Misunderstanding Thessalonians

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

1 and 2 Thessalonians are books which are very often misinterpreted. In the main teaching on the blog we will come back to them to see what they do have to say about the end of the age, but in this extra post I want to deal with some common misconceptions. Those commonly arise from failing to understand the original purpose of these letters, which was to encourage the believers in the midst of persecution.

1 Thess 1:6 ‘You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit’. So even as they were birthed, the gospel was received with tribulation, that is to say persecution from the Jews and Romans.

1 Thess 1:10 ‘and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come’. ‘Wrath’ is a covenant word, expressing a consequence of breaking covenant. It was to be manifested in judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70.

1 Thess 2:2 ‘but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition’. Every place Paul went, the Jews opposed him, stirred up opposition, incited the crowd to stone him or got him thrown into prison.

1 Thess 2:14 ‘For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews’. The bottom line is, intense persecution was going on.

If you were a believer, wouldn’t you be asking why? Asking when it would end? Whether you would survive? The Gentile churches did not have the underlying knowledge of the Old Testament which Jewish believers enjoyed, so they did not understand covenant, or what the consequences would be for the perpetrators of their sufferings. Paul fills them in:

1 Thess 2:15-16 ‘who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost’. Paul is saying, ‘hang on in there, judgment is coming on those who are persecuting you. It will not go on for ever’.

1 Thess 3:4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know’. So right from the first they were already telling them this was coming – this was no gospel preaching through rose-coloured spectacles.

2 Thess 1:4, 6-7: ‘therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire’. God is going to repay, and relieve your sufferings. Not at the end of the world: this is speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem – remember what we have said about the sign of Jesus in heaven.

2 Thess 2:1-2 ‘Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come’. Still not the end of the world, still the judgment on the persecutors. If the church is still living under persecution from the Jews, Paul argues, then covenant judgment hasn’t come yet – but it is coming.

2 Thess 2:3 ‘Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction’. Apostasy came before the destruction of Jerusalem. This is what Jesus talked about in Matt 24:9. It was a tough time:

Matt 24:9-12 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

1 Thess 5:1-3 ‘Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly’. They had no need of anything to be written (but Paul still wrote it). We live in a different age, and have been badly instructed and taught, so maybe we do!

1 Thess 5:9 ‘For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ’. As we said earlier in this post, believers were not destined for wrath, which was why they were told to flee when they saw the ‘abomination of desolation‘ in the holy place. The historian Josephus tells us that all the Christians did exactly that, so that although 1.1 million people died in the siege and fall of Jerusalem, none of them were Christians.

1 Thess 5:23 ‘Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’. We cannot take that as His coming at the end of the age: after all, many who have read that scripture (indeed all of those to whom it was originally written) have since died, so their body was certainly not preserved until the end of the age. Paul is talking to that same generation which Jesus prophesied to, between AD30 and AD70, and the coming is His coming in covenant judgment upon Jerusalem.

I hope that is all clear for you – or even better, that it raises some questions that prompt you to begin looking into these things for yourself.

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54. Salvation and Judgment

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

Stone and Mountain

I want to begin today by looking again at two scriptures we have seen before:

Now it will come about that In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it (Isa 2:2).

You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands …But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Dan 2:34-35).

This Stone and Mountain are very important: Jesus taught about it, and so did the apostles. The Stone is Jesus and the Mountain is His kingdom; the house of the Lord is God’s people. The kingdom is manifest (or demonstrated) through the church as God’s people, not through the institution called ‘church’.

The kingdom of God is going to fill the earth, in our time. As we have seen, tares have been sown into the church in terms of false doctrine which has put that off to another time or another people.

There has only ever been one people of God: people of faith. Faith is the key: it is not about being born into a Christian family. It was never even about being born into a Jewish family: you were not of the true Israel unless you had faith. It really wasn’t a national thing, as we will see.

‘Two sides of the same coin’

When God comes in righteousness, He often comes in judgment as well as in salvation: they are two sides of the same coin.

‘Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne (Kingdom); Lovingkindness and truth go before You’ (Ps 89:14).

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“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:10-12).

  • The Flood brought salvation for Noah and his family, but judgment for the world.
  • In the Exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea, there was salvation for Israel, but judgment for Egypt as all their army was swept away.
  • At the Cross there is salvation for believers, and it is open to everyone. But if you do not receive it, there is judgment.
  • In fact in all Jesus’ comings – and there are many comings of Jesus, ending with his Last Coming – there is both salvation and judgment.

Speaking of that Stone again:

This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,” and,  “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”;  for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed (1 Peter 2:7-8).

