“The Lord Will Return”
Lesson Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Background Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Devotional Reading: Psalm 38:9-15
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV)
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
To live in expectation of Christ’s return.
To know that because Jesus rose from the grave, we too will rise again to new hope in Him.
To trust God and comfort others in difficult times.
Julius Caesar returned to Rome in 49 B.C. as a victorious general, having extended the territory of the Romans to the North Sea. During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur returned triumphantly to the Philippines with a strong military force, having been forced to flee to Australia two years earlier. After his arrival he uttered the famous words, “I have returned.” In 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from his exile in Paris to lead a revolution. He became the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Caesar, MacArthur, and Khomeini were heroes to some and villains to others. Such is the nature of history, for the triumphant return of a powerful leader can disrupt the power structures already in place. Caesar’s return resulted in civil war, with Caesar eventually emerging as the master of the empire. MacArthur’s return was the beginning of the end for Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Khomeini’s return caused a revolt against the remnants of the previous regime, with opposition brutally suppressed.
The Bible tells us about the return of a leader who is perfectly just, unrivaled in power, and fully blessed by God. To be sure, there will be some who will rue the day of His return, for it will not be good news for “the powers that be” that have rejected Him. His return will not signal a new era in human history, but the end of history as we know it. This is the return in power and glory of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Time: A.D. 51
Place: from Corinth
Author: The Apostle Paul
The return of Jesus is also called the second coming or the Parousia. It is referred to in 21 of the 27 New Testament books (absent only in Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John). This teaching was an integral part of the preaching of Paul, and it was eagerly received by the churches he planted.
One such church was located in the city of Thessalonica. Paul was able to spend only about three weeks there (see Acts 17:1-10), and after his departure certain misunderstandings arose in the Thessalonian church concerning Christ’s return. The lessons for this week and next week will look at two letters Paul wrote to that church to correct wrong perceptions. This week we will discuss Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, in which he addressed the believers concerns about their loved ones who had died. What if the Lord should return? Would their deceased loved ones death be final? Will those who are alive at His coming have an advantage over the believers who have died? In this paragraph (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), Paul answered their questions. He based his encouragement and comfort on five fundamental facts.
Revelation: We Have God's Truth (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15a)
Return: Christ Is Coming Again (1 Thes. 4:14-15)
Resurrection: The Christian Dead Will Rise (1 Thes. 4:15-16)
Rapture: Living Believers Caught Up (1 Thes. 4:17)
Reunion: Christians Forever with the Lord (1 Thes. 4:17-18)
The Dead in Christ / The Savoiur’s Return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
1. What specific concern of the Thessalonian believers did Paul address regarding Christ’s return? (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15a)
Paul’s teaching among the Thessalonians perhaps has created great excitement and anticipation for the second coming of Jesus. As a result, these believers eagerly look for the Lord’s return. However, a complication arises when some in their fellowship die. Working backward from Paul’s response to the Thessalonians’ unstated question, we easily can imagine that this situation has created a concern that these dead friends have missed out on Christ’s return. The Thessalonians seem to be caught between this expectation and the present reality of death.
The apostle knew that if he cleared up the Thessalonians’ confusion about death, he would in the process reassure them. Believers, Paul said, need not grieve “as others which have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). The “others” are, of course, unbelievers. Historians attest to the truth of Paul’s words about pagan despair in the face of death. The best philosophers and teachers of the ancient world had no real hope to offer their followers. Literature of the time is filled with pictures of hopelessness at death.
How can mortal man penetrate beyond the grave and find assurance and peace for his own heart? From Old Testament days till the present, mankind has tried to solve the riddle of death and the afterlife. Philosophers have wrestled with the question of immortality. Spiritists have tried to communicate with those who have gone beyond.
In our modern world, scientists have investigated the experiences of people who claimed to have died and returned to life again. They have also studied occult phenomena, hoping to find a clue to the mystery of life after death.
Paul solved the problem when he wrote, “For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:15a). We Christians need not wonder about death or life after death, for we have a revelation from God in His Word. Why substitute human speculation for divine revelation?
God, through Paul, made it clear that the soul of the believer went to be with the Lord: “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him” (1 Thes. 4:14). He cannot bring them when He returns unless they are with Him. It is not the soul that sleeps; it is the body. The Bible definition of death is given in James 2:26— “For as the body without the spirit is dead." At death, the spirit leaves the body, and the body goes to sleep and no longer functions. The soul-spirit goes to be with the Lord, if the person has trusted Jesus Christ. "Absent from the body, and... present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). Jesus also said to one of the criminals on the cross who believed in Him, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
It is important to note that the revelation concerning death and the afterlife was not given all at one time. We must keep in mind that God's revelation was gradual and progressive, and that it climaxed in the coming of Christ “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). We look to Christ and the New Testament for the complete revelation concerning death.
