Delivered From the Wrath to Come
1 Thessalonians 1:8–10
1 Thessalonians Lesson #021
June 2, 2015
“Father, we are thankful that we have this time to come together to study Your Word, to reflect upon Your grace, to reflect upon Your righteousness, to reflect upon Your plan for our lives and Your plan for the future in terms of the human race, to reflect upon the priorities of Scripture that should characterize our lives. We need to learn to conform to Your Word and not let the world system force us into the mold seeking to conform us to the standard that characterize the sin nature and Satan’s kingdom. Father, we pray for this nation that we live in. We pray that You would guide and direct the leaders, provide leaders who understand biblical truth, leaders who understand eternal absolutes, and leaders who understand that which is necessary to provide security and safety and prosperity for a nation. Father, we pray for us that no matter what the external circumstances might be that we might keep our focus and attention on You and Your Word. It is Your Word that stabilizes us and helps us to understand the meaning and purpose of our life that we might glorify You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
In this lesson we are going back to 1 Thessalonians 1. We’ve taken a hiatus for about ten lessons to focus on what it means to trust the Lord, to have faith. We’ve sort of segued out of our study in 1 Thessalonians 1 where Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers that their faith toward God had gone out. They had developed in just a very short time a reputation for trusting God. So we ask the question about how we trust God in terms of what I’ve called the faith-rest drill. How do we utilize that faith in terms of claiming promises and focusing on His Word? Having done that (slide 2) for nine or ten lessons I want to bring us back to the text and continue our study in 1 Thessalonians. This last section really drives us forward to the last verse, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, which talks about the fact that Jesus delivers us from the “wrath to come.” This becomes a major theme. 1 Thessalonians 1:2–10 introduces the major themes that we find in 1 Thessalonians.
Just as a reminder and a little review because it’s been a while since we’ve been here, Thessalonica (slide 3) was a major port city located in Macedonia or we anglicize it, Macedonia, in ancient Greece. There are two basic regions to ancient Greece, Achaia, which was in the south—this is where Athens was located, Corinth was located, and Sparta down on the Peloponnesian peninsula were all located in Achaia—and Macedonia up to the north. It’s the yellowish orange section up there. We see Thessalonica is located right here as a major harbor. The Apostle Paul, on his second missionary journey, left and went to retrace his steps in Lystra, Iconium, Derbe, over here just to the right of the center area, the green shaded area in Galatia. These were the towns and cities that he visited on his first missionary journey. God the Holy Spirit prevented him and we don’t know how, but it was probably through some special revelation because that was operative at the time and he is after all an apostle.
Paul was not allowed to go to Asia or to go to Bithynian. God the Holy Spirit was directing him to the port city of Troas. There he had a vision of a man calling him over to Macedonia. They took a ship and crossed over to Neapolis, which is the port city, and they went to Philippi. They established a church in Philippi. Then they walked from there to Thessalonica and established a church there. They were only there for two or three months and so there was a lot that was communicated during that time. It is amazing when people aren’t distracted with television, when they are not distracted with Facebook and Twitter and always checking their electronic devices for the latest emails and everything else, they can really focus on that which is important. They would come together. If we can judge today by standards in many areas where the gospel first goes, the people would come and they would want to be taught for hours.
We find this to be true in places in Africa, in South America, and in India. When you come to the United States where you have so much Bible teaching people don’t want to give more than an hour to Bible teaching, but they come in these areas. You talk to missionaries like Jim Myers who come here, others who go to India and to Africa and other places. They will have all-day conferences and people will travel by foot and other more primitive means to get a bus, whatever to get to these locations. They want Bible teaching that goes on for hours. They’ll have session after session after session. It shames us because we often think, oh, I can’t last more than a couple of hours. We think that’s doing really well. This would have been the case with Paul in Thessalonica. They came for hours and hours and hours to be taught the Word.
