Week of April 28: Having hope in the future helps us live in the present
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson for week of April 28
Scripture: II Thessalonians 2:1-3, 9-17
In today’s lesson, the Apostle Paul is dealing with a second crisis concerning the coming of Christ, or parousia. The first crisis (I Thessalonians 4:13) dealt with grief over the death of loved ones prior to Christ’s return. What would happen to them? This second crisis, however, arises out of teachings that claimed that the Second Coming had already taken place. Unquestionably, these teachings have “shaken” and “alarmed” the community (2:2).
Prior to proceeding further, think of a couple of implications of that misjudgment that Christ has already returned. We could question that, if Christ has already returned, why haven’t things changed for the better? If Christ has already returned then our waiting and working for the kingdom is ended. We can just relax our efforts and leave everything to Christ.
But let’s go back to the scripture lesson and the crisis. Paul makes it clear that no matter how these Thessalonians may have heard that Christ has already returned (whether by spirit or by word or by letter), they should not attribute such false teaching to him. Any such claim made in his name or authority is false and the intent is to deceive the community.
To help understand this difficult lesson, I offer these thoughts:
There is a force of evil in the world!
Paul states that prior to Christ’s return there will come an age of lawlessness against God. The mysterious agent of this lawlessness evidently is a human figure though not specifically identified with any historical person. The point is that the present time continues to be defined as lawless. Scholars tell us that Paul’s aim is neither to describe the end-time events nor to forecast when they will take place. It’s to show that the day of the Lord cannot possibly have arrived, because the lawless one remains at work.
We are told that the rebellion began when the lawless one was no longer being restrained (v.7). His “time” had come and he was revealed. The mystery was over and his satanic origins of lawlessness had been disclosed and become an all-out rebellion which included deception, confusion about truth, falsehood, unbelief and apostasy.
Underline the fact that the present time continues to be defined by lawlessness. Therefore, the church in our time must constantly be on guard when it comes to matters of truth or deception transported in the name of faith.
Back in 1993, David Koresh persuaded his followers in the Branch Davidian movement on the notion that he was the second coming of Christ. The end results were horrible, resulting in 87 deaths near Waco, Texas.
At any rate, part of the church’s struggle today involves maintaining a spirit of openness to unexpected sources of truth and being able to discern the ways in which God brings new truth into our awareness. Of course, it boils down to a matter of trust. Whom do we trust? The question has been raised, do we trust those who tell us what we want to hear or do we trust those who tell us what we need to hear? If we are obsessed only with what we want to hear, we set ourselves up to be deceived. On the other hand, by combining what we need to hear with our prayers seeking to understand God’s will, we will be much more likely to know who to trust and what judgments are faithful and wise.
God’s ultimate truth is certain!
In the midst of all the lawlessness and in the end, Paul reminds us that nothing can stand against God. The Lawless One may have his moments, but there comes a time when God says, “Enough! No more!” Verse eight states: “Then the person who is lawless will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath from his mouth. When the Lord comes, his appearance will put an end to him.”
The Thessalonians had suffered a difficult time. They had been right up against many difficult things—the strenuous excitement of the hope of Christ’s immediate return, their disappointment at his delay, and now the confusion and deception that He had already returned. Needless to say, their minds were much fatigued and their nerves were frayed. The Thessalonians needed to be uplifted, so Paul took them to a high place and pointed out two things: the greatness of God and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Oftentimes, it is helpful just to be reminded that God is!
Future thinking affects present living!
We have hope in the future, in spite of our living in a time of lawlessness yet knowing that God’s truth will ultimately prevail (the Second Coming of Christ). If we have hope in the future, we can live confidently in the present and make a difference in our witness to God’s kingdom on earth. How we view the future definitely affects how we live our lives in the present.
In the 16th chapter of our scripture lesson, Paul writes to the Thessalonians and to us, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and a good hope.” By the love and grace of God, we have been given “good hope.” The future is full of good hope. But notice that Paul does not end his lesson with a simple affirmation of “good hope.” He intends that “good hope” to actually be our calling to live out the promises of God in the everyday witness of our lives and churches (“to stand firm and hold on to the traditions we taught you”).
C. S. Lewis stated, “When the Lord returns, it matters not whether we are in a great crusade to free the slaves or whether we are tending the pigs. The important thing,” he said, “is that we be found at our posts, doing our duty.” Amen and amen!
Ask the class to read again II Thessalonians 2:13-15 and discuss “the traditions” or truths they have been taught in the community of faith and how these teachings have guided their daily choices.