Overcoming the Daily Pressure of Pastoral Anxiety

What pastor worth more than his weight in salt does not feel the daily pressure of pastoral anxiety? And how do we as pastors overcome this daily tension that we sometimes feel so deeply in our souls?

Paul actually describes this anxiety and its pressure in 2 Corinthians 11:28. By considering this verse and others, we can find somewhat of an idea as to what exactly this pressure is and how a pastor can overcome it.

In the points to follow, the first will be an attempt to define this pressure, and the three points thereafter are meant to help us think about pastoral pressure properly in order to overcome the temptation to despair.

First, realize what this pressure is.

“Pressure” comes from epistasis, which is used in the NT only one other time in Acts 24:12. Paul claims there that he was not “stirring up a crowd,” that is, being such a problem that people passing by would stop to address the situation, thereby creating a crowd. It was actually the Jews stirred up a crowd against him in Acts 21, and synonyms for “stirred up” (Acts 21:27, syncheō; 21:30, kineō) give a picture of mass confusion in which people were recklessly beating Paul in order to immediately relieve what they perceived to be a problem.

What is similar between the “pressure” and “stirring” above is that each one involves a great agitation of soul. That’s why Paul could list it as somewhat on the same plane as all of what he suffered for the gospel in 2 Corinthians 11:23–27.

Pastoral pressure stems from a concern for people in the church. As Paul put it, his “daily pressure” was one “of my anxiety for all the churches.” “Anxiety” comes from merimna and can refer to a negative anxiety (Matt 13:22; Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; 21:24) or an anxiety that is properly handled by giving it to God because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The cognate verb merimnaō can likewise describe sinful worries (Matt 6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34; Phil 4:6; et al) but also a care for others as well. Christians are to “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25), just as Timothy was “genuinely concerned” for the welfare of the Philippians, seeking not his “own interests” but “those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:20–21).

All of the word study above is meant to paint a picture of what Paul means by the pressure of anxiety for a church. It is a care for others and can tend toward worry and even despair if we do not cast these anxieties to God in prayer. It is the pressure of anxiety for others that moves us to act on behalf of the ones whose needs we perceive. It usually involves being anxious over people’s sin—we hope that they will forsake sin, grow in Christ, and persevere. In fact, 2 Corinthians 11:29 describes Paul as burning within (puroō) for those who are weak and fall. It also involves being anxious over people’s suffering—we hope that they will carry on in the face of difficulty and trial. Moreover, we hope that everyone will do these things together as they carry out the mission of the church and make disciples for the sake of the Name.

Second, realize that this pressure will probably always be there.

I remember once teaching a class on the theology of leadership, and a veteran pastor asked me, “Does this ever go away?” I’ve not even been a pastor as long as he has, and my experience is that this pressure will probably never go away. Until Christ comes again, the church will struggle with sin and suffering and need its shepherds to tend its needs.

If anything, it seems to me that growing in the grace and the knowledge of God’s Word will naturally increase one’s love for the church and thus one’s burden for others, which, in turn, increases the pressure of anxiety for a church all the more. But alongside that increased pressure is the increased grace of Jesus Christ to shepherd and carry that burden.

This brings me to my next point…

Third, realize that this pressure will be occasionally overwhelming.

Some men are more gifted than others, but God will pin down each man from time to time to show him just how finite he is. When the pressure of being a pastor gets the best of us, it can indeed be overwhelming. Whether a church is unable to meet its budget, has families that move away, has to discipline a member, is on the verge of a split, or whatever the matter may be—these matters keep us up at night, rob us of sleep, and are meant to push us to our limits. Even Christ in His sinless humanity was pushed to a point to ask if there could be any other way.

So what do we do when we are overwhelmed by the pressure? What do we do when our care for the church crushes our soul like a vice?

Fourth, realize that this pressure is meant to drive you to the throne of grace.

Overwhelmed, men will either despair or find peace of soul in the Lord (cf. Phil 4:6–7). Whatever debate there may be over the condition of their souls, pastors, too, commit suicide from time to time. Pastors drop out of ministry. Pastors secretly flee their calling to find pleasure in pornography or solitaire or whatever lesser things supposedly keep the suffering at bay.

But a true pastor will know that he has been called to share the sufferings of Christ and the burdens of his flock, overwhelming though they may be. A true pastor will furthermore know that that very same Christ sits with the Father on a throne to dispense grace in the time of need. He has been tempted as we are, even as pastors, and knows what burdens there are. Only when we are overwhelmed and turn to the Lord can we learn as Paul did, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV). We are weak, and He is strong. Only when we are overwhelmed can God show Himself mighty through us.

Parting Thoughts

To be a pastor is to face the daily pressure of anxiety for a church—caring for people and sharing their burdens and being occasionally overwhelmed. May we go to throne of God in such times and find His grace to handle this pressure.

I cannot promise that finding grace in the time of need also means that God will have ended the sin and suffering in your church. But I can say from His Word that His grace will make you able to bear it.

