Jeremiah now describes the fall of Jerusalem. This is the event of 588-586 BC when Babylon completely took down the walls of the city. Babylon had attacked Jerusalem previously in 597 BC, but it was not a complete destruction. The Jews who survived the destruction of the city rebelled against Babylon, as you would expect them to do. Gedaliah is the governor that Babylon placed in Judah, and this is who the Jews are rebelling against. A group of men conspire together and assassinate Gedaliah, which only serves to further infuriate their Babylonian overlords.
Lest we think that the Jews have learned their lesson, we read chapter 42. They rightly pray for mercy from God. They seek a word from God through Jeremiah. Whatever God says, they will do. Ten days later, God speaks to Jeremiah. God says that the people must stay in the land. God will rebuild them. God also said that if they flee to Egypt for protection and provision, they will face judgment. In their foolishness, many still fled to Egypt for safety, even with a clear word from God through a trusted prophet. The people will not be spared from their sins; God will now send Babylon to sack Egypt. Jeremiah is now taken to Egypt, as well. God sends a word through Jeremiah to the Jews living in Egypt. He has sent no shortage of prophets, but the people continue in their abominations. None of those who left Judah for Egypt will survive. God will send the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to kill Pharaoh Hophra and destabilize all of Egypt. God then sends Jeremiah a word about the impending judgment on several nations: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, far out nations, and finally, Babylon. These are nations that were the enemies of Israel and therefore enemies of God.
2 Timothy 3-4
Paul warns Timothy about what he can expect to experience in his ministry. Paul lists a variety of characteristics for Timothy to monitor in the churches. He pulls from an Old Testament example when Moses was opposed, and in the same way, there will be those who oppose Timothy. But “they will not get very far” (3:9). Timothy, however, must be content with a ministry focused on God’s word. Only the Scriptures are sufficient for life and ministry, which contrast with false teachers who would rather teach a pagan philosophy and pass it off as religion.
Timothy must spend his days being in the word and preaching that word. Preaching and teaching serves these purposes: reproving, rebuking, and exhortation. To reprove is to gently call out a sin in someone’s life. To rebuke is to criticize a philosophy or worldview that is inimical to Christ. To exhort is to call to faithfulness and endurance. Scripture is the only sufficient and necessary means of fulfilling these important parts of the ministry.
Paul finally sends Timothy off with some personal instruction. This primarily has to do with Paul’s travel and his companions in the ministry. He urges charity and compassion on those who are facing difficulty in the complex circumstances of the Christian life.
Paul’s letter to Titus reads a lot like 1 Timothy, so it’s possible they were written around the same time, which would be the mid-60s. Overall, Paul is here concerned with faith being proved by works. This is another good example of how Paul and James are in complete agreement when it relates to the relationship of faith, works, and justification.
Titus is ministering on the island of Crete in churches likely planted by Paul, although that missionary journey is not recorded. After the greeting, Paul moves right into the necessary qualifications for church leaders. Note that most of what Paul says consists of character qualifications and not skillsets. Most of these qualifications are not controversial in any way, save maybe the faithfulness of an elder’s children. How can a father ensure his children will become Christians? Is that not the Spirit’s work?
What Paul is likely saying is not that a man can only become an elder if his children are already Christians but that they are being discipled as Christians and not reeling against their father. Paul says something similar in 1 Timothy 3, and there Paul only mentions that the children of an elder/overseer must be well-behaved. This heavily implies that Paul is focused on order in the household, not necessarily conversion. The primary qualification of an elder is sound, biblical character and the ability to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9).
While there are others want to bring in popular teachings that go far beyond the word of God, Titus must “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). This looks like encouraging people with the word of God in every stage of life and in every circumstance in life. The gospel moves us to be self-controlled while we wait for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Titus will face plenty of discouragement throughout his ministry, but he must be a strong, devoted man who cares little if any regards him as foolish.
Some people are quarrelsome, and Titus is to call it out when he sees it. Christian maturity is not pugnacious. Even amidst disagreement, we must be gentle and respectful to our brothers and sisters. After all, were we not all once at war with God? So Titus must avoid anything quarrelsome. That’s not to say that Titus must avoid controversial issues; but he must direct the church back to the word of God, which is the only means of settling the issue. Some issues are necessarily controversial, and in other cases, there are “foolish” controversies (3:9). Let the word of God decide. If there are those who insist on being quarrelsome over foolish controversies, warn them twice, then remove them from fellowship. It is not worth poisoning the whole church because of one person’s or one group’s hobby horse.
Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters. Philemon must have a been a man of some wealth and standing, because he had at least one slave. Slavery in the ancient world is a mixed bag, but it must be said that we should not unthinkingly assume slavery at one time in the same as slavery in another. Chattel-style slavery of early America was the purchase of people as property. The entire framework behind the mid-Atlantic slave trade was that if you paid money, you could treat another human being as if they were a piece of farm equipment. It was wicked, and the good people of that age, primarily Christians, were right to abolish it.
There were many forms of slavery in the ancient world. First-century Rome knew of many of them. Some were viewed as property. Some were working off a debt. Some were seeking citizenship. It seems as if the situation that Onesimus finds himself in resembles something between a debt relationship and property. Otherwise, it seems unlikely that Paul would want Philemon to receive Onesimus, a runaway slave, as a brother in Christ. Paul stops short of asking for Onesimus’s freedom. He simply wants Philemon to treat Onesimus as he would any other brother.
