Why We Should Expect Jesus to Return Soon!
Topic: Last Days Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11
Are We Living in the Last Days?
Grace Community Church
April 3, 2022
Why We Should Expect Jesus to Return Soon!
This morning we’re going to bring our series Are We Living in the Last Days to a close. There’s so much more that could be said but with Palm Sunday and Easter coming I thought it would be appropriate to close by looking at the second coming of Jesus. We’ll be reading from 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11 and just to set your minds at ease, I have Dao’s ok to do this section of 1 Thess.
Let’s begin by reading chapter 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thess. 4:13-18
Title: Why We Should Expect Jesus to Return Soon. Paul encourages the Thessalonian church to expect Jesus’ return in such a way that they must have felt his return was imminent.Twice he says, “we who are alive…” will meet Jesus and those who have died in the air. It must have left them with the feeling that this is coming any day!
Then Paul encourages them – and us – to encourage each other with this exciting truth. But nearly two thousand years later, does it have the same punch that it did back then? If generation after generation of believers don’t live to see Jesus’ return, and only one generation will actually be alive when Jesus returns, it feels like the odds are against us being the generation that sees his return. How then does this encourage us? How do we live expecting Jesus to return soon? Should we live expecting Jesus to return soon?
The New Testament clearly tells us that Jesus will come back to earth visibly and gloriously. Jesus himself speaks of the Son of Man coming on clouds of glory and the whole world will see it when he does. That expectation pulsated through the early church. Jesus’ return wasn’t a side issue to them – it was a constant and central belief. Paul alone mentions Jesus’ return 50 times, compared to his mention of baptism just 14 times. They were watching and waiting for Christ’s return expecting it to be soon! Any day!
But after a while, when Jesus didn’t return immediately and over time believers began to die, those still alive worried that the ones who had died had missed out on seeing the glorious day of Jesus’ return and that compounded their sense of grief and loss. The Thessalonians came from a pagan background which offered no hope after the grave. An inscription on a Thessalonian grave read: “After death, no reviving, after the grave, no meeting again.” As they saw loved ones die, in their grief they began to struggle with doubts and hopelessness.
Paul adjusts their grief from “hopeless” to “hopeful”. Let’s look again at Paul’s encouragement:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thess. 4:13-14
Fallen asleep is a Christian euphemism for death. Notice that God will “bring with him” those who had died. To be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). So there’s the first encouragement – believers who died trusting in Jesus are with the Lord right now. Paul goes on:
15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:15-17
This is the clearest reference to what we call the “rapture”. Paul says the dead will rise up first. They will be raised up from the grave in resurrection bodies to meet Jesus in the air. Then (and only then) believers who are alive will be caught up to be with Jesus in the sky and so we will always be with the Lord. Forget the Thessalonian saying, after the grave, no meeting again. We will meet again in the air with Jesus!
Now there are some who believe the rapture described here will be a secret rapture of the church, followed by seven years of tribulation on the earth. Others, myself included, believe that there is only one “return” of Christ and this describes his glorious and visible return to earth, and how believers will be caught up with him as part of his army as he conquers the antichrist and his armies. We see this in Jesus’ description of his coming in Matt. 24:30-31
30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt 24:30-31
But whether we believe in a secret rapture before the tribulation or an open rapture at the glorious second coming of Christ, we should expect Jesus to return soon! I’ll explain why as we read on.
5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children] of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
In 2004 some railway workers found several motion detectors set up at various points at the railway yard.
Fearing it to be the work of terrorists – just two months earlier bombs had been set off on four trains in Madrid, they called the FBI in to investigate.
What the FBI found out was a little less nefarious than terrorism. The motion sensors had been set up by a railway worker who wanted to be able to sleep during his shift and set the motion detectors up to alert him when his supervisors were coming.
When Jesus returns, he will come as a thief in the night and there’s no motion detector that can wake us or alert us before he returns. Paul warns us, stay awake! Don’t fall asleep spiritually speaking, stay awake! The world will be spiritually sleeping when Jesus comes back. They won’t expect him, they won’t be looking for him. It will be night for them and he will be a thief to them, in that for those whose hearts are bound up in this world, everything of value will be taken from them, leaving them empty-handed.
But we aren’t children of the night, we are children of the day. We are to stay awake, we are to be looking and watching and ready. We should expect Jesus to return soon. Not because we know he’s returning soon, but because we don’t. It’s because expecting Jesus to return soon is good for us. Expecting Jesus to return soon has a healthy spiritual effect on how we live in the here and now. Two points:
- Expecting Jesus to return soon reminds us we are accountable
In Jesus’ parables, those who weren’t ready were lulled by his delay into thinking they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it. They thought they wouldn’t have to answer for it, they wouldn’t be held accountable.
