First Thessalonians 030 – Our Performance Appraisals

First Thessalonians 030 – Our Performance Appraisals
1 Thessalonians 5:23b-24 • Dr. Andy Woods • June 18, 2023 • First Thessalonians


First Thessalonians 030 – Our Performance Appraisals

1 Thessalonians 5:23b-24 – Dr. Andy Woods – June 18, 2023


Happy Father’s Day to you.  If you’ve ever had a father in your life, just raise your hand.  See, fathers are pretty important, amen.  Let’s start with a word of prayer.  Father, we’re grateful for this particular day.  This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  We’re thankful for the opportunity to gather and study Your truth.  I just pray that the fathers in our church and really around the country, around the world would feel affirmed today in the unique position that You have placed them in.  Help us as fathers to recognize the stewardship that You’ve entrusted to us.  And I do pray that You’ll be with us today as we teach your word Thessalonians in Sunday School and the book of Genesis in the main service that follows.  We are in desperate need of the illuminating ministry of the Spirit whereby we can understand the deeper things of God.  And so in preparation for that ministry we’re just going to take a few moments of silence to do personal confession to You.  Not to restore our position, which can never be lost, but rather to restore broken fellowship.  We as your people can sin against You.  We do understand doctrinally that we can’t lose our salvation, but we can fall out of fellowship with You, which inhibits the illuminating ministry of the Spirit.  So we’re going to just take a few moments privately to talk to you about that.

We remain thankful for the promise of 1 John 1:9[1], which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  We thank You Lord for Vacation Bible School that happened last week at this church and all of the wonderful things that took place during that time period.  We are eager for the report that we are going to receive about Vacation Bible School last week in the main service that follows.  And we are thankful Lord for the fact that, and we pray for, that you would take Your Word as it is taught today, as only you can do, and apply it to the deepest needs of the listener.  It’s impossible for a human teacher to fathom all of the needs that are out there in the hearts of the listener.  But You have the ability Lord, through illumination, to take the deep things of God and apply it to the heart.  And so we ask that You would do this great work today.  We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said amen.


Well, if you can take your Bibles and open them to the book of 1 Thessalonians 5:23.  Those of you watching online, we still have our VBS paraphernalia up, and it’s going to take a couple of weeks to get that down.  But I don’t know, I think it makes like a nice set.  What do you guys think?

So Paul, the apostle in the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians, has defended his apostolic credentials, and then when you get to 1 Thessalonians 4:1, when he says, “Finally then, brethren, …,” he’s now moving away from defending himself to correcting the Thessalonians.  So you can’t correct people if you don’t have any credibility.  His enemies, as we’ve talked about, had taken his reputation and dragged it right through the mud.  So he’s restored that reputation in Chapters 1-3, and now beginning in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 through the end of the book, he begins to apply practical correction.

So he’s dealt with, and you can see on the screen there the verse numbers, he’s dealt with immorality (4:1-8), laziness (4:9-12), and he gives a tremendous treatment of the end times (4:13–5:11), something that they misunderstood.  He deals with the rapture of the church, end of chapter 4, and then he talks about the day of the Lord, which will follow the rapture of the church.  You move down to 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 he’s dealt with basically ministry imbalances that were happening in Thessalonica.  He deals with their attitudes that they should have towards church leaders and one another.  He does that in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, and then he sort of concludes the letter by talking about practical sanctification (5:16-28).

In other words, how do you, once you’re born spiritually, how do you grow as a Christian, and how do you keep growing?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 he’s given three positive commands.  This is how you know you’re a growing Christian.

  1. Rejoice always (5:16)
  2. Pray without ceasing (5:17)
  3. Give thanks in all things (5:18)

Number one, you’re rejoicing always.  Number two, you’re praying without ceasing.  And number three, you’re giving thanks in all things.

And then in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, he gives three negative commands.  Here’s the things you don’t do if you’re a growing Christian.

  1. Do not quench the Spirit (5:19)
  2. Do not despise prophetic utterances (5:20-21)
  3. Abstain from evil (5:22)

You don’t quench the spirit, you don’t despise prophetic utterances, and then you abstain from evil.  So three positive commands, three negative commands, and by the time you finish that section, you say, “Wow, this is a hard saying.”  Who can do these things?  And Paul’s answer is, “You can’t do these things.”  If you’re trying to do these things for your own strength, you’re not going to succeed as a growing Christian.  You have to depend upon the divine enablement of the Spirit.