When the load on our shoulders causes our knees to bend, only then can we see that has God postured us to lift our heads to Him in prayer. Only when we are weak can God show us just how strong He is. May we as pastors persevere through pressure.

Do We Have Personal Angels?

In Acts 12:15, the Christians praying for Peter could not accept that Peter had somehow been released from prison (cf. Acts 12:6–11). When Rhoda announced that Peter was at the door, “They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’”

Why would they claim, “It is his angel”? Did they believe each person had an angel for some reason? Is this taught somewhere in Scripture?

In exploring the answer to this question, one “non-angelic” conclusion is that his “angel” could have been a human “messenger” since the Greek word angelos could be translated to mean one or the other (e.g., James 2:25). However, the Christians in the house were not keen to get up from their seats and receive a messenger, indicating that they thought no one was actually at the door and that “his angel” was perhaps some hopeful figment of Rhoda’s imagination.

Nonetheless, that they said “It is his angel!” may reflect something of an attempt to give a theologically satisfactory answer to Rhoda for what she saw while at the same time discounting that Peter was physically present at the door. What did their answer mean?

In the OT, angels occasionally protected people from death in some way (e.g., Gen 19:12–14; Dan 6:22) and were thus “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14). An angel like Michael can have “charge” of a nation (Dan 12:1), and Jesus said that children have angels “in heaven” who “always see the face of my Father,” interceding for them when they are despised (Matt 18:10). Jewish lore showed a popular belief in guardian angels and that they could even match the physical appearance of the person being protected.1

This brief survey shows us that Scripture does not explicitly tell us that people have guardian angels, let alone ones who mirror the appearance of the protected. Angels can minister on the behalf of children, the saints, and a nation. But these realities fall short of concluding that every person has an angel that represents or protects us as necessary.

Whatever one may make of Acts 12:15, it is a stretch to theologize about angels from an elusive comment made in the heat of the moment. If anything, maybe the occasional appearances of angels in Acts moved these Christians to describe something that Rhoda could accept while they could continue with their prayer meeting (ironically, praying for Peter). At the most, maybe they believed an angel had been sent to encourage the Christians to keep on praying for Peter. At the least, and more likely, perhaps they were saying whatever they could to pacify Rhoda. Either way, like the rest of Scripture, Acts 12:15 does not necessarily suggest a belief that each person has a personal angel.

  1. Darrell L. Bock, Acts (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 428–29. []

“That God May Be All In All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 9

So far, we have seen Paul declare that the Corinthians will indeed be resurrected and made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–22). Paul then described the first two orders of the resurrection as Christ the firstfruits and and believers who will be resurrected at His coming (1 Cor 15:23). Finally, there will be those who are resurrected at “the end,” those who do not belong to Christ (1 Cor 15:24a). This resurrection of unbelievers takes place alongside two other events that end the ages (15:24b–28a).

First, unbelievers are resurrected from the dead “when” Christ “delivers the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Cor 15:24). If this passage allows us to say anything of the timing of the kingdom of Christ, it certainly speaks to its end. What is not mentioned is its beginning.

Nonetheless, we do know that this kingdom is the mediatorial kingdom, a kingdom in which the Father rules through a mediator (Christ). This is not the universal kingdom over which the Father always has been, is, and will be King. Being yet future, this kingdom’s beginning is at the descent of Christ when He takes His throne and expels His enemies (Matt 25:31; Rev 3:21). Though there is this initial ridding of His enemies, as the kingdom progresses, enemies arise again in the end. Those who have survived the Tribulation enter the kingdom in their nonglorified bodies. Children are born to these believers (cf. Isa 65:20), multiplication continues, and many of those born during the kingdom never believe and follow Satan after his release from the abyss (Rev 20:7–8). Then, finally, Christ will rid the earth of His enemies once and for all (Rev 20:9–10). Then comes the resurrection of unbelievers at “the end” (1 Cor 15:24a; cf. Rev 20:11–15) and the end of “the kingdom” of Christ (1 Cor 15:24b).

Having said this, we have begun to explain the next of our two events, the destruction of God’s enemies. The delivery of the kingdom comes only “after” Christ’s “destroying every rule and every authority and power” (15:24). If “death” is the last of these “enemies” to be destroyed, then a “rule, authority, and power” seems to include the impersonal and yet anything else that somehow stands as an enemy of God and Christ (15:24–25).

This destruction will take place because Ps 110:1 promises that it will—“He must reign until he [Christ] has put all enemies under His feet” (15:25). “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” and death must indeed be one of the enemies destroyed because, as Ps 8:6 promises, “God” at this time “has put all things,” death included, “in subjection under His feet” (15:26). The Father is obviously “excepted” from this subjection (15:27). Finally, even “the Son Himself will also be subjected to” the Father “who put all things in subjection under” His Son (15:28).

What Is the Call to Be a Pastor?

I wrote last week on the desire to be a pastor, primarily from 1 Timothy 3:1, but also from other passages that shed light on the matter. As a follow-up, I thought it would be helpful to ask the question, “What is the call to be a pastor?” and clarify what it is and what it is not as it relates to that desire.

