Category Archives: Daily Devotional Guide

June 19, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

26. Lift up your eyes on high. The Prophet appears to linger too long on this subject, more especially because it presents no obscurity; for he repeats by many statements what is acknowledged by all, that God’s wonderful power and wisdom may be known from the beautiful order of the world. But we ought to observe what I have already said, that we are so wicked and ungrateful judges of the divine power, that we often imagine God to be inferior to some feeble man. We are more terrified frequently by the empty mask of a single man than we are strengthened by all the promises of God. Not in vain, therefore, does the Prophet repeat that God is defrauded of his honour, if his power do not lead us to warm admiration of him; nor does he spend his labour in what is superfluous, for we are so dull and sluggish that we need to be continually aroused and excited.

Men see every day the heavens and the stars; but who is there that thinks about their Author? By nature men are formed in such a manner as to make it evident that they were born to contemplate the heavens, and thus to learn their Author; for while God formed other animals to look downwards for pasture, he made man alone erect, and bade him look at what may be regarded as his own habitation. This is also described beautifully by a poet: “While other animals look downwards towards the earth, he gave to man a lofty face, and bade him look at heaven, and lift up his countenance erect towards the stars.”2 The Prophet therefore points out the wickedness of men who do not acknowledge what is openly placed before their eyes concerning God, but, like cattle, fix their snout in the earth; for, whenever we raise our eyes upwards, with any degree of attention, it is impossible for our senses not to be struck with the majesty of God.

And see who hath created them. By mentioning the stars, he states more clearly that the wonderful order which shines brightly in the face of the heavens preaches loudly that there is one God and Creator of the world; and all who shall observe, that amidst the vast number and variety of the stars, so regular an order and course is so well maintained, will be constrained to make this acknowledgment. For it is not by chance that each of the stars has had its place assigned to it, nor is it at random that they advance uniformly with so great rapidity, and amidst numerous windings move straight forwards, so that they do not deviate a hairbreadth from the path which God has marked out for them. Thus does their wonderful arrangement shew that God is the Author and worker, so that men cannot open their eyes without being constrained to behold the majesty of God in his works.

Bringing out by number their army. Under the word army he includes two things; their almost infinite number, and their admirable arrangement; for a small number of persons do not constitute an army, and not even a considerable number, if there be not also numerous companies. Besides, it is not called an “army,” when men are collected together at random, and without any selection, and in a confused manner, or when they wander about in a disorderly state, but where there are various classes of officers, who have the charge of ten, or a hundred, or a thousand men, and where the ranks are drawn up and arranged on a fixed plan. Thus the wonderful arrangement of the stars, and their certain courses, may justly be called an “army.”

By the word number he means that God always has this “army” at his command. In an army the soldiers may wander, and may not be immediately collected or brought back to their ranks by the general, though the trumpet sound. But it is otherwise with God. He always has his soldiers in readiness, and that “by number;” that is, he keeps a reckoning of them, so that not one of them is absent.

He will call to all of them by name. The same expression occurs, (Psalm 147:4,) and in the same sense. Some explain it to mean that God knows the number of the stars, which is unknown to us. But David and Isaiah meant a different thing, that is, that God makes use of the stars according to his pleasure; as if one should command a servant, calling him to him by name; and the same thing will afterwards be said of Cyrus, whose labours and service the Lord employed in delivering his people. (Isaiah 45:1.) In a word, it denotes the utmost submission and obedience, when he who is called instantly answers to his name.

By the greatness of his strength. Those who explain the preceding clause to mean that the Lord knows the number of the stars, are also mistaken in supposing that by giving them their names is meant their power and office. Others explain it, that there is not a star that has not its own power and energy, because the Lord gave to them those qualities they would always possess. But others connect these words with יקרא, (yĭkrā,) “he shall call;” as if he had said, “The Lord is so powerful that all the stars listen to his commands.” But a meaning which appears to me to be more appropriate is, that God is so powerful, that, as soon as he has issued an order, all the armies of the stars are ready to yield obedience. In this we have an extraordinary proof of his power, when those highly excellent creatures unhesitatingly submit to him, and by executing his orders testify that they acknowledge him to be their Author.

Not one shall be wanting. The word איש (īsh) is applied by Hebrew writers not only to men and women, but also to other animals, and even to inanimate objects, as in a former passage, (Isaiah 34:16,) when, speaking of the birds that should occupy those splendid abodes, he said that “not one should be wanting,” he used the word איש (īsh). These words commend to us the power of God, that we may know that there is nothing in heaven or in earth that does not depend on his will and pleasure. Nothing, therefore, can be more shameful or unreasonable than to compare him to idols, which are as worthless as anything can possibly be.2[1]

26 From the invitation to compare the author moves, as he did in vv. 19 and 20, to a possible comparison, here apparently the heavens. As mentioned above, the heavens are probably alluded to here because they were supposed to be a visible representation of the gods. This was true not only of Babylonian religion but also of Canaanite, as indicated by the reports that the Israelites sometimes succumbed to the temptation to worship “the host of heaven” (2 K. 17:16; 21:3). Here the prophet argues that far from being deities worthy of being worshiped, the stars (implied by their host and numbers them) are not even self-existent. They are contingent creatures who come and go at the command of the Lord as do sheep before a shepherd, or soldiers before a general. Would we compare such as these to the one who created them and rules them?

who created these is sublime in its simplicity. The root brʾ, “create,” occurs 16 times in chs. 40–55, 13 times between this verse and 45:18, 6 times in ch. 45 alone, as against 5 times in the rest of the book (4:5; 57:19; 65:17, 18 [bis]) and only 27 times in the remainder of the OT (11 times in Genesis; 6 times in Psalms; 3 times in Ezekiel; once each in seven other books). It is a fundamental truth for Isaiah that since God has the absolutely uncontingent freedom of the Creator, he is free to save his people. these encompasses in one ordinary word the whole breathtaking array of the night sky. But equally breathtaking is the simple faith involved. The stars have not existed forever; someone brought them into existence once. Who was that? The God enthroned above the cherubim in the temple in Jerusalem, of course. Who else?

Once again, as in vv. 22–23, the rhetorical question is answered with a participle. Who created these? He is the one who brings forth their host by number; by name he calls them all. This passage is describing God’s eternal, unchanging nature. host is a military term, and this sense is heightened by the use of number. So the general musters his troops. The daunting stars, wheeling about the sky imperturbably, are really only the obedient minions of one infinitely greater than they. To him they are not numberless; more than that, he knows them each by name. In the ancient world, to know the name of something was to know its essence, and thereby have power over it. What is the power and wisdom of one who knows each star by name? No wonder no star dares to miss muster!

We must not lose sight of one other aspect of this verse. No doubt the picture of God counting and naming the stars is figurative. Nevertheless, it is important to grasp the sense of the figure. Isaiah has insisted on the absolute transcendence of God: he is not part of the cosmos in any way, and the cosmos is not part of him. But to carry that line to its logical conclusion as Aristotle did is to end with a passionless, colorless force as the source of everything. It is to say that personality is an accident in time. Isaiah will not go that way. He insists on transcendence, but leaves no doubt that the Transcendent is a person with all that that means. When all is said and done, the combination of these two may be Israel’s greatest contribution to human thought.[2]

26. bringeth out … host—image from a general reviewing his army: He is Lord of Sabaoth, the heavenly hosts (Job 38:32).

calleth … by names—numerous as the stars are. God knows each in all its distinguishing characteristics—a sense which “name” often bears in Scripture; so in Ge 2:19, 20, Adam, as God’s vicegerent, called the beasts by name, that is, characterized them by their several qualities, which, indeed, He has imparted.

by the greatness … faileth—rather, “by reason of abundance of (their inner essential) force and firmness of strength, not one of them is driven astray”; referring to the sufficiency of the physical forces with which He has endowed the heavenly bodies, to prevent all disorder in their motions [Horsley]. In English Version the sense is, “He has endowed them with their peculiar attributes (‘names’) by the greatness of His might,” and the power of His strength (the better rendering, instead of, “for that He is strong”).[3]

Ver. 26.—Lift up your eyes, etc. Once more an appeal is made to creation, as proving God’s greatness. “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these (heavens), bringing out their host (i.e. the stars) by number, or in their full number (Cheyne), and calling them all by names” (comp. Ps. 147:4, 5, “He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names,” which, however, is probably later than Isaiah). Omnipotence alone could have created the starry host. Omniscience is required to know their number and their names. The Israelites are supposed to have “learned that the constellations had names, in Babylon” (Cheyne, ad loc.); but a special name for each star, which the Babylonians did not give, seems to be here intended. Not one faileth; i.e. “not one star neglects to attend the muster when God marshals the host.” The stars are viewed as his army.[4]

[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 3, pp. 231–234). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (pp. 69–70). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 475). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1910). Isaiah (Vol. 2, pp. 69–70). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

June 19 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Deuteronomy 24; Psalms 114–115; Isaiah 51; Revelation 21


in the light of the absolute alternatives set out at the end of Isaiah 50—either fear the Lord and obey his Servant and know his blessing, or light your own fire and lie down in torment—Isaiah 51:1–11 opens with words of encouragement to the faithful remnant. The passage climaxes with a grand vision of returning to the Lord, of entering Zion with singing (51:11). The words evoke the pilgrimages the godly undertook when they were in the land. In the best of circumstances these were joyful occasions, full of singing, full of personal and family memories, full of joyous expectation as the people of God wended their way to Zion, to the temple of the living God. But the pilgrimage that the prophet has in mind eclipses any other. The old pilgrimages occurred three times a year for the prescribed feasts. Here the language of pilgrimage is retained, but we are given a glimpse of the End: “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (51:11). We have returned to the ultimate hope expressed in 2:1–5 and 11:1–16.

But the people are not there yet. If they are discouraged by their small numbers and reduced circumstances, they should remember their origins, the rock from which they were cut: Abraham started off as one man, but God “blessed him and made him many” (51:2). So here: “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins” (51:3). Indeed, God’s salvation will last forever, and his righteousness will never fail (51:6). Meanwhile, God’s people must listen to him. They have God’s “law” in their hearts (51:7): the word properly means “instruction,” and may here include not only the Law of Moses but all the instruction of God mediated through prophets and priests alike. If this word is what anchors you, the next injunction is manageable: “Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults” (51:7). On the long haul, they will perish like a moth-eaten garment, while God’s righteousness and salvation “will last forever … through all generations” (51:8).

Some manuscripts preserve (probably rightly) a slightly different reading in verse 4. Instead of “my people” and “my nation,” read “peoples” and “nations.” That means that 51:4–6 addresses another group of pilgrims, in addition to the Israelites—all those drawn in from around the world. All of these, together with the remnant of Israelites, constitute “the ransomed of the Lord” (51:11; cf. Rev. 5:9–10).[1]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

June 19 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Deuteronomy 24; Psalms 114–115; Isaiah 51; Revelation 21


it is striking how the Mosaic Law provides for the poor.

Consider Deuteronomy 24. Here God forbids taking a pair of millstones, or “even the upper one” (i.e., the more movable one), as security for a debt (24:6). It would be like taking a mechanic’s tools as security, or a software writer’s computer. That would take away the means of earning a living, and would therefore not only compound the poverty but would make repayment a practical impossibility.

In 24:10–12, two further stipulations are laid down with respect to security for loans. (1) If you make a loan to a neighbor, do not go into his home to get the pledge. Stay outside; let him bring it out to you. Such restrained conduct allows the neighbor to preserve a little dignity, and curtails the tendency of some rich people to throw their weight around and treat the poor as if they are dirt. (2) Do not keep as security what the poor man needs for basic warmth and shelter.

In 24:14–15, employers are told to pay their workers daily. In a poor and agrarian society where as much as 70% or 80% of income went on food, this was ensuring that the hired hand and his family had enough to eat every day. Withholding wages not only imposed a hardship, but was unjust. Still broader considerations of justice are expressed in 24:17–18: orphans and aliens, i.e., those without protectors or who do not really understand a particular culture’s “ropes,” are to be treated with justice and never abused or taken advantage of.

Finally, in 24:19–22, farmers are warned not to pick up every scrap of produce from their field in order to get a better return. Far better to leave some “for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.” (See also the meditation for August 9.)

Two observations: First, these sorts of provisions for the poor will work best in a nontechnological society where labor and land are tied together, and help is provided by locals for locals. There is no massive bureaucratic scheme. On the other hand, without some sort of structured organization it is difficult to imagine how to foster similar help for the poor in, say, the south side of Chicago, where there are few farmers to leave scraps of produce. Second, the incentive in every case is to act rightly under the gaze of God, especially remembering the years the people themselves spent in Egypt (24:13–22). These verses demand close reading. Where people live in the fear, love, and knowledge of God, social compassion and practical generosity are entailed; where God fades into the mists of sentimentalism, robust compassion also withers—bringing down the biting denunciation of prophets like Amos.[1]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

June 18 What a Friend

Scripture reading: Psalm 119:65–72

Key verse: Psalm 119:67

Before I was afflicted I went astray,

But now I keep Your word.

The words of the much-loved hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” sum up the essence of this passage:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! (Joseph Scriven)

Have you ever been reluctant to talk to God about a pain in your life because you know the problem is related to a past sin of some kind? You feel ashamed, and somehow in the back of your mind you believe you deserve the consequences and therefore shouldn’t ask God to relieve the pressure.

Yes, sin does bring with it a host of problems, and God does not promise to take away all consequences. In His mercy, He does remove the results much of the time. Sometimes, though, He wants you to learn through suffering, much as a child learns by being disciplined by his parents. Nevertheless, God does care about how you feel.

Part of the reason to allow the suffering to remain in your life is that you will learn to draw closer to Him. The Lord wants to heal your damaged emotions and recharge your spirit. Trust Him with that task, and you’ll learn what He can do.

Lord, I want to draw closer to You. Heal my damaged emotions and recharge my broken spirit.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2002). Seeking His face (p. 177). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 18, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

Judgment Pronounced

After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” (18:1–3)

This solemn opening pronouncement of judgment gives two reasons for Babylon’s impending destruction: pervasive demonic activity and wretched sensuality. As it often does in Revelation (cf. 4:1; 7:9; 15:5; 19:1), the phrase after these things marks the beginning of a new vision. While still discussing the general theme of Antichrist’s world empire, destroyed finally by the seven bowl judgments (chap. 16), chapter 18 moves from its religious aspects to its commercial aspects. As this new vision opened, John saw another angel, distinct from the one in 17:1. Some view this angel as Christ, but the use of allos (another of the same kind) instead of heteros (another of a different kind) indicates that this is an angel of the same type as the one in 17:1. He may be the angel who had earlier predicted Babylon’s downfall (14:8). Three features in the text reveal his unusual power and importance.

First, he came down from heaven with great authority. He left the presence of God with delegated authority to act on God’s behalf.

Second, when he arrived, the earth was illumined with his glory. He will make his dramatic appearance onto a darkened stage, for the fifth bowl will have plunged the world into darkness (16:10). Manifesting the flashing brilliance of a glorious heavenly being against the blackness, the angel will be an awe-inspiring sight to the shocked and terrified earth dwellers.

Third, the angel cried out with a mighty voice. No one will be able to ignore him; everyone will hear him as well as see him. His message will add to the consternation and terror caused by his appearance. It will be a word of woe, ill tidings for Antichrist and his followers: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The judgment predicted in 14:8 will now be carried out. This will be a greater and more far-reaching judgment than the one pronounced in identical words on ancient Babylon (Isa. 21:9). A comparison of this passage with 16:17–19 suggests that this judgment takes place when the seventh bowl is poured out:

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.

The first cause given for Babylon’s destruction is that she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit (a synonym for demons, cf. 16:13–14). It was in the vicinity of Babylon that 200 million formerly bound demons were released at the sounding of the sixth trumpet (9:13–16). They, along with the demons released from the abyss at the sounding of the fifth trumpet (9:1–11), those cast from heaven with Satan (12:4, 9), and those previously on earth, will be confined in Babylon. God will, so to speak, gather all the rotten eggs into one basket before disposing of them.

Babylon will also be a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. That phrase symbolizes the city’s total destruction (cf. Isa. 34:11). Like grotesque carrion birds, the demons will hover over the doomed city, waiting for its fall. The depiction of the demons as unclean and hateful reflects heaven’s view of them.

Babylon’s destruction will also come because all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality. Antichrist’s evil religious and commercial empire will spread its hellish influence to all the nations of the world. Having drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality (cf. 14:8; 17:2), the people of the world will fall into a religious and materialistic stupor. The all-encompassing terms all the nations, the kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth reveal that Babylon will seduce the entire world. The unregenerate people of the world will lust for Babylon, passionately desiring to commit acts of spiritual immorality with her. Likewise, the merchants of the earth will have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality. In the beginning, the world will cash in on Babylon’s financial prosperity.

Having thrown off any semblance of self-control or self-restraint, sinners will indulge in a wild materialistic orgy. Like those in ancient Babylon, they will be partying when their city is destroyed (cf. Dan. 5:1–30). James’s condemnation of the ruthless wealthy could also apply to them:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (James 5:1–5)[1]

2 In words very similar to those of the prophets who encouraged God’s people as they faced ancient Babylon, the angel announces that Babylon the Great, mother of all the earthly prostitute cities, has fallen (cf. Isa 21:9; Jer 51:8 with Rev 14:8; 18:2). Again, in words reminiscent of the judgment announced against ancient Babylon, forewarning the city’s habitation only by detestable creatures and evil spirits (Isa 13:19–22; 34:11; Jer 50:39), John hears the same fate announced for this urban mother of prostitutes. “Demons” (daimoniōn, GK 1228) are associated elsewhere with idolatry (see comments at 9:20; 16:14). The “haunt” (phylakē, GK 5871) is a watchtower; the evil spirits, watching over fallen Babylon like night birds or harpies waiting for their prey, build their nests in the broken towers that rise from the ashes of the city (cf. Swete). She who was a great city has become a wilderness.[2]

2 The declaration of the angelic herald is like that of Isa 21:9 when news of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus reached the children of Israel—“Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!” With a mighty voice the angel shouts out that Babylon the Great has fallen. Babylon has always been symbolic of opposition to the advance of the kingdom of God. As it fell in times past, so will it be destroyed in the future. Part of the reason for using “Babylon” is that the readers will know what God did to the first Babylon and be quick to recognize that in giving Rome that title he will once again carry out his judgment on the city. The aorist tense denotes the certainty of future fulfillment. It is the prophetic way of declaring that the great purpose of God in triumphing over evil is a fait accompli.

The once-proud city of Babylon is to lie utterly desolate. It is to become the haunt for evil spirits and all kinds of unclean creatures. For background we should turn to Isaiah’s oracle against ancient Babylon. There we find that Babylon once fallen will never again be inhabited except by creatures of the desert (Isa 13:20–21). Satyrs (RSV), demonic creatures having the appearance of hairy goats, will leap about among the ruins to the howling of hyenas and jackals (Isa 13:21–22). There is some question about the meaning of the word twice translated “haunt” in v. 2 as well as the relationship between the parallel clauses. The structure of the verse suggests that the word is roughly parallel to “home.” Demons dwell among the ruins of Babylon, as do unclean spirits and animals. It is not a place of detention11 but a place where they dwell undisturbed. In any case, it is a prophetic picture of absolute desolation where the proud achievements of the human race become the demonic haunts of unclean and detestable creatures. Since Rome is already the habitation of evil spirits, it follows that when she falls nothing will remain but the evil spirits and ceremonially unclean creatures.[3]

18:2–3 / The great angel’s dirge begins by an ironical summary of the great event: Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! (cf. 16:19). That Babylon lies in ruins is indicated by its occupation by demons … every evil spirit … every unclean and detestable bird—all symbols of death and desertion (cf. Isa. 13:20–22; 34:11–15; Jer. 51:37; Luke 11:24–26).

The reasons for its fall suggest its former greatness. It brokered political power with nations … and the kings of the earth. Yet, its relationship with them was profane and illicit in that Babylon demands submission to its secular agenda and interests rather than to God’s reign. The image of adultery to characterize this relationship is an allusion to the familiar prophetic typology of Israel’s idolatry. John’s point, however, is a political one: it is idolatry whenever political values are legitimized by claims of national sovereignty. Only God is sovereign over the affairs of nations. In John’s world, Rome’s political greatness led to its arrogant refusal to submit its aims and purposes to the will of God and to its choosing instead the emperor cultus as the true and approved religion of God.

