This is my fifth installment in response to Dr. Russ Jurek a minister and elder of the EdgeHill Church of Christ in Petersburg, Virginia. Dr. Jurek recently wrote a paper entitled “The 2nd Coming of Christ: “Why We Should Still Be Waiting! An Expose of the A.D. 70 Theory.” (Hereafter simply Waiting). Be sure to read the other installments of my response.
Jurek’s paper purports to be a refutation of my book Can God Tell Time? as well as a larger denunciation of the preterist view as a whole. When we received a copy of Jurek’s work, [ 1 ]
Doug Radcliffe, a preterist, is a member of Jurek’s congregation, and is currently being threatened with dis-fellowshipment (i.e. excommunication), if he does not cease and desist teaching Covenant Eschatology. Radcliffeinforms me that his repeated attempts to get the elders, including Jurek, to sit down with him and reason together,have resulted in refusal and stonewalling. Instead, Jurek condemns preterism from the pulpit and now in thepublication of his book. This is an all too familiar story, and one being repeated all across the world.
Close I immediately sent word inviting him to meet me in a two hour debate on the world wide radio program The Voice of Reason, hosted by John Anderson of Lighthouse World Ministries. Dr. Jurek emphatically rejected my offer. Our offer still stands valid by the way. Furthermore, since Jurek refuses to debate, perhaps the churches of Christ in that area would be willing to sponsor a four night, public debate on the topic? Let them choose their defender of the faith, their highly regarded, representative and respected champion, and I will be glad to engage him.
The reader needs to be reminded perhaps, that brother Jurek is not the sole adversary in this “exchange.” After writing his initial work, and realizing that it had been passed onto me, Jurek then consulted with other church of Christ preachers from his area, and in collaboration with them, put the “finishing touches” on the manuscript. This finished work was then passed on to me as their definitive refutation of Covenant Eschatology. Therefore, it is important to understand that I am responding to the “collective wisdom,” and the “best shot” of a group of church of Christ ministers.
However, I need to take note that although Jurek took the time to write his “expose” of Covenant Eschatology, and took the time to gather around him a group of counselors to fine tune that work, he now will not even answer any further questions about the issue. As I was writing, I wanted to know his position on Matthew 26:64, so I posted a personal email to him, asking him this position. He responded with a very terse, very curt note telling me that he was only going to tell me “one time” that he will not waste another moment of his time thinking about or discussing this issue. He demanded that I not even send him another email because he would not read it or open it. I responded by noting the distinct similarities between him and the Pharisees.
A critical point here as well. This controversy is not about Russ Jurek or Don K. Preston. It is about the Truth of Christ, the Truth that sets man free. It is about the person of Jesus and his faithfulness. The Lord himself, as I have already noted, challenged his first century audience not to believe in him if he did not perform the works that the Father had given him (John 10:36f). One of those works was the work of the judgment and the resurrection (John 5:19-29). Jesus placed our ability to have full faith in him, on the post side of the work the Father gave him. This means that if he has not yet completed those works, that faith in Christ cannot yet be fully mature, fully grounded! [ 2 ]
I develop this point much more in one of my lessons in Fourth Annual Preterist Pilgrim Weekend, July 15-17, inArdmore, Ok. . The CDs or cassettes of that seminar are now available. You can order that set of lessons from ourwebsite: www.eschatology.org The fact that Jesus placed full faith in him after the completion of the works theFather gave to him is not being properly considered by the majority of believers. On the one hand, it is gladlyaffirmed that we could not believe in Jesus unless he kept his promise to rise from the dead. In other words, faithonly after fulfillment of his work. Yet, it is then affirmed that we can fully believe in him even though he did notkeep his promise to come in the judgment and resurrection! This is illogical and contradicts his own words. Jesus’work was multi-faceted, but is to be viewed as a comprehensive whole, not dichotomized and compartmentalized. Ifhe failed in even one point, he is not the Messiah and Lord!
Close The significance of Jesus’ words in John 10–in light of John 5:19f– cannot be lightly dismissed, yet, is being virtually ignored by many commentators.
Furthermore, the dilemma of a failed Messiah is not being seriously answered by Jurek and other futurists! Their attempts to mitigate or to ignore the temporal element of Christ’s predictions is doing nothing but arming the skeptics. While Jurek and others affirm that the Bible says what it means and means what it says, when the skeptics read the Bible, they know, without any doubt, that Jesus and the Biblical authors said the parousia was near 2000 years ago. The skeptics use Jurek’s own stated hermeneutic of taking the language absolutely literally, and they know that, therefore, Jesus failed to keep his time promises! So, in order to even begin to respond to the skeptics, Jurek has to completely abandon his claimed hermeneutic that the Bible says what it means and means what it says! All the while, the skeptics literally laugh at such efforts, knowing that such efforts are linguistically and grammatically foolish and unjustified.
