Preparing Ourselves For the Day of the Lord
[1st Thessalonians chapter 5]
When I closed out 1st Thessalonians chapter four last week, you no doubt recall my interpretation that we are to be living each day of our lives as if it will be our last. I cannot overemphasize this important truth, nor is it possible to diminish its importance. God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say, and for a man like myself being in a position of Christian leadership, I am held to a higher standard by the Lord, because what applies to church members applies to me twice as much. Plus, as our Lord’s return for his church continues to get ever closer, I fervently hope that others will follow my example and be continually readying themselves for His coming. And this, my dear readers, is a goal worth attaining at any time. It is at this point that Paul takes up where he left off, starting at the beginning of chapter five.
“Now, brothers, about times and dates we need not 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 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 from 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.” (1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 1-11, NIV)
Paul paints a vivid picture of the coming of the Lord. Of course, one might ask if this is pertaining to the rapture of the church, or to the Lord’s triumphant return three and a half years later (see the Book of Daniel chapter 12, etc). If you are one of those who has studied the rapture, the tribulation and the signs that we are living in the end times (never mind what you may have seen on TV or at the movies), then it is essential that we understand what Paul meant here. When he wrote, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”, I believe this warning was meant primarily for the Church. Be ready, watch and pray that we receive purification from the Holy Spirit, so that as members of the Bride of Christ we may be found “without spot or blemish”.
“While people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly…”. According to prophecy, before the Antichrist can come to power, World War 3 will have to occur first (also known as the Gog-Magog war of Ezekiel 39 and 39). There will also have been a series of natural disasters that will have occurred by this point in time (I don’t have time to explain that part in detail, so please bear with me). People will be clamoring globally to be free to live in peace, and to be safe from natural disasters; “… and they will not escape” can be translated into modern English as saying, “Total destruction will overpower them without warning, and they won’t stand a chance”. Nobody knows exactly what this means since all those other events have not yet occurred, and speculation would be counterproductive. All I can tell you is that the Antichrist will be in power for a total of seven years, and that one of his first acts will be to negotiate the peace treaty that ends World War 3. All the countries involved will adhere to this peace agreement for three and a half years. At that point the Antichrist will do something that breaks that same peace deal while elevating himself to something supposedly equivalent to God, as if there were such a thing. It is at this point that the persecution of Christians will greatly increase, and this will be happening in the US as well. This will be the “acid test” for all of those who identify themselves as being Christians. Either we take the mark of the beast and worship the Antichrist as god here on earth, or we refuse and continue to worship Jesus as the Son of God in heaven. Those who do worship Jesus will find themselves being martyred by the forces of the Antichrist. A time is coming when our Christianity will cost us our life. What will you choose? To quote the prophet Jeremiah, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. Since the Lord died on the cross for my sins, I would not have any problem returning the favor, knowing that like himself, he will raise me from the dead to eternal life. We should all be willing to do the same.
“But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are 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.” Remember who we are in Christ! We are the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We were bought at a very steep price, one that no man would be willing to pay. We were adopted as sons and daughters of Jesus our Kinsman Redeemer, making all of us Jewish by adoption (see Romans 8: 15-17 or Galatians 4: 4-7, among others). We don’t belong to the night and we never did, we were born for the day and for the light from our very conception. “Let’s be alert and self-controlled”, Paul wrote. You won’t be ready to meet the Lord at the rapture if you’re in bed sleeping off a hangover, or after playing video games all night long. As I have said before, it’s time for us all to get our priorities straight. Jesus first, worship him first and always give him top priority in your daily living and you’ll find yourself living with an internal peace that was neither present nor possible before. I’m speaking from experience, and if God can do this for me then he can do so for you too. But we must ask Him first. Sitting around waiting for God to give any of us a hand-out will accomplish nothing, unless one considers wasting time an accomplishment. I most definitely don’t!
“ God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation from 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…”. I will sum this up in one sentence – we’re not here to be on the receiving end of the tribulation that Jesus spoke about, but rather we will be protected from it if only we remain faithful to his Word. “If you love me”, Jesus said, “keep my commandments”. Jesus died so that we may have eternal life with him in heaven, a new dwelling place that we have not yet seen. Obeying His commandments is the second prerequisite, believing that he is the Son of God is the first. Having written that, let’s conclude our study starting at verse twelve.
“Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (1st Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 12-28, NIV)
Respect the value of hard work, Paul is saying, and especially those who do so. Dirty hands and sweat can turn an otherwise boring day into a really fun one. This is especially true of the younger men and women who are still able-bodied enough to do so (unfortunately, that is no longer the case with me). Hard physical work is dignified provided that it is done constructively. “Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Build each other up, don’t tear each other down! Make the idle people either get off their butts and get to work or move on and stop standing in the way. It is written in the law of Moses, “If a man will not work he shall not eat”. Yet by the same token we are commanded to “be patient with everyone”. Give the slower people a chance to catch up. Better yet, why not donate your time and tutor a few to help them along? Now that would be in keeping with the Holy Spirit of Christ!
“ …always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” Sometimes I think the secular world understands this better than modern churches do today. Immediately after recent natural disasters here in America, there were armies on volunteers that descended on these devastated areas and helped clean up, doing whatever needed to be done. What surprised me was when I found out that up to half of these volunteers don’t bother going to church. Yet they understood the command and answered the calling that God obviously put on them. “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Let the Holy Spirit always be in control of everyone, every life, in every situation and in all circumstances. Check out everything you see, hear or read to determine its value, or the lack thereof. Put problem people completely out of your life if that’s what it takes to get free from negative influences and all forms of evil. Hold on to the good and simply let everything else go. Such timeless wisdom!
“May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Paul closes out by replaying that theme of being found holy and blameless before the Lord, with the understanding that this is only possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one can do this by themselves, but only through complete reliance on the Holy Spirit can such a noble goal as this be achieved. The key is in the last sentence, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Total reliance on Christ will enable him to cause us to be holy, pure and blameless in the sight of God. Instead of being self-reliant as we are in most situations, we are to step aside and let Christ do the work, not for us but through us as we become willing conduits for his unequaled Spiritual power. That is the ultimate meaning of unity through Christ. Next week, we’ll start on 2nd Thessalonians. Shalom!