Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a three-part series of messages exploring the book of 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians, Part 2
I don’t know if you have heard before the story of the preacher who is travelling across the world and when he lands, they ask him to speak straight away and he is not really quite prepared.
And he gets up in the pulpit and he announces his text but he is suffering a bit of jet lag and he calls out his text which is: – Behold I am coming to you soon – from the Book of Revelation. And his mind goes completely blank and he can’t think of what to say. So he decides that he will call out again: – Behold I am coming to you soon – and his mind is still completely blank.
So a third time he thinks he will call this out as loudly as I can and something may trigger and he calls out very loudly Behold I am coming to you soon and he calls it out so enthusiastically that he falls out of the pulpit into the lap of the little lady in the front row. And he looks up and he says – “I am terribly sorry”. She says “well don’t apologize, you told me 3 times you were coming”!!
Now our piece of Bible is about the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ – his return. Something which he promised that he would do – he promised again and again and again that he would do this. It is an absolutely certain promise of an absolutely trustworthy person – even if it requires great patience on our part.
So Jesus said, for example in John 14 “I will come again and take you, my people, to be with me”. In Luke 17 he said “The Son of Man will come”.
In Luke 21 he said “The Son of Man will come with great glory”.
In Mark 13 he said “He will come and he will gather his people”.
In Mark 25 he said “He will come and all nations will gather before him and he will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats”.
Christ Will Return
In the Parables of Jesus, in the teachings of Jesus, in the teaching of the Letters of the New Testament again, and again, and again, and again we are told there is one promise, one great promise waiting to be fulfilled and that is that Christ will come. He said that his coming will be personal; it will be Him, the same Jesus who walked the roads of Jerusalem, the same Jesus who calmed the storm, who raised Lazarus, who put children on his knee, that Jesus will come.
He said it will be global; it will be so cosmic that the whole world will see him come at the same time. He said that it will be sudden (like a thief in the night) and he said it would still be predicted like we see leaves appearing in the spring on the trees. He said it would be wonderful for his people, wonderful, wonderful and wonderful and it would be terrible for those who are not ready to meet him. To be darkness and coming face to face with the Light of Christ will be terrible.
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Now today of course the fact of Christ returning has pretty well gone off the radar for the world – it’s just a joke for the world and it’s pretty well gone off the radar for the church as well. I don’t know whether you saw on the News any of the Whitlam funeral this week but there are about a thousand people in the Town Hall and I think a thousand outside in the Square. This is remembering the former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. There was no reference to God, there was no reference to Jesus or faith, or hope of anything like that and I just imagine myself getting up and speaking at that particular funeral and saying something about Christ and his death and his resurrection and his return and it would have seemed absolutely absurd and laughable.
At the other extreme, as Gav has reminded us at the beginning of the Service today, you’ve got those kinds of fanatics who talk about nothing else but the Second Coming. There are people who are drawing up charts and graphs and insane predictions as to when Jesus will come – when Jesus clearly said “nobody knows, no one knows but the Father”. So Jesus himself didn’t know. There is an area of his ignorance but he was not ignorant of his ignorance – he knew what area he didn’t know.
A Confidence in Christ’s Return
So I guess I am asking the question as we come to our Thessalonian passage – is it possible to have a sane confidence in the return of Christ which has a good effect on your life today and not a wacky effect on your life today? And the answer is – it is. The Apostle Paul taught the Thessalonian Christians 2000 years ago in a very short 3 week mission – a great deal about Christ including that he would come again and he left the Thessalonians unwillingly because he was thrown out of the town but he left them looking forward to the coming of Christ.
Last week we saw in the end of Chapter 4 that the Thessalonians were worried about Christians who might die and miss the return and the Apostle Paul says – don’t worry about those who die, they won’t miss Christ, they go first to Christ and when he comes he will bring them with him and gather those who are left in the world and all of us will be together with the Lord.
Now this week the Apostle Paul is writing to Christians who are very much alive and he is basically urging us to live in the security of Christ’s coming.
So last week – concern about the dead and comforting words…..
Today – what to say to the alive like us and how to live securely.
We are looking in our Bibles at 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 and I want to divide the 11 verses into three points –
Firstly – The Power of Christ’s Second Coming – verses 1-3.
Secondly – Being Safe and Wise Now – verses 4-8.
Thirdly – The Power of Christ’s First Comi8ng – verses 9-11.
