1 Corinthians 1:18 “for the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The idling of car engines stopped, and many people, including myself, left our vehicles to begin the one-mile hike to the cross. In a small town known as Paxinos, Pennsylvania, the Easter service at the cross is a big event. The 24 foot high cross, placed initially and maintained by the Boy Scouts, troop 250, sits high on top of a mountain, and the only access to it is by walking unless you are unable to walk, then a van will transport you to the top.
Young and old alike come faithfully each year to sit beneath the cross and hear a sermon of power, hope, and love: the message of the cross! As the pastor preaches, we enjoy a fantastic panorama of the surrounding countryside. The view before us reminds us all that the forgiveness purchased by Christ Jesus on the cross is available to anyone who will turn to Him in faith!
It’s easy to hear these words of Paul and become discouraged. After all, many people are perishing because they think that no one can die and return to life again. But we should be encouraged as we read these verses because God, in His wisdom, was pleased to use what seems foolish to some to save even the most hardened of sinners!
Listening to the Easter message reminded me of the ongoing work of salvation that God is accomplishing through His Son, who came to seek out and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Let us encourage one another with these words.
Prayer: Blessed Lord Jesus, let our faith be fixed and unaltered, one that never grows weary or disheartened. Help us be pleased with what you are delighted with, always rejoicing in the hope and glory of Christ Jesus! Amen.
The stalwart guards stood watch that day around a dead man’s grave. Not mindful that He was the Lord, they stood there, bold and brave, till all at once they fell away without a chance to fight, for Jesus had returned to life, and vanquished sin’s dark night.
The angel band drew near to praise and glorify their King. They crowded in to worship Him and hallelujahs sing: for they had longed to comfort Him as on the cross He hung, but He bore all the suffering, this Savior, God’s own Son.
My sin was pardoned on the tree that held this blessed Christ; He took the punishment for me and paid sin’s awful price. Only the perfect lamb of God could love a wretch like me enough to die, enough to live, enough to set me free!
The empty tomb, a witness stark that Jesus lived again, and soldiers fearing for their lives knew Christ was no mere man!
O Jesus Christ, my dearest Friend, O King of heaven and earth, Though ages pass, no tongue can tell the measure of Your worth!
Brief Intro: Moving forward in our study of these two letters by Paul to the Thessalonians, we find topics of a prophetic nature. We noticed how Paul mentions the second coming at the end of every chapter, but now he will speak more directly about it in greater length and with much more depth.
These are topics in which many mature, godly people of faith disagree. They do not differ with Paul’s main point, The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they disagree about the timing of His return. Is He coming:
Before the tribulation, in the middle, or after it?
Is His coming going to be in two phases or one – Pretribulation or Post tribulation?
These are not issues that should divide us as believers. Instead, in love for one another, let us recognize that no one system of theology has all the answers to these essential questions. So, my focus in this study will be, as best I can, to hold tightly to Paul’s motives for writing these words, i.e., to comfort and encourage these believers regarding the misunderstanding they have about the resurrection of the saints.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who [a]are asleep, so that you will not grieve as indeed the rest of mankind do, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [b]through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [c]and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [d]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore, [e]comfort one another with these words.”
FOCUS ONE: “But we do not want you to uniformed.” Paul begins a new topic with these words. He received information regarding a misunderstanding these young Christians had about those who have died “in Christ” and their outcome. Did the living believers have an advantage over the dead? Would those that have died already waiting for Christ’s return miss the resurrection or not be a part of it? This young church certainly seems to have believed in an imminent (in their lifetime) return of Christ. With that understanding and Christians dying around them amid the persecution they were enduring, even their loved ones, such thoughts were grievous to their souls. So, Paul writes to give them more information on the resurrection, and along with that, provide them with some comfort.
Paul begins instructing them about what will happen to those who died in Christ and those who remain alive until His coming (v.14). (1) “Since their grief was based on ignorance, Paul comforted them by giving them knowledge.” Since their main concern was regarding those “who are asleep” (dead), he addresses that question first. Paul says that since (for) “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so (or, then it surely follows), that God will bring with Him those who sleep in Christ” (v. 14). Paul uses the term “dead in Christ” in verse 16. Both expressions refer to the same group of people.
The power, authority, and ability given to Christ to accomplish the saints’ resurrection are anchored to the fact that the Father accepted His sacrifice, raised Him from the grave, and seated Him at His right hand (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 12:2). (2) “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.” At least in this passage, that link is found in the use of the phrase even so after speaking about Christ’s death and resurrection (v.14)!