But there was increasing opposition from the Jewish leadership in the synagogues. Eventually Paul had to leave. He left Timothy behind for a while in order to help establish the people. But what happens is they had questions, especially about those who died and where they went. They sent a letter by way of Timothy to Paul and he answers. That’s 1 Thessalonians. Here’s a topographical map that shows the area a little better (slide 4). You can see there is a ridgeline of mountains here. Coming across from Philippi you would take this route and then cross over a little pass here on the Via Egnatia and end up in Thessalonica. What does Paul say about them? Let’s just pick up our context again (slide 5). We’ll go back to 1 Thessalonians 1:6. Paul says to them, and this is high praise; he says, “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 1:7, “so that”, as a result, they “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” I want you to notice that there’s a connection between the first part of 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and the first part of 1 Thessalonians 1:7. You became followers, in other words, they followed the example of Paul and Silas and Timothy. As a result they in turn became examples to those to whom they were ministering. The word that is translated “became” (slide 6) is the Greek verb GINOMAI. There are three what we call existential verbs in Greek. An existential verb is a verb that states something exists, something is. You say there is a door in the wall. You are talking about something that actually exists. If you use a different word, for example in John 1, “In the beginning was the Word,” that is the word EIMI, which indicates something exists. In the present tense it would indicate something existing in the present. If it is in an imperfect tense it continuously exists in past time.
That is the emphasis in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Then John shifts when we get down to John 1:6 and he says, “There was a man.” This is the verb GINOMAI. So there is a contrast between the LOGOS of God who is eternally existing, and this man that comes on the scene in John 1:6, who is John the Baptist, who comes into existence, and that’s the verb that we have here. GINOMAI has the idea of coming into existence, something that becomes something that it wasn’t before. Paul says, “You became followers of us.” They were unbelievers; they were pagans. As they became believers then the next step was to become “followers of us and of the Lord.” This word (slide 7) translated “followers” is the Greek word from which we get our English word “mimic.” It’s the noun MIMETES and it means someone who imitates someone else, who mimics their life, who is their follower.
In the sense of someone being a follower that ought to click something in our minds and take us back to what Jesus said to the disciples when He said, “Follow Me.” That was the key to discipleship. The idea that is represented here shows the impact of discipleship, even though that word is not talked about here. They were following the instructions of their teachers, following the instructions of the apostles and implementing that in their lives. When we read this some of the translations translate this with a little different word. They say, “You became imitators of us.” Paul isn’t focusing so much on them imitating him as Saul of Tarsus, but imitating him only in so far as he is imitating Christ. I want to stop just a minute and talk about this particular word and how it is used in the New Testament (NT).
In the New Testament the verb form of the noun MIMETES is MIMEOMAI and it has that same idea of being a follower, being an example or mimicking someone. The verb is only used four times in the New Testament and the noun is used six times. But the noun is often used in constructions like this where it says you are something or you should be an imitator of us. There is a verbal idea even in this sentence, “You became followers of us.” By using it with an existential verb it is emphasizing basically the same idea that you get in sentences where the verb is used. What we see first of all when we look at the use of these words (four uses of the verb, six uses of the noun), is that as a spiritually mature apostle the Apostle Paul is conforming to the image of Christ. Therefore, as he is walking by the Spirit his life is an example to others. By looking at him these new believers can get an idea of how they should live as believers.
That doesn’t mean that Paul was perfect. No apostle is perfect, they all had sin natures, but he’s focusing on himself as a model of Christianity as far as he can possibly apply that. He makes this very clear in the way in which he explains this at times. In 1 Corinthians 4:16 (slide 8) he says, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” But he is not focused on himself. If we look at 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul says, “You became followers of us and of the Lord.” We see in this that he’s not just saying “of us” but he’s narrowing that to that as far as what I’m doing right, imitate that. When I’m out of fellowship and I’m living in carnality, don’t imitate that. Just imitate that which emulates the Lord.
