Paul the apostle wrote in great detail to Thessalonica about the return of Jesus at the end of the Church Age. In his second preserved letter to that church, (II Thessalonians), he assured them it had not already happened. Some people were evidently telling them it had; some evidently even pretended to be Paul writing to them, (chapter 2, verse 2).
More than ten years ago, I told a friend who had asked me if PLO leader Yasir Arafat was still alive, "When he dies, they're not going to let us miss it." Not that long afterward I was proven right. Likewise, Paul's second letter to Thessalonica says, in effect, "Certain things are going to happen before Christ returns. You won't miss it."
One thing about what Paul prophesied has always unsettled me a bit. Perhaps I should say, two things.
In verse 3 of chapter 2, Paul says, "the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition," before Christ's return. In describing this man and his rise to power, Paul speaks of, "all deceivableness of unrighteousness," (v. 10). That is how the King James Version of 1611 translated the Greek of the New Testament. The New King James Version of 1982 says, "all unrighteous deception among those who perish."
There is a big difference, or at least a potential for difference, especially because it is followed in verse 10 by Paul saying that, "God will send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie...," which can compound the misunderstanding that I believe lurks in the NKJV translation.
True salvation is entirely by faith in Christ, (Ephesians 2:8,9). I have come to believe that saving faith is a decision that Gosd and His Son are of trustworthy, righteous and holy character and can be trusted and believed. I don't set this above Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I believe it is in harmony with that Scripture because if I believe God is trustworthy, I will believe there is substance to what He has promised and I hope to witness or receive. I will consider His character evidence that the things I cannot see are as He has described them.
That is why I believe the KJV-1611 translation is better, because it makes clear that the "unrighteousness" associated with the "deception" and "delusion" of verses 10 and 11 is the unrighteousness of those being deceived. Translating verse 10 to say, "with all unrighteous deception among those who perish," allows suggesting that the deception is what is unrighteous. The verse before it speaks of, "the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders," and this may have influenced the modern translators. Putting it as, "with all deceivableness of unrighteousness among those who perish," is much like a modern quotation, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."
That makes sense in context with the rest of verse 10 and with verse 11. What is happening,. when it says that "God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness?" Why would a holy, truthful, righteous God have anything to do with deception or sending delusion? This is why I believe it is so important in verse 10 to attach the "unrighteousness" to those being deceived.
There have always been people who treat life as a game to be "won" or "lost," and to whom Jesus Christ's message of salvation is a "Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card," (a term probably copyrighted by Parker Brothers, publishers of "Monopoly"). They hold onto it, without "converting" or "going overboard," as an option to exercise before it's too late. Even in our present world, that doesn't always work. You may forget to call on the Lord in the moments before death. You may not be conscious. You may have no time to remember, or you may have become so convinced that you don't trust God, or that He isn't there, that you don't have any desire.
In the time of which Paul wrote, things will be much different. The "gathering together" of those of us who really did trust in Christ, (described in chapter 4 of his first letter to the same church), will have happened. We will be gone and the world will be wondering how and why. "Scared" won't begin to describe how some people feel.
Please understand clearly that a great number of people around the world will receive salvation during the "Great Tribulation" that follows the vanishing of the Church. The book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John, says so. Many teach, however, that those who are saved will be those who had never before heard of Jesus. Those who heard but declined or delayed will be "hardened" in their unbelief once the Church and the Holy Spirit are both taken out of the world.
Those who heard but decided to put off admitting that they are sinners and need to change because they would rather keep doing things that they know are prohibited by Scripture, or because they don't want to be singled out, rejected, or persecuted, "who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness," might decide for self-preservation to go through the motions of turning to Jesus, of saying a "Sinner's Prayer." My understanding of God's "sending strong delusion" can be described as deactivating their internal alarm systems, as it were. Turning off the mental sirens and bells that might otherwise be going off if the Scripture they did remember might awaken that self-interested desire to escape hard times - without their having changed their minds about what they enjoy doing, or what they are "free to do" or "have a right to do." That might put God in a position of looking unrighteous for breaking His promise for not honoring their perfunctory "profession" of "faith."
