The following sermon is taken from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on February 20, 2011. It deals with the subject of Christ’s Second Coming.
A reprise is defined as a repetition, a return to the first subject or theme. You may remember this word from your favorite albums, which contained your favorite song, which may have had a “reprise.” This, of course, was back when we used to listen to albums! Some of the greatest songs would have a repeat later on in the record. Maybe it was the same song, done a slightly different way. The Second Coming of Christ, will be like a reprise of sorts. It will be his second advent, “the parousia,” as it is sometimes referred to as, when Jesus returns in bodily form, at the close of human history. This event is also referred to in the New Testament as our “blessed hope” as in Titus 2:13.
But there have been those who have assumed knowledge of when this will take place. Like Marshall Applewhite did and led 38 others to their death in March of 1997. Listen to the following recap, as provided by RBC ministries: “Applewhite and 38 of his Heaven’s Gate followers committed suicide because they were convinced that by leaving their bodies they could rendezvous with a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet to begin life on a higher plane. “Experts” immediately offered their explanations of this bizarre incident. Several took advantage of the opportunity to strike a few low blows at Christians who believe in the literal return of Jesus. “After all,” they reasoned, “Don’t Christians also anticipate being caught up for a rendezvous in the air?” But Jesus and Applewhite are two vastly different people. Our message for today is entitled: “The Greatest Reprise,” where we’ll seek to understand the events surrounding Christ’s Second Coming and why it has relevance for our lives today.
A JOYOUS REUNION AWAITS THOSE WHO HAVE TRUSTED CHRIST.
Paul starts off our passage by stating, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.” The word that Paul uses the infinitive form of the verb avgnoe,w which means, “to be ignorant; to fail to understand; or to disregard.” It happens to be a favorite formula of Paul’s as we something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware….” For Paul, it was of utmost importance to inform them of the way the Holy Spirit gifts God’s people for service. Or in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he remarks, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia…” Here, the apostle wanted to make the Corinthian believers aware of his hardship and suffering for the gospel. And we can see that in this portion of 1 Thessalonians, he wanted these Christians to be properly informed of what happens to believing loved ones who have passed on.
When Jesus returns, He will bring with Him the dead in Christ. And there will be a gathering of believers past and present, to be with Jesus forever. Some label this the rapture, positioning it before the Second Coming. One question would be are the events described in 4:17 and 5:2 separated or are they two components of the same event? In other words, is the rapture and the second coming of Jesus two different occasions, separated by an undisclosed period of time, or are they positioned so closely that they are basically one in the same? I tend to think the latter. But there are Christians from both perspectives. The point is that Jesus “…will return to judge the quick and the dead,” as the Creed teaches us.
The subject of death can be daunting and mysterious. We have the tendency to surmise, make things up, or think we experience a foreshadowing of what is to come. We treat them as legitimate and objective, when they are really illegitimate and subjective. At this we must submit to God’s word. And when we do, there is comfort offered! Maybe you are curious about what happens when people die. A good answer is found in the following statement from the Savoy Declaration, a document written in England in 1658 which states the beliefs of many Protestants. It states: “The bodies of men (and women) after death return to dust, and see decay; but their souls immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous are made perfect in holiness, and are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day: Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.”
The believers had a curiosity about their loved ones who had passed away. Therefore, Paul seeks to encourage them by saying that those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will come with Him at the second coming (verse 15). This will occur when Jesus comes back which will be indicated by the following:
• A descension and shout from the voice of the archangel (Michael)
• The trumpet of God,
• The resurrection of the dead (in Christ)
• A gathering of believers at the time, and those who have passed.
This was to be a source of comfort to the Christians in Paul’s day. It should also be an encouragement to us here today. Verse 18 states: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The comfort involved here is the assurance that there will be a reunion. Believers who’ve passed and children of believers will meet present believers and it will be one glorious reunion. My mom recently stated how she’s looking forward to reuniting with her parents. She has something to look forward to. Maybe you are looking forward to seeing others that have gone on before you; Christians that have been instrumental in your faith; a parent or a grandparent, possibly a Sunday School teacher. There will be a great reunion for those who have trusted Christ. We must have a view towards Jesus’ literal and physical return, because…
THE SECOND COMING WILL BE A PLEASURE FOR SOME AND AN UNWELCOMED SURPRISE FOR OTHERS.
It is interesting that what a comfort to believers, is a dread for unbelievers. Many times, the Day of Judgment is described as a surprise, an unexpected event, like a thief that comes when the homeowner least expects it. Peter writes: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:10).”
For instance, it will be an ironic day. In other words, it will be a day of apparent conflict where people espouse life as usual, alongside of looming destruction. Look at verse 3: “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.” Your preparedness will largely determine who you are listening to today. Do we listen to the status quo or those who don’t believe? Or are we listening to the voice of God through Scripture?
Secondly, it will also be a day of enormous regret. Revelation 1:7 describes the Day in this way: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.” The unbelieving world will be full of dread and fear when Jesus returns. But the church will be elated and exuberant when Jesus parts the clouds and returns.
Lastly, it will be an unknown day. Although we can never place a date on the Lord’s return, there are certain things that indicate it could be closer than you think. Matthew 24 lists many things such as religious deception, wars, famine and earthquakes; the persecution of the church alongside of the worldwide advancement of the gospel (Matthew 24:14); the dwindling presence of love (Matthew 24:13). All of these are signs we see today and are necessary happenings before Jesus returns.
So what is our answer? I am a former Boy Scout. I have twelve merit badges to my name. I love the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” I think Christians ought to be prepared for the end of life and Christ’s Second Coming. That’s why Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:4: “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. (Vs.6) So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.
In other words, we ought to pay close attention to how we live. Of primary interest in our spiritual walk is to learn and grow closer to Christ. We must live every day as if it were our last. This is what Jonathan Edwards did. Edwards was an early American Congregational minister in Massachusetts, who ushered in the First Great Awakening. Many people came to faith during the 1730’s and 40’s. He was the first president of Princeton University and considered to be the Father of the American Church. His portrait hangs in my office. As a young man, he made these resolutions in 1722-23, reading them once per week. There were seventy total , but I read today only those that pertain to the end of life:
• Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
• Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
• Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
• Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
• Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
The best way to be prepared for Jesus’ return is to serve Him as Lord and Savior. Have you committed your life to Him and sought His forgiveness for your sins?