In the previous installment, we examined Jurek’s hermeneutic, his interpretive key. We want now to return to our examination of the passages that our brother offers as definitive proof for why we should still be waiting for the Lord’s return. We will concentrate on 2 Thessalonians 1:4f for the simple reason that in my youth, this was one of the most commonly quoted passages of appeal for a future return, and it clearly plays a critical role in Jurek’s eschatology as well.
My argument is simple. Since Jurek believes that Acts 1, 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Thessalonians 4:13f, Revelation 20., etc. all predicted the same coming, then if I demonstrate that any one of these texts applied to the A.D. 70 parousia of Christ, then I have effectively proven that all of them apply to that event.
2 THESSALONIANS 1:4-10
“We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and
faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.”
I will never forget my very first day of seminary class on 2 Thessalonians. The professor began by candidly saying: “Gentleman, I must confess to you that I have a problem with 2 Thessalonians 1.” Someone asked what problem he had. He responded that on a straightforward reading of the text, that it clearly indicated that the Thessalonians were currently being persecuted, and that Paul was promising that Christ was going to give them relief from that persecution at his coming. Of course, he knew that Christ did not come and give them that promised relief, and that was the problem! He did not know how to resolve the problem that Paul made a prediction that did not come true!
Most of us, myself included, scoffed at such an imagined “problem,” after all, this was one of the most commonly used passages to preach from to get folks walking down the aisle! It is compelling and powerful! As a matter of fact, a minister in the churches of Christ had written a tract, The Day Christ Came, that was a dramatic presentation of the proposed coming of Christ, building a great deal on 2 Thessalonians 1, and I had personally used the tract in my preaching. It would lather!!
We preaching students could hardly accept such a challenge to our thinking at the time, and since the professor had no logical explanation, we just “moved on” in our discussion. That was the end of that…until I began later to read the text for myself, and it was then that I realized, fully, that the professor was right indeed. 2 Thessalonians does pose a huge threat to the traditional futurist eschatologies.
Since I began to investigate the text of 2 Thessalonians 1 more fully, and I think more accurately, I have utilized that text in several public formal debates, and in countless private discussions. I can tell you that when I have presented the textual arguments from 2 Thessalonians that my debate opponents have been, quite literally, visibly stunned. One of the questions that I have asked is: “Did Jesus come, in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, and give the Thessalonians relief from the persecution that they were, at that time, experiencing? Yes or No?” My opponents have, due to their futuristic prejudice and bias, been forced to answer “No.” Russ Jurek would answer in the identical way. This means of course, that Paul is found to be a false teacher and the inspiration of 2 Thessalonians, and all of Paul’s epistles, is destroyed. If Jesus did not come in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, and give them relief from their “real time” persecution, then 14 books of the New Testament are falsified!
Here are the undeniable facts, simply stated, relating to 2 Thessalonians 1:
1.) The Thessalonians were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul uses the present participial form of the Greek word thlipsis (meaning pressure), four times to speak of what they were enduring. This is an undeniable fact.
2.) It was the Jewish community that was instigating and leading that persecution (Acts 17; 1 Thessalonians 2:15-17). This is an undeniable fact.
3.) Paul promised that Christ would grant the Christians relief (from the Greek word anesis, meaning relief from pressure) from that persecution. This is undeniable.
4.) The persecutors of the Thessalonians would have the tables turned on them, and they would themselves become the persecuted (“it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation (thlipsis) them that trouble you.” The persecutors would become the persecuted. This is undeniable.
5.) The promised relief of the Thessalonians, and persecution of the persecutors, would be given “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” (v. 7). This is undeniable.
These five undeniable facts from Thessalonians present an ironclad defense and presentation of the preterist view of eschatology. And yet, Jurek has offered this text as proof of a yet future parousia of Christ at the end of time. Let’s take a closer look in order to demonstrate that this is untenable.
Before we can examine 2 Thessalonians 1, we must examine Isaiah 2-4. This is necessary because as everyone will admit, at least ostensibly, context is the key to properly interpreting and understanding any text. And without any doubt whatsoever, Isaiah 2-4 is the original context, it is the fountain from whence 2 Thessalonians 1 flows. Now to Jurek and his band of counselors, this will seem completely strange, for I can tell you that they probably see no relationship between the passages! However, as we demonstrated in the previous article, Paul’s eschatology was, according to his own words, taken directly from Moses and the prophets. Furthermore, what escapes the notice of the majority of students is that in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul quotes verbatim, from Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21 (LXX). So, Paul’s prediction of the Day of the Lord is Isaiah’s prediction of the Day of the Lord!