Babylon’s functional atheism is detected in the economic sphere as well. There the merchants of the earth profited from excessive luxuries. The word for excessive (strenos) occurs only here in the nt and lacks any precise equivalent elsewhere. Beckwith understands it as “self-indulgence with accompanying arrogance and wanton exercise of strength” (Revelation, p. 713), which seems true to the immediate context. The will of the social order and its ruling elite dominates in a world where “might makes right.” Merchants value economic profit, even as kings value national security. Such is the nature of idolatry, which results in self-destruction and divine judgment. Moreover, since God’s judgment is due in part to Babylon’s treatment of God’s people (18:24), John’s point interprets the church’s experience of powerlessness and poverty as well. The eschaton is for those who are now marginalized, whose political and economic conditions will be reversed in revelation of God’s righteousness (cf. Luke 1:51–53).[4]

Ver. 2.—And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying; and he cried with a strong voice, saying. This “strong voice” is characteristic of the heavenly utterances (cf. ch. 7:2; 14:7, etc.). Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. The event, though future, is described as past, being predetermined in the counsels of God. The words here are a reproduction of Isa. 21:9. And is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird; a habitation … a hold of every_ unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird. “Devils” (Greek, δαιμόνια), inferior evil spirits. The three phrases express the same idea, viz. the loathsome and hateful state to which Babylon is reduced. The language is derived from the prophets (cf. Isa. 13:21, 22; 34:11–15; Jer. 50:39; 51:37). A hold (Greek, (φυλακή, “a strong place”); the natural and fitting stronghold of the devils, rather than a place to which they are involuntarily confined.[5]

2a καὶ ἔκραξεν ἐν ἰσχυρᾷ φωνῇ λέγων, ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, “Then he cried with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.’ ” This phrase, which also occurs in 14:8 (see the more extensive Comment there), is probably an allusion to Isa 21:9 (Fekkes, Isaiah, 204–5, 213–14); cf. Jer 51:8 (LXX 28:8), καὶ ἄφνω ἔπεσεν Βαβυλών, “And immediately Babylon fell.” In LXX Isa 21:9 the double verb occurs in MS B (and two lesser MSS): πέπτωκεν πέπτωκεν Βαβυλών, “Babylon has fallen, fallen,” though this is a literal rendering of the Hebrew נָפְלָה בּבֶלָ נָפְלָה nāpĕlâ nāpĕlâ bābel, “fallen, fallen, is Babylon.” The aorist verbs ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν, “fallen, fallen,” emphasize the certainty of the fall of Babylon-Rome, which, from the standpoint of the speaker, is an event that has not yet occurred (this same phrase also occurs in Rev 14:8). This is an example of the perfectum propheticum, “prophetic perfect,” used to describe a future event with a verb in the past tense as if it had already happened (GKC § 106n; Mussies, Morphology, 338). The phrase “fallen, fallen is so-and-so” originated as a lament uttered upon the death of an individual and is transferred to the actual or anticipated demise of a political unit such as a tribe, city, or nation (Eissfeldt, Introduction, 91–92; Yarbro Collins, “Revelation 18,” 192–93). The term πίπτειν, “fall,” was frequently used in the ancient world in the metaphorical sense of a person’s violent death, usually in war (Exod 32:28; 1 Sam 4:10; 2 Sam 1:19, 25, 27; 3:38; 21:22; Job 14:10 [LXX only]; 1 Chr 5:10; 20:8; 1 Macc 3:24; 4:15, 34; 2 Macc 12:34; Jdt 7:11; Gk. 1 Enoch 14:6; 1 Cor 10:18; Barn. 12:5; Iliad 8.67; 10.200; 11.157, 500; Xenophon Cyr. 1.4.24; Herodotus 9.67). The name “Babylon” occurs several times in Revelation (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). (On the title “Babylon the great,” see Comment on 14:8.) While most commentators assume that “Babylon” is a code name for Rome (Bousset [1906] 384; Charles, 2:62–63; Müller, 267, 288–89), Lohmeyer rejects the view that Rome is specifically in view, since “Babylon” is a term used in the OT and Judaism for the earthly power opposed to God; no more specification is necessary (138–39, 147). Kraft identifies Rome with the “Babylon” of Rev 17 but not that of Rev 18 (229, 234), and other scholars understand “Babylon” of Rev 18 to represent Jerusalem (Ford, 285–86, 296–307; Beagley, Apocalypse, 92–102; Provan, JSNT 64 [1996] 91–97). The historical fall of Rome occurred in August of a.d. 410 when the city was pillaged by Alaric and his army of Goths.

2b καὶ ἐγένετο κατοικητήριον δαιμονίων καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς πνεύματος ἀκαθάρτου, “It has become the habitation of demons … reserve for unclean spirits.” This and what follows is an allusion to Isa 13:21–22a, where the devastation following the destruction of Babylon is graphically depicted using the topos of the deserted city as a dwelling place for wild animals:

21 But wild animals will lie down there,

and its houses will be full of howling creatures;

there ostriches will live,

and there goat-demons will dance.

22a Hyenas will cry in its twoers,

and jackals in the pleasant palaces. (nrsv)

It is also possible that there is an allusion here to Jer 51:37 (LXX 28:37), a possibility made more likely by the presence of seven other allusions to Jer 51 in Rev 18 (see Form/Structure/Setting on Rev 18, III. The Influence of Jeremiah). The MT text of Jer 51:37, which is longer than the LXX text (which probably represents an earlier Hebrew text) is represented here by the rsv:

And Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,

the haunt of jackals,

a horror and a hissing,

without inhabitant.

The aftermath of the destruction of Nineveh is described similarly in Zeph 2:14 (nrsv):

Herds shall lie down in it [Nineveh],

every wild animal;

the desert owl and the screech owl

shall lodge on its capitals;

the owl shall hoot at the window,

the raven croak on the threshold;

for its cedar work will be laid bare.

The same topos is used to gloat over the destruction of Tyre in Isa 23:1 and Edom in Isa 34:11–15 (nb. that Edom eventually became a code name for Rome in Jewish tradition; see 4 Ezra 6:7–10; Gen. Rab. 65.21). The emptiness and aridity of the location of a city punished by Yahweh is mentioned in Jer 50:12; 51:43. In Bar 4:35 it is predicted that the enemy of Israel will be destroyed by fire and inhabited by demons. Demons were associated with unsettled and desolate places (Isa 13:21; 34:14; Tob 8:3; Matt 12:43 = Luke 11:24; Mark 5:10). The threat of desolation is a frequently occurring theme in prophetic denunciations of nations and cities, including Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 4:26–27; 9:10–12; 22:5–6; Ezek 6:14; Hos 2:3; Joel 3:19; Zeph 2:13; Mal 1:3–4).

2c καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς ὀρνέου ἀκαθάρτου καὶ μεμισημένου, “a preserve for every type of unclean and hateful bird.” This may continue the allusion to Jer 51:37 (LXX 28:37), “And Babylon shall become a heap of ruins, the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing, without inhabitant.” Yet similar phrases are used of Jerusalem in Jer 9:11, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a lair of jackals; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.” It is of interest that when Trajan visited the famous Mesopotamian Babylon, ca. 115 a.d., he found it largely deserted, consisting mainly of mounds, stones, and ruins (Dio Cassius 68.30).[6]

The Third Word: The Fall of Babylon (18:1–3)

The first angel has confronted John with the mystery of Babylon, and has then made him face one aspect after another of the beast and the woman who comprise it. We may or may not reckon to have grasped the meaning of his long discourse (17:7–18), but have we grasped its menace? The reader who has not been frightened by it has not begun to understand it. The ‘power of evil’ in the Satanism of cheap fiction is a mere pantomime demon compared with this description of the real thing. The angel scours the dictionary of metaphor to find synonyms of power to apply to the beast. Neither dare we underestimate the persuasiveness of the woman. We may react to the glamour of 17:4 with a shudder—‘How cheap, how tawdry!’—because that is what we think is expected of us. But in practice, in daily life, the pearls and the purple and the golden cup have an awful fascination. The world is powerful, its message is attractive, and we know what it is to be like the bird held by the glittering eye of the snake.

This is why the spell needs to be broken by a voice of even greater authority. The second angel comes from heaven, with a glory brighter and a voice more compelling than that of Babylon, to declare again that vital part of the divine message which assures us of her final downfall. It is the message which the finger of God once wrote over the actual historical Babylon: ‘God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end’ (Dn. 5:26). Whether it is totalitarian repression or decadent capitalism which Christians have to cope with, they need to be reminded that neither the beast nor the woman is permanently in power, despite all the symbolism of the ‘everlasting hills’, and that one day their universal dominion will be in retrospect no more than a nightmare from which one has awakened.[7]

2. And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the Great. And she has become the dwelling place of demons, and the prison of every unclean spirit, and the prison of every unclean bird, and the prison of every unclean and hated beast.”

  • “And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the Great.’ ” The Apocalypse is replete with angels who cry out in a loud voice so that everyone on earth is able to hear (7:2; 10:3; 14:7, 9, 15; 19:17). The word mighty reflects the great authority that has been given to this angel. No one can ignore the voice of an angel who announces “an event which is stupefying in its magnitude.” Although his announcement is similar to that of the angel who cried “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the wrathful wine of her fornication” (14:8), there are differences. In this verse he first describes the dwelling place of Babylon by referring to it three times as a prison, and then he elaborates in successive verses.

John has taken the reference to Babylon from Isaiah 21:9, “Babylon has fallen, has fallen!” (see also Jer. 50:2; 51:8). The duplication of the verb to fall for emphasis is a typical feature in Semitic writing. Note that the past tense of the verb is given as if the actual destruction of Babylon had already taken place. The past tense states not merely the expectation but the certainty of this event.

  • “And she has become the dwelling place of demons.” In desert places the goat demons dance and call to each other (Isa. 13:21; 34:14 NRSV). Evil spirits live in deserted places (Luke 8:29) and in a ruined city like Babylon. This ruined place is the home of demons, whose ruler is Satan. It will become a place void of any inhabitant (Jer. 50:39; 51:37). This is a picture of a world without God that is now in the power of evil spirits who can freely vex its people.

Babylon is the prison of every unclean spirit, every unclean bird, and every unclean and hated beast. In this context, the term prison suggests a dwelling place to which these creatures are consigned—not so much a prison, for that is the Abyss, but a place where they dwell. This desolate place is the home of unclean spirits and animals—a picture of a world completely devoid of God and his Word. How different is the city of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts and lives of the saints! There the light of the gospel shines brightly and the people live in joy and happiness.[8]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (pp. 178–180). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 750). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (pp. 325–326). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Wall, R. W. (2011). Revelation (pp. 213–214). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Revelation (p. 431). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[6] Aune, D. E. (1998). Revelation 17–22 (Vol. 52C, pp. 985–987). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[7] Wilcock, M. (1986). The message of Revelation: I saw heaven opened (pp. 166–167). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[8] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, pp. 486–487). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

June 18 Reinforcing Our Faith

Scripture Reading: Jude 1:3–23

Key Verses: Jude 1:20–21

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

We must be careful to reinforce our faith so that we can stand firm against the subversive pull of the world. But how can we build a stronger faith?

  • We must saturate our minds with the holy, unchanging Word of God. Then the Holy Spirit will continually refresh our minds and bring new insights as we develop Christian maturity.
  • We must commit to pray in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). We can trust the Spirit to guide us in our prayers, leading us with regard to what, when, and how to pray.
  • We must keep ourselves in the love of God. Of course, we can never fall beyond the scope of God’s love, but we shouldn’t ever take His amazing grace for granted. With that in mind, we need to closely guard our intimacy with Him and the time we spend in His presence.
  • We must wait anxiously for the return of Jesus Christ. For Christians, the Second Coming is the most anticipated event in history, and we need to keep our eyes on this goal. The thought that Christ could return at any moment is a purifying and protective realization for the believer (1 John 3:2–3).

There is no “magic formula” for Christian growth, but these simple steps, laid out in Jude 1:20–23, can serve as a guide as we strive to protect our faith from the snares of the world.

Lord, saturate my mind with Your Word and fill me with Your Spirit. Keep me in Your love as I await Your return.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (p. 177). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 18 Praying in a Crisis

Scripture Reading: James 5:13–18

Key Verse: James 5:13

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

During the Persian Gulf War, prayer made a comeback in mainstream America. Commentators regularly mentioned prayer. The president prayed for our troops. But some of the most intense prayer arose from the hot sands of the Arabian desert.

“Praying makes me feel better, makes me a little more secure,” said one army lieutenant who skipped a card game to attend a worship service. An army staff sergeant commented, “I have always prayed, but I need it now more than ever.”

Adversity motivates people to prayer. Crises quickly filter the trivial and expose the essential. In the midst of crises, we must remember several crucial truths.

We must be rightly related to the God we petition. The nonbeliever may pray; but until he places his faith in Christ, his pleas are in vain. God desires to bring all men to saving faith, but He is not obligated to respond to the nonbeliever’s prayers.

Another important principle is that while prayer moves God to act on man’s behalf, it does not guarantee preferred answers. We cannot manipulate God. But crises turn us toward Him for His sovereign answers, the most critical being His provision for our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. We then ask in His name and trust Him for the outcome.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the privilege of prayer—that I can ask for Your provision and trust You for the outcome. In the face of every crisis, let me flee to You.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1999). On holy ground (p. 177). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 18 Your Strength and Shield

Scripture reading: 2 Cor. 12:7–10

Key verse: 1 Cor. 1:27

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.

Every Christian has a weakness, a soft spiritual underbelly. Satan, though not omniscient, is keen on probing for our spiritual chinks and mounting unrelenting assaults. Frequently, we are caught in the vicious and futile circle of failure, repentance, renewed commitment, and repeated relapse. As long as we are kept in this dizzying and frustrating mode, the devil can keep us off balance, taking the loving edge off our relationship with Christ and our effectiveness in His work.

God’s ways, however, are not ours. His solution for our weakness is radically different. Instead of our buckling up our spiritual chin strap one more notch, Christ asks us to admit our weakness and concentrate on His strength. This may sound simple, but it is not simplistic.

Grace saved us from sin, and grace will deliver us. We need Christ’s power, not our own resolve, to defeat our foe and overcome our weakness.

Take your weakness, whatever its nature, to Christ. Do not give up to your problem but give in to Christ, yielding to His Spirit who can fortify your frailty with supernatural grace. You are weak, but He is strong. Jesus is your Strength and your Shield. Lean on His grace.

Jesus, You are my Strength and my Shield. You are the One who can fortify my human frailty with supernatural grace. I lean on You today.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2000). Into His presence (p. 177). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 18, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Disloyalty to God

For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; (11:2a)

The thought of the Corinthians’ being seduced into error by the false apostles was heartbreaking to Paul. Thus, what may have seemed to the Corinthians to be boasting on his part was actually extreme concern, prompted by godly jealousy (literally, “the jealousy of God”). Paul’s jealousy on God’s behalf manifested itself in righteous indignation at the possibility of the Corinthians’ defection.

God’s jealousy for His holy name and for His people is a major Old Testament theme. In Exodus 20:5 God said, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14 reveals that one of God’s names is “Jealous.” Deuteronomy 4:24 describes the Lord as “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (cf. Deut. 5:9; 6:15; Josh. 24:19; Nah. 1:2), while Deuteronomy 32:16 and 21 reveal that His holy jealousy is provoked when His people worship idols (cf. Ps. 78:58; 1 Cor. 10:22). In Ezekiel 39:25 God declares, “I shall be jealous for My holy name.”

Like David, who wrote in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for [God’s] house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach [Him] have fallen on me” (cf. John 2:17), Paul felt pain when God was dishonored. That pain produced a “daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28), particularly for those believers who were weak and led into sin (11:29). He was especially concerned that the Corinthians offer God the loyal, loving obedience in which He rejoices and of which He is worthy (cf. Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 19:9; 30:16; Josh. 22:5; 23:11; Ps. 31:23; Matt. 22:37).

Disloyalty to Christ

for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (11:2b–3)

Paul expressed his concern over the Corinthians’ disloyalty to Christ by using the analogy of betrothal and marriage. As is the case today, the main elements of a Jewish wedding were the betrothal (engagement) and the actual ceremony. The betrothal period usually lasted about a year (though sometimes couples were betrothed as young children). The betrothed couple, though not allowed to consummate the union physically, was legally regarded as husband and wife; the betrothal could be broken only by death or divorce, and unfaithfulness during that time was considered adultery (cf. Matt. 1:18–19). The betrothal period culminated in the ceremony, marking the completion of the covenant.

During the betrothal period, it was the father’s responsibility to ensure that his daughter remained faithful to her pledged husband. He would then present her to him at the wedding ceremony as a pure virgin.

When Paul preached the gospel to them, he betrothed the Corinthians to one husband. At salvation, they pledged their loyalty to Christ, and Paul wanted to make sure they remained faithful. As their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:15), Paul was determined to present them as a pure virgin to Christ. Having been engaged to Him at salvation, the Corinthians (like all church-age believers) will be presented to Christ at the Rapture (cf. John 14:1–3) and have their marriage supper during the millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:7–9). Paul’s overriding concern was that the church remain pure for her Bridegroom (cf. Eph. 5:25–27).

The phrase I am afraid expresses the heart of Paul’s concern, both in this passage and in the entire epistle. His defense of his integrity and his ministry, his appeals for the Corinthians’ loyalty, and his confrontation of the false teachers all were motivated by fear. The apostle’s concern was justified, because the Corinthians had demonstrated an alarming susceptibility to being seduced, welcoming those who preached another Jesus and a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:4).

It is every pastor’s fear that some of his sheep might go astray. As noted above, it was Paul’s zeal for their purity that caused the “daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (11:28). A heartbreaking theme throughout history is the disloyalty of many who claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ. Countless churches that name the name of Christ have been seduced by “deceitful spirits” teaching “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1) and become disloyal to Him.

Satan’s deception of God’s people began in the Garden of Eden when the serpent (Satan; Rev. 12:9; 20:2) deceived Eve. She did not intend to rebel against God, but as Paul wrote to Timothy, “the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13). Eve thought that the information she received from Satan was correct and acted on it. In Genesis 3:1 Satan began by asking her, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” God had, as Satan knew, clearly said just that. His question was intended to cast doubt on God’s command. Having planted the seed of doubt in Eve’s mind, Satan then proceeded to openly deny the truth of God’s word, brazenly declaring to her, “You surely shall not die!” (3:4). Finally, he offered a lie in its place: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). Eve wanted God’s best, so Satan’s counsel seemed perfect. After all, what could be better than being like God? Having thus been thoroughly deceived, Eve ate the forbidden fruit, as did Adam—even though he was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). The catastrophic result was that the human race was plunged into sin (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:21–22). Ever since Satan deceived Eve, false teachers, following his pattern, have portrayed the truth as error and then offered error as the truth.

Paul feared that Satan’s emissaries, using the same craftiness (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13–15) by which their evil master deceived Eve, would lead the Corinthians’ minds (the Greek word could also be translated “thoughts”) astray, thus corrupting or ruining them (the Greek term also has those connotations). Lack of discernment is a major problem for the church (cf. Eph. 4:14), because the spiritual battle is an ideological one (see the discussion of 10:3–5 in chapter 25 of this volume). The church’s willingness to tolerate error in the name of unity, coupled with a lack of biblical and doctrinal knowledge, has crippled its ability to discern. As a result, it is too often easy prey for the ravenous, savage wolves of whom both Jesus and Paul warned (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29), who wound it and sap its power and testimony.

The essence of the Christian life is simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. To the Philippians Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21; cf. Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4). To not love Him supremely as Savior and Lord is an act of disloyalty. The danger false teachers pose is that they shift the focus off Jesus Christ and onto rituals, ceremonies, good works, miracles, emotional experiences, psychology, entertainment, political and social causes, and anything else that will distract people.

Loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ is nonnegotiable in the Christian life—so much so that Scripture declares, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22).[1]

2. For I am jealous. Mark why it is that he acts the fool, for jealousy hurries a man as it were headlong. “Do not demand that I should show the equable temper of a man that is at ease, and not excited by any emotion, for that vehemence of jealousy, with which I am inflamed towards you, does not suffer me to be at ease.” As, however, there are two kinds of jealousy—the one springing from self-love, and of a wicked and perverse nature, while the other is cherished by us on God’s account,3 he intimates of what sort his zeal is. For many are zealous—for themselves, not for God. That, on the other hand, is the only pious and right zeal, that has an eye to God, that he may not be defrauded of the honours that of right belong to him.

For I have united you to one man. That his zeal was of such a nature, he proves from the design of his preaching, for its tendency was to join them to Christ in marriage, and retain them in connection with him. Here, however, he gives us in his own person a lively picture of a good minister; for One alone is the Bridegroom of the Church—the Son of God. All ministers are the friends of the Bridegroom, as the Baptist declares respecting himself. (John 3:29.) Hence all ought to be concerned, that the fidelity of this sacred marriage remain unimpaired and inviolable. This they cannot do, unless they are actuated by the dispositions of the Bridegroom, so that every one of them may be as much concerned for the purity of the Church, as a husband is for the chastity of his wife. Away then with coldness and indolence in this matter, for one that is cold will never be qualified for this office. Let them, however, in the mean time, take care, not to pursue their own interest rather than that of Christ, that they may not intrude themselves into his place, lest while they give themselves out as his paranymphs, they turn out to be in reality adulterers, by alluring the bride to love themselves.

