When General MacArthur was forced to leave the Philippines before Japanese forces conquered them in 1942 during World War 2, he said “I shall return”. On Oct. 20th, 1944 he fulfilled his plans and stepped ashore and said, “People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil—soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.” (more…)
At Easter we celebrate what Jesus did for us. Jesus came to die, He defeated death and rose again to set us free from sin. He conquered death for anyone who puts their faith and hope in Him. The Bible says, “and only by dying could He (Jesus) break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14NLT). God broke the power of death in Christ’s resurrection. It’s like death was arrested.
Although He has saved us from the eternal consequences of our sin, we still die. But like Jesus, in a coming day at the rapture those who die in Christ will be resurrected back to new life. The Bible describes this victorious resurrection as, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). God defeats death when believers receive their glorified bodies.
In the meantime, it’s like death is arrested like in the words of this song by North Point InsideOut (© 2015 Seems Like Music).
Alone in my sorrow and dead in my sin
Lost without hope with no place to begin
Your love made a way to let mercy come in
When death was arrested and my life began
Released from my chains I’m a prisoner no more
My shame was a ransom He faithfully bore
He cancelled my debt and He called me His friend
When death was arrested and my life began
Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
Darkness rejoiced as though heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested and my life began
Can you say, “Thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57)? We can have victory over death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:25). Christians need not fear death because it is the doorway that leads to their eternal inheritance and being present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Pt. 1:3-5).
Written, March 2018
I’m currently visiting Morocco and France. The Muslim call to prayer (five times each day) and poverty are common in Morocco. About 1% of the people are Christians and most of these are foreigners. Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and a substantial fine. So, it’s difficult being a Christian in Morocco. Although France is still culturally Catholic, most of the French are essentially secular (atheists). And less than 1% are evangelical Christians. Cultural and religious pressure makes it difficult to be Christians in these countries.
There is a temptation to give up following Jesus in difficult times. But tests and trials of our faith are inevitable (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:12; Jas. 1:2-3; 1 Pt. 4:12-13). The letter of 1 Thessalonians was written to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. This post addresses the highlights of this letter where we see that the prospect of Christ’s second coming encourages those facing adversity and trials.
Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, with a population of over 200,000, was a busy seaport. Christianity came to Thessalonica when Paul preached the gospel and some Jews and Greeks became believers (Acts 17:1-10). After the jealous Jewish leaders started a riot, Paul and Silas escaped at night to Berea.
The believers at Thessalonica experienced trials, severe suffering, and persecution (1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul wrote to them in 50-51 AD to address the issues they faced. Jews claimed that Paul was not a real apostle; pagans persecuted them because they worshiped one God instead of many; sexual immorality was common in Greece; there were misunderstandings about the second coming of Christ; tensions arose between the congregation and the elders; and some stifled the Holy Spirit’s work, treating prophetic teachings with contempt.
Paul encouraged them “to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (4:1 NIV). This letter can be divided into six sections: model believers; Paul’s example; Paul’s joy; living to please God; the Lord’s second coming; and living as a Christian. Firstly, their joy in the middle of persecution was an example to all the Christians in Greece.
Model believers (1:1-10)
Paul regularly prayed for these believers (1:2-3). They were his children in the faith. He thanked God for their spiritual birth and growth, shown by their “work produced by faith (conversion),” their “labor prompted by love (service)” and their “endurance inspired by hope (anticipation of Christ’s return)”. Here we see that the motivation for Christian activity is faith, love and hope. The faith that God gives us results in love for God and the hope of Christ’s return, which in turn produces action such as labor and endurance.
Although persecuted for their faith, they didn’t give up. But Paul reminded them of two things (1:4-5). First, they were loved. God loves all of us, even before faith is evident in our lives (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). He loves us so much that His Son died for us. Second, they were chosen by God (Jn. 6:44). After they became Christians it was evident from their behavior that they had been chosen by God (Eph. 1:4).
The dramatic change in their lives occurred after Paul preached to them the gospel of God and Christ (2:2,8; 3:2). It came “with” four things. First, “with words” he preached about the Old Testament promises of God, who Jesus was and what He had done. Second, “with power” there was conviction of sin, repentance and conversion. The gospel has power to change lives. Third, “with the Holy Spirit” identified as the source of that power. Fourth, “with deep conviction” they knew that Paul spoke for God and they gave their lives to Him. They accepted that Paul spoke God’s Word and acted upon it and it changed their lives.
The Thessalonians imitated Paul and Christ, and were a good example to other believers (1:6-9), even though they were persecuted. Their love was shown in three ways. First, they stopped complaining and started rejoicing. They saw that God was in control and their eternal destiny was secure. Their suffering was short compared to their eternal salvation in Christ. Second, they shared the gospel with their neighbors and friends: “The Lord’s message rang out from you.” The gospel was worth telling because it gave joy and hope. Third, they trusted God to care for them daily; their “faith in God” was well known.
