Summary: We should all be living as if Jesus was crucified yesterday; raised from the dead this morning, and is coming back this afternoon. Are you ready?
One night a thief broke into a house he thought was deserted. As he walked through the darkened house with a flashlight he heard a voice from the kitchen that said, “Jesus is watching you.” He stopped and said, “Who’s there?” There was no answer so he thought he must have imagined it. But after he took a few more steps, the voice said again, “Jesus is watching you.” He decided to walk toward the voice, just before he entered the kitchen, he heard it again. “Jesus is watching you.” He swung his flashlight up and saw a talking parrot in a cage. The parrot said, “Jesus is watching you.” The thief flipped on the kitchen light and said, “Why you’re just a dumb bird.” Then he noticed a huge Doberman crouching under the cage. The parrot said, “Sic ‘im, Jesus.”
Criminals can be pretty dumb. Here’s a true story from Colorado Springs. A robber held up a convenience store with a shotgun. After the cashier put the money in the bag, the robber saw a bottle of whiskey on the shelf behind and cashier and told him to put it in the bag. The clerk told the robber he couldn’t because the robber didn’t look like he was 21 years old. The robber promptly showed the clerk his driver’s license. The clerk agreed he was 21 and put the whiskey in the bag. Then when the robber left he called 911 and gave them the robber’s name and address. We’ve all heard the “dumb criminal” stories, and they can do some lame-brained things. But if you’ve ever been robbed, you know it’s not a laughing matter.
You might think it strange that Jesus would compare His return to a thief. Of course, Jesus isn’t identifying with the sin of stealing. But just a good thief (that’s an oxymoron) tries to sneak in quickly and quietly and escape with his loot, that’s an apt description of how Jesus will rapture His church.
As you know the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible weren’t in the original scriptures. They were added 14 centuries later by a Catholic Bishop named Stephen Langton. He didn’t always do a good job. Someone said he marked up his Bible while riding on a donkey from church to church, and every time his donkey stumbled or lurched, he made a new chapter. For certain, there should be no chapter division between the fourth and fifth chapter in 1 Thessalonians. So to keep this text in proper context, let’s get a running start at 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and read through 5:15.
1 Thessalonians 4:16–5:5. “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. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
“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.”
The early believers we so excited about the return of Christ that it occupied their thoughts and conversations. They had used a specific Christian salutation made up of two Aramaic words, maran atha. You’re probably heard it pronounced Maranatha. It literally means, “The Lord comes.” Or “The Lord is at hand.” When they gathered, they greeted each other with a holy kiss on the cheek and said, “Maranatha, the Lord comes.” When they parted they said, “Maranatha, the Lord is at hand.” We should have the same holy passion about the return of Christ. This is a crazy world and getting crazier. That’s why each of us should maintain hope and be excited about life. We know that one day soon Jesus is going to come and we’ll be with Him forever.
The great Bible scholar G. Campbell Morgan wrote: “To me the second coming is the perpetual light on the path which makes the present bearable. I never lay my head on my pillow without thinking that maybe before the morning breaks, the final morning may have dawned.”
Let’s learn four things about the return of Jesus.