2016-10-09 - 1 Thessalonians Study
Letters to a Young Church ~ The Expectant Believer: Introduction
Paul had answered the question about the coming of Christ as it related to those that had already died. But the one thing about giving God's word, when one question is answered, another seems to come up. Having dealt with the first issue leads to the next question, which is still being asked: “When is Christ coming?” Now while we understand that no one except God has the answer, there are some events that foreshadow Christ's coming, and that is what Paul presents here.
Again it is worth noting that Paul’s focus isn't on the prophetic events, but on the response the reader, as a Christian, is to have towards the anticipated return of Christ. The contrast in this section is between the believer and unbeliever, as related to the this event. We will focus on the coming of the Lord, and for ourselves, the impact of His eminent return, that is - living as an “expectant believer.”
Coming of the Lord
It is important to understand, from the Old Testament, we understand that the Day of the Lord encompasses both the Tribulation (the Time of Jacob's Trouble) and the Millennium (the Kingdom age). Paul is not dealing with the entire “Day,” but simply its coming.
Paul notes these believers don't need to be told about the coming of the “Day.” It is apparent they understand the actual date and time of the coming of Christ for the Church, the rapture, is an unknown, and it would stay that way. What they did need to know is how His return should influence the way they lived.
The “Day” is to come like a “thief in the night,” that is, it will arrive unexpectedly. Though as we will see, it is only unexpected for the unbeliever. It should be anticipated by us.
Once again I would like to quote Thomas Baker:
“Their meeting with Christ will be ‘in the air’ and separate from God's dealing with those on earth. The only way to hold that this meeting with Christ in the air is an imminent prospect is to see it as simultaneous with the beginning of the divine judgment against earth. Only if the rapture coincides with the beginning of the day of the Lord can both be imminent and the salvation of those in Christ coincide with the coming of wrath to the rest (v.9) (Walvoord, p,81).” 1
We must be clear, because we could not be told that the day would come as a “thief” unless it can occur at any time. Again, as believers, we have the comfort of knowing Christ can return for us at any time. Therefore we are commanded to be alert, to be looking for His coming in the air.
We find a number Scriptures that provide information of the “Day of the Lord.”
“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18–20).
Understand with the coming of the “Day” comes Christ's judgment on a rebellious world, on the enemies of the nation Israel. The establishment of the Kingdom is also the restoration of the nation as God's people, and their turning to Jesus, recognizing Him as the Messiah. The Tribulation ushers in the Kingdom Age, that time when Christ will set us His rule over this earth. But first comes this period of judgment and suffering, The Great Tribulation.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21–22).
Paul now goes on to describe the situation for unbelievers as the “Day” arrives. Note, in the first verses, Paul is addressing the “brethren.” Now he is talking about those who are not brethren. It will be a time when men are confident that all is well. They will be at peace, that is they have an “inward repose” 2, and feel safe in their condition, “freedom from outward interference.” 3 They are living life the way they want to and expect to continue doing so. It is at this time, when men least expect it, Christ will intervene in the world. He will once again step into “time and space” and interrupt the flow of history. He will invade man's realm.
Instead of the peace and safety these people believe is their condition, comes destruction …
“… probably to be understood primarily in terms of separation from God (cf. 2 Thess. 1:9 where the same word is used), rather than annihilation.” 4
The image Paul uses is of a women in labor. The unbeliever will not be able to avoid the pain of tribulation. But as with the mother's labor, at the end of the tribulation, the Kingdom “will be born,” the time when God in the person of Christ will rule over the world. While a perfect rule will come, pain comes first - in the Tribulation - and it comes without warning.
All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.