God is holy

Psalm 99, which is titled The LORD Our God is Holy, begins with a tribute to God’s exalted position in the world. Psalm 99:1-5 states:

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) “is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). Therefore, in the Old Testament, God is accorded the title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 17:7; Jeremiah 50:29). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

God indicated that the way that people were to become holy was through consecration. He said to the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). On another occasion, God made it clear that all the people of Israel were to be holy (Leviticus 19:2) and later added that he is the one that sanctifies us (Leviticus 20:8). God said, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24).

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the process that God established before the foundation of the world to make his chosen people holy. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Paul continued his explanation using the analogy of a husband and wife’s relationship to each other to illustrate how sanctification works. Paul said:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

The process of sanctification is focused on the unification of Christ with his church. Paul said that we need to submit ourselves to Christ, so that his word can make us holy. The Greek word that is translated sanctify in Ephesians 5:26, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and when “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) which is translated as both holy and saints throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:1, 4, 13, 15, 18; 2:19, 21; 3:5, 8, 18; 4:12, 30; 5:3, 27; 6:18). When the word saints is used in the New Testament, it is referring to someone that has been purified and sanctified by the influences of the Holy Spirit. “This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40).

The term saints is also used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) which is usually translated holy is translated saints in Deuteronomy 33:3 in the King James Version of the Bible. Qadowsh is also translated as saints or holy ones in Psalm 16:3, 34:9 and 89:5, as well as in several books of prophecy (Daniel 8:13, Hosea 11:12, Zechariah 14:5) and in the book of Job (5:1; 15:15). Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Day of the LORD seems to link together both the Old and New Testament saints and the unification of Christ with his church. Zechariah proclaimed:

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
And your spoil will be divided in your midst.
For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
The city shall be taken,
The houses rifled,
And the women ravished.
Half of the city shall go into captivity,
But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.

Then you shall flee through My mountain valley,
For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
Yes, you shall flee
As you fled from the earthquake
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Thus the Lord my God will come,
And all the saints with You.

It shall come to pass in that day
That there will be no light;
The lights will diminish.
It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord—
Neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light.

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,” And His name one. (Zechariah 14:1-9, NKJV)

Zechariah’s vision indicated that the LORD would come to the earth “And all the saints” with him (Zechariah 14:5). This is what is referred to in the Bible as the second coming of Christ, the appointed time when he will return to the earth and will reign over the entire world. The period of time in between Christ’s first and second coming is sometimes referred to as the Church Age, a period of time when the Gentiles will gain equality with the Jews and will enter God’s kingdom on the same basis, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Paul talked about the Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the same household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22).

Paul used the Greek word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) to refer to both “the saints” and the “holy” temple that was being built together into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:19, 21). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o) means “to construct, i.e. (passive) to compose (in company with other Christians, figurative)” (G4925). Sunoikodomeo is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes a union “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.” (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o). Figuratively, oikodomeo means “to build up, establish, confirm. Spoken of the Christian Church and its members who are thus compared to a building, a temple of God, erected upon the one and only foundation, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Colossians 3:9, 10) and ever built up progressively and unceasingly more and more from the foundation” (G3618).

The Greek word oikodomeo is sometimes translated as edify and is related to the word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) which means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Oikodome is usually translated as edifying or edification and was used by Paul to describe the process that the Church is going through in order to reach maturity and unification with Christ. Paul talked about this process in his letter to the Ephesians under the topic of unity in the Body of Christ. Paul said:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Edification may be a type of joint sanctification in which each member of the Body of Christ that is continually being added contributes to the collective state of the whole. Hebrews 12:12-14 indicates that holiness is the final state of the Church and a necessary condition for the Lord’s return. It states, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The Greek word that is translated holiness, hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mosˊ) is derived from the word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) which means to make holy (G37) and refers to the resultant state of the process of sanctification (G38).