Isaiah 2-4 foretold that in the last days, “The Day of the Lord (Jehovah) of Hosts shall come on everything proud and lofty”(Isaiah 2:12). In that day, “They shall go into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth, from the terror of the Lord (Jehovah) and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily” (v. 10, 19, 21, my emphasis). [ 3 ]
Other O.T. predictions of the Day of Jehovah that Jesus applies to his coming are Zechariah 14:5/ Matthew 24:31;Joel 2:28-32/ Matthew 24:29. In addition, Paul cites the prophecy of Isaiah 66:15f in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, and otherpassages as well. Space forbids a fuller development of other prophetic texts. Paul favored the term Day of the Lord(1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 1:6). and “The Day.”
This prophecy is definitely about a historical Day of the Lord judgment on Israel for it would be a time when men could flee to the mountains from
the presence of the Lord (2:10, 12, 19f). It would be a time of famine (3:1f), when Jehovah would judge His people (3:8, 13f), in the time of “the war” (3:25), when, “your men shall fall by the edge of the sword” (3:25). This last days judgment would also be when Jehovah would remove Israel’s blood guilt from her (4:4f).
Take note of the last statement. Isaiah predicted that the Day of the Lord, the Day that Paul was anticipating, would be when God judged Israel for her blood guilt! Isaiah has a lot to say about the vindication of the blood of the righteous, a theme close to the heart of Jesus. Isaiah (Jeremiah also, 2:34; 7:6, etc.), said Israel’s hands were full of the blood of the widows, orphans, the poor and the prophets (1:15; 59:3,7), but in the day of salvation, and resurrection (26:1-2), the earth would disclose her blood (26:21), and, in the last days, Israel’s blood guilt would be removed, in the Day of Jehovah, by the spirit of fire and judgment (4:4).
Jesus came in the last days foretold by Isaiah (Hebrews 1:1). He said Jerusalem was guilty of shedding all the blood of all the righteous, and that blood would be required on her in his generation (Matthew 23:29-39). The Lord often rehearsed Israel’s history of persecuting the righteous (Matthew 21; 22, etc.). But, he invariably promised vindication of that righteous blood in his generation.
This theme of vindication is prominent also in the Apocalypse, (6:9f; 14:15f; 18: 20), and Jesus’ promise to vindicate the martyrs and judge the oppressors in his generation should be normative for the interpretation of the Revelation. For our purposes here, the time and manner of the vindication of the blood of the righteous is paramount.
Jesus posited vindication of the blood of the martyrs at the judgment on Israel. That is, in a historical Day of the Lord. This fits the pattern of the Day of the Lord language perfectly, and belies the literalistic application of apocalyptic language. A return to Isaiah 2-4 confirms our application of that prophecy to an in-history Day of the Lord in judgment on Israel.
In Luke 23:28-31, Jesus cited Isaiah 2:12, 19, 21, (parallel Hosea 10:8), as he was led to his death. He said the time was coming when they would run to the mountains and cry, “Fall on us!” The Lucan passage is widely acknowledged to apply to the impending judgment of Jerusalem.
Not only does Jesus apply Isaiah 2-4, and its prediction of the Day of Jehovah to his generation, Paul does also. In 2 Thessalonians 1:4-12, the apostle promised the Christians who were suffering tribulation (thlipsis, pressure), that they would receive “rest (anesis), when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in flaming fire, [ 4 ]
2 Thessalonians 1:8 is a citation of Isaiah 66:15 and the Lord’s coming with fire to judge the wicked. Thepassage, like Isaiah 2-4, is a prediction of the judgment on Israel. Thus, Paul not only directly quotes from Isaiah 2-4, and its prediction of the last days fall of Jerusalem, he also cites from Isaiah’s prediction of the fall of Jerusalem tobring in the New Heavens and Earth. This is sort of a “double whammy” that demands application of Thessaloniansto A.D. 70.
Close taking vengeance (ekdekesis) on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel…these shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.” Verse nine, as noted above, is an exact quote from the Septuagint (LXX) of Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21.
Isaiah 2-4 foretold the Day of the Lord against Israel in the last days, when Jehovah would judge her for shedding innocent blood. Jesus appeared in the last days, foretold the judgment of Israel, for shedding innocent blood, and said it would occur in his generation. He even cites Isaiah as the prediction of that impending judgment! He described that event as the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 24:29f).
Before progressing to what Paul said about this issue, it is of importance here to remind the reader that in the Old Testament, Jehovah came in judgment of Israel, and Jerusalem, for shedding innocent blood. Ezekiel said the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was the Day of the Lord (Ezekiel 7:19). It was not only the Day of the Lord’s Wrath, it was coming on them because they had shed innocent blood (Ezekiel 9:9).
