2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2 Thess. 2:11-12 NRS)
This verse is left out of our reading today. To me, it is a frightening verse. I know how easily I can be self-deceived, so the possibility of dealing with a powerful delusion, strong deception, is frightening to me. I am afraid not just for myself, but for everyone else who faces this event. The danger is very real today as it was when Paul wrote this letter.
The church at Thessalonica had a hard time understanding the promised return of Jesus. They were looking for his imminent return. Some believed the rumors that Jesus had already come, and they had been left behind. Others believed those who had already died had missed out and would not be included when Jesus came. Evidently, Paul taught the church not to be concerned about the return of Jesus, but instead to be ready for it. In verse 5 Paul writes, “Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?” For some reason what Paul taught had been either misunderstood or twisted and now the church was in a state of confusion.
When followers of the Lord become distracted by things for which they cannot know, such as the dates, times, and sequences leading to the return of Jesus, there is usually conflict and dissension. This should in itself tell us we are focusing on the wrong emphasis and should instead be rejoicing in the promise of hope the return of our Lord gives to us. This is especially true of end times when the focus should be on spiritual preparation rather than timeline certainty. A time when we need spiritual discernment rather than pseudo-intellectual guesswork.
There will be an end time. This is not a religious statement but a fact of known science. Eventually, all suns either burn out or are eaten by a black hole. The biblical timing has to due with God’s timing for accountability, a new creation, and a fulfilling of the blessed hope we hold in our hearts.
It is not going to be an easy time. It will be a time of taking personality worship to the ultimate level. A time in which a creation of God will once again challenge the supremacy of God. Paul warns, “When the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.”
It was not a good time for Christians waiting for Jesus then and it is not a good time now. It was, is, and will be a time of hardship, suffering, betrayals, apostasy, deceptions, denials, demon evils, pain, and without Jesus, despair.
Paul knows he cannot force them in any manner of belief, but instead does what our Lord does, Paul offers comfort and assurance. Paul reaches out to them with compassion and says, “beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” This is their assurance. God chose them. God loves them. God’s Spirit sanctifies them. This should be their focus. This is how they should live, not troubled, anxiety-laden, or caught by surprise by what rumors they may hear. This is still good advice today.
Then Paul says to them, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” First, what are traditions?
The traditions Paul is talking about are a mature understanding that comes from tested instruction, a truthful narrative, and paying attention to accepted precepts for understanding and objectively seeking the will of God. Traditions that focus on delivering an increase of love and faithfulness, and are ritually grounded in Scripture. This is the kind of tradition Paul is speaking.
Again, the traditions are not the “every fourth Sunday dinner” or “We always dismiss Sunday School on Miss Anna’s birthday.” Churches today have traditions such as the color of the carpet, the format of the liturgy, the choice of music, and I could go on and on. Traditions that have nothing to do with love building and spiritual direction and everything to do with personal interests. There are legions of those types of traditions.
So what does tradition tell us? It tells us Jesus will come again. It tells us that we who are faithful will know when he comes. Tradition tells us to be ready. Tradition tells us to prepare and to be alert. Tradition tells us to live our lives in the light of Jesus’s promised return. Tradition tells us that no one but the Father knows when. Even though we may not know the day or the hour, we can know that Jesus will be with us no matter what. So we should stand firm.
Stand firm, hold fast we are commanded. Stand firm, being stable in a world that is not. The God we seek is not a god of chaos but stability. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb. 13:8 ESV) This is stability.
Hold fast, grasp, and do not let go. The traditions taught by the Scripture, the creeds of the church, and the experiences of faith we have had with God should lead us to keep these commands.
Over the years many people have tried to predict when Jesus would return. Some of you may remember the “99 reasons Jesus will come in 1999?” There are continually those people who are convinced they have it figured out, feel compelled to tell the rest of us, and end up causing fear, anxiety, and worry. This only aids the enemy and weakens faith rather than strengthens it. Every time someone makes such a prediction and is, of course, wrong they damage the character of our faith. It makes us look silly, stupid, and “superior to others” who are not on the “in.”
What we should be about is waking up in the morning saying this might be the day and then going to work for the glory of God. We should not put off a spiritual task because today could be the day. We should live our lives in the power of the Lord who, “loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.”
We have hope, not speculation. We have assurance not certainty of times or events. We have a mission to carry out until the Day of the Lord. And we are able to do this because we have a God who will, “comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thess. 2:17 NRS)
We live in a time of unprecedented global upheaval and anxiousness. We have never been closer to a nuclear war. Global warming is creating more and more disasters. We have three potential pandemics going on. Crime, hate, violence, and injustice are daily occurrences.
Jesus, our Lord, our Savior, and our hope says, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matt. 24:6-8 ESV)
Let us not be anxious. Let us be ready and hold fast to the traditions we have been blessed with.