At some point in the time between Onesimus running away and Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul had been a player in Onesimus’s conversion to Christ. That new reality necessarily changes the relationship between master and slave. There are too many other passages in Paul’s letters to say that slavery in every form is sinful. It is beyond dispute that many forms of slavery are nothing short of oppression and are therefore evil. But can we say the same for those paying off a debt? What about those who willingly enter into a master-slave relationship for the mutual benefits?
When English translators translate the Greek word δοῦλος, or doulos, they have the difficult decision of whether to use the word “slave” with all of its connotations, even though that’s literally what the word means. Most translations select either slave, servant, or bondservant in different contexts. But we cannot move away from the fact that 1 Peter 2:16 calls Christians δοῦλος of Christ, or slaves to Christ. So slavery does carry a theological sense. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. Slavery is a common image of the believer’s relationship to Christ. Marriage is a common image for the relationship between Christ and the church, much like how adoption is a common image for the relationship between God the Father and the believer. We must understand these images as Scripture uses them and not load them down with contemporary weight.
The book of Hebrews is all about how Jesus is better than the angels, Moses, priesthood, and the old covenant. The Jewish people highly valued all of these things, and the author of Hebrews is dedicated to showing how those things actually point to Jesus, which is why he’s better than them. The real thing is better than the substitute. The movie is better than the script. Jesus is better than everything that came before. Jesus has always been the point, but before getting to Jesus, God used other people, places, and events to prepare us for the coming of Jesus. Since before creation, God had a plan to save sinners. The point here is that everything else that came before Jesus was like the trailer for the movie.
The Exodus? To show us that God draws us out of wickedness into righteousness. The priests? To show that Jesus talks to God for us. The sacrifices? To show us how evil sin really is. The temple? To show us that worship is based on what God says, not what we say. The kings? To show us that God is our only righteous ruler. All the Old Testament expectations are fulfilled in Christ. This is Hebrews’ point.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3:19, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Paul is saying much more there, but for our purposes the point is that angels delivered the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Earlier in Galatians, Paul wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the on ewe preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Angels are God’s mediators, or servants. They are the go-betweens. And they only serve the purposes of God.
In Hebrews 1, we’re given seven reasons why Jesus is better than the angels:
The book of Hebrews does have its interpretive difficulties. One of those is the presence of what have been called the “warning passages”. These passages warn believers about falling away from God’s grace. Some have interpreted these to say that the believer may truly be declared just by God at a point in time, but it is possible to fall away from grace to such a degree to lose that justification. I believe that to be a cursory reading of the warning passages that avoids their overall context.
The first of these warnings is Hebrews 2:1-4. The point is that since the message delivered by angels came with curses fore disobedience, what kind of curse must the message delivered by Jesus bring? What the author is not saying is that the believer can ever reject that message. He is simply warning against what happens when people are confronted with that message and then reject it.
Even though chapter 3 is a part of this week’s reading plan, we will address chapter 3 next week since the author clearly has Moses as a different section from chapters 1-2.
Several kings and their armies have laid siege on Jerusalem. God sends Jeremiah out with a prophetic performance. He is to yoke himself like an animal and present himself before the kings. The point is that God will actually make these nations subservient to Babylon, not Judah. God even calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant! This is further evidence of all creation being under God’s sovereign sway. Of course, Nebuchadnezzar is only unwittingly God’s servant, but he is God’s servant nevertheless. These nations will be under the yoke of Babylon. God also promises that the exiles will return in two years, as well as the temple artifacts that were taken when Jerusalem was sacked. Another prophet, Hananiah, then takes the yoke off of Jeremiah to show that God will even break the yoke that Babylon has over Jerusalem by having the Jews return to their land.
Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles still in Babylon. He calls for them to settle down, build businesses, and raise families. They are to seek the good of the city they are in. This would have had to have been a difficult word to hear. How could the people not be overcome with anxiety and bitterness? But Jeremiah also tells them that the exile will last a period of 70 years. The times are in God’s hand; they will be released at the proper time. This prophecy will come true, which is the test of a true prophet. There are many other false prophets sending a very different message than Jeremiah’s.
While all of Jeremiah’s prophecies are significant, one does stand out. In chapter 31, the new covenant made in Christ’s blood is specifically foretold. Not only will it be a new covenant, but it will be entirely different. This passage is incredibly significant for the two distinctive facets of Baptist ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church): regenerate church membership and credobaptism (or believer’s baptism).
God tells Jeremiah that he will write the law on our hearts and that those in the new covenant will not need to teach anyone about knowing God. That does not mean there is no teaching ministry in the church, otherwise there would not be specific mention of teachers and preachers in the New Testament. What that refers to is the distinction between the redemptive application of the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant, the law had no redemptive power. Not all of Israel was redeemed or regenerated. To be a full-fledged member of Israel, you were bound to keep the law. There were certain laws that if broken required being expelled from the nation. But under the new covenant, God has sealed us already. Every covenant member is truly born again. Yes, there are those who act like Christians without ever being converted. And yes, those people might at times be difficult to pinpoint. But there is a categorical distinction between the lack of redemptive power of the law and the perfect redeeming power of the blood of Christ.
When the English Puritans were still seeking reform in the church of England, they did not see how a state-church fit the biblical model of the church. They read passages like Jeremiah 31 and saw that only the regenerate were truly members of Christ’s church. No one was born in to the church by virtue of having Christian parents or especially by virtue of being born in a Christian nation. It was their ecclesiology that led to them to consider credobaptism. The New Testament witness of repentance and baptism leading to church membership should be normative, not the other way around. So, these English Puritans were derogatorily called “baptists” because of their high view of baptism.