The time and context of this Day of the Lord was the in history judgment of Jerusalem in B. C. 586 at the hands of the Chaldean king, Nebuchadnezzar. The language of that Day of the Lord was clearly metaphoric. And of course, the reader needs to be reminded the brother Jurek even admits that these O. T. prophecies of the Day of the Lord had an imminent historical fulfillment. Jehovah did not literally, visibly come, and destroy earth and end time. He came to avenge the innocent blood shed by Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:9). The purpose of His coming was,“Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 11:10f; 12:20, etc.). Remember also that Jehovah said that in the last days, He was coming, to shake heaven and earth, and avenge the blood guilt of Israel.
So, the Lord came in B. C. 586, on the clouds, and destroyed “heaven and earth” in the judgment of Jerusalem, for the shedding of innocent blood. The language of his coming was patently metaphoric having nothing to do with an end of time, visible coming of the Lord. We then find Messianic predictions of the last days that foretold the coming of the Lord out of heaven to destroy “heaven and earth” and avenge the blood of the righteous. Then, Jesus said that he was coming, to fulfill those prophecies in his generation, in the judgment of Judah! What right, and what authority do we have for making that a prediction of a literal, end of time, visible coming of Christ out of heaven? We turn now to what Paul had to say about this Day of the Lord to avenge the blood of His saints.
Paul, living in the end of the age (1 Corinthians 10:11), promised the Thessalonians that their suffering would be vindicated, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” to bring tribulation on their tormentors. Paul said their persecutors, “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power.” Further, the apostle said that in his coming, Jesus would be glorified among the saints (v. 10). In other words, he would be revealed as Lord.
This reminds us of Jesus’ words, “From henceforth the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:19). Just as Jehovah “came” in judgment in the O. T. and men
knew that He was God, the Father committed all judgment authority to the Son, so that when He judged as the Father had judged (John 5:19), men would recognize and honor the Son as they honored the Father.
The point that must not be missed is that 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is a direct quote from the prophecy in Isaiah that Jesus applied to his coming against Jerusalem in that generation. It is patently obvious that Jesus (Luke 23), did not apply Isaiah’s prediction to an end of time Day of the Lord, as we have seen. Jesus and Paul quote from the identical verse in Isaiah!
The question is, upon what basis can brother Jurek say that Paul was speaking of an event totally different and far removed in time from how Jesus applied it? Jesus applied Isaiah to A.D. 70. Paul quotes from the same verses that Jesus applied to A.D. 70, but brother Jurek applies Paul to a time and event totally different than what Jesus applied Isaiah’s prediction! Paul gives no indication that he is applying Isaiah differently than Jesus. As a matter of fact, the motif of vindication of the martyrs is identical. This is important.
Isaiah 2-4–the source of Paul’s prophecy in 2 Thessalonians, is clearly a prediction of a historical Day of Jehovah on Israel. It is not a prediction of the end of time. Here is what we have in 2 Thessalonians. Paul promised vindication of the suffering saints, and vengeance against the persecutors, at the coming of the Lord. The source for his promise is Isaiah 2-4, the promise that in the last days, in the Day of the Lord, Jehovah would judge Israel for shedding the blood of the righteous (Isaiah 4:2f).
Isaiah’s prediction is patently not an end of time prophecy, but a prediction of a historical Day of the Lord.
Jesus cites the identical verses that Paul quotes to predict the fall of Jerusalem for shedding his blood.
Thus, Isaiah 2-4 predicted a historical Day of the Lord. Jesus applied Isaiah 2-4 to a historical Day of the Lord. Paul quotes the same verses from Isaiah that Jesus does, and promises the same thing, vindication/vengeance, as Isaiah and Jesus did. It seems inconceivable that Paul would be applying Isaiah to a Day of the Lord totally different in nature, and far removed in time, than where Isaiah and Jesus placed it. Paul was not radically transforming Isaiah’s prediction. Rather, he too was anticipating the Day of the Lord against Israel, for persecuting the saints, and that occurred with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Brother Jurek’s failure to acknowledge the Old Testament source of 2 Thessalonians 1 is a major, fatal flaw in his interpretative paradigm. Because he fails to see that Paul was, like Jesus, anticipating the fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises to Israel, and that those promises concerned the judgment of Israel for shedding the blood of the martyrs, he skews Thessalonians into a discussion of something totally foreign to its original intent. And yet, he accuses preterists of perverting the scripture!
PAUL, PERSECUTION, AND PAROUSIA
Further confirmation that Paul viewed his afflictions–and those of the first-century church–within the context of end-time sufferings, and the impending judgment of Israel, is his constant emphasis that the affliction was to be short-lived. Jesus was about to bring relief and redemption. This is a constant theme in Paul’s epistles.
