He’s Ready; Are You?

Posted: August 11, 2008 in 1 Thessalonians

In the 50’s, it would have been the “$64,000 question” – a few years back, it would have been the top question to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”: When will the Rapture take place? Christians have been asking about the end-times & the coming of the Lord literally since before Christ ascended (Acts 1:6), so it only makes sense that we’re still asking the question 2000 years since that time.

Paul has referenced the coming of Christ all throughout 1 Thessalonians…Ch 1:10 – we wait for His Son who delivers us from the wrath to come…Ch 2:19 – the church was Paul’s glory at the presence of Christ’s coming…Ch 3:13 – Paul prayed that the church’s hearts would be established in holiness at the coming of the Lord. In Ch 4, Paul finally taught it in depth as a revelation from the Lord Jesus that when Jesus descends with a shout & a trumpet, the saints who had passed away would be resurrected & the ones left alive would be raptured (caught up) with Christ in the air. Simply a glorious event!

To the Thessalonians (and us), it’s an event we can be comforted by. They were worried that perhaps their loved ones who had passed away had missed the rapture – but Paul assured them it was still to come. All Christians are going to take part in that Day one way or another. But it’s also quite a controversial event today as Christians try to figure out from the Scriptures when this event is going to take place.

Godly people can (and do!) disagree on the timing of the rapture – CC believes that the premillenial, pretribulational view is the best explanation from the Scriptures…and it definitely seems to be what Paul is teaching here. However, although he does refer to the timing of the rapture, it’s not the only focus of his discussion [forest & trees]. Primarily he’s exhorting the Thessalonians to be watchful for the day, be ready for the day, and be comforted in anticipation of it.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NKJV)
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.

A. Paul is transitioning topics just slightly here – broadening the scope from instruction about the Rapture/Resurrection to the timing of the events beginning with the Rapture. He’s not going to go into depth about what happens in those days, because apparently he’d already taught them about it thoroughly.

B. Interesting that in Paul’s short time there, he made it a point to teach them about the Lord’s return. We need to understand that (regardless of what position we take on the endtimes) the Lord Jesus WILL be coming back. Whatever our perspective of the timing, we want to be found ready when He does…

2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.

A. Why did they know this? Because Paul obviously taught it to them…

B. Define “the day of the Lord” – isn’t this usually a reference to Judgment Day following the 2nd coming? Many times, yes… (Isa 2, Amos 5:18, Joel 2:31). Is it a reference to the 2nd coming here? No…at least not for the specific hour. Most likely a reference to the general timeframe of the end days. How can we know? Because the event that kicks of “the day of the Lord” is going to come “as a thief in the night” – i.e. it’s going to be unexpected.

a. This is a major difference between the Rapture & the 2nd Coming! The Rapture is imminent, whereas there are many prophecies yet to be fulfilled prior to Jesus’ victorious 2nd coming in glory. What must happen prior to the 2nd Coming?

i. War of Gog & Magog has to take place. (Say what?!) Gotta go back to Ezekiel 37 where the rebirth of the nation of Israel is prophesied (dry bones). Next chapters (38-39), shows a massive axis of nations allied against Israel going to war & God miraculously delivering them. Though Israel’s been under constant attack since 1948, these particular nations haven’t yet come together – so this is still to come.

ii. Great apostasy (which we seem to be in the beginnings of this now). Some believe (particularly certain TV preachers) that there will be a world-wide revival & evangelistic outpouring of the gospel right before Jesus’ coming…the Bible actually teaches the opposite. 1 Timothy 4:1-3 (1) Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, (2) speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, (3) forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. [] (also Mark 13:22, 2 Thess 2:3)

iii. Restrainer of sin must be taken out of the way (2 Thess 2:7). Seems to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is removed when the church is raptured to be with the Lord Jesus.

iv. Antichrist must be revealed through the “abomination of desolation” – where he sacrifices an offering in the Jewish Temple proclaiming himself to be god (Dan 9:27, Matt 24:15, 2 Thess 2:3-4).

1. Did this already take place before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD as some claim? The most likely candidate would be Antiochus Epiphanes who set up an altar to Zeus & sacrificed swine on it. BUT this took place in 167BC…long before Jesus ever prophesied about it. Other attempts before 70AD never came to pass…so this is yet to be done in the Tribulation.

v. Whole of the Great Tribulation has to take place (Rev 6-19), including the various judgments, the two witnesses, the fall of Babylon & everything else prophesied to take place over what the Bible indicates will be a 7 year time.

b. None of that is like a thief coming at a time that we wouldn’t expect. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus described this event as! Matthew 24:42-44 (42) Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. (43) But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. (44) Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. [] The Rapture is imminent! At any moment our Lord could come and take us home…

3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.