As I pointed out last week, the desire to be a pastor is related to a desire to preach the gospel, compellingly so, and even strong enough to overcome the difficulties of ministry. This desire, however, while part of a man’s being called to the pastorate, is not in and of itself a call to be a pastor.

We should note that the very use of the term call implies that someone other than the would-be pastor is doing the calling. The question is, who is doing the calling?

Sometimes a pastoral candidate describes how he knew God called him to be a pastor through some sort of circumstantial evidence or even a near-revelatory event. He may have received such a call through an invitation after a sermon, after a traumatic life experience, or in the silence of doing his devotions in his home. While not discounting that God can sometimes use these providential means to help a man perceive a desire to be a pastor, the desire to be a pastor, even when coupled with these remarkable events, is still not enough to make up the call to be a pastor.

We actually more appropriately use the language of calling in another way, namely, when a church extends a call to a man to be a pastor. God is still part of the process, to be sure, leading and giving wisdom (we hope) to the church in determining whether or not the candidate meets the qualifications of being their pastor (cf. 1 Tim 3:2–7; Titus 1:5–9). In this type of calling, whatever the candidate’s desire may be, his desire alone is not determinative in becoming a pastor. The church evaluates whether or not he could and should be their pastor and then actually extends him the call to do so. Should he accept the call, then he can be their pastor. But the perception of this call is only when the call is given by the church.

Perhaps we could describe it like this—the call to be a pastor includes factors both internal and external to the candidate. Internally, he has faith, understands the nature and mission of the church, knows what a pastor is, and desires to pastor a church. Externally—something outside of the candidate’s control—God has given him the requisite gifts of teaching and oversight, a church recognizes these gifts, and extends him the call to do so in the formal capacity of being its pastor.

Thinking of the call in yet another way, it should be the natural result of an organic relationship between the church and one of its members (or, perhaps, a church and someone applying to be its pastor). As a man grows in Christ and serves in his local church, he will be moved by the love of the Spirit and guided by what he knows of the Word to serve God’s people in ways unique to his gifting. However it practically comes about (e.g., through a church training program or some less formal manner), it becomes clear over time to him and the church that he desires to be a pastor and is gifted and qualified for such a role. Naturally, one would hope, he then becomes a pastor.

So, what is the call to be a pastor? I believe it is simply a request by a church for a man to be its pastor. But is also a request conditioned upon that man’s desire to be that pastor and the church’s recognition of that man’s being qualified to fill that role.

“That God May Be All In All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 8

Last week, we explored that God will raise all believers from the dead at the coming of Christ, whether at that coming’s beginning or end. This week, we will consider the resurrection of unbelievers.

In contrast to “those who belong to Christ” who are resurrected “at his coming,” there are those who do not belong to Christ, being those resurrected at “the end.” Just as the first two orders obviously involve people (“Christ the firstfruits” and “at his coming those who belong to Christ”), so also this third order includes people as well, though it is stated more succinctly (“the end”). Multiple points can be made to explain what Paul himself says in brief, that the resurrection includes three orders of people, the second order taking place after the first, and the third order taking place after the second.

First, as just mentioned, just as the first and second orders of the resurrection involve people, so also it is natural to conclude that the otherwise ambiguous third order called “the end” involves people as well.

Second, Paul’s use of “then…then” (epeita…eita) to introduce the second and third orders (1 Cor 15:23, 24) indicates that they each chronologically follow a similar and previously mentioned order. In fact, Paul has already used these transitional adverbs to show a chronological progression within this very chapter. In speaking to a progression of post-resurrection appearances by Christ, Paul noted that He “appeared to Cephas, then [eita] to the twelve. Then [epeita] he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then [epeita] he appeared to James, then [eita] to all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:5–7). The order of these terms is reversed in 1 Cor 15:5–6 (eita…epeita), and the order is the same in 1 Cor 15:7 as it is in 1 Cor 15:23–24a (epeita…eita). The terms are interchangeable and basically synonymous, which is why both can be translated “then.” If Paul meant to conflate the events of 1 Cor 15:24b–28 with “the end” of 1 Cor 15:24a, this use of adverbs makes it difficult to detect. Instead, he intentionally separates these events from one another in a chronological series, indicating that, just as there is a gap of time between the first and second orders, so also it is between the second and third.

Third, with this exegesis in hand, we can see that this interpretation of 1 Cor 15:23–24a is complemented by John’s eschatology in Revelation 20. For both authors, there is a resurrection of believers (1 Cor 15:23b with Rev 20:4–6), a kingdom ruled by Christ (1 Cor 15:24b with Rev 20:4, 6), and a subsequent resurrection of unbelievers (1 Cor 15:24a with Rev 20:5, 13). Death itself is destroyed (1 Cor 15:26 with Rev 20:14), and then the Father and Christ are enthroned over the kingdom in the eternal state (1 Cor 15:24b, 28 with Rev 21–22; cf. 22:1, 3).

