Connections 11.10.2019: Getting and Being Ready

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Warning: I am about to mention Christmas, even though we’re barely past Halloween. Please take appropriate precautions.

I refuse to give serious thought to the approach of Christmas until we get past Thanksgiving.

In fact, I try not to think too much about “the real meaning of Christmas”—the incarnation event, the Word made flesh, the baby in the manger—until just after the fourth Sunday of Advent.

Don’t freak out on me. Advent is about Jesus too.

After Advent, we can observe the Twelve Days of Christmas without all the Santa hullabaloo distracting us.

Don’t get mad at me. I enjoy the Santa hullabaloo as much as the next Santa-enjoying person. I enjoyed it a lot when I was a child. I enjoyed it a lot when our children were small. Now we have young grandchildren, and I’m enjoying it a lot again.

I even enjoy the gifts I receive. I don’t need anything, but it’s nice to be remembered.

During Advent, we focus on both the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ birth, for which we have a date on the calendar, and on the upcoming event of Jesus’ second coming, for which we don’t have a date on the calendar, no matter what anyone says.

Anybody who sets a date for the second coming is being silly. Anybody who takes seriously anybody who sets a date for the second coming is being sillier.

I guess it’s ironic, what with my being a Christian and a minister and all, but even as I’m trying to put off focusing on the birth of Jesus until after Advent, I’m getting ready for the secular Christmas celebration. I’m getting ready for Santa Claus to come.

As you may know, Santa doesn’t have the time, energy, money, or workforce to purchase or manufacture all the gifts for Christmas. So we who are numbered among Santa’s helpers must do our part.

We can’t just say, “Santa Claus is coming to town” and wait around for it to happen. We have to take the appropriate measures to prepare.

Our lesson text indicates that some people in Thessalonica weren’t preparing properly for Jesus to come. They weren’t getting ready, and because they weren’t getting ready, they risked not being ready. They risked not being all they could be—all God wanted them to be and wanted to help them become—when Jesus returns.

In Luke 20:27-38, which is the lectionary’s Gospel reading for this Sunday, some Sadducees ask Jesus whose wife a seven-times widowed woman will be in the resurrection. Now, they don’t really care. Sadducees didn’t even believe in resurrection. They just want to paint Jesus into a corner.

Their attempt fails.

I dare say those Sadducees would have better spent their time growing in their relationship with God and doing what they could to help comfort hurting people in their community than in speculating about eschatological details.

I dare say we will better spend our time in those ways too. We need to be open to all God wants to do in and through us as we look forward to Jesus’ return and to whatever comes between now and then.

It’s how we get ready so we’ll be ready.

Getting ready for Jesus to come isn’t a seasonal thing anyway, is it?

For those who follow Jesus, it’s an every moment of every day thing.

As we go, the Lord will strengthen our hearts “in every good work and word” (v. 17).

That’s good, because this old world needs our good works and good words all the time.

Discussion

  1. Are there any ways in which today’s Christians live as if “the day of the Lord is already here” (v. 2)? If so, what are some of them?
  2. What kinds of forces in the world might embody the kind of lawlessness and rebellion that our lesson text talks about? Do you think such rebellion is a one-time event, or the kind of thing that happens repeatedly? Why?
  3. Why should we “hold fast to the traditions that [we] were taught” (v. 15)? How should we evaluate such traditions to make sure we should hold fast to them?
  4. How can our past experience with Christ assure us that he will help us continue to grow, learn, trust, and serve as we should?
  5. How can we seek a balance between Christ’s comforting of our hearts and his strengthening “them in every good work and word” (v. 17)?

Reference Shelf

Man of Lawlessness. The man of lawlessness is a specific individual designated by 2 Thess 2:3-11 as the son of perdition who must appear at the outbreak of apostasy prior to the PAROUSIA of Christ. Whereas the heavenly Christ is portrayed as humbling himself to take on human form (Phil 2:7-9), the earthly lawless one is portrayed as attempting to promote himself to the place and rank of God. According to 2 Thess 2:3,5, the second coming of Christ has not taken place because the man of lawlessness has been prevented by a restraining agency (impersonal in v. 6, but personal in v. 7). Major interpretations as to the restrainer’s identity are: (1) the rule of law represented by the Roman empire and the emperor; (2) SATAN; (3) a special agent of God or Satan; and (4) a spirit, force, or person known to the first-century readers but unknown to contemporary readers. The author’s message is that both the lawless one and the power that restrains him are the instruments of God, who has already secretly released the force of lawlessness to be made manifest in due time. The eventual appearance of the lawless one will lead to his confrontation with the Lord Jesus, who will extinguish him “with the breath of his mouth.” Some scholars (e.g., Dibelius) detect in this phrase a primitive conception of the magical power of the breath, a theme expressed in a passage in Lucian (The Liar, 12) where the Babylonian magician gathered together all the snakes from an estate and blew upon them, “and straightway every one of them was burnt up by the breathing.” Other scholars believe the author is alluding to Isa 11:4 and 2 Esdr 13:1-11.