We see this in another verse, 1 Thessalonians 2:14 (slide 9). Paul says, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea.” In certain ways they are following a pattern that is being set by the first churches that were established in the Church Age, those that were back in Judea. But ultimately Paul is pointing out that we are to imitate Christ. Paul’s not just about himself.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 (slide 10) Paul says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” We have to understand that when he is in a passage in a letter to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me”. that must be understood in light of 1 Corinthians 11:1, that [they should] imitate Paul in so far as he imitates Christ. That’s the point. We are not to have our focus on people, our focus is supposed to be on the Lord Jesus Christ. The only time we are to ever see a focus on people is when the apostles are setting themselves up as an example, but only in so far as they are imitating Christ. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul says, “… be imitators of God as dear children.” That is the pattern. That is the ultimate reference point. Then in Hebrews 6:12 we read a warning that we should “not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
There are human examples. There’s a list of Old Testament (OT) saints in Hebrews 11. There are other examples in the NT that are given for us in order to help us to focus on a visible pattern in terms of living out the spiritual life. If we understand the concept it fits with what we’ve been studying in Matthew on discipleship. Discipleship is where you have a teacher and you have students who align themselves under the authority of that leader, that teacher, and of course our Leader, our Teacher. We are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not disciples of a man, not disciples of a church, not disciples of a denomination, but students of the Lord Jesus Christ. We place ourselves under that authority and as a result of that we are to imitate Him. This is something that is related to the discipleship that we see emphasized in the Gospels.
It is interesting that the verb “disciple” is not used outside of the Gospels. The noun “disciples” of Jesus is used in both a technical and nontechnical sense. The technical sense is to refer to the eleven in Acts and the nontechnical sense to refer to believers until later on out of Antioch they start to be called “Christians” because they are followers of Christ. The implication of that is that under discipleship the believer is responsible and obligated to implement the commands and the instruction of the teacher. One of the things that happen in grace-oriented churches is that people get a distorted view of legalism. Legalism is not emphasizing the commands of Scripture or emphasizing obedience. Legalism is emphasizing absolutes in the areas where Scripture does not emphasize absolutes, or adding works to either:
- the gospel, that you have to be saved plus you have to have certain kinds of works or you are not saved.
- or adding works in a way that isn’t produced by the Holy Spirit as a means of sanctification, that you are sanctified by morality.
Paul makes it very clear in Galatians that just morality isn’t good enough. You have to be walking by the Spirit. If it is morality according to the flesh, then it still has no value, but legalism isn’t saying we shouldn’t do this as Christians or we should do this as Christians. That can be legalistic, but it is not necessarily so. There are obligations and responsibilities that are inherent with taking care of the new life that we have in Christ. If you were to be given a gift of a Rolls-Royce and that title was given to you that is a free gift; it’s yours; you own it. You own that vehicle but you still have an inherent responsibility or obligation to take care of it. You have to keep the right kind of tires on it. You have to keep the tires inflated. You have to change the oil, change the filters, all of those different obligations for maintenance. If you don’t, the car is still yours, but it can get to the point where it is no longer useful to you.
It is the same in the Christian life. We have a new life in Christ, a new position and responsibilities, and those responsibilities are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, to take in the Word of God, desire the milk of the Word that we may grow thereby. We have to be in Bible class as much as possible. We have to listen to the Word as much as possible. You should be reading your Bible day in and day out. You should have a set aside time of prayer, a specific, dedicated, focused prayer every single day. These are just basic disciplines that every believer needs to cultivate in their life if they are going to go anywhere. If you don’t take care of these things then it is very easy to be distracted and to be run off course. The next thing you know your life has been completely derailed spiritually and you’re starting to reap the consequences of that failure. We have an inherent obligation with this new life, to nurture it, to feed it, to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we don’t do that we won’t lose it, but it will become irrelevant to us and we will come under serious divine discipline. We are to be imitators of Christ. The result of that is emphasized here in 1 Thessalonians 1:7 that the apostles became examples to those around them.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:7 and 2 Thessalonians 3:9 (slide 11) there is also an emphasis in this to the same group of believers where Paul says, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us.” That’s how you ought to imitate us. That was something that he had obviously taught them before and then reinforced in the 1st epistle, reinforced again in the 2nd epistle. “You know how you are to follow us for we were not disorderly among you. Not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves as an example of how you should follow us.” The believer should live his life in a way that he can let his light shine before men. He needs to be in a position where his light in his life emulates the life of Christ, so that he can be a visible example to others. In 1 Thessalonians 1:7 Paul goes on to say you are imitators of us so that you became examples. He pays it forward. They become imitators of him. In turn they then become examples to all who are in Macedonia and Achaia who believe, all who believe.
