There most certainly is a plethora of ideas to fill the minds of any American Christ Follower in our day and age: social issues, politics, the blurring of the lines between what is right and what is wrong, the relevance of the local church, making disciples, missions, etc. As a pastor, there are the added tensions of leading a congregation, balancing budgets, preparing sermons every week, and planning for meetings with pastoral staff, elders, and church councils. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of caring for church members, some of mine who are battling leukemia, facing messy divorces, or navigating the waters of parenting teenagers and caring for aging parents. Yeah, we have plenty to ponder nowadays.
Believe it or not, the Christians in 1st Century Thessalonica faced their own deluge of issues. The Christian religion was new and there had been nothing like it before in that society. It confronted every area of their lives from politics (calling anyone but Caesar “Lord was seen as insurrection) and cultural taboos (their church consisted of Jews, devout Gentiles, and some of the most leading women in society) to idol worship (a practice that had gone on in families for generations). But, in the midst of all the mental wanderings they faced within the nuances of their culture, Paul addresses a point of their faith that was really on their minds and hearts in an effort to bring them peace. One of THE concerns of the Thessalonians was the fate of their loved ones that were Christians, yet had died before Jesus’ return. What would happen to them? Had they lost out on heaven? On the Kingdom of God? It is here that we have the infamous passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And, it is here that we see how much the minds of early Christians were convinced of Christ’s soon return and the Kingdom of God fully consummated.
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (NKJV)
Now, even though Christians don’t agree on WHEN Jesus will come, Christians should all agree on the fact that Jesus IS coming again. But, I’m not hearing much about it in the sermons that I or most people are preaching. Has the Lord’s return become some dead, dried up theological artifact in the museum of Christian belief that we say we believe, yet live lives that would argue the contrary? Is it a point of doctrine that we fear would bring even more ridicule or persecution from those who believe otherwise, so we just don’t talk about it much? I fear so….and, that’s unfortunate.
It’s unfortunate because it seems to have been central to the message of the early church: Jesus was the Christ spoken of in the Old Testament scriptures, but we killed Him; through His death, we can now have forgiveness of sins; so, repent and believe the Gospel because He’s coming again (Acts 3:12 -26). The Kingdom of God was preached as a kingdom that is here and now, but not yet; a kingdom that is present, but is also coming someday in full consummation. And, it will come in full consummation when the King comes again.
The early church seemed to get this. I don’t think we do.
Maybe our disdain of the subject is because of how it’s been a point of manipulation in the Christian faith where wolves in sheep’s clothing have duped naive believers into selling all they have and to stop making plans for the future since His coming is nigh. How much easier it is to just push past the subject all together than wrestle through our own doubts and fears so we can fully, correctly grasp what The Lord is saying to us!
Maybe the idea of Jesus’ literal, physical return seems too much like a fairy tale. What would people think if we started preaching that Jesus was going to physically return in clouds to earth? Probably the same thing they think about a virgin having a baby that never sinned, was killed, then got Himself up from death and disappeared int he sky as he floated to heaven in the clouds. It is, after all, called “faith” for a reason.
Now, I’m not advocating that Christians should sell everything, move to the mountaintop and take turns keeping watch for His return. Watchfulness has much more to do with how we are choosing to live life among those who don’t know Christ than it is about physically keeping our eyes on the sky. And, that’s precisely the point….if Jesus IS coming again, wouldn’t that affect how I live? Wouldn’t that have an impact on my level of cooperation with the Holy Spirit as He is leading me, changing me, transforming me? I think so. I think Paul did, too, judging from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
I feel challenged by the Spirit of God this morning to allow Him to birth in my heart a greater expectation for Christ’s return; to make an effort to mention it more in my sermons, my teaching, my ministry. And, to allow that knowledge to penetrate the fog of my many wanderings about life, ministry, politics and culture. He is coming again…let’s be watching!