The book of Leviticus teaches us that holiness is a state that can be transferred between things and people. The opposite of holiness is to be defiled which resulted from coming in contact with something that was unholy or profane. Leviticus 21:7 and 22:1-3 indicate that a woman whose virginity had been violated entered a state of defilement (H2491) and was cut off from the LORD’s presence. Numbers 5:1-3 states that anyone that was defiled had to be put outside the camp, “that they may not defile their camp” because the LORD resided there. In the same way that something or someone could become defiled; things and people could be made holy by coming in contact with something that had been consecrated to the LORD. Exodus 29:36-37 states, “Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.”

In addition to the altar, the sanctuary of the tabernacle, all the utensils that were used for sacrifices, the priests, and even the priests’ garments were considered to be holy things (Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:18, 27). The transfer of holiness from one object to another was connected with physical touch, but the Hebrew word that is translated touch, naga (naw-gahˊ) is sometimes used figuratively in the sense of emotional involvement and also sexual contact with another person (H5060) suggesting that the physical contact might have something to do with intimacy. Jesus often touched the people that he healed and on at least one occasion had physical contact with a man who had leprosy, a condition that defiled a person (Leviticus 13:3). Matthew tells us that when Jesus “came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:1-3). The Greek word that is translated touched in Matthew 8:3, haptomai (hapˊ-tom-ahee) is properly translated as “to attach oneself to” (G680). Haptomai, used figuratively, means “to have sexual intercourse” (1 Corinthians 7:1), so the sense of intimacy seems to apply to the circumstance of Jesus healing the leper.

Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room validates Jesus’ inherent holiness. Isaiah wrote:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Isaiah referred to Jesus as the “Holy One” and said of him, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called” (Isaiah 54:5).

“God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy (Exodus 3:5)” (H6944). One of the distinct characteristics of the Israelites’ camp while they were traveling to the Promised Land was that the Lord was dwelling in their midst (Numbers 5:3). Numbers 7:89 states, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak to the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.”

Moses’ interaction with the LORD involved a type of emotional involvement that might be considered to be intimacy or attaching oneself to another person. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke “to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” and in Exodus 34:29 it states, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The rays of light that were coming from Moses’ face bare a resemblance to the description that Matthew gave of Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew recorded, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).

The Greek word that is translated transfigured in Matthew 17:2, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) appears to be related to the process of sanctification. Metamorphoo is derived from the words meta (met-ahˊ) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) and morphoo (mor-foˊ-o) “to fashion.” “Morphoo refers, not to the external and transient, but to the inward and real; it is used in Galatians 4:19, expressing the necessity of a change in character and conduct to correspond with inward spiritual condition, so that there may be moral conformity to Christ” (G3445). Paul used the word metamorphoo in his second letter to the Corinthians in connection with the veil that Moses put over his face to cover the light that shone from it (2 Corinthians 3:12-16; Exodus 34:33-35). Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul expanded on his discussion of transformation in his letter to the Romans. Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

According to Paul, the renewal of the mind was the key to sanctification. Paul said that we are not to be “conformed to this world” but transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses “the continual operation of the indwelling Spirit of God” (G342) which is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit or hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) pnuema (pnyooˊ-mah) in the Greek.

A new age

When one of Jesus’ disciples expressed concern about having left everything in order to follow him, he responded, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:28-29). The new world that Jesus referred to was more than just a physical regeneration of our planet. The Greek word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) refers specifically to Messianic restoration of both people and things and points to the spiritual regeneration that is necessary for eternal life. “The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light” (G3824).

The Apostle Paul eluded to a new age that would follow the one we currently live in when he said, “God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). The Greek word that is translates ages, aion (ahee-ohn’) is properly translated as “an age, by extension perpetuity (also past); by implication the world…The primary stress of this word is time in its unbroken duration. Aion, as a noun, means ‘an age, era’ and signifies a period of indefinite duration” (G165). From that standpoint, Christ’s kingdom exists in the past, present, and future because it is an eternal kingdom. When it began or when it will end is not something that can be determined, but the ages that are associated with Christ’s kingdom do have beginning and ending points in time.