In Romans, he speaks of the “sufferings of the present time” in contrast with the “glory that is about to be (mellousan [ 5 ]
“μἐλλειν with the infinitive expresses imminence” A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, Blass andDeBrunner, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1961)181
Close ) revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, NRSV). In 2 Corinthians 4:17, he speaks of “our light afflictions” (thlipsis) which were only “momentary.” The resolution to the momentary suffering mentioned by Paul was the transition from the tabernacle made with hands to the heavenly tabernacle (2 Corinthians 5:1f). In other words, Paul promised that they would only have to endure those afflictions for a short while longer until the resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:4f), and the Day of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:10), delivered them from that persecution. It is a great disservice to Biblical exegesis to see Paul’s reference to suffering as the normal problems of human existence. Paul was not speaking of heart attacks, cancer, natural disasters, etc. He was speaking of suffering for the cause of Christ, suffering that was very real in the lives of the first century saints.
THLIPSIS AND ANESIS
TRIBULATION AND RELIEF
In 2 Thessalonians 1:4-12, the apostle calls attention, four times, to the present suffering being endured by the Thessalonians. (Remember that the Jews had instigated that persecution, Acts 17.) He uses the Greek word thlipsis, translated tribulation, to speak of that persecution. This is the word used by Jesus to foretell what was to happen to his disciples prior to the fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:9).
Thlipsis is used some 45 times in the NT, and in all but a few texts refers to persecution for the cause of Christ. The word originally meant pressure, and could refer to any kind of pressure, even financial pressure (2 Corinthians 8:13), or some other kind of “mundane” pressure. On the other hand, the antonym of thlipsis is anesis. This word, when used with thlipsis, invariably means relief from whatever kind of pressure is being endured. The significance of this in Thessalonians is tremendous.
Paul promised the Thessalonians that although they were enduring thlipsis, “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation (thlipsis) those who are troubling (thlipsis) you, and to give to you who are troubled (thlipsis) rest, (anesis) with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God.” The tables were going to be turned on the persecutors. They were about to become the persecuted.
Here is the coming of Jesus to bring “the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10), against those who had, “killed the prophets, and the Lord Jesus, and now persecute us” (1 Thessalonians 2:15f). Jesus was coming in judgment to avenge the blood of the martyrs. He was coming to judge those who were swiftly filling the measure of their sin by killing his, “prophets, wise men, and scribes” (Matthew 23:32f). He was coming in judgment of Israel.
I can hardly over emphasize the importance of the thlipsis versus anesis contrast. As just noted, the word thlipsis means pressure; anesis is relief from pressure. [ 6 ]
Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Balz-Schneider, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990, Vol. 1)97
Close (I am unaware of any instance of anesis meaning reward).When anesis and thlipsis appear together, anesis is invariably relief from whatever pressure is being endured. Paul speaks of the tribulation being endured by the Thessalonians. This affliction was a “manifest token” of the tribulation (thlipsis) coming upon the persecutors (v. 4-5). Paul promised that the Thessalonians would be given “rest (anesis) with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on those that know not God.” What Jurek and virtually all futurists do is to turn Paul’s prediction into a promise that at the ultimate coming of the Lord, Christians will be delivered from the stress and strain of the human experience. [ 7 ]
I have personally heard countless ministers utilize 2 Thessalonians 1 in precisely this manner. It seems that, atleast in my experience, ministers give no consideration whatsoever is given to the real life situation of theThessalonians and Paul’s promise to them. The same is true of commentators. John MacArthur appeals to this text asproof that Christians see the promise of Christ’s return “as a great comfort for the people of God in their times oftrial.” John MacArthur, The Second Coming, (Wheaton, Ill. Crossways Publishing, 1999)48. For MacArthur, thetrials are not necessarily persecution, but the human existence.
Close There will be no more cancer, no more heart attacks, no more financial pressure, no stress, no depression, etc.. This is not what Paul was talking about! Paul was promising relief from persecution.
Significantly, the persecutors of the Thessalonians would receive “in kind” what they were giving the Thessalonians (v. 6). They were “pressuring” (thlipsis; Paul uses the present participial form) the Thessalonians. However, at the parousia, Jesus would give “pressure” (thlipsis) to them. Now, unless the Jewish persecutors of the saints were sending the Christians to hell (i.e. thlipsis), then since the persecutors were going to receive what they were giving, one cannot twist Thessalonians to mean that Christ was going to send them to hell! The persecutors were going to receive what they were giving! This is, of course, exactly what Jesus foretold in Matthew 23:33-36, as well as in Matthew 24:9-21. The tables would be turned, the persecutors would become the persecuted. Needless to say, this is precisely what happened in the Jewish/Roman War.
The same promise of imminent eschatological deliverance from affliction is found in Hebrews 10:32-38: “You endured a great conflict of sufferings…partly through reproaches and tribulations (thlipsis). Ye have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what was promised, For yet in a very little while He who is coming, will come and will not delay” (NASV). See also 1 Peter 1:4-10, and a host of other N. T. passages.
The consistent New Testament testimony is that the first-century saints, being persecuted for Christ, were about to receive vindication and relief from their persecution at the parousia. Either this promise was the expression of a hope ultimately disappointed, or it was meaningful and objective.