The Thessalonians had made a great start in their Christian life. First, they repented of selfish living and turned to God from many idols. Second, they served God out of love, which is a sacrificial concern for others (Jn. 13:34-35). Theirs was “labor prompted by love” (1:3).
They were also waiting for Christ’s return (1:10; 4:13-18; Jn. 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). God promised to take believers to be with Him at the rapture. Jesus said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3). The Christian should live expecting the Lord to come at any moment. Our hope is knowing that what God has begun through Christ’s work on earth, He will complete at His return. The trials of this life are temporary and bring endurance despite difficult circumstances. God is in control, and knows what He’s doing.
What does Paul mean when he refers to Jesus rescuing us from “the coming wrath”? The same thought is in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, in the context of the “day of the Lord.” This is a coming time when God’s wrath will be poured out on the world (Mt. 24:4-26) immediately before His return in power and judgment (Mt. 24:27-31). When Christ returns at the rapture to take believers to heaven, He will rescue them from the tribulation that will occur between the rapture and His appearing (5:1-11; 2 Pt. 2:9; Rev. 3:10).
The Thessalonians imitated Paul and Christ and were good examples for other believers in Greece. They are also good examples for us. But are we a good example for others? Are we a help or a hindrance to those we meet? The gospel produced a radical change in these believers: a new faith – they followed God instead of idols; a new love – they served God; a new hope – they anticipated the second coming of Jesus Christ; a new joy – they knew God was in control; and a new mission – spreading the gospel. God wants us to be like them.
Paul’s example (2: 1-12)
Paul preached in Thessalonica despite opposition from the Jewish leaders (2:2). Why did Paul persist in preaching the gospel to them despite its unpopularity? Paul says it was not for any of the three reasons given by the opposition (2:3-6). First, Paul was not a false teacher. He didn’t promote his private conviction, but instead preached God’s truth. Second, he didn’t encourage people to indulge in immoral behavior and do whatever they liked. Third, he did not deceive nor delude his hearers with fine words.
Then he told why they continued to preach even though it led to trouble: God had entrusted them with the gospel; It was God’s message, not theirs; They were not trying to please people but God; They knew that God’s opinion counted more than that of others.
Paul then countered two more reasons given by the opposition – flattery and greed. They never used flattery to influence others or to please people (2:5). They didn’t preach for money, even though they were entitled to support (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 2 Cor. 11:7-11). He said that God was his witness as only God can know our motives.
After dealing with the accusations against him, Paul gave more information about their behavior in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Paul’s team behaved like a nursing mother caring for her children. They were gentle, protective and loving. As a mother puts the interests of her baby ahead of her own interests, they put the interests of the Thessalonians ahead of their own. As a mother expends energy day and night for her baby, so they spent time and energy shepherding the Thessalonians. They cared about them individually. What a contrast to the false accusers!
Paul was a hard worker, a tentmaker by trade (2:9). He could have relied on the support of others, but he worked to pay his own expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding new believers, he was making and repairing tents. He worked so he wouldn’t be a burden to the poor and persecuted, and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.
Paul described their conduct in three ways (2:10). First, they were “holy” – set apart to God from sin. They had a good relationship with God. Second, they were “righteous” in character and conduct. Third, they were “blameless” towards God and people. This doesn’t mean they were sinless, but that they had confessed and knew that “God … tests our hearts” (2:4). Paul set a high standard of integrity. This is the standard of living that we should aim for; not one of wealth, but one of integrity. It is the pattern of life of those who desire to please God.
Paul also coached like a father (2:11-12). In that culture the wife did most of the nurturing and the husband was responsible for the training. Paul’s goal was that they “live lives worthy of God.” This training was one-on-one discipleship: “We dealt with each of you.” A father coaching and training his children would include three elements: “encouraging, comforting and urging.” True discipleship takes time and patience. To grow to spiritual maturity, a new Christian needs all of these elements of discipleship.
What can we learn from Paul? First, he was an apostle. While we don’t have apostles today, as they were the founders of the Christian Church (Eph. 2:20), we do have elders to provide leadership in the local church. Second, Paul was a preacher, particularly to the Gentiles. The mission to spread the gospel is a responsibility for all believers, especially those with the gift of evangelism. Third, Paul was a teacher who wrote a significant portion of the New Testament. Elders, preachers and teachers can learn from Paul who said he was a servant to the Church (Col. 1:24-26). He worked hard to bring people to the Christian faith and to help them grow in it.
Is our lifestyle drawing people to Christ? Let’s follow Paul’s example and live lives worthy of God. His key message was the gospel. His motive was to please God. His manner of living was one of courage, gentleness, hard work and holiness. He showed love to new believers. He was bold, honest, full of integrity, and a toiler. His speech and behavior brought glory to God. The Thessalonians became model believers by imitating Paul’s example. Whether we are elders, preachers, teachers or servants, we can all imitate Paul.
