Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1"“2)
These verses provide an opening to a larger teaching about the final person of the Antichrist to come, but if we rush past too quickly we might not appreciate the valuable gem of insight Paul provides. The overwhelming, repeated characteristic about the Antichrist and those who operate in the character and likeness of Satan is deception. It started with Satan as the serpent in the Garden with Eve and it continues throughout the whole of Scripture until the anticipated Last Days when deception multiplies to a level never before experienced. But notice that Paul provides us with the contents of the basic deception toolkit: "a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us". All deception embraces one or more of these approaches.
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11"“14)
A few months back in the article "The Problem with "˜Discernment'" we looked at how the word "discernment" is used in order to understand what differentiates the gift of discernment from the general biblical admonition for all Believers to be discerning. Specifically we focused on the fact that in Philippians 1:9-11 where Paul encourages "that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment", the underlying Greek word for "discernment" is "aisthesis", whereas in 1 Corinthians 12:10 in Paul's list of the gifts of the Spirit, what many translations render as the gift of discernment he uses "diakrisis", a completely different Greek word which the NASB renders as "distinguishing". Whereas "aisthesis" is defined as perceiving with the senses as well as the mind "“ a process involving knowledge based on experience, "diakrisis" is the ability to distinguish the spiritual nature of something to determine whether it truly comes from God, from Satan, or the flesh. It is therefore quite interesting to note that the author of Hebrews speaks of the spiritually mature as having attained "diakrisis" not as the result of a supernatural gift, but as a natural by-product of a maturing faith.
"Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold." ( Mt. 24:12)
It does not matter what our former life was like or how buried in evil and sin our background may have been, but there is a common crossroads of crisis at which every Believer eventually arrives. At some point we find ourselves staring into God's Word knowing that we have fallen short. We have to face the fact that Scripture plainly reveals that some aspect of our life or behavior is incontrovertibly in conflict with God's Word and ways, and it is usually that one thing which is the absolute most difficult personal issue, the sin which we are the most hesitant to even acknowledge because it has become such a basic part of our character that we can hardly imagine changing it. I arrived at one of these intersections when it came to certain relationships. I knew that what God commanded in His Word and how I lived and behaved in regard to this issue was at the very least a contradiction, and if I were totally honest, was in actuality hypocrisy.
"All Of Our Righteous Deeds Are As A Filthy Rag"
In the above article (regarding Mark Driscoll) we highlighted the fact the Word of God in some places and in some contexts makes use of direct terms, earthly expressions of reality to drive certain theological or doctrinal points. However, we may rest assured that in the cultural context and Sitz im Leben of the Ancient Near East they would not sound as crude as such an illustrated meaning may in modern Western society. (As any missionary in the Third World knows, many taboos are culturally and geographically relevant and are often defined by local tribal custom).
In one well-known example of such down to earth terminology found in Scripture, to hammer a point, the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to describe our good deeds as "a bloody menstrual cloth" or possibly "seminally stained garment" by etymological implication in the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 64:6. (It is actually verse 5 in the original Hebrew canon) . When we as believers quote the phrase from Isaiah, "All of our righteous deeds are as filthy rags", it serves us well to understand the full dimension of what is entailed.
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1"“8)
Depending on your choice of Bible translation, the word "sanctify" and all of its related variations appear throughout Scripture approximately 65 times. The specific variant "sanctification", however, appears only 8 times, 3 of which are clustered together in these few verses where Paul connects it with the exhortation, ""¦how you ought to walk and please God". Do churches still preach and teach about sanctification? Because if they do, I am finding it difficult to believe that they are emphasizing the biblical aspect of pursuing sexual morality. In the past 20 years studies have repeatedly proven there is no longer a statistical difference on any issue of sexual immorality ranging from divorce to adultery to homosexuality between those who say they regularly attend church and those who do not. Who, exactly, is still in pursuit of biblical sanctification?
The Saltshaker's website has just made an audio sermon available where Jacob takes a parallel with Judges 11 and shows the lesson to be learned through Jephthah in concert with a view of current events in Israel. It can be found be visiting their website here.
The Theology of Scripture vs. the Pseudo-Theology of Apostasy, Heresy and Idiocy
In the sphere of Jewish evangelism Isaiah 53 is sometimes wrongly called "The Forbidden Chapter" because it is nt included in the liturgical Haf Torah readings in the synagogue Siddur. The reason for its omission is in fact pre- Christian, dating back to the proto-Hasmonean period when Torah reading was outlawed by pagan Selucid authorities so Jews sought broad thematically comparable ritual readings to what the Torah portion or Paroch Ha Shavua would have otherwise been. In fact, the Hebrew liturgical poet Eliezer Ha Kalir incorporated the reading of Isaiah 53 into the Yom Kippur Maqzor for a liturgical reading on the Day of Atonement in the Middle Ages. In Judaism, the actual "Forbidden Chapter" which Jews are exhorted not to read in rabbinic commentary is Daniel 9 predicting the death of the Messiah prior to the destruction of the Second Temple which transpired in 70 AD. Its reading is specifically discouraged because "the time of Messiah's coming is foretold in it".
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; (1 Th. 5:1"“5)
This is not a rhetorical question nor am I being derisive or sardonic, but can someone explain to me why the timing and structure of the End Times was no mystery to the Early Church and yet we seem to hold endless conferences and publish untold numbers of books and websites on the subject? In all fairness, perhaps I need to re-frame the issue. It actually seems that the problem does not pertain so much to the thirst for knowledge about the fulfillment of God's plans as the day of the Lord approaches, but how to live in the shadow of that knowledge. It might be the age old issue of the positioning of the cart relative to the horse. It seems that there are some who believe if they can just obtain enough information it will inspire them to live as they should in the shadow of the Last Days; Paul teaches we already have enough information so that we should be doing nothing BUT living as we should in the shadow of the Last Days.