Thessalonians was written as an “occasional letter,” that is, a specific historical occasion initiated the writing of the epistle. It was written to address a very specific, very real problem in the lives of living breathing humans in approximately A. D. 49-50. Jurek completely ignores or denies the “occasional” nature of the book, and makes it apply to people and events totally unrelated to the lives of the first century Christians being persecuted for their faith.
Was not Thessalonians written to specific first century saints, suffering present tribulations? And, is not the text specifically concerned with, “the cry of the martyrs and the divine promise of their soon vindication” at the Day of the Lord? Indeed. Thus, Jurek’s attempt to make this text refer to the timeless church, or to the “general human experience” is hermeneutical malfeasance.
Thessalonians was written to the Thessalonians who were being persecuted in their own city, 2000 years ago. They, nor Paul, were not thinking of a yet future persecution against Christians in New York City, or the Trade Tower tragedy. Their persecution was on their own streets. And, Paul, by inspiration, promised relief from that persecution at the parousia.
Perhaps we should ask if Jurek believes that God is in the business of giving false hope. There is no doubt, when one reads Thessalonians with an unbiased mind, that Paul was writing to living people, experiencing real persecution. There is no doubt that Paul was writing to give them hope amid the pain, and that hope was that God would give them “rest, with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” Paul was promising real people real relief from real persecution! Jurek’s take on the text says that Paul was not speaking to the Thessalonians about their time and their suffering. Paul was talking about the church at least 2000 years away, promising them that they would receive relief at the parousia! One can only marvel at how such a promise could be a genuine comfort to the Thessalonians. They were suffering and dying, yet Paul told them that one day, by and by, Jesus would come and give another distant generation of Christians relief from their suffering! Wouldn’t the Thessalonians have the right to ask: “Okay, Paul, what about us, though? What about our t
ribulation? What about our persecution? Is Jesus going to give us relief?” And Jurek would respond that Paul was not concerned with the Thessalonians. He was concerned with the church at the end of time!
The writer of Proverbs said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Paul gave the Thessalonians the hope, more, the assurance, that Jesus was coming in their lifetime to give them relief from persecution. Did God disappoint them? If Paul gave the Thessalonians a false hope, a hope not fulfilled by the coming of Jesus, then Paul was a false prophet, the inspiration of scripture fails, and Jesus is not the Son of God. The issue is that serious.
Perhaps we should also ask brother Jurek about his emphasis that we must take the Bible at its word. After all, remember, he has argued that the Bible means what it says and says what it means. So, will Jurek maintain that hermeneutic? Does he believe that God lied to the Thessalonians when He, through Paul, promised to give them relief from their real life persecution? If God wanted to promise the Thessalonians that they were going to receive relief from that persecution at the coming of the Lord, how else, how much clearer, could He have communicated that truth? Please understand that for Jurek, or anyone else, to maintain a futuristic application of 2 Thessalonians 1, they must deny that the promise of relief from persecution applied to the very people being persecuted, and praying for relief! Any futurist application must claim that while Paul was ostensibly writing to living breathing humans in the midst of real time persecution, and while he used words that taken in their everyday normal meaning would indicate that he was offering them relief from that very real tribulation, that in reality, he was not speaking to them, or about them. He was not promising them anything, and most assuredly was not promising that Christ would give them relief at Christ’s parousia! [ 8 ]
This was in fact the very argument that Thomas Thrasher made in my debate with him in Alabama. When Ipressed my question: Did Christ come, and give the Thessalonians relief from their real life persecution?” Thrashersaid that Paul never promised that Christ would give the Thessalonians relief at the parousia! Thomas Ice and MarkHitchcock made the identical “argument” in the debate with them in Florida, when John Anderson presented mymaterial there.
Close Such an argument is manifestly a mark of total desperation to avoid the undeniable statements of the text. Every rule of proper hermeneutics has to be perverted, mitigated, or ignored, to deny that Paul was addressing the Thessalonians about their real life problem, and promising them relief from that persecution, at the parousia!
So, while Jurek speaks of taking the Bible at its word, in fact, he openly rejects the clear, undeniable, irrefutable words of the text. All the while saying I am a false teacher because I supposedly refuse to take the text for what it says! He says that I pervert the words of Scripture, yet, I am the one honoring what the text actually says. He has to rip the text of Thessalonians away from those suffering saints, and make Paul’s words apply to people not even alive, not suffering at the time. This means that the Thessalonians had the perfect right to ask why Paul would even bother to write them such a letter! It had nothing to do with them. It promised them nothing. Why would Paul even bother to write to the suffering Thessalonians to tell them that one day, by and by, perhaps two millennia or more removed, that the final generation of Christians would be suffering for Christ, and that at that time Christ would return and give them relief from their suffering? Again, wouldn’t the Thessalonians have the right to ask, “But what about us, Paul? What about our suffering, right now?” For Jurek, the suffering of the Thessalonians was irrelevant. He promised them nothing.
