Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Coming of the Lord

Part 7 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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 (1 Thess. 4:13). 

Love Others...Even If They Hold a Different View on Eschatology  

The return of Jesus is mentioned in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23). The promise of the Lord’s return is what gives us hope.

In an article entitled “13 End Times Errors to Avoid,” one of the thirteen is “Making a particular view of eschatology a test of orthodoxy.” (Earlier in this series, I shared one of the other thirteen errors to avoid: “Not preaching the return of Jesus for fear of controversy.”) When one Baptist theologian accused H. A. Ironside and others of being heretics for holding the pretribulational view, Ironside responded with these words:
It passes our comprehension how any man, or set of men, with an atom of genuine love for the Lord and His people, can deliberately brand as heretics fellow-believers whose lives are generally fragrant with Christian graces, who stand unflinchingly for the inspiration of the entire Bible, simply because they hold different views on prophecy. [1]
The command to love others is disobeyed when we make a particular view of eschatology a test of orthodoxy.

My View on the Coming of the Lord 

You might be wondering what my view is on “the coming of the Lord” (v. 15). My view is the posttribulational view (i.e., there is no rapture of the church before the tribulation period).

Would God really allow the church to go through this time of great tribulation? Here’s how Jesus describes what the world will be like before his second coming: “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21). I searched for the word “tribulation” in the NT and it usually refers to the persecution of Christians. There is no biblical support for the idea that Christians are promised to avoid tribulation. Actually, the opposite is found in Scripture. Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). The Thessalonians were experiencing “afflictions,” and Paul says that they were “destined for this” (4:3; cf. 1:6). [2]

But what about the promise of 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (cf. 2:16). God’s wrath and tribulation are not the same thing. The church will suffer man’s wrath but not God’s wrath (like how the Israelites were afflicted by the Egyptians but were spared from the ten plagues). The apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed [i.e., when Jesus returns]” (1 Peter 4:12-13). 

The Dead in Christ

Paul writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep [i.e., dead]” (v. 13). About what were the Thessalonians “uninformed”? We can’t be sure, but it had something to do with those whom Paul describes as “the dead in Christ” (v. 16). Perhaps one or more of the Thessalonian believers had died since Paul’s visit, and the church was concerned that these deceased Christians were not going to be fully experience the Lord’s coming. Paul comforts them by assuring them that “to be alive or dead is of no consequence at all regarding the coming of Christ.” [3]

Paul wants to inform the Thessalonians about the fate of the dead in Christ so “that [they] may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (v. 13). Our hope is the Lord’s return. It’s a hope that’s based on the resurrection of Jesus: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (v. 14). It’s called “our blessed hope” in Titus 2:13: “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It’s our “one hope” (Eph. 4:4). It should unite us!

When a Christian dies, we don’t need to grieve without hope. Whether we are alive or dead on the day of the Lord’s coming, we will either “rise first” (v. 16) (“we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep,” v. 15) or “caught up” (v. 17). We will all “meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v. 17)

Encourage One Another

Paul concludes this passage with these words: “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v. 18). One of the reasons why we gather together as a church is to encourage one another. We are not to be “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

We shouldn’t allow our views on the timing of the Lord’s coming to divide us. Instead, we should talk about our hope and encourage one another!


[1] This quote is found in George E. Ladd’s The Blessed Hope (59).
[2] The Greek word translated “afflictions” (thlipsis) is the same word translated “tribulation” in Matthew 24:21.
[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 175.

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