God gave Paul a special revelation concerning the resurrection and the return of Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:51-54). What Paul taught agreed with what Jesus taught (John 5:24-29; 11:21-27). And God's revelation is based on the historic fact of Christ's resurrection. Since our Saviour has conquered death, we need not fear death or the future (1 Cor. 15:12). The authority of God's Word gives us the assurance and comfort we need.
What Do You Think?
How have you seen unbelievers express grief? How can this be a witnessing opportunity?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Where comfort is sought | How death is discussed | How the future is discussed | Other
2. What other concern did the Thessalonians believers have? (1 Thessalonians 4:15b-17)
The Thessalonian believers were evidently concerned that their dead loved ones would be at a disadvantage when Jesus returned. But that would not be the case, In fact, Paul stated on the authority of the exalted Christ that the righteous dead will be the first to join the Savior in a resurrection existence (1 Thess. 4:15). The apostle did not try to specify when the Lord’s coming would happen. But Paul did say that when it occurs, three signs will accompany it (1) “a shout” (v. 16), (2) “the voice of the archangel,” and (3) “the trump of God” (think “trumpet”). The three signs mean the same thing: an announcement of Jesus’ coming. These great events will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52).
At that time, deceased believers will be the first to be resurrected from the dead in an immortal and glorified body. Then they, along with Christians alive at the time, “will be caught up … in the clouds” (v. 17). The Greek verb translated “caught up” can also be rendered “snatched away.” This verb carries the ideas of irresistible strength and total surprise. In this case, the event the verb describes what is often called the “Rapture,” after a word used in the Latin translation of verse 17.
The Greek word translated "meet" carries the idea of meeting a royal person or an important person. We have walked with Christ by faith here on earth, but in the air we shall "see Him as He is" and become like Him (1 John 3:1-2). What a meeting that will be!
It will be a glorious meeting, because we shall have glorified bodies. When He was here on earth, Jesus prayed that we might one day see His glory and share in it (John 17:22-24). The suffering that we endure today will be transformed into glory when He returns (Rom. 8:17-19; 2 Cor. 4:17-18).
It will be an everlasting meeting, for we shall be forever “with the Lord.” This was His promise: “I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). The goal of redemption is not just to rescue us from judgment, but to relate us to Christ.
We (living believers) will not only meet our Lord Jesus Christ at the Rapture, but will also be reunited with our believing friends and loved ones who have died. "Together with them" is a great statement of encouragement. Death is the great separator, but Jesus Christ is the great Reconciler.
The Need for Mutual Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
Paul knew that when the Thessalonians thought about the death of their loved ones or the possibility of their own death before Jesus’ return, they might have become discouraged. To counteract discouragement, they needed to recall that one day Jesus will come in glory and gather all His followers to His side forever. In light of that promise, they were to comfort and console one another (1 Thess. 4:18).
Preparation for the Saviour’s Returns (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
3. How does Paul describe the day of the Lord’s return? (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)
Paul realizes that his Thessalonians desire to know more specifics regarding the timing of Christ’s return. Don’t we all! This is not information they receive, though, for this will happen in the Father’s undisclosed timing (see Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:6, 7). If we pay attention to this fact, we will appreciate the folly of setting dates for Christ’s return. Our job is not to decipher prophecies to determine a plausible date, but to be ready always for His return. If Christ lingers until after our deaths, we must die ready. If we are alive at His return, we must live ready (see Matthew 24:44).
The comparison of Christ’s second coming with that of “a thief in the night” emphasizes sudden arrival at an unexpected time. This comparison was made by Jesus himself (Matthew 24:43; compare 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15).
There is a difference between believers who are looking for the Lord's return and the people of the world; it is this theme that Paul developed in this section. His purpose was to encourage the believers to live holy lives in the midst of their pagan surroundings. He did this by pointing out the contrasts between believers and unbelievers.
People will be lulled into false security right up until the day of the Lord. They will be talking about “peace and safety” (1 Thessalonians 5:3) when destruction suddenly strikes. Paul made reference to a pregnant woman’s going into labor. The apostle’s main focus was not on the intense pain of labor, but rather on the rapid and unexpected way in which the experience starts. The unsaved, being surprised by the commencement of the day of the Lord, will not escape this future time of unprecedented travail.