A. Referring to the Great Tribulation. Christianity has often experienced trials & tribulation (Jesus promised we would) – but the world has never experienced any tribulation like that which is to come. Jesus proclaimed woe upon those who were pregnant during those days, as people would be fleeing for the hills – and apart from the mercy of God, no one would survive (Matt 24:19-22).

a. Many people try to separate the “OT God” from the “NT God”…but it’s simply impossible – there is only one God & He changes not. In the OT, God consistently reveals His mercy, grace, and promise of salvation through Christ…you would have to be blinded not to see it. Yet in the NT, God still pours out His wrath upon sin & shows His ultimate righteous justice. God is BOTH loving and just – and praise God for it! Without it, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross makes no sense! []

B. The analogy is appropriate. No childbirth is easy – but it’s certainly changed a lot in our generations. [scheduled c-section] For most of history (and much of the world), there’s nothing ‘scheduled’ about it! Wait 9 months, look for the time, but the birth pangs come suddenly & once water breaks – a baby’s coming without stopping… [] Likewise, our world is getting ready…we’re getting closer to the due date. But when it comes, it’s going to come violently & assuredly & no one who is left on earth will be able to escape it. (Rom 8:19-22).

C. Note that the unsaved world will be lulled into a time of peace & safety before it happens. The obvious question is: “How so? Haven’t Christians been warning of this for generations?” Yes – and they’ve been ignoring the warning all along. Even after the rapture, it’s safe to assume that the majority of people won’t want to believe the Scripture. If they didn’t believe Noah even as the rain was coming down (Matt 24:38-39), why would this be any different?

4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.

A. Before Jesus Christ, we were in darkness…we were sinful people doing dark things awaiting the judgment of God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:9-11), we were idolators, fornicators, thieves, covetous, etc – but that was in the past. Amen that we’re not in darkness any longer! Now we “are all sons of light” – we have been adopted into the family of God & now we are the light of the world (Matt 5:14) as we reflect Christ’s light who is the True Light of the world (John 8:12).

B. Thus the Day won’t overtake the church – because we’ve been saved! The Great Tribulation time isn’t for us; we’ll be caught up with Christ.

6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.

A. Watch: The world sleeps (and goes on sleeping), but Christians are called to wake up & watch. Greek implies an ongoing alertness & attentiveness. [waiting for someone at the airport] … Begs the question: what for what? Christ! Titus 2:13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, [] We’re watching for that glorious day when Christ Jesus comes back for His church & takes us home!

a. We (being humans) have a tendency to get distracted from that. We end up looking for everything/everyone BUT Christ. There’s nothing wrong with looking for fulfilled prophecy (it actually helps us remember the imminence of the rapture) – but there’s something profoundly wrong when we spend more time trying to identify Antichrist than watching for Jesus Christ. Christian: we have but ONE event on the prophetic calendar to look for – the blessed hope!

B. Be sober: Implies calm, clear-headedness. We don’t have to be panicked about the endtimes…we should be joyful! As we see the times approaching, it means it’s simply one more day until we get to start eternity with Christ our Lord! Yet because we’re approaching the Day with sobriety, we do recognize a holy urgency. We’ve been given the Great Commission, and with the fields already white for the harvest (John 4:35), we’ve got urgent work to be about until Christ takes us home…

7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.

A. The picture of drunkenness is appropriate – those who are drunk are unaware of their surroundings & disregard their personal safety (which is why people should never drink & drive!). It’s the same for the world regarding Judgment Day. (eat & drink, for tomorrow we die!) They completely disregard the warnings around them while they live for themselves & hedonistic pleasures…

B. If we’re sons of the day, then we should act like it. Instead of acting like we still lived in darkness & of the night, we should be sober (ready) – how so? By putting on the armor of God.

