Summary: We’re not to get caught up in date setting but instead are to be ready at all times to meet the Lord because He will come like a thief in the night. In the meantime, we’re to cultivate faith, love, and hope.
Getting Ready for the Second Coming
[Drama: “Security Check”] I can’t imagine what that would be like when the Book of Life is opened and your name is nowhere to be found! The feelings of regret, loneliness, and outright alarm would be devastating. And that would be nothing like the eternal punishment that awaits those who are not saved.
This drama helps us imagine what it may be like after we die. We sometimes need to look behind the landscape of every day life in order to recognize that which is ultimately true. In a recent Time magazine cover story, Nancy Gibbs writes, “In an apocalyptic age, people feel that the veil of normal, secular reality is lifting and we can see behind the scenes…” (“Apocalypse Now,” 7/1/02).
I can think of three categories in which we’re beginning to see the veil of secular reality lifting:
Catastrophic events like 9/11, the sniper shootings, the threat of more terrorist attacks, and the news about a senator and his family being killed in a plane crash have reminded us that life is a vapor that’s here one moment and gone the next.
Continuing problems in the Middle East, impending war with Iraq, and the swings in the stock market make many of us feel insecure.
And, our cultural climate is filled with increasing drug and alcohol addiction, the breakdown of the family, and mistrust of both state and church.
As we established last week, Jesus is coming again. This topic fascinates many of us, while others are filled with fear at the prospect of His return. For those who know Christ, the problem of sorrow is solved because the promise of the rapture is sure, the participants are certain, and the plan is set. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 states that the purpose of this teaching is to comfort us: “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
Let me show you this simple chart again to demonstrate my understanding of how the end time events lay out on a timeline:
As we come to 1 Thessalonians 5, it’s important to know that Paul is now addressing the “Day of the Lord,” not the Rapture. We’ll learn more about this in a minute, but keep in mind that believers are raptured in chapter 4; in chapter 5, those who are left behind face unprecedented tribulation and terror. We could say it this way: In chapter 4, the Rapture comforts the troubled; in chapter 5, the Day of the Lord troubles the comfortable.
Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a man, who in 1938, ordered an expensive, extremely sensitive barometer from a very respected company. When it arrived, he was disappointed to discover that the needle was stuck on the dial marked “hurricane.” After shaking his new gauge several times to no avail, he decided to write a scathing letter to the manufacturer. He mailed the letter the next day on his way to the office. That evening he returned home to find that his barometer was missing – along with his house that had been hurtled away by a hurricane!
The Bible is our barometer. This morning we’re going to see that it’s pointing to a holy hurricane, to a terrible time of tribulation. Please turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and follow along as I read: “Now, 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. 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. But you, brothers, 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. So then, 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Distinctives of the Day of the Lord (1-3)
Paul recognizes that the Thessalonians knew enough about “times and dates” that he did not need to give them any more information. They were well taught on this topic from the very beginning. There are two reasons why they didn’t need any more data.