No one tricks God. He knows our every thought, (Psalm 139). No one outsmarts Him. They won't get around to doing it. They won't even try. They will be convinced there is no need.
By God's grace, I have already trusted in Christ and don't have to worry, ever, that "they" may become "I" someday, in the paragraph above. Whether "they" will become "I" for you....
One reason that some people give for not putting faith in the Bible being God's Word, inspired by His Holy Spirit, (II Timothy 3:16, I Peter 1:20,21), is that they say it is "full of contradictions," yet, when asked to name some of those, they fail to do so.
When Jesus was teaching in person, "all these things [He] spoke to the multitudes in parables, and without a parable He did not speak to them," [Matthew 13:34]. The purpose of parables, as I understand it, was for listeners to stand or fall, to understand or be confused, based on the attitude in their heart. Those who listened with faith in the good and loving character of God and of Jesus received enlightenment from the Holy Spirit to decipher it. Those whose attitude was combative or hostile, or simply proud of their intellect or their "righteousness" observing the Law, drew a blank without that spiritual assistance.
Should it be a surprise, then, if sometimes the written Word also presents a puzzle which can be understood by believing in the faithful character of God and searching Scripture for more light, but which the antagonistic will seize upon as a contradiction?
One example is figuring out the full sequence of events in the Apostle Paul's life immediately after his dramatic encounter with the risen and ascended Jesus Christ as he approached Damascus. This encounter itself presents challenges, since it is told about more than once, just within Luke's "Acts of the Apostles," in [9:1-8] and [22:1-11] and [26:12-19], but I am focusing on the sequence of events after it.
After Saul of Tarsus was blinded by his encounter with the heavenly light and went into Damascus and was healed by Ananias, his letter to the Galatian church, [Galatians 1:15-21], says that he went to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Three years passed, in that account, before he left Damascus and visited Jerusalem.
This is not mentioned in any of the three accounts in Acts, neither the way Luke wrote it in chapter 9, nor in Paul's two retellings in chapters 22 and 26. Is this a contradiction? If we approach this wanting to find a contradiction to discredit Scripture as God's truth, we may seize upon certain things as opportunities, but are they really?
In Acts 9:19, just after Paul's salvation and baptism, "Then Paul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus." Verse 20 says, "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues." Then, in verse 23, "after many days" came the plot to kill him, when he was let down through the city wall in a basket and went to Jerusalem.
Where in that sequence is his trip to Arabia and back to Damascus? Where are the three years he spent in Damascus before going to Jerusalem? These are not excluded by the way Luke wrote the account, just not talked about. Somewhere after the "some days" he initially spent with the Damascene disciples and preaching in the synagogues, he evidently went to Arabia and returned, and the three years evidently fits within the "many days" until the Jews in Damascus got fed up with being unable to refute or silence him and planned his murder. The statement that he immediately began preaching, in Acts 9, is consistent with Paul's assertion in Galatians 1:16, "I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood." Luke's phrase, "after many days were past," allows for the three years of preaching after he came back.
Paul left out the trip to Arabia and his stay in Damascus in Acts 22 because he was speaking to a furious mob who wanted to kill him. He had to dwell on the essentials. In Acts 26:20, he told King Agrippa in his trial in Caesarea that he "declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem...that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." He did not specify how long he declared it in Damascus, nor whether he left there and came back, but neither did he deny or contradict it. As in Acts 9, there is room for it but by choice it was omitted. We can conclude that he did not preach while in Arabia, as that could be seen as a contradiction of having "declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem," with no one before or between those two cities, and there is no statement in Galatians 1 about preaching during that trip. Indeed, tradition holds that he was in the wilderness with the risen Christ appearing and preaching to him. Saying he went to Arabia certainly allows for being in the wilderness: the Arabian Peninsula has plenty of desert and wilderness.
This is only one example of how apparent "contradictions" in Scripture are sometimes a matter of not understanding its ways of recounting stories and accounting for time periods, or a matter of not looking closely at whether one statement really excludes another. I hope it will be useful as an example of how to deal with apparent contradictions, also.
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