The Stone, we know, was Jesus. Those builders who rejected Him were the Jewish people at the time. Not all of them rejected Him of course: the earliest church was made up of Jewish believers. But for those who did reject Him, those are strong words. ‘Doom’, like ‘woe’ in Matthew 23, is a covenant word.

No peaceful co-existence

Jesus ascended back up to heaven in around the year AD 30. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple happened in AD 70. That 40-year period was a generation in which the old covenant people co-existed with the new covenant people. It was not a peaceful co-existence. Saul, before he met Jesus and became Paul, was sent out by the Jewish leaders to persecute Christians. They were trying to stamp out what they saw as heresy. Later on, in every city where (as Paul) he went to preach, he spoke to the Jewish people there first as God’s people and inheritors of God’s promises. When he showed them that these could only be received in Christ, most of them persecuted him, though some believed. That is why he was beaten and stoned.

So in this period the Old Covenant (with its Natural Country, City and Temple) was still in existence alongside the New Covenant (with its Spiritual Country, City and Temple). Much of the New Testament was written from the perspective of the persecution which arose because of this.

In particular, the whole of the book of Revelation was written about the covenant judgments (‘doom’) that were to come at the end of this period, the consequences of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah and their persecution of the church. It was written to provide comfort to those Christians who were suffering that intense persecution, to reassure them that God had a plan in it and that it would come to an end. It was not written about ‘the end of the world’. We need to get that out of our thinking, and then look at these scriptures for what they actually say.

That is a process we will begin in the next post. I want to look at the whole passage which leads up to the disciples’ question in Matthew 24, because that is essential if we are to properly understand the answers that Jesus gave them.

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51. Leaven In The Lump

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott –

In this post we are going to begin by looking at some very familiar scriptures. We have been taught that they speak about the days we are living in, as the return of Jesus gets ever closer. But, understanding covenant thinking and covenant language, are they in fact referring to a future time, or are they a description of the days in which they were written? Are they yet to be fulfilled, or has it already happened? What should we be expecting?

The persecuted church

We need to understand to whom these things were written. The whole New Testament was written to a church under persecution from the Jews and the Romans, often working together. Persecution designed to coerce the believers into denying the truth and go back to their old way of thinking.

  • But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).

That scripture is nothing to do with the times before Jesus’ return. That deception is intended to get us to think that in our days things will get worse and worse – and just to accept it as normal, instead of expecting to see the Kingdom expanding (and it really is, just as Jesus actually promised). No, this is talking about the persecution that was going on in the first century church.

In the last days

  • But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come… holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these… these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith (2 Tim 3:1, 5, 7)

If  you do not know when the last days are, you will not be able to interpret this passage properly. This gives rise to a whole lot of confusion, stirred up by the enemy, so that we will be misled about what to expect. The religious spirit will try to get us to accept and believe things which will block our blessing. After all, how can the Kingdom of God fill the earth if everything is going to be so miserable?

  • At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many (Matt 24:10-11)

It already happened.

Antichrist

So what about the Antichrist? Is he not to come to power before Jesus returns?

  • Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us… (1 John 2:18-19).
  • Many false prophets have gone out into the world… this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:1,3). The word ‘spirit is not in the original Greek. It has been added by the translators. The actual text simply says ‘this is the antichrist which you heard is coming and is now in the world’ (see it here on Biblegateway.com).
  • For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 7:7).

These are the only three scriptures that actually mention the antichrist. They interpret each other. And they all, without exception, say it has already happened.

1 John 2:18 is pretty clear: the time he was writing in was the last hour. We have already seen that in Matthew 24:11, Jesus was talking about things that would happen during the lifetimes of His disciples. That time came to a close in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem, an event which saw the fulfillment of all the prophecies of which we have been speaking.

If you read Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the churches in Asia, you will find that all this evidence of the antichrist at work was already there. They were already dealing with all the false words which had been sown in, and all the false teachers that had gone out from among the believers.

If you are looking for that one person to arise at the ‘end of the age’ and do all this evil, you are going to be looking in vain. It has already happened.

Legalism and licence

Legalism and licence were two parts of that antichrist spirit. The church has had a continual battle with those who would bring it back under the law. It has also had trouble from those who say sin is not important – you can do what you like because grace will cover it. But those battles are nothing new: look at these passages from Galatians and Revelation:

  • You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:1-2).
  • But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:20).