Jesus indicated that the kingdom of heaven has both a present and future state, but the difference between the two is sometimes confusing. In order to clarify the transition from one to the other, Jesus’ disciples asked this question about the future state of his kingdom, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). The second coming of Christ was understood and expected even while Jesus was still alive on earth. The Greek word parousia (par-oo-see’-ah) is used of the return of Christ, at the rapture of the church and signifies, “not merely His momentary coming for His saints in the rapture, but His presence with them from that moment until His revelation and manifestation to the world in His second coming” (G3952). Jesus warned his disciples that his second coming would be camouflaged by a satanic effort to disrupt the physical establishment of his kingdom. He said, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 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” (Matthew 24:4-6).

Jesus said there would be a definite end to the current age we live in which is sometimes referred to as the Church Age or the Age of Grace. This age is thought to have begun after Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit’s ministry was launched. Therefore, Jesus’ life on earth and subsequent death marked the end of another age associated with the Mosaic Law which was established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Moses, who was God’s designated representative during the exodus from Egypt, had a similar birth to Jesus’ in that he was born at a time when the people of Israel were suffering under the rulership of a demonic king. Exodus 1:22 states, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” Moses was kept alive through divine intervention and was raised by Pharaoh’s own daughter, but “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11:-12).

Moses crime was discovered and he was forced to flee into the desert where he spent 40 years shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 3:1, Acts 7:39-30). Exodus 3:1-6 indicates that Moses had an encounter with the preincarnate Jesus Christ (note on Exodus 3:14 and 23:20-23). It states:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The unusual and unique manner in which God appeared to Moses at Horeb, a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, could be a type of preincarnate advent of Christ. “Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable of Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7, Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

When Moses saw the flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, the thing that he noticed about it was that “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Exodus 3:3). This might seem to signify God’s mercy, but he later told Moses, “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him” (Exodus 23:20-21). The Hebrew word that is translated pardon, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). The statement that the angel would not pardon their transgressions may have meant that he was not able to pardon them because the penalty for sins wasn’t paid until Jesus died on the cross. The thing that uniquely identified the Age of Law was that Jesus was present, but not in bodily form. When Moses asked God what name he should use to identify him to the people of Israel, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM'” (Exodus 3:13). “Jesus alluded to this name of God in John 8:58 when he declared, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (note on Exodus 3:14).

The instruction Moses received to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go into the wilderness so that they could make sacrifices to him (Exodus 3:18) seemed ludicrous at first, but God explained to Moses that he intended to demonstrate his ability to accomplish this impossible task in order to convince Pharaoh that he was in charge of the situation. God said, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go” (Exodus 3;19-20). God’s use of force was necessary because Pharaoh’s heart had become hardened to the point that it was impenetrable (H2389). The reference to striking Egypt implied that physical force would be used and that God would be directly involved in the process. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, pala’ (paw-law’) “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381), so it’s clear God intended to use his supernatural abilities the get Pharaoh’s attention and he seemed willing to go to any lengths to deliver his people from Pharaoh’s control.

Jesus’ description of the end of the Church Age indicated that it would be a time of great distress. He said, “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 birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Jesus’ use of the metaphor of birth pains to portray the transition from God’s grace being available to whoever believed in Jesus to the judgment of all mankind made it seem as though there would be a gradual change from the influence of the Holy Spirit in the world to the inevitable reign of Antichrist that would intensify over time. Jesus told his disciples, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14).

Jesus linked the end of the Church Age to a single event that would take place in a single day or hour and associated it with another event that marked the beginning of the Kingdom Age. Jesus warned his disciples to take flight immediately when they saw this sign. He said:

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Jesus noted that a great tribulation would occur during the transition from the Church Age to the Kingdom Age (Matthew 24:21). This period of time is often referred to in the Bible as “the day of the LORD” (Ezekiel 30:3) which is thought to continue through the millennial reign of Christ. I believe Jesus’ second coming marks the official start of the Kingdom Age and according to Revelation 19:11 this event takes place immediately following the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven (Revelation 19:6-9).

Jesus said his return to earth would be immediately after the great tribulation and “all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31). This seems to suggest that all believers both those that have died and ones that are still alive will be gathered together at Jesus’ second coming. Because the marriage supper of the Lamb has already taken place at this point, it could be that the Greek word that is translated his elect in this verse, eklektos (ek-lek-tos’) refers only to Jewish believers (G1588). The Apostle Paul used eklektos’ root word eklegomai (ek-leg’-o-om-ahee) when he said God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5). We know that Paul was referring to non-Jewish believers when he said this because adoption does not apply to the children of Israel.