God then has Jeremiah buy land in Judah even though it is under seige. The point again is that the land will be returned to the Jews, and this serves as a sign and a promise. This prophecy is interesting because Jeremiah doesn’t understand the point of it. But God kindly answers Jeremiah, reminding them that the authority to do to the land what he wishes is his right. Since the people have abandoned the covenant, he will turn them over to foreign powers for a time of discipline and judgment. But God will restore their fortunes in jealousy for his own name and love for his own people. God will restore joy to the people. The land will no longer be a wasteland but will be full of people and animals. The eternal covenant made with David will be fulfilled in the coming of a righteous branch, Christ Jesus.
God continues to restore his people. Then Jeremiah sends Baruch, his assistant, to the temple to read a prophecy. The people hear him and tell Jeremiah and Baruch to hide. King Jehoiakim is furious that anyone would prophecy against him and against Israel, so he burns the scroll. Baruch records Jeremiah’s words again, plus many more, and gives it again to Jehoiakim.
Jeremiah is later arrested on charges of desertion. He claims his innocence, but he is imprisoned anyway. King Zedekiah asks to hear from Jeremiah, if he has a word from the Lord. Jeremiah does in fact, and he assures Zedekiah that he will be spared from Babylon. Zedekiah keeps Jeremiah safe and feeds him. But Jeremiah is still prophesying the worst is yet to come. The people simply won’t stand for it, and he is thrown into a cistern. Zedekiah turns from his word and does nothing to keep Jeremiah safe.
A eunuch who worked for the king saves Jeremiah. He tells Zedekiah what has happened to Jeremiah, and he is given thirty men to help. Jeremiah doesn’t really trust Zedekiah anymore, but Zedekiah wants another word from the Lord. Jeremiah insists that Zedekiah promise to protect him if he tells him. Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that if Zedekiah gives himself over to Babylon upon the invasion, his life will be spared.
2 Thessalonians 3
Paul warns the Thessalonians about idleness. It’s not explicit, but there does seem to be some logic in that many were confused about the end of this age and therefore decided that work and production was futile. Any eschatology that understands the Christian life as kicking back and waiting for the end is not biblical. Regardless of your particular views on the various components of the end-times, Jesus gives plenty of parables in Matthew 25 about staying sober and ready for his return. It is not in dispute. What Paul does here is take that to its logical conclusion and affirm that Christians must still seek the welfare of the city in which they find themselves.
1 Timothy 1-6
Some have argued that since 1-2 Timothy and Titus focus heavily on church order rather than the Holy Spirit leading the church that Paul did not write these letters. But that just indicates a lack of reading comprehension. Even back in Acts 20, Paul addresses church elders. The church has had leadership since its inception, beginning with the apostles. The Jerusalem council is a council of men giving direction to the early church.
This book highlights in short form the similarities between Paul and James. Both of them use the term “justification” differently, which has led some to believe that they disagree on the place of works in the Christian life. But context makes clear that Paul is focused on the how of justification in books like Romans and Galatians, and James is focused on the end of justification. Paul speaks about justification as God declaring us to be righteous. James speaks of justification as our demonstration of that righteousness. In 1 Timothy, Paul somewhat bridges that gap in our understanding. He focuses on how the gospel leads to godliness.
He opens with a traditional greeting and quickly moves to a warning against false teachers. He mentions “myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculate rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:3). In the early church, one of the ways that pseudo-Christian groups went off the rails was by using the apocryphal books and Old Testament genealogies as means of special knowledge not found in Scripture. Paul says that those things do not belong in Christian teaching and doctrine. Stick to the word that’s more fully confirmed, not the speculative nonsense that’s so ready available. Stick to the word “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11), which is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
The gospel has implications for daily living and how the church governs herself. The Christian prays for everyone. We do not back down from engaging the world, and we primarily do it by praying that God would intervene. He goes to say that the way the church orders herself in worship is a sign of how we will live in the world. Is worship orderly and reverent, or do we focus on fun and entertainment? Paul clearly articulates the need for order and reverence in worship when he calls for the proper way of praying and modesty.
This is the context for Paul calling for wives to learn quietly. Paul roots this command (“I do not permit…”) in creation, not competency. Women are not trophies to be kept clean and quiet on a shelf. The basis for this command is that Adam was formed first and that Eve was deceived first. This command is still binding today because Paul does not root it in cultural situations or something education levels. Church order, like marriage, is a living parable of Christ and the church. The Greek words for “man” and “woman” can sometimes mean “husband” and “wife” in the right context. But since Paul is speaking about the church and not marriage, “man” and “woman” are what he has in mind.
The mention of women being saved through childbearing is difficult, no doubt. Paul never teaches that women attain salvation by having a child. Otherwise, barren women are damned from the outset. The Greek sozo, or “saved”, is used multiple ways, depending on context. Here, in the context of church order, Paul must not be referring to how a person is saved, since they are already in the church; that is always by grace through faith. Sozo can also refer to the progressive sanctification of the Christian life (IE, was saved, am being saved, will be saved, as in Philippians 2:12-13). Only in the modern age have we said that a women’s role as a child-bearer and a mother is a second-class station in life. That is the fruit of wicked ideology that seeks to undermine the family. While we should not make the other extreme error and worship mothers, in no way, shape, or form does motherhood ruin a woman’s life.
Paul then lists the qualifications for those in church leadership, those of elders and of deacons. You’ll notice that they are primarily character qualifications. The only significant difference between elders and deacons mentioned here is the requirement that elders be teachers (3:2). And no matter how charismatic or gifted a person is, there is no substitute for time as a believer (3:6). “Recent” might be determined in the local church context since no specific time in mentioned here. It’s noteworthy that both elders and deacons must be leaders in their homes.
