Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 4 - 5 …
It seems we often forget the context in which the New Testament was written, and in doing so we miss the intensity and urgency of the message we read in the letters to the churches. These early believers needed God, they needed each other and they needed encouragement to persevere … so do we!!
Paul cared for these people and about the lives they were living for the Lord. He continues his letter by speaking very personally, "We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more" (4:1). Spiritual growth is necessary for all believers. "It is God's will that you should be sanctified!” (4:3). To be "sanctified" means "to be set apart as holy." "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life" (4:7). (4:7). The result of the Holy Spirit living within us is the constant pursuit of holiness. Paul emphasizes this truth by saying, "He who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit" (4:8).
As we live in this world we all need encouragement to live by the power of the Spirit who is at work within us. And there is no greater encouragement than the knowledge of what lies ahead: the return of Jesus and our future with Him. These early believers may have thought Jesus would return in their lifetime, but now some had died. Would they miss the coming of God's kingdom? Paul assures them that such is not the case. He tells them not to "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (4:13). Why? Because "we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep IN HIM" (4:14). Not all will be saved, but those who are in Christ, who have been united to Him by true faith, will not miss what God has promised.
The following verses describe the Rapture of believers, the same event mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:30-31 and other places. There is much debate about the timing of the rapture - when it will occur, but note what Paul says here: "About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (5:1-3). Many have read these verses and determined that the Rapture will be a secret event as people simply disappear. After all, Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour of His return, so we can't know when it will happen. But wait, there's more!
"But YOU, brothers, are NOT in darkness so that this day should surprise YOU like a thief!" (5:4). There is not time here to go into all the signs Scripture gives us that will point to Jesus' return, but we need to understand that the true believers who are alive on the earth for the Rapture will be eagerly anticipating that moment when the voice of the archangel thunders and the trumpet call is sounded! We do not know the day or the hour, but we WILL know the time. The events of the world around us point to the soon return of Jesus, but there are still some events that must take place, according to the Scriptures. It's almost time … but not yet. Difficult times lie ahead for the true Church, as they did for the believers then. So how do we live?
"Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled" (5:6). Most people today are spiritually "asleep," spiritually DEAD! They think nothing of God, they do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord, and they live to please themselves rather than living to please God. Paul writes, "Since WE belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet" (5:8). We who believe in Jesus Christ KNOW this life is not all there is … that in fact, we have an eternity with Jesus in a new heavens and a new earth to look forward to. So Paul writes, "Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing!" (5:11).
And we can’t skip verse 9: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse been understood to mean that we will avoid the time of great distress, what some have labeled "the Great Tribulation." Believing this time of tribulation and distress is the wrath of God, many wrongly believe that the Rapture could take place at any time, followed by seven years of God's wrath. However, the time of God's wrath is called throughout Scripture, "the day of the Lord." This period of wrath does follow the Rapture, but the time of tribulation and distress Jesus talks about in Matthew 24:21-22, and that Paul teaches about in II Thessalonians 2:1-12, precedes the Rapture of the Church.
This means the last generation of believers will endure extreme suffering and persecution and must be ready for that to happen. Those who anticipate an easy road to heaven will fall away, for their hope is NOT in Christ. Jesus says to the churches in Revelation 2-3, "to him who overcomes …" God is calling His true Church today to be awake, to be alert, to be self-controlled, to labor for His kingdom, to put HIM first … knowing that whether we die before He comes or are alive at His return, we shall meet Him in the air and be with Him FOREVER!!!
So God says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (5:16-18). As much as you are doing that today, do it more! And "may God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it!" (5:23-24).
"Encourage each other with these words!" (4:18).
"Heavenly Father, Your Word speaks truth that our hearts long to embrace, for in Your Word is hope beyond the scope of this world. The hope You offer is eternal and by Your grace I rest assured that I will live in Your perfect presence forever in a perfect new world of Your making. I rejoice in Jesus Christ and ask You to fill me constantly with Your Spirit, that I may live a life pleasing to You in all things and be an example to others as we await the day of Jesus' return. In Jesus' name, Amen"