Extending the boundary 5. The Parousia (The Second coming)
Key Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
When I say end of the world or Second coming of Christ; most of us are filled with half biblical and half Hollywood ideas of death and destruction; a time of great suffering and pain; hopelessness and horror.
Many of us try to get our minds into a state where we are excited because, you know, Jesus is coming and we will be with Him forever. However, the idea of things are only going to get worse keeps us in a state of ineffective escapism.
As we conclude our series on “Extending the Boundaries”; the final boundary we need to tackle if we are to be used by God is the limitations of our efficacy and what our expectation of the future has to do with that. This is the boundary I want to address tonight.
The problem with most understandings of eschatology (or end times) is it is locked between a state of apathy or fear. Both of these states leave us ineffective and uninspired for the future.
I want to address both of those realities and hopefully fill us with hope again for what God can do with us and through us because we are His!
We find our main passage that we are going to study in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I think this passage and it’s implications are particularly important to us in SA who find ourselves excluded from any hope of real power change in the world we find ourselves.
What do I mean by this? Well I look to our society and see a growing rage from a growing impotence. No matter how upset we get no matter how much we complain nothing seems to change and this grows an unhealthy frustration within us that explodes in lethal road rage incidence that we are seeing and destructive alcoholism and escapism that is rife within our country.
How does Jesus’ Second coming affect our country; well strap yourselves in, keep an open mind and let’s see if we can be surprised by what God can and is doing even in South Africa; and even in this church.
13Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
This is important we have hope! What is our hope? Well…
14For we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
This is fundamental to our hope; resurrection! Jesus shows us that we too will be resurrected…
and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.16For 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.17After 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.18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
So now that we have read this passage most of us are great; Jesus is coming I know that; we are going to be raptured; I know that how does that change the now?
The hope in His coming IS our Hope in this life!
What do I mean by this? Well most of us have a rapture or escapist view of the second coming of Christ; I want to turn that on its head, why because in fact Paul is not talking about a rapture here at all! Paul is using very purposed images here; and is trying to drive a point home that if we read a rapture into the text make Paul say the complete opposite of what He is trying to say!
There are three powerful images that Paul draws on in this passage to make it clear to the church that they have a powerful hope for the life to come (and ill address that later) as well as the life they possess now!
The first image is Moses coming down the mountain after the Israelites heard the trumpet (Exodus 19-32), the second is Daniel 7’s statement that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever ” (Daniel 7.18, NRSV), and the third idea is of the “Royal Presence” the Parousia.
We don’t have time nor scope to look at the first two images except to say they imply God’s intervening in our current reality bring about His rule in His people.
But in terms of the Parousia we need to look at what this world mean. Paul says;
“For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming [parousia] of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.”
This world “Parousia” means coming or presence; but is far more poignant that simply a coming; it had a powerful meaning in the first century; it mean a royal coming. N T Wright explains it as follows;
When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him, they wouldn’t then stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself. When Paul speaks of “meeting” the Lord “in the air,” the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from.
We must know that at this time the emperors (the Cesars) had ascribed divine attributes to themselves; calling themselves the son of God and lord.
Paul disarms the Cesar claim to establish the true Son of the true God and true Lord and lords is coming back; and when he returns it will not be secret nor subversive; rather as a ruling king coming to claim his kingdom; and we citizens of the kingdom will go out to meet Him to welcome Him triumphantly into His kingdom! This kingdom rule is now being extending through His people (and this is our hope)!
An important question needs to be raised; where is Jesus coming from? Earth or heaven? It is Heaven; so where is He coming to reign? Earth!
We need to clear out of thinking this idea that we are going to heaven one day (as much as we must simply passively endure this world because we are going to be ejected from it to heaven).
No the preaching of the New Testament and the hope of the early church was resurrection! In other words; we are not going to heaven; heaven is coming down to earth! That we will live in a resurrected life but it will be quite earthly; although perfect! (read Revelation 21 about the New Jerusalem – it is coming out of the cloud to… earth!)
This is the idea that Paul is trying to communicate here. Jesus is coming to claim the kingdom! The implications of this are truly profound; this means that we are His kingdom that He is coming to claim.
This means that we must be living kingdom life; and bringing kingdom hope to the world!
We have to reflect this idea with the corresponding it with Philippians 3:20 which reads;
20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
We are Citizens of Heaven (Phil 3:20)
Surely this contradicts all that I have just said? Absolutely not; Paul is not saying we are citizens of heaven so sit back and wait till Jesus comes to take you there; no he says we await our Saviour and Lord from Heaven. The idea invoked is the Roman idea of Citizenship.
Rome would set up colonies all around the world and would then establish those colonies as part of Rome. So that all who dwelt in those colonies would enjoy all the rights of being a citizen of Rome and would live as if they lived in Rome; why? Well Rome had come to the world; not the world had come to Rome.
This is the same idea; we are citizens of Heaven our rights are connected to Christ and not this world; the way we do things is Heavens way not the earths way; we are in the process of bringing the “culture” of heaven to earth.
This is exactly what Jesus mean when He prayed “Lord Your kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
But it is because our Kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world and function and extends in ways completely opposite to the way the kingdoms of this world extend that we have true power to change our world.
We don’t extend the kingdom through violence or displays of power; we extend the kingdom through love and meekness, through a hunger for justice and hope. This is why the kingdoms of this world are powerless to stop this work and this is why we have incredible hope to change the world!
Next year we will be doing a series of the nature of kingdom living from the gospels. But for the meantime I want us to be encourage we are not called to live in a way that we escape this world; no we live in a way that we await our victorious King who will subdue all under his feet; that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord!
Our hope is not to escape this world; our hope is to be Citizens of Heaven in this world; because Heaven is breaking into our world through us! As we learn to reflect the love of God to each other; as we learn to live in the grace and forgiveness of God; as we learn to truly connect; God reigns in that and brings His healing rule to us and to all that are connected to us.
That what was the hope and reality of the early church; and let us remember that they literally changed the world forever!
I am not saying that we won’t face opposition or that there will be it will just be roses and bubbles; but I am saying let’s start changing the narrative a little. We don’t have to simply endure the evil around us; Church we can be a positive reality of change and the reign of God in the midst of the evil we find ourselves in.
I am more and more convinced of the fact that we are called to be agents of hope and bringers of the good news that God has come to reign in his people.
How does this practically look church? Well, we have discussed this on some level; it is learning to live opening with each other; to love each other with the love of Christ, it’s sharing the hope of the gospel, but also it is being agents of gospel change in the world we find ourselves in.
I pray that you would be encouraged let us extend the boundary of hope we have for our self and our church; God want us to be a force for good in this area; I think that is his call on us! This is our final boundary that needs to be broken; the boundary that convinces us that we cannot change our world; that we are hopeless and we must simply endure; let us change that narrative (that story) to be what we are called to be; God’s citizens that will bring the hope and rule of God to all that we can.