Every Pastor’s Greatest Desire

What does it mean to desire to be a pastor?

Granted, this desire is only properly present and fulfilled when joined to a giftedness to teach and administrate, a godly character, and the confirmation of the church in ordaining such a man (cf. 1 Tim 3:2–7). Without these qualifications, one’s desire should actually be for another to pastor in his stead.

Those things aside, however, what is the nature of the desire to be a pastor?

1 Timothy 3:1 helps us to answer that question: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (ESV).

Using this verse and other passages to shed light upon its meaning, we find some helpful thoughts from the NT about the desire to be a pastor.

It is a gospel desire.

To begin, we see something of the greatness of the desire in the greatness of what is involved—preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We find something of the greatness of the pastor’s desire merely by how Paul introduces his saying: “The saying is trustworthy.” Paul otherwise exclusively uses this phrase to introduce or look back at a memorable statement about the gospel (1 Tim 1:15; 4:9–10; 2 Tim 2:11–13; Titus 3:4–8). Why would Paul use this phrase, then, to introduce something about an overseer? It seems that the function of teaching and preaching the gospel is so intimately tied to the office of overseer that Paul can easily introduce one or the other in the same way. By using this introduction, what is said in Paul’s statement has a ring of the greatness of the gospel.

The greatness of this desire is also shown by the parallelism and climax of 1 Tim 3:1. Paul gives a conditional statement (“If anyone aspires to the office of overseer”) that is followed by a similar-sounding affirmation of the goodness of such a desire (“he desires a noble task”). While “aspires” overlaps with “desires” to some degree, the more noticeable change from “overseer” to “noble task” highlights the greatness of the task.  Moreover, though “noble task” is a phrase taken from otherwise simple Greek words (kalos, meaning “good” and ergos, meaning “work”), the cadence and climactic position of this phrase in Paul’s saying helps the reader to see beyond its simplicity. Rather, the overseer’s office is imbued with a grand, gospel goodness. This is why some English translations can’t help but to call this otherwise “good work” something greater and indeed, “a noble task.”

It is a compelling desire.

We also see something of the greatness of the desire in the sense that it is a compelling desire.

The verb “aspires” (oregō) is used elsewhere to speak negatively of a false teacher’s “craving” for money (1 Tim 6:10) and positively of the faithful’s “desire” for a heavenly city (Heb 11:16). In both instances, there is an aspiration for something that drives the whole of one’s life, for better or worse. To aspire to the office of overseer is certainly something for the better and similarly drives the whole of the pastor’s life.

Likewise, the more frequent verb “desires” (epithumeō) has many uses that illustrate the intensity of this desire. This verb can be used to refer to a sinful desire for women, riches, position, or anything in general (Matt 5:28; Acts 20:33; Rom 7:7; 13:9; 1 Cor 10:6; Gal 5:17; James 4:1–2). When in the midst of judgment, unbelievers will desire death (Rev 9:6). The starving prodigal son desired the husks of the pigs (Luke 15:16), and Lazarus desired what would fall from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21). Used positively, a desire can be for the perseverance of others (Heb 6:11) or a desire to see and understand the fulfillment of God’s Word in Jesus Christ (Matt 13:17; Luke 17:22; 1 Pet 1:12). Christ earnestly desired to eat the Passover with His disciples the night before His death (Matt 22:15).

From the above, we might say that the desire to be a pastor is something of a hunger, a desperation, and, if one was to die tomorrow, it would still be on his list of things to do. The one who has it cannot help but to speak the gospel (cf. Acts 4:20). He will echo Paul and claim, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).

It is an overcoming desire.

This point comes more from concept than it does from the study of words. From multiple texts, we see there is something about this desire that overcomes the difficulties and temptations of pastoral ministry.

The idle, fainthearted, and weak may cause the pastor to groan within (1 Thess 5:14; Heb 13:17). He may have anguish of soul until his spiritual children are mature (Gal 4:19). The pressure of his church may weigh him down from time to time (2 Cor 11:28). His stricter judgment to come may make him hesitant to teach (James 3:1).

Nonetheless, in all of these things, a pastor does not serve at the behest of others but “willingly” of his own volition (1 Pet 5:2). He does not serve for a salary but “eagerly” for an eternal reward (1 Pet 5:2, 4). He does not lead with apathy but “with zeal” to accomplish his goals (Rom 12:8). His character and capacity will carry him through suffering, knowing that the Christ who suffered and strengthens him will one day make things right (1 Tim 3:2–7; Titus 1:5–9; Phil 3:8–10).

Summary

I believe that the desire to be a pastor is the greatest desire that a pastor can have. The greatness of this desire comes from its relation to the gospel—the pastor preaches a noble message and thus has a noble task. Looking within, the greatness of this desire is compelling—it cannot be set aside. Moreover, even when things may be at their hardest, the greatness of this desire pushes the pastor on. May God give His pastors an overwhelming desire to persevere in their ministries for the sake of the glorious gospel of Christ!

