Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Anticipating Christ’s Return: Alarming, Confusing, or Comforting? (Part 1)

     The lengthy discussion in 1 Thess. 4:13–5:11 is the most extensive single account in the NT of Christ’s future return. Even so, much is left unsaid that we might want to know but cannot know with certainty. W. Neil offers a helpful perspective: “the point that Paul is concerned to make has nothing to do with forecasting the manner of the Lord’s Second Coming. All that is incidental though important. Paul’s real interest and emphasis are much more on the fact that if a Christian dies in Christ he remains in Christ. Whatever happens after that ought to give those who loved him no anxiety at all. He is in his true home. Paul is primarily concerned to comfort sorrowing relatives, not to describe the Second Advent” (Thessalonians 99-100).
A Personal Return
     We read in 1 Thess. 4:16, “since the Lord himself (in a loud command, in an archangel’s voice, and in God’s trumpet) will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first …”1 The conjunction “since” [hoti] connects the preceding thought (“the living ones … will not precede those having fallen asleep”) with the succeeding explanation, “the dead in Christ will rise first.” Accordingly, the concise description of the Lord’s return mentioned in between is parenthetical and somewhat incidental.2
     The descent of “the Lord himself'” [emphatic!] reaffirms the divine promise of a personal return (1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; cf. John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11). In the meantime the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5, 6; 4:8)3 and is represented by authorized emissaries (1 Thess. 2:4, 6), and is to be accompanied by angels (2 Thess. 1:7). Nevertheless, a personal appearance will be made as the Lord descends from heaven (cf. 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 1:7).
     The parenthetical description of Christ’s appearing consists of three brief statements each introduced by the preposition en (“in”),4 referring to the mode of descent and circumstances accompanying it. The language used is clearly apocalyptic. “A real event is being described, but it is one which cannot be described literally since the direct activity of God cannot be fully comprehended in human language. The biblical writers have therefore to resort to analogy and metaphor, the language of symbol, in order to convey their message” (I. H. Marshall, Thessalonians 128).
     The accompanying circumstances are described as follows: “in a loud command, in an archangel’s voice, and in God’s trumpet.” The first question is whether this is descriptive of one, two, or three distinct actions? If only one, the last couple of prepositional phrases could be explanations of the first: “in a loud command, which is an archangel’s voice and God’s trumpet.” Another possibility is that the “loud command” is one action, while the other is “an archangel’s voice” that is “God’s trumpet” (cf. Rev. 1:10; 4:1). But the most straightforward reading of the text involves three separate (though interrelated) occurrences.
A Loud Command
     The noun kéleusma [“a loud command,” vb. keleúō, to “command, order, direct”] is a “signal” or “command,” or an “arousing outcry.”4 In secular literature this was a military term used of a commander calling out orders to his soldiers; also of a charioteer commanding his horses, or a hunter directing his dogs, or a boat captain charging the rowers, or a governing official issuing a decree (TDNT 656-59; BDAG 538). The text specifically identifies neither the one delivering the command nor to whom it is directed. Contextually either God (v. 14), an archangel (v. 16), or Jesus (vv. 15-16) could be the source. Seeing that “the Lord himself” is the subject of the sentence, this would parallel Christ’s words in John 5:25, 28, “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those having heard will live …. all those in the tombs will hear his voice.” Accordingly, “the dead in Christ” are the recipients of the loud command (cf. John 11:43).
An Archangel’s Voice
     Another associated action is “an archangel’s voice.” Jude 9 mentions “Michael the archangel,” the only other NT passage to employ the term archággelos – from árchōn [“leader,” “ruler”] + ággelos [“angel”], meaning “chief among angels,” or “leader of angels.”6 In a later first-century apocalyptic text, we read of “Michael and his angels” (Rev. 12:7). Seeing that “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven” Christ will be accompanied by “angels of his power” (2 Thess. 1:7b-9; cf. Matt. 13:39; 25:31; Mark 8:38; Jude 14-15), it would appear that Michael, whose “voice” directs the charge, is the leader of the angelic forces. However, the expression here is noticeably indefinite (“a voice of an archangel”), perhaps to keep the main focus on the event’s principal character, “the Lord himself.”
God’s Trumpet
     The third phenomenon is “God’s trumpet.” In the next recorded description of the parousía, the same imagery is used: “in the last trumpet; for a trumpet will sound …” (1 Cor. 15:52).7 In ancient times the trumpet was rarely used as a musical instrument; it primarily functioned as a signal (TDNT 7:71-88). In Jewish history the trumpet called together an assembly (Num. 10:2-7) and signaled a meeting with God (Ex. 19:13, 16, 19; 20:18). It also issued a warning of danger, impending doom, or approaching judgment (Num. 10:9; Jer. 4:5; 6:17; Ezek. 33:3; 1 Cor. 14:8), particularly divine judgment (Isa. 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zeph. 1:16; Zech. 9:14). Since a trumpet blast is captivating and draws immediate attention (Num. 10:2; Psa. 81:3; Isa. 18:3; Matt. 6:2), the Lord’s return will be no secret! In this particular context, “God’s trumpet” may merely signify the resounding loudness and captivating nature of the commanding voices (cf. Rev. 1:10; 4:1).
     The main point of the narrative is that “the dead in Christ will rise first,” i.e., the living “will by no means precede those having fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15). While all humans will be resurrected in the final day, whether in Christ or otherwise (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15), this is not the focus of the present text. The matter at hand is the fate of “the dead in Christ,” and their future resurrection is assured (cf. Acts 23:6-8; 24:21; 26:23; 1 Cor. 15:12-58). What, then, will happen to those “in Christ” who are still alive at the time? To be addressed in next week’s post.