WHAT PAUL DID NOT SAY
Let us reiterate here what Paul definitely did say:
1.) He did say that the Thessalonians were being persecuted at the time he wrote: “To you who are being troubled” (v. 7). Remember, he uses the present tense verb four times to speak of what they were enduring. This is undeniable.
2.) He did say that they would receive relief from that persecution. This is undeniable.
3.) He did say that the tables would be turned and the persecutors would be persecuted. This is undeniable.
4.) He did say that the promised relief from that persecution would be given “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” This is undeniable.
Now, it is important to be reminded of what Paul did say, because in order to avoid the clear cut meaning of these statements it is often argued that Paul was not actually promising the Thessalonians that Christ was coming in their lifetime to give them relief from their persecution. Again, this is an argument born of desperation, not of the text, but it is really the only recourse that the futurists such as brother Jurek have. Well, if Paul was not saying that Christ was coming in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, to give them relief from persecution, what in the world was he saying? If we are going to deal candidly with the text, and in order to help answer this and other questions, we need to see that Paul did not say. We need to see what is not in the text, and what has to be imported into the text, in violation of the words that are there, in order to maintain a futuristic application of the text. So, what did Paul not say, that is important for us to realize?
1.) Paul did not say, “I want you Thessalonians to know that you will possibly die at the hands of your persecutors, and when you die, whether at their hands or from ‘natural causes’ this will be your relief from their persecution.” In other words, Paul did not say that death would be their relief from their persecution. He said they would receive relief, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” It would be the parousia of Christ to bring their anticipated and promised relief, not their death.
2.) Paul did not say, “You will not receive any relief from your persecution in your lifetime. You may actually die under the persecution. However, I want you to know that when the Lord eventually comes, someday, you will be rewarded in h
eaven for your faithfulness.” Let me reiterate that the word anesis means relief, not reward. Paul was promising relief from the pressure of persecution. So, again, Paul did not tell the Thessalonians, “death will be your relief from your persecution!” And Paul did not tell the Thessalonians, “You will not receive relief when the Lord comes,” which is what he should have said if brother Jurek’s view of the text is correct.
3.) Paul did not say, “You will die and go to Abraham’s bosom to wait the coming of the Lord at which time you will go to heaven.” Please catch the power of what I am about to say. Of necessity, the Thessalonians would have to be, or will have to be, under persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” in order for Jesus to give them “relief when the Lord Jesus is revealed.” Jesus could not give the Thessalonians relief from persecution when he comes, if they are not under the pressure of persecution when he comes!
If the Thessalonians are not to be under tribulation when the Lord comes, this would be like a person sitting on their front porch enjoying the coolness of the evening, when all of a sudden, a convoy of fire trucks comes blasting into the driveway. Hoses are stretched, ladders are extended, and manpower is arrayed. The person on the porch asks them what they are doing, and why the rush? The captain responds, “We are here to put out the fire!” But the man says, “My house is not on fire, I don’t need your services!”
It was the “house” of the Thessalonians that was on fire, but Jurek wants us to believe that Christ was not concerned with that fire, but promised to come millennia later, to put out a fire that was not even raging! Paul, according to Jurek, was addressing people who needed the fire truck, but he ignored their plight, to speak of people who might possibly need a fire truck at another time and place. If the Thessalonians are not under persecution now, and will not be under persecution at the proposed future parousia of Christ, then Paul’s words are empty and meaningless. Only if the Thessalonians are under tribulation pressure “when the Lord Jesus is revealed” are Paul’s words applicable.
So, if Paul was writing to living breathing humans, under the pressure of persecution, and if he promised them relief from that pressure “when the Lord Jesus is revealed” then, prima facia, they, the Thessalonians would have to be, or will have to be, under the pressure of persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed.”
Now since, by the very nature of the case, the Thessalonians would have to be, or will have to be, under the pressure of persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” then, if Paul had in mind that they would actually die and go to the Hadean realm of Abraham’s bosom, this means that Abraham’s bosom is a place of pressure from which the Thessalonians would long for relief! Ask yourself that question, very carefully and thoughtfully. Is Abraham’s bosom, a place of tribulation and persecution for the cause of Christ from which the Thessalonians would want to be freed? If Abraham’s bosom is as traditionally perceived, then it could never be described as “tribulation.” Let me reiterate: the Thessalonians would have to be under the pressure of persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven!” Paul did not say death then hades, then parousia. He said persecution, but relief from persecution at the parousia!
The suggestion that the Thessalonians might die and go to Abraham’s bosom to wait, actually demands that their death would be their relief. But again, this is not what Paul promised. He promised relief from the persecution they were experiencing while they were alive. They would be alive, and they would be under the pressure of persecution, but would receive relief from that on going pressure “when the Lord Jesus is revealed.”