To present you as a chaste virgin. We are married to Christ, on no other condition than that we bring virginity as our dowry, and preserve it entire, so as to be free from all corruption. Hence it is the duty of ministers of the gospel to purify our souls, that they may be chaste virgins to Christ; otherwise they accomplish nothing. Now we may understand it as meaning, that they individually present themselves as chaste virgins to Christ, or that the minister presents the whole of the people, and brings them forward into Christ’s presence. I approve rather of the second interpretation. Hence I have given a different rendering from Erasmus.[2]

2 With a jealousy that sprang from God and was like God’s own jealousy for his people (e.g., Hos 2:19–20; 4:12; 6:4; 11:8), Paul was jealous for his converts’ undivided loyalty to Christ in the interval between their conversion (= betrothal to Christ) and their glorification (= presentation to Christ). He pictures himself as the father of the bride (cf. 1 Co 4:15; 2 Co 12:14), whose ultimate purpose in betrothing “the church of God in Corinth” (1:1) to her heavenly bridegroom, Jesus Christ, was to present her as a virgin to her husband at his appearance (cf. 4:14; Eph 5:27; 1 Jn 3:2–3).

Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue. It is the motive and object of the jealousy that is all-important. There is a place for a spiritual father’s passionate concern for the exclusive and pure devotion to Christ of his spiritual children, and also a place for anger at potential violators of that purity (11:29).[3]

2 The word “For” (untranslated by the NIV) is dominant in v. 2, appearing in both of its unequal sentences, providing the link between Paul’s three ideas in vv. 1b-2: “You do bear with … me. For I am jealous for you … for I betrothed you … to Christ.”16 These ideas are given in reverse order of ministry sequence of his relationship with them. First, he joined them to Christ; second, therefore, he cares about their fidelity to Christ; third, they do, ironically speaking, “bear with”—barely tolerate—him.

Critical to this verse and the next is the apostle’s portrayal of his ministry by the metaphor of betrothal, a practice alien to modern Western culture.18 It is, in all probability, a paternal image whereby a father pledges a daughter in marriage to a prospective husband, taking responsibility for her virginal fidelity to her betrothed in the period between the betrothal and the marriage. The apostle’s pride in his people “on the day of the Lord Jesus” (1:14) is consistent with the marriage imagery used here whereby a father would finally present his betrothed daughter with pride to her husband on the long-awaited wedding day.

By this elaborate metaphor Paul neatly describes the eschatological nature of apostolic evangelism. As the result of evangelism (1:19) a church (“a betrothed”) comes into being, related by “faith” (cf. 5:7) to her physically absent “husband”-to-be, whom she will not see until his appearing, when the marriage is consummated. In the meantime the father-betrother is responsible for the virginal purity of the betrothed until he “presents” her “as a pure virgin”21 to her “one husband.” How outrageous, therefore, that outsiders should come to Corinth and sully their purity, preaching “another Jesus” (v. 4).

Contrary to the practice of much evangelism where the greater effort tends to be concentrated on and limited to proclamation-response, Paul as an apostle operates within a distinct eschatological framework, regarding himself as responsible for the fidelity of the church to her Lord in the period between proclamation and consummation. The ongoing fidelity of the church in prospect of the end time is his concern. But what of the congregation already founded? It is to be inferred from this verse that the pastor of a congregation evangelized beforehand by others enters into the eschatological sweep of the “ministry” (diakonia) of the new covenant, confirming and constantly repeating the gospel by which the church was created, as well as exhorting the believers to remain focused on Christ, as Paul does here with the Corinthians (see, e.g., Col 2:6–7).

Appropriate to this view of his diakonia, Paul declares at the outset, “I am jealous for you with a godly [RSV, “divine”] jealousy.” This sentiment should not be confused with the petty possessiveness that mars human relationships. His words—which could also be rendered “I am zealous for you with God’s own zeal”—reflect an important theme in the (LXX) OT. Yahweh, Israel’s covenantal God, in zeal for his holy name, binds his people to him in a relationship that excludes the worship of other gods (LXX Exod 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 6:15). The theme of “zeal” also reflects God’s covenantal care for his people (LXX Isa 9:6; 37:32; 63:15–16). The inter-testamental tradition looked back on individuals like Phinehas and Elijah, who took violent action against idolatry and apostasy, as having acted in zeal for their God. Inspired by zeal for Yahweh, the pre-Christian Saul of Tarsus, as a persecutor of the church, stood in the same tradition (Gal 1:13–14; Phil 3:6; Acts 22:3–4). The Christian Paul’s zeal, however, is a converted zeal, free of the violence that characterized his pre-converted days and zealots before him, a zeal now driven by love (see on 5:14).

The Corinthians are not yet in outright apostasy, though there are dangerous possibilities in that regard (see v. 4). Since he is the initiator of the betrothal, it is his responsibility to safeguard the rights of the divine husband, Christ. The apostle bears the responsibility to ensure that the betrothed is kept faithful to the One she will marry, not diverted nor seduced by an interloper to “another” husband. Let the Corinthians and the would-be seducers understand that the apostle has “betrothed” this bride-to-be to “one husband,” to “present” the Corinthians “as a pure virgin” to Christ. The one Christ, as preached by the apostle, was, and is to remain, the focus of ministry and of faith.[4]

11:2 / The reason (gar, untranslated niv) that Paul asks the Corinthians’ forbearance is that he is jealous for them. The term jealousy, or rather “zeal,” is drawn from the character of Yahweh as the sole husband of Israel (cf. Hos. 1–3; Ezek. 16; Isa. 50:1–2; 54:1–8; 62:5), which is spoken of, correspondingly, as his bride (cf. Isa. 49:18).

Mark 2:19 refers to the Messiah as a bridegroom, and Ephesians 5:22–33 applies this image to the relationship between Christ and the church. Just as Phinehas, the ot prototypical zealot (Num. 25:1–13; cf. Ps. 106:28–31; Sir. 45:23–24; 1 Macc. 2:26, 54), was eager to keep Israel pure from foreign influences, especially intermarriage, which would subvert its devotion to the one true God, so also Paul was zealous to keep the church a pure virgin until the Parousia, when Christ will receive the church for himself.[5]

2. For I am jealous—The justification of his self-commendations lies in his zealous care lest they should fall from Christ, to whom he, as “the friend of the Bridegroom” (Jn 3:29), has espoused them; in order to lead them back from the false apostles to Christ, he is obliged to boast as an apostle of Christ, in a way which, but for the motive, would be “folly.”

godly jealousy—literally, “jealousy of God” (compare 2 Co 1:12, “godly sincerity,” literally, “sincerity of God”). “If I am immoderate, I am immoderate to God” [Bengel]. A jealousy which has God’s honor at heart (1 Ki 19:10).

I … espoused you—Paul uses a Greek term applied properly to the bridegroom, just as he ascribes to himself “jealousy,” a feeling properly belonging to the husband; so entirely does he identify himself with Christ.

present you as a chaste virgin to Christ—at His coming, when the heavenly marriage shall take place (Mt 25:6; Rev 19:7, 9). What Paul here says he desires to do, namely, “present” the Church as “a chaste virgin” to Christ, Christ Himself is said to do in the fuller sense. Whatever ministers do effectively, is really done by Christ (Eph 5:27–32). The espousals are going on now. He does not say “chaste virgins”; for not individual members, but the whole body of believers conjointly constitute the Bride.[6]

Ver. 2.—For. This gives the reason why they bore with him. It was due to a reciprocity of affection. I am jealous over you. The word implies both jealousy and zeal (ch. 7:7; 9:2). With a godly jealousy; literally, with a jealousy of God. My jealousy is not the poor earthly vice (Numb. 5:14; Ecclus. 9:1), but a heavenly zeal of love. For I have espoused you; rather, for I betrothed you; at your conversion. I acted as the paranymph, or “bridegroom’s friend” (John 3:29), in bringing you to Christ, the Bridegroom. The metaphor is found alike in the Old and New Testaments (Isa. 54:5; Ezek. 23; Hos. 2:19; Eph. 5:25–27). To one husband (Jer. 3:1; Ezek. 16:15). Our Lord used an analogous metaphor in the parable of the king’s wedding feast, the virgins, etc. That I may present you. The same word as in ch. 4:14. The conversion of the Church was its betrothal to Christ, brought about by St. Paul as the paranymph; and, in the same capacity, at the final marriage feast, he would present their Church as a pure bride to Christ at his coming (Rev. 19:7–9).[7]

2 ζηλῶ γὰρ ὑμᾶς θεοῦ ζήλῳ, “for I am jealous for you, with a jealousy God inspires [in me].” A Pauline pastoral aside, this sentence points to what underlies Paul’s concern for this church as for all the churches (11:28); γάρ, “for,” gives the link. He is consumed with ζήλος, “jealousy” or “zeal,” a term drawn from the character of Yahweh as the sole husband of Israel (Isa 50:1–2; 54:1–8; 62:5; Ezek 16; Hos 1–3), who is spoken of, correspondingly, as his bride. The marriage image is persistent throughout both Testaments. Batey points out that the description of Christ as the bridegroom is often wrongly sentimentalized. One of its main emphases is the assertion of his lordship over the bride, the church.220

ἡρμοσάμην γὰρ ὑμᾶς ἑνὶ ἀνδρὶ παρθένον ἁγνὴν παραστῆσαι τῷ Χριστῷ, “because I have promised you in marriage to a single husband, even Christ, to present you to him an undefiled virgin.” Paul’s role in this partnership between Christ and his bride is one of φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου, “friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29; Heb. šôšĕbîn, “groomsman,” who acted as best man or escort; see Comment on 6:18 and earlier). As such, he is greatly interested in siding with Christ’s desire to have a pure bride, a virgo intacta (παρθένον ἁγνήν), and he expresses his feelings by a recourse to the OT imagery where Yahweh is said to be a “jealous God” (Exod 20:5), which is another side to his love. “All love involves jealousy, if its exclusive claim is set aside”; and Paul shares this attitude as a mark of his love for the Corinthians (see 6:14–7:4, a pledge to be renewed at 12:15). If this is the ruling idea in Paul’s verb ἡρμοσάμην, “I betrothed,” then it seems we should give extra weight to ἑνί, “one,” with ἀνδρί, “husband,” i.e., “one husband,” as much as to “pure virgin.” So ἑνὶ ἀνδρί, “single husband,” implies that the church is united to Christ and to no other alongside or in place of him. To desert him is to forsake the true Pauline gospel—as v 4 makes apparent—for “another Jesus,” a rival spouse.

The presentation (the verb παρίστημι, “offer, render,” looks on to the Parousia, as in 4:14) of the churchly bride to her future husband is also part of Paul’s task as an apostle, whether as a father figure (1 Cor 4:15; see Comment on 6:12; 7:4) or more probably as an escort. But Paul’s hopes are none too sanguine for the reason given in v 3.

On Paul’s role as betrothing the Corinthians as the bride of Christ [11:2], Harris classifies four sets of interpretation: (1) the friend of the groom or the groomsman, (2) the friend of the bride, (3) the father’s agent, and (4) the father of the bride.[8]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 354–356). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 2, pp. 339–340). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 520). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 498–500). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (p. 204). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 316). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[7] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 2 Corinthians (pp. 262–263). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[8] Martin, R. P. (2014). 2 Corinthians. (R. P. Martin, L. A. Losie, & P. H. Davids, Eds.) (Second Edition, Vol. 40, pp. 517–518). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 18 Depression and Discouragement

scripture reading: Romans 7:15–25
key verse: Romans 7:19

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

You are a believer. The deepest yearning of your heart is to know, serve, and please God. But before you trusted Christ, you had a severe problem with anger. You still do. Before salvation, you grappled daily with depression. Now as a believer, you still are easily discouraged.

So what do you do? You commit yourself to study the Bible, pray regularly, memorize Scripture dealing with your particular albatross, read books, and listen to tapes.

What is the result? Sometimes temporary conquest but almost always eventual relapse. It all can lead to a very frustrating circle of resolve and regret. Why does this seem to be such a common experience?

Although you became a new spiritual creation in Christ at salvation, your mind, emotions, and habits were not automatically transformed. Once saved, you realize that these old patterns are not compatible with your new identity. Your natural response then is to do all you can to improve your behavior.

Such effort is admirable and makes you feel a little less guilty, but it doesn’t work very well. The root cause requires a radical approach to your familiar problem–solving techniques.

I cannot do it in myself, dear Lord. Replace my self–effort and my problem–solving techniques with Your power. Let me learn to walk by faith.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1998). Enter His gates: a daily devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

18 june (preached 27 may 1860) 365 Days with Spurgeon

Vile ingratitude

“Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations.” Ezekiel 16:1, 2

suggested further reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12–20

God gives to his people riches, and they offer them before the shrine of their covetousness. He gives them talent, and they prostitute it to the service of their ambition. He gives them judgement, and they pander to their own advancement, and seek not the interest of his kingdom. He gives them influence; that influence they use for their own aggrandisement, and not for his honour. This is like taking his gold, and his jewels, and hanging them upon the neck of the god Ashtaroth. Ah! Let us take care when we think of our sins, that we set them in this light. It is taking God’s mercies to lavish them upon his enemies. Now, if you were to make me a present of some token of your regard, I think it would be the meanest and most ungracious thing in the world I could do to take it over to your enemy, and say, “There, I come to pay my respects.” To pay my respects to your foe with that which had been the token of your favour! There are two kings at enmity with one another—two powers that have been at battle, and one of them has a rebellious subject, who is caught in the very act of treason, and condemned to die. The king very graciously pardons him, and then munificently endows him. “There,” says he, “I give you a thousand crown-pieces;” and that man takes the bounty, and devotes it to increasing the resources of the king’s enemies. Now, that were a treason and baseness too vile to be committed by worldly men. Alas then! That is what you have done. You have bestowed on God’s enemies what God gave to you as a love-token. Oh, men and brethren, let us bow ourselves in dust and ashes before God.

for meditation: Is a readiness to use God’s gifts selfishly the reason why he appears to say “No” to so many of your prayer-requests (James 4:3–4)?

sermon no. 323[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H., & Crosby, T. P. (1998). 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (p. 176). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

18 JUNE 365 Days with Calvin

Forgiven to Forgive

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Matthew 6:12

suggested further reading: Matthew 18:21–35

The forgiveness from debts that we ask for in prayer is inconsistent with the way unbelievers try to purchase freedom from what they owe to others. For the creditor who receives payment for what is owed to him does not truly forgive those debts. Rather, a person forgives when he willingly and generously departs from his just claim and frees the debtor of all obligations.

If debts are freely forgiven us, all compensations disappear. There is no other meaning possible in this verse, for God grants the pardon of those who owe him debts by removing the condemnation that they deserve.

Christ adds the condition as we forgive our debtors so that we may not presume to approach God for forgiveness unless we are pure and free from all resentment against others. Yet the forgiveness that we ask of God does not depend on the forgiveness that we grant to others. Rather, the purpose of Christ here is to teach us how to forgive the offenses that have been committed against us. When we forgive, we give evidence of the impression of God’s seal on us and ratify confidence in our own forgiveness.

Christ’s intent is not to point out the reason for our forgiveness but to remind us of how we should cherish others when we want to be reconciled to God. Certainly, if the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every kind of ill will and revenge ought to be banished in us. The Spirit is the witness of our adoption (Rom. 8:16), so forgiving others is a mark of grace that distinguishes us as children of God rather than strangers. The name debtors is given, not to those who owe us money or any other service, but to those who are in debt to us because of offenses that they have committed against us.

for meditation: When people wrong us, how easy—even satisfying—it is to hold the offense against them. Our anger rises if they do not come to us, begging for forgiveness. But if we hold on to that debt, how can we ask God to forgive the offenses we continually commit against him? When we consider the amazing, forgiving grace we find in God through his Son’s satisfaction for our innumerable sins, how can we not readily and cheerfully forgive others when their offenses amount to the smallest fraction of our offenses toward God?[1]

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 188). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

June 18, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

15:30 — Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me .…

God loves to answer the faithful prayers of believers that are offered on behalf of other believers. Paul, the great apostle, frequently asked others to pray for him. God wants us praying regularly for each other.[1]


Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, (15:30a)

A fifth implied characteristic of a person who faithfully fulfills his divine calling is that of having a clear purpose in his service for the Lord. The preposition by has the sense of “on behalf of,” or “with regard to.” Now I urge you introduces the exhortation to the readers to pray for his protection and ministry. Before giving that exhortation, Paul declared unequivocally that the overriding purpose for his request was to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ. He told the believers at Corinth, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23), which is to say for Christ’s sake, the source and power of the gospel. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).

In a following letter to Corinth Paul declared, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.… For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:5, 11). “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses,” he confessed, “with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake” (12:10). In his closing remarks to the Galatian churches Paul wrote, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). And to the Philippians he said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

The faithful Christian witnesses for the sake of those who need the Lord and he serves for the sake of those who need help, but his supreme motive always should be to serve His Lord and Savior, in whose name and by whose power he ministers to others.

Paul rejoiced in the fact that, if he succeeded in reaching Jerusalem with the contribution of the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, Christ would be glorified, within the church and before the onlooking world. The Lord would be glorified by the willing and loving generosity of the Gentile contributors as well as by the grateful reception of the gift by the Jews to whom it was sent. Christ is always honored and glorified when His church is unified in His name and in His service.

Not only did Paul minister on behalf of the glory of Christ but also for the sake of the love of the Spirit. This phrase and the idea it expresses are not found elsewhere in Scripture. Some have interpreted this phrase as meaning the Holy Spirit’s love for Paul. As part of the Godhead, the Spirit certainly has the same love for the world as a whole and for believers in particular as do the Father and the Son. The context, however, seems to indicate that Paul was speaking of his love for the Spirit, rather than the Spirit’s love for him. Paul’s great love for God obviously included love for the Holy Spirit as well as for God the Father and God the Son. David expressed a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God; let Thy good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Ps. 143:10, emphasis added). In both instances the Holy Spirit is praised and, by implication, is loved.

Devotion to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and love for His Holy Spirit should be the foremost and ultimate motive for all Christian living and service. In gratitude for the divine grace by which Christ saved us and for the divine power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, everything we think, say, and do should express our love for them and bring them glory and honor.


to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. (15:30 b–32)

Perhaps the cardinal characteristic of a person who faithfully does the will of God is prayer. And Paul now urges his fellow believers in Rome to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.

Sunagōnizomai (to strive together) is an intensified form of agōnizomai, which means to struggle or fight and is the term from which we get the English “agonize.” The word was originally used of athletic events, especially gymnastics, in which contestants, such as wrestlers or boxers, struggled against each other. Jesus used the word when He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting [agōnizomai]” (John 18:36).

Prayer is often a battle. Sometimes the “opponent” is our old self, which continues to wage “war against the law of [our] mind, and [makes us] a prisoner of the law of sin which is in [our] members” (Rom. 7:23). Prayer is always, in one way or another, a struggle against sin and evil, whether in us or around us. Sometimes, as Isaiah attests, it is necessary to arouse ourselves, as it were, and “take hold of” God (Isa. 64:7). Although we do not wrestle with the Lord in the way that Jacob did (Gen. 32:24), the spiritual struggle of prayer may sometimes be equally intense. Paul’s struggle on behalf of believers at Colossae and Laodicea doubtless included many hours of agonizing prayer on their behalf, that they would be rightly taught “a true knowledge of God’s mercy, that is, Christ Himself,” and would be protected from those who wanted to delude them (Col. 2:1–4). Near the end of that letter, Paul sent greetings from Epaphras, who was from their fellowship, and who was “always laboring earnestly for [them] in his prayers, that [they might] stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12).

Our finite minds cannot reconcile the power of prayer with God’s absolute sovereignty. As with the Trinity, and many other clearly revealed but humanly unfathomable teachings of Scripture, we simply acknowledge their absolute truth. Any seeming inconsistencies are due to the limits of our human comprehension. We know from His own Word that God is sovereign and immutable. Yet we also know from that same Word that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). We have our sovereign Lord’s promise that “everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened” (Luke 11:10). Any theology that belittles the power of prayer or intensity in prayer is heresy.

Although he asks for protection while in Judea, in this present passage Paul is not speaking primarily about struggling in prayer against the forces of evil. His emphasis here is rather on earnestly struggling along with his brethren in Rome in their prayers to God for him. He makes many similar requests in his letters. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit,” he counsels the Ephesians, “and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf” (Eph. 6:18–19). During his first imprisonment in Rome, he implored the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well” (Col. 4:2–3). In his second letter to Thessalonica, he said, “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1).