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 The actual arrangement of words is as follows: “since himself the Lord in a loud command, in an archangel’s voice, and in God’s trumpet will descend …” The brief description here is not intended to be comprehensive but is all the information the Thessalonians presently need to comfort their troubled hearts.
     3 See also John 7:39; 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:12-15; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4.
     4 The same triple use of en occurs in 1 Cor. 15:52, “in [en] an instant, in [en] a twinkling of an eye, in [en] the last trumpet …”
     5 This is the only occurrence of the noun kéleusma in the NT. The verb keleúō is found twenty-six times, all in the writings of Matthew and Luke (Matt. 8:18; 14:9, 19, 28; 18:25; 27:58, 64; Luke 18:40; Acts 4:15; 5:34; 8:38; 12:19; 16:22; 21:33, 34; 22:24, 30; 23:3, 10, 35; 24:8; 25:6, 17, 21, 23; 27:43).
     6 The name “Michael” is applied to “one of the chief princes” in Dan. 10:13, and “the great prince” in Dan. 12:1; cf. also Rev. 12:7. The post-exilic Jews recognized up to seven archangels (Tobias 12.15-22; Testament of Isaac 2.1; 1 Enoch 9.1; 20:1-7; cf. Sybilline Oracle 2.215).
     7 The noun sálpigz (“trumpet”) appears eleven times in the NT. In its literal sense, it is employed for illustrative purposes in 1 Cor. 14:8 and Heb. 12:19. As a symbol in the context of the Lord’s coming, it is used in Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; and 1 Thess. 4:16. All other occurrences are symbolic in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:10; 4:1; 8:2, 6, 13; 9:14). The verb salpísei is the future active indicative third person singular of salpízō (to “sound a trumpet”); although in the active voice, it is consistently rendered in English as passive (CSB, ESV, ISV, N/ASV, NIV, N/KJV, N/RSV), seeing that the third person (“he,” “she,” or “it”) is unidentifiable. The verb occurs twelve times in the NT. In Matt. 6:2 it is used metaphorically in the sense of making a big showing and drawing attention to oneself. Beyond 1 Cor. 15:52, all the other references are in the highly symbolic book of Revelation (8:6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13; 9:1, 13; 10:7; 11:15).

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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Did Paul believe and teach that the return of Christ would be during his lifetime, and was he mistaken?

      Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write to the mid-first-century church of the Thessalonians: “For this we declare to you in the word of the Lord, that we the living ones remaining unto the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those having fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15).1

     “For this,” expounding upon what is to occur at Christ’s second coming, “we declare to you in the word of the Lord…” Paul and his partners were “envoys of Christ” (1 Thess. 2:6), teaching “the word of God” (2:13) “in power and in the Holy Spirit, and much assurance” (1:5), giving instructions “through the Lord Jesus” (4:2). They “have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (2:4) – Paul as an apostle (1 Cor. 9:1), Silvanus as a prophet (Acts 15:32), and Timothy as a spiritually-gifted evangelist (2 Tim. 1:6; 4:5) – passing along what was “received from the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:23) as “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
     The teaching concerns “we the living ones remaining unto the coming [parousía]2 of the Lord …” A number of commentators needlessly infer from this passage that the apostle and his colleagues were anticipating the imminent return of Christ and expected to be alive when he came.3 J. Denney candidly asks, “Is it not better to recognise the obvious fact that Paul was mistaken as to the nearness of the second advent than to torture his words to secure infallibility?” (Thessalonians 177). D. Coggan cites this text, along with 1 Cor. 7:29-31; 15:51, claiming, “It is clear that in the early days of his writing ministry, he viewed that advent as imminent…. Paul clearly was thinking in terms of many of his contemporaries, probably including himself, being present when the Lord came …” (Portrait of a Revolutionary 87, 236). However, Denney and Coggan (and others espousing this view) ignore the Pauline texts that qualify these statements and indicate otherwise. I. H. Marshall maintains that scholars who insist these passages must mean an expected imminent return “misinterpret” them (Thessalonians 127).
     Before legitimate conclusions can be drawn, the broader scope of what is taught must be considered. Uncertainty about the timing of the Lord’s coming is acknowledged just a few verses later: “whether we may watch [be alive] or we may sleep [be dead], we may live together with him” (1 Thess. 5:10). Paul understood that he may or may not still be living when Christ comes (cf. 5:2-3; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:51; 2 Cor. 4:14). While immanency was surely possible, it was never definitively affirmed. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy are simply identifying with their readers, whether they are to be alive or dead at the Lord’s return.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 The term parousía is descriptive of the Lord’s return mostly in the Thessalonian letters (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). Elsewhere in the Pauline writings other expressions used are epipháneia (“appearing,” “manifestation”) (2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Tit. 2:13); and apokálupsis (“revelation”) (2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:7).
       3 See, e.g., G. Bornkamm, Paul 206-207; J. E. Frame, Thessalonians 172-73; A. J. Hultgren, “Pastoral Epistles,” in St Paul [ed. J. Dunn] 143; A. F. Segal, Paul the Convert 161-62.

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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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