Last week we looked at the concluding verses of 1 Thessalonians 4. In that passage we were reminded that this life is not all there is. Not only will we go to be with Christ when we die, He is coming again to earth to occupy His rightful place as the ruler over all creation. Some of us may not die . . . we will be caught up together with Christ as He comes.
There is a great deal you can learn about the Second Coming. The book of Revelation tells us about The Great Tribulation (God’s time of Judgment on the earth); the Millennium (a period of 1000 years (that are either literal of symbolic) when Christ will reign on the earth). You can read about the Battle of Armageddon, a battle where the forces of our Lord and the forces of evil will finally clash, and the Lord will claim the victory. Most of all you can read about the wonders of Heaven. We are certainly not exhausting what can be known about the Second Coming of Jesus in our study.
William Barclay notes,
To the Jew all time was divided into two ages. There was this present age, which was wholly and incurably bad. There was the age to come, which would be the golden age of God. In between there was the Day of the Lord, which would be a terrible day. It would be a day in which one world was shattered and another was born.
It is this “Day of the Lord” that Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. The Day of the Lord will be a time of Judgment. The Bible indicates that there will be two separate judgments. One Judgment, the Great White Throne Judgment is for all those who have not truly turned to Christ. They will be shown clearly from the things they did, why they deserve eternal punishment. No one will dispute God’s justice. Some of these people may be good church-going people who never really surrendered their lives to Christ.
The other Judgment is for believers. This is referred to as the Judgment Seat or the Bema Judgment. (“bema” is the word for Judgment in 2 Corinthians 5:10 it is the Greek word for tribunal where the Roman Judges sat to render verdicts). Paul tells us
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
This judgment of believers will not be to determine whether or not we go to Heaven. That was decided when we truly put our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We will be judged on how faithfully we followed the Lord as believers. Primarily this will be a time when our Lord hands out some kind of rewards faithful discipleship. It is at this point where we all hope to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
I mention all this to set up what Paul is saying in our text this morning. The truth about the Second Coming should influence the way we live. First, however, Paul gives a caution.
WE SHOULD NOT BE PREOCCUPIED WITH DATES
In Matthew 24 Jesus talked about the future “Day of the Lord” when He would return. Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mt. 24:36).
Paul reminded the Thessalonians that the one thing we know for sure is that the Second Coming will take everyone by surprise. It will be like a “thief in the night”. Charles Schultz (of Peanuts fame) said, “Don’t worry about the Second Coming being today…it’s already tomorrow in Australia.”
But why didn’t God give us a timetable? I would not presume to speak on the Lord’s motivations. However, from a human perspective it isn’t hard to see the wisdom of this secrecy. If we knew WHEN the Lord would return at least four possible things could happen. First, there would be all kinds of foolishness. We have seen this in the example of several of the groups that believed they knew when the Second Coming would take place. They sold their businesses and their homes (did they think they were going to take the money with them?) Some people might quickly get married, quit school or their jobs. Some might make an expensive purchase they could never pay off. People would become reckless.
Second, knowing a specific date might lead to laziness. Think back to when you were in school. You knew at the beginning of the school year that you had a paper due at the end of the semester. You certainly should have been working on the paper all semester long . . . but did you do that? No. You probably waited until the very last minute. If we knew when Christ were coming in twenty years we would have a tendency to ignore our responsibilities before the Lord and perhaps “cram” at the end. We would hurry to confess our sin and try to do good things. We would be like the family who lives like pigs while mom is gone and then works real hard the day before she returns to get the house back into order.
Third, there would be the danger of exploitation. It doesn’t matter what the circumstance, there are going to people who try to profit from that experience. The same would be true if we knew the date of the Second Coming. There would be t-shirts, books, conferences, someone would inevitably market a “Second Coming Survival kit” and some non-Christian would probably try to sue God to get a restraining order to keep Him from making His judgment!
Fourth, there would also be the danger of obsessing over the date. If we knew the date of the Second coming we could become so preoccupied with it that we would be useless in the present. We have all met people who obsessed over certain things: a wedding, a birth, retirement, a vacation, and of course our children. You can’t have a conversation with these people without the subject coming up. What happens is that you start dreading talking to these people. It would be great for people to be this enthused about the return of Christ, but not if it pushed people away from the gospel.
Knowing the time and date of the Second Coming of Christ would do us more harm than good. Having told us not to fixate on the details of Christ’s Second Coming, Paul points to two different responses to the promise of Christ’s return.
RESPONSE #1: Indifference
4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
Paul identified two kinds of people in the world: those who ignore the reality of Christ’s return and the Judgment that follows; and those who let the reality of that future day spur them on in the present.
In talking about those who are indifferent, Paul uses three metaphors or word pictures for these people. First he said they are “in the darkness”. Darkness is a familiar Biblical metaphor for being away from God. To be walking with the Lord is to “walk in the Light”. It’s a good picture for a number of reasons.
When we are in the darkness we lose our sense of direction. We can become very disoriented. Things that were clear in the daylight (like driveways and roads) are difficult to see at night. We are vulnerable to danger because we can’t see obstacles clearly before us (more deer are hit at night because you have less warning). This picture of being lost, disoriented and vulnerable is a good description of our present society.