Since women are not to teach or have authority over a man, and since Paul mentions the elder must be the husband of one wife, it stands that the office of elder is reserved for men. Again, it’s not because of competency but because of creation. For deacons, however, the issue of women serving in that office is less obvious. Some translations include the word “their” in 3:11, implying that “their wives” refers to the wives of the deacons, meaning that deacons must be qualified men. However, “their” is not in the text, and “wives” can also mean “women”, depending on the context. It is not out of bounds to suggest that what Paul is saying is that women serving as deacons “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (3:11). Then verse 12 indicates that male deacons should not have multiple wives, which was not unheard of in that day. Women did not have multiple husbands at one time, so there was no need to mention it. This is somewhat circumstantial, I must admit. But in sticking to the words of text, I believe firmly but charitably, Paul does permit women to serve as deacons but never as elders, especially since deacons are not called to be leaders or teachers as elders clearly are.
So can women teach at all? There are other passages that clearly commend the teaching of women to children and other women (2 Tim. 1:5, Titus 2:4). But what about other areas, such as Bible studies? What about Sunday school? What if other adults are in the room? Where is the line dividing faithfulness and disobedience?
Colossians 3:16 calls all believers to be teachers. In Acts 18, a husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla, take a teacher, Apollo, aside to give him a correction in his teaching. Priscilla is mentioned explicitly as contributing to that scenario. Paul mentions women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. So clearly, there is not a full-blown barrier to women teaching in mixed contexts. I believe wisdom calls for case-by-case decisions. For instance, at Mt. Pisgah, Sunday school curriculum is determined by the pastors. Can a woman teach it? We believe the answer is yes. Is it gathered worship? No. Can a woman teach a mixed-group Bible study? Is she usurping the pastors on central Christian doctrines? If no, then yes, she can instruct a group of men and women. Women, by definition, cannot fulfill the office and function of elder. But then again, neither can unqualified men.
Paul goes on to say that if the church focuses on spiritual maturity, order, and reverence, that some will abandon the church because of it. By sticking to the gospel of Christ crucified and biblical church order, we will offend some. But let them be offended by the truth instead of God being offended by substandard worship.
Paul ends with some general, final instructions. Take care of widows and orphans. Let young windows remarry with a clear conscience. Respect your church elders. Let servants respect their masters. Excommunicate false teachers. Pursue righteousness. Guard the deposit of faith.
2 Timothy 1-2
This letter was likely written during a Roman imprisonment after the end of the book of Acts, making this Paul’s final letter. The purpose of this letter is to call Timothy, and us by extension, to greater faithfulness even in the midst of suffering. Don’t let suffering make you think that God’s plan has been undone. You are exactly where he wants you.
After a traditional greeting, Paul remarks that Timothy shows fruit of real faith. He was faithfully taught by his mother and grandmother, as well as Paul. So he should guard that with all his might. When this world mocks you and hates, don’t be ashamed of the one who died for you. There are many who have done just that—they have abandoned both Paul and the faith.
But Paul calls Timothy to be a good soldier. Stick to the teaching of the gospel. Say the same things over and over. Persevere through difficulty and mockery. Soldiers focus on the one who enlisted them, not on their own gain. What awaits for us, what was earned for us by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, doesn’t begin to compare to what we’re going through now. Rightly handle the word of God. Irreverent babble, or disrespectful and foolish teaching, marks much of contemporary teaching. But we must stick to the Scriptures and nothing else.
Timothy is much younger than Paul, so Paul warns him about youthful passions. They are strong, but the gospel is stronger. When we’re young, we’re prone to the latest controversies. The same was true in Timothy’s day. Paul encourages him to move beyond that. Don’t be quarrelsome, but stick to the Scriptures.
Jeremiah takes note of how bad things are in Judah. Evil people prosper, and the land is not producing anything. He brings these issues to God in prayer. And God responds, but he tells Jeremiah that things will get worse. His own family will turn their backs on him. The state of affairs in Judah is squarely on the shoulders of the people who have turned their backs on God and the covenant.
Jeremiah is given a handful of symbolic acts throughout his ministry to show the people of Judah. One is the spoiled loincloth to represent God spoiling the pride that Israel has in themselves. Another symbolic image is of drunkenness. While the people presume upon God’s grace to have their wine vats filled, God will actually fill the people with drunkenness for their sins. Keep in mind that Jeremiah ministers both before and partly during the Babylonian exile. God gives Jeremiah a vision of the forthcoming exile to preach to the people. Foes will come from the north, invade the land, and take many hostages. God will expose their true natures and all their sins. In addition to exile, God will send many other judgments on his rebellious people. This will include famine, wars, pestilence, and false prophets. These judgments are to show the people how far they have fallen.
Perhaps most horrifying in all of this is God’s insistence that judgment will take place. Chapter 15 assures the people that if God has destined some to die by pestilence, it will take place in short order. If some have been destined by God to die in battle, it will take place in short oder. The same goes for famine and exile (chs. 15-16). The notion of “destroyers” are mentioned in the Olive Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21) and Revelation 6. They are relatively common prophetic images of judgment on sin. While judgment is a certainty, it is not without mercy. After judgment, God will save and deliver his people (15:20, 16:14-21).