At the beginning of the letter to Rome, Paul assures believers there that “God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers” (1:9–10). Now he asks those brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for him: for his safety in Judea when he visits Jerusalem (15:31a), for success in his ministry to the saints there (v. 31b), and for personal satisfaction, as he anticipates fellowship with his readers when he eventually reaches Rome (v. 32a, c).


that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, (15:31a)

Disobedient is from apeitheō, which carries the basic idea of being obstinate and unpersuadable. In this context it refers to Jews who obstinately refused to believe the gospel and therefore were disobedient to God, whose Son, the Messiah, they rejected. It is therefore rendered “do not believe” in the King James Version. The same verb is translated “disbelieved” in Acts 14:2 (nasb), referring to Jews who “stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren,” specifically, Paul and Barnabas (see 13:50).

From the time that he first “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’ ” (Acts 9:20), Paul was marked for death by Jewish leaders in Damascus (v. 23) and shortly afterwards by Jews in Jerusalem when he began preaching the gospel there (v. 30). By the time he wrote the letter to Rome, he already had endured ridicule, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, and even stoning by Jews who fiercely opposed him and the gospel he preached (see, e.g., 2 Cor. 11:23–25; Acts 14:19; 18:12; 20:3, 19).

Paul’s request to be delivered was not for the purpose of his being spared further persecution or even death. He unselfishly wanted to be delivered only to the extent necessary for him to complete the ministry the Lord had given him. Long before he arrived in Judea, he knew that trouble awaited him. While his ship laid over at Miletus, he told the elders from Ephesus who came out to meet him, “Now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself,” he continued, “in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22–24).

When Paul and his companions reached Caesarea, they stayed a few days at the house of Philip the evangelist. While there, “a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us,” Luke reports, “he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’ ” (Acts 21:10–11).

Paul’s prayer request to be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea was therefore answered positively, to the extent that the unbelieving Jews in Judea were not allowed to take his life. He was beaten and imprisoned, but his life was divinely spared. While being held under guard by the Romans in Jerusalem, “the Lord stood at his [Paul’s] side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also’ ” (Acts 23:11).


and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; (15:31b)

Paul’s second prayer request was that, regardless of what dangers might befall him, his service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints. In other words, he wanted his ministry to benefit the Lord’s people there, at the birthplace of the church. He was not concerned for what might be called professional success. He once warned the Galatian believers that, “Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.… For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:8, 10).

Because he and his Gentile companions from Macedonia and Achaia were bringing a financial contribution to the church at Jerusalem, which was still largely Jewish, the service which Paul mentions doubtless referred, at least in part, to that offering. He wanted the saints in Rome to pray with him that the gift would not offend Jewish believers in Jerusalem but rather would prove acceptable to the saints there. He wanted it to be received with loving gratitude for what it was, a gesture of brotherly love and conciliation.

Paul’s prayer for success in Jerusalem also was answered. “When we had come to Jerusalem,” Luke says, “the brethren received us gladly.… And after [Paul] had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God” (Acts 21:17, 19–20).


so that I may come to you in joy … and find refreshing rest in your company. (15:32a, c)

This is Paul’s most personal prayer request of the three. Looking forward to the time when he finally would be able to come to the church in Rome, he hoped that he might do so in joy. He already had told them, “I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while” (15:24).

In the closing comments of his first letter to Corinth, he said, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours” (1 Cor. 16:17–18). He rejoiced in the blessings and joy of others. “Besides our comfort,” he later wrote to the same church, “we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Cor. 7:13).

Paul’s personal desire to minister in Spain was never realized, but he did reach Rome and found the joy and refreshing rest in their company for which he longed. When he and his companions arrived in Rome, “the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 27:15).

Again we note that above all else, Paul was committed unalterably to the will of God. Soon after he and Barnabas were sent out by the Holy Spirit from the church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 13:2–3), Paul preached in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (v. 14), in Asia Minor. Twice he referred to David’s obedience to God’s will. Quoting 1 Samuel 13:14, he reminded his Jewish audience of the Lord’s word concerning this greatest king of Israel: “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (v. 22). Later in that sermon he noted again that “David … had served the purpose of God in his own generation” (v. 36). From the moment of his conversion—whether as priest, prophet, or pioneer (see Rom. 15:14–21)—Paul sought to do nothing but the will of God, in order that, like David, he also might be a man after the Lord’s heart.

Throughout his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle attests to that desire. As in the present text, he makes clear that his hope to visit Rome in person was qualified by its being in “the will of God” (Rom. 1:10). He previously has declared that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to intercede “for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27), and urges believers, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God,” and to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is” (12:1–2). He praised believers in Macedonia because they “gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). He cautioned believers in Ephesus not to “be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17), and admonished slaves to be “obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (6:5–6).

In the opening verses of his two letters to the church at Corinth, his letters to the churches at Ephesus and Colossae, and his second letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he was “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” The supreme focus of his personal life and of his public ministry was always the will of God.

When the believers at Caesarea begged Paul not to continue on to Jerusalem because of the dangers he would face there, he responded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13; cf. 20:24). What happened to him was unimportant, as long as he was following the Lord’s will in doing the Lord’s work.

When he testified about his conversion and calling before a large crowd of Jews in Jerusalem, he recounted the words of Ananias, who had said to him, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth” (Acts 22:14).

As Paul has already testified in Romans 15, because of his ministering in the will of God, he knew spiritual triumph and could say with perfect humility, “In Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed” (vv. 17–18). By ministering solely in the will of God he experienced the supernatural power “of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit” and could claim “that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (v. 19).[2]

Pray for Me!

Romans 15:30–32

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.

In the last study we looked at how confident Paul was that when he came to Rome it would be “in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.” I ended by listing the requirements for such blessing, the basis for Paul’s confidence, based on Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15. Yet Paul undoubtedly also prayed for God’s blessing on his pending visit to Rome and asked other believers to pray too. Paul was confident of God’s richest blessing on his ministry because he had asked God for it.

In the final paragraph of Romans 15 Paul passes to the subject of prayer, urging the Christians at Rome to pray for him. This is not unusual. It was Paul’s regular practice to request prayers for himself and his ministry. We can think of many passages where he does it: 2 Corinthians 1:10–11; Ephesians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:3–4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–2. But this is a strong and very impassioned plea, undoubtedly because of the difficulties Paul foresaw in going to Jerusalem. In these verses Paul describes prayer as a struggle and brings in each member of the Trinity: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (v. 30).

John Murray says of this verse, “God answered the prayers but not in the ways that Paul had hoped for or anticipated. The lessons to be derived from verses 30–33 are numberless.” I agree with John Murray, for none of us prays as well, fervently, or with as much understanding as we should.

Prayer Is Not Useless

One of the reasons why we do not pray as we should is that we do not realize the seriousness of what is going on or our part in it. According to Ephesians 6, we are embroiled in fierce spiritual warfare, and prayer is our weapon. Paul realized that intensely, which is why he engages the believers at Rome to join his struggles by praying to God on his behalf.

A great Bible teacher of the early part of this century, Reuben A. Torrey, was at a Bible conference in St. Louis. Another minister was speaking on “The Rest of Faith,” saying that Jesus has won all spiritual victories for us and that all we need to do is rest on Christ’s work. There is a sense in which that is true, of course. But the preacher overextended himself when he exclaimed, “I challenge anybody to show me a single passage in the Bible where we are told to wrestle in prayer.” Torrey was on the platform, and he says that although one speaker does not like to contradict another, this was a challenge he had to take up. So he said softly, “Romans 15:30, brother.” Fortunately the other speaker was honest enough to admit that Torrey was right. For what Romans 15:30 says is that we are to struggle together in prayer and that much depends on it.

It is helpful to know that the Greek word here is synagonizomai, which is a compound made up of the preposition meaning with (syn) plus the word from which we get our words agony, agonize, and antagonist (agonizomai). An agon was an athletic contest. Thus, agonizomai described the struggle that took place in an athletic contest and by extension in any other conflict as well. Jesus used the word when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight …” (John 18:36). His word for fight is agonize. In Luke 22:44, this is the word that is used to describe our Lord’s fervent prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” To return to Paul, both the noun and verb occur in Paul’s summation of his ministry, where he says: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7).

This, then, is why prayer is not a useless exercise. We are engaged in a great spiritual struggle against the devil and his schemes, and prayer is the only way we can participate in it.

Prayer Is Effective

The second lesson of Paul’s important paragraph about prayer is that prayer is useful. As James says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

It had to be if it was going to help Paul. In verse 31 of this section Paul asks the Roman Christians to pray for two things: first, that he would be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and second, that his service in Jerusalem might be accepted by the saints there. There was ample cause for his anxiety on both counts. Paul was aware of how intensely he was hated by the Jews. They saw him as a Jewish renegade and heretic who was teaching a disastrous theology and undermining Judaism. The proof of their hatred (and of the danger to which Paul was exposed) was seen in their reception of Paul when he arrived in the city and was making his way to the temple. His enemies saw him and stirred up the masses of the people, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28). This last charge was untrue, but it was effective in causing the people to seize Paul and try to kill him. He was saved from the mob only because the commander of the Roman garrison sent soldiers into the crowd to take him into custody. Yet even as they did, the people kept crying out for his death (v. 36).

What about Paul’s second area of concern, that his service (he means the offering that he had received from the Gentiles) might be acceptable to the Jerusalem saints? We might wonder how any offer of financial assistance could be unacceptable, but we need to remember how fiercely many Jewish Christians felt about the Mosaic law and how fanatically they opposed Paul’s insistence that Gentiles should not be subjected to its strictures. Paul wanted the Gentile offering to heal this division, but it was possible that it could have had a directly opposite effect. It could have been seen as a bribe and only have intensified the hostility.

So what was the outcome? Well, in the first instance Paul was indeed delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, though not in the way he would have wanted or expected. When the riot occurred, he was rescued by the soldiers. And though he spent the next two years in custody in Caesarea and at least two years as a prisoner in Rome, he did at last get to Rome and possibly to Spain as well.

There is also reason to believe that the Gentile offering partially healed the breach between Jewish and Gentile Christianity, for the leaders thanked Paul for his concern and praised God for his ministry, while reminding him that God was also working among them to save many Jews and bless Jewish Christianity (see Acts 21:17–20).

Does prayer work? Yes, in the sense that it changes us. But it also works in the sense that it is God’s appointed means to spiritual victory and right ends. Charles Hodge wrote in connection with these verses, “Prayer (and even intercessory prayer) has a real and important efficacy; not merely in its influence on the mind of him who offers it, but also in securing the blessings for which we pray. Paul directed the Roman Christians to pray for the exercise of the divine providence in protecting him from danger, and for the Holy Spirit to influence the minds of the brethren in Jerusalem. This he would not have done, were such petitions of no avail.”

Earlier I cited James 5:16 to show that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Another verse from that letter, James 4:2, shows that the reason we do not experience the full measure of the blessing of Christ is that we do not ask for it: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Unfortunately, we are often woefully deficient in this area.

Let me tell you how Dwight L. Moody became an evangelist. Moody was a shoe salesman who was also the teacher of a boy’s Bible class in Chicago. He was there at the time of the Great Chicago Fire, and after he had done his part in getting together some money to help the poor and buy a building for his own work, he went to England for a rest. He did not intend to preach. He only wanted to hear Charles Spurgeon, George Mueller, and some others. But one Sunday he was invited to preach in a Congregational church in north London, and he accepted.

Sunday morning did not go well. Moody said that he had “no power, no liberty; it seemed like pulling a heavy train up a steep grade.” It was so bad that he tried to get out of preaching the evening service, for which he had also been invited, but the minister would not let him off.

That evening it was quite different. Moody felt unusual power, and when he got to the end he decided to give an invitation. He asked all who wanted to accept Christ to get to their feet, and about five hundred people did. Moody thought there must be some mistake, perhaps they just didn’t understand him. So he asked them to sit down. Then he said, “After this meeting there will be an after-service in the vestry, and I invite all who are serious about receiving Christ to come to that meeting.” There was a door to the vestry on each side of the pulpit, and when the service was over the people began to stream through.

“Who are all these people?” Moody asked the pastor. “Are they yours?”

“Some of them are.”

“Are they Christians?”

“Not as far as I know,” was the reply.

Moody went into the vestry and repeated the invitation in even stronger terms, and the people all once again expressed their willingness to become Christians. Moody still thought there must be some mistake. He said, “I have to go to Ireland tomorrow, but your pastor will still be here and if you really mean what you have just said, come tomorrow night and meet with him again.” A few days later, when he was in Ireland, Moody received a telegram from the minister saying, “There were more people here on Monday night than on Sunday. A revival has broken out in our church, and you must return from Ireland and help me.” Moody did return, and what happened in those days was the basis for the invitations that later took him back to England and then over the whole world as an evangelist.

That alone is a remarkable story, but here is the rest of it. There were two sisters in that north London church, one of whom was a bed-ridden invalid. After the morning service at which Moody had first preached the healthy sister came home and reported that a Mr. Moody had been there that morning.

“Mr. Moody of Chicago?” asked the sister. When told that he was the one who had preached, the sick sister said, “I have read about him in the newspapers and have been praying that he would come to London and that God would send him to our church. If I had known that it was he who would be preaching this morning, I would have eaten no breakfast and have spent the time praying instead. Now leave me alone. Don’t let anyone in to see me. I am going to spend the rest of the day and evening fasting and in prayer.” That is what she did, and the revival in north London resulted.

Is prayer effective? Indeed it is! What is more, it is the only thing that is effective in this great spiritual struggle for the minds and souls of men and women. It is God’s appointed means to revival.

Prayer Is Necessary

The third point this passage teaches is that prayer is necessary. It is not only effective, it is the only thing that is effective. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that we pray to see individuals saved and experience other spiritual blessings and results. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”

I include this point on the basis of Paul’s reference to the will of God in verse 32: “so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” Does that mean that prayer gets God to change his will so that he conforms to our wishes, or does it mean only that we are changed to accept what he is going to do anyway?

There are two common errors at this point. The first is the error of a superficial Calvinism, which understands that God is sovereign and that his will is always done. It errs in deducing that because this is true, prayer is virtually unimportant except in regard to how it changes us. The second is the Arminian error, which makes God somehow weakly dependent on us. William Evans, in Why Pray, writes, “Prayer does not change God’s purposes and plans; but it releases them and permits God to do in, for and through us all that which his infinite love and wisdom want to do, but which because of lack of prayer he has not been able to do.… Prayer gives God the opportunity to do for us what he wants to do.… [We should not] think that God can do whatever he wants to do without our aid. He cannot.”

Cannot? Unable? Give God the opportunity? Anyone who knows anything about the majestic sovereign God of the Bible knows that there is something terribly wrong with this approach.

The answer is a better understanding of true Calvinism, which realizes that God does not only appoint the end to be obtained, but he also designates the means to attain that end. Therefore, if God has appointed a widespread revival or the salvation of an individual or any other blessing and if he has determined that the means by which that blessing shall be received is prayer, then it is as necessary that we pray as it is that this predetermined blessing come about. Prayer is inseparably linked to election, just as witnessing and the preaching of the Word are linked to it. If God has determined to do something in response to the prayers of his people, then his people must pray. Indeed, he will lead them to do so.

John Calvin said, “The phrase through the will of God reminds us of the necessity of devoting ourselves to prayer, since God alone directs all our paths by his providence.” Torrey declared, “Prayer is God’s appointed way for obtaining things.” He concluded that the major reason for all lack in our experience, life, and work is prayer’s neglect.8

Prayer Is Difficult

So why do we neglect prayer? Maybe because we do not believe that what I have just said is true or important, but perhaps also because prayer is so difficult. It must be difficult, because Paul calls it a struggle. People who pray well know what that means.

The next question is why prayer is difficult. One reason is that prayer is a spiritual battleground. Our enemy is the devil, and we cannot expect things to be easy when we are struggling with Satan for the souls of men and women. Again, prayer is difficult because we do not know God or God’s ways as we ought to know them. Therefore we often do not really know what to pray for. Paul understood this problem well, for he wrote earlier in Romans, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). In other words, one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to pray for us and with us and so make up for our great spiritual ignorance and deficiencies.

But let me suggest one other reason why prayer is so difficult for us based on what we find in Romans: We are too self-centered in our prayers. Have you noticed how unselfish Paul’s prayer requests were? They were for his safety and success in Jerusalem, but not simply that he might have an easy time. He wanted his service to be so well received that it would help heal the breach between Gentile and Jewish Christianity. He wanted to be delivered from the unbelievers in Jerusalem so that his ministry among the Gentiles might be continued with God’s blessing. Indeed, the last verse of our passage says, “… so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” (v. 32).

I am reminded of the story of a little girl who had been to a Sunday school lesson on prayer and had been taught that Jesus said, “If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:23). The child could see a large mountain from her bedroom window, and the next day her mother came by her room and heard her praying that God would cast the mountain into the sea. “Why do you want to pray a prayer like that?” her mother asked. “Why would you ever want that mountain thrown into the sea?”

“Oh,” said the little girl, “I’d love to see the big splash it would make when it came down.”

Unfortunately, many of our prayers are only a little less selfish than that. And since selfishness is sin and sin is a barrier to prayer (see Isa. 59:1–3), it is not surprising that we find prayer difficult and that our specific prayers often go unanswered.

Prayer Is Commanded

Paul’s words are a command: “Join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued.”

Jesus also taught us to pray. Remember his story about the unjust judge and persistent widow who kept coming to him until he finally gave her what she wanted (Luke 18:1–8). Jesus did not teach that God is an unjust judge; but he wanted us to know that we “should always pray and not give up” (v. 1). Jesus prayed! So did the apostles. So have all the saints through all the ages. Can we neglect it? Reuben Torrey was right when he said that whatever else we may learn on this subject, what we must certainly learn is this: “I must pray, pray, pray. I must put all my energy and all my heart into prayer. Whatever else I do, I must pray.”[3]

30. Now I beseech you, &c. It is well known from many passages how much ill-will prevailed against Paul in his own nation on account of false reports, as though he taught a departure from Moses. He knew how much calumnies might avail to oppress the innocent, especially among those who are carried away by inconsiderate zeal. Added also to this, was the testimony of the Spirit, recorded in Acts 20:23; by which he was forewarned, that bonds and afflictions awaited him at Jerusalem. The more danger then he perceived, the more he was moved: hence it was, that he was so solicitous to commend his safety to the Churches; nor let us wonder, that he was anxious about his life, in which he knew so much danger to the Church was involved.

He then shows how grieved his godly mind was, by the earnest protestation he makes, in which he adds to the name of the Lord, the love of the Spirit, by which the saints ought to embrace one another. But though in so great a fear, he yet continued to proceed; nor did he so dread danger, but that he was prepared willingly to meet it. At the same time he had recourse to the remedies given him by God; for he solicited the aid of the Church, so that being helped by its prayers, he might find comfort, according to the Lord’s promise,—“Where two or three shall assemble in my name, there in the midst of them am I,” (Matt, 18:20;) and, “Whatsoever they agree in on earth, they shall obtain in heaven,” (Matt. 18:19.) And lest no one should think it an unmeaning commendation, he besought them both by Christ and by the love of the Spirit. The love of the Spirit is that by which Christ joins us together; for it is not that of the flesh, nor of the world, but is from his Spirit, who is the bond of our unity.

Since then it is so great a favour from God to be helped by the prayers of the faithful, that even Paul, a most choice instrument of God, did not think it right to neglect this privilege, how great must be our stupidity, if we, who are abject and worthless creatures, disregard it? But to take a handle from such passages for the purpose of maintaining the intercessions of dead saints, is an instance of extreme effrontery.

That ye strive together with me, &c. Erasmus has not given an unsuitable rendering, “That ye help me labouring:” but as the Greek word, used by Paul, has more force, I have preferred to give a literal rendering: for by the word strive, or contend, he alludes to the difficulties by which he was oppressed, and by bidding them to assist in this contest, he shows how the godly ought to pray for their brethren, that they are to assume their person, as though they were placed in the same difficulties; and he also intimates the effect which they have; for he who commends his brother to the Lord, by taking to himself a part of his distress, do so far relieve him. And indeed if our strength is derived from prayer to God, we can in no better way confirm our brethren, than by praying to God for them.

31. That my ministration, &c. Slanderers had so prevailed by their accusations, that he even feared that the present would hardly be acceptable, as coming from his hands, which otherwise, under such a distress, would have been very seasonable. And hence appears his wonderful meekness, for he ceased not to labour for those to whom he doubted whether he would be acceptable. This disposition of mind we ought to imitate, so that we may not cease to do good to those of whose gratitude we are by no means certain. We must also notice that he honours with the name of saints even those by whom he feared he would be suspected, and deemed unwelcome. He also knew that saints may sometimes be led away by false slanders into unfavourable opinions, and though he knew that they wronged him, he yet ceased not to speak honourably of them.