The Coming Tribulation: The Math of the Matter

I have read some crazy claims that people have made, supposedly based upon numbers in the Bible and specifically from the numbers in prophetic passages. The primary error of these errors is to find some secret word from God within the actual Word of God, as strange as that may seem. It’s one of the many ways that people twist Scripture for their own sinful desires, even if the sinful desire is simply being seen as “the” teacher who found out some secret truth that no one had previously discovered (cf. 2 Pet 3:16).

Having said that, the math that follows below is nothing of that sort. It’s simply a comparison of several passages of Scripture to arrive at a simple conclusion – there is a coming time of judgment upon the world and national Israel that lasts seven years.

Of course, there are a lot of assumptions being already made in this post.

  • The church has not replaced national Israel, and there is a prominent, prophesied future for national Israel.
  • In bringing Israel to that prominence, God pour out His Spirit upon the nation during this period of seven years.
  • This salvation is God’s grace in the midst of Israel’s judgment – God allows the nation to find itself duped by the Antichrist, only to be rescued from him after he breaks his peace with the nation.

As to the point of this article, however, within the prophecies about God’s dealings with Israel, the prophets include lengths of time that speak about these seven years. So, let’s look at how Scripture describes these numbers.

First, Daniel 9:24–27 specifies that there is a coming period of seven years that ends in God’s judgment upon the Antichrist. In leading up to this passage, Daniel had been praying for Israel. In reading the prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel discovered that Israel was going to be punished by exile in Babylon for 70 years for not having given the land a year of rest each seventh year, a command given by Moses (Dan 9:1–2; Jer 25:11–12; 2 Chron 36:20–21; cf. Lev 25:1–7). In other words, over the course of 490 years, Israel neglected to let the land rest every seventh year, a total of 70 years altogether. In a sense, God was giving the land its rest that Israel failed to give it and punishing Israel along the way. Having realized Israel’s plight, Daniel prayed that God would bless Israel once again (Dan 9:3–19).

In kindness to Daniel, God sent the angel Gabriel to let Daniel know when his prayer would be answered (Dan 9:20–23). Just as Israel had sinned for seventy sets of seven years, so also Gabriel prophesied that seventy sets of seven years would have to take place in order for God to shine His face upon Israel once again (Dan 9:24–27). (Standard lexicons note that the Hebrew word for “weeks” is a heptad that could refer to days or years. In this case, especially when looking at the context of Dan 9, it is clear that Gabriel is speaking to Daniel of seventy heptads of years, i.e., seventy sevens, totaling 490 years.)

But these seventy sets of years would be broken into three divisions. First, after a decree to rebuilding Jerusalem, seven sets of seven years would take place (49 years; Dan 9:25a). Next, sixty-two sets of seven years (434 years) would end when the Messiah (“an anointed one”) was cut off (Dan 9:25b). These two sets of years total 483 years. Finally, a final set of seven years would begin with the Antichrist (“the prince who is to come…he…one who makes desolate…the desolator) making a covenant with national Israel, something to be broken halfway into this set of seven years (Dan 9:26–27).

However we want to historically identify the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, it is clear that the 49 years and 434 years are over—the Messiah was cut off when He died on the cross. The final seven years, however, are yet to take place.This matter brings us to an interesting principle that we have to understand when interpreting prophecy—sometimes the events of a given prophecy do not happen immediately after one another. In other words, there can be a gap of time between the first 483 years and the final 7 years of Dan 9:24–27. Another example of this principle is found in Isa 61:1–2. Jesus quoted this passage to announce that His first coming involved the proclamation of the day of the Lord’s favor, but he stopped short of proclaiming the day of God’s vengeance (Luke 4:18–21). In other words, He quoted Isa 61:1–2a but not Isa 61:2b. From one line to the next in Isa 61:2, though consecutive, the events therein would be separated by a gap of time.

Having said all of the above, Dan 9:24–27 shows us that the final set of seven years is still to come. We have seen antichrists, but not the Antichrist that other biblical authors anticipated as well (1 John 2:18; 2 Thess 2:3–4, 8). This final seven years is future.

A couple of other passages from Daniel and Revelation cement this time as seven years as well. As to Revelation, in his prophecy of the end of the age (cf. Rev 1:3; 22:7), the apostle John told of…

  • the things that that he had seen (cf. Rev 1:19a, “the things that you have seen”)—his vision of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:9–20)
  • the things that presently were in his day (cf. Rev 1:19b, “those that are”)—matters involving seven churches during his time (Rev 2–3)
  • and the things that would be “cf. Rev 1:19c, “those that are to take place after this”)—matters involving God’s judgment and blessing to come (Rev 4–22; cf. 4:2 “I will show you what must take place after this”).

His prophecy of the things to take place in Rev 4–22 are still yet to take place, including the seven years prophesied in Dan 9:24–27. The way that John describes it, however, is more segmented. Within these seven years, two witnesses prophesy for 1,260 days (Rev 11:3), and this time is followed by 42 months in which Jerusalem (“the holy city”) is trampled (Rev 11:2; cf. 12:6–see below). Just as 42 months is 3.5 years, so also is 1,260 days, 42 months of 30 days each. So, 1,260 days followed by 42 months is seven years.