Paul makes a direct statement about the “order” of this event (v.15), and then he fleshes it out more in the following two verses:
The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout.
There will be a voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God.
The dead “in Christ” rise first,
Then those who are alive will be caught up together with them, in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and then shall forever be with the Lord.
Again, it is not the purpose of this study to delve into what all of this means concerning the timing of these events. But we see in this explanation from Paul how they would be comforted by understanding that their friends and loved ones, who died in Jesus Christ, would not miss the coming of their savior! The living saints would not take precedence over dead saints or gain some advantage over them, according to Paul, who the Holy Spirit led to write these words (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Verse 18 reveals Paul’s goal in giving them further teaching on the coming of the Lord. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Paul’s primary purpose in writing these things is not to teach some mode or structure of eschatological theology but to provide comfort to Christians whose friends and loved ones have died waiting for what they thought would be the return of Christ in their lifetime. Waiting amid harsh opposition and persecution.
5 Now as to the periods and [a]times, brothers and sisters, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction [b]will come upon them like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you [c]like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then, let’s not sleep as [d]others do, but let’s be alert and [e]sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let’s be [f]sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore, [g]encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.
FOCUS TWO: Paul’s focus in these verses is on the “times an epochs” or period in which His coming, at least the general sense of it, will play out. Notice that he does not predict a specific time for this event. Indeed, he is mindful of what Christ Himself had said to His disciples in Matthew 24:36 and Acts 1:7 and therefore seeks to urge these believers to live prepared lives, living daily in light of Christ’s soon return (vv.6-8). Jesus Himself taught these things (Matthew 25:1-13).
Paul is clear that “the day of the Lord” will be a time of destruction with no escape (v. 3). That the people of that day will be deceived into thinking that all is well, they will say “peace and safety” when seemingly out of nowhere judgment befalls them.
But Paul wants to encourage them, so he reminds them of a critical difference between those who trust in Christ and those who do not, and that is this: believers are NOT in darkness; they are aware such days are coming. They are “sons of light and sons of day,” so not apart of the night around them! And as such, they should not be overtaken by that day’s arrival (v. 4).
So, because of these differences, bestowed upon us through Christ, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be sober or self-controlled. (3) “Standing on the threshold of an event that will mean sudden translation for some and sudden destruction for others, Christians should arm themselves for action with self-control.” Paul uses metaphoric language in exhorting these believers to put on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation (v. 8). A Roman soldier’s breastplate covered him from his neck to his waist, protecting his vital organs. This is what faith and love do for the Christian: Faith in God protects inwardly, and love for others protects outwardly.
The “hope of salvation” guards a Christian mind against the evil one’s attacks (cr. Ephesians 6:10-18). The salvation that believers long for and look forward to is our only hope of deliverance from the wrath to come! And how sweet it is that Paul included the words they would have read in verse nine, and by God’s grace, us today. These words would have lifted their spirits and put a fresh kick in their step, so to speak, and they ought to do the same for us. Our God’s intention for those He redeems IS NOT the wrath that will come upon the earth in the day of the Lord, but IT IS complete salvation that will be theirs and ours when the Lord returns for us in the clouds. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (4:17).
These great truths are a source of encouragement and comfort to us as we face opposition and persecution for our faith in Christ (v. 11). These faithful and true words need to be continuously repeated. Contrary to our current culture, Christians do not always have to be looking for the next “new thing,” but we need to remind ourselves constantly about what we already know!
If you are interested in a deeper study about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, I recommend a book written by Robert P. Lightner titled: The Last Days Handbook—a complete guide to understanding the different views of prophecy. Who believes what about prophecy and why. I included the link below.
(1) John MacArthur
(2) The New Century Bible commentary
(3) Thomas Constable Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
In part one I laid the foundation of the Christmas story by tracing the will and word of God throughout the Old Testament, specifically the many prophecies foretold about the Messiah, Jesus Christ. THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS (PART 1) In this post I will show how those prophecies have been fulfilled and can only be fulfilled in one person: the man Christ Jesus! The true reason Christmas is to be celebrated.
The prophets prophesied throughout hundreds of years that this seed of a woman, heir of the throne of David, would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They gave the time of His birth and revealed that it would be a supernatural one (Daniel 9:25; Isaiah 7:14). They foretold various events that would happen as a result of His birth: the slaughter of the innocents and Mary and Joseph, with baby Jesus, fleeing to Egypt (Jeremiah 31:15; Hosea 11:1).