Paul’s joy (2:17-3:13)
Paul believed that his most important work was helping new believers grow in the Christian faith (2:19-20). As his spiritual children, they were his hope of reward and great rejoicing in heaven. The believers at Thessalonica were also Paul’s “glory and joy” on earth (2:20). His investment of time with them resulted in believers who would praise God forever. Such investments are the best we can make because the reward extends into eternity. What a great incentive for this type of work!
Paul had heard no news and wanted to find out how they were doing (3:1-2). He sent Timothy, a spiritual brother and co-worker in God’s service (1 Cor. 3:9), to accomplish three tasks: strengthen and encourage them in their faith (3:2); ensure they were not being unsettled by persecution (3:3); and check their progress in the Christian life (3:5). Paul was afraid that they may have been seduced by Satan to escape persecution by giving up their faith. The choice was loyalty to Christ or personal comfort. If they chose personal comfort, the church would wither and die and Paul’s work would have been in vain.
Paul had already reminded them to expect persecution (3:4). Timothy would have told them to expect opposition and to persist through it. He would have also reminded them of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that God was training them through their hardship.
Timothy’s good report from Thessalonica filled Paul with joy. His labor was not in vain. Their faith and love were obvious. They had pleasant memories of Paul’s visit and longed to see him again. His response was to write this letter. They were living according to his teaching and showing this by loving one another (3:6). They had the right attitude towards God, towards others and towards Paul. Although he was suffering “distress and persecution,” Paul was greatly encouraged because of their faith (3:7). He was relieved to know they were doing well (3:8). In fact, words couldn’t express His thankfulness to God (3:9).
When the Thessalonians were persecuted, Paul prayed most earnestly, frequently and specifically (3:10-13). He knew what they were going through and prayed night and day. It’s not surprising that they were “standing firm in the Lord” (3:8). Paul mentioned four things specifically in his prayer. First, he wanted to see them again. Second, he wanted to teach them further truths from God. Third, he wanted God to “clear the way” for him to come to them. God answered this prayer when he returned to Thessalonica (Acts 20:1-3). Fourth, he prayed that their love for others might increase.
In Chapter 1, Paul noted their “labor prompted by love” (1:3); they had made a great start. Their love was to include both believers and unbelievers – and even their enemies. This was the kind of love that Paul modeled. It is a love that is to be practiced continually. Our expression of love in this life leads to blamelessness in the next. If we love one another and all humanity, we will stand “blameless and holy” when Christ returns to reign on earth. The Greek word used to describe believers in the New Testament means “holy one” or “saint.” Positionally, believers are holy (set apart for God), and practically should be becoming more holy in character by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).
This is a lesson in the importance of follow-up work. It is not enough to lead sinners to the Savior; they must also be discipled towards maturity. Remember that Paul revisited many of the cities where he had preached and established a church. He sought to build up the believers in their faith, especially teaching them the truth of the Church and its importance in God’s program. The aim of such missionaries is to establish self-sustaining churches.
Making disciples was Paul’s passion. Are we like Paul? Do we encourage younger believers? Do we long to know how they are doing? Do we rejoice in their progress? Do we pray for them? Do we train them like Timothy, and then release them to do God’s work?
Are we like the Thessalonians? Do we stand firm in the Lord? Is our faith strong during suffering and temptation? Do we trust God despite the difficulties of life? Is our love evident and increasing? Are we living godly lives?
Living to please God (4:1-12)
Although the Thessalonians were pleasing God, Paul urged them to do so more and more (4:1). The Christian life is one of continual progress. Each day there are new challenges and opportunities to please God. These are important instructions for those who claim to follow the Lord. (4:2). They show us the way to live for Him.
God’s will was that the Christians in Thessalonica be sanctified. Sanctification means being set apart for God. There are three phases to sanctification – positional (at salvation), progressive and perfect (in heaven). In this passage Paul addressed progressive sanctification in daily living – a process over time, not a single event. Paul then gave two examples of sanctification – avoiding sexual immorality and pursuing brotherly love (4:4-10). And he gave them three steps to avoid sexual immorality: control sexual desires (4:4); respect the rights of others (4:6); and listen to God and love one another (4:7-10).
This passage addresses the sin of sexual immorality in the Christian community. We live in a world where many don’t know God’s biblical guidelines. Sexual immorality is promoted in movies, television and magazines. But a Christian has a different standard. Because our natural functions need to be controlled, the Thessalonians were urged to control their sexual desires (4:4) instead of indulging in “passionate lust like the pagans” who don’t trust God. This should be one of the areas where a believer should differ, or be set apart from an unbeliever.
Our behavior affects others, so there is a need for boundaries if we are to continue to be friends. Paul wrote, “No one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” (4:6a). Sexual sin harms others besides those who engage in it. Outside of marriage, there is no such thing as safe sex. In adultery, the spouse is wronged. Premarital sex wrongs one’s future spouse. Believers should respect others and not harm them by the consequences of sexual sin. “The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before” (4:6b).