Israel’s collective heart has become stone (17:1). They break the covenant every moment of every day by living in reckless rebellion. They even teach their children to do the same. God’s anger will “burn forever”, which is a way of saying “until it is satisfied”. When Jeremiah prays for salvation and deliverance, God simply tells Jeremiah to preach repentance and keeping the conditions of the covenant, summarized by the Sabbath.
The next symbolic image is of the potter. The potter has right to do with the clay whatever he pleases. If the clay spoils, he can start over and make something new. In the same way, Israel is the clay in God’s hands. The apostle Paul uses the same imagery again in Romans 9 to communicate the same idea. God is also “shaping disaster” against Israel for their stubborn hearts. Even after this prophetic call to repentance, the people insist on living their lives apart from the covenant, to the point they decide that the whole nation will no longer Jeremiah.
Another symbolic image is the broken flask. Jeremiah will speak God’s words of judgment and then throw the flask to the ground, and this will symbolize God breaking the people and the city. Topheth was a cemetery already filled to the max with dead bodies. God will make Jerusalem like a full cemetery.
Not only have the people decided to no longer listen to Jeremiah’s prophecy, but the priest Pashhur beats him and puts him in the stocks. In return, Jeremiah assures Pashhur that he and his friends, those who believed his false prophecy, will be among those going into exile. King Zedekiah sent Pashhur to Jeremiah for a word from God. Jeremiah sends word back to Zedekiah, saying that not only will God still send the Babylonians but that God will also fight against Judah. Their sin is so great that they are blinded to the reality that they have been so disobedient. Their hearts are so hardened that they still expect God to be on their side instead of them being on God’s side.
One of the primary charges against Israel is against the priests. They have abdicated their responsibilities, namely that of teaching the people to obey the law of God. That is tantamount to hating the people. God will send a new shepherd to love and teach the people. This shepherd will be a priest, but God tells Jeremiah that he will also be a king, or, a branch from the root of David. Here we see the king-priest theme once again. Under the old covenant, the monarchy and the priesthood were intentionally kept distinct. Kings like Saul were condemned for usurping the priests and performing sacrifices themselves. Under the new covenant, the roles of priest and king will be reunited as they were in Melchizedek. Jesus Christ is our great shepherd and priest-king.
Chapter 24 notes that exile has already started. Jeremiah sees a vision of two baskets of figs in the temple. One contains ripe figs and another contains bad figs. In the same way, God will separate the good and the bad exiles. Those who God has chosen he will return to the land. God then tells Jeremiah that the exile will cover 70 years (25:11-12). The first exile started in 605 BC, and 70 years later would be 535 BC. However, some exiles returned in 538 BC. So it is likely that 70 is an intentionally rounded number. For instance, Psalm 90 says that the number of our years is 70, meaning the average lifespan is 70 years, or 80 years in a strong man (v.10). Context determines the literality of a number. The prophet Daniel, while in exile in Babylon, began praying for an end to exile when he read this section.
The cup of God’s wrath is a common prophetic image of what God has in store. As he pours out his cup, his wrath is manifested. As Jeremiah is prophesying, the people become infuriated to the point they try to kill him in the temple. Jeremiah again calls for the people to repent. But he will die a martyr’s death if it comes to that. However, that will bring more innocent blood on their hands. Ahikam son of Shaphan pipes up and speaks sensibly. He reminds the people that another prophet in the past prophesied similar things and was spared from death. If he’s a prophet, then there is no stopping what God has decreed. If they continue in killing Jeremiah, they will have only heaped judgment upon themselves.
Paul asks a rhetorical “if…then” statement. If you have been raised with Christ, then seek the things where Christ is. You could also say, “Since you’ve been raised to new life in Christ, your mind should necessarily be on the things of heaven.” That’s the positive impact of being raised to new life. The negative side of it is that we must mortify, or put to the death, the sin that remains. Paul makes a list of vices that summarize the sins we must put to death. The opposite of mortification is vivification. We kill what seeks to kill us, and we bring to life the things that are above, which Paul then lists as compassion, kindness, humility meekness, and patience.
As Paul often does, he briefly addresses how the gospel moves in the home. The family was the first institution ordained by God, so it is right to spend some significant time focused on it. Wives submit to their husbands. Husbands love their wives, and fathers do not discourage their children. Children obey to their parents. Bondservants obey their masters.
Paul then says farewell to the church at Collosae. He urges them to keep in prayer, primarily that the word of God would expand and grow into more of the world. In addition to prayer, keep a watch on your life. Don’t give unbelievers an excuse to hate you beyond your faith in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1-5
1 Thessalonians was likely the first letter Paul wrote, probably around AD 52. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that it was God who chose them, not the other way around. Why is salvation so astounding? Because the rebels were forgiven by the one rebelled against. The rebels didn’t gravel and hope for the best. In salvation, we receive the word and the Spirit. Now, we turn from our idols and wait for the Son to return.
Paul and his associates have had a hard time as apostles, but that has served to confirm their ministry. No one would withstand what they have time and time again without a clear commission from God. Once Paul got to Thessalonica, he was received warmly. He says that he was gentle like a nursing mother (1:7) and encouraging like a father (1:11-12). Because of the power of the gospel, the Thessalonians received the word of God in power.
This letter arrives between visits from Paul. He hopes to be able to see them again in person. He was adamant about knowing their current state of affairs, so he sent Timothy to get the latest updates. It was Timothy’s good report that has sustained Paul during his many persecutions. Because of this love he has for the Thessalonians, he prays that God would do even more for them and increase their joy. He encourages them to stay on the path of brotherly love. Stay sexually pure. Live quiet lives.