By adding that I may come to you, he intimates that this prayer would be profitable also to them, and that it concerned them that he should not be killed in Judea. To the same purpose is the expression with joy; for it would be advantageous to the Romans for him to come to them in a cheerful state of mind and free from all grief, that he might in a more lively and strenuous manner labour among them. And by the word refreshed, or satisfied, he again shows how fully persuaded he was of their brotherly love. The words by the will of God remind us how necessary it is to be diligent in prayer, for God alone directs all our ways by his providence.

And the God of peace, &c. From the universal word all, I conclude that he did not simply pray that God would be present with and favour the Romans in a general sense, but that he would rule and guide every one of them. But the word peace refers, I think, to their circumstances at the time, that God, the author of peace, would keep them all united together.[4]

30 At the time of writing, Paul was aware of Jewish opposition to him and his work. The attempt on his life when he was about to leave for Jerusalem (Ac 20:3) clearly shows that his apprehension was justified. Paul had received prophetic warnings of what awaited him in Jerusalem (21:11), and he seems to have had a premonition of what lay ahead (Ac 20:22–25). He had experienced deadly peril before and knew that prayer was the great resource in such hazardous times (2 Co 1:10–11); so he requests prayer now—the kind involving wrestling (“join me in my struggle”) before the throne of grace, that the evil designs of his enemies may be thwarted (cf. Eph 6:18–20). In doing so, he enforces his request by presenting it in the name of him whom all believers adore, “our Lord Jesus Christ”—and adding “by the love of the Spirit.” This is a subjective genitive and could mean the love for one another that the Spirit inspires in believers (Gal 5:22). But since the phrase is coupled apparently equally with that of the person of Christ, it is probably better to understand it as the love that the Spirit has (cf. 5:5). The warmth of the expression is enough to warn us against thinking of the Spirit rather impersonally as signifying the power of God. Paul had already affirmed the Spirit’s deity and equality with Father and Son (2 Co 13:14).

31 The request for prayer includes two immediate objectives. One was deliverance from unbelieving Jews in Judea. This group had forced his departure from the city at an earlier date (Ac 9:29–30), and there was no reason to think they had mellowed. The other objective concerned the attitude of the Jerusalem church to the mission that was taking him and his companions to the Jewish metropolis. Evidently the opposition of the Pharisaic party in the church (Ac 15:5) had not ceased, despite the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:19–29). This opposition, as it related to Paul, was nourished by false rumors concerning his activities (Ac 21:20–21), so there was reason for concern. It would be a terrible blow to the unity of the church universal if the love-gift of the Gentile congregations were to be spurned or accepted with only casual thanks. The body of Christ could be torn apart into Jewish and Gentile churches.

32 These two items are intimately related to the successful realization of his hope of reaching Rome safely, coming “with joy” because of the goodness of God in prospering his way, and being “refreshed” (synanapausōmai, GK 5265) in the fellowship of the saints. Yet he knew that all of this, as with everything, was conditional and depended on “God’s will” (cf. 1:10). As it turned out, this meant that he would reach Rome, but not as a free man. Yet that very circumstance enabled him to demonstrate the all-sufficient grace and power of Christ (Php 1:12–14; cf. 2 Ti 4:17).[5]

30  The fulfillment of Paul’s hope to come to the Romans “with the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (v. 29) depends on what will happen when Paul goes to Jerusalem with the collection. And so he “now” “urges” the Roman Christians to pray for him. The word is a strong one,8 and Paul accentuates it by his twofold qualification: “through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit.” The first “through” might be paraphrased “in the name of”: it introduces the authority by which Paul makes his request. The second, on the other hand, identifies the ground of the request.10 “Love of the Spirit” might mean “the love of the Spirit for us;” but, in a context where relations among Christians have been so central, it probably indicates “the love that the Spirit inspires” (REB; cf. TEV);12 for example, the love that believers have for one another, a love “that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

Paul’s request is that the Roman Christians “strive together” with him in prayers. Paul’s use of the metaphor of fighting or wrestling may imply something about the nature of the prayer that he is requesting: that it involves a “wrestling” with God; or that it must be especially diligent.16 But Paul’s use of the language of “striving” to describe his own ministry might suggest rather that he is inviting the Roman Christians, through their prayers, to participate with him in his “struggle” to complete his ordained missionary work. Though so many are unknown personally to him, Paul can nevertheless ask the Roman Christians to identify with him in his own struggle so that they might sincerely pray on his behalf.18 As Calvin remarks, Paul “shows how the godly ought to pray for their brethren, that they are to assume their person, as though they were placed in the same difficulties.”

31  The first thing that Paul wants the Roman Christians to pray for is his personal safety: “that I might be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea.” “The disobedient” refer to unbelievers; and that Paul had good ground for this request is clear from what happened when he did reach Jerusalem with the collection: the Romans had to take him into custody in order to keep the Jews from killing him (Acts 21:27–36).

But Paul is also concerned about his reception by believers in Jerusalem. Therefore, his second request is that the Roman Christians pray that “my ministry for Jerusalem might be acceptable to the saints.” As the parallel language in v. 25 shows, “ministry” (or “service”) refers to the collection. And it is possible that this second request might be closely related to the first. For Paul might think that it would be pressure put on the Jewish Christians by their unbelieving fellow Jews that would lead them to reject the collection. But Paul does not draw this connection; and the distrust about Paul and his law-free gospel among Jewish Christians themselves was great enough to give him ample reason for the concern he expresses here.22 For, while Paul’s relationships with the Jerusalem apostles were apparently cordial enough at this point, his own letters reveal that various conservative Jewish-Christian groups continued to be hostile toward him.24

32  The purpose clause in this verse could be a third prayer request, parallel to the two in v. 31, but it probably expresses the ultimate goal of those requests:26 that Paul might “come in joy28” to the Roman Christians and find refreshment there with them. “Through the will of God” probably modifies “come” rather than “find rest”;30 but, in either case, Paul thereby reminds his readers that all his plans and hopes are subordinate to the will of God. We find a somewhat ironic confirmation of this in the way in which God “answered” Paul’s prayer here. He was delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, but only by being locked up by the Romans for two years. The collection was, apparently, accepted by the Jewish Christians (or at least most of them [cf. Acts 21:17]), but Paul’s subsequent arrest in the temple precincts must have raised Jewish Christians’ suspicions about him again. And Paul did get to Rome and experience some measure of joy and refreshment (cf. Phil. 1:12–19; 2:25–30), but he arrived there in Roman chains.[6]

15:30–33 / After completing the relief offering, Paul hopes at last to be free to pursue his Spanish mission, stopping in Rome en route “in the full measure of the blessing of Christ” (vv. 28–29). Paul was under no illusions about latent hostility awaiting him in Jerusalem. Neither (apparently) was anyone else. He had already escaped one plot on his life there (Acts 9:29–30), and omens of yet another awaited him (Acts 20:22–25; 21:10–11). It is for good reason that Paul hopes to be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea (v. 31). In no uncertain terms he reckons with the possibility of losing his life at the hands of Jews who were opposed to the messiahship of Jesus. So ominous were impending events that in this, the only direct personal appeal to his readers in the epistle, he solicits their aid in his struggle by praying to God for me (v. 30). In going to Jerusalem Paul was quite literally risking his life for the unity and equality of Gentiles and Jews. In this too he needed prayer, not only that his life would be spared, but that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.

Events in Jerusalem, of course, transpired quite differently from the hopes of verse 28. Paul fell victim to a misconceived plot and was nearly beaten to death in the temple precincts by an angry mob of Jews (Acts 21:17ff.). After an anxious rescue by Roman soldiers, he languished two years under as many governors in jail in Caesarea. Paul eventually reached Rome, but not as a pioneer missionary. He arrived as a prisoner in chains, and our chief source for these matters, the book of Acts, closes with his awaiting trial under Caesar in Rome.

Whether Paul ever made it to Spain we do not know. The nt leaves no record that he did. The traditional view is that Paul died at the hands of Nero shortly after the end of the narrative of Acts (ca. a.d. 62). There is, however, at least one brief though tantalizing piece of evidence that Paul may have fulfilled his goal of reaching Spain. The early record of 1 Clement (ca. a.d. 95) that Paul “taught righteousness to all the world” and gave his testimony “when he had reached the limits of the west” (5:7) is no negligible witness. It is, of course, possible to take “limits of the west” to mean Rome, but that is rendered less likely considering the fact that Clement wrote from Rome, which was the western limit of neither the empire nor Europe. What 1 Clement says implicitly, the Muratorian Canon (also from Rome, though a century later and of less value) says explicitly: “from the city (of Rome) [Paul] proceeded to Spain.” Whether Paul actually reached Spain is, in the final analysis, of no material consequence for our understanding of Romans. It is largely a point of historical curiosity. Nevertheless, 1 Clement and the Muratorian Canon caution us against foreclosing the question too hastily. Even if Paul fulfilled his goal of preaching “the gospel where Christ was not known” (in Spain), however, he must have been arrested again a few years later and executed in Rome, for tradition is unanimous that he died there sometime during the latter years of Nero’s reign (ca. a.d. 64–68).[7]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ro 15:30). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 349–356). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: The New Humanity (Vol. 4, pp. 1893–1900). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[4] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 538–541). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 223–224). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 909–911). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[7] Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (pp. 349–350). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

June 18 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Deuteronomy 23; Psalms 112–113; Isaiah 50; Revelation 20


isaiah 50 has a transitional importance that belies its brevity. In 50:1–3 God addresses the children of Israel in exile, especially those who think he has utterly abandoned them. He hasn’t. He has neither divorced their mother, i.e., Zion, nor sold them into slavery to pay off some creditor—so the way back to him is still open. In this light, the last two lines of 50:1 should be read as irony: if the children were “sold” or the mother “sent away” in any sense, it was because of their sin, not because of some final legal action on God’s part. Moreover, the sovereign Creator is certainly capable of bringing them back (50:2b–3). The real question is, why did none of them come to him when he called? (50:2a).

Then the Servant speaks (50:4–9), more to himself than to others, but so as to be overheard (50:10–11). Who is he? There have been many suggestions: Isaiah, or a sixth-century disciple of Isaiah; Jeremiah; Israel, personified as an abused and suffering person (cf. Ps. 129:1–3). As the book unfolds, Isaiah will make the Servant’s identity clear. Even now, observe his characteristics: This Servant is a gifted counselor. His words sustain the weary, for he himself has an ear for all the Sovereign Lord says, and he has not been rebellious (50:4–5—unlike Israel). Thus he is a perfect disciple, but of the Lord, not of Isaiah (compare John 5:18ff.). He does not draw back from obedience (50:5), even in the face of implacable abuse (50:6; cf. Matt. 27:30; Mark 14:65; 15:19). The Sovereign Lord sustains him in his mission, so he sets his face like a flint to complete the task assigned him (50:7; cf. Luke 9:51), confident that God will finally vindicate him (50:7–9; cf. Phil. 2:9–11).

How, then, does the second part of this chapter relate to the first? Surely in this way: those who are addressed in 50:1–3 still seem alienated, distant, unresponsive, cynical, while here in 50:10–11 a line is drawn in the sand, and this line concerns the Servant. On the one side is the person who “fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant,” who despite the terrible darkness that now engulfs him “trust[s] in the name of the Lord” (50:10, italics added). On the other side is the person who tries to provide his or her own light, who lights fires of rebellion; God says to such a person, “This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment” (50:11). Thus the identity of “the people of God” is undergoing subtle redefinition. In 49:8–12 they embrace both Israelites and Gentiles; here one element that defines them is that they obey the word of the Lord’s Servant.[1]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

June 18 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Deuteronomy 23; Psalms 112–113; Isaiah 50; Revelation 20


every so often in the Pentateuch there is a chapter of miscellaneous laws and statutes. One such is Deuteronomy 23. It goes beyond these brief meditations to reflect on each topic for which a statute is laid down, or even on the ordering principle of some of these lists. Transparently some of the legislation is based on the historical experience of the Israelites (e.g., 23:3–8). Other parts turn on symbol-laden cleanliness (e.g., 23:9–14). Still others focus on the urgency to keep the covenant people separate from the abominable practices of ancient Canaanite paganism (23:17–18), on progressive steps of social justice (23:15–16), on fiscal principles to enhance both the identity and the well-being of the covenant community (23:19–20), and on keeping one’s word, especially in a vow offered to the living God (23:21–23). But today I shall reflect on 23:24–25: “If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.”

There is profound wisdom to these simple statutes. A merely communitarian stance would either let people take what they want, whenever they want, as much as they want; or, alternatively, it would say that since all the produce belongs to the community (or the state), no individual is allowed to take any of it without explicit sanction from the leaders of the community. A merely capitalistic stance (or, more precisely, a stance that put all the emphasis on private property) would view every instance of taking a grape from a neighbor’s field as a matter of theft, every instance of chewing on a few kernels of grain as you follow the footpath through your neighbor’s field as a punishable offense. But by allowing people to eat what they want while actually in the field of a neighbor, this statute fosters a kind of community-wide interdependence, a vision of a shared heritage. The walls and fences erected by zealous private ownership are softened. Moreover, the really poor could at least find something to eat. This would not be a terrible burden on any one landowner if the statute were observed by all the landowners. On the other hand, the stipulation that no one is allowed to carry any produce away, if observed, serves not only to combat theft and laziness, but preserves private property and the incentives to industry and disciplined labor associated with it.

Many, many statues from the Mosaic Law, rightly probed, reflect a godly balance of complementary interests.[1]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

June 17 Remember Jonah

Scripture reading: Jonah 1:1–3

Key verses: Psalm 139:7–8

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

David knew what Jonah forgot. He asked, “Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there” (Ps. 139:7–8 nasb). David understood that God is everywhere. There is no escaping His presence.

However, Jonah forgot that. Instead of doing what the Lord called him to do, he rebelled and became enmeshed in the thought of how God wanted him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Somehow he thought he could escape the presence and will of God.

There is little doubt about the wickedness of the Ninevites, but that was not the issue. Israel had become steeped in sin as well. The challenge for God’s servant was one of obedience.

God is aware of the motives of your heart. Often a task that seems unfair is hard to complete. However, if God has called you to do it, there is no other avenue to take but obedience. After a detour into the belly of a great fish, Jonah unwillingly preached repentance to the Ninevites. As a result, they turned from their wickedness. Yet we never see God’s joy breaking forth in Jonah’s life. He was too angry at God.

When you are tempted to rebel against the Lord’s will, remember the fate of Jonah, and set the course of your heart on obedience and trust in the Lord. There you will find great blessings.

Lord, when I am tempted to rebel against You, help me to remember Jonah and set the course of my heart on trusting and obeying You.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2002). Seeking His face (p. 176). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 17, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

How to Be Ready for the End Times—Part 2: Be Strong and Courageous

(2 Thessalonians 2:6–17)

And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2:6–17)

A hallmark of false doctrine is its attack on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout history, mystics, rationalists, legalists, cultists, and other heretics have assaulted Christ’s deity, humanity, and the singular efficacy and sufficiency of His saving work. The Reformation definition of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was affirmed against the backdrop of attacks on biblical soteriology. Satan apparently devotes his personal efforts not to tempting individual Christians but to devising false systems of religion, which teach lies about Christ (1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). He is disguised as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). His demon doctrines deceive countless millions, keeping them from the life-giving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is coming a satanic false religion that will dominate the world like no other in history (cf. Rev. 17). Its object of worship will be the most powerful, evil, deceitful person to ever live: the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist. He will be the culmination of Satan’s long war against God, the last and most malevolent manifestation of the antichrist spirit (1 John 4:3). Like his evil master, Antichrist will disguise himself as an “angel of light” and deceive the whole lost world (Rev. 12:9; 13:14).

As noted in the previous chapter of this volume, Paul wrote about Antichrist, called the man of lawlessness and son of destruction, because the Thessalonians had been deceived by the lie that their fears were true, that they had missed the Rapture and were in the judgment of the Day of the Lord. Seeking to correct their error, Paul called on them to remember what he had previously taught them, reassuring them that the Day of the Lord had not come. His argument was simple and irrefutable: Antichrist has not appeared, and his appearance is a necessary precursor to the Day of the Lord. He must appear and commit the ultimate act of apostasy, the abomination of desolation, before the Day of the Lord arrives.

Paul gave six specific exhortations to avoid fear about the end times. Believers must not be deceived, forgetful, ignorant, unbelieving, insecure, or weak. The previous chapter of this volume covered the first two exhortations; this chapter will discuss the last four.

Do Not Be Ignorant

And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, (2:6–10b)

Having discussed the act of apostasy by which the Antichrist will reveal himself for who he really is, Paul takes a deeper look at the man himself. He lists four aspects of Antichrist’s career: his revelation, destruction, power, and influence.

his revelation

And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed (2:6–8a)

As the phrase and you know indicates, the Thessalonians understood what force currently restrains Antichrist because Paul had told them when he was with them. Therefore, he did not repeat it here—a fact that has led to endless speculation as to what it is. The Greek verb translated restrains (katechō; “to hold back,” “to hold down,” “to suppress”) appears in this text as a neuter participle, prompting commentators to suggest numerous options as to the identity of that restraining force.

Some believe that the preaching of the gospel keeps Antichrist in check. Eventually, they argue, the gospel will be fully proclaimed (cf. Matt. 24:14) and the restraint will be removed. Other suggestions for the restrainer include the nation of Israel, the alleged binding of Satan by believers, the church’s influence as salt and light in the world (cf. Matt. 5:13–14), human government (cf. Rom. 13:1–4), the general principle of law and morality in the world, the Roman Empire, and even Michael the archangel (cf. Dan. 10:21).

But none of those opinions is satisfactory. The most significant problem with all of them (except the last) is that they are human forces. Humans preach the gospel; humans make up the nation of Israel; humans attempt to bind Satan; humans comprise the church; humans run the world’s governments; humans agree on principles of law and morality; and humans made up the Roman Empire. But human power, ingenuity, and institutions cannot restrain the supernatural power of Satan that seeks to release Antichrist. And the one supernatural person in the list, Michael, does not have the power to restrain Satan (Jude 9). The most logical of those choices, the church, has never been able to restrain even human evil. It may do so to some extent in the lives of its members, but the outside world continues to grow worse and worse—a situation that will especially characterize the end times (2 Tim. 3:13). If no human or angelic power restrains, that leaves only the power of God to hold back the purpose of Satan for his Antichrist.

And God does the restraining so that in his time he will be revealed. Satan, of course, does not want to operate on God’s timetable. If he could, he would have revealed Antichrist long before now. He longs for the false messiah, through whom he will rule the earth, to appear. But nothing—not even the purposes of hell—operates independently of God’s sovereign timetable. Job confessed, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). In Isaiah 46:10 God declares, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” Therefore, the man of lawlessness will not appear until the time predetermined by God.

God will not allow Antichrist to be revealed until all the redeemed, whom He chose for salvation in eternity past (2:13; cf. Matt. 25:34; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rev. 13:8; 17:8), are gathered into the kingdom (cf. Rom. 11:25). Evil will not overstep its divinely ordained bounds. The true Messiah was revealed “when the fullness of the time came, [and] God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4); the ultimate false messiah will likewise be revealed in God’s perfect time.

Though Antichrist may be restrained, evil will not be; in fact, the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Mustērion (mystery) describes something “which has been kept secret for long ages past” (Rom. 16:25) and is incapable of being known unless revealed by God. The true character of lawlessness is already at work (cf. 1 John 3:4); and “even now many antichrists have appeared” (1 John 2:18; cf. 4:3). Evil, lies, hypocrisy, immorality, and false religion permeate the world and grow increasingly worse, so that every generation is more wicked than those before (2 Tim. 3:13), but sin’s ultimate manifestation is yet to come. When the restraint is removed and Antichrist appears, the true character of evil will be manifested. It should be noted that not only will the man of lawlessness be revealed, but God will also release demons from being bound in hell to inundate the earth (Rev. 9:1–19).

The change in gender from the neuter participle translated “what restrains” in verse 6 to the masculine participle rendered he who … restrains is significant. The sovereign, divine force that currently restrains Antichrist is exerted by a person—the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13 where Jesus used a masculine pronoun with the neuter noun translated “Spirit”). Only He has the supernatural power to hold Satan in check. The Holy Spirit has always battled wickedness in the world. Addressing the wicked pre-Flood generation, God declared, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3). Stephen issued this stinging rebuke to the leaders of Israel: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51). The Holy Spirit also opposes evil by “convict[ing] the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). He will continue His restraining work until the midpoint of the Tribulation. The removal of the Holy Spirit’s restraint therefore cannot be identified with the Rapture of the church, since that event takes place three and a half years earlier, before the Tribulation.

