1Thes5v1to11: THE DAY OF THE LORD

Introduction. Read 1Thes5v1to11

I do not share the view of Warren Wiersbe and others that the day of the Lord does not include the rapture when at Christ's coming the redeemed are caught up to be with Jesus in the air. In Wiersbe's opinion the day of the Lord just refers to the judgment and punishment of the wicked. Paul is writing to the brothers at Thessalonica - not to unbelievers. He is warning them to be ready for the day of the Lord which will come like a thief in the night. This is the expression Jesus used to describe the way he will return to the earth. See Mt24v42to44. He said to his disciples: "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Mt24v44.

It seems likely that the expression the day of the Lord is used of all the events of the last times: the heavenly signs, Christ's coming and the rapture, the judgment and destruction of the wicked along with the earth and the universe. See 2Pet3v7.

In this passage Paul reiterates the teaching of Jesus that Christians should be ready for the Second Coming of their Lord. This lesson is very forcefully expressed in the Bible - no more so than by Jesus himself. I find it quite surprising that Jesus lays such emphasis upon it - especially as only one generation will actually be upon the earth for his return in power and glory.

(1) We need to be ready.

There are three reasons why we need to be ready:

(a) The return of Jesus is certain. Paul puts it like this: For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come. v2.

This is one of the great certainties. Jesus promised it. "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." Jn14v3. Peter and Paul just reinforced the clear teaching of Jesus.

If something is sure to happen it is advisable to be prepared for it. Every professional footballer knows that by his early forties at the very latest he will have to retire from the game. It is unrealistic for a footballer to pretend that this day will never come. If he is sensible he will make some preparation for the time when he can no longer earn his living playing the game.

When I was a teacher schools were given the date of their OFFSTED inspection. Every one got ready for it! The headmaster was very anxious that the school should be seen at its best. It was no good hoping that the inspection would be cancelled or that the authorities would forget all about it.

(b) The date of Christ's return is unknown.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night - while people are saying, 'Peace and safety.' v3. This is something Jesus emphasised in Mt24v36to44. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Mt24v36.

This does seem to conflict somewhat with the appearance of signs warning that Jesus' Second Coming is imminent. See Lk21v25 and 39to31. See exposition on Luke21v5to38. This makes me think that Jesus will appear very soon after the signs appear.

What should be the proper response of a teacher when he knows that an inspection is going to occur but does not know when? It should be the same as that of the little girl in this story:

A governor visiting a certain school made a promise to the tiny students that he would give a prize to the one whose desk was found in the best order when he returned. He gave no indication of when that might be.

Shortly after he left, a little girl, noted for her messy habits, announced that she meant to win that prize. He classmates jeered, "Why, Mary, your desk is always out of order! Itís never been cleaned."

"Oh," she replied, "Starting right now, Iím going to clean it at the beginning of every week."

"Just suppose he comes at the end of the week?"

"Well then, Iíll clean it every morning."

"What if he comes in the afternoon?"

Mary was silent, then her face lightened up and she said, "I know what Iíll do, Iíll just keep itclean all the time!"

Thatís how the teacher should be - ready all the time. And that is how the Christian should be - ready for the return of Jesus at any time.

(c) The fate of those who are not ready. Destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. v3.

Jesus, too, leaves us in no doubt that awful judgment will be incurred by those who are not ready. See Mt24v45to51 and 25v1to13. I always feel sorry for the five virgins who waited such a long time for the arrival of the bridegroom that their lamps ran short of oil. While they went off to buy some more the bridegroom arrived and went into the wedding banquet with the five virgins who had prudently brought a supply of oil with them. When the imprudent virgins arrived late for the feast and asked to be admitted the bridegroom replied, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." This is certainly one of the least appealing of Jesus' parables. On the face of it the 5 virgins suffered a harsh punishment for a lack of foresight. There is not much grace evident in the bridegroom's response. However, we can be in no doubt how important Jesus thought it was for his followers to be ready for his Second Coming.

So why should it be so important? There are two main reasons:

To be unready is a symptom of a bad attitude.

  • It shows lack of belief that the day of judgment will come. The person who doesn't really believe that Jesus will come again is a bit like the pupil who thinks he is bound to pass his exams regardless of what he does. The exams are unreal and do not impinge upon his consciousness. For many Christians the return of Jesus seems almost unreal.

  • It shows lack of discipline. Jesus told a parable about a steward left in charge of his master's servants while he went away on a journey. The master was a long time returning. The steward took advantage of the delay - beating his fellow servants and eating and drinking with drunkards. See Mt24v48and49. He was self-indulgent. He did not welcome the return of his master. It was a serious inconvenience! The five foolish virgins did not take their role at the wedding feast sufficiently seriously. They couldn't be bothered to provide enough oil for their lamps in the event of a delay. As a consequence they were not ready.

    I am afraid that some of the pupils that I taught Geography were not ready for their GCSE exam. Instead of being disciplined and revising they had better things to do - lazing around, playing computer games and going out with their friends. The exam when it came was seldom approached in the right spirit!

    If we are undisciplined and self-indulgent Christians we shall not welcome Christ's return. We have better things to do!! Jesus' appearance marks an abrupt end to all our earthly interests and pleasures. If we are not happy to see him our salvation must be in serious doubt.

