************ Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 1, 2015

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3
"The Coming of the Lord"

The men's quartet has just sung a beautiful song about the return of the Lord. This words of this song are based upon our Bible reading for today.

I Two Wrong Views
A I need to start by correcting two errors that are all too prevalent among Christians today.

There are some Christians who believe that the second coming of Christ is divided into two stages with seven years between the two stages. This view is to be found in the New Scofield Bible, and has been adopted by many Christians around the world.

According to this paraphrase of the Bible the rapture is the first stage of Christ's return. In this stage Christ does not come down all the way but only part of the way and is met in the air by all the believers -- the resurrected dead and the transformed living believers. All of them -- Christ and believers -- then ascend to heaven and for seven years celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb.

During this seven year period, with the church in heaven, the tribulation, the appearance of the Antichrist, and the conversion of many Jews take place on the earth.

At the end of the seven years comes the second stage. At that time Christ will fully return, with the church, in all His glory.

Is this what the Bible teaches: a two-stage return of Christ as taught in the New Scofield Bible. Reformed Scholars and Christians are hard-pressed to read and understand their Bibles as teaching a two-stage return of the Lord.

B In the Spring of 1982, a Scottish artist by the name of Benjamin Creme placed advertisements in newspapers around the world saying,"THE CHRIST IS NOW HERE." The fine print said that only a chosen few know of and have seen His return. The rest of us will have to wait until He chooses to reveal that He has returned. Creme and his followers continue to believe this teaching. Is this what the Bible teaches? As Paul makes clear, this cannot possibly be the case for the second coming is not secret but is announced and visible to all. It is not known and witnessed by only a chosen few. Furthermore, we have to listen to what Jesus Himself says:
(Mat 24:23-26) "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. (24) For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible." ... (26) "So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it."

II A Personal, Visible Coming
A What does the Bible teach us about the nature, the how, of Christ's second coming? Listen to what our Scripture reading says:
(1 Th 4:16) 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 ...
We are told here about a personal, visible coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We notice a number of different elements in this text. First there is the Lord's "loud command." Some other translations can speak here of a "shout" (KJV, RSV). The Greek word that is used here is the same word used to describe the shout of the charioteer to his horses in a race, or the shout of a hunter to his dogs while cornering some beast of prey. It is also the cry to the rowers by the ships's master to go faster and harder, or to soldiers by their commanding officer in the heat of battle to advance. It is a loud, authoritative cry.

What does Jesus say when he shouts? What does He yell out? Gregory Fisher, a Bible College teacher in California was asked that question by a West African student. He wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell the student that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but the student persisted: "Paul says Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command (1 Thess 4:16). I would like to know what that command will be." Do you know what his teacher said?
"Enough." "He will shout 'Enough!' when He returns."
A look of surprise crossed the face of the student. "What do you mean, enough?"
"Enough. Enough sin. Enough evil. Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough!"
We don't know if that is what Christ will shout, but this certainly is what His coming means!

B A second element we notice is "the voice of the archangel." A great and booming voice will announce that Christ is coming, that Christ is here. Like a drill sergeant who yells "Attention!" when he sees the general approaching, so the archangel yells when he sees Christ coming.

C A third element is "the trumpet call of God." Whenever kings of the ancient world made a dramatic entrance or a major announcement the horns would blow. The blowing of the horns signal everyone to stand at attention and to listen carefully. In the same way the trumpet call of God announces the arrival of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. All must stand at attention to greet Him and meet Him.

D All this noise and pomp and circumstance, do you realize what it means? It means that all will know and hear and see that Christ is returning. There is no secret about His return. It will not be known by only a chosen few. His return will be evident to all and announced to all (cf Mt 24:30; Rev 1:7; Acts 1:11; Belgic Confession Article 37).

III The Rapture
A The Thessalonian Christians were convinced that Christ would return during their lifetime. As the years went by without Christ's return, believers began to die. The Thessalonian Christians began to wonder and worry about the fate of those who had died. Have those who died missed out on the events of that great and wondrous day of Christ's return? Have they lost their share in the wonderful happenings surrounding the end of time? Paul's answer to these concerns is the rapture.

What is the rapture? Let me start with what is said in popular literature. Can you imagine a passenger filled jet flying through the air without a pilot at the controls, or a massive oil-tanker plowing through the seas without a captain at the helm, or thousands of trucks and cars hurtling down Highway 99 at 70+ miles-per-hour without drivers at the wheel? Can you imagine a born-again President talking to the nation and suddenly disappearing from view? Can you imagine the nation of Israel suddenly losing every Christian friend it has? That's how some envision the rapture. But is that what the Bible teaches?

B Paul assures the believers of Thessalonica that the believing dead will not miss out on the joys and wonders of the second coming:
(1 Th 4:14) ... we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
The believing dead will not miss out. Rather, when Jesus comes again He will have the believing dead with Him. How will He do this? Paul says,
(1 Th 4:16b,17) ... 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.
Follow the sequence. Christ will yell. The archangel will shout. The trumpets will blow. The bodies of the believing dead will be raised and reunited with their souls and as complete persons -- that is, with body and soul -- they will go up to meet Christ in the air. Then the bodies of the living believers will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:51-53) and they will also go up to meet the Lord in the air. Then they all -- Christ and raptured believers -- will come down to the earth in triumph.