Some of what Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse may have only applied to the Jewish remnant that would be dealt with under different circumstances than his church. When Jesus talked about the day and hour of God’s judgment, he referred back to the days of Noah which were before the Age of Law. He said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:36-42). Jesus indicated that people will be unaware of what’s coming when suddenly half of the population apparently disappears.

Jesus said, “one will be taken and one left” (Matthew 24:40). The Greek words Jesus used that are translated taken and left have somewhat opposite meanings from what you might usually think. The Greek word aphiemi (af-ee’-ay-mee), which is translated left, means to send away as when a husband divorces his wife (G863). The word aphiemi appears in Matthew 22:22 where it says, “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” Therefore, the ones that were left were the ones that were no longer present in the field and grinding at the mill when the Son of Man came (Matthew 24:29-31). The Greek word that is translated taken, paralambano (par-al-am-ban’-o) means “to receive near, i.e. associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office” (G3880). Jesus made it clear that although everyone was swept away after the flood came in the days of Noah, when the Son of Man comes, half of the population will be taken or integrated into his kingdom. Jesus went on to say, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44).

The Kingdom Age will be ushered in by what appears to be a sudden and cataclysmic event similar to the flood that wiped out every living thing on earth. Jesus’ analogy of two men working in the field and two women grinding at the mill seems to be associated with Christian ministry because in his parable of the weeds, Jesus said while the owner of the field’s men were sleeping, “his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away (Matthew 13:25). Jesus later explained this parable to his disciples and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39). Jesus’ admonition to stay awake (Matthew 24:42) likely meant that during the great tribulation, Christians who are not filled with the Holy Spirit will be tempted to abandon their faith and seek refuge in the devil’s camp, therefore they need to make sure they are spiritually healthy at all times.

Thessalonica

“Thessalonica was a bustling seaport city at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. It was an important communication and trade center, located at the junction of the great Egnatian Way and the  road leading north to the Danube. Its population numbered about 200,000, making it the largest city in Macedonia” (Thessalonica: The City and the Church, p. 1722). The Apostle Paul was only in Thessalonica briefly and left abruptly after some unbelieving Jews “took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason” (Acts 17:5), the man Paul and his companions were staying with. Paul’s accusers said of his evangelical ministry, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

The primary topic Paul chose for his letters to the Thessalonians was the second coming of Christ, which may have been motivated by the intense persecution they were experiencing. Paul was explaining his abrupt departure and lengthy absence from Thessalonica when he said, “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (Thessalonians 2:17-18). The Greek word he used that is translated hindered, egkopto indicated that Satan had put a roadblock in Paul’s way in order to keep him from returning to Thessalonica. Although Paul didn’t specifically state what the roadblock was, he may have been referring to the nonbelieving Jews that followed him when he left Thessalonica. Because they caused a riot in Berea (Acts 17:13), Paul had to leave immediately. Afterward, he sailed down to Athens, approximately 200 miles away.

As a result of his abrupt departure, Paul may have left the Thessalonians with the impression that he wasn’t concerned about their welfare. In his first letter to them, Paul went to great lengths to assure the Thessalonians that they were constantly on his mind and mentioned in his prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3:10). Paul described the Thessalonians as his crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19). What he probably meant by that was that the Thessalonians were a great tribute to the power of the Holy Spirit to save even the basest of sinners. The difference between the great multitude of Greeks that believed Paul’s gospel message (Acts 17:4) and the unbelieving Jews that followed him to Berea and caused a riot (Acts 17:13) was that their faith caused the Thessalonians to eagerly await the return of Christ. Paul praised the Thessalonians for their continued faith in spite of persecution (1 Thessalonians 1:6) and singled them out as model believers (1 Thessalonians 1:7). Prior to becoming Christians, the Thessalonians were idol worshippers. Paul used their afflictions as a testimony to the Thessalonians commitment to follow Christ and said of them, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).