Our Glorious Hope

I’ll never forget my first introduction to Christ’s second coming. It was at a youth rally and I was probably a little older than James at the time. At the youth rally they showed the film “A Thief in the Night.” I remembered seeing clips of it on television. Several years later, probably at youth camp the film was shown again. I know that it frightened me even as a Christian. Last week I said the beauty of preaching a series through a book is that you have to take it as it comes. This morning is no exception. I’ve never considered myself an expert on the second coming. There are those who do consider themselves experts and they have all kinds of charts and can proof-text their way through the Bible to make it all fit together. By the way, I have great difficulty with those who like to take the scriptures like this and try to put them together like it is a great big jigsaw puzzle. It is very dangerous to do that. This morning is not one of those types of messages. We want to take a look at what Paul writes about the second coming of our Lord.
Just a few moments ago we read a good portion of the text responsively. What was the purpose of Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica? It was to encourage the believers there and to fill in the gaps in the teaching that the missionary team did not get to take care of while they were there. The return of Christ is a concern for the church. The Greek word for Christ’s return is parousia. William Barclay explains it as the arrival of an emperor, a king, a governor or famous person into a town or province. There are some practical implications. If you are going to be visited by a VIP, you need to get ready for his visit. The coming of a king demands that all things must be ready — if such is true in the physical world, how much more so in the spiritual world. To participate in the celebration for the parousia of the King of Kings, even as one among multitudes in the welcoming crowd, would be an exhilarating experience, and just the beginning of the eternal celebration of his presence – which the word parousia basically means.
This is the glorious hope that we all have as brothers and sisters in Christ. This becomes the background of our message this morning. The believers at Thessalonica were concerned about those who had died since Paul had visited there. They were concerned that those who have died would not participate in the grand celebration of the return of the King of Kings. Paul tells us in verse 13, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (or literally die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” So Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians not to grieve for those who have already died in Christ. They will not be left out of the celebration. Paul says that they have a hope, unlike the pagan culture around them. Inscriptions on tombs and references in literature show that first-century pagans viewed death with horror, as the end of everything. Paul even reassures us this morning that death is not the end. We could even say that death is only the beginning, because we have a glorious hope of being resurrected with Christ.
Paul goes on the to describe what is going to happen. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of (an) archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This particular passage is the only time in the New Testament that the world “rapture” is clearly referenced and it comes from the Latin Vulgate rendering (the first Latin translation.) While I was working on this sermon, I did some research on this. It was interesting to note that many who believe in the “rapture” of the church, believe it will be a silent rapture. Let’s take a look at the scripture. First the Lord will come down. It’s interesting to note that this event is important enough that the Lord himself will come. He will not send a representative from heaven but he himself will descend from heaven. Then there is a loud command. The word used in the Greek is used for a charioteer urging his horses. This is not a silent command. Second, there is a shout of an archangel. Third, there is the trumpet of God. This is not the first time a trumpet is used when God manifests his powerful presence. The text does not indicate whether these are one or three separate “sound effects,” but in any case when the Lord returns it appears the whole world will know. This will not be a silent occasion.
It is also interesting to note that this scripture tells us nothing of the unbelievers or those not in Christ. Paul only addresses the Thessalonians current concerns. So, as least in the words of Paul to the church is what is important. The Lord will come, with a loud shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God; the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those of us who are alive in Christ second. We will gather in the clouds (which by the way is symbolic of God’s eternal presence.) At that point we will be with the Lord forever. Paul tells the church to encourage one another with these words.
However, Paul is not finished in his teaching. In a classic example of a bad division of chapters, Paul continues, “Now brothers (and sisters) about the times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Allow me a point of personal privilege here. I wholeheartedly agree with Paul’s teaching here, I believe that there are far too many “prophets” out there who spend there time looking for signs of the second coming of Christ. There are far too many Christians trying to figure out when Christ is coming. Paul says don’t worry about it, because it’s coming like a thief in the night. Jesus said, “Keep watch and pray, because if we knew when the thief was coming we would have been ready for him.” Jesus coming will be like labor pains. He will come suddenly and without warning. Those who are not ready will not be able to escape.
Paul is encouraging the brothers and sisters to be ready for the coming of the Lord. How do they do that? He says they are not in darkness. This is a classic metaphor that John uses. Living as children or sons of light vs. living as children of the dark. We do not belong to the darkness, so (echoing last week’s message) we should live as children of light, sanctified (set apart) for God’s use, living the life that he has called us to live. Now in verse 6, Paul uses the word asleep in a different way. Let us not be like other who are asleep (in the dark), but let us be alert and self-controlled. This is really a continuation of the thought started in chapter 4. What happens to those who are asleep? They sleep at night and he takes it one step further. He equates being in the dark to being drunk. (Those who get drunk get drunk at night). He writes that we belong to the day. Think about this. Jesus Christ is coming as a thief in the night and we need to be ready at all times. Depending on the person, it is easy to rouse them from sleep, but a drunk person is even more difficult. Once I had to rouse a drunk person and it took ten to fifteen minutes until he was coherent enough even to have an incoherent conversation. Matter of fact his car that he was in was parked on the shoulder of the wrong side of the road facing oncoming traffic with his lights on but his motor off. I knocked on the window for a good five minutes to wake him. He had fallen asleep drunk in his car in front of our last church. At first I thought he was dead, because his french fries were still in his hand.
Paul tells us to be alert, (not like this guy I just told you about.) You could also add to be alert and sober. There are some Christians who are not ready; they are not alert and sober to the Christ who is coming back again. He also tells us to be self-controlled (where have we heard that lately?)
Besides being alert, sober, and self-controlled, he tells us to put on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. Warren Woolsey writes, “Faith and love as a breastplate will protect vital organs, heart and lungs. The hope of salvation as a helmet, protecting the head is the climatic position. Hope is especially appropriate in a context of waiting for the Second Coming.
Christ brought us salvation, through his death on the cross, verse 10. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (dead) we may live together with him. Christ’s atoning death for us and our union with Him by faith. Paul returns to the metaphor of awake and sleep as it refers to life and death and reassures his congregation that whether alive or deceased, that those in Christ will have forever fellowship with him.
So what? So Jesus is coming again. So Jesus is coming again for those who have died in Christ and coming again for those who are alive in Christ. So what? What difference does it make?
It makes a difference in the way we live. We must live to please God in all areas of our life. Now I know some of you are going to think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but nothing is of more importance in our Christian life. We MUST live to please God at all times, because he is coming back and we don’t know when. I don’t care what’s happening around the world, because if Jesus’ return was imminent in the First Century, how much more closer is his return today. Are you living a life that is pleasing to God? Would he come and return for you today? We never know when he is coming back. Are you ready?
If you are, do as Paul commands us in verse 11. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s