I am going to back the slide up to that particular verse (slide 7). When we look at 1 Thessalonians 1:7 and we see this phrase, “all the believers,” this is an interesting phrase in the Greek. The adjective “all” is at the beginning and this is followed by a dative plural participle that has an article with it. The significance of that is that when a participle in the Greek doesn’t have an article it is usually adverbial. That means it modifies a verb. But when it has an article with it, it functions more like a noun. Remember, a participle is a verbal adjective. An adjective is just the noun that modifies another noun. When it has an article with it, and this is an important issue, it should be understood primarily as a noun, not as emphasizing action. When you say “all who believe” you would be emphasizing the action a little more. It should be translated like the New King James does, “all the believers.”
In the Gospel of John you find this present participle used a lot with PISTEUO, which means all the believers, all those who believe. But among certain types of Christian pastors they say these are all those who continue to believe. They emphasize a present tense verbal action because they are coming out of a lordship position and they are saying you need to continue to believe. Whereas the reality is in terms of usage the articular participle, that is, a participle with the article in front of it (the “the”) should just be understood as a noun. All that Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 1:7 is that “you became an example to all the believers.” I think it is in the New King James that it says “all who believe” but it is “all the believers.” Just like we use the term to refer to believers, it is “to all the believers.”
In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 (slide 12) Paul goes on to explain how this has taken place, how they became examples to all who were in Macedonia and Achaia. He says, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia.” He introduces those two in 1 Thessalonians 1:7. Now he is going to go beyond those two locations, “not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.” Word is going out throughout the Roman Empire related to how the gospel has gone forth from them. This is where we stopped and went off onto a tangent in a study of the faith-rest drill where Paul says, “Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” When we stop and look at this (slide 13), the first thing we ought to note is this phrase “from you.” In the Greek it is APO, the preposition, and this indicates “from you as the source.” This indicates that there was an active outreach, an active evangelistic outreach, from the Thessalonian believers.
The word “of the Lord” here (slide 14) is probably a phrase that doesn’t indicate the Scripture as we use the phrase “the Word of God” to refer to the Bible. This is probably what we call an objective genitive. It is “the word about the Lord,” which is a way Paul often refers to the gospel, “For from you the word about the Lord,” the message about the Lord. The gospel has gone “forth not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.” The words “sounded forth” are the Greek verb EXECHEO and it is used sometimes to refer to someone blowing on a signal bugle or trumpet, and it is a sound that goes forth, a sound that reverberates like an echo. It is a very picturesque word talking about the impact of their witness throughout the world. It “sounded forth” not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.
As we see here (slide 15) from this slide, you have Macedonia and Thrace, and this route that we can see with the purple line goes down through Thessalonica. This was the Via Egnatia, which went on and on off to the west. It went all the way over to the areas now related to Bosnia, Serbia, areas along the Adriatic coast going up further north through Slovenia and eventually up into Switzerland and back down into Italy. The Via Egnatia also went in the other direction. It would have gone all the way over to Byzantium or what is later called Constantinople or Istanbul. So as the caravaners, the truckers of the day, would carry the gospel it went out and about throughout the world. They were hearing about their faith. Their reputation went quite far. As Paul ends 1 Thessalonians 1:8 he says, “… we do not need to say anything.” It is obvious. It is well known, so we’re going to go on.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (slide 16) he says, “For”. Again we see this word. In English when you see the word “for” it generally refers to, at the beginning of the sentence, to a Greek word GAR, which means Paul is explaining something. He has explained in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 about them being an “example.” Then he gives a little further explanation of that in 1 Thessalonians 1:8, and then in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 he goes on to say something more about it: “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you.” Here he is talking about those who would have heard the gospel from the Thessalonians “… they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you.” There was a continued expansion of the gospel.