The phrase taken out of the way must not be interpreted to mean that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the world. That is impossible, since He is omnipresent. Nor could anyone be saved during the Tribulation (cf. Rev. 7:14) apart from His regenerating work (John 3:3–8; Titus 3:5). The phrase refers not to the removal of the Holy Spirit from the world, but rather to the cessation of His restraining work.

Summarizing Paul’s teaching on this issue, William Hendriksen wrote:

Accordingly, the sense of the entire passage (verses 6 and 7) seems to be this: Satan, while perfectly aware of the fact that he cannot himself become incarnate, nevertheless would like to imitate the second person of the Trinity also in this respect as far as possible. He yearns for a man over whom he will have complete control, and who will perform his will as thoroughly as Jesus performed the will of the Father. It will have to be a man of outstanding talents. But as yet the devil is being frustrated in his attempt to put this plan into operation. Someone and something is always “holding back” the deceiver’s man of lawlessness. This, of course, happens under God’s direction. Hence, for the time being, the worst Satan can do is to promote the spirit of lawlessness. But this does not satisfy him. It is as if he and his man of sin bide their time. At the divinely decreed moment (“the appropriate season”) when, as a punishment for man’s willingness to cooperate with this spirit, the “some one” and “something” that now holds back is removed, Satan will begin to carry out his plans. (New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], 182–83. Emphasis in the original.)

Romans 1:18–25 gives a clear and oft-repeated historical example of the removal of restraint so that sin is unleashed:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The three statements that “God gave them up” or “over” (vv. 24, 26, 28) describe the removal of divine restraint and the flood of immorality, homosexuality, and perverted thinking and behaving that drowns those so judged (cf. Ps. 81:11–12; Prov. 1:23–31; Hos. 4:17).

For the third time in this passage (cf. (vv. 3, 6), Paul notes that the lawless one will be revealed when the Holy Spirit’s restraint ceases. Antichrist will expose the depths of his evil nature by desecrating the temple and proclaiming himself to be God. God’s judgments, which will begin during the first half of the Tribulation, will intensify dramatically as the Day of the Lord arrives in all its judgmental fury (cf. Rev. 4–19). But Antichrist’s reign of terror will be short-lived.

his destruction

whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; (2:8b)

Just as Antichrist will be revealed at God’s appointed time, so also is the moment of his destruction divinely ordained. At the height of his power, when he seems invincible, he will meet his end. Daniel 7:26 says, “His dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever”; Daniel 11:45 notes that “he will come to his end, and no one will help him.” Revelation 17:11 declares that Antichrist “goes to destruction,” and that destruction is graphically described in Revelation 19:20: “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”

The most hellish and powerful ruler in human history will be effortlessly crushed; the Lord will slay him with the mere breath of His mouth. The term slay does not mean that the Lord will kill Antichrist (the niv translates it “overthrow”), since Revelation 19:20 says that he will still be alive when he is cast into the lake of fire. Robert L. Thomas notes:

Some have supposed a discrepancy between the fate of these two [the beast (Antichrist) and the false prophet] and that of the man of lawlessness in 2 Thess. 2:8 …, but harmonization of the two accounts of Christ’s return is quite easy. The verb … anelei,“destroy” used by Paul [in 2 Thess. 2:8] does not necessarily mean physical death. It can also refer to relegation to the lake of fire because the literal force of … anaireō [the root form of anelei] is “I make an end of.” (Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 397)

The concept that the Lord will destroy His enemies with the breath of His mouth stems from the Old Testament. Isaiah 11:4 says that the Lord “will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.” Isaiah 30:33 adds, “For Topheth has long been ready, indeed, it has been prepared for the king. He has made it deep and large, a pyre of fire with plenty of wood; the breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire” (cf. Hos. 6:5). Revelation uses the similar picture of a sword coming out of the Lord’s mouth to destroy His enemies (1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21).

The parallel statement and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming adds a slightly different dimension to Antichrist’s destruction. Katargeō (bring to an end) literally means, “to render inoperative,” “to abolish,” or “to render ineffective.” Not only will the Lord slay (destroy) Antichrist’s person, He will also bring to an end his empire. Christ will annihilate both the man and his enterprise by the appearance of His coming, a reference to the visible manifestation of Christ at His second coming (Rev. 19:11–21).

So Antichrist will rule from the midpoint of the Tribulation until Christ’s return—1,260 days (Rev. 12:6), or forty-two months (Rev. 13:5), both of which equal three and a half years (cf. Dan. 9:27). During that brief reign, so suddenly ended, he will exercise power unparalleled in human history.

his power

that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness (2:9–10a)

Antichrist’s great power will not be his own but will be in accord with the activity of Satan. Energeia (activity), the root of the English word “energy,” describes power in action. It usually refers to God’s power (e.g., Eph. 1:19; 3:7; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:29; 2:12), but here it describes Satan’s power. Antichrist’s power and signs and false wonders will not only be deceptive tricks, like falsifying his own death and resurrection (Rev. 13:3, 12, 14; 17:8, 11), but also actual manifestations of Satan’s supernatural power. Power (miracles; cf. Matt. 7:22; 11:20, 21, 23, etc.) refers to supernatural acts; signs point to the one who performs them; wonders describes the astonishing results. Antichrist’s miracles will reveal his supernatural power and create wonder, shock, and astonishment. Pseudos (false) modifies all three terms; Antichrist’s miracles, signs, and wonders are false not in the sense that they are fakery but that they lead to false conclusions about who he is. They will cause people to believe the lie that he is a divine being and worship him. John saw that Antichrist’s deluded followers “worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?’ ” (Rev. 13:4; cf. (vv. 12–15). Antichrist will mislead the world with all the deception … wickedness has at its disposal; he will muster all of evil’s undiluted, unrestrained, seductive power to tempt the world to give him unprecedented influence over it.

his influence

for those who perish, (2:10b)

Antichrist’s malevolent, deceptive, deadly influence will extend to all those who perish. Only God’s elect will not be taken in (Matt. 24:24). The unregenerate, being children of the arch-liar Satan (John 8:44), will inevitably fall for the lies of his emissary (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3–4). Through him, Satan will deceive the whole world (Rev. 12:9); all those who “[receive] the mark of the beast and those who [worship] his image” (Rev. 19:20; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).

Do Not Be Unbelieving

because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (2:10c–12)

Specifically, unbelievers will be deceived by Antichrist and perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. The phrase the love of the truth appears only here in the New Testament, and adds a compelling thought to Paul’s argument. The unregenerate are eternally lost, not because they did not hear or understand the truth, but because they did not love it. The truth includes both “the word of truth, the gospel” (Col. 1:5), and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is truth incarnate (John 14:6; cf. 1:17; Eph. 4:21). Unbelievers do not welcome either Jesus or the gospel He proclaimed. Their antipathy to the truth is not intellectual, but moral, and their self-imposed blindness leaves the unredeemed under a damning level of satanic deception. It is not surprising, then, that Antichrist will deceive the entire lost world.

The Bible clearly teaches that those who go to hell do so because they reject the truth. Speaking of Jerusalem’s rejection of the truth, Jesus lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37). John 3:19–20 says, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” To the unbelieving Jews Jesus declared, “You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:38–40). He reiterated that truth later in John’s gospel:

Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.… But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God. (John 8:24, 45–47)

Because the unredeemed did not receive the love of the truth they “do not know God and … do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1:8). They willfully choose to love their sin, believe Satan’s lies, and hate the gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are like those Jewish leaders described in John 12:42–43 who “believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” In Matthew 10:37 Jesus taught that salvation involves loving Him above all else: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

The terrifying reality is that God will seal the fate of those who hate the gospel by sending upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. Though, as noted above, Antichrist will deceive people with satanically empowered false miracles, signs, and wonders, his deception only will succeed because it fits into God’s sovereign purpose. He will sentence unbelievers to accept evil as if it were good and lies as if they were the truth. Those who continually choose falsehood will be inextricably caught by it. In the words of Proverbs 5:22, “His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin.” They will be abandoned by God to the consequences of their choice to reject the gospel.

The story of Pharaoh is a grim reminder that God will judicially harden the hearts of those who persist in hardening their hearts against the truth. Because Pharaoh hardened his heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34; 1 Sam. 6:6), God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, fixing him in a path from which he could never return (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8).

In Isaiah 6:9–10, a passage quoted repeatedly in the New Testament (Matt. 13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26–27; Rom. 11:8), God said to Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” God told Isaiah that He would sovereignly prevent hard-hearted rejecters of the truth from responding to his preaching. Similarly, Jesus spoke in parables not only to reveal spiritual truth to believers but also to conceal it in judgment on unbelievers (Matt. 13:11–13; Luke 8:10). There comes a day that those who persistently reject the truth will be unable to believe it; God will harden their hearts and fix them in the path they have chosen.

God’s use of Satan and Antichrist as instruments of His judgment finds a parallel in the Old Testament. Through the prophet Micaiah, God pronounced judgment on the wicked king Ahab:

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.” (1 Kings 22:19–23)

Because of Ahab’s rebellion and unfaithfulness, God allowed Satan to deceive him through false prophets. In the future, God will again use Satan as an instrument of His judgment, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. Satan will, through Antichrist and the false prophet, delude the world into believing the lie that Antichrist is God. Unbelievers will be confirmed in that belief because they will choose not to love the truth, but rather to take pleasure in wickedness.

As indicated earlier, Romans 1 also illustrates God’s judicial abandonment of unrepentant sinners: “Even though they knew God [vv. 19–20], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (v. 21). Because of that, the passage declares three times that “God gave them over” (vv. 24, 26, 28) to the consequences of their own sinful choices (vv. 24–28; cf. Gen. 6:3; Judg. 10:13; 2 Chron. 15:2; 24:20; Matt. 15:14; Acts 7:38–42; 14:16).

Do Not Be Insecure

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2:13–14)

Paul’s fifth exhortation to eliminate fear of the future is to understand the great doctrine of salvation. With a few words, the apostle sweeps the reader across the vastness of God’s redemptive plan to affirm the believer’s security in that plan. Again, Paul’s intent is not pedagogical but pastoral. Those who reject the truth that believers are eternally secure cannot look forward with confident hope to Christ’s coming. To believe that Christians living in unconfessed sin when the Lord returns will go to hell can only engender dread and fear—especially since sinless perfection in this life is unattainable (1 Kings 8:46; Ps. 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; 1 John 1:8, 10).

But the Thessalonians did not need to fear they had lost or could lose their salvation, because God’s choice of them is irrevocable. Salvation began with God’s loving choice in eternity past and will continue until glorification in the future (Rom. 8:29–30). Jesus emphatically declared the utter impossibility that any of God’s elect should ever be lost:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.… This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.… No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37, 39–40, 44)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29)

That glorious truth caused Paul to always give thanks to God for the Thessalonians, knowing that they were brethren beloved by the Lord. In contrast to the unredeemed, who refuse to love and obey the truth, are those who willingly do both; in contrast to those whom God judges are those He redeems; in contrast to those who believe Satan’s lies are those who believe God’s truth; in contrast to those who follow Antichrist are those who follow Christ.

God’s work of salvation began with His sovereign, uninfluenced, undeserved love. That love was the basis for His election of believers (Eph. 1:4–5). God’s electing love is not conditioned on any merit in its recipients, as Moses reminded Israel: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7).

Flowing out of God’s predetermined love is His sovereign choice of believers, whom He has chosen … from the beginning for salvation. God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); He “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). The redeemed are those whose names were “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8; cf. 17:8). For that reason, the New Testament commonly refers to believers as the “elect” (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7; Rom. 8:33) or the “chosen” (Matt. 22:14; Rom. 11:7; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).

The doctrine of God’s sovereign, elective love has several practical benefits. It crushes human pride (Titus 3:5), since God gets all the credit for salvation. It exalts God (Ps. 115:1), as He receives praise for His love. It produces joy (1 Peter 1:1–2, 6, 8), as believers rejoice in their salvation. It grants unimaginable privileges (Eph. 1:3). It promotes holiness in the lives of the elect (Col. 3:12–13). Finally, and most relevant to Paul’s purpose in this passage, it provides security (Phil. 1:6).

God’s sovereign election of believers becomes operative in their lives through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit that sets believers apart from sin to righteousness (cf. Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Peter 1:2). This miracle starts at salvation and includes a total transformation, so that the believer is born again (John 3:3–8) and becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). The sanctification that begins at regeneration does not, of course, mean that believers do not sin (see the discussion above). But it does ensure that those set apart from sin to God will lead lives of progressive sanctification, of increasing holiness toward Christlikeness (John 17:17; Rom. 6:1–22; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:16–25; Phil. 3:12; Col. 3:9–20; 1 Thess. 4:3–4; 5:23; 1 Peter 1:14–16; 1 John 3:4–10).

The human factor in God’s sovereign, loving election and regeneration is faith in the truth. Salvation is “by grace … through faith” (Eph. 2:8). It is those who “believe in the Lord Jesus [who] will be saved” (Acts 16:31). To the Romans Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:9–10). The truth that salvation is by faith in the true gospel permeates the New Testament (e.g., Mark 1:15; John 1:12; 3:15–16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; Acts 10:43; Rom. 1:16; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 John 5:1). The Spirit regenerates those who hear and believe the truth by granting them repentance (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25) and the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8–9).

The next element in God’s redemptive plan reaches back chronologically before the third. The apostle’s declaration It was for this He called you through our gospel refers, as always in the New Testament epistles, to God’s effectual call of believers to salvation (e.g., Rom. 1:6, 7; 1 Cor. 1:2, 9, 24, 26; Gal. 1:6; Eph. 4:1, 4). The gracious call of the Holy Spirit is irresistible (Rom. 8:30); the gospel is not merely words and facts but “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

All of those gospel realities lead to the ultimate goal of God’s redemptive plan—that believers may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1:10, 12). That firm statement of the security of salvation reveals that God loved, chose, called, and transformed believers for the purpose of eternally reflecting the glory of Christ to them and through them (cf. 1 John 3:1–2; Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:42–49; Phil. 3:21). Since no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2), nothing can separate believers from His saving love (Rom. 8:35–39).

Based on this sovereign scheme, there was no need for the Thessalonians to be insecure about their salvation, anxious about the Lord’s return, or fearful that they were in the Day of Judgment of the ungodly. They, like all believers, were not destined for judgment but for glory, for “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

Do Not Be Weak

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2:15–17)

Paul concluded his discussion with a sixth exhortation to the Thessalonians, to stand firm and hold to the traditions which they were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from Paul and his companions (cf. 1 Thess. 3:8). He gave similar exhortations to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:58; 16:13), the Ephesians (Eph. 6:11, 13, 14) and the Philippians (Phil. 4:1). He wanted the Thessalonians not to be weak or vacillating but to hold their spiritual ground and keep their grip on the truth. Specifically, the apostle urged them to hold to the traditions which they were taught. The concept of tradition has been loaded down with a lot of cultural and ecclesiastical baggage over the centuries. But Paul did not have in mind a body of extrabiblical tradition that is equal to God’s revelation in Scripture; in fact, the Bible condemns such human tradition (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8–9, 13; Col. 2:8). The Greek word translated traditions literally means “things handed down” and refers here to divine revelation (cf. 3:6; 1 Cor. 11:2), whether given by word of mouth or by letter. The Thessalonians were to hold fast to what God had handed down, both orally and in writing, through Paul and the other apostles. Believers must hold fast to the “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14).

As he did in his first epistle (1 Thess. 3:11–13) and would frequently do in his subsequent epistles to other churches (e.g., Rom. 16:25–27; 1 Cor. 16:23), Paul gave a benediction, praying that God would comfort and strengthen the church. Paul understood that they could not obey his exhortation in their own strength but needed instead to depend on God’s power. He expressed that balanced view of the Christian life when he wrote to the Colossians, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29; cf. 1 Cor. 15:10).

The pronoun translated Himself stands in the emphatic position in the Greek text, which could be translated, “Now may Himself our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father.” The pronoun governs both Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, viewing both as the source of comfort. That provides powerful evidence of Christ’s deity; He is fully equal with the Father in person, power, and respect.

Jesus and the Father loved believers from all eternity. Because of that love, which permanently and irrevocably granted believers eternal comfort and good hope by grace at salvation, the apostle prayed that both Jesus Christ and God the Father would comfort and strengthen the Thessalonians’ hearts in every good work and word by this unshakable promise of future glory.

As they anticipate the return of Jesus Christ for His own, believers must not be deceived, forgetful, ignorant, unbelieving, insecure, or weak. They will not experience the terrible judgment of the Day of the Lord, because their salvation is secure. God loved them, chose them, redeemed them, and would glorify them. They must therefore be strong and courageous, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).[1]

The Mystery of Lawlessness

2 Thessalonians 2:5–8

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way (2 Thess. 2:7)

As we study the important teaching by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 on the return of Christ, we might easily overlook an important word in verse 7. Embedded in Paul’s teaching of the dreadful events that will come in the appearing of the Antichrist is a small word that connects directly with us today. The word is now: “Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way” (2 Thess. 2:7). Such a statement reminds us that biblical eschatology pertains to us by showing not only what God has planned for future times but also what God is doing now to shepherd history to his predetermined goal. Along with whetting our desire for the return of our Lord from heaven, biblical teaching about the end times is given to make us wise about the days in which we currently live, moving forward under God’s sovereign control to the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ.

The Restrainer of the Antichrist

One challenge in understanding the teaching of this chapter is that Paul interacts with material that he had taught his readers in person but that he does not repeat in this letter. One of these matters is the “restrainer” to which Paul refers in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–7 and that has kept Satan from unleashing the “man of lawlessness” to bring tribulation on the church. “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” Paul asks. “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time” (vv. 5–6). At the time of Paul’s writing, this restraint was keeping the Antichrist in check, and since these final events have yet to take place almost two thousand years later, we must presume that the same restraint is still operating.

The natural question to ask concerns who or what this restraint is that is holding back the Antichrist and his great apostasy. One factor in answering is to observe that in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 Paul describes the restrainer in the neuter gender, so that it is translated impersonally: “what is restraining him.” In verse 7, however, Paul uses the masculine gender and speaks of a person: “he who now restrains it.” Any solution will therefore have to account for both an impersonal and a personal description. Moreover, any answer will need to reflect the fact that Paul does not plainly identify the restrainer, but appeals to his in-person teaching while in Thessalonica (v. 5). The Thessalonians know what the restraint is, but we do not know with the same clarity. With this in mind, the most important thing for us to realize is that some power is at work restraining Satan from fully venting his fury through the coming of the Antichrist. Knowing this, Paul’s readers were not to be confused into thinking that Christ had already returned (v. 2).

In seeking to identify the restrainer, G. K. Beale lists seven primary options, three of which are most worthy of note. One approach identifies the restraining power with the Roman Empire and its system of law and order, personified by the emperor. The thought behind this answer is that the power of law is the ideal restrainer of the man of lawlessness. Since Paul teaches in Romans 13:1–5 that government power is established by God for upholding righteousness, and since Paul himself was protected by righteous rulers on some occasions (including during the period when this letter was likely written; Acts 18:12–16), then the restrainer might have been civil authority.

A second option holds that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit. This is the view held by dispensational Christians, whose teaching includes a secret rapture before Christ’s return. Part of the rationale for the secret rapture is that with the departure of Christians, the Spirit will no longer be in the world. It is in this way that the restrainer is seen to be removed. The major problem with this approach, as we have seen, is that the idea of a secret rapture is utterly contrary to Paul’s description of the second coming in both 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Moreover, while it is true that the Holy Spirit indwells Christians, it is inaccurate to consider his presence bottled up as if Christians were containers in which the omnipresent Spirit could be restricted. Even if Christians were all removed, there is no reason why the Spirit would not continue to exercise his power on earth (see Ps. 139:7–12).

The third main option for the restrainer of the Antichrist is the preaching of the gospel. This idea is attractive in light of Jesus’ teaching that before his return “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” (Mark 13:10). In this view, the personified “restrainer” of verse 8 is God himself, who controls the man of lawlessness according to his own redemptive-historical schedule. By God’s will, the present age that began during Paul’s lifetime and continues today is the time for the spreading of the gospel and the ingathering of believers for salvation. The time will come when God will prepare to bring this age of salvation to a close and his restraining hand will be removed, permitting Satan to operate with unusual power in the career of the man of lawlessness. It was Paul’s own preaching of the gospel that was pushing back the forces of darkness in Asia Minor and Greece, and by God’s power that same gospel will hold back a complete rebellion until the time appointed from heaven.

