2nd Thessalonians and the Camping Debacle of May 21, 2011

If you knew that the end of the world was tomorrow, would you go to work? Probably not… What about if it was in six months or a year? How sure would you have to be to sell everything to don a placard warning the world, “The end is nigh”?  What if you were wrong?  Well that’s precisely what happened with many of Harold Camping’s followers.

I live in NC and I distinctly remember a news story from last year about a local couple who sold everything and bought an RV painted with “May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!” to drive cross country warning each successive town.[1] People even sold their homes and cashed in their kids’ college funds!  It’s pretty tragic. I can only imagine how they feel now. I wonder if their faith in the Gospel has been shaken. Still yet, if they had studied scripture, they should have known better.

In studying 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, I am struck at the remarkable relevance of the first century situation to the recent Harold Camping debacle. Located in the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, Thessalonica is eponymously entitled after Alexander the Great’s half-sister.[2] Acts 17 reports that on Paul’s initial visit, his preaching in the synagogue led to many converts albeit causing the unbelieving Jews to riot in protest.  The unbelieving Jews brought charges of subversion against Paul, Silas and Timothy. Interestingly, the trumped up charges could have stemmed from eschatology. Predicative prophesying had actually been made a capital crime in the Roman Empire due the tendency for it to cause political unrest. [3] Dio Cassius’ Roman History records the edict by Augustus in AD 11:

5 Besides these events at that time, the seers were forbidden to prophesy to any person alone or to prophesy regarding death even if others should be present. Yet so far was Augustus from caring about such matters in his own case that he set forth to all in an edict the aspect of the stars at the time of his own birth.  Lvi 25.5

In fact, Tiberius upped the ante and made it punishable by death in A.D. 16:

8 But as for all the other astrologers and magicians and such as practiced divination in any other way whatsoever, he put to death those who were foreigners and banished all the citizens that were accused of still employing the art at this time after the previous decree by which it had been forbidden to engage in any such business in the city; but to those that obeyed immunity was granted.  Lvii 15.8

Good thing for Camping we aren’t under Roman law! Because Paul had instructed the Thessalonians on the predicted return of Christ, his eschatological preaching could have easily been twisted by his enemies into such a charge. Fortunately, Paul slipped out of town to Berea, then on to Athens and Corinth where he received a report from Timothy about the Thessalonians which prompted the first letter (1 Thess. 3:6). Paul wrote in response to encourage them during the ensuing persecution and trials. He also wrote to clear up some misconceptions about his motives and doctrinal matters, primarily eschatology.

In the first letter, it seems some new converts had begun to worry about their loved ones who had already passed away prior to the return of Christ. Would they miss out? He assured them that they would rise first and that those still alive would join them in the air (1 Thess  4:17). This is the famous rapture passage from the Latin rapturo rendering of the Greek harpazo for “caught up.” Additionally, he admonished to abstain from sexual immorality and the proper use of spiritual gifts.  However, it appears that a first century date setter caused a ruckus shortly after Paul’s letter was received.

Accordingly, the  second letter to the Thessalonians seems to be a response correcting the misinformation from a forged letter bearing Paul’s name which led them to conclude that the day of the Lord had already occurred (2 Thess 2:2).[4] Perhaps it was an invisible judgment, Camping style? Paul assures them that it had not and that they would know when it was truly near because of a preceding apostasy and appearance of Antichrist (2 Thess 2:3). Apparently, eschatological fervor had led some to quit their jobs as well ( 2 Thess 3:11). Accordingly, Paul admonished them about a proper work ethic (2 Thess 3:12). This is exactly what occurred with many Camping followers who quit their jobs, drove cross country in RVs and foolishly financed billboards. This puts Harold Camping in the same category as the forger who usurped Paul with his bogus letter.  The Lord made it clear, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32).

This sign appeared off I-40 in NC on May 22, 2011.

 


[1] “End of Days in May? Believers enter final stretch” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40885541/ns/us_news-life/t/end-days-may-believers-enter-final-stretch/ (accessed 6/9/2011).

[2] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 377.

[3] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 226.

[4] Lea and Black, The New, 380.