And he starts to talk about that divine enablement in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.  So if memory serves, we made it all the way through the first half of Verse 23 last time.  So let’s see if we can do Verse 23, Lord willing Verse 24, and see how far we get here.  So notice 1 Thessalonians 5:23.  “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body [we talked about what that meant last time] be preserved complete, …” and then he says here, “without blame …”

Preserved Complete Without Blame

So he wants us to be preserved complete without blame.  And you notice how the verse ends “… at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So this raises an interesting question.  I mean, if I’ve already been forgiven of my sins, past, present, and future, then why does he say he wants me to be preserved complete without blame?  I mean, “without blame” seems to indicate my sins really aren’t forgiven.

So what I think he’s opening the door here to is this idea that yes, our sins have been forgiven as Christians.  We are eternally secure.  However, there remains a judgment in your future, and he wants us to have a favorable ruling at that future judgment.

This future judgment is called the bema seat judgment of Christ.  It is not a judgment to determine heaven or hell.  That issue was resolved the moment we placed our personal faith in Christ alone for salvation.  It’s not a judgment where we are put through a fire, but our works as Christians are put through a fire.

And the interesting thing about a fire is that a fire reveals.  If something is wood, hay, or stubble, the fire will consume it.  If something is pure and costly stones, the only thing the fire can do is to preserve it.  It cannot destroy it.  And apparently, our lives as Christians, our works, are going to be put through this fire.  And whatever is finished after the fire finishes its consuming process, apparently is some sort of rewards that we receive above and beyond salvation.

This is why faithfulness in the Christian life matters.  Because a lot of people have the mindset that, “Oh, I’m saved.  I’m going to heaven.  So it really doesn’t matter how I live as a Christian.”  Well, it matters related to this particular judgment that I’m speaking of here, this judgment of rewards.

Rewards are such that they are capacities, as I understand it, to glorify God throughout all eternity.  Well, the book of Revelation says that when He is praised, we will cast our crowns before His feet.  When you cast your crown before His feet, you’re not trying to pay Jesus back because you can’t.  You’re not trying to earn salvation because you can’t.  But it is an ability to glorify God throughout the ages.

And if I’m understanding my Bible right, we cast our crowns before His feet not one time, but every time He’s praised in heaven, which I think would be a regular occurrence, don’t you?  And you have this reward that you’ve received at the bema seat judgment of Christ, and you’re perpetually casting it at His feet.

It’s the same reason Mary, you remember, broke the expensive alabaster and began to pour this expensive ointment on Christ.  I mean, she wasn’t doing it because she was trying to pay Him back or buy salvation.  She was doing it because she who is forgiven much loves much.  And that’s essentially what a reward is.  You have it in your hands, and you have the ability to magnify, worship, glorify Jesus throughout the ages.

And if I’m understanding my Bible correctly, some Christians will have a greater capacity to do that than others.  Because some will not fare well at the bema seat judgment of Christ, others will.  Everyone is in heaven.  Everyone’s happy to be there.  But some believers have a greater capacity to worship the Lord, magnify the Lord, glorify Him throughout the ages.

So, this is why the Apostle Paul talks here about being preserved without blame.  He’s not saying, oh no, you might go to hell.  That’s not what he’s saying.  What Paul is saying is I want you to be fully rewarded at the bema seat judgment.

1 John 2:28 puts it this way.  It says, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”

It’s obviously written to Christians because it says little children.  Little children abide in Him, remain in Him, because when He comes, you don’t want to sort of shrink back and feel foolish concerning how we misspent our lives in Christ.  I mean, we want to be living the right way under His power.  And as we do that, He will acknowledge that at the bema seat judgment of Christ.

1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

But wait a minute, I am already pure.  Yeah, you are pure positionally.  But the Lord says, “Let your practice catch up with your position.”  So that when He appears at the bema seat judgment, it’s not some kind of embarrassing thing.  Look at all these things the Lord has done for me.  And look at how I misspent and misallocated my life as a Christian.  Living for the world.  Living for the sin nature.  Living for things that really don’t stand the test of time.  Living for things that apparently pass through this fire and will be consumed in the fire.

