Bible Experiment II Thessalonians
I think I might literally be crazy. I violently believe that the unexamined life really literally isn’t worth living. And so earlier today, when I was wandering through an amazing Degas exhibit, tears would regularly come to my eyes just marveling at the priceless works just on every wall here and there and everywhere. Why so flattened by some dyes and pigments smeared across a canvass? That’s simple enough. It’s because Degas, in his paints and canvases, is emotionally, controversially, and violently examining the point and purposes of this life.
And this oasis of critical thinking and examination of life is sitting in and amongst a culture and a general zeitgeist that avoids any thought beyond the Super Bowl, the Kardashians and the latest dumpster fire activities of Donald Trump. To be clear, when was the last time you found yourself in an open ended discussion with a person that actively disagrees with your foundational beliefs? Better yet, when was the last time your antagonistically unpacked your own foundational beliefs, or reconsidered the why of your life? The purpose for your life. I am not being metaphorical here. Seriously. When did you last actively point your brain at the question, why am I here?
It is so so so rare that most Americans give this question a second thought. Better yet?! We actively avoid thinking about it. I mean really? The pain of this life. The constant disappointment of this life is so disturbing and so overwhelming, how could we do anything but actively avoiding this question? So to be clear, most humans spend their time looking for ways to avoid talking about examining their lives. I am not better than any of you. I too do this. My go to distractions? Um, movies. Books. Xbox anyone? And none of these things are bad, or wrong. Quite the contrary, many look at me and credit me for how well read I am. But personally? I read to escape. To hide. I read to disappear from bigger and scarier questions on the table like… why is my life such a mess?
I happen to be a deeply devout Christian of the evangelical spin. And while I am fullon about the God of the universe, I still believe that grappling with the truth of this thing is one of the most important things that I can do. Wrestling with this truth and working out my salvation with fear and trembling is the single most important thing I could do with my life. And so, several years ago, I decided to walk through every book of the Bible, and grapple with each word and write about it here. And so here we are, at II Thessalonians, the back nine of the Bible, as we wind down this insane journey. And oh by the way, if you are new to this experiment and want to see more, you can see them all right here.
Overview of II Thessalonians
So a couple weeks ago we covered I Thessalonians, and we talked about how Paul began proclaiming the end times and Christ’s second coming. This week Paul continues this line of thinking but dives way deeper into all kinds of crazy theology talk. If you are not a Christian, this is going to get upside down for you real fast. But I am about to give you a deep deep internal view of the heady thinking of some of the jacked up ways people argue, debate, and get all twisted up about theological truths within the Christian tradition. Consider it a free ticket to the rodeo and hold on tight. For those of you that are Christians, but don’t really dive deeply into this section of the nether-woods of salvation and the 2nd coming. Welcome to the party. And if you are insane like me… and you enjoy the crazier debates of Christianity just for their facinating topics and interesting switchbacks, then you should feel right at home.
Alright, your big theological word of the day? Preterism. Woot! Say it with me! Preh-tehhrrr-ism. Preh-tehhrrrr-ism. Great! Now. What the heck does it mean? Well, if you don’t know anything about the Bible, there are oodles of prophesies about the coming of Christ, and his 2nd coming. Now, preterism is a belief that states that the chaos, the turmoil of the earth, the tribulation of the world? It’s already happened. Here. This is the official description of preterism from Wikipedia:
Preterism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets some (partial preterism) or all (full preterism) prophecies of the Bible as events which have already happened. This school of thought interprets the Book of Daniel as referring to events that happened from the 7th century BC until the first century AD, while seeing the prophecies of Revelation as events that happened in the first century AD. Preterism holds that Ancient Israel finds its continuation or fulfillment in the Christian church at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Ok? So The prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, etc etc? Done. And it concluded with the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD. So now on our docket isn’t just one theological spelling bee word, but three. We’ve got preterism. Partial preterism. And full preterism. I’ll send you a Starbucks gift card if you drop one of those three in your next interview. “So yeah, I am applying for your Agile Scrum Master position, and am really well versed in numerous Agile methodologies, including SAFE, LeSS, and many others. I also consider myself a full preterist, and a partial Vegan. It was great meeting you all.” I actually have a buddy, whose name rhymes with bleff. And he loves, loves, loves talking about this topic. He says that he isn’t a preterist. But I don’t buy a word of it. But anyway, what is the fascination? Why are we talking about preterism all of a sudden?
Well, chapter one of II Thessalonians is all about hello, miss you, say hey to so and so for me. But chapter two jumps into it full boar when Paul starts with this quote, in verse one:
“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.”
Paul is kicking of his letter really by saying to the Christians of Thessalonica, look, some are coming in amongst our ranks and are sowing seeds of conflict by stating that the end times, and the day of the Lord has already come. So even in the first 30 years after Christ was on the planet, errors and heresy was wafting through the Church. And Paul was saying, look, stay true to the original calling, which was so very simple. It was Jesus Christ, crucified, and resurrected.
But the Preterists? Today? They say to this, well of course the Day of The Lord hadn’t come yet, it was before the sacking of Jerusalem! Duh. For me though, it’s like debating the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. It all just doesn’t matter. What matters is Christ crucified and resurrected. As Paul goes on to say at the end of chapter 2, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”
And the entirety of II Thessalonians could be wrapped up with this one verse in chapter 3, verse 13: “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” No, the Day of the Lord and His return has not come. Don’t become tired in living a selfless life, sharing with others, giving to others, sharing the gospel. Continue to the end, not wavering, or walking off the narrow road. Not being subverted by erroneous heresies or controversies. Live you life as a living sacrifice for others in order that others may learn of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Concluding question for II Thessalonians
If you are not a Christian, and find yourself here quite lost and confused… welcome. But my question for you is simple enough… are you living an examined life? Are you questioning the purpose of this oh too fleeting a moment on planet earth? Could it be that you were here for a purpose? Could it be that you were here to walk closely with the God who created planets, volcanoes, rivers and seas? Could it be that He has made a way for you to be reunited to Him? I would argue that yes. Yes that is God’s plan for you, for He has said that He wants none to perish. That He wants all to be saved. But the choice is yours.
And to my Christian brothers… are you chasing crazy doctrine and weird theologies around and around in circles? Have you stopped to realize that the only theology you need is “Christ crucified and resurrected”? My hope for you today is that you will rest in the knowledge that your salvation is assured and that He is coming. (Even so Lord come quickly.)