  • It reveals a lack of desire to serve the Master. This was certainly true of the steward left in charge of his master's household. The five foolish virgins did not take the interests of the bridegroom sufficiently seriously.

    If all my pupils had been intent on pleasing their old teacher they would have been ready for their GCSE Geography exam. They would have heeded my advice and put in the hours of revision necessary to do well.

    The way to be ready for Jesus' return is to be in the process of actively serving and pleasing him. If we are devotedly pursuing his interests we shall be happy to see him.

To be unready detracts from the event.

My brother and his two sons were all keen cricketers and played for a local village team. Each Saturday my brother was ready on time to travel to the match. His youngest son was never ready. He was in the shower or looking for a pair of whites or finishing his dinner. My brother got more and more uptight the longer he was kept waiting. The three of them would invariably arrive for the match late and in a filthy temper. My nephew's dilatoriness spoiled the game - particularly for my brother.

On a much larger scale the London Olympics would not have been the great event it turned out to be if nothing had been ready. Much to my surprise everything was ready and the event was an outstanding success.

I have a recurring nightmare. I am sitting my finals again at London University - and I have done no preparation whatsoever. I am totally unprepared. I am hopelessly not ready.

The only way that Jesus' return will be a wonderful, wonderful event for the Christian will be if he or she is ready. If we are ill prepared it could turn out to be a disaster! That seems to be the plain teaching of Jesus.

(2) How to be ready.

Paul advises the Thessalonians to be:

(a) Awake. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep but let us be alert.... . v5and6.

The last thing a schools inspector wants to find in the classroom is a dozy teacher who is unaware of what is expected of him. The owner of a chain of shops who drops into his stores unannounced will look to see if staff comply with company policy.

Christians need to be awake to their responsibilities to be ready for Christ's Second Coming. They have conditions of service. Jesus has left his followers specific instructions: Seek first the kingdom of God, do all your work as unto the Lord, pray always, love one another, be generous and so on.

(b) Self-controlled. Let us be .... self-controlled. v5. Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled. v8.

The steward in Jesus' parable lacked self-control. When the Master did not return quickly from his absence the steward gave into his grosser appetites.

Sometimes during my time as a teacher I had to leave a class of children unattended. I gave the children strict instructions to get on with their work until I returned. Some seized the opportunity to gossip, day-dream, look out of the window or generally mess about. They wasted their time and the longer I was absent the more there were who fell into this category. As the saying goes, 'When the cat's away the mice come out to play.' But there were always some pupils who did as I said. They were disciplined, compliant, concentrated on the task in hand, worked hard and finished all they were set to do.

Jesus leaves his children of the ligth unsupervised. He doesn't stand over us with a whip. Christians are left free to work hard or to waste time. If Jesus returned today those going about his business and serving his interests would be ready for his coming.

(c) Well protected. Putting on faith and love as a breast plate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. v8.

Several years ago now I used to spend two evenings in December singing carols around the village of Brockley for charity. It was hard and cold work. Perhaps that is why this custom has almost died out in Britain. I was always well protected for these marathon sessions of open air singing. I wore two pairs of trousers, a sweater, a fleece, an anorak, a scarf, gloves and a trilby hat. I was never really cold - but some of the more fashion conscious ladies who eschewed numerous layers were soon numb, shivering, miserable and whinging. They longed for a hot shower and a blazing fire!

Too many Christians are like those ladies. They want something or somebody to warm them up. They look to their church leaders to generate some excitement and get the blood racing through their veins again.

Paul's advice to numb, chilled Christians is to put on something warm. He suggests developing three well-known virtues: faith in the power and providence of God, love for one another - the love that suffers long and is kind and finally, hope - for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. v9.

(d) Mutually supportive. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. v11.

We can help one another to be ready. This is true of any organisation facing inspection. Seasoned campaigners can encourage the young. The mature and experienced can advise the immature and inexperienced. Indeed it is the responsibility of those who are strong to build up those who are weak.

This should certainly be true of a church. Christians shouldn't be in competition - something that hinders mutual support among teachers in schools - but ready to encourage one another in the work of Christ. Leaders should aim to build confidence. They need to identify the gifts that members of their flock possess and aim to develop them. Christians need to be found roles within the church fellowship. Very often this does not happen and Christians are side-lined and left to vegetate. They can be shunted into a siding and ignored! Leaders need to take an active interest in the work that others are doing so that they can direct the prayers of the church to where they are needed.

(3) It is good to be ready.

It is good to go into an examination thoroughly prepared. This is true in many walks of life. A boxer is going to experience a pretty searching examination in the ring. If the boxer's training has brought him to a peak of physical fitness he can climb into the ring with a lot of confidence. No actress would like giving a first night performance before the critics unrehearsed. Only a well drilled intake of soldiers will excel at their passing out parade.

If Christians are ready for Christ's Second Coming they will have:

(a) Peace of mind - a sense of well being born of commitment and selfless service.

(b) Confidence that all will be well. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. v9.

(c) Satisfaction in what they are doing and have achieved for Christ's sake.

This was the experience of the great apostle. He told Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2Tim4v8.

Do we long for his appearing - the appearing of the righteous judge who will reward his own.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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