The Second Coming and Second Guessing
Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with promises of the Second Coming. There are 1,845 references to it in the Old Testament. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are 318 references to the Second Coming—that’s one in every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this event. For every prophecy on the 1st Advent of Christ, there are eight on Christ’s 2nd Advent. We can only conclude that it must be a significant event in God’s plan. It took on added significance this last week when Harold Camping publically announced the end of the world. For months, followers of the 89-year-old Camping, who previously wrongly predicted the rapture would occur in September 1994, has been warning that the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011 and that the subsequent destruction of the universe will take place in October. Supporters would hold placards on busy streets in major cities that read: “Judgment Day May 21, 2011.” Most of us just smile at these false prophets, but sadly, they do real damage.
- In New York, follower Robert Fitzpatrick, 60, spent his entire $140,000 life savings on 1,000 subway-car placards and ads at bus stops warning about May 21. The ads read: “Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever! Judgment Day May 21, 2011.”
- Another Camping follower, 27-year-old Adrienne Martinez, was planning to go to medical school but decided not to after listening to Camping’s predictions. Martinez and her husband, Joel, had lived in New York City but a year ago quit their jobs and moved to Orlando. They spent their time reading the Bible and all their money buying and distributing gospel tracts. They don’t have anything left.
Unfortunately, predictions like this are confusing and misleading a lot of people. There is the danger that some of his followers If these were Old Testament days, he’d be stoned to death as a false prophet.
When is that event going to take place? There is only one thing you and I can be absolutely sure about when it comes to our Lord’s return to this Earth in power and glory. Every morning we wake up brings us one day closer to that blessed event.
The Christians of the 1st century had as many questions about the Second Coming of our Lord as Christians of the 21st century. At the Church of Thessalonica, some of the Christians were worried about those believers who had already died. Would they have a part in the Second Coming and the resurrection? The Apostle Paul devotes most of the final paragraphs of his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians to the subject of the Second Coming. His thoughts on the matter give us hope and teach us how we are to live in light of our Lord’s return.
I. WE ARE NOT WITHOUT HOPE—THE LORD WILL COME
- it is so easy to become preoccupied with the affairs of this world
- and when we become preoccupied with world affairs, we become anxious and even depressed
- but friends, this world is not our home—we’re just passing though
- something better awaits the Child of God
- in the Gospels, our Lord tells His disciples that He is going away, but then promises them that He is going to return
- “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 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. 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.” (John 14:1–3, NIV84)
- this promise is a comforting hope
- this promise is a compelling hope
- this promise is a certain hope
- ILLUS. The popular Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHay and Jerry Jenkins created a renewed interest in “end-time events” among believers. Over 62 million books have been sold.
- the return of Christ is an event we are to pray for, watch for, and eagerly anticipate
A. FIRST, WE DO NOT KNOW WHEN IT WILL TAKE PLACE
- the Thessalonian believer’s first question was, “Will the believers who have already died have a part in the Second Coming?”
- Paul s answer is, “Of course!”
- "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 not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, NASB95)
- the Apostle Paul clearly asserts that the dead in Christ will rise first
- the Thessalonian believer’s do not have to worry about believers who have ‘died in the Lord’—their resurrection is sure
- Paul’s answer is an unequivocal “Ya got me brother!”
- “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,” (1 Thess. 5:1, NIV84)
- in this verse the Apostle Paul refers to the unexpectedness of the Lord’s return—it’s like a thief who takes the owner of the house by surprise
- ILLUS. Thieves do not send warning letters announcing: “Tomorrow, at such and such a time, I’ll pay you a visit. Be sure to hide all your valuables:”
- ILLUS. Jesus paralleled His Second Coming to the Days of Noah. He tells His disciples that “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the day of Noah.” In those days, people were living normal lives—they were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, until the very day that Noah entered the Ark. They did not understand until the flood came and took them all away.