I Need Africa – Join Team Logos Apologia


Circumstances need not dictate gratitude and joy as this video shows. I am barely scarping by as a student right now. But when I read a text with Jesus saying,”Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”(Mt 25:45) I am convicted that I must do something to help the poor. This is an inexpensive and convenient way to help those who are truly in need of the basic necessities we take for granted. For the price of two cups of coffee at Starbucks once a month you can make a big difference in someones life. Also, they are a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability so you can rest assured your money is going where it should. If you have benefited from this apologetics ministry of mine please sign up in lieu of any donations sent my way. Thanks!

<– Just click the image to the left to get the details and sign up!

Why Patrick Heron is Wrong About Satan

Patrick Heron is a brother in Christ and nice enough fellow from what I can tell. However, he has been writing lately that Satan is still in heaven as the accuser at Rapture Ready here and has posted it on his blog here. I believe he is sadly mistaken for many reasons. This essay will show that it is bad exegesis because it does not handle the grammar and context of the biblical material accurately and that it is bad theology because it diminishes the victory of the cross and the power of the Gospel.

First, Satan in the divine council scene of Job 1:6ff is not a proper name but a title “the Satan.” It means “the accuser” and Hebrew Bible scholars are divided on whether this is one in the same as the devil in the New Testament. Still yet, I tend to agree that “the Satan” is the same entity due to Revelation 12:10 which identifies the devil as the “accuser of our brothers.” But the vision in Revelation 12 is clearly a flashback which includes the birth of Jesus and Satan’s expulsion from heaven is also presented in the past tense. Satan’s days in the divine council are over, he is no longer in God’s presence. Please read the passage and see for yourself:

“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. ” (Re 12:9–11)

When was Satan thrown down?  The text says when the salvation, power, kingdom and the authority of Christ have come. When did that occur? Satan was conquered by the blood of the lamb when Christ was crucified, resurrected and then ascended to the right hand of the Father. Thus, Satan is already defeated and cast down.

Second, Heron builds his entire case by comparing “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (Eph 1:20) with Ephesians 6:12 which says “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” But this sort of proof texting is hardly sufficient to prove that Satan and his demons are in the throne room of heaven with God. First of all, Christ has been exalted to the “Father’s right hand in the heavenly places” which is obviously more exalted than the mere “heavenly places.” Furthermore, the Greek rendered as “heavenly places” is a broad term which also includes the plain old sky above your head. In fact, its first order definition is “in the sky” and it secondary meaning is heaven proper:

ἐπουράνιος (epouranios), ον (on): adj.; ≡ Str 2032; TDNT 5.538—1. LN 1.8 in the sky, related to or located in the sky, celestial (1Co 15:40); 2. LN 1.1 2. heavenly, related to the location of heaven (Heb 12:22); 3. LN 12.17 from God, heavenly calling = a calling from God (Heb 3:1);  [i]

Hence, it makes sense that after the cross, Satan is described by Paul as the “prince of the power of the air.” (Eph 2:2). Satan is cast down to this world and its heavens — the sky. In contrast, Jesus is at the right hand of God as the Father makes his enemies his footstool (Ps 110:1). Paul speaks of this in Romans 8 and asks rhetorically, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” inferring that no one can (Rom 8:33).  It seems that Paul taught that Satan was defeated and cast out by the power of the Gospel.

Third, in Luke 10:18 Jesus is responding to the return of the 72 who just proclaimed the Gospel:

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. ” (Lk 10:17–18)

The context of this passage is very clear that Satan fell as a consequence of the successful mission of the 72. The Greek rendered “Fall” is an aorist participle, it’s past tense. Heron is wrong. It is not a prophecy. The Gospel triumphed over Satan then and it still does today.

Fourth, John chapter 12 is decidedly conclusive to this matter. I think the context is essential, so please read carefully. Jesus says,

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” (Jn 12:27–29)

Here Jesus speaks of his imminent passion and says that his purpose is to glorify the Father’s name. The narrative continues and this passage settles the debate. Jesus answered,

“This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.(Jn 12:30-33)

As one can see, referring to his passion, Jesus said very clearly that now the ruler of this world is cast out. Not in the distant future end times… he said it was now, way back then.  It’s plain enough, Satan and his minions only have the power that you give them by sin and fear. This is why Paul describes then as “weak and worthless” (Gal  4:9).

