Friday, April 19, 2013

Great Expectations

Scriptural Reading: I Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:1-11
Devotional Reading: Psalm 38:9-15

A relative and I were on our way to Wednesday night Bible study when we saw a most-surprising sight in a yard on a main thoroughfare. The resident(s) of the home had placed giant black lettering over different colored background on material over 6 feet tall in the yard. The highlighted message, “UPS KILLED MY DOG”, made me wonder why the resident(s) had taken their grief to this excessive level. They were surely suffering and could not figure out another way to voice their grief. I questioned whether the dog had a soul and would be able to meet its resident in heaven? After all, pets do not declare a hope in Jesus Christ for eternal life. Or is that necessary for pets also? While the Bible is not definitive as to whether the pets shall be in heaven, Matt 19:26 (KJV) does state, “…with God all things are possible.” Isaiah 65:25 (KJV) includes animals in the new heavens and new earth. See also Rev 19:14 where Christ and the armies of heaven were riding on “…white horses…” (KJV)

What happens when an event occurs that causes a person’s grief over the loss of human life? We have experienced violence and civil disobedience (2 Thess 2:7, 8 KJV), earthquakes, increasing hostility among nations (Matt 24:6, 7 KJV), etc. One of the deadliest attacks against the United States on American soil was the September 11, 2001 attacks. The attacks resulted in an extensive death toll of 2,750 people in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, 40 in Pennsylvania, 400 police and firefighter responders, and 19 terrorists. The United States and the community of Newtown, Conn is mourning the loss of 26 people, including 20 young children, who were killed during a massacre after a gunman shot his mother and later himself. Not all attacks and the resulting loss of life are due to humans. A powerful earthquake with the magnitude of 7.8 struck Iran and Pakistan on April 16, 2013, killing 38 people, leaving 170 injured and 35 persons missing. The death toll is expected to rise. The United States sent its deepest condolences to Iran and Pakistan.>1=43001 This lesson is a study of the Bible’s answers to those suffering from grief in the death of their family and friends, whether suffered naturally or not. It is the fifth lesson of a six-part study under Resurrection Hope.

1 Thess 4:13 declares “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.” (KJV) Paul comforts his Christian brethren at Thessalonica by fully informing them as to what happens when their loved ones dies before the return of Christ. The word sleep is often used in the New Testament to refer to the death of the saints. The saints were in sorrow because their loved ones were removed from their sight and they did not have much insight into death and beyond the grave. They felt hopeless in their suffering, having nowhere to turn except the Lord. (Ps 38:9-10, 15 KJV) Paul reminds them they are children of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. They have hope in eternal life unlike the pagan unbelievers who weep and bury their hope in the graves. The Thessalonians needed assurance that their family and friends would not lose their right to share in eternal happiness once they died. Their loved ones were sleep in Jesus. 1 Cor 15:18 (KJV) His saints would never be lost from His care.

In accordance with 1 Thess 4:14, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (KJV) Just as we believe Jesus rose again as the first fruits of the grave (1 Cor 15:20, 23 KJV), we must believe the saints will be resurrected. Have faith that God will raise them up as He did Christ, and bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. The saints who sleep do not lie in paganism, but in hope of eternal life. They will not be left out of any of the promised benefits.

The apostle Paul expressed divine revelation he received from the Lord when stating at 1 Thess 4:15, “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.” It is unknown how Paul received this revelation, only that it was received from the Lord to comfort His people. It was necessary for them to know that the Christian believers who are alive at the time of the second coming of Christ shall not anticipate or be changed and received in glory before those who are sleep in Christ. On the same subject the apostle writes at 1 Cor 15:51, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” (KJV)

Paul continues in his divine revelation as to the second coming in 1 Thess 4:16 where he begins to describe the order of events, “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:” (KJV) First, Jesus shall return as He promised at Acts 1:11, “…shall come in so like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (KJV) He will descend with a loud shout or command. Secondly, there will be the voice of the archangel. It is believed that Michael is the angel whose voice will be heard. (See Jude 9; Rev 12:4-9 KJV) Finally, there will be the trumpet of God. This is the same trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 (KJV), which has to do with the resurrection of the saints at the time of the rapture. It reads, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” The above events will awaken those who are asleep in Christ, and they shall rise first.

The events of the second coming of Christ are further explained in 1 Thess 4:17, “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.” (KJV) The term “rapture” is Latin, meaning caught up. Other Biblical examples of being “snatched away” or “caught up” are illustrated in Acts 8:39; 2 Cor 12:2, 4; Rev 12:5. (KJV) Although the actual word rapture is not used in the Bible, its meaning is clear. After those who are sleep in Christ have “supernaturally” risen, changed to spiritual, incorruptible bodies, (1 Cor 15:42-44 KJV) and gone to meet the Lord, those who are alive and faithful to Christ shall be caught up to meet those who are now awake and the Lord in the clouds, in the air. They shall always be with the Lord. What a blessing to know that we will meet the Lord and Savior who has given of His life that we might have the opportunity to eternal life with Him and access to God the Father! It is also a joy to know that none of the Christian brethren will be left out of this promise of eternal life.