So there’s a judgment in our future.  When will this judgment take place[2]?  We think it will take place subsequent to the rapture, where we are with the Lord in heaven in the Father’s house for seven years.  Following that seven-year time period as the tribulation period is manifesting itself on the earth below, we will return with the Lord Jesus Christ as His church to rule and reign.  And we are portrayed there as being rewarded and crowned.  And as we return to the earth, we’re given different degrees of authority over the earth under His delegated authority based on how our standing occurred at the bema seat judgment of Christ.

Faithfulness in the Christian life matters

So, faithfulness in the Christian life then matters.  It doesn’t matter in terms of eternal salvation, but it does matter in terms of differing degrees of reward and differing degrees of authority.  So, this is why the Apostle Paul is dealing with the Thessalonians on the issue of sexual immorality, laziness, ministry imbalances, you know, communicates the fact that he wants them to appear at the bema seat judgment without blame.  He wants them to be fully rewarded.

Four Judgements

When you study the doctrine of judgment in the future, based on the Scripture, what you’ll see is there’s four different judgments[3].  They’re not all one and the same, because they’re described differently.  Three of them have nothing to do with you, but one of them does.

Sheep and Goat Judgement and Judgment of the Jews (before the millennial kingdom)

Kind of moving from the left to the right, as you look at the left there, there’s the sheep and goat judgment, Matthew 25:31-46, and there’s the judgment of the Jews in the wilderness, Ezekiel 20:33-44, and that has nothing to do with you, because that’s survivors of the tribulation period.

People will survive the tribulation period.  And there has to be a determination among these survivors which ones are believers and which ones are unbelievers.  The believers will enter the millennial kingdom in mortal, non-resurrected bodies and repopulate the earth, and the unbelievers will be cast off the earth into Hades.

So when Matthew 24 is talking about one taken, the other left, and people want to read rapture teaching into that, that’s not what it’s dealing with at all when you put it in its context.  It’s dealing with those that survive the tribulation period.  Some are saved, some are not.  Those that are not at the end of the seven-year tribulation period will be taken into Hades, cast off the earth into judgment, and those not taken will enter the millennial kingdom in non-resurrected, non-glorified bodies and will begin to populate the earth.  So that’s the opposite of the rapture.  Here, being taken is bad.  Being left behind is good.

At the rapture of the church, which precedes the tribulation period, it’s the exact opposite.  It’s a good thing to be taken.  It’s a bad thing to be left behind.  That’s why the late Dr. Tim LaHaye called his series, that he produced on this, The Left Behind Series.  He’s dealing with the rapture there.  These judgments take place at least seven years after the rapture.

And if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, praise the Lord, you don’t have anything to do with those judgments because you’re with the Lord in heaven for seven years.

Great White Throne Judgement (after millennial kingdom)

And then as you go to the far right of the screen, there’s a horrible judgment and people ask me all the time, “Are we going to see this?” My only answer is, “I don’t know, but I sure hope not, because I don’t want to see this.”  It’s awful the way it’s described.  It’s in Revelation 20:11-15.  It’s a description of how unbelievers from all ages are summoned out of Hades, and they’re placed in resurrected bodies.  And this is happening after the millennial kingdom is over.  The other two that I mentioned are happening before the millennial kingdom starts.  This is happening after the millennial kingdom is over.

And as their names are not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, in other words, it’s demonstrated this judgment that they’ve never trusted in Christ for salvation, they are thrown one by one in resurrected bodies into a place where the beast and the false prophet already are.  They’ve been there for a thousand years into the lake of fire.

And as their name is not found written in the book, they’re judged by the books.  And you’ll see a description of this in what I consider to be some of the most terrifying verses in the Scripture.  Revelation 20:11-15.  You’re not in the book.  You’re not a Christian, so you’re judged by the books.  The books, I think, is a record of sins.

So just as there are differing degrees of reward in heaven, as I understand the Bible, there’s differing degrees of torment in the lake of fire.  And that’s what’s being ascertained there at the Great White Throne judgment.  Far right-hand side of the chart there.  So praise the Lord, if you’re a Christian, you have nothing to do with that judgment.

Bema Seat Judgment

So if you’re not in the sheep and goat judgment, and you’re not in the judgment of the Jews, and you’re not in the Great White Throne judgment, then what judgment concerns you?  It’s the bema seat, which is the second from the right there.  I guess it would be third from the right, wouldn’t it?  I’m getting my rights and lefts mixed up.  Just go to the far right and come this way.  One.  There we go.  How’s that?  And you’ll see the bema seat judgment.