John then describes again the second half of the seven years. Understanding the symbolism of Rev 12:1–6 to refer to national Israel, this second set of 3.5 years is described as another 1,260 days in which Israel is protected by the Lord from the wrath of Satan (Rev 12:6).

Comparing Rev 11 and 12 with Dan 9:24–27, we can describe their prophecies together. Israel makes a covenant with the Antichrist at the beginning of this final set of seven years. It lasts for 3.5 years until it is broken by the Antichrist. Empowered by Satan and angered at the reception of the gospel message of the two witnesses, the Antichrist seeks to destroy Jerusalem and Israel over the next 3.5 years. God protects His nation during this time.

We find yet another description of this final 3.5 years in Rev 12:14. “The woman” (i.e., Israel) will be protected “for a time, and times, and half a time.” Comparing these “times” to the passages above, each “time” is clearly equivalent to one year. One year (“a time”) plus two years (“times”) plus half a year (“half a time”) is 3.5 years, already mentioned earlier as 1,260 days (Rev 12:6).

This language of “times” is not new to John. In another prophecy in Daniel, Daniel saw the Antichrist as a great king who would arise from among many other kings (Dan 7:23–24). He would be blasphemous and pursue “the saints of the Most High,” i.e., Israelites who faithfully followed their God (Dan 7:25). This would take place “for a time, times, and half a time” (Dan 7:25), which John makes clear is 1,260 days (Rev 12:6, 15), 3.5 years, and the second half of Daniel’s seventieth set of seven years. Daniel describes the persecution of the saints, John describes the woman being hunted, and both speak of this period of chaos as a time, times, and half a time.

As in Dan 7:26, so also it is in Dan 9:27—the Antichrist will be punished. This punishment is the final event to take place at the end of these seven years. Christ will descend from heaven to destroy him once and for all (2 Thess 2:8, and Rev 19:20). 

A Summary with Some Hermeneutical Notes

While it takes a little bit of study and explanation, a comparison of several passages to one another can be understood to mark out this coming period as seven years (cf. Dan 7:24–27; 9:24–27; Rev 11:2; 12:6, 14). As mentioned above, there are some theological underpinnings that, if rejected, will lead one away from these conclusions altogether. Most significantly, if one sees the church as a spiritual Israel, then a number of details in these prophecies must somehow be “spiritually” interpreted. But Scripture itself pushes us away from some kind of “spiritual” interpretation of the prophecies above.  Consider the following from the passages above:

  • Even in Daniel, his years in Dan 9:24–27 had a literal correspondence to years in Jer 25:11–12 and 2 Chron 36:20–21 and did not signify something other than years. Dan 9:24–27 spoke of 490 years, a number that matched how many years Israel had forsaken the year of Jubilee. The final seven years are yet to come.
  • Just as the Antichrist is a literal person coming in the future, so also it makes sense to understand in a literal fashion the times, years, months, and days describing his activity on earth.
  • While both Daniel and Revelation admittedly enjoy a great deal of symbolism, it is typically clear when symbolism is taking place in their prophecies and that the symbolism has some point of contact with the literal details of a coming future reality (e.g., Dan 7:23–27 explains 7:1–12 in terms of kings; Rev 12:1, 3 lets us know that what is described is “a great sign” and “another sign”). Perhaps the most obvious example of this point is found in the Antichrist. Whereas Daniel and John describe him as a beast, horn, head, etc., he is also simply identified as a lawless man and the Antichrist in the epistles of Paul and John (e.g,. 2 Thess 2: 3–4, 8; 1 John 2:18).
  • This is the view of Jesus. Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 record His words of coming “tribulation” (Matt 24:9) and then “great tribulation (Matt 24:21) that lead to His final descent to conquer His enemies and establish His kingdom. His eschatological outline may not have as much detail as Daniel’s or John’s, but, as to these seven years, it does speak of “tribulation” and that the time becomes even worse, i.e., “great” Comparing Scripture to Scripture, a destroying king rises to power as Israel’s friend for 3.5 years, wreaking havoc in the world, only to become enraged, turn his back on the nation, and persecute anyone who follows Christ for the next 3.5 years, all by the power of Satan (Dan 9:24–27; 2 Thess 2:8–9; Rev 11–12). Even Jesus teaches that there is a coming time that goes from bad to worse and from tribulation to great tribulation.
  • At the end of the day, it is not so important that one believes in a literal seven years as it is for one to approach the Scripture with an intent to understand what was meant by the original authors and how it would have been understood by their original readers, prophecy included. But, I believe that if one does the latter, so also will one do the former.

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 6

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Paul has emphatically defended the reality of the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:20) and that His people will be made alive in Him (1 Cor 15:21–22). We now explore how Paul then elaborated on how the resurrection would take place in 1 Cor 15:23–24a. The resurrection involves three groups who are resurrected at three different times—the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers when Christ comes again, and the resurrection of unbelievers at the end of the age just before Christ hands the kingdom over to the Father. 