We need boundaries if we are to maintain a good relationship with the Lord (4:7-10). Paul reinforced that this instruction was given by God and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. These are not Paul’s words, but God’s. He wants us to control ourselves and not fall into sin. The Holy Spirit lives within us to help us please God. Believers should follow His instruction about sexual sin.
Because our mission is to please God, we should avoid sexual immorality as it destroys the beauty of a sanctified and holy life. Sexual purity is the key to holiness. The three steps to achieve it are: controlling sexual desires, respecting the rights of others, and loving one another. Don’t follow your feelings; instead engage your mind and don’t give in to society’s sexual pressures.
Paul now changes the topic to love, and mentions two types of love. The first is the affection shared by brothers and sisters in a family – a heart love (phileo). The other is a deliberate decision to act in the interests of another – a love of the mind (agape). The relationships between believers should be driven by both loves. Our care and concern for each other is a Christian obligation, but it should be expressed with affection. It holds us together and attracts others to Christ.
Although the believers in Thessalonica loved one another and all believers in Macedonia, Paul urged them to do so “more and more.” He had already mentioned this earlier: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (3:12). Each day there are new challenges and opportunities to love one another. But how can we “love one another” daily?
Paul gave these believers three examples of loving one another (4:11-12). First, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Some who misunderstood the promise of Christ’s return were restless and panic-stricken. Others retaliated against persecution. He told them not to seek the limelight, live a life of selfish ambition or clamor for recognition, but to lead a peaceful life.
Second, he said, “mind your own business.” Some idle Thessalonians were taking undue interest in other people’s lives (2 Th. 3:11). He told them not to be busybodies who interfere in the lives of others in unnecessary, unhelpful ways. Idleness and meddling in the lives of others is incompatible with love.
Third, he said “work with your hands” to provide for your families (1 Tim. 5:8). Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they wouldn’t be a burden to others (2:9). Because of their belief in the imminent return of Christ, some in Thessalonica stopped working and relied on others for support. Two reasons were given by Paul for working: “to win the respect of outsiders” who were watching and judging Christianity and God’s Word by their behavior; and to “not be dependent on anybody”. Living quiet lives, minding our own business and earning a living are all acts of love.
The Rapture and the day of the Lord (4:13-5:11)
The Thessalonians knew of the Second Coming as part of the gospel message. In fact, some were so sure it would be soon that they gave up their jobs to prepare for it (5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). But further teaching was needed on this topic. The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they miss Christ’s coming and His Millennial kingdom? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.
He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (4:13,14,15). When someone is “asleep” or resting, we can have contact with them again after they wake. This metaphor teaches us that death is not the end; as waking follows sleep, resurrection follows death. Paul said they were “asleep in Jesus” (4:14), meaning they were in His care.
When a believer dies, there is sorrow but not despair, because there is the hope of heaven and reunion (4:13). The basis of our hope is the resurrection of the Lord (4:14). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them to heaven with Jesus at the rapture (4:14).
The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the Greek word parousia (Strongs #3952). It means both “arrival” or “coming” and “presence with.” It is the opposite of absence. In the Bible, parousia is associated with: the Rapture, when Christ returns for all true believers (4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). So the Second Coming (or “presence”) of the Lord will be a series of events that occurs over a period of time, not all at once. When we think of the Lord’s coming, we should think of a period of time, not an isolated event. For example, Christ’s first coming to earth (“presence”) was over a period of 33 years; that’s how long He was physically present on earth.
The sequence of future events can be inferred from the book of Revelation: at present the Church is on earth (Rev. 2-3); next is the Rapture, when Christ returns to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; then the Church is in heaven (Rev. 4-5); and the Tribulation is on earth (Rev. 6-18); followed by the appearing when Christ returns to earth in great power (Rev. 19); then the 1,000 year millennial kingdom (Rev. 20); and finally the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).
The Rapture (4:15-18) was a new revelation, referred to as a mystery or truth previously unknown (1 Cor. 15:51). Two categories of Christians are mentioned – those living and the dead. The bodies of the dead will not be left behind at the Rapture. The sequence of events is in four steps. First is the Lord’s return, when Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. Second is the resurrection of the dead, when the “dead in Christ” will rise first, with God recreating from the remains of dust the bodies of all who have died. Third is the transformation of the living believers who will be “caught up” (rapturo in Latin) together with the dead. Fourth is the reunion, when we will meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever.
The truth of resurrection was not the mystery, since it appeared in the Old Testament; the change of the living believers at the Lord’s return was the mystery. Paul’s answer to their concerns was this: When the Lord returns, your loved ones who have died will not miss His appearing or the Millennium.
Likewise, the “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period (5:1-4). In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (5:2; Acts 2:20; 2 Pt. 3:10). There will be judgments on God’s enemies as described by the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe events in the Tribulation, the appearing and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire.