IV A Sudden Coming
A Most of you have heard of Harold Camping. He more than once wrongly predicted the day and hour of Christ's return. He is not the first one to do this nor will he be the last.

Based upon the words of Jesus, the Apostle Paul is not impressed with such predictions.
(1 Th 5:1-2) Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, (2) for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

What can we say about a thief in the night? A thief comes at a time you do not expect.
A number of years ago our door bell rang at 2 or 3 in the morning. I got up. A police officer was standing at the door. A thief had been seen in the neighborhood. The officer asked to look through our house and back yard to make sure we were safe.
Now if I knew ahead of time exactly when the thief was going to come, I either would have left all the lights on or sat in the darkness with my hockey stick in my hand or spent the night at a hotel.
You don't do this, of course, because you don't know the when and where of a thief. Or as Paul puts it, you don't know "times and dates." Likewise with the coming of the Lord: you don't know, you can't know, times and dates.

B "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2). Meaning we must always be ready for His return. Meaning we must expect His return at any moment.

Yet, it is fair to say many Christians do not live in the expectation of His imminent return. If they think about it at all, they think it is future, way off in the future, and is nothing to expect or anticipate today.
I asked everyone in one of my catechism classes to draw a time line of their own life. The beginning of the line marked their date of birth. I told them to mark down significant occasions in their life: like graduation from grade school, profession of faith, a surgery. I then told them to look forward into the future and to mark down what the future holds in store for them: things like graduation from highschool, meeting that special guy or girl, graduation from college, graduation from graduate school, marriage, first child, first job, Noble peace prize or Noble prize in Physics or Economics or whatever.
When I looked over all the time lines I was not surprised that every student expected to live for 80 or 90 years. None of them expected to die young. And none of them expected Christ to return in their lifetime.
I suspect most of us are like my Catechism students.

Why is it, do you think, that many Christians today don't live in the expectation of the Lord's imminent return?

One, it may be that Christians today are so busy that there is no time or energy left for the Second Coming. It is true that people allow themselves to be too busy with work, recreation, children, school, and sports.

Two, it may be that we are too prosperous and life is too good, so good that visions of the future glory fade away. I know that those who are poor or desperate or hurting or sick generally yearn far more for Christ's return than those who are rich, comfortable, and satisfied with life.

Three, it may be that many Christians no longer believe Christ will return -- though I doubt if this applies to anyone here.

V With the Lord Forever
A The passage in front of us also teaches us the benefits of Christ's return. Christ returns, says Paul, so we can "be with the Lord forever" (1 Thess 4:17). Jesus says,
(Jn 14:2-3) "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
"With the Lord forever."

I think of Enoch. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him into His presence (Gen 5:24). When Jesus comes again we will be like Enoch. We will walk with God and be in His glorious, wondrous presence. With God we will have such sweet fellowship, such close communion as is impossible on a sin-filled earth and in a sin-filled body.

B When Jesus comes again we will be "with the Lord forever." Can you imagine what that will be like? Jesus tells us to picture a wedding supper (Lk 14:17; Rev 19:9). A wedding supper, of course, is a time filled with joy and laughter and happiness. A wedding supper is a time of festivity. A wedding supper rejoices in the union of the bride and groom.

At the second coming the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, comes to fetch His bride, the church. After this the festivities of the wedding supper can begin.

C When Jesus comes again we will be "with the Lord forever." Imagine not only the festivities but also the size of the wedding crowd. Imagine the throngs of people in attendance.
In order to raise money for charity, a West German hotel owner near Cologne prepared a table some 2,606 feet long. An estimated 20,000 guests came to the party and lined up for a long, sumptuous meal at what its promoter billed as the longest buffet table ever set.
The Bible tells us about a banquet table far, far bigger than this one: it is the banquet table of the Lord and His church. Around this table will be a great number, greater in number than the sand on the seashore or the stars in heaven.

D "With the Lord forever." This means communion with God. This means happiness and joy. This means a crowd beyond number. And it means perfection.
(Rev 21:4) "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
When we live with God and He with us, all things will be made new.

Jesus Christ is coming again. He is coming at a time you do not expect. He is coming with glory. He will be seen and witnessed by all. He is coming with all the saints -- both the dead and the living -- who will meet Him in the air and descend with Him to the earth. Then the marriage feast can begin. Then we will live with the bridegroom forever. Then perfection will be ours.

"Encourage each other with these words," says Paul (1 Thess 4:18). Encourage yourself with these words as we struggle with sin and the effects of sin. Encourage yourself with these words as we struggle with disease and death. Encourage yourself with these words as we live and work in a world that is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. Encourage yourself with these words as we wait for the glory of life with Christ.

"Encourage each other with these words." I need to warn you that these words are NOT meant to be encouraging for everyone. Some will participate in the glory of Christ's return. Others will experience the darkness and horror of hell fire. The difference between the two groups is Christ. If you believe in Jesus, then what awaits you is life with the Lord. If you do not believe in Jesus, then what awaits you is everlasting death.

So let me ask, when you die or when Christ comes, where will you go? To glory or to destruction? Believe in Jesus, congregation. And live in the expectation of His return.
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