“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 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 4:13–17 NKJV).
There is no greater chasm between the early church in Acts and the modern twenty-first-century church than in how we each view the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. When was the last time you heard a message on this great and climactic event in human history? The subject of Christ’s return has been virtually forgotten in modern church preaching and teaching. And yet, it was constantly on the minds and lips of the early believers. In the New Testament, the Second Coming is referred to more than any other subject and is prominently mentioned with over three hundred references. Maranatha (the Lord is coming) was the word constantly upon their lips. The early church greeted each other with this word. They comforted one another in their distress with this word. They shouted this word to their friends hanging from their crosses of execution and burning from the stakes of martyrdom. They arose every single morning and pillowed their heads each night looking for their soon-coming King.
For many in today’s modern church, talk of future prophecies on God’s timetable of the last days draws raised eyebrows, glassy eyes, and wide, even verbal yawns. When believers lose their hope of the future, they resort to having no power in the present. One of the primary reasons for today’s lack of evangelistic fervor is the lack of anticipation, of being ready for Christ’s return. It also results in an alarming lack of holiness and personal purity, as increasingly, life is lived with little to no urgency of being ready to meet the Lord in that unexpected moment when He comes again.
This is the essence of Paul’s letter to those in Thessalonica. In these letters, he built for them—and for us— a solid theological foundation for life now and the one to come. He wanted none of his readers to be “ignorant” concerning these things. Paul emphasized that the basis of the believer’s hope is found in the fact and in their belief that “Jesus died and rose again.” And then he described with vivid imagery how we will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air when He returns to rapture His church. The Greek word translated as “caught up” means to steal or to seize, to snatch away by violent force. And then Paul followed with one of the most assuring promises in all the Bible: “And then we shall always be with the Lord.”
Here in Thessalonians, we are reminded that we have a soon-coming King. Paul drove four strong stakes into the ground of revelation regarding His coming. First, it is Christ Himself who will descend from heaven, just as He promised in the Upper Room when He declared, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). Yes, Jesus will descend from heaven just as the angel promised at His ascension, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Second, Jesus will return with a loud shout and with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God blasting forth. Next, all those who have died in Christ will rise first from their graves to meet Him in the air. Finally, those of us who are alive at this great event will be miraculously changed and caught up with them in the air to meet the Lord and be ushered away into the endless ages of eternity. No wonder Paul concluded this paragraph by saying, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Anticipation of Christ’s return
So, what are we to do in anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? We are to wait, watch, and work. James said to wait, to “be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7). Paul said to watch by constantly “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). And, at the end of his discourse on the resurrection and the Second Coming to those in Corinth, Paul admonished us all to work as we wait and watch when he wrote, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
We find Jesus here in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. He is our soon-coming King. Maranatha… the Lord is coming!
Taken from The Bible Code: Finding Jesus in Every Book in the Bible by O.S. Hawkins. Copyright © 2020 by Dr. O.S. Hawkins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson
O.S. Hawkins is Chancellor and Senior Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served pastorates, including the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, for more than 25 years. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he has a BBA from Texas Christian University and his MDiv and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For almost a quarter of a century, he served as president of GuideStone Financial Resources, with assets under management of $20 billion, serving 250,000 pastors, church staff members, missionaries, doctors, university professors, and other workers in various Christian organizations with their investment, retirement and benefit service needs. He is the author of more than 50 books, and regularly speaks to business groups and churches all across the nation. All of the author’s royalties and proceeds from the entire Code series go to support Mission:Dignity. You can learn more about Mission:Dignity by visiting MissionDignity.org.
Read more articles by Dr. O.S. Hawkins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/o-s-hawkins/