As we saw previously, the unstated verb in 1 Cor 15:23a is “made alive” (cf. 1 Cor 15:22). “But each in his own order” (1 Cor 15:23) could be understood as “But each shall be made alive in his own order.”

An “order” was first understood as “a clearly defined group… of an orderly arrangement of personnel” and was a technical term for groups of men within a military. It came to be used “without any special military application” as well, and Paul uses “order” with this understanding in 1 Cor 15:23 (BDAG). Though both “his own” (idios) and “order” (tagma) are neuter in gender, the gender of these terms does not leave room to define the last of the three orders as an event and not a person (or persons). “Each” is masculine in gender as a pronoun, and along with the prepositional phrase “in his own order,” it introduces how the resurrection of the whole of mankind may be divided into three orders. Though the third order, “the end” (1 Cor 15:24a), is debated as to whether it refers to people or an event, that the first two orders involve people suggests that the otherwise ambiguous designation “the end” involves people as well. They are the ones to be resurrected at “the end,” and if “Christ” and “those who belong to Christ” are already mentioned, those who are resurrected at the end do not belong to Christ and are therefore unbelievers.

The terminology of an “event,” however, is not altogether wrong. In designating each “order,” Paul also specifies the timing for when each of these orders are resurrected. Christ is “the firstfruits,” of the resurrection, believers are resurrected “at his coming,” and unbelievers are resurrected at “the end.”

We have already considered the meaning of “Christ the firstfruits.” He is the first to be resurrected, and believers will be “harvested” in the resurrection in time to come (1 Cor 15:21–22). Paul then uses compact and succinct language to describe the resurrection of the next two orders, and how to understand Paul’s descriptions has been variously debated. It is therefore necessary to examine the descriptions of these two orders in detail in the weeks ahead.

Discipling Younger Men: A Personal Testimony

Over the last three weeks, I dished out the meat and potatoes of what made for a workshop that I presented a conference near my church. (Click here if you’d like a PDF of the notes.)

I know I said it was a three-part series, but I thought it would be helpful to give a fourth part to color between the lines of what was given. What follows below is a recap of each of the ten principles that were given over the last couple of weeks, illustrated by a Paul/Timothy relationship that the Lord has given to me.

When studying for my presentation, I wrote this this section of notes last because I did not want to view my study of Scripture through the eyes of my own experience. After completing my study of Paul and Timothy and coming to my conclusions, I thought I’d look at my own life to see if these principles were true in my own life. I can say they were, and I hope the Lord uses me to repeat for others what I experienced as a Timothy with my own Paul.

  1. Be the kind of man that younger men would want to follow.

As a teenager, I remember listening to a pastor preach with passion at a camp where I was working as operational staff. He said what he meant, and meant what he said. I was always happy to follow that kind of preaching. I was actually away from the Lord at the time, but little did I know how the Lord would use his preaching in relation to future decisions I would have to make.

  1. Minister to the whole family.

Though we lived in another state, my father knew who this pastor was, and when given the opportunity as a Bible major in college to intern at his church one summer and then again for a long-term internship during seminary, my father heartily recommended me to go there. All I knew of his church at the time was that their preacher preached well and that they had two big blue and white buses that they sent every summer to the camp that I previously mentioned. When I had to figure out a church for an internship, I called his church thanks to a list of churches in my college’s ministerial office because it was the only church on the list that I knew anything about. My dad knew more, and my heavenly Father was directing it all.

  1. Be faithful over time to increase your opportunities for discipling younger men.

As this pastor was faithful in his ministry over time, the Lord unexpectedly opened the door for me to be under his leadership. His church and ministry had grown, making increased internship opportunities available to guys like me.

  1. Intentionally disciple young men who will respond to your discipleship.

Being a summer intern was one thing for a church to handle, but not everyone gets hired as long-term staff. When the opportunity arose for me to come back again while attending seminary, the pastor and the church kindly took me back, knowing my desire to be there and learn from him and the other pastors.

  1. Involve younger men in your ministry.

While I did not have the maturity to handle counseling and church issues myself, my pastor regularly took time to answer my many questions about some of the things he was facing and how he resolved situations. He involved me as much as my maturity allowed, which helps me as a pastor to this day.

  1. Show younger men Christian love.

Most guys are not quick to even say in some Christian way, “I love you,” but it is obvious when Christian affection is present. Time spent, counsel offered, patience with youthful zeal, and rebukes gently or indirectly given—these kindnesses and many others could be listed as to how I knew my pastor loved me in Christ.

  1. Once a younger man is responsible enough, give him tasks of his own.

I was given opportunities to preach, teach, and clean the toilets, among a hundred other things. I eventually became the Christian school’s dean of students and started dealing with parents. The church ordained me to be an assistant pastor. My pastor referred counseling situations to me on occasion. Receiving these tasks encouraged me to do well with what was placed before me.