The “day of the Lord” will be a time of judgment of unbelievers; note the words “them” and “they” (5:3). Paul gives three characteristics of that time: it will be unexpected (“like a thief in the night”), destructive (“destruction will come on them suddenly”) and inevitable (“and they will not escape”). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth. Paul likens it to the labor preceding birth. Once it starts birth follows soon after. So the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments. The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).
Paul said that there is a way of escape (5:4-5). The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,6,9,10) tell us that Christians will not go through these judgments. Paul contrasted two groups: Unbelievers are in darkness and night, while believers are in light and day. In Scripture, “light” represents what is good and true, while “darkness” represents what is evil and false (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). He said that only those in darkness will experience these judgments (5:9-10). Instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation. They will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.
Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled (5:6-8). We should be expecting Christ’s return at any moment, living for Him and not being lazy, careless, distracted, self-indulgent, or living in sinful behavior. He then said believers should exercise faith, love and hope like armor that protects us from losing control. Faith involves depending on God. Our love for the Lord and for each other can help us live for God today. And Christ’s return is our hope. The prospect of heaven helps us live for God today.
Paul’s passages on the Rapture and the day of the Lord both conclude with: “Encourage one another” (4:18; 5:11). The Rapture will be a great reunion of believers both dead and alive. Like the first century Christians, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we encouraging each other as we eagerly wait for it?
Living as a Christian (5:12-28)
Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with church elders, other believers and God. The congregation was given two responsibilities about the elders (5:12-13). It was to “respect” them and “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else. Paul also encouraged them to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (5:23; Gal. 5:22).
Next Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. (5:14-15) We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-13). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that anyone “who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior. This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.
“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work. “Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. They need our encouragement, friendship and help.
Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else”. The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.
It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving (5:16-18). Paul began with “Rejoice always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.
Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.
“Do not quench the Spirit” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church (5:19-22). This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to follow Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and follow the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful (5:23-24). Paul prayed that their (progressive) sanctification (holiness) would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul. It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.
After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him (5:25-28). Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.
Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.
Lessons for us
Let’s read the book of 1 Thessalonians when life is bleak and we are facing tough times. It reminds us: to be good examples for other believers by imitating Paul and Jesus Christ; to encourage and disciple others in the Christian faith; to please God by avoiding sexual immorality; to eagerly anticipate the second coming; and to have godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with church leaders, other believers and God. That’s how to keep following Jesus despite the difficulties of life.
The return of Christ to bring all His followers into heaven encourages those facing adversity and trials because it means an end of the sorrow, suffering and disappointment of this sinful world. This is important because it’s mentioned in each chapter of this letter (1:9-10; 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23-24). Believers are commanded to encourage each other with the fact that they “will be with the Lord forever” (4:18). The promise of Christ’s return so believers “may live together with Him” is a great encouragement (5:10-11). And it’s one of the greatest motivations for Christian service.
Let’s encourage one another to keep following Jesus. May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.
Written, November 2016
In the previous article in this series we saw that some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” involved the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Outline of Future Events
In the New Testament times, prophecies about the “day the Lord” were given by Christ (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21), Paul (1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Th. 1:6-10; 2:1-12), Peter (2 Pt. 3:2-12 and John (Rev. 6-20). The timing of these future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation. These are shown in a schematic diagram (a timeline where time increases from left to right; includes events on earth and in heaven): at present the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3), the next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven (not mentioned specifically here; there is just a jump from earth to heaven between ch 3 and 4), while the church is in heaven (Rev. 4-5) there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18), which will end with the return of the Lord in great power and glory (Rev. 19:11-21), followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Rev. 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21-22). The arrows in the diagram show when all Christians will be taken to heaven and when they will return from heaven. The future “day of the Lord” relates to the events between the rapture and the new heaven and the new earth.
The Greek word translated “tribulation” (Strongs #2347) means suffering and trouble. The references to the future time of “tribulation” are also translated as “anguish”, “distress”, “trouble” and “suffering” (Mt. 24:21,29; Rev. 7:14 NIV, NLT, The Message). According to the dictionary, “tribulation” means “grievous trouble” or “severe trial”. Christians may be persecuted by the world, but this tribulation is God’s judgement on the world, which lasts for about seven years.
John wrote, “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). The scroll contained a record of the judgements that must fall on the earth before the Lord Jesus can set up His kingdom (Rev.5:9). The judgements included a series of plagues like there were in Egypt before the exodus, which are called: six seals (Rev. 6); seven trumpets (Rev. 8 & 9); and seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev. 16). This period of tribulation is characterised by “God’s wrath” and “God’s fury” (Rev. 6:16; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19): “For the great day of their (God’s) wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev. 6:17). It will be a time of intense persecution of the Jews: “Then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:21-22). At the end of this period, Israel is attacked from the south and the north and the armies of the world gather for the final battle at Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Also, “Babylon the Great”, an influential religious and commercial system based in Rome, will be destroyed by the Antichrist (Rev. 17 & 18).
