Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Looking in the Wrong Direction? The Coming of Our Lord Jesus With All His Saints (1 Thess. 3:13)

     The prayer of Paul and his coworkers for the mid-first-century church of the Thessalonians was for God “to strengthen your hearts, blameless in holiness before our God and Father, in [en] the coming [parousía] of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13).1 To be “blameless” [ámemptos] means that no legitimate reason for criticism can be cited (cf. 2:10; Phil. 2:15; 3:6; Tit. 2:8). The noun hagiōsúnē (“holiness”) – cognate with the adjectival hágioi (“saints,” also used in this sentence, discussed below) and the singular form hágios (“holy,” “set apart”) – is employed here in the sense of moral purity (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1), further developed in the next section of the letter as per another cognate, hagiasmós (“sanctification”) (4:1-8).
Two Sides of the Parousia
     The noun parousía, meaning “presence” (cf. Phil. 2:12a),2 is the opposite of apousía (“absence,” cf. Phil. 2:12b) and carries the sense of the arrival or presence of one “coming” (cf. Phil. 1:26). Its use in reference to the Lord’s return is mostly in the Thessalonian correspondence (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8), and just one other time in Paul (1 Cor. 15:23).3 Other expressions include epipháneia (“appearing,” “manifestation”) in 2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Tit. 2:13; and apokálupsis (“revelation”) in 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13; cf. Rom. 2:5.
     The adverb “before” [émprosthen = “in front,” “before the face of”] is used four times in 1 Thessalonians, once in reference to “our Lord Jesus” (2:19) and three times in reference to “our God” (1:3; 3:9, 13) – all in view of the parousía. Appearing before [émprosthen] our Lord Jesus” (2:19) is parallel to appearing “before [émprosthen] our God and Father” on either side of the parousía. This helps to clarify what is meant by the prepositional phrase, “with all his saints.”
     If “before our Lord Jesus” is on the front end of the parousía (2:19), it stands to reason that “before our God and Father” is on the back end of the parousía (3:13). In other words, the Lord Jesus is to come for [eis] all his saints (4:16-18; cf. 2:19), then return to the Father with [metá] all his saints, who are then presented before the heavenly throne (3:13; 4:17b; cf. 2:12; John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:23-24; 2 Cor. 4:14). Note further along in the text, “through Jesus God will bring with him those having fallen asleep …. we the living ones remaining will be carried off together with them …” (4:14, 17).

     Alternatively, pántōn tōn hagíōn autou is understood by some commentators as “all his holy [ones]” (NIV, Weymouth) in reference to the holy angels who are to accompany the Lord at his coming (cf. Matt. 13:39; Jude 14). In favor of this interpretation, Jesus foretold the coming of the Son of Man “with the holy [hagíōn] angels” (Mark 8:38); “and all the [holy] angels with him” [kaì pántes hoi hágioi ággeloi met’ aoutou] (Matt. 25:31, Byzantine Majority Text; although hágioi is absent from the NA/UBS texts). Nevertheless, in the Thessalonian correspondence these angels are described as angels of his “power” [dunámeōs], distinct from “his saints” [tois hagíois autou] in whom the Lord will be glorified (2 Thess. 1:7, 10). In fact, hágioi is one of Paul’s favorite designations for Christians,4 and in this very sentence the cognate hagiōsúnē (“holiness”) is thus applied.
     From our perspective on earth, the Lord Jesus is coming on the front end of the Parousia for his saints who will appear before him (1 Thess. 2:19; 4:17). From the heavenly perspective, the Lord Jesus is coming on the back end of the Parousia with his saints to appear before God our Father in heaven (1 Thess. 3:13).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Used to refer to the “presence” or “coming” of Stephanus (1 Cor. 16:17), Titus (2 Cor. 7:6, 7), Paul (2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 1:26; 2:12), and “the lawless one” (2 Thess. 2:9).
     3 Elsewhere only in Matthew (24:3, 27, 37, 39) and in the writings of the three “pillars” (Jas. 5:7, 8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28).
     4 Four Pauline letters are addressed to hágioi (Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians). The term draws attention to having been consecrated to God (BAGD 9) and is almost always used in this sense by Paul in the plural (cf. Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:1, 2; 14:33; 16:1, 15; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:12; Eph. 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Phil. 1:1; 4:21, 22; Col. 1:2, 4, 12, 26; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 5:10; Philem. 5, 7). This terminology appears to have been drawn from Israel’s description as a “holy people” (e.g. Ex. 19:6; Psa. 16:3; 34:9; 74:3; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 7:18, 21-22), perhaps indicating Paul’s belief in the continuity between the “saints” of Israel in the past and the Christian “saints” (cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul 44 n. 90, 330, 502, 708).