Now I think I have spoken on these verses a number of times and I have just been revolutionized by my preparation this week in this passage so think with me, work with me and I think these verses are wonderful.
The Power of Christ’s Second Coming
First of all – The Power of Christ’s Second Coming – verses 1-3. Look at what he says in chapter 5 verses 1-2 – “Brothers about 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”. Times and dates – some of you who know your Christian faith pretty well know that these are the two words for TIME – Khronos from which we get chronology and the word Kairos which is ‘perfect moment’. So he is saying we don’t need to write to you about the TIME – the clock time – we don’t need to write to you about WHEN IS THE PERFECT MOMENT – because you know perfectly well that you know that Christ will come like a thief.
In other words, this is the irony; you know that you don’t know when he will come! Back in chapter 4 verse 13 – he was writing to Christians as I say, who died before Christ comes and he says I need to fill in the gaps because you don’t know what has happened to them and now he writes and he says I don’t need to fill in any gaps because you know perfectly well that Christ will come any time.
Now on this topic of when and where – those of you who are studying the Commentary by John Stott in “The Bible Speaks Today” – it’s a great commentary – but on this section, John Stott says that the Thessalonians were worried and unsure of the time. I think the text says the exact opposite – therefore don’t have a Bible Study about the Thessalonians were nervous and worried. It seems to me the Apostle is saying to the Thessalonians – you are clear and you are calm and the only thing I want to underline for you is you are very very safe and blessed. So when it comes to the times and season (chapter 5 verse 1) says Paul, you are on the ball.
Now the phrase which he uses for the return of Christ in verse 2 is “The Day of the Lord” and Gav has helpfully shown us in the Introduction this evening that this phrase “Day of the Lord” is a very pregnant Old Testament phrase which the prophets use to speak largely of judgment, mostly of judgment. This is a day where God will come and deal with his enemies and I think the Apostle Paul uses it here for the Thessalonians because he wants them to remember that they have got lots of enemies and God will deal with them.
Paul had enemies – God will deal with them. Do the Thessalonians remember that it was enemies of the Gospel that threw Paul out early – God will deal with them? Are the Thessalonians still facing enemies in the city of Thessalonica? – God will deal with them.
Now before I leave this, therefore, this point about The Day of the Lord – let me say that the prophets in the Old Testament predicted The Day of the Lord and the people of the day mocked them and said
“This will never happen –
Everything is always the same –
There will never be trouble –
There will never be a removal from the Promised Land –
There will never be trouble from the Assyrians –
There will never be trouble from the Babylonians –
And the Old Testament prophets spoke the truth. There was a day of judgment and of discipline.
And I think we should take heart because the New Testament Apostles and the Lord Jesus himself is also telling us that there is a Day of The Lord and we must learn from history to take seriously what God says. The Old Testament prophets were laughed at – let’s be careful that we don’t laugh at the New Testament prophets.
Now what does Paul say about this day? He says it’s going to be first of all – unexpected like a thief. Thieves come frustratingly by surprise. Jesus himself used this illustration of his return being like a thief in the night. The Apostle Paul borrows it and he says – look just as a thief is out of your control and he breaks in and he takes stuff which is your from your car or your house or your handbag or walks off with stuff when you are not watching and you are not thinking and you are not ready – so Jesus’ return is outside your control.
In other words, the return of Jesus is never going to be on the News. Don’t expect one night that on the channel that you watch, there will be an announcement – “by the way, get ready tonight because Christ is coming” that will never happen. It will never happen.
The second illustration that Paul uses in verse 3 is that it will be inescapable or inevitable like a pregnancy and just as the unbeliever thinks peace and security, nothing will ever change, life is very even, all is well, nothing can disrupt us – then suddenly says Paul, destruction.
You notice that this is a kind of a negative illustration thief and a negative illustration of destruction because he is emphasising that this Day of the Lord is aimed largely in this particular argument that the danger that unbelievers are in.
Jesus said on one occasion that his return would be like the days of Noah. I used to think the days of Noah were dreadful, dreadful days. And I guess they probably were but Jesus says – in the days of Noah they were eating, drinking, getting engaged and having weddings. Now most people here this evening eat, drink, occasionally get engaged and have weddings. There is nothing sinister about that. And what Jesus is saying is that in the days of Noah, everything was so normal. The Word of God was going out and everything was so normal and everybody said there is nothing to listen to; there is nothing to take notice of and then BANG!
The rain came – the tiny minority of people who had been listening to the Word of God were spared and a very great tragic number who are not listening were lost.