It is clear that these judgements are not for the church. The church is not mentioned in Rev. 6-19. Christians will not experience the tribulation as God promised the church in Philadelphia, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Also, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Th. 5:4) and “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). This is about the Tribulation, not hell; as hell is a place, not a period of time. Instead, Christians will be raptured to be with the Lord – they will be taken away, like Noah was taken away from destruction of the global flood and Lot was taken away from the destruction of Sodom.
The key personalities in the Tribulation include:
- Satan and his demons, who are cast out of heaven to the earth and will persecute the Jews (Rev. 12).
- “The beast” (or Antichrist)—a political leader based in Rome who will appear as a peacemaker to solve many of the world’s problems (Rev. 16:2), and be worshipped like a god and will persecute God’s people (Rev.13:1-9). His number is 666. The Antichrist will work like Satan works (2 Th. 2:9-12). He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that that these miracles prove that he is divine. But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the Antichrist is the Messiah; God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.
- “The false prophet”—a religious leader, based in Jerusalem, who uses supernatural powers to support the beast (Rev. 13:11-18). At the mid-point of the tribulation, he will set up an idol of the beast in the Jewish temple and make people worship it or be killed (Mt. 24:15).
Who will be saved during the Tribulation and enter into the Millennium?
- 144,000 Jewish believers will preach the gospel of the kingdom in the first half of the tribulation (Mt. 24:14; Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). This gospel was preached at Christ’s first coming, but it was rejected by most of the Jews. Now, amidst suffering, some will turn to God and they will suffer intense persecution (Rom. 1:25-26).
- Two prophets who will witness for 3.5 years (Rev. 11:1-13). The Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem (Mt. 24:15; Rev. 11:1-2).
- There will also be Gentile believers (Rev. 7:9,10,14).
The Tribulation ends when the Lord appears in great power:
- Jesus quoted from Isaiah, saying that He would return immediately after the Great Tribulation: “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29-30).
- The final catastrophic events that precede the appearing are world wide. Lk. 21:35 “For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”
- The Lord appears as “King of kings and Lord of lords” as the supreme ruler, with believers (“the armies of heaven”) (Rev. 19:1-21). “With justice He judges and makes war” (v.11).
- The beast and the armies of the world make war against the Lord (v.19). The beast and the false prophet will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur” and the others will be killed (v.20).
- Today Christ is hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him. Christ’s victory will be visible to all. At that time, God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well (Rom. 8:19; 2 Th. 2:10). God’s plan is that Christians will be with Him and like Him forever (2 Th. 2:14).
- The unsaved will be cast into hell, while the faithful will be gathered to enter the Millennium (Mt. 25:34,41): “And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt. 24:31).
Next Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-6). As this hasn’t happened yet, we are not in the millennium today. During this period, Jesus will rule on earth as the king and those who have part of the first resurrection will reign with Him (Rev. 5:10). These are believers from the church and the tribulation periods.
Peter addressed Jews in Jerusalem, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive Him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21). Following repentance of the Jews in the tribulation, The Lord will return in power to establish His Millennial kingdom. According to Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all people and they will prophesy. The day of Pentecost was a foretaste of this time.
“The Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to His blessings in the last days” (Hos. 3:4-5). The Jews will be blessed under the rule of Christ in the Millennium. It will be a time of restoration, peace and prosperity. All of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants will be fulfilled at this time.
Finally the Lord’s prayer will be answered, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). For example, there will be no war: “And He (God) will judge between the nations, and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Is. 2:4).
After the millennium Satan will be released and deceive many people who were born during the Millennium so that they form an army to attack Jerusalem, but God will intervene with fire from heaven and Satan will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur”. After this, unbelievers will take part in the second resurrection, be judged before God at the great white throne according to what they have done and thrown into the lake of fire, which is called the second death (Rev. 20:71-15).
The Great Fire
The poem “The hollow men” by T S Elliott ends with:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
But he got it wrong.
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:3-9).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Pt. 3:10, 12b). This is the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire. “The heavens” means the atmosphere, and maybe the rest of the universe, but not God’s dwelling place. It will be unexpected. All matter will be destroyed in what resembles a nuclear explosion. We know that matter is stored-up energy. At present it is held together by the Lord (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). At that time is seems as though the energy stored up in matter will be released, not with a whimper but a bang.
The “day of the Lord” is a theme that is particularly applied to the Jews and their enemies in the prophetic Scriptures from Amos and Isaiah to Revelation. It is a period of time when God intervenes in the world, primarily for judgement. It also describes God’s triumph over all His enemies and His granting security and blessing to His people. It will be a time of justice and retribution; of punishment and reward. A time when it will be clear to all that God is in control of our world. Some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” concerned the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. As these prophecies came true, so will those concerning the future.
Like food, prophecy is “sweet” and “sour/bitter” (Rev. 10:10). There is good news and there is bad news.