4. Should we as Christians fear the coming of Christ and what should we expect? (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5)
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they have nothing to fear regarding the coming of Christ. This should not lead to complacency, however, for Paul’s readers are expected to be ready. As Paul notes in Romans 13:12, being ready involves casting off “the works of darkness” and putting on “the armour of light.” Children of light... day behave differently from those of the night... darkness (compare Ephesians 5:8, 9).
Christians are “children of light” and therefore are not "in the dark" when it comes to future events. Unbelievers ridicule the idea of Christ's return. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Nearly twenty centuries have come and gone since our Lord gave the promise of His return, and He has not returned yet. This does not mean that God does not keep His promises. It simply means that God does not follow our calendar. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
What Do You Think?
How does (or should) the anticipation of Jesus’ return influence your response to troubling circumstances?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Political turmoil | Financial ups and downs | Health problems | Other
Watchful Self-Control (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8)
5. Why does Paul use the terms “watch and be sober” to describe the ready and the unready? (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8)
In 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, Paul further compared the saved and unsaved. Like people who sleep, unbelievers are spiritually insensitive and unaware of the coming of the day of the Lord. Their drunkenness represents their lack of proper self-control. In contrast, believers live in the brightness of spiritual awareness and keep themselves alert and sober. We often think about sobriety in terms of avoiding some form of sin. But in verse 8, Paul had in mind self-control’s positive virtues. It means to put on the breastplate of faith and love and to don “as a helmet” the “hope of salvation.”
The mighty breastplate protects the chest, abdomen, and their vital organs. A spiritual breastplate is composed of faith and love, two sustaining Christian virtues (see 1 Corinthians 13:13). The helmet protects the head from blows that can cause instant death. Spiritually, such protection is the hope of salvation, the central message of this entire section. Christ’s promised return is a cause for hope.
What Do You Think?
How does Paul’s description of spiritual armor help you shine as a child “of the day”?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding faith | Regarding love | Regarding hope
Christian Anticipation (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)
6. How should we as Christians view God’s wrath? (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)
Closely connected with the second coming of Christ is the concept of final judgment. This judgment will be the justice of God delivered to sinners, here expressed as God’s wrath (v. 9). Part of Paul’s message is that Jesus will deliver us from this wrath when He comes in glory (1 Thessalonians 1:10). As sinners, we deserve the anger of God (Romans 1:18; 3:23); salvation from this deserved wrath is offered to us by Jesus, our Savior (5:9).
Paul’s picture of a wrathful God is not a popular topic today. We prefer the picture of a forgiving, loving God, the God of endless second chances and do-overs. Paul knows the loving side of God too (see Romans 5:8; compare Jeremiah 31:3). But Paul stresses that we must place our faith in Christ in order to escape God’s wrath. The promise of eternal life is not based on human effort or meritorious works; rather, we are saved because Christ died for our sins.
7. What obligation does Paul remind the Thessalonians to live by? (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Paul ends this section by reminding the Thessalonians to use his words as mutual comfort. Paul (writing from Corinth) is not there to comfort them in person, and he does not need to be. They have the ability and the responsibility of building up one another. This is, of course, one of the reasons for fellowship together in the church (Heb. 10:25). Paul was confident that they were doing this. However, a little encouragement goes a long way! (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.)
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Revelation: We Have God's Truth (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15a)
2. Return: Christ Is Coming Again (1 Thes. 4:14-15)
3. Resurrection: The Christian Dead Will Rise (1 Thes. 4:15-16)
4. Rapture: Living Believers Caught Up (1 Thes. 4:17)
5. Reunion: Christians Forever with the Lord (1 Thes. 4:17-18)
6. “We cannot choose the time of Christ’s return, nor can we choose whether we shall be alive or not at that moment. What we can choose is whether that event will be a time of joyful celebration or tragic despair.” —C. R. B. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8)
7. The promise of eternal life is not based on human effort or meritorious works; rather, we are saved because Christ died for our sins. Let us encourage one antoher! (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)
The Christians in Thessalonica seem to have been a close-knit group. They depended on one another for support and encouragement. They had a close attachment to Paul and his coworkers (Silas, Timothy, and perhaps Luke). These men had brought a message of hope because salvation in Jesus Christ had come.
Sadly, the Thessalonians apparently had lost some in their fellowship to death after Paul’s departure. This put hope to the test. Could the message of the gospel overcome the doubts of death? Paul’s encouraging answer: those who die in Christ will not miss out on His blessed and glorious return.
In our age of overly privatized religion, we can miss an important part of Paul’s message: the comfort we are to offer one another is based on our confidence in Christ’s return. In this we become living encouragements.
Father, may we never lose our hopeful anticipation of Your Son’s return. May He find us ready. May He find us encouraging one another with His message of hope. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Share comfort in the hope of Christ’s return.