One reason why this last option is probably best is its agreement with a similar passage in Revelation 20:1–3, where John wrote:

I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Notice that in John’s vision there is a restraint that has the effect of curtailing Satan’s activities, which will be removed in the last days. Premillennial Christians take the “thousand years” to represent a literal period during which Christ reigns after his second coming, after which there is a brief rebellion before the final day of judgment. One problem with this view is that Matthew 25:31 clearly places the final judgment at the same time as Christ’s return from heaven: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” This teaching does not seem to allow for a thousand years between Christ’s return and the final judgment. Moreover, in the visionary literature of the book of Revelation, numbers should be taken symbolically, not literally. It seems best, therefore, especially in light of its correspondence with Paul’s teaching, to identify the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 with the church age. This view is known as amillennialism, so named because of its teaching that the thousand years of Revelation 20 is symbolic for the church age rather than a literal thousand-year period.

Premillennial scholars object to this teaching, since Revelation 20:3 depicts Satan as being completely under wraps. This, they argue, cannot describe any scenario in this present age. This objection fails to note, however, what effect the binding of Satan is said to have: “that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev. 20:3). This deceiving work exactly fits Paul’s description of what Satan and the Antichrist will do once the restraint is removed (2 Thess. 2:9–12). In the meantime, during the age of the Great Commission, which commands Christians to take the gospel throughout the world (Matt. 28:18–20), Satan is kept from effectively hindering that mission by means of deceit. Thus Jesus rejoiced when his seventy-two witnesses returned from preaching the gospel throughout Israel, saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Jesus understood the binding of Satan to involve the free rein for the gospel to be preached in all the world. Cornelis P. Venema writes: “Satan is bound so that he can neither prevent the spread of the gospel among the nations nor effectively deceive them. This vision confirms the teaching that the period between Christ’s first coming and his second coming is one in which the gospel of the kingdom will powerfully and effectively go forth to claim the nations for Jesus Christ.” The personified restrainer whom Paul mentions in 2 Thessalonians 2:7—“he who now restrains it”—appears in John’s vision in the form of the angel who came from heaven with “the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain” (Rev. 20:1). This angel probably represents God’s sovereign will, just as the chain signifies God’s binding power. Venema writes of this image: “The angel is properly equipped to execute God’s purpose to bind and restrict the activities and wiles of Satan.” G. K. Beale concludes: “At the very end of the age, God will remove the angel (or its restraining influence), and ‘all hell will break loose.’ ”5

Comparing Revelation 20:1–3 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6–7 argues strongly in favor of viewing the gospel mission of the church as the restraint on Satan’s plans, under God’s sovereign plan for history. If this is the case, then we can see how urgent is the church’s commission to do everything possible to spread the gospel during this present age. There are many kinds of work that the church and Christians are called to do, but the work of this age, which is restraining Satan from deceiving the nations, is the work of proclaiming the gospel. Realizing this priority will cause Christians and churches to rethink the priority they are placing on preaching the gospel, witnessing to unbelievers, and supporting missionary causes. Surely, if Satan is now bound by God for the sake of the gospel, then evangelism and missions should be at the forefront of any biblically zealous church’s priorities, plans, resource allocations, and also prayers.

Lawlessness at Work

In depicting the binding of Satan, Revelation 20:3 uses strong images, such as a pit into which the devil is cast and sealed. The effect is that he is unable to “deceive the nations any longer” until the gospel age is over. It would be mistaken, however, to conclude that this binding keeps the devil from engaging in any form of warfare against God and his people. Revelation 12 takes up similar imagery and language, showing Satan as conquered and cast down from heaven to earth (Rev. 12:7–9). This symbolic depiction of history also shows, however, that a defeated and cast-down Satan is still a terrible and violent dragon. John writes: “When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (v. 13). Though kept from successfully opposing the gospel by deceiving the nations, Satan remains a deadly and active enemy filled with venom against the church. Despite being cast down, Satan makes continual warfare against God’s people and in opposition to the gospel. The fact that this warfare cannot succeed in this age, since Satan’s binding effectively inhibits his effectiveness, does not mean that there is a shortage of evil that Christians need to confront.

Paul makes this very point about the activity of Satan by saying that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7). In Paul’s usage, a “mystery” is not a puzzle to be solved but rather a truth that is not capable of clear understanding until its revelation in the coming of Christ. This mystery relates to Daniel’s prophecy of the “abomination that makes desolate” (Dan. 11:31). The prophet foresaw idolatry within God’s temple as the work of the Antichrist. By speaking of the “mystery” of the Antichrist’s work, Paul is saying that Daniel would not have foreseen exactly how this would come about. In particular, in saying that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work,” the apostle indicates that what Daniel foresaw about the end of history is also a threat that is presently at work within history. Beale writes: “Paul sees that, though this fiend has not yet come so visibly as he will at the final end of history, he is nevertheless already at work in the covenant community through his deceivers, the false teachers.” This teaching agrees with John’s warning that “as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). Even now, behind the scenes, the same work that will come to mighty expression before the end is opposing the gospel. John Stott writes:

His anti-social, anti-law, anti-God movement is at present largely underground. We detect its subversive influence around us today—in the atheistic stance of secular humanism, in the totalitarian tendencies of extreme left-wing and right-wing ideologies, in the materialism of our consumer society which puts things in the place of God, in those so-called “theologies” which proclaim the death of God and the end of moral absolutes, and in the social permissiveness which cheapens the sanctity of human life, sex, marriage, and family, all of which God created or instituted.

In fact, the lawless work of Satan has been at work throughout history, starting with his deception of our first parents in order that they would fall into sin (Gen. 3:1–7). Even during times when the church is advancing behind mighty gospel works, the agenda of the enemy is striving to keep pace. This opposition is often noted during revivals, when the Holy Spirit’s power is bringing many people to Christ. Satan is also there, distracting with false conversions, infiltrating with false doctrines, and tempting with the false allure of numerical success in ministry. Similarly, in ordinary times of ministry, the devil is always trying to make inroads in order to divide, deceive, or distract people from the gospel fruits of faith and love. In the midst of a wedding service, for instance, the mystery of lawlessness is at work. In gatherings for prayer, in services of worship, and in seminary classrooms, Satan is seeking to lay seeds for his ill-intended fruit. John Bunyan depicted the danger in Pilgrim’s Progress by placing beside the path to the Porter’s Lodge two chained lions, which though roaring could not quite reach Christian as he passed by. Likewise, God is holding Satan back for the sake of the gospel, yet still he roars and, as Peter warned, “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), seeking to devour those who wander off the path of obedience to God’s Word.

Knowing that this lawlessness is at work, believers must not merely look to the future day of trouble but also watch for its precursors now and stand guard over the precious things of God. This was Paul’s concern, so he urged his readers not to be taken in by false teachers. If we respond to his end-times teaching by exclaiming, “I am so glad not to live in the times of the Antichrist!” we fail to heed the warning of “the mystery of lawlessness … already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7). If we do not guard our speech, watch our hearts, and live in careful obedience to Scripture, we may well feel the sting of Satan’s bite and suffer great loss to our churches, our families, and our work because of our carelessness and complacency.

In the Splendor of His Coming

While God is currently restraining our enemy for the sake of the gospel, the day will come when he removes his restraint. “Then,” Paul says, “the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thess. 2:8). The apostle uses a verb form of the word apokalupsis to speak of this revealing—a word (previously used of Christ’s second coming) that indicates the display of something previously present but hidden to sight (1:7). The mystery of lawlessness has been at work all along, but then the man of lawlessness will appear to have his day.

As we saw in our study of 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4, the coming of the Antichrist will lead to tribulation for the church and deception of the world so that a general rebellion against God will drive the church underground. Christians need to know that God has ordained this day of trouble for the world. More importantly, we need to know that the Antichrist’s revealing will signal the coming of Christ: “Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (v. 8).

The Greek word translated as “kill” is anaireo, which literally means to “take up” so as to remove; it was used of those condemned to be executed. Revelation 20:10 reveals that in Christ’s return, “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur … [to] be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Leon Morris argues that in verse 8 emphasis is placed on the name “the Lord Jesus” in expressing “the glory of Him who first came in lowliness. Though He had once been despised and rejected, at the supreme moment of history He will be seen in all His glorious majesty.”

The majesty of Christ will be heightened by the ease of his victory over Satan and his Antichrist. Jesus “will kill with the breath of his mouth” (2 Thess. 2:8). The main idea here is simply the indomitable power that Christ wields merely by his breath. But in Revelation, Christ is first revealed with “a sharp two-edged sword” coming from his mouth (Rev. 1:16), the apparent meaning of which is the gospel Word with its power to either save or condemn. Revelation 19 then presents Christ as the conqueror on a white horse, adding that from “his mouth comes a sharp sword” (19:15). With these precedents, we should think of Christ as opening his mouth to overthrow Satan by means of his sovereign Word. In Christ’s coming, all creation will be reminded that the Savior who died on the cross is the Creator Son, who by merely speaking wields almighty power over every creature, small and great. The same voice that cried “Peace! Be still!” on the Sea of Galilee, so that the winds and waves obeyed (Mark 4:39), will speak with commanding power over evil in this world, and Satan’s power will crumble before him.

As Paul foresees it, Satan, the Antichrist, and all who had joined in the great apostasy against the church will come to nothing merely “by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). The “coming” of Christ (Greek epiphaneia) will display such radiant splendor that as light floods a dark room and immediately subdues every shadow, so will the coming of Christ in glory conquer the entirety of creation with holiness. The Bible proclaims that Christ’s glory is so great that in the courts of heaven even the glorious seraphim cover their faces before him (Isa. 6:2). For believers, the effect of Christ’s appearing will be our own transformation into glory: John says that “when he appears,” believers will “be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The same appearing of Christ will cause Satan to take up the words once spoken by Isaiah the prophet, when he became aware of his sinfulness before the glory of Christ: “Woe is me! For I am lost” (Isa. 6:5). Satan’s destruction will be followed by the judgment of all who worshiped idols and joined in the great rebellion against God. William B. Collyer writes of that coming day:

But sinners, filled with guilty fears, behold his wrath prevailing;

For they shall rise, and find their tears and sighs are unavailing:

The day of grace is past and gone; trembling they stand before the throne,

All unprepared to meet him.

The Present Day of Grace

As we conclude our study of Paul’s teaching on the awesome events preceding Christ’s return, we should take note, first, of the absolute sovereignty of God that this passage displays. Far from drawing the conclusion that Satan’s power is something to shake the foundation of a Christian’s faith, exactly the opposite should result from Paul’s teaching. The apostle can foretell these events because God has foreordained them. Having announced the exact course of the coming of the Antichrist and his great rebellion, God is the One who controls the future and determines its outcome.

In the sure and certain hope of God’s victory, Christians should joyfully submit to God’s care, doing everything in our power to serve him and give praise to his glorious grace. More important even than knowing what is going to happen is knowing who has ordained events by his sovereign will. D. Michael Martin writes: “For the people of God, then, peace and assurance come not from a full knowledge of the times and seasons but from a personal knowledge of the God who rules the times and seasons.” Paul has removed the veil enough for us to know about the coming of the lawless one and the great tribulation of God’s people. In these prophecies, we see even more clearly the sovereign control of the God who holds our salvation and the certain defeat of all that we might fear in the day of Christ’s glorious return.

Second, having been made wise not only about the future man of lawlessness, but also about the present “mystery of lawlessness,” Christians are reminded of our great resource in opposing the evil one now. Elsewhere the apostle James tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Earlier Paul said that the way to resist the devil is by putting on “the breastplate of faith and love” and “for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). Now Paul reminds us of the prevailing power of God’s Word. We will see Satan destroyed at Christ’s coming by “the breath of his mouth” (2 Thess. 2:8). Martin Luther powerfully expressed this hope in his most famous hymn:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.

The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure;

One little word shall fell him.

Do you doubt the sufficiency of that “one little word”—God’s Word, the Bible—for ministry today? Then consider its effect in the coming of Christ! Let the sword of our Bibles never become rusty through disuse, but let us practice wielding God’s Word for our own salvation and the defense of Christ’s church.

Finally, how important it is, in light of what Paul has revealed concerning history, for each of us to be saved through faith in Christ now. I earlier compared Satan’s woeful demise when Christ appears to the reaction of the prophet Isaiah when he was confronted with a vision of Christ’s majestic holiness. Isaiah responded in the way that all sinners must respond—either now in repentance or in his return with hopeless dismay—when their eyes are opened to see the holiness of Christ: “Woe is me! For I am lost” (Isa. 6:5). How important that you should see your need of forgiveness now, in the day of grace when you can still be saved through faith in Jesus! Whereas Satan will be destroyed by the appearing of Christ’s glorious holiness, Isaiah was saved by calling in faith in the grace of God revealed in Christ. He cried, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5).

Two things happened when Isaiah responded to the vision of Christ in faith. The first is that he was cleansed of his sins by the atoning blood of Jesus. Isaiah 6:6 depicts this by saying that “one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.” This was a way of saying that the atoning sacrifice was applied to Isaiah’s sin: “he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’ ” (Isa. 6:7). In this present day of grace, before the gospel restraint is removed, you, too, may be forgiven and cleansed by believing in Jesus—by realizing your sin and trusting his death to atone for your guilt.

Second, Isaiah heard God asking who would go forth to serve him with the gospel: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me’ ” (Isa. 6:8). We have seen the holy glory of Christ, experienced the cleansing of our sin by his blood, and now realize what is at stake in the world and what the future holds in the sovereign plan of God. Every Christian should therefore enlist in the service of the Sovereign Lord, each of us answering the call that God sets before us, in whatever way God gives us opportunity to advance his gospel. The cause is glorious, the end is certain, and the present need is great. How is God calling you to serve the cause of his gospel? Seeing in God’s Word the same vision that Isaiah saw of a sovereign, holy, victorious Christ enthroned with grace, surely we, too, must answer every call to pray, to give, to witness, and to serve, “Here am I! Send me.”[2]

8. And then will be revealed—that is, when that impediment (τὸ κατέχον) shall be removed; for he does not point out the time of revelation as being when he, who now holds the supremacy, will be taken out of the way, but he has an eye to what he had said before. For he had said that there was some hinderance in the way of Antichrist’s entering upon an open possession of the kingdom. He afterwards added, that he was already hatching a secret work of impiety. In the third place, he has interspersed consolation, on the ground that this tyranny would come to an end. He now again repeats, that he4 who was as yet hidden, would be revealed in his time; and the repetition is with this view—that believers, being furnished with spiritual armour, may, nevertheless, fight vigorously under Christ, and not allow themselves to be overwhelmed, although the deluge of impiety should thus overspread.2

Whom the Lord. He had foretold the destruction of Antichrist’s reign; he now points out the manner of his destruction—that he will be reduced to nothing by the word of the Lord. It is uncertain, however, whether he speaks of the last appearance of Christ, when he will be manifested from heaven as the Judge. The words, indeed, seem to have this meaning, but Paul does not mean that Christ would accomplish this in one moment. Hence we must understand it in this sense—that Antichrist would be wholly and in every respect destroyed,4 when that final day of the restoration of all things shall arrive. Paul, however, intimates that Christ will in the mean time, by the rays which he will emit previously to his advent, put to flight the darkness in which Antichrist will reign, just as the sun, before he is seen by us, chases away the darkness of the night by the pouring forth of his rays.

This victory of the word, therefore, will shew itself in this world, for the spirit of his mouth simply means the word, as it also does in Isaiah 11:4, to which passage Paul seems to allude. For the Prophet there takes in the same sense the sceptre of his mouth, and the breath of his lips, and he also furnishes Christ with these very arms, that he may rout his enemies. This is a signal commendation of true and sound doctrine—that it is represented as sufficient for putting an end to all impiety, and as destined to be invariably victorious, in opposition to all the machinations of Satan; as also when, a little afterwards, the proclamation of it is spoken of as Christ’s coming to us.

When Paul adds, the brightness of his coming, he intimates that the light of Christ’s presence will be such as will swallow up the darkness of Antichrist. In the mean time, he indirectly intimates, that Antichrist will be permitted to reign for a time, when Christ has, in a manner, withdrawn, as usually happens, whenever on his presenting himself we turn our back upon him. And, undoubtedly, that is a sad departure of Christ, when he has taken away his light from men, which has been improperly and unworthily received,2 in accordance with what follows. In the mean time Paul teaches, that by his presence alone all the elect of God will be abundantly safe, in opposition to all the subtleties of Satan.[3]

8 After this time has elapsed, the Lord Jesus will personally come to earth to “overthrow” the lawless one “with the breath of his mouth” and abolish (katargeō, GK 2934; NIV, “destroy”; NASB, “bring to an end”) him “by the splendor of his coming.” By putting the lawless one to death, the Lord will also halt his program of deceiving the world. “The breath of his mouth” could be a figurative reference to a word spoken by Christ, but a literal sense is satisfactory. The breath of God is a fierce weapon (Ex 15:8; 2 Sa 22:16; Job 4:9; Ps 33:6; Isa 30:27–28; cf. Milligan, 103; Best, 303).

“The splendor of his coming” is his other means of conquest. “Splendor” (epiphaneia, lit., “appearance,” GK 2211) occurs in the Pastoral Epistles as a practical equivalent for the term parousia (1 Ti 6:14; 2 Ti 1:10; 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13). This “appearance” phase of the parousia differs from the “gathering” phase (2 Th 1:1). It concludes and climaxes the period of tribulation instead of beginning it. The visible presence of the Lord Jesus in the world will put an immediate stop to an accelerated diabolical program.[4]

8  The “and then” with which this clause begins appears to stand as an emphatic way of saying, “and not before,” over against whatever was currently circulating in Thessalonica that Paul noted at the beginning (v. 3). It is only after the events enumerated in verses 3b–4 have occurred that the Rebel himself will be “unveiled.” But having got that far, and in typical fashion, Paul immediately shifts his focus onto Christ. To be sure, at the proper time “the lawless one will be revealed”; but Paul is simply incapable of giving him top billing. Thus the rest of the sentence (through v. 10) is composed of two relative clauses, where the “whom” of our verse 8 and the “whose” of verse 9 describe, in turn, first (v. 8), what will happen eventually to the Rebel himself, and, second (vv. 9–10), the nature of the Rebel’s coming that is responsible in turn for his being overthrown by the Lord at his coming.

So what Paul says first about the Rebel is that he will eventually be slain by Christ at his Parousia. The rest of this clause is a moment of rare intertextuality in Paul’s letters, rare because he here uses kyrios (“Lord”) to refer to Christ in a passage whose primary language carries overtones of Jewish messianism. As with 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (q.v.), this appears to be an allusion to Christ as Messiah, speaking of him as presently in heaven awaiting his role in the final judgment of the wicked. In making this point, Paul does two things.

First, he picks up the language of Isaiah 11:4 (LXX) and applies it to Christ’s (second) coming:



Whom the Lord will slay with the breath of his mouth and

will abolish at the manifestation of his Coming




and he will strike the land with the word of his mouth, and

with the breath of his lips he will slay the ungodly


Here Isaiah had prophesied that the coming “shoot from the stump of Jesse” would be characterized by righteousness and justice that will include his slaying of the wicked with “the breath of his mouth.” With help from Psalm 32:6 (for the form of the phrase “the breath of his mouth”) Paul combines the two lines of Isaiah’s poetry into one and attributes this messianic future judgment to “the Lord = Jesus.”

But, second, Paul is not finished; so reflecting his own Semitic (and biblical) background, he turns his own prose into a moment of Semitic poetry, so that the rest of Paul’s sentence functions in very much the same way that synonymous parallelism does in the Psalter. Thus the second part clarifies the first by Paul’s speaking of the Rebel’s destruction in terms of Christ’s “abolishing” him at his (Christ’s) coming. That this is a poetic moment is demonstrated both by the redundancy of this clause in its own right, and by the (otherwise unnecessary) amplification of the “coming” itself. In plain prose Paul could easily have said simply, “at his coming”; but in this more poetic moment, the singular reality is amplified into “the manifestation of his coming,” where “manifestation” is intended to emphasize not just the fact of his coming, but especially its unmistakable and evidential character. That is, Christ’s coming will hardly be “secret,” since this word disallows such an option; rather, Christ’s Parousia will be openly manifest to all, both those who await his coming and those who will be “abolished” when he comes.

At the same time, the poetic nature of this sentence seems to disallow altogether that these two lines of (now poetic) prose intend two different events. Indeed, it is the nature of such synonymous parallelism in Hebrew poetry that the second line usually simply elaborates or intensifies what is said in the first line. Thus it is the poetic nature of this clause that reinforces for the Thessalonian believers that their present persecutors are destined for divine judgment; they will be “slain” by Christ and thus “abolished” at his coming.