- The bad news is: much suffering and judgement is coming to all who reject the Saviour (during the Tribulation and eternally); the prophets warn people of their sinful ways and the need to repent and turn to God.
- The good news is: God will triumph over Satan and his demons and all who do evil; Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and Saviour; there will be justice and He will rule during the Millennium.
Lessons for us
The choice for us is rapture or God’s wrath. What will it be for you? Only believers escape the judgment coming on the earth in the Tribulation. We need to repent and turn to God.
Since there is a coming time of Tribulation, a Millennium and a great fire, how should we live as believers?
- “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Th. 5:6). Believers should be awake, not asleep. This means expecting Christ’s return at any moment and living for Him; not being lazy, careless, distracted from living for God, wasting time in self-indulgence, seeking wealth or fame, or falling into patterns of sinful behaviour. Secondly, believers should also be sober, not drunk. This means taking life seriously and using the opportunities we have to further the kingdom of God, instead of always seeking amusement and entertainment. It also means being self-controlled and not losing control over our behaviour including our speech, eating and drinking.
- God will rapture all believers to heaven before the Tribulation, so they are removed from the suffering of that part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:9). The rapture will be a great reunion of believers dead and alive. Like the early believers, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we eagerly waiting for it and encouraging one another with this promise (1 Th. 5:11)?
- “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives …” (2 Pt. 3:11-12a). As the material world will be burnt up, we should not be devoted to it. Instead, live for the spiritual things that last by being holy (separated from sin) and godly (be devoted to worship and serve God).
- Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about these future prophetic events (2 Th. 2:5). This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should know and teach these things to help keep our eternal perspective.
Written, May 2007
See the other article in this series:
– The Day of the Lord. Part 1: The past
Revelation is the major prophetic book in the New Testament. It is the best reference that Christians have on future events because:
- the Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity;
- John wrote down what was revealed to him by God (Revelation 1:19); and
- It is the Bible’s final prophecy – the words are not to be changed in any way (by addition or subtraction) (Revelation 22:18-19).
The timing of future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation (see below).
At present the church is on earth (Revelation 2-3) and the next event is the “rapture” when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. The rapture is not mentioned specifically in Revelation; but in Revelation 4, the church is in heaven. While the church is in heaven (Revelation 4-5), there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Revelation 6-18), which will end with the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory (Revelation 19:11-21). This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Revelation 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).
The key to understanding the second coming of the Lord is that the second coming is associated with a series of events, not one event and these occur over a period of time, not all at once. From the order of events in Matthew 24:15-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, it is clear the “rapture” is before the tribulation and the “appearing” is at the end of the tribulation. Jesus said the great distress (tribulation) occurs immediately before His second advent (Mat.24:21-31). Also, the judgements in Rev. 6 – 18 are associated with the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14), and they conclude with Christ appearing as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).
“The Tribulation” will be a time of suffering for those on the earth. The church is not mentioned during this period because it is in heaven (Revelation 6-18). Instead there are 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7 and 14), a Jewish temple (Rev. 11:1-13), and Jewish persecution (Rev 12). Also, the advice “Whoever has ears, let them hear” is addressed to Christian churches in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 whereas in Revelation 13:9, it is addressed to believers, but there is no mention of the church.
As the following events haven’t happened yet, they are still in the future, as they were for John in 95 AD when he called them “what will take place later” (Rev. 1:19):
- At the Rapture, all true Christians will be taken from the earth.
- There will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Rev. 11:1-13), whereas this has not been the case since it was destroyed in AD70.
- At the Appearing, Jesus Christ will return to the earth and defeat all His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).
- During the millennium, Satan will be bound so he can’t deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3).
Learning from the past
Prophecy about the future will be fulfilled literally, just as has prophecy of the past. For example, when the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Jewish captivity would be 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), it turned out that this prediction was literal, not symbolic.
Since the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, then the prophecies relating to His second Coming will also be fulfilled literally. Although symbols and figures of speech are used in giving both of these prophecies, this does not affect their historical and prophetic fulfillment.
Written, March 2010
In this Series we have seen that Paul visited Thessalonica and in response to his preaching a church was established. Because he was unable to visit them for some time, he wrote a letter to encourage these new believers. In chapter 4 Paul told them how to live to please God. They were to avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. In this part we will look at the Second Coming, a major theme mentioned in each chapter (1 Th. 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23). The Thessalonians knew of the Second Coming as part of the gospel message. In fact, some were so sure it would be soon that they gave up their jobs to prepare for it (1 Th. 5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). Further teaching was needed on this topic.
Death Is Like Sleep
“We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV).
The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1 Th. 1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they see their loved ones before the final resurrection at the end of time (Jn. 11:24)? Also Paul had probably taught them that Christ was coming back to reign and that Christians would reign with Him (Rev. 20:6). Would those who had already died miss this? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.