Now that does concern you.  A lot of theologians, it’s very sad to watch this, they use what’s called the ram jam and cram method of interpretation.  They just jam it all together and make it sound like it’s all one event at the end.  The Bible will not allow you to do that if you care about details.  The more you’re committed to a literal interpretation of the whole Bible, the more you’ll see these judgments are separate.

But there’s a big voice today within Christendom that says, “You guys at Sugar Land Bible Church and other churches are just too literal with prophecy, and it’s much easier just to make it one big judgment at the end.”  I agree it’s much easier to do that, but that’s not what the Bible says.

So the judgment I’m speaking of here that does concern you is the bema seat judgment.

  • It happens in heaven, and
  • It’s only for the church-age believer.
  • It happens after the rapture, and
  • It is a judgment not of heaven or hell,
  • But it’s a judgment of rewards where your works, not you, are judged,
  • But your works are taken through a fire.
  • And whatever finishes, whatever is left after the fire finishes consuming is some kind of reward that we receive above and beyond salvation.

So this is a judgment that is mandatory.  You cannot get a note from your doctor and get an exemption.  Paul writing to the church says 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must,” see that?  It’s not optional.  “We must all,” everyone in the church, everyone that’s part of the body of Christ, that’s trusted in Christ from the day of Pentecost until the rapture, part of that body.

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one …” you see that there?  You’re not going to show up as a group.  You’re not going to get a group score.  Hey, Sugar Land Bible Church, A- kind of thing.  It’s individual.

“… so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body …”  What does that mean, “deeds in the body”?  It means deeds I’ve done post-salvation.  I mean, how have I really been living for Jesus?  Have I been trying to fulfill the Christian life through my own power?  Or have I been relying upon His resources for daily living?  What’s my motive for service?  See, all these things come out at the bema seat judgment.

“… so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  It’s not like the Lord is going to start punishing you right then and there because you lived the wrong way as a Christian.  It’s just you look at your life and you see the fire consuming a lot of it and it is sort of embarrassing.  There’s a moment I think of sorrow.

You know, it’s a lot like graduating from high school.  You know, I graduated from high school back in 1985.  I majored in basketball basically, which is code for I really could have tried harder and done better.  And so you’re very, very happy to be graduated.  In fact, my high school is named Los Alamitos.  We used to call it Los Alcatraz.  You know, when are we going to get out of here kind of thing?  And you’re just really happy to be, have been graduated and move on, but at the same time you see other people that worked hard, applied themselves, you see them receiving all of these different rewards at awards banquets, and you say to yourself, you know, if I just applied myself a little bit, I could have been one of those fully rewarded.  But at the end of the day, I’m not going to sit in sorrow over a loss of rewards.  I’m just glad to be out of Los Alcatraz kind of thing.

That’s sort of what the bema seat judgment is like.  I mean, you’re in heaven and you’re just thrilled to death, but you have this moment of sort of regret where what could have been in my earthly life had I lived it on God’s terms rather than my terms as a Christian?  I could have been one of those that are glorifying God to the maximum throughout all eternity.

So this is what’s determined at this bema seat judgment of Christ, and it’s mandatory.  and it’s individual.

Paul the Apostle when he writes to the Romans, a church-age letter, says, “For we will,” in other words it’s not optional, this is going to happen, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”  Romans 14:10, Romans 14:12, “So that each one,” see how individual this is, “will receive,” or excuse me, “will give an account of himself to God.”

1 Corinthian 3:10-15

Probably the area of Scripture that most vividly describes this is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, It says, “According to the grace of God, which was given to me like a wise master builder, I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. …”  So the foundation has been laid because Christ is in your life.  You’re saved.

But notice what he says there in Verse 10, “… But each man …” see the individuality of it, “each man must be careful how he builds on it.”  So in other words, I can live for Christ as a Christian some days, but not other days.  You know, the foundation is there.  Every day of my life I can build with stones, gold, silver, and costly stones, which are non-combustible, or I can build with wood, hay, and stubble, doing fleshly, ill-motivated things.

Verse 11, and I need to be careful how I’m building, because Jesus is taking notice.  And it’s all going to come out at the bema seat judgment of Christ.