- the Bible tells us that this is one of most closely guarded secrets of the cosmos
- Jesus, on several occasions, spoke of His coming again, and each time warned His disciples not to speculate about when it would take place because even He did not know
- “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:35–36, NIV84)
- ILLUS. In the 1830s, William Miller, a farmer from upstate New York and a veteran of the War of 1812, created an “End-is-near” hysteria in our nation when he began preaching that the apocalyptic doom recorded in the Book of Revelation was about to take place. Miller drew a large following and in 1840 announced a range of dates for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He said it would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When the March 1844 date came around and Jesus didn’t, it caused a real problem for Miller’s leadership and credibility. Thousands of followers had sold or given away all their possessions in anticipation of the big day. But then one of Miller’s followers realized that his calculations were off by one year because he neglected to count the BC to AD rollover. So Miller revised the date to October 22, 1844. On October 21, an estimated 100,000 “Millerites” expected to see Jesus coming in the clouds of glory. Many dressed in white robes and climbed up on roofs and hilltops. Most of New England waited with baited breath. Shops closed and communities came to a stand-still. The chosen night came and went. The milestone would come to be known as the Great Disappointment of 1844.
- it seems that men never learn the folly of trying to predict our Lord’s Second Coming
- between 1877 and 1975, the Jehovah's Witnesses set twenty-five different dates
- they have missed every one
- the Unification Church—better known as the Moonies—said that 1985 was the year the Lord would establish his Earthly kingdom
- they too were wrong
- in 1988 a NASA scientist wrote a book entitled 88 Reasons why the Lord is Returning in 1988
- it took the nation by storm
- some believers went out and bought expensive homes and cars in September thinking they could enjoy them for a month before the Lord returned in October! (That says something about our culture, doesn’t it? The Millerites gave away their possessions)
- the Lord did not come in 1988 so the same author recalculated, discovered that he was a year off and came out with a sequel titled 89 Reasons why the Lord is Returning in 1989
- that book did not take the nation by storm
- and by the way ... Jesus didn’t come back in 1989 either
- and then there was this week’s latest contestant in the let’s-make-Christians-look-stupid-contest—Harold Camping
- I want to ask all these prognosticators what part of No one knows about that day or hour don’t you understand?
- God has not placed any of us on His Time, Place and Preacher Committee
- God has put all Christians on His Local Arrangements Committee
B. THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL BE A DAY OF BLESSING FOR THE SAINTS
- “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, and 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. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18, NIV84)
- Paul seeks to assure believers that our Lord’s coming is not something we have to fear
- in verse one of chapter five he tells the Thessalonian believers, “be not ignorant”
- ignorance concerning spiritual realities is always bad for the believer
- it leads to a lack of comfort and ultimately to faithlessness
- ignorance about death, resurrection and eternal life lead to worldly grief and fear and no sure hope in the hear-after
- Paul lived in an age dominated by Roman and Greek culture and philosophy
- their perception of death was not a happy one
- to the Greeks and Romans death was final and unforgiving
- the body perished and was without hope
- the soul went to a sunless Hades where the dead bemoaned their existence
- such a view of death did little to inspire any confidence in the pagan heart and mind
- but the Christians had a great hope that they would live again and dwell eternally in the Kingdom of God!
- Christ died and rose again to take the fear and the sting out of death
- “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Adrian Rogers, pastor of Belview Baptist Church in Memphis, TN says, “There are some things we should not be dogmatic about. But there are some things that we should be bulldog-matic about.”
- ILLUS. One of the great hymns of our faith is When We all Get to Heaven. The last refrain reads, On-ward to the prize before us! Soon His beauty we’ll behold; Soon the pearly gates will open; We shall tread the streets of gold. When we all get to heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, We ll sing and shout the victory!
C. THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL BE THE BEGINNING OF JUDGMENT FOR THE LOST
- King David, in the Psalms asked some poignant questions:
- “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:2, NIV84)
- “How long will the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.” (Psalm 94:3–4, NIV84)
- our faith will be vindicated
- our faithfulness will be rewarded
- without Christ in your heart you are alienated from God
- without Christ in your heart you are a stranger to the promise of salvation
- without Christ in you heart you have no hope and are without God
- “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, ...” (1 Thessalonians 5:3, NIV84)
- there will be no time to get things right with God no time to repent and confess Christ as Savior
- John 3:18-19 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil."
- ILLUS. C.S. Lewis, in reference to how the lost man will perceive the Second Coming of our Lord, wrote, “When Christ returns, how awful to know that all of it was true, and that it is too late to do anything about it.”