Then Paul says what they talk about in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, “… how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” This is at the core of what Paul is praising them for. They turned to God away “from idols to serve the living and the true God.” Let’s look at this for just a minute (slide 17). The phrase “turn to God” is EPISTREPHO, which means to turn back, to return, or to turn. It’s the Greek word that is often used to translate the Hebrew word in the Old Testament shuv when God calls the Israelites or the Jews to turn to Him away from the idols that they had succumb to and to turn back to Him. A form of that word is often used to speak about someone who converts to Judaism or someone who turns back, who has been nonobservant and becomes observant. This is the same idea here. They turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
Here (slide 18) we see a couple of examples I’ve taken from the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 30:2. Moses is talking about the future and says when you do this “and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice.” Returning isn’t simply turning, as we’re going to see here. It is related to repentance. Repentance is a change of mind. Turning is a change of direction. I believe that turning is the result of the change of mind, but it also takes you to the next step, which is obedience:
1. First you change your mind. You hear the gospel. You hear the truth. You say that’s true, what I have been believing is wrong. It causes you to turn away from what you’ve been doing, away from your prior belief system to the truth of Scripture.
2. As you turn to the truth of Scripture you’re going to respond to the truth of Scripture and you’re going to obey what the Scripture says to do.
So that’s the procedure. Deuteronomy 30:2 talks about that “and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul.”
In Malachi 3:7 there’s the command to an apostate generation to turn back to God. God says, “Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you.” Some people say well God seems to have left me. Well if God left you, who moved? It is usually not God who moves. We need to return to Him and He returns to us. God is not going to force Himself on us. He may bring discipline and negative circumstances into our lives to get our attention, but ultimately it is up to us to exercise our volition. They don’t want to return. That is the indictment on that generation in Malachi 3:7.
Another example of this Greek word that is used to translate shuv in the Hebrew Old Testament, it was the Greek word used in the Septuagint. Hosea 5:4 (slide 19) “They do not direct their deeds toward turning to their God, for the spirit of harlotry [spiritual unfaithfulness] is in their midst, and they do not know the LORD.” This is again an indictment on the generation at Hosea’s time. This is roughly the time of just prior to the exile when God disciplined Israel in 586 B.C. They refused to turn back to God. 2 Kings 23:25 says, “Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD….” This is a comment on Josiah, “who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.” This is Josiah. He turned to the LORD. This is turning in obedience.
We see this phraseology picked up again when we get into the New Testament. We get into Acts 3:19 (slide 20). This is Peter speaking again to the Jewish leaders and to the Jewish people outside the temple. He says, “Repent therefore and be converted.” That first phrase is the word METANOEO, which means to change your mind. They are to change their mind about Jesus. Then he says “and be converted.” That is “and turn”, be converted and turn; “be converted” is a poor translation. If we pick up the thread we see running through Scripture in terms of its usage, it would be repent, change your mind and turn to Jesus, “that your sins may be blotted out.” What sins would those be? In context, because of what he is about to say, this would refer to their sin of rejecting Jesus as Messiah. “… that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
“The times of refreshing” is a phrase that refers to the blessing of the Millennial Kingdom. Embedded within this is the implied promise that the kingdom offer is still viable, but first of all you need to turn. That takes us back to Deuteronomy 30: God is going to restore the nation, but first they have to return to Him. This is the idea in Acts 3:19: change your mind about Jesus; turn to Him, and then the times of refreshing will come and nationally that sin will be blotted out. Then we see response to Peter’s ministry when he healed Aeneas, Acts 9:35, “So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” They all turned to the Lord. That is the response to the gospel.
Acts 14:15 (slide 21) is when the Apostle Paul is in Iconium. He says, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men …” Remember, when he went there to Iconium, they were bowing down. They thought that Paul, as the spokesperson, was Hermes, and Barnabas was Zeus. So they began to worship them. Paul says, “… why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach (or evangelize) to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God.” That was his message that he took to these Greek cities; that they were to turn from the idols to the living God. This is exactly what happens with the Thessalonians, what Paul praises them for, and that “God” is defined as the Creator-God “who made the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all things that are in them.”