See, this is the response to the argument that because we teach eternal security, that we don’t care how people live.  Because the moment you tell someone, “I believe once saved, always saved,” which we think is the correct doctrine, is the moment you’re going to hear all this criticism about, “You don’t really care how people live then as a Christian.  You’ve got your fire insurance paid up and it doesn’t matter.”

I’m trying to explain to you why it does matter.  And people that lob that criticism against us really don’t take the time to listen to what we’re actually saying.  Verse 11, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  So the foundation is laid.  You’re a Christian.

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble, …” and I’m not entirely sure every time I put up this slide, for whatever reason, Verse 13 didn’t get in there.  We really want everything God says, right?

Verse 12, “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, ” Verse 13, which you don’t see up there, “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”  What’s being tested here is my post-Christian salvation life, not my salvation itself.

And the only thing that’s really going to bring it into focus and reveal it for what it is, is fire.  Because fire, it either destroys, if it’s wood, hay and stubble, or it purifies, if it’s gold, silver and costly stones.

Going down to Verse 14, it says, “If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.”  That’s why I ought to be interested in this doctrine.  Because I’ve got something in my hand, like Mary did, to glorify Jesus throughout the ages.  Not to pay Him back, not to buy some salvation from Him, but out of sort of a worshipful thankfulness.

And it would be somewhat embarrassing to get to your hands, get to my hands, and there’s nothing in them because we wasted our lives in Christ by pursuing things that really aren’t going to stand the test of the fire at the end of the day.

You go down to Verse 15, and it says, “If any man’s work is burned up, …”  See, this is what he’s warning against.  He’s warning against people that get there, they’re in heaven, but they smell the smoke on their garments.  That’s what he’s warning against.  “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; …”  Now, it doesn’t say punishment.  It doesn’t say retribution.  It’s just there’s remorse, and I don’t know how long the remorse lasts for.  But it’s there, apparently, at some point.  Because you look back at your Christian life and you just say, “What a waste.”

“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, …”  He’s still in heaven, in other words.  “… yet is through fire.”

Calvinism / Not persevering / not a Christian

Now, there’s a couple of doctrines in Christianity today, they’ve been in Christianity for the last 500 years.  One is called Calvinism.  The other is called Arminianism.  Calvinism says if you’re a Christian, you’re automatically going to persevere in good works, and if you’re not persevering in good works, you’re not a Christian.  Calvinists, to a person, almost don’t know that Verse 15 is in the Bible.

In fact, in my seminary days, I got into a really long conversation with a Calvinist who was of this persuasion that if you’re saved, you’re going to persevere always.  And if you’re not persevering, you were never saved to begin with.  And finally I said, well, what do you do with Verse 15?  In fact, I said, can you just read Verse 15 to me?  Because you have the same Bible I have, right?  It’s in your Bible too.  And he read it and he was almost in shock that it was in there.  Because he had bought into a system which basically said we all persevere equally.  That’s not what the Bible says.  It clearly talks about someone whose work is burned up, yet they’re saved.

Arminianism / Not persevering / Lost your salvation

The Arminian system says if you’re not persevering, then you lost your salvation.  See the difference?  You lost it.  Calvinism says you never had it.  But both are teaching the same thing.

They’re denying the reality of this person that suffers loss, yet is saved as through fire.  So there’s a lot of prophecy books out there.  Some of them are written by Calvinists.  There’s John MacArthur.  You know him.  And he has a lot of good things to say on prophecy.  He’s a dispensationalist, like we are.  He believes in the rapture, believes in the future kingdom.  But when you actually look at what John MacArthur teaches about the bema seat, and if you look at people that have been influenced by John MacArthur, and you look at what they teach about the bema seat, it’s almost like they just gloss over it.  It’s almost a very neglected doctrine.  It’s given really shallow treatment.  And the reason it’s given really shallow treatment is because of their Calvinistic system that every Christian perseveres.  So what is the bema seat?  It’s just like everybody gets a ribbon for participating.

But that’s not what it says.  It doesn’t say everyone gets a ribbon or a trophy for participation.  I mean it clearly talks about it as clearly as it could be seen.  Some are saved, yet suffer loss.