The appointed role of the lawless one is that of perpetuating the delusion of those in the great rebellion (“the apostasy”) against righteousness. His works of deception will be attended by powerful signs and wonders. The motif of a lawless one clearly began within Jewish literature before the Christian era. The phrase “the apostasy” (or “the religious revolt”) was well-known to the early Christians. It goes back at least to the time of Antiochus IV, who ruled from 175 until 164 B C k. (1 Macc 1:10). Antiochus, who tried to force Hellenism upon the Jews, became in the apocalyptic tradition a type-figure of self-deification and grandiose revolt against God and divine law. The lawless one became in APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE a kind of earthly incarnation of Satan, whereas in 2 Thessalonians he is an evil parallel to the incarnation of God in Christ. If Christ is destined to be exalted, the lawless one is doomed to destruction.

Paul and his disciples spoke of believers wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, world rulers of darkness, and the spiritual hosts of wicked ness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12; Rom 8:22, 38-39). The term ANTICHRST does not appear in Paul’s writings. There is thematic kinship between the concept of the antichrist and the lawless one. Some scholars connect the lawless one with Belial/Beliar, which rabbinic tradition interpreted as “outside the yoke of the law.” In Qumran literature and 2 Cor 6:15, however, Belial/Beliar is a synonym of Satan, rather than a human mortal in whom Satan is incarnate.

Joe E. Barnhart, “Man of Lawlessness,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 543.

The third movement of chapter 2 begins at v. 13: “But we ought to give thanks to God always for you all, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning into salvation by sanctification of the spirit and belief in truth.” Perhaps this author is simply trying to emulate Paul’s moments of thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians. If so, this is a poor emulation. Although intended to be light and positive, even the prayers belonging to the author of 2 Thessalonians sound laborious and unlike Paul. Compare Paul’s praise section in 1 Thessalonians:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers, beloved of God, that he has chosen you, for the gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. (1 Thess 1:2-5a)

The author of 2 Thessalonians “ought” to give thanks. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, simply gives thanks. Paul states that the members of the community have been chosen (1 Thess 1:4). The author of 2 Thessalonians specifically states that they have been “chosen into salvation by sanctification of the spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13b). More elaborate modifiers, such as salvation, spirit, belief, and truth, are added by this author and not used by Paul. Paul does not write in this way in 1 Thessalonians. This linguistic detail is more evidence that 2 Thessalonians was written by a leader in the church using Paul’s authority and epistolary style in order to gain credibility in the congregation.

The theological focus, however, is common to both letters. Even though the writing style may reveal two authors, both writers are grounded in the understanding that the beginning action, the first energy, belongs to God. God is the primary catalyst of all things. God chooses; we respond. The author confirms that the Thessalonians have been chosen by God, in the same manner that Paul affirms God’s action in 1 Thessalonians 1:4—“For we know . . . your calling.”

The reason for God’s choice is made clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:14. The main subject-verb-object kernel of the sentence is found in v. 13b: “God chose you” (v. 13b) “. . . to this the one who called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). God chooses, then calls, and then gives the glory of Christ to those who respond.

Therefore, the believer’s response to all of this is simply (or not so simply, perhaps) “to stand firm and hold fast the traditions that you have received either from word or from letter” (2:15). The coming of Christ is going to take some time. The believer is going to have to wait. What is she or he to do in the meantime? Perhaps the theater analogy is again helpful to us here. We are in the theater, waiting for our movie to appear. We know the movie will come; we have been given the promise. However, the chosen film has yet to appear on the screen. What do we do? Do we leave? Do we go home and then return? No, we sit and wait. We buy a bag of popcorn, drink some soda, and relax in the chair, knowing that in the end we will eventually see what we have come to see. All will be well.

The author of 2 Thessalonians writes with this kind of full assurance. Stay in your seat. Hold fast, don’t move. You don’t need to go back to your car or return home. Just stay focused. The end is near but not yet. As you wait, therefore, stay firm and hold fast to the promise that you have been given.

Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008) 242-244

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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