Finally, one should note that the poetic nature of this sentence, and especially Paul’s deliberate borrowing of language from the Greek translation of Isaiah, likewise disallows speculation as to whether “the slain” are truly “abolished” in terms of ongoing existence. Given what Paul says elsewhere about the future of the wicked, one should probably not press what he says here beyond his immediate intent: to reassure a persecuted minority that God has not forgotten either them or their persecutors. Just as the Thessalonian believers have a sure future, so also do their persecutors, but not a future that they should look forward to![5]

The doom of the Antichrist (v. 8)

At some point in history, ‘the lawless one will be revealed’. This third description of the Antichrist is a Hebraism signifying a lawless man and emphasizing his rejection of sound doctrine and true worship and his moral declension (1 Tim. 4:1–5). It is also the third time that Paul has said that he will be ‘revealed’: the Greek word apokalupsis means ‘an uncovering in a moment of time’. The Antichrist is an eschatological figure (Mark 13:14) who will be uncovered in a moment at the end of time; but his decreed end is that he will be utterly consumed and destroyed. The verbs ‘will consume’ and ‘destroy’ (v. 8) doubly emphasize that his power and influence will be extinguished when he is defeated and Christ is victorious. ‘The breath of His [Christ’s] mouth’ will be enough to render the lawless one impotent. The phrase ‘the brightness of His coming’ speaks of the Second Coming of the Saviour and his descent to earth with his angels to judge the world in fulfilment of biblical prophecy (Isa. 11:4; 2 Thes. 1:6–7; 1 Thes. 4:16; 5:2). Paul predicts God’s ultimate verdict on the ‘lawless one’ and Satan and speaks of the glory that Jesus Christ will display at his Parousia, which will reveal his deity. He first came in lowliness and was despised and rejected, but he will come a second time with his attendant angels in glorious majesty (Matt. 24:29–31).[6]

2:8 / And then the lawless one will be revealed. This is the third time that Paul has spoken in these terms (cf. vv. 3, 6). The expression the lawless one (ho anomos) now replaces “the man of lawlessness,” but the same person is meant. Paul gives no details beyond what is said (2:4) concerning his activities or concerning how long he will be active. From the revelation of the lawless one, Paul moves at once to speak about his destruction; he does this not in a separate statement, but as a further description of him, as though he is characteristically the one whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow (for the title Lord, see note on 1 Thess. 1:1). The sovereignty of God is again to the fore in this verse, while its language is largely dependent on lxx Isaiah 11:4. The verb rendered overthrow (anaireō) is a particularly strong one, “annihilate,” and the qualifying phrase, with the breath of his mouth, only here in the nt, underlines the ease of his annihilation—the Lord Jesus will utterly destroy him. As Luther poses it in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “A word shall quickly slay him.” Parallel with this and forming with it one clause descriptive of the lawless one is the statement that the Lord will destroy him by the splendor of his coming (see disc. on 1 Thess. 2:19 for parousia). Taken in isolation, destroy might be regarded as an over-translation of the verb katartizō. “To render inoperative” is more the sense, and the suggestion has been made that Paul was now backing off from the first statement. The lawless one would not be annihilated but made powerless. The difficulty lies in knowing how precisely Paul was using these words, but the parallelism with anaireō is probably decisive in accepting destroy. So the splendor of his (Jesus’) coming marks the end of the lawless one and of the evil that he represents. It cannot stand in the presence of the Lord. Two words are employed in this phrase, epiphaneia and parousia. When used alone, each signifies his coming, but in combination they are best expressed as in niv. Epiphaneia often carries with it the idea of splendor (used of Jesus’ second coming in 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13 and of his first in 2 Tim. 1:10).[7]

8. Translate, “the lawless one”; the embodiment of all the godless “lawlessness” which has been working in “mystery” for ages (2 Th 2:7): “the man of sin” (2 Th 2:3).

whom the Lord—Some of the oldest manuscripts read, “the Lord Jesus.” How awful that He whose very name means God-Saviour, should appear as the Destroyer; but the salvation of the Church requires the destruction of her foe. As the reign of Israel in Canaan was ushered in by judgments on the nations for apostasy (for the Canaanites were originally worshippers of the true God: thus Melchisedek, king of Salem, was the “priest of the most high God,” Ge 14:18: Ammon and Moab came from righteous Lot), so the Son of David’s reign in Zion and over the whole earth, is to be ushered in by judgments on the apostate Christian world.

consume … and … destroy—So Da 7:26, “consume and destroy”; Da 11:45. He shall “consume” him by His mere breath (Is 11:4; 30:33): the sentence of judgment being the sharp sword that goeth out of His mouth (Rev 19:15, 21). Antichrist’s manifestation and destruction are declared in the same breath; at his greatest height he is nearest his fall, like Herod his type (Is 1:24–27; Ac 12:20–23). As the advancing fire, while still at a distance consumes little insects [Chrysostom] by its mere heat, so Christ’s mere approach is enough to consume Antichrist. The mere “appearance of the coming” of the Lord of glory is sufficient to show to Antichrist his perfect nothingness. He is seized and “cast alive into the take of fire” (Rev 19:20). So the world kingdoms, and the kingdom of the beast, give place to that of the Son of man and His saints. The Greek for “destroy” means “abolish” (the same Greek is so translated, 2 Ti 1:10); that is, cause every vestige of him to disappear. Compare as to Gog attacking Israel and destroyed by Jehovah (Ez 38:1–39:29), so as not to leave a vestige of him.

with the brightness of his comingGreek, “the manifestation, (or appearance) of His presence”: the first outburst of His advent—the first gleam of His presence—is enough to abolish utterly all traces of Antichrist, as darkness disappears before the dawning day. Next, his adherents are “slain with the sword out of His mouth” (Rev 19:21). Bengel’s distinction between “the appearance of His coming” and the “coming” itself is not justified by 1 Ti 6:14; 2 Ti 1:10; Tit 2:13, where the same Greek for “appearing” (English Version, here “the brightness”) plainly refers to the coming itself. The expression, “manifestation (appearing) of His presence,” is used in awful contrast to the revelation of the wicked one in the beginning of the verse.[8]

Ver. 8.—And then; namely, so soon as he that restraineth is taken out of the way. Shall that Wicked; or, that lawless one, in whom the mystery of lawlessness is realized; not different from, but the same with, the “man of sin, the son of perdition.” Be revealed; appear unveiled in all his naked deformity. No longer working secretly, but openly, and in an undisguised form; no longer the mystery, but the revelation of lawlessness. The apostle now interrupts his description of the man of sin by announcing his doom. Whom the Lord; or, as the best-attested manuscripts read, whom the Lord Jesus. Shall consume; or rather, shall slay (R. V.). With the spirit (or, breath) of his mouth. Various interpretations have been given to this clause. Some refer it to the Word of God, and others to the Holy Spirit, and suppose that the conversion of the world is here predicted; but this is evidently an erroneous interpretation, as the doom of antichrist is here announced. Others refer the term to a cry or word, and think that the sentence of condemnation pronounced by the Lord Jesus on the wicked is intended. But the words are to be taken literally as a description of the power and irresistible might of Christ at his coming—that the mere breath of his mouth is sufficient to consume the wicked (comp. Isa. 11:4, “He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked”). And shall destroy (or, annihilate) with the brightness (or, appearance) of his coming. The two words, epiphany and parousia, which are elsewhere used separately to denote the coming of Christ, are here employed. There is no ground for the assertion that the first is the subjective and the second the objective aspect of Christ’s coming (Olshausen). The brightness of Christ’s coming is not here expressed; but the meaning is that the mere appearance of Christ’s presence will annihilate the wicked.[9]

8. καὶ τότε, “and then”—when the restrainer has been removed.

ἀποκαλυφθήσεται ὁ ἄνομος, “the lawless one will be revealed.” For the third time the passive of ἀποκαλύπτειν is used to denote the epiphany of the counterfeit Christ, lawlessness incarnate. But he is revealed only to be destroyed.

ὃν ὁ κύριος [Ἰησοῦς] ἀνελεῖ τῷ πνεύνατι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, “whom the Lord [Jesus] will destroy with the breath of his mouth.” This clause is based on Isa 11:4, LXX, where the coming Prince of the house of David is to “smite the earth with the word of his mouth (τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ) and destroy (ἀνελεῖ) the wicked one (ἀσεβῆ) with breath (πνεύματι) through his lips.” There “the wicked one” is generic; here he is the particular individual (ὁ ἄνομος) in whom the mystery of lawlessness is made public.

καὶ καταργήσει τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ, “and will bring (him) to an end with the dawning of his Advent.” This is the only NT occurrence of ἐπιφάνεια outside the Pastoral Epistles, where it used once (2 Tim 1:10) of the first coming of Christ and four times (1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13) of his Advent in glory (παρουσία does not occur in the Pastorals). If ἐπιφάνεια (“manifestation”) were synonymous with παρουσία here, the construction would be pleonastic; it more probably means “dawning,” as in Polybius, Hist. 3.94.3, τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς ἡμέρας (“the dawn of day,” “daybreak”). The bright dawn of Christ’s Parousia will consume the man of lawlessness; we may compare the “flaming fire” of 1:7, 8.

This picture of the warrior Messiah has OT precedent (cf. Isa 11:4 quoted in preceding comment; Isa 66:15, 16 and Mal 4:1 quoted in comment and explanation on 1:8; also Yahweh’s portrayal as a man of war in Isa 42:13, 25; 59:15b–19; 63:1–6). It passed into apocalyptic imagery, as in the Ascension of Isaiah (4:14), where “the Lord will come with his angels and with the armies of the holy ones from the seventh heaven with the glory of the seventh heaven, and he will drag Beliar into Gehenna together with his armies,” and in the detailed picture of Rev 19:11–21, where the “Word of God,” mounted on a war-horse, smites his enemies with the sharp sword proceeding from his mouth and throws the “beast” (corresponding to the man of lawlessness) and his agent the false prophet into the lake of fire and brimstone.[10]

The outbreak of the rebellion (2:6–8)

Paul does not specify what form the rebellion will take. But the word he uses for it, apostasia (3), meant in classical Greek either a military revolt or a political defection, whereas in the lxx it applied to religious apostasy, namely Israel’s rebellion against God. Presumably Antichrist’s revolt, therefore, being directed against God and Law, will even infiltrate and engulf the nominal church.

Not yet, however. For the rebellion will not take place until the chief rebel has emerged (3). And, Paul adds, you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time (6). Paul’s preoccupation here is with the time of the rebellion. He uses a series of time references, in order that the Thessalonians may grasp the order of events: ‘Now you know what is restraining him, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For already the mystery of lawlessness is at work secretly; but the one who now restrains it will continue to do so until he is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed’ (6–8). Two processes are now already going on simultaneously. On the one hand the secret power of lawlessness is … at work surreptitiously and subversively. On the other hand, the restraining influence is also at work, preventing the secret rebelliousness from breaking out into open rebellion. Only when this control is lifted will first the revolt and then the Parousia take place.

The nature of what is holding him back (6), which is later personalized as the one who now holds it back (7), has caused commentators many headaches. Once again we stand at an initial disadvantage, because Paul’s Thessalonian readers knew what the restraining influence was (6), since he had regularly taught them about these things (5), whereas we have not had the benefit of the apostle’s initial instruction. It is not altogether surprising, then, that even the great Augustine, reacting against unprofitable conjectures, declared, ‘I frankly confess I do not know what he means.’

Before we are in a position to weigh the possible interpretations, it may be helpful to bring together the four facts about the ‘restraint’ which Paul clarifies. First, it is at work now and is effectively stopping the outbreak of the rebellion. Secondly, ‘it’ may also be referred to as ‘he’ (7). The restraint is both neuter and masculine, something and someone, a pressure and a person. Thirdly, at the right time this ‘it’ or ‘he’ will be removed, and the removal will trigger the final timetable, namely the revelation first of Antichrist and then of Christ. Fourthly, there must be some reason, in addition to the Thessalonians’ knowledge, which prompts Paul to write about the restraint and its removal in such guarded, roundabout and even cryptic terms. Here, then, are our four guidelines. The ‘restraint’ must be socially effective, capable of a personal manifestation, historically removable and delicate enough to be talked about in whispers and enigmas. Three main explanations have been proposed.

First, the restraining power is the Holy Spirit and the work of the church. In this case, the ‘he who restrains’ would be the Spirit himself, while the ‘it who restrains’ would be the church he indwells. Certainly Jesus intended his people, like salt in meat, to exercise a restraining influence on society. But why should Paul write of the Spirit and the church in such enigmatic terms? And the concept of the church being ‘removed’ before the rebellion would mean that it would not be there to greet Christ on his return.

The second suggestion is that the restraint is Paul and the preaching of the gospel. One or two of the early fathers held this view, and Calvin wrote: ‘Paul declared that the light of the gospel must first be spread through every part of the world …’. Again, ‘I hear Paul speaking of the universal call of the Gentiles’. The ‘restraint’ on this showing is the necessary ‘delay’ until the world is evangelized. Oscar Cullmann took up and developed this theme, emphasizing Paul’s unique role as the apostle to the Gentiles. In this case the masculine ‘restrainer’ is ‘a self-designation of the apostle’ and the neuter ‘restraint’ is his ‘missionary preaching’.39 But if the reference is to himself and his evangelism, why should he need to be so cryptic about it? Besides, did he really see himself at the centre of the eschatological stage, so that the rebellion awaited his removal from the scene? And how could his removal (presumably by death) be reconciled with his apparent hope of surviving until the Parousia (1 Thes. 4:13ff.)?

The third and most widely held view is that the restraining influence is Rome and the power of the state. Tertullian seems to have been the first church father to enunciate this: ‘What obstacle is there but the Roman state …?’ Not that the reference need be limited to the Roman Empire; every state, being the guardian of law and order, public peace and justice, meets the case equally well. It is true that in Revelation 13 the state is portrayed as satanic, and that when it appears in this guise it can hardly be conceived as the restrainer of Antichrist. Indeed, it is this which led Cullmann to declare the interpretation of the state as the restrainer ‘the least probable hypothesis’. Nevertheless, Paul regarded the state as God’s agent for the punishment of evil.42 In fact, there are four main arguments in favour of this interpretation:

  1. It makes good sense. As Plummer wrote, ‘the natural restrainer of lawlessness is the law, and in the first century the great organizer and executor of the law was the Roman Empire’. He even wrote that this explanation fits so well that ‘it is almost a waste of time to look for any other’.44
  2. It tallies with Paul’s known view and experience of the state. He and Silas as Roman citizens had recently experienced Roman justice both in Philippi and at the hands of the politarchs in Thessalonica itself, and the proconsul Gallio’s fair handling of a potentially ugly situation in Corinth might be fresh in Paul’s mind. Further, he would soon be expounding to the Romans his conviction that the state was God’s servant to punish evil and promote good.46
  3. The combination of the neuter and the masculine is easily explained. ‘Think’, wrote Hendriksen, ‘of the empire and the emperor, of justice and the judge, of law and the one who enforces it.’
  4. The enigmatic reference would be explicable, since there were obvious prudential reasons for not openly and explicitly predicting that the state would be ‘taken out of the way’ or ‘removed from the scene’ (reb).

Meanwhile, even during the period of restraint, and before the lawless one is revealed, the secret power of lawlessness is already at work (7a). ‘The secret power’ translates to mystērion. It cannot here bear its usual meaning in Paul’s writings of ‘a truth once hidden but now revealed’, since it is still secret and is contrasted with the coming ‘revelation’ of the man of lawlessness. Before he is revealed openly, however, the lawlessness he embodies is operating secretly. His anti-social, anti-law, anti-God movement is at present largely underground. We detect its subversive influence around us today—in the atheistic stance of secular humanism, in the totalitarian tendencies of extreme left-wing and right-wing ideologies, in the materialism of the consumer society which puts things in the place of God, in those so-called ‘theologies’ which proclaim the death of God and the end of moral absolutes, and in the social permissiveness which cheapens the sanctity of human life, sex, marriage and family, all of which God created or instituted.

Were it not for some remaining restraints (which preserve a measure of justice, freedom, order and decency) these things would break out much more virulently. And one day they will. For when the restraint is removed, then secret subversion will become open rebellion under the unscrupulous leadership of the lawless one who will be revealed (8a). Then we can expect a period (mercifully short) of political, social and moral chaos, in which both God and Law are impudently flouted, until suddenly the Lord Jesus will come and overthrow him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendour of his coming (8). ‘There is no long battle’, writes Ernest Best, ‘victory comes at once.’[11]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). 1 & 2 Thessalonians (pp. 275–289). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Phillips, R. D. (2015). 1 & 2 Thessalonians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 347–357). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 334–336). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Thomas, R. L. (2006). 2 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 472–473). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Fee, G. D. (2009). The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (pp. 290–292). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[6] McNaughton, I. (2008). Opening up 2 Thessalonians (pp. 49–50). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[7] Williams, D. J. (2011). 1 and 2 Thessalonians (pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 397–398). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[9] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 2 Thessalonians (pp. 25–26). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[10] Bruce, F. F. (1982). 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 45, pp. 172–173). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[11] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Thessalonians: the gospel & the end of time (pp. 167–171). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

June 17 An Eternal Perspective

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:18–22

Key Verse: Matthew 21:21

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.”

Some of the most noble and valiant events in history were born out of hearts that had an eternal perspective.

George Washington, renowned Revolutionary War general and first president of the United States, demonstrated such a heart. From his earliest days, he was taught by his mother to put God first in his life. When he accepted a position of leadership in the war, he had no idea how much his faith would be put to the test.

One of the most precious documents Washington ever produced as a young man was a small prayer diary that he titled “Daily Sacrifice.” Peter Marshall and David Manuel recount Washington’s prayer in The Light and the Glory:

O most glorious God … I acknowledge and confess my faults; in the weak and imperfect performance of the duties of this day.… O God, who art rich in mercy and plenteous in redemption, mark not, I beseech Thee, what I have done amiss.… Cover my sins with the absolute obedience of Thy dear Son … the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered upon the cross for me.

Washington made a habit of private prayer, and his faith inspired his men in the most brutal conditions. He is remembered for his great deeds, certainly, but it is his faith that made his impact lasting. Only when your focus is on the eternal will your work have eternal merit.

Father, like George Washington, I confess that I am often weak and imperfect. I praise You for Your mercy in covering my sinfulness with the blood of Jesus.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (p. 176). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 17 He Will Revive You

Scripture Reading: Job 42:1–6

Key Verse: Job 42:5

I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.

Faith works anywhere:

  • At a bedside in the hospital
  • At the dinner table on the family farm whose crop has been ruined by hail
  • At work before the important staff meeting
  • At the end of the month when the checkbook runs red
  • At home when the neighbor will not let go of a personal grudge

Faith works at all times, in all places, because it trusts in God, who is always at work in heaven and earth to achieve His eternal, good purposes. Faith that conquers every obstacle triumphs when our chief concern is that God’s will be done.

Each of us has an agenda to some degree. We want to see our sick loved one healed, our farm productive, our finances solvent, our relationships harmonious. While God does plan for our welfare, He sovereignly weaves our pain, disappointment, perplexity, and unanswered prayers to accomplish His ultimate purpose—to bring glory to Him in all things.

Once you are confident in God’s supreme faithfulness to you, your faith in Him will carry you through any adversity. Your faith in God’s promises, His character, and His unfailing love will sustain and strengthen you. Though you fall, He will upright you. Though you faint, He will revive you.

Dear Lord, when I fall, upright me. When I faint, revive me. Carry me through each adversity by a dynamic faith that conquers every challenge.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1999). On holy ground (p. 176). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 17 A Lifestyle of Sin

Scripture reading: Psalm 119:65–72

Key verse: Proverbs 28:13

He who covers his sins will not prosper,

But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

We may travel seventy miles per hour in a sixty–five-mile-per-hour speed zone and not be caught by the police.

We may not report cash income on our income tax statement and fail to be summoned by the Internal Revenue Service.

But we can never fudge on God’s Word and avoid the consequences. God means what He says and says what He means.

Although the consequences of sin will vary according to its nature, God hates all sin.

Unfortunately, because the consequences of gossip at the office, the lustful look at the shopping mall, or the outburst of temper in the home seem minor, we can develop a lifestyle of disobedience.

There may appear to be no repercussions, but all sin disrupts and interferes in our fellowship with Jesus Christ. Our intimacy wanes. Our devotion flickers. Our sense of God’s peace, joy, and love fades. Conversation with Him diminishes. Above all, our hearts are not right with Him. The severest effect of sin is a dulling of our relationship with Christ.

If you have sinned against God, humbly acknowledge your sin, receive His forgiveness, and rekindle the heart of your salvation—intimacy with Christ.

Lord, forgive me for a lifestyle of disobedience. I humbly acknowledge my sin. I receive Your forgiveness. Rekindle my intimacy with You.[1]

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2000). Into His presence (p. 176). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.