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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

No Room for the Rapture

     Rapturist theory proposes a twofold return of Christ: first, a secret return to snatch up the church (based on 1 Thess. 4:17); and second, a visible return “with all his saints” (based on 1 Thess. 3:13) to judge the world following the alleged great tribulation. Here is a concise statement of the doctrine: “The Rapture occurs when the Church is caught up to meet Christ in the air, before the tribulation; and The Revelation occurs when Christ comes, with His saints, to end the Tribulation, by the execution of righteous judgment upon the earth. At the Rapture, Christ comes into the air for His saints. At the Revelation, He comes to the earth with them. He certainly must come for them before He can come with them” (W. E. B. Jesus is Coming 75-76, emp. in the text).1
A Biblical Response
     In 1 Thess. 4:17 we read, “then we the living ones remaining will be carried off together with them [those resurrected in Christ] in the clouds for a meeting of the Lord into the air, and so always we will be with the Lord.”2 While modern-day rapturists tend to hone in on the main verb harpagēsómetha (“we will be carried off”), the attention of the original audience (concerned about departed loved ones) would have been drawn to the phrase preceding the main verb, háma sùn autois (“together with them”). The actual word order in the Greek text is as follows: “then we the living ones remaining, together with them will be carried off …”
     Because of the Lord’s victory over death, there is great consolation and reassurance in knowing what lies ahead. In Christ “all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22), and dying is a tremendous gain (Phil. 1:21). The afflictions of this mortal existence are much more bearable considering the promise of that happy reunion with our Savior and with all who have died in him. The only other instance in the NT where the pairing of háma sùn (“together with”) occurs is 1 Thess. 5:10, where the same reassurance is given.
     The verb harpagēsómetha (“we will be carried off”) is the future passive indicative form of hárpaxō, meaning to “seize” or “snatch.” This produced the Latin raptus, the Medieval Latin raptura, the Middle French rapture, and the English “rapture.”3
     Our premillennialist friends claim that the Rapture is part of the secret parousía (“coming”), whereas the visible return is the apokálupsis (“revelation”). The problems with this theory are manifold, not the least of which is the fact that the parousía (1 Thess. 4:15) is to be accompanied by “a loud command,” “an archangel’s voice,” and “God’s trumpet” (v. 16) – hardly a secretive affair! Moreover, the same event is called both the parousía (“presence” or “coming”) and the apokálupsis (“revelation”) of Christ (2 Thess. 1:7; 2:1, 8), immediately followed by “the end” (1 Cor. 15:23-24).
     The concept of Christ coming “with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13) is to be addressed in next week’s post <Link>. For now, suffice it to say that when each passage concerning the Lord’s return is read in its immediate context in light of the overall message of scripture, the modern-day rapture theory cannot stand.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 There are basically three branches of premillennial theory: (a) dispensational [pre-tribulation] premillennialism (the rapture occurs before the 7-years’ tribulation); (b) mid-tribulation (the rapture occurs in the midst of the 7-years’ tribulation); and (c) historic [post-tribulation] premillennialism (the rapture occurs at the end of the 7-years’ tribulation). G. D. Fee, in response to the rapturist interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:17, candidly observes, “Paul himself could hardly have intended such a meaning here …. How could [the Thessalonians] have known about such an ‘event’ otherwise unknown in the church until the mid-nineteenth century?” (Thessalonians 179-80).
     2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     3 The future passive form rapiemur appears in the Latin Vulgate translation of 1 Thess. 4:17.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2018

“In Love” (Eph. 1:4): Our Love or God’s?

     If you compare English translations, you will notice a difference in the positioning of the prepositional phrase “in love” at Ephesians 1:4-5. The NKJV reads, “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us…” The ESV reads, “that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us …” The prepositional phrase en agápē [“in love”] is attached to the preceding words of v. 4 in the ASV, N/KJV, NET, and NRSV, but prefaces what follows in v. 5 in the CSB, ESV, NASB, NIV, and RSV. The former applies to the love of those who are holy and blameless, whereas the latter refers to God’s love.1
     L. T. Lincoln argues that the phrase belongs at the end of the foregoing section and should “be seen as part of the goal election is intended to achieve in those it embraces – a life before God which is holy and blameless and lived in love” (Ephesians WBC 42:17). There seems to be a pattern where each section of the extended thanksgiving ends with an en (“in”) prepositional phrase, and elsewhere in the letter it is the love of the saints that is highlighted (1:15; 3:17; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2, 25a, 28, 33; 6:23, 24) (ibid.).
     On the other hand, divine love is the subject of 2:4; 3:19 (employing the noun agápē) and 2:4; 5:2b, 25b (employing the verbal agapáō).2 Seeing that the love of God undergirds the entire biblical revelation, whether explicitly stated or not, it is certainly understood. There are 116 occurrences of the noun agápē in the NT, seventy-five of which are in Paul’s writings (87%). The verb agapáō appears 137 times in the NT, thirty-four in Paul; and the adjective agapētós (“beloved”) is found sixty-two times in the NT, twenty-eight in Paul.
     The ambiguity might be intentional, compelling readers to think, reflect, interpret, and make application in light of what has already been learned (cf. Acts 20:20, 27). A double nuance pointing in both directions is not inconceivable (cf. 6:23).3 Accordingly, the people of God should be holy and blameless before him in love, while in love he has predestined us – neither to the exclusion of the other.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 F. Foulkes observes, “the differing opinions of translators and commentators ancient and modern indicate that it is not possible to be dogmatic regarding the intention of the writer” (Ephesians 47). In favor of the application to God’s love, see T. K. Abbott, Ephesians 8; C. L. Mitton, Ephesians 50-51. In favor of the application to Christian love, see G. B. Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison 35; J. B. Lightfoot, Notes 313; L. T. Lincoln, Ephesians WBC 42:17; J. A. Robinson, Ephesians 2nd ed. 143.
     2 A form of the noun agápē occurs in 1:4, 15; 2:4; 3:17, 19; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2a; 6:23. The verbal usage appears in 1:6; 2:4; 5:2b, 25[x2], 28[x3], 33; 6:24.
     3 See M. Barth, Ephesians 1:79. T. A. Turner comments, “This wonderful relationship between Redeemer and the redeemed would be one of mutual love” (Study of Ephesians 5).

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