With this explanation to the Thessalonian brethren, Paul encouraged in 1 Thess 4:18, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (KJV) We should seek to support one another at times of sorrow, knowing that our Christian brethren will be resurrected from the dead at the second coming of Christ. It will be a great day for all saints everywhere because there will be no more sin, pain, or tears. They will live with the Lord forevermore.

Although the apostle comforted the saints by revealing the certainty there would be a second coming of Christ, Paul strongly declared in 1 Thess 5:1, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.” (KJV) Although man is curious, no man knows the day or hour of the times and seasons of the second coming of Christ or anything that would lead to His coming. The Thessalonians had no need to know anything other than what had been revealed to Paul to comfort them in their grieving process. Jesus Himself admonished in Matt 24:44 (KJV), “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (See also Matt 25:13)

Here we see Paul changing subjects from “rapture” to “day of the Lord” beginning at 1 Thess 5:1 (KJV). At verses 2-3, he states, “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 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.” (KJV) Although the rapture was a new revelation from the Lord, the Thessalonians had an understanding of the day of the Lord perfectly from Old Testament teaching. It was a term used to describe any time of judgment and darkness. (See Isa 2:12; 13:9-16; Joel 2:1 KJV) Christ had advised them to be watchful because they knew not when the master would suddenly arrive. (Mar 13:35-36 KJV) The day of the Lord comes without notice to anyone. It will creep up like a thief comes in the night. This is bad for the unbelievers who are living in darkness. The unbelievers believe their lives and homes to be at peace and safe. Suddenly, there is a mass unexpected destruction that attacks each of the unbelievers. Not one unbelieving person will be able to escape the wrath that accompanies the day of the Lord just as a pregnant woman does not avoid labor pains. There will be no place to hide the wicked. They will be consumed.

On the other hand, the apostle teaches in 1 Thess 5:4-5, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” (KJV) Believers are not in the darkness and will not be taken by surprise. The only way a thief will overtake persons is if they are in the darkness. Christians are children of God and children of the day. They are spiritually enlightened, always hoping and expecting to see Christ.

As a result, he exhorts in 1 Thess 5:6-7, “Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” (KJV) “Sleep” in these verses neither means physical slumber nor death as alluded to in 1 Thess 4:14-18 KJV above. Here “sleep” is associated with the night. Paul desires the Thessalonian brethren not be caught spiritually asleep, or in a temporary drunken state, enjoying the temptations of life. We must watch every day for the coming of the Lord for it is an event certain to occur. We are to watch against temptation, laziness, and anything negative, also. Those who are awaiting the coming of the Son of God not only must be awake, but must be sober in conversation and temperate in food and drink.

Paul further urged in 1 Thess 5:8, “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.” (KJV) The believers in Thessalonica were destined for salvation through Christ. It was necessary that they put on their Christian armor as they were surrounded by prosecuting unbelievers. The armor consists of (in part) the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. (See Eph 6:14, 17 KJV) Since we are of the light and sober, we ought to protect ourselves by putting on faith and love as a breastplate to protect us spiritually (our hearts). Faith in Christ enables us to endure. (See Heb 11:1) Love allows us bear our troubles and difficulties pleasantly. (See 1John 4:8b KJV) We put on our helmets, the hope of our salvation, in order to protect us mentally (our minds). Hope helps us to anticipate the glorious end to be revealed. All the believer has to do is continue to wear his/her armor of God in order to stand in the evil day. (Eph 6:11-13 KJV)

It is explained at 1 Thess 5:9-10, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” (KJV) Those in the darkness and associated with the night who have continued to reject the saving grace of Jesus shall inevitably experience the wrath of God. The greatest period of wrath shall be the day of the Lord which includes the Tribulation. Matthew 24:21 states, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (KJV) The rapture ushered in the wrath of God for the unbelievers. However, the believers have worn the Christian armor and maintained the hope of salvation. They will not experience the wrath of God. They will be raptured with Christ Jesus, whether they are living or dead, to eternally be with Him.

Paul comforts his Christian converts at Thessalonica once more in 1 Thess 5:11 “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” (KJV) In light of such a great hope of salvation and promise of eternal life, let all Christians comfort each us. How can we do that? After he sinned Cain asked God in Gen 4:9b, “…Am I my brother’s keeper?” (KJV) Yes, we are our brother's keeper. We must edify our Christian brethren through our encouragement, good example, teaching, building up with the Word, and loving attitude and conversation within and without the church community. We should communicate our knowledge and experiences and join in prayer and praise with one another in edifying each other and the church. As we edify each other and the church we are bringing peace to the house of God where Jesus is the Head. We have an obligation to comfort and edify our fellow brethren in lifting up the Name of Jesus.

Let us give thanks and praise to the Almighty Father for the plan of redemption and to Christ for giving all believers the hope of salvation, whether we are living or sleeping in His Name. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace and believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Rom 15:13 KJV)


Written by Deborah C Davis

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