Now when we talk like this, every normal Christian and I hope you are one of them, every normal Christian will ask the question – may be often – can we really be right about this? You must ask yourself that question, you must say every now and again – can I really be right? If you have been to the beach today and you see masses of people at the beach and nobody is thinking about God, the Maker and nobody is thinking about the judgment and the return of Christ – you must say to yourself every now and again – am I completely wacky to be thinking like this when so few believe and so few are affected?
And what you will have to do and I have to do this myself is remind yourself that the person who taught this so clearly – Jesus Christ – was always truthful, always kept his promises, hated dishonesty and hated deception. You will also have to remind yourself that the people around the world and around the city and around your neighbourhood who look quite innocent (and they are helpless and they do need a Shepherd) – but you will find that they are actually moving away from Christ and if you bring the message of Christ to them, they will be evasive and elusive unless God is working on them. And you will also have to remind yourself that they Day of the Lord is the reminder in the Bible that God, if you believe in God, is just and he’s not going to allow everything to go bad forever, that he will bring justice, very wonderful justice, he will not leave the evil unpunished.
And so Paul is saying to the Thessalonians – this Second Coming of Christ is going to be a day for you of great comfort because Christ will come and he will deal with justice. That’s the first point – The Power of the Second Coming.
Safe and Wise Today
The second point in verses 4-8 – this is what I’ve called Safe and Wise Today. Now you see how Paul has said in verse 3 “they will not escape” and he now says in verse 4 – “you are a different matter”. The unbeliever whether they recognize this or not has their life slipping away from them like sand through an hour-glass and there is a judgment ahead.
The believer through the sheer kindness of Jesus Christ has masses of life in front of them and no judgment. This incredible shift has taken place by putting your faith in Christ, instead of having life behind you and judgment in front of you, you know have judgment behind you and life in front of you. That’s why Christ totally changes a person’s condition.
And the Apostle says in verse 4 “you are not in darkness if you are a believer – the Day of the Lord is not going to surprise you”. Of course you don’t know whether it is tomorrow or next year or next decade – you don’t know when exactly it is but when it comes, it’s not going to deprive you like a thief. So you may not know the day of the return but it’s not a surprise that he will return – you are not in the dark about this.
And the reason that you are not in the dark (verse 4 & 5) – this is very comforting – stay with me – he says because you are sons and daughters of the light and Paul is stretching the illustration of light here. He says you are not in the dark; you are actually sons of light. For the unbeliever, the day of Christ’s coming is going to be a day of terrible darkness. They are in the dark about when he is coming and it’s going to be a day of darkness but for you, you are not in the dark, he is coming and you know he is coming and because you are a son of light or a daughter of light, it’s going to be a very, very wonderful occasion.
So notice the power of verse 5 – if you put your hope in Christ, you are a son or daughter of light. In other words, you are in God’s family. How do you get into somebody’s family? Well you have to be born into it or you have to be adopted into it and if your hope is in Christ, says Paul, you are in the family. God has adopted you in, has brought you into the family and he has made you his child. So the Apostle is not saying as you expect him to say “Christ is coming, believers, therefore be very bright – come on – brighten up” – he is not saying that. He is saying “you are sons and daughters of the light – God has brought you in, you are included in this”.
He is not saying you should earn your safety by being exceptional between now and the return of Jesus – he is saying – No God has done this for you, he’s brought you into the light, he is saying you should be thankful, deeply and wonderfully thankful.
So with the privilege, you see, of being sons of light, this is what he says (verse 6) “let us not go to sleep” and he uses a new meaning for the word sleep. Back in chapter 4 he talked about “sleep” as “death” – If a believer sleeps or if a believer dies. Now he uses a completely different word and a completely different meaning and he says ‘because you are in the light and Christ is coming and it’s going to be wonderful – don’t forget it, don’t drift off and don’t fall asleep about this and don’t drop the doctrine’.
Verses 7-8 Don’t get drunk – most drunkenness as you know happens at night but since we belong to the light, we belong to the day, don’t lose your mind, don’t get overpowered, keep remembering something wonderful is coming, let that fill your mind more than booze.
Remember Our Security
And the third thing he says in verse 8 is ‘let’s remember our security, let’s think about our salvation, take hold of the armour of Christ, he is your security and he is the one who has given you your faith, your hope, your love – in other words keep remembering what’s coming up for you.