Additionally, I must acknowledge this is not in any way an original interpretation. I first learned from Dr Michael Heiser’s scholarly eschatological treatise Islam and Armageddon. Other commentators are in wide agreement. Speaking of the Revelation 12 passage Craig Keener offers, “Here, however, his accusations against the saints have been silenced, for Christ’s victory is sufficient to silence all objections of the once-heavenly prosecutor.”[ii] Finally, when you consider that Jesus is now in heaven sitting at the right hand of the Father, do you really think that after the defeat of the cross, Satan is there with him? Of course not! Satan only has the power that you grant him through sin and guilt. But God has nailed that to the cross.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col 2:13–15)


[i] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[ii]Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 321.

Paul’s Gospel for the Anti-Paulist

In running an apologetics site like this, I encounter all types. Recently, I encountered a new variety of heretic for whom I shall from now on refer to as the Anti-Paulist. This particular theological aberration purports to follow the teachings of Jesus while rejecting Paul… as if that were possible. In my recent encounter with aforementioned Anti-Paulist, he objected that Paul referred to the Gospel as his (Rom 2:16; 16:25; 2Tim 2:8). I must admit that does seem a bit unusual. Did the Gospel mystically belong to Paul? Was Paul’s Gospel unique in some way from that of the twelve? The answer is yes and no. Paul was uniquely chosen as the Lord’s theologian and evangelist to bring the message to the gentiles. In Paul, we find the best Pharisaic training in Torah tempered by a well-rounded education only available to a Roman citizen from a Hellenistic University town like Tarsus. Jesus chose Paul to reveal the mysteries of his relationship to the cosmic church.

The Gospel defined in a creedal formula found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 describes Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and appearance to many eyewitnesses. Because 1 Corinthians is accurately dated to mid-fifties by archeological evidence, scholars are virtually unanimous that this is very early material dated to within the first few years of the actual events surrounding Jesus’ passion.[1] One of the arguments to support its early date is that Paul uses the Greek verb paralambano which is actually a rabbinic technical term for a received tradition.[2] Paul is reminding the Corinthians of what he first taught them. For Paul to have delivered to the Corinthians what he first received, then he must have received it prior to planting the Corinthian church on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1). This firmly establishes the very early date for the creed.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. ” (1 Co 15:3–7)

Although he became a Christian as a result of his direct encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road (Gal. 1:12), he probably would not yet have known of all the eyewitnesses he refers to until he met with Peter and James (Gal. 1:18–24).[3] Peter and James were leaders of the church in Jerusalem and this passage from Galatians tells us he met with them for fifteen days albeit he did not meet any of the other apostles. Bruce makes note that the creed mentions these two specifically by name, thus evidencing its origin was likely from this meeting.[4] This creed has great apologetic force because one can establish that Jesus’ resurrection was not a product of legendary development over a long period of time as some skeptics have alleged.

It seems somewhat problematic that one can see clearly that Paul received this tradition yet in Galatians 1:12 Paul insists, “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” However, this is true in the sense that Paul was not converted by testimony rather a direct encounter with the risen Lord. Paul was radically changed by blatant supernatural intervention. Due to this, Paul’s Gospel is distinctive in his understanding of the Christian being “in Christ” and that the body of believers represents the “body of Christ.” Bruce points out that this is seen in Jesus question to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”[5] It is implicit in that question that the believers he was persecuting were “at one with” or “in Christ.” In this way, we see the equality and divine union of Christian fellowship, that “in Christ” believers share a mystical unification of sorts. For Paul the Gospel was far more than facts about the resurrection. It was the ultimate achievement for the redemption of all of creation (Rom 8:19-23).[6] Thus, the factual content he delivered to the Corinthians represents the received tradition and the more mysterious theological constructs represent the elements from revelation. Together they form Paul’s Gospel.


[1]Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus : Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 154.

[2] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 87.

[3] Craig Blomberg, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 295.

[4] Bruce, Paul, 85.

[5] Ibid, 87.

[6] Ibid, 93.