Separation of leaders from laity was another aspect of legalism. That was the teaching of the Nicolaitans. God hates that because it takes all responsibility away from us as believers but it was all around in that first century church. It was what Jesus called ‘the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod’ – religious and political manipulation of the church – working its way through the whole lump (Mark 8:15).

The enemy intended to undermine God’s kingdom purposes for His people by these means. And he enjoyed a good measure of success in bringing us to a place of powerlessness, of ineffectiveness and irrelevance.

Church history

Think about the whole history of the church, about Constantine making Christianity an established religion; the translation of scripture into the dead Latin language that only the priests could read; the dark ages and the rise of Islam; Christendom; the crusades; the Holy Roman Empire – the light was almost extinguished.

Then the Holy Spirit began to break through. The Word was translated into everyday language. That led to revelation of truth that had long been forgotten: the Reformation;  justification by faith; believers’ baptism, Quakers, Moravians, Wesley and Whitfield, revival and restoration, Pentecostals, the faith movement, healing, charismatics, apostolic understanding – in the 20th century there was more revelation restored than in the whole of the previous 18 centuries. The pace is accelerating. God is restoring truth, bringing back light.

What will happen in our century? Who knows? Discipleship, doing the works of Jesus, the greater works? The Spirit and the Word coming together again, as they were in the early church, and as Smith Wigglesworth prophesied? Restoration of all things, the Kingdom of God filling the earth? Early rain, latter rain?

One thing is certain: we cannot continue living and operating at the level we have been. We must go higher.

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39. Demonic Doctrines in the Church

Mike Parsons 

In looking at the prophetic timetable which God showed me, it is clear that a time of persecution is coming. As with everything else, we need to be prepared for it.

Persecution

Where is it going to come from? Well, there are Nephilim spirits which are controlling world systems at the moment, but they are hiding. When the light starts to shine into the darkness, it begins to expose them. It says in Matthew that when Jesus returns, it will be like in the days of Noah. If you want to look into that in more detail, in a previous post we have already considered some of what that might mean. In short, there was open warfare going on upon the earth. If those days are returning, we need to be prepared for open warfare once again.

There is going to be a massive persecution which comes through the religious church. This is because there are so many demonic doctrines operating in the church at large which hinder us and have robbed us of power and authority. When we start to challenge those doctrines, all sorts of religious spirits start to kick off.

If you look at the internet, you will find far too many people from some sections of the church criticising and complaining against other Christians and other moves of God. Come to that, I have had books and leaflets and emails and CDs and DVDs given to me and even posted through my letterbox telling me that everything we see of God moving in supernatural power is actually demonic.

There is a reason why those things are happening. The enemy gets worried when the church begins to rise up, and starts to operate in the power of God and in the authority that God has given us. He tries to get other people (and especially other Christians) to start criticising what is going on, so that it causes disunity and disharmony which disrupts the move of God and makes the church ineffective again.

Where is the fruit?

If you are truly concerned about whether what is going on here (or anywhere else) is a genuine move of God, the answer is to look at the fruit. If it is not of God, it will just fall away. If it is of God, it will produce fruit. Are lives being transformed? Are people being saved and healed? Certainly they are, and there will be more besides.

But the critics I am speaking about will not be satisfied with that. The challenge to God moving supernaturally comes from entrenched doctrines which place the kingdom of God and the authority of that kingdom in another time, or give them to another people. Even just to point that out has a tendency to cause religious spirits to kick off really heavily. Those entrenched doctrines are false doctrines. Was it only in New Testament times that the power of God worked, or will the kingdom only be manifest a thousand years in the future? The only thing you can be sure of is that as far as these people are concerned, it certainly isn’t for us and it certainly isn’t now.

Defeat and rescue?

This kind of thinking has bred an eschatology (that is, an understanding of the end times) of defeat and rescue, that Jesus is going to come and rescue a weak, pitiful, defeated church. That is just a complete lie. If you read the Bible, how could you possibly believe that is going to happen? But it has been taught, and for years and years the church has fallen for it. This is one of the biggest areas that stirs up controversy. As soon as you begin to question people’s eschatology, it causes stink.

Lots of prophetic people around the world are facing a problem in these days, and some of them are quite well known people. Their problem is that what God is showing them prophetically just doesn’t match up with their own eschatological beliefs. One or two of them have been brave enough to stand up and say so, but have quickly lowered their heads below the parapet again because of the hail of abuse and criticism they received for doing so, especially in the USA and Canada. They end up trying to fit what God is saying into an eschatology that doesn’t work.

Jesus is coming back for a victorious church. This is not triumphalism, it is the plain truth of scripture. The kingdom of God is going to be raised up, and we will look some more at this next time.

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