In the next chapter, Acts 15 (slide 22), this is the chapter dealing with the Jerusalem Council. There the decision was made not to impose the Mosaic Law upon Gentiles. The conclusion is Acts 15:19 “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.” That is a synonym, therefore, for those who are trusting in the gospel. We look at 1 Thessalonians 1:9, “… they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
That brings us to 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (slide 23). What then are they doing? They turn to God. In the meantime they are to serve God during their Christian life. That has been the modus operandi of Christians ever since; that we are to turn to God and serve Him in this life as we “wait for His Son from heaven.” “To wait” is the Greek word ANAMENO (slide 24), which means to wait or remain. This is what we do during the Church Age; we are waiting for the Lord to return. This is what ends the Church Age. There’s an implication in this word because we’re waiting “for His Son from heaven” it doesn’t say for Him to return to the earth. That would be the Second Coming because Jesus is described later in the verse as the One “who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The “wrath to come,” as we’ll see, is a term in context that relates to the Tribulation.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 is a verse that in context supports a Rapture that occurs prior to the Tribulation. We are to “wait for His Son from heaven.” His son is defined as the One whom He raised from the dead. This is not a second personage that’s going to come from Heaven, but it is the One who came to the earth. Who became flesh and dwelt among us. The One who entered into human history through the virgin conception and the virgin birth through Mary, was reared in Nazareth, grew to maturity, and then had a public ministry on the earth. He is flesh and blood. He had taken on true humanity. He was crucified. He was placed in the grave for three days, and then He was raised from the dead. This is the One who is going to return. He was raised from the dead, then some forty days later He ascended to Heaven, and He will come from Heaven. This is what this emphasizes, “His Son from heaven ... even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
This word for “deliver” (slide 25) is significant here. It is not the word we might expect if we were thinking about eternal condemnation. But even if SOZO were here, it still works. It is a synonym. This is the word HRUOMAI, which has the idea of delivering or rescuing from a physical calamity. We wait for Jesus on His particular timing. We look at this and we come to that last phrase, “Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come”, and I want to stop here, camp out for just a minute, and talk about this word “wrath.” What exactly does this word “wrath” describe? In the Greek it is the word ORGE, which is a slightly different nuance from THUMOS, but ORGE has several ideas in Scripture. One of the ideas is to express the action of judgment, of judicial condemnation upon people. While it is a term that literally can refer to anger or wrath and does so as a sin in some passages in the New Testament, it is also a descriptor of the harsh exercise of judicial authority, not expressing emotion.
This is a figure of speech. Even in English we talk about the fact that if somebody is guilty of a crime and they receive a harsh penalty, we say things like “the judge threw the book at them.” We don’t mean that the judge literally picked up a book, stood up and heaved it in the direction of the defendant. What we are expressing is simply that they felt the full penalty of the law. In a trial, in the judicial system, we do not want a judge who becomes emotionally involved in the proceedings, but one who can objectively evaluate all of the evidence, all the data, and come to an impartial unemotional decision in order to properly apply the law and bring about justice. It is used that way in the Bible.
In Romans 13:4 (slide 26), Paul, talking about the leader, the political leader, the magistrate, says, “For He is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain.” That word “bear the sword” is also an idiom. Bearing the sword indicates power over life and death, which implies the validity of judicial punishment in this particular passage. There are other places to go to show the validity of judicial punishment, but this shows that this is understood, even in the New Testament Church Age period that the power of life and death is legitimately in the hand of the magistrate. “He is God’s minister,” Paul goes on to say, “an avenger.” Justice is not about vengeance. It is about justice. Just the other day I was watching a news show related to the Boston bombing and the young man who was found guilty. In Massachusetts they do have the death penalty. It is possible for him to receive the death penalty. They were interviewing a lot of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing a couple of years ago. These people were saying, “No, I don’t want vengeance.”
This is such a fuzzy thinking in the United States today. Justice is not about vengeance. There are some people who confuse the two and they want justice, but that is their vengeance. Unfortunately in the Scripture you have certain words that are translated as vengeance, but if you do an appropriate word study you see that the emphasis on those words is also on justice and applying the law and applying justice. It is not executing a personal vendetta or seeking personal vengeance in circumstances. God’s minister is an avenger. His focus is on avenging the wrong that has been done to the victim. The focus is on the victim not on the rights of the criminal. Too often today we minimize what happens to these victims. Too often we are willing to let heinous criminals out onto the streets where they can commit their crimes again and hurt and harm innocent people. We need to protect society from criminals. That’s part of the role of the judiciary.