He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (13,14,15). When someone is “asleep” or resting, we can have contact with them again after they wake. This metaphor teaches us that death is not the end; as waking follows sleep, resurrection follows death. Paul said they were “asleep in Jesus” (4:14), meaning they were in His care. The soul and spirit don’t sleep in death, as they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
When a believer dies, there is sorrow but not despair, because there is the hope of heaven and reunion (4:13). The basis of our hope is the resurrection of the Lord (4:14). Paul wrote elsewhere: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them with Jesus (4:14). When will this be? When Jesus returns in power and glory. The dead won’t miss the glory of the coming kingdom.
A Period Of Time
The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the word parousia. It means both “arrival” or “coming” and “presence with.” It is the opposite of absence. In the Bible, parousia is associated with: the Rapture, when Christ returns for all true believers (1 Th. 4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (1 Th. 2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). The Second Coming (or “presence”) of the Lord will be a series of events that occurs over a period of time, not all at once.
This sequence of future events can be inferred from The Revelation: the Church on earth (Rev. 2-3); the Rapture, that is Christ’s return to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; the Church in heaven (Rev. 4-5); the Tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); the appearing, that is Christ’s return to earth in great power (Rev. 19); the Millennium, a 1,000 year kingdom (Rev. 20); and the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).
When we think of the Lord’s coming, we should think of a period of time, not an isolated event. For example, Christ’s first coming to earth (“presence”) was over a period of 33 years; that’s how long He was physically present on earth. In fact, one of His names is “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).
“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. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
The Rapture (4:15) was a new revelation, referred to as a mystery or truth previously unknown (1 Cor. 15:51). Two categories of Christians are mentioned – those living and the dead. The bodies of the dead will not be left behind at the Rapture. The sequence of events is in four steps. First is the Lord’s return, when Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. The command is probably addressed to the dead (Jn. 5:28-29; 11:43). Second is the resurrection of the dead, when the “dead in Christ” will rise first, with God recreating from the remains of dust the bodies of all who have died. Third is the transformation of the living believers who will be “caught up” (rapturo in Latin) together with the dead. Fourth is the reunion, when we will meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever. Jesus summarized the Rapture this way: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3).
The truth of resurrection was not the mystery, since it appeared in the Old Testament; the change of the living believers at the Lord’s return was the mystery. Paul described this sudden change: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
Paul also wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). When He returns, our bodies will be transformed to be like His resurrection body – suited to heaven, not subject to sickness, decay or death, and free from sin and its effects. This is called the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). The Bible doesn’t say whether it will be a secret or a public event. Because it takes place in a flash, some say it won’t be seen by unbelievers. Others say it will be heard. Paul’s answer to their concerns was this: When the Lord returns, your loved ones who have died will not miss His appearing or the Millennium.
The Day Of The Lord
“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. 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” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).
The “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period. In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (Acts 2:20; 1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). It will be characterized by gloom, darkness and destruction. The sun moon and stars will be darkened (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12). There will be judgments on God’s enemies as described by the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe events in the Tribulation, the appearing and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire.
The “day of the Lord” will be a time of judgment of unbelievers; note the words “them” and “they” (5:3). Paul gives three characteristics of that time: it will be unexpected, destructive and inevitable.
First, Jesus said it will be unexpected: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth.
Second, He also said it will be destructive, and described it as follows: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Mt. 24:21). The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).
Third, it will be inevitable, like the labor preceding birth. Once it starts a woman can’t change her mind, and birth follows soon after. Paul said the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments.
Salvation Instead Of Suffering
“But you … are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).
Paul said that there is a way of escape. The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,9,10) tell us that Christians will not go through these judgments. Paul contrasted two groups: Unbelievers are in darkness and night, while believers are in light and day. In Scripture, “light” represents what is good and true, while “darkness” represents what is evil and false (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). He said that only those in darkness will experience these judgments. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him” (1 Th. 5:9-10).
Verses 9-10 tell us that instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation; they will be with Christ where there is no sin. Other verses also show that Christians will not experience the suffering described in the “day of the Lord” or the Tribulation (Rom. 5:9; 1 Th. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10). Instead, we will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.
Living In View Of The Second Coming
“Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 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” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).
Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled. We should be expecting Christ’s return at any moment, living for Him and not being lazy, careless, distracted, self-indulgent, or living in sinful behavior. We should also be sober, seeking to further the kingdom of God instead of our own entertainment, being self-controlled and not losing control of our behavior.
He then said believers should exercise faith, love and hope like armor that protects us from losing control. Faith involves depending on God. Our love for the Lord and for each other can help us live for God today. And Christ’s return is our hope. The prospect of heaven helps us live for God today.
Paul’s passages on the Rapture and the day of the Lord have similar conclusions: “Encourage one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11).
Lessons For Us
The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. The Rapture will be a great reunion of believers both dead and alive. Like the first century Christians, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we encouraging each other as we eagerly wait for it?
Published, May 2009