  1. If necessary, encourage others to let the younger men serve.

I am sure there were more “give the kid a chance” conversations behind the scenes than I know about (and I’m certain that some took place). My pastor’s recommendation was key for me in coming to my present church. Many opportunities to minister would never have been had without his encouragement to others.

  1. Teach younger men the Word of God, encourage them to uphold it, and warn them of what happens should they fail.

We had men my age who had been at our church walk away from our circles at the least and from the faith at the most. In discussing those things with my pastor as they came up, it was the last thing I desired to ever have him even think that I would do one, let alone the other.

  1. Remember, younger men will disciple younger men just as you discipled them.

An assistant at my own church recently moved on, but while he was with us, I simply did with him for four years what my pastor had done with me. There’s typically not a week or two that go by in which my assistant does not text me about something he is doing in ministry or learning in seminary. I’m nobody special, but I invested in him, just like I was taught. It apparently made enough of an impact for him to still want to tell me about the exciting things that the Lord is doing in his life.

Conclusion

Without doubt, countless others invested in me, helping me to be the Christian I am today. I think of my own father, mother, and brothers who regularly admonished me through their example and their words. Pastors, teachers, friends, and others—who could count them all? Whatever may be said of my own life, at least remember what we’ve seen in the relationship between Paul and Timothy. As you are able, learn from them and disciple younger men!

More Principles for Discipling Younger Men

Note: This is part 3 of 3 of a series, “Discipling Younger Men.”

Last week, we looked at five principles for discipling younger men. Here are five more to end this brief look at how an older man can disciple younger men.

Teach younger men the Word of God, encourage them to uphold it, and warn them of what happens should they fail.

Paul bookended 1 Timothy with admonitions to Timothy to uphold the word of God, complete with warnings of those who had not done so and had rejected the faith (1 Tim 1:18–20; 6:20–21).

We might expect Paul to tell anyone these things and especially Timothy. But more than that, the references above include the use of Timothy’s name after Paul’s initial greeting (cf. 1 Tim 1:2). Paul made an emphatic personal point by calling Timothy out by name to heed his admonitions.

Don’t assume that conviction comes by osmosis. Sometimes a powerful, penetrating, and heartfelt admonition from an older, loving Christian man to a younger, teachable man will make an indelible mark on his soul. It may be that this admonition will be the very means God uses in encouraging the young man to persevere when he finds it difficult to serve.

Show younger men Christian love.

“My true child” (1 Tim 1:2), “my beloved child” (2 Tim 1:2), “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim 1:4)—these were not mere formalities. Paul loved Timothy deeply and let him know it. Timothy’s tears tell us that he deeply loved Paul as well (2 Tim 1:4).

Discipleship is not a rigid, scheduled thing to be communicated as a master to his pupil. The bond of Christ is a bond of love, and to pass the doctrine and practice of the faith to a younger man should naturally create a deep and lasting relationship. If you don’t communicate your Christian affection for those who are longing for it, they will gladly run to those who do.

Once a younger man is responsible enough, give him tasks of his own.

After being expelled from Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy to minister in his stead (1 Thess 3:2, 6 with Acts 17:14–15; 18:5). Paul sent Timothy to Corinth, knowing that they would be disappointed not to have Paul himself (1 Cor 16:8–11). Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to minister to a situation that involved false teachers and maybe even the discipline of elders (1 Tim 1:3–4; 5:19–20).

Sometimes we want everything to be done our own way, and so we do it ourselves. Not only does this mindset keep opportunities away from eager, young men who want to minister, but it also keeps people from receiving the ministry from these younger men. It may even quench their desire to serve, and when the time comes to hand a ministry over, the young men will have no desire to take the reins or may have left for other fields to labor. There may be some risk involved, but if carefully done, delegating and giving ministry to young men will multiply the work of Christ, giving God all the greater glory.

If necessary, encourage others to let the younger men serve.

Paul gave a firm word to Corinth to accept Timothy in his absence (1 Cor 16:10). His youth and simply not being Paul (who they really wanted to come) may have otherwise provoked his rejection.

While we do not want to be “lawnmower parents” to our spiritual children by removing every obstacle in their way, there are times where it may be helpful to step in and create opportunities for ministry through a word of recommendation. A sure word from an older Christian opens a door to ministry better than the word of the young man himself, which carries the risk of seeming self-serving.

Remember, younger men will disciple younger men just as you discipled them.

Paul selflessly served the church, and Timothy ended up loving people just like Paul did (Phil 2:19–22). He even shared Paul’s resolve, being willing to serve even if it meant going to prison (Heb 13:23; cf. 2 Tim 1:8).

If you do not disciple young men, they will not disciple young men, leaving every man unable to disciple anyone else—the exact opposite of how to obey 2 Tim 2:2. But, if you disciple young men well, Lord willing, they will disciple just the same.

Summary

Everyone needs a Paul, and we ourselves should grow from being a Timothy into being a Paul to others. Hopefully, these ten principles have been helpful, as I know they have been for me. May God bless you as men (and women) with a fruitful ministry of discipleship!