Because Jesus Is Coming Back ...
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:22
In Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians, one of the significant issues dealt with is Jesus return. Much modern speculation is rampant about the possibility of Jesus imminent return. Is it important for us to know when Jesus will return? A careful study of I Thessalonians 4:13-5:22 will tell us what we really need to know about
when Jesus is coming. Paul writes:
1 Thessalonians 4:13 "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 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, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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 shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words."
In these verses, Paul confidently affirms that there is a resurrection to come. Christians, unlike others who have no promise of an afterlife, should look forward to being with God after their physical death. Paul, in no uncertain terms declares that those who are dead in Christ will be raised from the dead! Death is not final!
Notice the phrase in verse 14 which says God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, then the parallel in verse 16 which says, the dead in Christ shall rise first. There is no doubt that those saints which have died will partake of the resurrection. The evidence, the proof of this is found in the fact of Jesus' resurrection.
There is a great temptation to stop here and examine in greater detail, the state of the dead in Christ, and just exactly what will occur at Jesus' return, but that is not really Paul's purpose. Paul very clearly lets it be known that there is a cause and effect relationship at work in his words. Therefore comfort one another is indication to us that there should be great comfort in the confident assurance of Jesus resurrection and the very necessary inference that if God raised Jesus from the dead, God can do it again and raise others from the dead! Look at the development of Paul's hypothesis.
Paul is saying:
1. There is no doubt that Jesus was resurrected!
2. There is not doubt that what God has done once, he can do again!
3. When Jesus returns, God will raise the dead in Christ.
4. Those still living shall join them meeting Jesus.
5. We shall ever be with the Lord!
With Jesus resurrection as the proof and guarantee that there is a resurrection for us, we are to comfort each other. How many times do we find it necessary to comfort each other in our spiritual doubtings and weaknesses? Through it all, we need to be reminded of the concepts Paul sets forth here. Great spiritual strength can and should be derived from the assurance of Jesus resurrection. Jesus is raised! We will be raised! What great comfort! But these words merely set the stage for a further principle! With this for our foundation, Paul continues:
1 Thessalonians 5:1 "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."
In these verses, Paul, again clearly and without question, says that no one knows when Jesus will return. He gives no hints about how to tell when Jesus will come back; in fact, indicates that it will be a surprise to everyone, even the faithful! When has anyone ever heard of a thief who called and warned his victim that he was going to burglarize their house on a particular day? It doesn't happen! Nor will men know when Jesus is to return. Because no one knows, many will not believe that he will ever return. Some look at the long time that has passed and conclude that He will never come. Others, look at the long time that has already passed and say it will be a longer time still until Jesus return. They are saying, "Peace and safety!" They are secure in their belief. Paul then points out that Jesus return will be sudden. It will be like the onset of a woman's labor pains, Jesus return will be sudden and climactic. Finally, he says there will be a universal awareness of Jesus' return. The doubters, will not escape!
In 5:1 through 5:5, Paul made the following points:
1. No one knows when the Lord will return.
2. His return will be a surprise to all, even the faithful.
3. Doubters and unbelievers will feel secure in their safety.
4. When he does come, it will be universal! Even the doubters and unbelievers will know of it.
Having demonstrated these points, an interesting observation is made! The faithful brethren, even though they do not know when Jesus will return, will not be taken by surprise! In verses 4 and 5 he says:
1 Thessalonians 5:4 "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;"
Paul used two figures in verses 4 and 5 to make his point. These are the figures of "day" and "night." The idea is that during the day, good and constructive things are accomplished by the industrious, while, at night, men work that which is unseemly and evil. Remember the words of Jesus himself in Luke 12:42-46?
Luke 12:42 And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 "Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 "But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers."
So the faithful are characterized as being of "day" because they are busy for God and hence stay in a state or condition of preparedness. The unfaithful are characterized by night and darkness, because they are neither prepared to nor concerned about serving God.
If even the faithful do not know when Jesus will return, how can His return not be a surprise? The faithful expect his return momentarily, and are continually prepared for His return! The faithful cannot be caught unprepared, because the very fact of the uncertainty of when Jesus will return causes them to stay in a state of preparedness. The very uncertainty of when Jesus will return creates a sense of expectation and diligence. Like a child listening for Santa on Christmas Eve, the hope and joy keep him from sleeping. Jesus may return any moment! I cant wait! Come quickly Lord Jesus, come quickly! What a wonderful disposition to have!
Now we come to the reason for the discussion of Jesus' return! Because Jesus is coming back, we should take the following steps!
1 Thessalonians 5:6 "...so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation."
The first quality that should characterize the Christian who is expecting Jesus to return is his alertness. The Christian will be like the watchman of old who is ever alert to the approach of any, whether they be friend or foe. He is constantly watching for danger and always prepared to turn away any attack. This same alertness and
response to danger, keeps him in a state of preparedness to meet any threats. He will not be taken unawares by any evil, not because he has been warned, but because he is on his guard! By the same token, he will also be prepared for his Lords return.
The second thing that will characterize the Christian who is expecting Jesus to return is sobriety. This is in contrast to those who are drunken in verse 7. The one who is drunken has decided that how he behaves is not important; he wont be caught. Nothing is going to happen! The one who remains sober is determined to be prepared for any and all eventualities, whether they be good or bad. His mind is set on service to God.
Then we are told that we should stay prepared and equipped with the armor we have already put on, the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation.
Summing up this last section:
Because Jesus is coming back, Christians should:
Be alert. (Vs 6)
Be sober, (Vs 6)
Put on the breastplate of faith and love. (Vs 8)
Put on the helmet of the hope of salvation (Vs 8)
Paul's encouraging conclusion to this thesis is stated clearly and simply.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing."
Jesus died to bring about our salvation. Whether we are talking about those Christians who have died, or those who are still living, all Christians will one day be with Him!
THEREFORE ... Because Jesus is coming back, be alert and sober. Be sure you are of the day and not of the night!
Note: All scripture quotations are from the NASB.
By Ney Rieber
From Expository Files 1.8; August, 1994