Now friends, let me just stop at this point and say – when you read these verses and you have got to give a sermon on this, it’s incredibly tempting to take these verses and twist them and have a big sort of beat up where I say something to you like this:
Come on Christians, why are you so sleepy? Why are you so groggy? What are you so feeble? Don’t sleep, don’t get drunk, put on your armour. And then you have a sort of 10 minute beat up from the preacher about Christians who are slack and go to parties and are wimpy. The Apostle Paul is not doing that at all. And there is at least two reasons why that’s the wrong thing to do.
One is that kind of beat up lasts about an hour – you’ll forget it by the time you get home.
Second is that it’s not Paul’s point – he is not angry with the Thessalonians. He doesn’t have any reason to be angry. And he is not so naïve as to think that their performance, waiting for Christ, is going to be the key to the world. This is what he says – he says and listen to me very carefully – if you are a Christian you are in the world and Christ may come any time. He may come before this sermon is over. “Bring it on” you say. He may come before the week is out. You may have some plans for next year, University, wedding, study, travel, kids – none of it may happen. Something more wonderful may happen which you will never regret.
The Apostle Paul is saying this – you are in the world and Christ may come anytime – don’t forget that and don’t forget it not because you are slackness will make it a terrible day when Christ comes but because your sonship will make it a wonderful day when he comes.
Let me illustrate this and see if it makes sense. Imagine you have got some greatly loved family members who live overseas coming to stay with you and you love their company and they love you, they unstoppably love you. And they say to you ‘we are coming any day in the next 6 weeks – we don’t know when it will be because we have to get off work and we’ve got to get the right flights and a couple of things have to fall into place – so we may turn up any time in the next 6 weeks’.
Remember, Be Glad, Be Prepared
Now friends, is that an incentive to you to forget that they are coming? No it is an incentive to you to remember, be glad about it and put the preparation in that will make it a joyful return – I mean making some beds, putting out some flowers and that sort of thing. And that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying here. When it comes to living in the world, the most important thing you can do is to remember that because you have been brought into the light and therefore it’s going to be a safe and wonderful thing, live in the world with that gripping your brain and your heart.
Now the third point is The Power of Christ’s First Coming”. He finishes in verses 9-11 by talking about the First Coming of Christ which is as you probably know the key to the Second Coming. In other words, Christmas is the key to the perusia.
So the Return of Christ is meant to be a double comfort to the Christians – this is what Paul is saying.
The first reason this is a great comfort is because God is dealing with all the enemies – he is going to deal with all those who wage warfare against God and against God’s people. This is a huge issue, especially in the world today where Christians are being killed for their faith – God will deal with that – he will deal with it – he will compensate perfectly.
The second reason this is a great comfort is because when Jesus comes he is going to bring all the joy and all his plans for his children. So everything which has seemed wonderful to you in this world will be a billion times improved and everything which has been seemed to be terrible to you in this world is going to be a billion times compensated for – that’s what Jesus is saying.
And the proof of this in verses 9 & 10 is that he says “God did not appoint us for wrath but for salvation”. So when God thought about you, the believer before the foundation of the world, he said “I am appointing that person for salvation, that’s where I want them to arrive” and behind the call of Christ to follow him which I think most of you have heard and most of you have responded to and have begun to follow Christ, behind that call and the decision to follow is God the Planner.
You know, have you ever planned for something? Every planned for somebody’s birthday, ever planned something special as a gift? Here is God the planner, the great ultimate planner behind the creation of the universe, planning for his people to get salvation not wrath – he is excited about it. It delights him and that’s the sort of God he is.
The problem is that you and I deserve wrath – so how are we going to get salvation? The answer is in verse 10 – it’s because Jesus Christ died for us. It’s a historical fact that Jesus died and it’s a theological fact that he died for us.
So at his first coming, he came to die for us and he came to die for us so that at his Second Coming we might stand before him without fault and with great joy. If you want to be saved for the Second Coming of Jesus, you need to grasp what he did at his first coming. If you have grasped what Jesus did at his first coming, look forward to his second coming.
And I want to show you how strongly Paul puts this and what I am about to say in the last few minutes is complicated and it’s controversial and so some of you will stay with me and get this and you will be glad and some of you may sleep or get drunk ……. Or some of you may miss this.
But I want to just show you how the Apostle Paul finishes this remarkable section – see if you can follow this.