Probably the most famous passage of 1 Thessalonians is 4:13-17, which concerns the rapture. While it does teach a rapture, Paul’s primary purpose in this section is to comfort the minds of those who are concerned about those believers who have already died. What concerns me is the prooftexting that uses this passage to support a pretribulational rapture.
When Paul says that God will “bring” (ago) with him those who have died (4:14), it most likely cannot be referring to those who were raptured 3.5 or 7 years earlier. He is speaking of the same people in v.16 who are raised first and yet are already with Christ in v.17. So who Christ is bringing with him are the souls of those who have already died. Those who are living at his return are “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v.17). It is clear, and makes more sense, that the dead in Christ return to the earth at the rapture than those left alive meet him in the air and go to heaven for seven years, which is not mentioned at all. Christ’s return and both the resurrection of the dead and the glorification of the living take place simultaneously.
“Caught up” is harpazo, which means to be seized by force. Meeting Christ in the air should be no surprise. At his ascension, the angels tell the disciples that he will return the same way he left (Acts 1:11). Paul is using a common Roman image of meeting a victorious army outside the gates and parading back into the city with them. He calls out his people to return to his kingdom with him, which perfectly lines up if he is returning with the intent of establishing his millennial kingdom.
The word for “meet” is the same word used in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:6, “apantēsis”. The five wise virgins are prepared for the groom’s arrival. And once he arrives, and they immediately go to the marriage feast. There is no interval of time between meeting him and the feast. In Matthew 25:6, “Come out to meet him”, is the same verb used in the phrase “meet the Lord in the air” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Again, the five wise virgins meet their groom and go immediately to the marriage supper. That would imply that, because the invitation to the marriage supper of lamb is announced in Revelation 18 (even though it does not happen yet), and since Christ returns in Revelation 19, meeting the Lord in the air is simultaneous with his return.
If the rapture takes place at the conclusion of the tribulation, some ask, “What’s the point of meeting Jesus in the air and returning immediately to the earth?” The same question can be asked of those who hold to a pretribulational rapture. What’s the point of bringing those who have fallen asleep and returning immediately to heaven? Both sides have to answer that question. It’s not a slam-dunk for either side.
Keeping in the mind the chapter divisions are arbitrary and not original, Paul is actually continuing his argument at the beginning of chapter 5. He is saying that the believers do not need to be taught anything else about the second coming because they know it will happen in an instant. Even though a pregnant woman knows she will give labor, the exact moment is unknown to her. And in 5:6, we read that we should be awake for when the time comes. Note, we are not to stay sober and wait for the rapture but for the day of the Lord, which is universally the day of wrath, or the day of judgment.
In 5:9, Paul does tell us that we are not destined for wrath but for salvation. Some argue that this means we will not be present for the tribulation when God’s wrath is poured out. But that is assuming a lot from a single verse when many others mention God’s people being preserved even amidst wrath. When Jesus speaks of the end of the age in Matthew 24, he intentionally uses the story of Noah to say what the last days will be like. Noah was spared from wrath, but he was present for it.
Paul then says his typical farewell. The word “encourage” comes up throughout the letter, especially at the end. We would do well to encourage our fellow believers, and ourselves, with Paul’s words in this letter.
2 Thessalonians 1-2
Paul is adamant that they understand Christ has absolutely not returned yet. Some people had argued that he had secretly returned, invisible to the human eye, and they had missed it. It’s the same problem as dispensationalism. They argue that the rapture will be secret and invisible. People will just disappear. It’s an old problem. But John writes in Revelation 1:7, “Behold he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse that his return will be as visible as a lightning strike in the sky (Matthew 24:27). Paul had taught that there would be a rapture in his first letter to them, so now he’s writing to confirm that it hasn’t happened. It will not be missed. He says that those who say the rapture has already happened, or that it is a secret, are deceiving you (v.3).
The dispensationalist and the preterist have wildly different methods, but they wind up saying the same thing about the rapture. Preterists say that Christ coming in judgment in AD 70 was an invisible return. In fact, it was so invisible that no one living at that time wrote about it as if it was the second coming of Christ. The dispensationalist says that the rapture hasn’t happened yet, but when it does, it will be invisible and a secret. There will be no signs that come before it.
In 2:3-4, he lays out a sequence of events similar to the various “sevens” in Revelation. The rebellion against God’s people takes place, the antichrist/man of lawlessness/son of destruction (also the abomination of desolation from Daniel) is revealed and attempts to take over worship from God. He will try to make true believers worship him, but they won’t, which is why they are killed. But the antichrist is being restrained right now, meaning he will be released later (v.6). V.7 says that “he” is restraining the man of lawlessness, so God is restraining the antichrist until his appointed time.
The man of lawlessness is presently restrained, but the mystery of lawlessness is at work (v.7). There will always be forces at work to deter true worship of God. But when the restraining ends and the lawless one is revealed, Jesus will destroy him—how and when? “By the appearance of his coming” (v.8). The antichrist is destroyed at the second coming.
John writes in Revelation 19 that the beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire at Christ’s second coming, never to be seen again, and Paul says the same thing here in a less apocalyptic way. 2:9 makes it even clearer that the man of lawlessness works for Satan. He will do false signs and wonders. In the same way the various sevens of Revelation are to show that the unregenerate will never love God despite his clear punishments, Paul here writes that the lawless one’s followers “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v.10). In my estimation, Paul’s “man of lawlessness" is John's “beast”.