- all those who have trusted in and followed Christ will experience the resurrection of life
- all those who rejected Christ and followed their own ways, will experience the resurrection of judgment
- I Thessalonians 5:3b “ . . . as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
- the Day of the Lord will be more than a surprise to non-believers—it will be a total shock
- while believers do not know when Jesus is coming, we at least believe that he is coming
- the lost do not truly believe he is coming again
- the Apostle Peter wrote about the scoffers of his day
- their attitude? "Where is this `coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."
II. THE SAINTS ARE TO LIVE AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT WHILE AWAITING HIS COMING
- 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11
- whether Christ comes tomorrow or next week or next year or not in our lifetime, the question is “How are we to live in this world until Christ returns?”
A. WE SHOULD WALK CIRCUMSPECTLY
- Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they are “son’s of the light and sons of the day”
- if we are the children of the light then it behooves us to walk in the light
- 1 John 1:6-7 "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." NASB95
- the word walk is often a euphemism for live as in living a particular lifestyle
- the word light usually refers to the revealed will of God through the Scriptures
B. WE SHOULD WALK CONSISTENTLY
- 1 Co 15:57-58 "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."
- ILLUS. Robert Ingersoll was a celebrated public speaker and a confed agnostic. He became famous for giving God five minutes to ‘strike him dead.’ When, after five minutes he was still alive, he would tell the audience, “You see, there is no God, or He would have taken me at my word.” Ingersoll had an aunt who was a faithful Christian who lived an unobtrusive, inconspicuous, consecrated life. She was known in that family as Aunt Sarah. She was a devout Bible student and a beautiful Christian. One day she received a package from her infamous nephew. In it was one of Ingersoll’s books attacking the Bible. On the flyleaf was written these words: “If all Christians had lived like Aunt Sarah, perhaps this book would never have been written.” The indisputable fact of a consistent Christian life was more disquieting to the great infidel’s unbelief than anything else.
- we should walk consistently
C. WE SHOULD WAIT CONTENTEDLY
- James 5:7 "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains."
- once the seed has been planted, the farmer is content to wait for nature to take its course and produce a harvest
- by nature, farmers are patient people
- God has planted the seed of salvation in His people, and a great harvest time is coming
- in the mean-time, we must wait contentedly
D. WE SHOULD WATCH CAREFULLY
- we are to be spiritually prepared for His coming
- according to 1 Thess. 5:6-7 we are to be alert, watchful, and sober-minded
- this means we are to keep our spirit, soul and mind in constant and confident expectation of the return of the Lord
- ILLUS. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a man who leaves home on a journey. Before he leaves, he gives each of his servants a task to accomplish while he is gone. As he leaves, tells his doorkeeper to stay alert because the master of the house may return when they least expect it.
- Mk 13:37 "What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”
E. WE SHOULD WITNESS COMPASSIONATELY
- 2 Cor. 5:11, 20 “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men . . . Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
- while we wait for the Lord’s return, we should tell the good news to all who will listen
- some will reject the gospel
- some will receive the gospel
- we should witness compassionately
F. WE SHOULD WORSHIP CONGREGATIONALLY
- Heb. 10:25 "not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near."
- as the Day of the Lord draws near, we should regularly draw together to worship the Lord who has promised that He shall return
- wouldn’t it be a blessing to be in the middle of the chorus, “O victory in Jesus” when Jesus returned?
- we should worship congregationally
The important question of the hour is not When is Jesus coming back? The question is, What do we do and how do we live while we are waiting? In the 1987 NCAA Regional Finals, LSU was leading Indiana by eight points with only a few minutes left in the game. As is often the case with a team in the lead, LSU began playing a different ball game. They became more conservative and less aggressive in their play.
The television announcer pointed out that the LSU players were beginning to watch the clock rather than wholeheartedly play the game. As a result of this shift in focus, Indiana closed the gap, won the game by one point, and eventually when on to become NCAA champions.
While Jesus called us to be aware of "the signs of the times," he clearly called us to expend our energies in faithful, active service. As we await Jesus' promised return, we are not so much to watch the clock as to be diligent servants during the time we have available.