C. Sound familiar? Paul later used the same idea to the Ephesians in describing our spiritual armor, though a slightly different order. Ephesians 6:14-17 (14) Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, (15) and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; (16) above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (17) And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; [] The important thing isn’t so much what pieces of armor we can match as a metaphor; it’s the spiritual qualities themselves!

a. Whether faith is a breastplate or a shield, it’s still something the Lord equips us with for protection. Whatever fiery darts come at us from the enemy, we can withstand them through faith and love. [trust in God & His word; not circumstances]

b. Interesting that in both lists, salvation is likened to a helmet…it’s foundational! No soldier (even today) ever walks out onto a battlefield without his helmet on…even visiting civilians are required to wear them. Likewise, everything we have in Christ is based upon our salvation. Whatever battles we face, whatever trials we endure, we know we CAN endure because Christ Jesus has saved us. We can look forward to that day when He saves us from the very presence of sin & have confident assurance that what He has started, He will be faithful to complete (Phil 1:6).

9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

A. What’s one reason to believe in the pretrib rapture? Because we’re not appointed to wrath.

B. We WERE appointed to wrath, but that wrath was poured out on Jesus at the cross. In our sin we were treasuring up wrath for ourselves as we rebelled against God & what we knew of Him through Creation & the word (Rom 1-2), but Christ intervened & bore our transgressions & took our iniquities (Isa 53:6) Now we’ve obtained salvation! Never to face the wrath of God again! Romans 5:9-10 (9) Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (10) For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. []

a. ‘So what happens when God chastises us?’ It’s not the same thing as wrath. There’s a massive gulf between discipline and damnation… We’ve been adopted into the family of God, so it’s a sign of His love for His children that we would experience the discipline of God (Heb 12:6)

10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.

A. Different thoughts on this: (1) Whether we live until His return, or die before the Rapture, ultimately we’re now destined to live together with Christ for all eternity… (2) Despite our alertness to the times, our assurance is in the Lord Jesus. Paul exhorts us to be awake to the times so that we’re looking for our King, but our salvation is not dependent on it – that would lead to a works-based salvation…

i. Either way, we’re living forever with Jesus! J

B. Why? Because Jesus died for us. Those few little words say so much! In them is wrapped up the whole idea of what theologians call the “substitutionary atonement.” In plain terms: we deserved death; Jesus didn’t…He took our death and punishment for us. Thus He substituted our sin with His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). I.e., we broke the law, Jesus paid the fine.

i. This is a glorious truth for everyone who has received His forgiveness & trusted Christ as Lord…but it’s unrealized for those who haven’t. It doesn’t do any good to simply understand the facts about Jesus (many would intellectually acknowledge that Jesus went to the cross); we have to interact with those facts somehow. [unopened Christmas present] We’ve got to receive the gift through repentance & faith!

11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.

A. Answers the Thessalonians’ concern. They didn’t have to worry about their friends passing away before Jesus came back for them, because whatever happens to us at the end of our lives here, we’re ultimately going to have eternal life with Jesus there.

a. This is a truth to be comforted by…because every trial has an expiration date.

b. This is a truth to be built up (edified) with…because there’s no better motivation to live for the Lord than the idea that we might see Him at any moment.

B. Note the Rapture/Resurrection/Coming of the Lord isn’t merely something for US to be comforted & edified with…it’s something that we can share with each other as the church. It’s EASY to get distracted by problems & forget about His promises [], but as a church, we can come alongside each other with comfort – with exhortation – with prayer, as we help lift each other up to keep us looking for the blessed hope!

Conclusion:

‘Come on…people have been talking about Jesus’ return for 2000 years. Surely we’re misinterpreted something!’ 2 Peter 3:8-9 (8) But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (9) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. [] If anything, the delay in Jesus’ return is a sign of His mercy! He wants everyone to be saved!

So, as Christians…what does Paul exhort us to?

  1. Be watchful (vs 1-4): the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night…we can be assured of this fact!
  2. Be ready (vs 5-8): We haven’t a moment to lose, so we shouldn’t spend our time acting like the world. We should be living as children of the light, b/c that’s what Jesus saved us to.
  3. Be comforted (vs 9-11): We’re not appointed to wrath – we’ve been saved! One day by death or rapture, we’ll see our Lord face-to-face & we’ll spend the rest of eternity in His presence!

What about you – are you ready? Make no mistake, the Lord Jesus IS coming back, and you will face Him either as Savior or Judge. No one knows the day or the hour – and that’s true both of His 2nd Coming AND of the day of our death. One way or the other, you will stand before Him. In that day, when every thought and action is laid bare before our Creator, how will you account for your sins? Jesus Christ has already made the provision on your behalf through the Cross – but you must receive it, otherwise you’re rejecting it. He loves you so much – He’s such a good God that He doesn’t want ANY to perish, but you must receive the forgiveness He offers.

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