The second metaphor is that of a being asleep. Earlier Paul likened death to sleep. When we are asleep we are helpless. When we are asleep someone can sneak up on us without us even knowing it. Back in the days at summer camp, a sleeping person was one who was very vulnerable. They might wake up on the roof of the cabin or find their hand in warm water or find their face covered with shaving cream because they tried to swat a fly off their face. When we are asleep we are susceptible to all kinds of false teaching and deception. When we are asleep we are oblivious to the needs of those around us.
The third image is that of a person who is drunk. Many people who get drunk believe that it helps them to escape their problems. They believe they are “unwinding”. However, if you have witnessed people who are drunk you know that in that state people say and do things that are hurtful, destructive and embarrassing. When people are drunk their perception is distorted. The drunk feels he/she is driving as well as anyone else on the road but is actually a menace on the road. It is another fitting description of our present day. People outside of Christ do things that are inappropriate, destructive, and hurtful and all the time they feel justified in their actions. They believe they are just “having fun” but in reality are destroying those around them.
RESPONSE #2: Diligence
There is a second response to the coming of Christ. Since we know there is a coming day of Judgment, we should be diligently preparing for that day by following the Lord as closely as we can. In 2 Peter 3:12-14 we are told
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
Paul give us some clues as to how to do this,
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet (v. 6-8)
Paul lists several characteristics of the person who is living in light of the future return of Christ. First, we are to be alert. In lieu of terrorist activity governments have to be on ”high alert”. They can’t let their guard down. In the same way we should be prepared, spiritually awake, and devoted to prayer. We need to be alert to several things,
We should be alert to God’s commands so we can live lives that will please Him.
We should be alert to false teachers and those who distort the meaning of the Bible to draw us away from Christ.
We should be alert for opportunities to share the good news that Jesus is the one who can bring forgiveness and new life.
We should be alert to compromises and justifications of our own sin and make every effort to weed these things out.
We should be alert to ways to show Christ’s love to those who are hurting.
It is a moving thing to watch the Honor Guard do their job at a funeral. These soldiers are not affected by rain, snow, cold, or heat. They are not distracted by what is going on around them. They are focused on their goal of carrying a casket, honoring a comrade or folding a flag. They are alert but they refuse to be distracted from their duty. This is the way I think Paul pictures the way a follower of Christ should be. We don’t have to be sober all the time; we can have fun. However, we should be serious and focused about our discipleship.
Second, we are to be self-controlled. We should be people who are not simply living for the moment but who live wisely. In Romans 13 Paul gives more detail,
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Romans 13:12-14)
Paul tells us that we should be people who live controlled lives. We should be people who “live decently”. We should be in control of our morals, our behavior, our thought life, our conversation and our temper, because we know we will give an account for our behavior before the Lord.
Third, we should put on the breastplate of faith and love. As Paul thought about self-control he probably thought about a soldier just like we did. As Paul pictured the soldiers of the day he knew that they wore something very similar to our bulletproof vests to protect the vital organs of the body. Paul says our bulletproof vest is to live with faith and love. The best way to protect ourselves is to put our trust in God and continue to show kindness and love to those around us.
Fourth, Paul says we should put on our helmet is our salvation. We should guard our mind and our thinking by dwelling on the wonder and reality of our salvation. Paul reviews what this salvation means:
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” (9-10).
The only way to combat the messages of the world around us is to constantly remind ourselves that we are new people in Christ. We have been delivered from wrath and eternal punishment because Jesus gave His life on our behalf. We must remember that whether He comes in the clouds or calls us home through death the child of God will live together with Him forever. As He died for us, we should live for him.
Paul tells us to use these words to encourage (or to give courage) to each other. It is our job to remind each other to stay awake, to remain sober, and to continue to do the things that will result in the Lord’s smile on the Day of Judgment. Warren Wiersbe sums it up this way,
Live expectantly. This does not mean putting on a white sheet and sitting atop a mountain. That is the very attitude God condemned. But it does mean living in the light of His return, realizing that our works will be judged and that our opportunities for service on earth will end. It means to live “with eternity’s values in view.”
There is a difference between being ready to go to heaven and being ready to meet the Lord. Anyone who has sincerely trusted Christ for salvation is ready to go to heaven. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has taken care of that. But to be ready to meet the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ is quite another matter. Scripture indicates that some believers will not be happy to see Jesus Christ! “And now, little children, abide in Him; that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).
We must guard against the tendency to put this off. Barclay tells us,
When Queen Mary of Orange was dying, her chaplain wished to read to her. She answered, “I have not left this matter till this hour.” It was similar with an old Scotsman to whom someone offered comforting sayings near the end. The old man’s reply was, “Ah thatched ma hoose when the weather was warm.”
So here’s the question: “Are you living in light of the future?” Are you living now with the knowledge that someday you will stand before Him and give an account of the way you lived? Here’s some questions you can ask yourself:
1. Am I a true follower of Jesus Christ or am I only pretending to be one?
2. Am I serious about following Christ is every area of my life or am I putting things off to a later time?
3. What would you regret most in your life if you were suddenly struck down today and had just hours before you died?
4. What behaviors are you currently engaged in that you would be ashamed to explain before the Lord?
I suspect that the answers to these questions will give you a good idea of where you need to focus your efforts this week.