This is why this topic comes out to the church at Corinth, because this was a messed-up church.  Chapter 1-3, they’re divided over their favorite teachers.  Actually chapters 1-4, they’re divided over their favorite speakers.  Chapter 5, they’re committing incest.  That’s so bad that the pagans don’t even act like this.  Chapter 6, they’re suing each other in front of pagan courts.  What’s the unbeliever supposed to think when the Christians are suing each other?  When Jesus said, “”By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35)

They’re visiting temple prostitutes going into these pagan temples and there’s archaeological remains of them in Corinth.  I’ve been to Corinth, I think, two or three times, and the archaeology completely supports what Paul was talking about here where they’re actually having these sexual immoral experiences with pagan prostitutes, really, and calling it spirituality.  That’s Chapter 6.  Chapter 7, there’s a major divorce and remarriage problem.  Chapters 8-10, they are the stronger, those that ought to know better, are flaunting their freedom in the presence of the weaker and destroying the weaker brethren.  Chapter 11, they are drunk and disorderly at the Lord’s table.  Can you imagine coming to the Lord’s table inebriated?

Chapters 12-14, they are all messed up with spiritual gifts.  They are putting people that speak in tongues, so-called tongues with no interpretation, on a pedestal.  And Paul says, don’t you understand that when unsaved people come in here and see that, they are going to think you are half crazy?  Chapter 15, they are denying resurrection.  I mean, how low can you go?  Paul says, if you deny resurrection, then not even Jesus has been raised.  And if Jesus hasn’t been raised, our faith is in vain.

So, I mean, how would you like to pastor that church?  First Corinthians, Ray Stedman called it First Californians, basically.  The spirit of the world had just come into the church.  And it’s a fascinating book because Paul, not one single time, not one time, says, “Y’all lost your salvation.”  And not a single time does he ever say, “Well, I guess y’all were never saved, because you wouldn’t be acting like this if you were.”  In fact, he says, “When you do this, you’re bringing the Holy Spirit into the sin.”  Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Where is that?  1 Corinthians 6:9, right in there.  Well, if they’re saved and they’re going to heaven, what does it matter?

Because you’re going to lose rewards at the bema seat.  That’s why it matters.  So that is the basis for Paul trying to get this church to act according to who it is positionally.  He’s using the bema seat as a motivational device.  That’s the power of this doctrine of rewards.

If you’re sitting in a church that’s Arminian or Calvinistic, you’ll never hear teaching like this.  Because they think it’s a theological impossibility.  But if you just read what 1 Corinthians says, there it is in the scripture.  It doesn’t matter what your favorite theology is and who your favorite preachers are.  The issue is what does the Bible say?  The Bible warns against this.

And so when you start to understand this, you start to understand going back to, let’s see, what book were we studying?  1 Thessalonians.  You start to understand what he’s talking about when he says, I want you to be preserved without blame.  I want you to be fully rewarded at the bema seat judgment of Christ.

It’s not a doctrine he gets into extensively in 1 Thessalonians, but he sure will have a lot to say about it in 1 Corinthians.  And John, who will write later on towards the end of the first century, in 1 John 2:28, 1 John 3:2-3, is going to have a lot to say about it as well.

So why talk about sexual immorality to the Thessalonians?  Why talk about laziness?  Why talk about ministry imbalances?  Because he wants them to grow.  And beyond wanting them to grow, he wants them to be fully rewarded at the bema seat judgment of Christ.

Verse 23, ” Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame … ”  And notice that last expression there in verse 23, “… at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus is coming back

One of the things that we noted when we started 1 Thessalonians is some unique characteristics.  And one of the unique characteristics[4] which you see there at the first bullet point is every chapter ends with a reference to the return of Christ, every single chapter.  The dominant thought on Paul’s mind as he’s writing this letter and 2 Thessalonians is Jesus is coming back.

Now you’re going to have to keep that in mind because we’re going to move, not today, but eventually we’re going to move into 2 Thessalonians.  And we’re going to be getting to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, which says, “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the departure …” some translate that as apostasy, but departure is better, “the departure comes first …”  What I’m going to discover is there’s two ways to handle that word “departure.”  It’s either a doctrinal departure of some kind, that comes first, or there’s a physical departure.  That comes first.

People are very, very angry about this, they’re very, very upset about it, and I’m going to try to make the case that the departure is the physical departure of the church.  And the reason they’re upset about it is if that interpretation is correct, the departure comes first.  The rapture of the church comes first.  In other words, there’s nothing left to argue about concerning the timing of the rapture, because the departure comes first.  And what people say is, “No, no, that’s not a physical departure.  That’s just a doctrinal departure.”