They also revealed that many people would not believe that Jesus was the the Son of God (Isaiah 53:1), that He would be betrayed by a close friend for thirty pieces of silver (Psalm 41:9; Zechariah 11:12), and be hated without reason (Psalm 35:19). There is a mountain of prophecies foretold by the prophets that all speak directly of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel (God is with us), and His first coming to deal with sin and defeat Satan; the death blow that was spoken of back in Genesis 3. We find that all these prophesies, spoken hundreds and hundreds of years before there fulfillment, are fulfilled in Jesus Christ as attested to in the New Testament. Many of these fulfillment’s are manifested in the gospel’s but some are evidenced in the Epistles as well (Hebrews 5:5-6; Romans 5:6,8; 15:3; Ephesians 4:8).
As the New Testament unfolds, after four hundred years of prophetic silence, we find that the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, appears on the scene. The angel of the Lord appeared to a man named Zacharias and informs him that, “your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John” (Luke 1:13). He is told that John would act in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” preparing the way for the Messiah (vs.17). This birth in itself was a miracle. The idea of two people who are very old conceiving a child is preposterous, when you leave out the divine intervention of God (Luke 1:11-20; 57-80)! The birth of John is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah 3:1, and yet the story gets even better! Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy the angel Gabriel was “sent by God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. . .” (Luke 1:26-27). He tells her that she is richly blessed and that by an act of the Holy Spirt, she will conceive in her womb, a son, and His name shall be Jesus (Luke 1: 31-32).
This is exactly what happens. The miracle is not the birth itself, birth’s happen everyday. What makes this birth different is that Mary had no relations (intercourse) with a man. The normal act of procreation did not take place in this instance. Mary remained a virgin even though she was pregnant! By a creative act of the Holy Spirit life is created and implanted within her womb (Luke 1:35). The life implanted in Mary’s womb is the very life that God said would come to redeem all things unto Himself (Romans 8:18-25)! This body is the one God specifically prepared for the Messiah (Hebrews 10:5-6: Psalm 40:6-8). It is the body God foreordained to fulfill His will in defeating the devil and his power over death (Genesis 3:15). The Son of God was not by nature “flesh and blood,” But He took upon Himself our nature so that He could provide redemption for mankind (Hebrews 2:14-18).
This is what makes Christmas so special. This is why we have baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by animals and shepherds on our lawns during the Christmas season. This is why Christians celebrate the incarnation of their savior. Believe it or not, the story of Christmas doesn’t end here!
Ultimately, the birth of Christ is about the cross of Christ (John 3:16)! Jesus came to reveal God to man, redeem man, and ultimately rule over the Fathers Kingdom in righteousness and truth (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:29; Revelation 20:11-22:21). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would die as a “substitute” for sinners (Isaiah 53:5). That is what was on display on the cross of Calvary (Romans 5:6-8). Because of the finished work of Jesus believing sinners are freed from the punishment, the penalty, the power, and one day, the very presence of sin (Romans 3:25; 5:8-9). Through Christ redeemed sinners are declared righteous, are adopted into the family of God, and are given eternal life (Ephesians 3:20; John 10:27-28)!
But He didn’t only die, He rose again (Mark 16:6-7; 1 Corinthians 15:4)! In resurrecting Jesus, God the Father confirmed that Jesus is His beloved son in whom He was well pleased (Matthew 3:17). His resurrection supplied proof that the Father had accepted His sacrifice, accepted His atoning work on the cross, and is a guarantee that there will be a future resurrection for all those who trust in Him (John 5:26-29; John 14:18-19; Romans 6:8-11)!
The Bible tells us that 40 days after His resurrection He ascended “physically” to be with His Father and will one day return to this earth the same way (Acts 1:9-11; Matthew 24:29-31)! No one knows exactly when He will return except the Father alone (Matthew 24:36), and so we are exhorted to be ready because that day and hour will come at a time when we are least expecting it (Matthew 24:43-44). Unlike His first coming (seeking and saving the lost), His second coming will be one of judgement (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
What a joy it is to know that our sins can be forgiven through Jesus. The greatest gift ever given was wrapped up in linen cloths and found lying in a feeding trough. Proclaimed by the angel to be the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Have you received this amazing and priceless gift? Do you know Jesus as your savior? Go here GOSPEL to learn more about this most precious of gifts.