Here it says the avenger is “to execute wrath.” That is not understood in terms of its literal meaning of anger but in terms of its idiomatic meaning of bringing about justice in a situation or circumstance. God’s minister is to bring “wrath” upon the criminal. Not anger, but the full force of the law. That is one way that this word “wrath” is used in the Scripture. There is another way that “wrath” is used and this is applied to God. In Romans 1:18 (slide 27), “For the WRATH of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” The verb here is present tense. That means during this time period on the earth God’s wrath is continuously being revealed. How do we understand God’s wrath? Is this God’s anger? Is He having an emotional tantrum whenever people disobey Him? Or is this a function of God’s justice, a focus of His judicial prerogatives as the Sovereign of the universe? This isn’t an emotional term here. This is using the term “wrath” in the same way that we just saw it in Romans 13, that this is God functioning as the Judge of the universe punishing sin and disobedience.
Another passage that we see is in Luke 21 (slide 28). The passage is comparable to Matthew 24 and Jesus’ discourse on the end times. A question, “What are the signs of Your coming?” What makes the Luke passage a little different is in the middle of the discourse in Luke 21, most of which is similar to Matthew 24, but Matthew 24 focuses only on the future Tribulation period, whereas Luke 21 talks about the future events that take place during the Tribulation; but in the middle of this there is relevant application for the destruction of Jerusalem, which was about to come. Jesus is talking in A.D. 33. He is talking about what will happen with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Jesus says in Luke 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” That’s where Jesus shifts gears. He says when you look out here some of you will still be alive at that time. You see the army surround Jerusalem; then you are going to know its destruction is near.
This is what happened during the Jewish revolt from A.D. 66–70. Under Vespasian the armies of Rome surrounded Jerusalem, then word came that Nero had died. Vespasian was going to go back and become the emperor. Titus, his son, takes over the command of the army. They retired for a short time to let Rome stabilize and went back to Caesarea. It was during this break in the siege of Jerusalem that we’re told that Christians fled Jerusalem. This laid the foundation for a huge break between the Christian-Jewish community, the messianic community, and the Jewish community that had not accepted Jesus as Messiah because they viewed the Christians as traitors. The Christians didn’t stand and defend Jerusalem with them. Christians knew that Jesus had said Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. When they saw the city surrounded by armies then they were to get out, leave, flee, which is what the Christians did.
Christians survived the destruction of Jerusalem. This set up a certain amount of animosity between messianic Jews and non-messianic Jews in the coming generation. This eventually played itself out leading up to the events in about 60 years from this time to the Bar Kokhba revolt. Jesus said, Luke 21:20–23, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” This is the destruction of Jerusalem. “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.”
Here is the term “wrath” that is used of specific divine judgment upon God’s people, upon Israel, in relation to the fifth cycle of discipline and the destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. “Wrath,” as we see, is a term that often relates to the execution of the justice of God during history in this life. It is not necessarily something that is related to eternal condemnation. That’s my point. Wrath does not equal eternity in the Lake of Fire.
Here is a passage, John 3:36 (slide 29), where “wrath” is used in terms of that future eternal condemnation. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides…” Interesting, it is a present tense there. It is abiding now as an unbeliever but it will go on into the future. There is this emphasis on the present reality that the unbeliever is under wrath. This is the same thing we see in Romans 1:18, that the “wrath of God is revealed against those who suppress the truth.”
Another passage (slide 30) that uses “wrath” in terms of the future is Romans 2:5, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath,” that is divine judgment, “in the day of wrath.” This would be the great white throne judgment. “… and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Romans 2:8, “but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath.” Again, “wrath” relates to God’s justice. Here it is clearly in terms of the final great white throne judgment. Then you have this phrase we find in 1 Thessalonians 2:10 that is talking about the “wrath to come.” The “wrath to come” clearly places it away from what is going on today. It’s not the eschatological wrath, in terms of the great white throne judgment, because it is seen and treated in these passages as something related to what is going on in history.