And I want you to understand that that is not the case here, because that’s not what’s on Paul’s mind.  The two Thessalonian letters are written back-to-back.  They’re both written within probably six months of each other.  From the same place in AD 51, and the dominant thought on Paul’s mind is Jesus is coming back.  The dominant thought on his mind, and this would be 1 Thessalonians, letter 2 of 13, 2 Thessalonians, letter 3 of 13, the dominant thought on Paul’s mind that early on in his ministry is not the doctrinal departure of the church.  It is the return of Jesus.

Well, then you don’t care about the doctrinal departure of the church.  Yes, I do.  Because Paul gets into that later.  Probably over 10 years past.  And it’s not until you get to about AD 64, 1 Timothy, AD 66, 2 Timothy, that he starts warning about the doctrinal defection of the church.  He does warn about it, but not this early.  See the difference?  He’ll talk about it later.

This early in his ministry, he’s talking about Jesus is coming back.  So therefore, when we interpret 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as a physical departure, you’re completely in harmony with Paul’s thought flow.  If you jam into it, doctrinal departure of the church, you’re jamming into these early letters something that Paul will deal with later, over 10 years later, almost 20 years later quite frankly, but not here.

So this is why I point out the fact that every single chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with Jesus is coming back.  When you understand that, it helps you understand the debate about the departure in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 which we will have a lot to say on, if we get there before Jesus comes back.  Every time you get to the end of 1 Thessalonians, every chapter, Paul says Jesus is coming back.

Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:10.  How does he end chapter 1?  “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”  That’s how he ends Chapter 1.

How does he end Chapter 2?  Look at 1 Thessalonians 2:19.  It says, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?”

Look at the end of Chapter 3.  1 Thessalonians 3:13 says, “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

Now, I hope by now you know how Chapter 4 ends.  That’s the rapture, right?  “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”  (1 Thess 4:13-18)  That’s how it ends Chapter 4.

How does he end Chapter 5?  We just read it, didn’t we?  1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “… body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He’s not talking about the departure of the church doctrinally in His ministry.  So if you’re going to take apostasy as some sort of doctrinal defection, you’re forcing Paul to deal with a subject that he’s not dealing with here, which he will deal with later in his ministry.

I’m not sure what the problem is with our pre-tribulational camp, but there are certain very, very popular pre-tribulationalists, if I called out their name, you’d all know them, that are just set in stone that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 nothing to do with the rapture.  And I don’t fully understand the mindset other than they’ve already written books and given lectures on the doctrinal departure of the church.  And they all quote 2 Thessalonians 2:  3, and I think they think if we take that verse away from them, that somehow it undermines their work, and somehow, we don’t believe in the doctrinal defection of the church.  I think that’s what they think.

And I’m here to tell you that I believe in the doctrinal defection of the church.  I’ve preached whole messages on how the church, as you get to the end of the age, will start to run off the rails.  But I don’t get that teaching from here.  I get that teaching from latter Paul, not early Paul.

So one of the things to understand is to not, as you’re reading the Bible, not to jam your own meanings into words, but to support the theme verse for your favorite conference or book.  That’s not how you read the Bible.  You put yourself in the shoes of the original audience that received this and try to figure out what did the author say to that audience.  And when you’re forcing the author to deal with something that he’s not dealing with, even though other parts of the Bible may deal with it, you’re really not interpreting the Bible correctly. 

So what is on Paul’s mind this early in his ministry?  Jesus is coming back.  He says that five times at the end of each chapter.  And I think that’s how to understandst2 Thessalonians 2:3a.  More on that later, Lord willing.

Well look at this, we made it out of verse 23.  I just want to read Verse 23 one more time.  I love it so much.  Do you guys’ mind if I do that?  Now, you feel like you’re saying goodbye to a close friend when you are enmeshed in something and suddenly, you’re moving on.  “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 – Your arrival in glory as if it already transpired

Verse 24, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”  Something to understand about God is He is trustworthy 100% of the time.  100% of the time.  And He has made you a promise that you’re on a fast track to glory.  Your glorification is not an issue.  Your standing at the bema seat judgment is an issue, but not your glorification.  Paul in the book of Romans 8:29-30 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Every phase of your salvation is presented as if it’s already happened, including the parts of your salvation that haven’t been executed yet, your arrival in heaven.  It’s a done deal.  In fact, it’s so certain that God talks about it as if it already happened.

