The problem of pain and suffering is without doubt the most troubling paradox for Christians. How could a loving, maximally powerful and caring God allow his children to go through extreme and seemly meaningless pain and suffering? In times of suffering many Christians do, and correctly so I may add, find it difficult to imagine that God cares about their struggles. God appears to be as cold as ice itself and far from them as east is to the west. At those moments they rightly identify with Ivan Karamazov’s cry: “It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept”, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictional novel, The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky 2007, 257)
Early Christians underwent various trials and persecutions. Many paid their faithfulness with their own blood. What was it that made them stand tall and proud through such hard times? What was it that made them triumphantly walk into the valley of death without doubting the sovereignty of their loving God? As I explored their writings, I discovered one of their reasons. Their eschatological hope was what keep them going. It was their hope for the future glory at the second advent of their Lord and God. Their understanding of this future glory brought them hope. They considered all their present suffering not worthy compared to the joy and glory prepared for them (Rom. 8:18). Continue reading
Is there hope for Christians who have passed away? Will they participate in the eschatological hope, the parousia of the second advent of King Jesus? How ought the living Christians live their lives as they awaited the returning of their Lord and God? These were roughly the questions Paul attempted to address in his first epistle to the Church in Thessalonica (4:13-5:11). In the previous articles I went through different interpretations and the current debate surrounding Paul’s message, as I attempt to explore Paul’s answers to these questions:
The idea that death has no last say for Christians because Christ Jesus will return to restore what is lost and renew what is perishing is sweet to the soul. This idea is what Christians in Thessalonica are called to encourage each other with. It is what Paul concludes with in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11. This idea is unarguably the aim of general theme of 1 Thessalonian 4-5 (Weima 1995: 192). Thessalonians are called to encourage each other with eschatological hope that is not only theirs, those who are living, but also of their dead comrades.
It appears that the church in Thessalonica knew the times and the seasons that marked the return of their Lord and King (5:1 cf. Lk 21:34-36). It would be unexpected time, like that of a thief in the night. While the rest of the world believe that all is well, the King will return and all who did not pledge alliance with Him would be caught like a pregnant woman in labor pain without any escape route (5:2-4). Continue reading
In Rapture or No-Rapture, That is the Question, I presented two different understanding of what Paul meant by the idea that Christians will be reunited again in the clouds to meet their returning Lord and King Jesus in the air ( 1 Thessalonians 4:17). Scholars who understand Paul as not teaching rapture, the idea that Christians will ascend to the sky to meet their Lord, have argued that eis apantēsin (“to meet”) ought to be understood as a technical term. Eis apantēsin, thus, connote the idea of meeting a visiting honorable dignitary. In ancient Hellenistic Greek, the citizens of a particular city would often go outside their city to meet a visiting dignitary. These citizens will then joyously accompany him back to the city (Cameron 1922: 116; Gundry 1973; 104; Marshall 1983: 131; Elias 1995: 178-9; Martin 1995: 153; Green 2002:226; Wright 2004: 125).
Revisiting Erick Peterson’s work¹ , which I believe chiefly contributed to no-rapture reading, Michael R. Cosby explained that it is not always the case that eis apantēsin is used as a technical term to describing a Hellenistic Greek formal receptions. Cosby explained that “[s]ometimes ἀπάντησις describes a formal greeting of a dignitary, but often it does not. And some descriptions of such receptions do not use ἀπάντησις or ὑπάντησις (or the verb forms of these words)”(Cosby 1994: 20). The evidenced supporting “eis apantēsin” as a technical term for the formal reception of visiting dignitary is, thus, inconclusive (Weatherly 1996) Continue reading
Rapture, following Andy Woods, is the reunion of Christians who were dead in Christ with the living up in the sky. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Woods explained, is “probably the clearest reference to the rapture found in all of the New Testament.” (Woods 2004: 312) Six decades back, Arthur B. Whiting made a similar declaration. This passage, according to Whiting, provides us with an orderly and detailed exposition of understanding the Rapture (Whiting 1945: 361).
Maintaining the cessation of the baptism with the Holy Spirit at the second advent of Christ Jesus, Merrill F. Unger holds that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 provides evidence that the Church will be removed out of the world (Unger 1944: 362). Lewis S. Chafer concurred with Unger and added that Christ Jesus will come “only to the upper-air spaces and the believers [would be] gathered together unto Him” (Chafer 1952: 134) Continue reading
What is the fate of Christians who died before the second advent of Christ Jesus? Will they participate in the parousia of their Lord and King? Paul of Tarsus addressed such questions in his first letter to the Thessalonians. He commended Christians in Thessalonica not to be distressed about their fellow comrades who died in Christ Jesus before the return of their King. Unlike those who died without Christ, those without hope (v. 13), the dead in Christ have the eschatological hope. The dead in Christ will indubitably not miss the future magnificent parousia, the glorious coming of their Sovereign Lord and King, because He will descend “with a loud command”, “with the voice of archangel” and “with the trumpet call of God”.
The dead in Christ will be resurrected to meet their Lord prior to the one living (v. 15). Together they will meet their King and be with Him forever (verse 17). A wonderful word-tree (fig.), by Jacob W. Elias, carefully captured the flow of Paul discourse in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
Fig. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 word-tree (Elias 1995: 173) Continue reading