These chapters continue God’s words of comfort and promise of restoration for his people. I want to focus primarily on chapter 65 where Isaiah speaks of the new creation. This passage is often used as a prooftext for the premillennial view of Christ’s return. This position holds that Christ’s return precedes (hence, pre-) an earthly reign of 1000 years when Satan is bound and inactive. At the conclusion of the 1000 years, Satan is released to instigate a failed rebellion, Christ banishes him eternally to the lake of fire, and he establishes the new heavens and new earth.
There are other views that harmonize the relevant passages differently. Postmillennialism argues that this current age ends with a period of heightened churchly influence, and Christ returns at the conclusion of that time. Amillennialism argues that the millennium is not literal but is how Revelation 20:1-6 describes the current age. Therefore, Christ simply returns at a point in the future, and that is the end of this age.
I affirm premillennialism, but if we interpret this passage the way the New Testament apostles do, this passage must be referring to the eternal state and not the millennium. It’s better to stick to the primary texts than scour the Bible for a prooftext and skew the meaning to fit our predetermined interpretation.
Both Peter and John reference Isaiah 65:17 (“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”). 2 Peter 3:13 says, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Immediately before this, Peter says that “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). These things take place not before but after the millennium. The new heaven and the new earth come after the current heaven and earth is gone.
John writes in Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” John places the new heaven and new earth after the conclusion of the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6. Both of these New Testament authors reference the Isaiah passage and apply it directly to the eternal state.
One reason (we) premillennialists often apply Isaiah 65:17-25 to the millennial reign of Christ is that Isaiah speaks of things that will eradicated in the eternal state, primarily death, and yet a young man will die at age 100. What’s going on here? Isaiah also says that former things will not be remembered (v.17). In the context of there being no weeping or crying or death, we should not interpret this to mean that our memories are wiped clean but that we will no longer remember our sins, just as God has done.
If we consistently apply the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture, and if we see that the New Testament applies this passage specifically to the eternal state and not the millennium, then we must interpret the verses concerning long life in a corresponding manner. Instead of just saying that death will be no more, much like the apostle Paul would do, the prophet Isaiah speaks metaphorically. Metaphor does not negate or preclude interpreting the text based on grammar and historical context. In fact, metaphor springs forth naturally from reading the text according to the rules of grammar and history.
We read about long life, peace and security, enjoying our work, peace in the animal kingdom, and the presence of God in our midst. This is all about the return to the state of things before death entered the picture. Could this be anything other than a call back to Eden? If not, what is the overwhelming amount of Edenic allusions pointing to? We have to reconcile verse 19 with verse 20. There will be no more weeping or crying in verse 19, but the age of 100 will be considered young in verse 20. They are easily harmonized if Isaiah is speaking metaphorically. Again, that interpretation rises naturally from the next, not from an exaggerated imagination.
The prophet Jeremiah is a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah from the tribe of Benjamin. He ministers to Judah before the exile begins, and his ministry of one of warning. Jeremiah lives between the splitting of the kingdoms between north and south and the beginning of the Babylonian exile. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721 BC. Shortly after, Babylon conquered Assyria. By 586 BC, Babylon had conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah died in roughly 570 BC, so he saw a little over a decade of the seventy-year exile and prophesied for about forty years.
Early in the book we read a clear description of the work of a prophet. “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). Jeremiah, as well as every other true prophet, is not speaking his own words but the words given him to speak from God. Therefore, when prophet speaks, it is the same as if God himself were speaking. Jeremiah’s prophecies are common to all the major prophets: Israel’s failure to keep the covenant, the consequences of that failure, and God’s mercy in the giving of a new covenant.
Israel is a nation that resembles a lot of the spiritual life: a lot of energy and commitment in the beginning but a dwindling amount as time goes on. Chapter 2-3 are a series of charges levied against Israel for all the various ways they have broken the covenant. Worship is idolatrous and marriages are broken. But in his mercy, God calls his people to repentance instead of destroying them. God calls them to acknowledge their evil ways. He is merciful, so why do they continue to wait? Repentance is characterized as circumcision, which in the ancient world was indicative of separation. Typically, only the priests of any given religion, and therefore the most pure, were circumcised. God is calling for even greater purity by a circumcision of the heart. In chapter 6, God will call for circumcised ears so that the people will listen (v.10).
God specifically calls for the invasion of enemies from the north in chapter 4. It is Judah’s own sin that has brought this about. They have no one to blame but themselves; it has “reached their very heart” (4:18). Such judgment is painful to Jeremiah to watch. He knows that what God says will happen is about to come true, and he’s watching the people continue in their way of life. He has a broken heart (4:19). He will later again comment on his grief (8:18-9:26).
And yet, the people continue in their defiance of the covenant. In all the ongoing displays of God’s mercy, the Jews refuse to repent and receive God’s overflowing mercy. Not only that, but the Jews refuse to believe that God will be true to his word and judge them (5:12). They can refuse to turn to him, and yet, God will be merciful anyway. God has a plan for his people, and nothing they do will thwart his plan. “But even in those days, declares the Lord, I will not make a full end of you” (5:18). Our sin does not override God’s eternal plan. God tells the people to flee because of what the people will experience if they stay (6:1). The land will face great devastation.
God sends Jeremiah to the temple (ch. 7). The people and the priests have an objective view of the temple, meaning that they think if they follow the letter of the law when it comes to sacrifices and offerings that God will owe them his protection and provision. That is not the case. God tells them, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” (7:5-7). Keeping the covenant goes far beyond religious rites; it is a spirit of love and obedience to God and his covenant. As God told their forefathers at Mt. Sinai, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you” (7:23). Any sense of obedience is a pretense (8:8).