Now, how could that be?  How could I believe something like this?  You can believe it when you understand that it rides on Jesus.  If you think it rides on your own shoulders, yeah, you could have a lot of doubts.  But if you understand what Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), you can understand that it rides on His shoulders, not mine.  Therefore, God talks about my arrival in glory as if it already transpired.

It’s like when God sent out the Israelites there in the book of Joshua to conquer Jericho.  He told Joshua, oh, Joshua, you already won.  The battle’s already won.  But wait a minute.  We haven’t fought yet.  That doesn’t matter.  You’re in my plan, the battle’s already won.  That’s how you look at glorification.  It’s already a done deal.

Now, you can sit and fret about it and wonder if you’re going to make it, but you’re living beneath your privileges if you do that.  Because God looks at you as if you’ve already been glorified.  Even though currently you’re not glorified.  And I can testify to you as I’m looking at you, you guys don’t really look all that glorified.  But God looks at you as if you’re already glorified because it rests completely on the shoulders of Jesus.  That’s why it says here, “Faithful is he who has called you.”

Remember Philippians 1:6?  “For I am confident of this very thing, …”  Are you confident of something in your life?  Because there’s not a lot of confidence going on in our world.  People are unconfident about their futures, unconfident about their finances.  And yet here’s something you can be confident in.  “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will [what?] perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

What God starts He finishes.  It’s not like my house where you have a lot of incomplete projects laying around.  I’ll read part of a book and get bored with it and put it down.  There’s a honey-do list.  It’s like 25% done.

That’s not how the Lord works.  The Lord completes what He finishes.  He saved you via justification.  Your arrival in glory is absolutely certain.  1 Thessalonians 5:24 “… He also will bring it to pass.”

Now, think about this for a minute.  If He already gave you everything that you need to be justified and ultimately glorified, will He not also give you everything you need to grow?  I mean, this scenario here doesn’t make any sense.  Oh, I saved you, and you’re on your way to glory.  But as for growth, you’re on your own now.  That doesn’t make any sense.

The truth of the matter is, everything that we need to grow has been provided.  It’s just a matter of me accessing it by way of faith and knowledge of the Scripture.  Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

The truth of the matter is if we’re not growing as Christians, you can’t blame God for it.  Because you’re justified, your glorification is 100% certain, and everything you need to grow as a Christian has been provided.  If I’m not growing as a Christian, it must mean that I’m turning down the work of the pediatrician who doesn’t just want me to be born, but he wants me to grow.

This is Paul’s point to the Galatians in Galatians 3:3.  “Are you so foolish? …”  Wow, you mean God calls people foolish?  You mean God calls His own children foolish?  That raises a great question.  What makes me foolish before God?  Here’s the answer.  “… Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

In other words, He gave you everything you need to be justified.  He’s given you everything you need to be fast-tracked into glory.  He’s given you everything you need to grow.  The foolishness of the Christian is thinking that we can somehow grow through our own power.  That’s the foolishness of the Christian.

That’s the person that’s not rewarded fully at the bema seat judgment.  So 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”

Next time I’m with you, which will not be next week, because we’re going on the youth rafting trip, and I decided to join the youth group for the trip.  So I will not be here next week.  Pastor Jim will be teaching Sunday School and the main sermon next week.  And then the following week is 4th of July, and I usually get a little crazy on 4th of July.  So we’ll probably do something patriotic.  So if you don’t think a pastor should have anything to say about the modern culture, you might want to skip that Sunday.

But the Sunday after that, we’ll be finishing this up, and of course, you guys are laughing again because I’ve been saying that for about three years now, where Paul will conclude by giving three personal requests.  Pray, greet the brethren, and read the letter aloud in the church.  And that will be concluded with Verse 28, which is a benediction.  So we’re almost finished with 1 Thessalonians, but we’re not quite.  Amen?

Let’s pray.  Father, we’re grateful for Your Word, grateful for Your truth.  Help us to walk these things out as we yield to Your resources moment by moment and become growing Christians that can be fully rewarded at the bema seat judgment of rewards.  We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said amen.

[1] “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. 1995. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

[2] See chart Prophecy Panorama at minute mark 15:44,

[3] See chart Scripture’s Four Judgements, at minute mark 17:14,

[4] See chart Unique Characteristics at minute mark 43:08,