Accountability is a good thing. Knowing we will answer to God one day helps keep us honest. We are all sinners – even the most sincere of believers are sinners saved by grace – and if we start to think that no one’s looking we get sloppy. We start thinking we can get away with things. Sin loves the darkness of no accountability. Accountability shines a light on us and sunlight is the best disinfectant.
If someone keeps the books for a company (or a church), they need to be held accountable, meaning others are seeing what they are doing. If no one else examines it, there’s room for even an honest person to be tempted to fudge numbers.
When it comes to morality, accountability means doing things in the light so people can see. Is your computer or phone available for your spouse to jump on any time she wants?
Over the past two weeks, the Hillsong network of churches are taking a big hit after a documentary exposed several scandals. I don’t know all the details, but what I read is similar to so many scandals in the church: the people tasked with holding the top people accountable tried to preserve the ministry’s reputation by tried to hiding what was really going on, which just makes things worse and damaged their reputation even more.
It's good for us to seek accountability in our lives, but the ultimate accountability for the believer is
knowing that we will answer to God, we will face Jesus. That day is coming fast one way or another, but as a pastor named John Linton observed:
In much of our modern preaching we urge people to live holy and work diligently because death is swiftly coming. But that is never the Bible argument. The Bible argument always is, Christ is coming! Be ready when He comes!
Paul encourages us to live in such a way that if Jesus were to come back this moment, we wouldn’t be ashamed. Or surprised. The reason we aren’t surprised isn’t necessarily because we figured out when Jesus was coming back. The reason we aren’t surprised is because when Jesus comes back, we’ve been living with the knowledge that we will give account and so we’re doing what Jesus called us to do.
- Expecting Jesus to return soon gives us perspective, protection, and productive lives
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Paul reminds us of what God has done for us in Christ. He connects Jesus’ second coming to his first coming. In Christ God has changed our destiny from wrath to mercy, from “depart from me forever” to “be with me forever”. We don’t belong to the day because of what we’ve done, we belong to the day because Christ has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to his kingdom of light. All this is through Jesus Christ who died for us so that whether we die before Jesus returns or are alive when he returns, it really doesn’t matter. Either way we get to live with him forever.
But since we belong to the day, Paul tells us how we should live our lives. Be sober. Paul’s not talking about alcohol here, he’s talking about perspective. He’s talking about good judgment. See life clearly, be serious about what God takes seriously. People who are drunk lose their sense of perspective, sense of judgment, sense of balance.
Put on the armor everyday. Protection. The breastplate protects our hearts, the helmet protects our minds. Faith, love, and hope protect us. There are going to be times when we will struggle to hold onto our faith – it will look like God isn’t trustworthy. God let us down. Put on the breastplate of faith to shield you from the arrows of doubt. There will be times when we don’t want to love – it will be easier to hate. To ignore. To isolate. Protect your heart with love. Love doesn’t protect us from getting hurt, love protects us from getting hard. And that’s far more important.
Build and encourage each other. Be productive. In chapters 3 and 4 Paul encourages them to love one another. All of us are a work in progress and God wants all of us as disciples to be working on each other. A little hammering here, and little sanding there, a little cutting here. All to build up and encourage. Leaving each other stronger and better for our part. Be productive, help others.
By the way, notice that Paul does what he says we should be doing. He says, build and encourage each other…just as you are doing. You’re doing it, do it more! He does the same thing earlier in chapter 4
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more… 1 Thess. 4:9-10
Let’s learn a lesson from Paul: don’t ignore the good someone is doing when you encourage them to do more and go further.
Expecting Jesus to return soon helps us live here and now in a spiritually healthier way. It helps us live accountably (and that’s good) and helps give us perspective, protection, and productive lives.
Are we in the last days? I mean, really last days? I think there are good reasons to think we are. But we don’t know. But one thing we know: Jesus is coming back soon. He really is. Now, a thousand years are like a day to God, so it might not be for another day or two, but he’s coming back soon. Whether Jesus returns tomorrow or a thousand years from now it’s good for us to expect Jesus to return soon.
History (as we know it) doesn’t end on a dark note. The world doesn’t end in a cataclysmic explosion or a meteor killing everything or the oceans covering the world. History ends with Jesus coming back and setting everything right. It ends on the brightest note of hope, so we can live every day in that hope with simple faith.