In Matthew 3:7 (slide 31) it is John the Baptist who, when he sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming down to him at the Jordon River, says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” “The brood of vipers” obscures the meaning of the phrase in the Greek. It means you spawn of Satan; you seed of Satan. It takes us back to Genesis 3:15, that the “Seed of the woman” will destroy the seed of the serpent. He says they are following their father the devil, which Jesus accused them of over in the Gospel of John. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
According to the pattern established in the Old Testament, that before the kingdom of the Messiah would be established there would be a fantastic judgment, an incredible worldwide cataclysm called the Day of the Lord that would involve multiple armies, the destruction of nations and the revolt of the nations of the earth against the Messiah, against the Son of Man, who would come and put down this rebellion and establish His kingdom. That’s what is described in Daniel 7. We see John referring to this future time, which is later described in Daniel as the 70th week in God’s program for Israel, which we often refer to as the Tribulation. The word that is used for “the Tribulation” is the same Greek word that is used for tribulation in general.
I want you to notice in our passage back in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 where Jesus said, “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction.” The Greek word there is THLIPSIS, which is the word for tribulation. Those who believe in a pre-Tribulation Rapture are often accused of believing in some sort of spiritual escapism, that things can’t possibly be bad for us as Christians because God’s going to come and He’s going to rescue us. That is such a superficially phony explanation and criticism. I just can’t believe people believe it.
If you just study history there have been horrible massacres and persecutions of Christians. There are things going on today in the Middle East with ISIS taking territory, rounding up large numbers of Christians and beheading them, and in some cases of burning them alive. This has happened in Iran where Moslems who convert to Christianity are taken out into the public square, and they are executed by burning them alive. This is filmed and broadcasted live throughout the nation to instill fear in anyone for converting to Christianity.
Christians believe that there is serious persecution and extreme suffering and adversity for Christians even during the Church Age. The Rapture is not going to deliver us from the Tribulation in general, but it is going to deliver us from “the wrath to come.” That is that future period known as the Day of the LORD that is a time of worldwide judgment that immediately precedes the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom. That’s what John is talking about here to the Sadducees and Pharisees who he told to “flee from the wrath to come.”
1 Thessalonians 2:16 (slide 32). Within our epistle there are two different uses of the word “wrath.” It does not always mean the same thing. You have to look at the context. 1 Thessalonians 2:16, if we read in that verse, I am going to pick it up in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, “For you, brethren, became imitators…” See, there is our word again, just like we had in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. We see how 1 Thessalonians 1:6 is the introduction. It opens us up to themes that are going to be developed further on. It is talking about conversion and becoming “imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things”, that’s that adversity, THLIPSIS, that’s suffering, “the same thing from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans. 1 Thessalonians 2:15, “who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men…” This is what these persecutors, the Judeans, did. 1 Thessalonians 2:16, “forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” That is divine judgment in time. Here we see it used in terms of present tense divine judgment.
Then when we get to 1 Thessalonians 5:9. It is used again in a future sense. It is related to the judgment of the Day of the LORD. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “wrath” in context is the Day of the LORD. The deliverance or the salvation that we are going to get through the Lord Jesus Christ means that we don’t go through that Day of the LORD. As Church Age believers we will be removed from the earth prior to that Day of the LORD judgment, which means that we do not go through the Tribulation.
That is the emphasis here at the end of 1 Thessalonians 1:10. It is also indicated by the preposition that is used there “from the wrath to come” which means that we don’t go into the “wrath to come” but we are supernaturally rescued before the “wrath to come” begins. That supports the pre-Trib Rapture. I am going to come back next time and talk about it a little more. We will look at how this supports a very important doctrine in the Scripture called the “Imminency of Christ’s Return.” We’ll focus on that next time. With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, thank You, for this opportunity to study these things, to be reminded of Your grace, that even though we as Christians in this Church Age go through horrible testing and there’s horrible adversity and persecution that takes place; nevertheless, we know that as a church, the body of Christ, we will not go through Daniel’s 70th week. We will not go through that time of wrath that extends from the wrath of the Lamb in the first part of the Tribulation to the full force of Your wrath at the end of the Tribulation. The Rapture comes first. Father, help us to recognize we are to be examples. We are to imitate Christ, imitate Paul, imitate the great saints who have trusted in You and walked by God the Holy Spirit so that we may be examples to others as we continue in our growth to spiritual maturity. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”