To read the death of the Thessalonians into the text, as the source of their relief, completely redefines Christ’s parousia as the death of the Thessalonians! After all, it was the parousia that would give them relief. So, if they were to actually receive relief by dying, at the hands of their persecutors, then this defines their death at the hands of their enemies as the revelation of Jesus Christ with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those that know not God.
To define the time of the relief as the death of the Thessalonians, or of any believer for that matter, means that at that death, the wicked are punished as well. Notice that Paul not only promised relief from persecution at the parousia, he also said that the persecutors would be given persecution, and be cast out of the presence of the Lord! This cannot be construed to mean, by any stretch of the imagination, to refer to the death of just any individuals. The tribulation of the persecutors was to be at the same time as the relief from the persecution, i.e. at the eschatological judgment coming of Christ. It had nothing to do with the individual’s death.
It is evident that Paul did not say anything closely resembling what Jurek needed for him to say. It is also evident that what Paul did say completely negates any possible futurist application of 2 Thessalonians 1 to an earth burning, time ending event. Christ was coming in the lifetime of the Thessalonians to give them relief from the persecution being brought against them by their Jewish countrymen.
This raises a question for brother Jurek and his band of advisors. Did Jesus come, in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, and give them relief from the persecution that was raging against them in their streets, 2000 years ago? Yes or No?
Now of course, Jurek will say that “No,” Jesus did not come and give the Thessalonians relief. He has cited 2 Thessalonians 1 as one of his key texts to prove that Christ has not come, but must yet come. He links this text with Acts 1, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13f, 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 20.
However, for emphasis, let’s take a look one more time at what Paul did write to the Thessalonians:
1.) He did say that the Thessalonians were being persecuted at the time he wrote. This cannot be denied.
2.) He did say that they would receive relief from that persecution. This cannot be denied.
3.) He did say that the promised relief from that persec
ution would be given, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” This cannot be denied.
Now for Jurek, who insists that we must take the Bible for what it says, to deny any of these things, he must deny the words of the inspired text. He must deny that the Thessalonians were under persecution. Will he do that? He must deny that Paul promised them relief from that persecution. Will he do that? Or, he must deny that Paul promised them relief from that persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed.” Will he do that? Patently, Jurek cannot deny any of these things, and maintain even a modicum of a claim to take the Bible seriously, and demand that it says what it means and means what it says!
Since the textual statements are clear, unequivocal, and undeniable, then what is the case of Christ did not come, as Jurek believes? It means, as noted above, that Paul’s prediction failed. His apostolic promise to the Thessalonians failed. Paul is revealed as a false prophet, and that means that we are to reject all of his epistles!
Furthermore, if Paul’s promise/prophecy failed, then clearly, the inspiration of the entire N, T. corpus fails, for Paul claimed to write by the same Spirit that inspired the rest of the authors who also, just like Paul, claimed that Christ’s coming was near in the first century.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
We have examined one of the key passages the Dr. Russ Jurek has set forth as definitive proof for a future parousia. Our examination has demonstrated beyond doubt that 2 Thessalonians 1, cannot apply to any other event than the end of the Old Covenant Age of Israel in A.D. 70. With the demonstration that this text applies to A.D. 70, we have thereby proven that all of Jurek’s proof texts apply to that event as well. This means that since 2 Thessalonians 1 is A.D. 70, that Acts 1, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4 2 Peter 3, and Revelation 20f are A.D. 70.
In this installment, we have shown definitively that 2 Thessalonians 1 was a prophecy of the consummation of Israel’s last days.
We have shown that 2 Thessalonians 1 is perfectly consistent with Jesus prediction of coming judgment of Israel for her long history of persecuting the saints.
We have shown that Paul’s promise of relief from persecution was made to living breathing human beings being persecuted for their faith.
We have shown that Paul promised those living breathing humans that their relief from that persecution would be “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
We have shown that Paul was not saying that the Thessalonians would die to receive their desired relief.
We have shown that Paul was not saying that the Thessalonians would go to Abraham’s bosom to receive their relief.
We have shown that the relief from their persecution would be “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” And that this demands that the Thessalonians, not American Christians, or Nigerian Christians, or Russian Christians, but the first century Thessalonian Christians had to be enduring persecution at the time of the parousia, for it was to be the parousia of Christ that was to give them relief from that persecution.
We have shown that if Paul’s promise/prophecy was not fulfilled in the lifetime of the Thessalonians, giving them relief from their persecution, then Paul is revealed as a false prophet.
2 Thessalonians 1 is not a refutation of Covenant Eschatology. It is a powerful, irrefutable confirmation of the truth that the Lord Jesus was revealed from heaven in A. D. 70.