paul stayed in Thessalonica, but it would have been shortly after the first converts were made.  These new Christians were left unsupported and unguided, which would have been especially challenging as they had converted from paganism (1 Thess 1:9).  In his absence, Paul begins to instruct them through his letters in godly living in a hostile world.

There are no letters of Paul’s that have more to say about the second coming of Christ than these two.  Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the second coming (eschatology).  With a doubt, this theme will run throughout all of our reading this week and a half.  Eschatology is not an easy concept, therefore there is no surprise that the Thessalonians were struggling with this new teaching. Whether they should continue to work until Jesus returns appears to be an issue for them as does the cryptic “man of lawlessness” we will read about in 2 Thessalonians.

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Categories: 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 7: Marriage Isn’t Easy

This is a hard chapter to know how best to understand and apply what Paul says.  Yet, because it is talking about marriage, it is one that a lot of Christians end up in with some frequency.  I am afraid I have neither the space nor knowledge necessary to unravel all of the knots.  My only goal today is to lay done two boundary lines that might help us know where a good interpretation should land.  Unfortunately, these also produce more questions.

1.  Paul makes no bones about it, a lot of what he has to say in this chapter is only his opinion, as wise as that may be (7:6, 12, 25, 40). Paul himself says that much here is not binding on the reader:

I’m not saying this as a command, but as a concession. (7:6)

Maybe it helps to remember that verse 1 indicates this was a response from Paul about a question they had asked.  Could it be that we have uninspired opinions like these in the Bible?  Well, that is a Pandora’s Box if we agree, isn’t it?  It gets right down to the roots of what we mean when we say the Bible is truth.  Maybe we should view it like this?  I take seriously what certain church leaders say when I am seeking advice from them.  I don’t assume it is unquestionable and inspired truth, but I also feel like I better have a good reason not to take seriously their wisdom.

2.  The teachings in this chapter appear to be based on a premise that did not turn out to be the case: this present world is coming to an end very soon.

Just at the moment we are in the middle of a very difficult time. . . . The present situation won’t last long. . . . The pattern of this world, you see, is passing away. (7:26, 29, 31)

Many scholars believe this indicates that Paul had a view that Jesus would be returning in the near future.  Hence, people should “remain before God in the state in which they were called” (7:24; c.f., 17, 26, 40) because soon our present relationships would be over.  Of course, it has been 2000 years since Paul said that.  That is not exactly “very soon.”  One can say, “But Jesus could come any minute, so we should live like Jesus’ return is right around the corner.”  Maybe that is what Paul meant.  The problem with that logic is that, then, we all should do what this chapter says: remain in the situation we are present in — married, unmarried, widowed, enslaved, etc.  Christians don’t do that.

So, what do we do with a chapter like this?  I guess I prefer to look for big concepts that I also find elsewhere in the Bible and hang on to those.  Such as:  Marriage is a blessing.  God has provided a partner for each of us so that a physical and sexual life can be lived with purity and blessing.  At the same time, family is not the most important thing in life if you are a Christian; practically, marriage and a family does pull a person away from preaching the gospel and ministering to churches, as Paul says here (7:34).

If you are interested in reading more about how to interpret the Bible, check out this series of posts on my other blog.  These posts won’t answer all of our questions but they will show that understanding and applying the Bible to our lives today is not always as easy as we have thought.

What do you think about this complicated chapter?

Categories: 1 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 24: In Case of Rapture. . .

Eschatology — the study of the end of this life and the advent of the world that is to come — is, by nature, a bit speculative.  The Bible does give us guidance but it is often slightly cryptic, imaginative, and figurative.  How, too, do you talk about something that is not exactly like this world?

I am going to use today’s post to do what many blogs do regularly: float ideas out there for review that are still in the formative stage.  I would love to hear what you think of these thoughts.

Like many, I grew up thinking of the next life as a place called Heaven that is out there past the wild blue yonder, certainly a place out there far away from our present, evil world.  A lot of education, steady reading of the Bible with new glasses on, and a bit of N. T. Wright and others have changed that view of the world to come radically.  I am uncomfortable with escapist theologies that paint this world that is precious to God and still owned by God as evil and disposable (Psalm 24:1).  I am finding more and more each day that indicates the new world (or Heaven, if you want to it that) will be right here on a renewed earth.  Emotionally this question really made a lot of things click for me: what parent would say of a rebellious and sinful child, I’ll get rid of him and get a new one?  God is in the business of redeeming; it only stands to reason that applies to all He created.

Let’s read this passage with that way of thinking in mind:

You see, the royal appearing of the son of man will be like the days of Noah.  What does that mean?  Well, in those days, before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were getting married and giving children in marriage, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark.  They didn’t know about it until the flood came and swept them all away.  That’s what it’ll be like at the royal appearing of the son of man.  On that day there will be two people working in the field.  One will be taken; the other will be left.  There will be two women grinding corn in the mill.  One will be taken; the other will be left. (24:37-41)

Many of us are familiar with the belief that there will be a time slightly before the Second Coming of Christ when many Christians will be taken up out of this world and taken off to Heaven.  This is usually called the Rapture.  That is a belief I have never held, probably because I come from an amillennial tradition.  But as you can imagine, this belief doesn’t fit with the way I am proposing we should understand the future.  We are not going up and off to anywhere.  The New Jerusalem is coming here to a cleansed and renewed earth (Revelation 21-22).

This passage quoted above is often cited in supported of the Rapture.  Two people are in a field and one is taken away.  There it is.  But why do we think that the one taken away is taken away to Heaven?

I would like to suggest that the one taken away is taken off for punishment.  He is part of the cleansing, that which has to be taken out of this world in order for renewal to take place.  I would cite the very example Matthew uses in this passage as support.  In the days of Noah, you did not want to be swept away.  You wanted to be one of the eight left behind on the Ark.  If you were taken, it was punishment.  Likewise, if you are one of the two men in a field or two women grinding corn, you don’t want to be taken away.  You want to be the one left.

What do you think?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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