It’s Your Faith in Christ That Makes You Secure
Do you remember in chapter 5 verse 6 – he said “Don’t sleep but be watchful, be alert”? I suggested to you what it means by this is not your security for the Second Coming is going to depend on whether you are alert and watchful but it’s because you are God’s children that you are going to be secure – it’s your faith in Christ – it’s he that makes you secure. And therefore keep reminding yourself of the Day of Christ because it’s going to be terrible for the rejecter and it’s going to be wonderful for the receptor. So don’t sleep – says Paul but do watch.
Now look at chapter 5 verse 10 – “Christ died for us so whether we sleep or watch, we may live together with him”. You see that? He says in verse 6 “Don’t fall asleep because it’s so great, don’t forget it and do keep watching because it’s so great” and then he says in verse 10 “Christ died for us so that whether we do this or not, we will live with him”. So the death of Christ, you see, is so great that it actually secures our salvation. It’s his performance that secures our salvation and it’s not our performance. And that’s why he closes in verse 11 by saying “Therefore comfort each other with this”. You see most commentators think Paul is saying – look whether you live or die you are going to be with Christ.
And we know that this is true because he said that back in chapter 4 verses 13-18 – that’s the argument of last week but here he is saying something completely different. He is adding something quite new and he uses a new word for sleep – he doesn’t use the other word for sleep. He uses a new word for sleep because now he says ‘I don’t want you to drift off because the death of Christ is so wonderful and so powerful it guarantees your salvation whatever happens. It covers your failures – even your failure to be watchful, even your failure to be alert – is covered by Christ and therefore encourage and build each other up.
Now there’s something to be said isn’t there? The cross is the thing that we exalt, rejoice in and cannot really get to the bottom of because it’s so great even though we sing about it and we think we know everything about it; we don’t know everything about the cross.
There are depths and heights and breadths and lengths about the cross which we don’t yet understand and we need to appreciate it and here is one example of the Apostle Paul saying – do you understand – it’s the cross of Christ at the First Coming which was so wonderful and so successful and so powerful – it will secure you for the Second Coming. Whatever takes place between the first and the second and therefore be ALERT and GRATEFUL in the waiting because it is that wonderful. That’s what the Apostle Paul is saying.
Our Comfort is Christ, Not Our Vigilance
So our comfort, you see, is not our vigilance. It worried me that so many of our Commentaries say – what the Apostle Paul is saying is “be vigilant, be vigilant, be vigilant, otherwise you will miss out”. The Apostle Paul seems to be saying the opposite. It is Christ’s death which makes you secure. It’s his performance, not ours.
So the great work of Christ’s First Coming makes you ready for the Second and you need to remind yourself when you get some distractions this evening and some temptations this evening (and they do come often at night) that something bigger is up ahead, something more wonderful is up ahead, some one more wonderful is up ahead and you are not to lose sight of that.
And if you live in the world, you’ve got a great job of being a signpost to this love of Christ which he showed at the cross which makes you ready for heaven and we’ve got the huge privilege of pointing people to that love and trying to explain it to people because the LOST are going to be very, very badly dealt with when Christ comes and the FOUND are going to be very wonderfully dealt with. And it’s all a matter of grace.
I was reading recently of a man who was being marched to his execution and the Chaplain behind him was reading the old Prayer Book. And as the Chaplain was just droning on reading all this stuff about heaven and hell, the man who was walking to his execution turned around and said to him “you know, if I believed half what you are saying to me, I would cross the earth on broken glasses to tell people, on broken glass I would cross the earth to tell people – if I believed half what you are intoning to me.
And that’s always a challenge to us isn’t it? We need to ask the Lord help us believe our beliefs; doubt our doubts because we are in danger of believing our doubts and doubting our beliefs.
Well friends, the return of Jesus Christ is not like walking in the desert waiting for an oasis. The return of Jesus Christ is like walking around a swimming pool, we are always one step away from being immersed in the reality of Christ. One step away he could come any second. He will come, says the New Testament “atoms” in an atom, in a blink, we are just one step away from meeting Christ – His return or our finish. If you think that all of this is future “pie in the sky” I want to remind you that what has happened already through Christ is that:
- We have had the Incarnation
- We have had the Crucifixion
- We have had the Atonement
- We have had the Resurrection
- We have had the Ascension
- We have had the Coming of the Holy Spirit and global mission.
What is soon coming is Return, the Resurrection of the body, glory, seeing Jesus face to face, the rewards for his people, the New Heaven and the New Earth.
“Therefore comfort one another and build one another up” says Paul with these words.