Judah is following in the idolatrous paths of the surrounding nations. God compares lifeless idols to “scarecrows in a cucumber field” (10:5). They were placed there by humans and offer the humans nothing in return but a false sense of security. God’s wrath brings the earth to its knees while the idols are sitting there doing nothing.
God sends Jeremiah throughout the kingdom of Judah urging the people to return to the covenant (11:6). The people have created as many idols as their neighbors. The Jews will turn to the idols and wonder why they aren’t doing more to help the people from their suffering, but they will not turn to the one, true God. Their sin is so great and God’s will is so decisive that God tells Jeremiah, “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf” (11:14). That seems harsh, but it is an appropriate response to generations of idolatry. Is God worthy of perfect worship apart from all idolatry, or is he not?
Philippians is a special letter where both Paul and Timothy are shown to have had a hand in writing it. The letter reads like Paul, so the writing process probably looked like Timothy writing as Paul dictated. Philippians is one of Paul’s four letter written in prison (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians). Though Paul is in prison, Philippians is often called the letter of joy because of its content. His primary concern is that regardless of what happens to him, whether life or death, that the gospel remains the primary concern of the Christians at Philippi.
This letter is not the first appearance of Philippi in Scripture. In Acts 16, Paul is in Philippi and leads several to Christ. We meet Lydia, a possessed girl, and a jailor. Philippi would be the site of the first church in Europe. Paul begins by urging the Philippians to be thankful regardless of their circumstances. He wants them to be sober, awake, and ready when Christ returns (“the day of Christ”, 1:10). Even in a prison cell, Paul’s theology of God and his sovereignty keeps him focused on what lies ahead. What has happened to him increases the spread of the gospel (1:12). Even those who preach from a place of greed and self-interest are actually serving to promote the gospel. Even if that’s the case, the Philippian Christians should live holy lives themselves (1:27).
We have no other example of that than Christ. Like our own day, the culture in which Paul finds himself is selfish and proud. That is not the way of Christ. We don’t simply aim for high ethics, but we ground our ethics in the attributes of God. Philippians 2:7 mentions that Christ “emptied” himself. Some argue that means Christ laid aside his divinity during the incarnation and picked it back up again at his exaltation. That’s simply out of bounds according to many other clearer passages. Christ had a human nature and a divine nature in one person. Those natures never mixed to form a third nature, and neither did he go between the natures at different times.
Paul even tells us exactly what “emptied” mean for Christ. He continues by saying that Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:7-8). The Greek kenoō actually has a range of meaning, and in context, there is no reason to define it as a casting aside of his divinity but rather of his divine rights.
We also see Paul’s genuine love for his brothers. Timothy is like a son to him. They have been through thick and thin, besides their common faith. Epaphroditus is also called a brother. He is someone like Timothy, someone who is almost like an aide de camp for Paul. Paul exhibits what he teaches, which is a deef affection for his fellow believers.
Paul rehearses the gospel, as he often does in his letters. In this case, Paul reminds us that, because of the gospel, we are not to boast one iota in our works. If anyone has a good reason to boast, it’s Paul. His heritage was a prime example of a man who should have been the upper echelon of Jewish society. But a true understanding of the person and work of Christ as the culmination of the ages sets aside all reasons to boast. We should therefore follow Paul’s example of his humility.
Paul closes his letter urging the Philippians to remain unified in this great truth. Practically, that means unity in striving for excellence in the work of the Lord. Think about these things, and you will have the peace of God. The Philippians have supported Paul spiritually but also financially, and he is expressing his thanks. He goes as far as calling it an “acceptable sacrifice” (4:18). In the same way that the Philippines have met Paul’s needs, God will meet all of their needs. It is always God who fulfills the needs of his people, regardless of the means by which they are met.
Starts with a major thanksgiving section, 1:1-14
Colossians is another of Paul’s four letters which he wrote in prison. As is common among most of his letters, he begins with a lengthy thanksgiving. The Colossians have prayed for him, and he has prayed often for them.
Colossians reads much like the other prison letters. They are relatively short, and they speak of many of the same topics. What sets Colossians apart is its incredibly high view of Christ. We would do well to imitate Paul in this. God has rescued us from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom possessed by his Son. Then 1:15-23 is simply a beautiful, elevated description of who Christ is. He is the reason for all of creation, and he himself is the creator. He is eternal. He is the head of the church. He is the first of the resurrection. He is the fullness of God. Everything is about him and for him. There is no such thing as overstating the eminence of Christ. Therefore, Christ is the God of all people, not just Israel. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles is rooted in that truth.
There will always be people trying to undermine the gospel. The same was true in Paul’s day. Wolves had infiltrated the church and were urging people to turn back to the rules and regulations of Judaism in order to be fully pleasing to God. That much is clear by Paul mentioning “what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (2:16). Those are Jewish distinctives. The old covenant and all of its components are not conditions of the new covenant. The impositions upon the Christians have the appearance of wisdom, but they are not able to contribute in any meaningful way to one’s holiness. If we want self-control and holiness, we look to Christ, not the law. We look to “things above, where Christ is” (3:1).
Under the law of Christ, we put the earthly nature to death. All men, because we are all fallen, must fight the same spiritual battles. That is what Paul means when he writes, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (3:11). As we put sin to death, we take up a holy life that consists of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and peace” (3:12). That takes form in relationships, from marriages, families, and households.
Paul ends by listing several names and what they are doing in the ministry. Christians support each other in their various ministries. We are all each a hand, a foot, or an eye. We need each other, and the body grows when each part is working at full capacity, not trying to be another part.