Church Under Pressure 13. Like a Thief in the Night
1 Thessalonians 5: 1 - 11
Recent headline from The Independent: World War 3 is Coming. The article notes that both world wars in the 20th century were unanticipated. No one can say with certainty where the next world war will begin, but the author suggests Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific as the most likely flashpoints.
Speaking of all the trouble in the world, Pope Francis said, “World War III has begun, piecemeal.” We know what he means: a battle here, an outbreak there, a terrorist attack in a big city, a revolution in the Middle East, and the relentless spread of nuclear weapons. One thing leads to another, and then you have Armageddon. So how close are we to the end of the world?
Since 1947 a magazine called the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has kept the “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic clock that shows how close we are to global catastrophe. As the situation in the world gets better or worse, the hands of the clock are set closer or further away from midnight. The clock has been adjusted 7 times since its inception when it was set at 7 minutes before midnight. It was moved back to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991. Since then the minute hand has come closer and closer to midnight, due to the spread of terrorism, the rise of rogue nuclear states and increasing instability in the world. In early 2017 the Doomsday Clock was reset to 2 ½ minutes until midnight, the closest it has come since 1953.
How will the world end? Man has his answers, but God always gets the last word. The Bible says 1 Peter 4: 7 “the end of all things is at hand” and Jesus said, Revelation 22: 20 “Yes, I am coming soon.” The Apostle Paul said, Romans 13: 11 “You know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for the coming of the Lord is nearer now than when we first believed.”
In this passage, Paul reminds us of 4 things we already know about the end of the age.
1. We Know the Coming Destruction v. 1 - 3
“The day of the Lord” - phrase found in many places in OT - describes any moment when God suddenly interrupts the normal flow of life and “breaks in” to time and space. The prophets used the term to describe God’s judgment on the pagan nations surrounding Israel. In fact, throughout history there have been many periods that might be called “the day of the Lord.” But those little “days” look forward to the big “day” at the end of history.
We know 3 things about the coming Day of the Lord at the end of the age:
A. It will come suddenly, like a thief in the night
Why did you lock your door last night? You did it because thieves normally come during the darkness while you sleep or while you are away from home.
B. It will be a period of great destruction
This refers to the vast judgments described in the book of Revelation, when the seals are broken, the trumpets sound and the bowls of God’s judgment are poured out on the earth.
C. There will be no escape
Here is the most important fact we need to know about the future. When the Day of the Lord finally comes, and God’s fury is poured out on the earth, there will be no place to hide. Paul compares it to a woman in the throes of childbirth. Every woman who has ever been pregnant knows what I mean. For months you wait for the day to come. You don’t know the exact day, but you sense when it is getting close. Finally, you say to your husband, “Sweetheart, it’s time to go to the hospital.” He may try to argue or reason with you, but it doesn’t matter. When the time has come, you’ve got to go because the baby is on the way. You can’t ignore those sharp pains and you can’t make them go away.
The same is true of the Day of the Lord. When God’s judgment is poured out on this earth, no one will escape. Your only hope is to find the way of escape through the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. We Know Our Identity v. 4, 5
Light and darkness symbolize the two great divisions of the human race—the saved and the lost. 2 key words - “you” and “we.” Christians belong to the light and to the day, not to the darkness or the night.
The coming of Christ will clearly reveal 2 kinds of people. Today it can be hard to tell because the sons of light live side by side with the children of darkness. Even though we have fundamentally different values and lifestyles, we share the same space, live next door to each other, we may listen to the same music and cheer for the same teams. Often we work in the same office together.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a person is a believer or not. But when the Day of the Lord finally comes, the difference will be perfectly clear. We who belong to the light won’t be caught by surprise when Jesus returns and sudden destruction comes to the earth.
3. We Know Our Duty v. 6 - 8
Paul uses 2 words to describe how we ought to live while we wait for Christ’s return.
A. We must be alert
“Make a determined effort to stay awake.” We all have trouble with that from time to time. Maybe you stayed up too late last night watching TV, or you had to do an assignment or perhaps you’ve been working extra hours at your job. We all know there are “morning people” and “evening people.” Spiritually we are called to be “morning people” for God. Some of us need some caffeine—literally and spiritually--because we are in danger of becoming spiritual sleepwalkers.
B. We must be self-controlled
“Serious-minded” - doesn’t mean dull. Christians should enjoy life. Paul tells us – v. 16 - “rejoice always.” We don’t need to be so serious all the time that we never laugh and never relax. The word “self-controlled” means to maintain your poise and position in an unsettled world. This person is neither overly excited nor indifferent to the things that happen around him. You find out if you are self-controlled when everything in your life is spinning out of control. Can you keep your cool when everyone around you is losing theirs? Can you keep from replying to an angry email or a hostile tweet or a critical comment on Facebook? The self-controlled person can walk away from a fight. Can you?
