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”.