Summary: Expository sermon exploring the second coming of Christ and how the anticipation of that event should affect our lives now. Clip from movie "Titanic" illustrates urgency of Evangelism.
Looking Forward to That Day
What are you looking forward to in life? What goals have you set and how are those goals affecting the way you life? Isn’t it amazing how our hopes and dreams determine the choices we make in life—determine the sacrifices we are willing to make—determine the way we spend our money and our time. We fix our eyes on a desired future and we invest ourselves toward that objective. A young couple was in my office Wednesday planning their wedding. Everything in their lives is revolving around the future they have planned together. It is beautiful to see a young couple in love and filled with hopeful expectations about tomorrow. Some people are looking forward to finishing school. Their lives are filled with hours of study and homework and reports. Because of the envisioned future they discipline themselves toward that end. Some are anticipating a better job. Some are planning for retirement. About a month ago I sat at a hospital in Branson with John and Jill Nolie as they anticipated the birth of their first child. They had worked hard on their house preparing for Benjamin’s arrival. They had invested time and money toward that event in their lives. And what a joy it was for all of us when the day finally came.
The future we anticipate—the hope we set before us—powerfully influences the way we live—the way we invest our time and energy—the way we conduct our lives. That’s why our attitude concerning the Coming of the Lord is so very important. In our text Paul is explaining that event to the Christians at Thessalonica. He is clearing up misunderstandings and establishing them in truth—with two essential objectives. One is to bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones. The other is to inspire holiness and service to the Lord.
He begins in 1 Thess 4:13 with these words, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep...” “those who have fallen asleep” are the Christians who had died. He’s just using a common metaphor to express that—in the same way we say a person “has passed away”. We mean they died but the idiom communicates it in a more sensitive way.
I. What will happen when Jesus returns?
(1) Verse 16 says “For the Lord Himself (speaking of Jesus) will descend from heaven.”
At some point in the course of human history the Father is going to say to the Son—Now! Now is the time to take your Bride. Now is the time to reap the fruit of your sufferings. Now is the time to bring your people home. There is a glorious NOW coming for you and me and all those who love His appearing. There is coming an awesome climatic moment in the history of mankind.
“For the Lord Himself...” In the Greek the “Himself” is prominent and emphatic. We won’t just meet an agent of the King. We won’t just be greeted by a host of angels. The King Himself will come! At His ascension in Acts 1 Jesus gave instruction to the disciples and then ascended into the clouds right before there eyes. As they stood dumbfounded by what they had just seen, two angels appeared and said to them,
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Acts 1:11
“...in like manner..” means “in like manner”—literally in a glorified body visible to the disciples. At first those kinds of details may not seem all that important. But I remember years ago in a church I attended a whole group of people going off in deception. It began with a doctrine that said Jesus has already returned spiritually and we need not expect him to come back literally. A weird system of beliefs was built around that error. "Therefore if they say to you, ’Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ’Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matt 24:26-27
Many of us who watched the events unfold in Waco with David Khoresh’s group and saw what kind of tragedy can come out of error concerning the Lord’s return. The Jehovah’s Witness cult gained a large following with false predictions about the coming of the Lord. Why did people fall for it? If we’re not established in truth, we’re vulnerable to lies. Some people will follow anything that sounds spiritual and exciting.
The coming of the Lord will not be some street person wearing a white sheet. It will not be some eastern guru claiming to be divine. For the believer, the coming of the Lord will be absolutely unmistakable. When you get caught up in the air with the Lord you will know something has happened. It won’t just be a spiritual experience. It will be a total transformation from mortality to immortality.