Keep calm and carry on - perfectly describes how Christians should live in a chaotic world.
v. 7 - certain things that have no part in the Christian life. These are things associated with the evils of the night. Drunkenness - prime example of how the unsaved live. This speaks to where we hang out, the parties we attend and the people we choose as our closest friends. We are to have no part of a drunken lifestyle because we are people of the light and those things belong in the darkness. Be filled with the spirit, not with alcohol!
We must be alert because the enemy attacks on every hand.
We must be self-controlled because we are always on duty.
We must reject moral compromise because it can only drag us down.
v. 8 - put on the breastplate of faith and love. Just as the breastplate covered the vital organs, even so faith in God and love toward our brothers and sisters protects us in the time of battle. Then we are to put on the helmet of the hope of salvation. This protects the mind and produces clear thinking. What is the “hope of salvation”? It is the certainty that if we die before Jesus returns, we will go directly to heaven. If we live until his return, it is the certainty that we will be raptured off this earth to meet the Lord in the air. Either way we’re going to be delivered—whether alive or dead we’re going to meet Jesus very soon.
There is a moral value to the Second Coming of Christ. While we wait for his return, we live in a world that is hostile to spiritual truth. A battle rages all around us for the hearts and minds of men and women. It is also a battle for our culture and for our nation. Every Christian is a soldier in that battle. We must do three things in light of Christ’s return: Wake up! Clean up! Dress Up!
Jesus is coming again, and we will meet him when he comes, whether by resurrection or by rapture. Is that just wishful thinking? Can anyone be sure they are going to meet the Lord someday? The last section answers that question.
4. We Know Our Destiny v. 9 - 11
We all plan for the future. You probably know what you are going to do tomorrow. Perhaps you’ve got some goals in mind for next year or for the next 5 years or the next 10 years. Maybe you’ve got some career goals in mind that you hope to accomplish someday. But no matter how well you plan, you can never be sure what will happen in the future.
God’s plan for you is so certain that we may call it a destiny. Paul calls it an “appointment.”
God knows where you came from. God knows where you are right now. God knows where you will end up.
What is the destiny of the saved?
A. Not to wrath
If you know Jesus, you are not destined for the terrible destruction associated with the coming Day of the Lord. We can go further and say if you have trusted Christ as your Saviour, you are not destined for eternal hell. There is such a place, and some people will go there, but that is not your destiny if you know Christ.
2. To receive salvation
Means “full deliverance.” Who will do this for us? v.9 - “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” He died in my place on the cross, bearing my sin, taking my shame. That’s the only basis for the assurance of salvation: the knowledge that Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and for me.
Let me sum up the message of this passage in just 4 simple words: Our Destiny is Deliverance. If you know Jesus Christ, you are completely delivered from the wrath of God—now and in the future.
Are you ready for Christ to return? Are you ready to meet him today? What if he were to return in the next 24 hours, would you be ready or would you be ashamed to see him? Maybe you don’t even know how to answer those questions. Paul tells us the answer in this passage: Think of the words Paul uses in this passage: Light and darkness - Sleeping and waking - Night and day - Us and them - Wrath and Salvation.
Your choice is ruin or rescue, destruction or deliverance! If you don’t know Jesus, you have a date with judgment. Your future is wrath and judgment. You will not escape!
Jesus is coming. Are you ready? There is no reason to be unprepared. If Jesus comes today and you aren’t ready to meet him, you will have only yourself to blame.
How can you escape the terrible wrath to come? It is through Jesus who died for us. You must transfer your trust to him. Open your heart to him. Ask him to forgive your sins. Believe that he died for you and rose from the dead. Crown him as the King of your life and the Lord of your heart.
It’s been 2000 years, and some of God’s children feel tired and hungry. We wonder why Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Perhaps he has forgotten us. Perhaps he made other plans. It’s been a long time from our point of view, but he’s only been gone for 2 days from heaven’s perspective. He said he would come back—and he will.
Fear not, child of God. Keep believing. He hasn’t forgotten you. Soon Christ will return for his own. Maybe today!
With this hope we lay our loved ones to rest in the sacred soil of death. With this hope we rise each morning, look to the eastern sky and say, “Maybe today.”
Have patience, child of God. Your Saviour is on the way!
Take hope, defeated Christian. The Lord is at hand!
Be encouraged, suffering saint. The trumpet will soon sound!