My dad is a planner. The epitome of this is when he would go on mountain climbing trips to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He would spread out all his clothing and supplies in our entryway. He had this massive check list. As he walked around the room, he would check off that he had each item he needed. Then, when he put things into his pack, he would check them off again. He made sure he had every item he needed. That gene was not passed down to me. I think this is clearly seen by one example. I was in Dallas and Courtney, my girlfriend at the time, lived in L.A. We would frequently fly back and forth to visit each other. On one of these trips, I had a friend drop me off. I went up to the counter and they couldn't find my name anywhere on the list of passengers. I said, "Please, check again. I know I'm on there." They told me, "You've arrived on the wrong day. Your flight is a different day." So, there I was, having told everybody, including Courtney, that I was going to arrive that afternoon in L.A. So, I stood there forking over money to board a flight that I thought I was already on. Poor planning. I failed to double-check my reservation, and I showed up on the wrong day.
The passage we are going to look at today is all about planning. It's going to ask of us the questions: "Are we prepared? Have we planned for Christ's return? Are we ready?" As we walk through this passage, we will be reminded again and again that Christ is returning. He will break into history at a decisive moment in time. The question for each of us is: "Are we ready?" As Paul finishes this letter to the church in Thessalonica, there are two things that he wants us to understand:
There are certain facts as we look to the future event in history.
How we need to respond to be prepared and ready for Christ's return.
What we need to know about Christ's return
First, he lays out for us the details he wants us to understand about Christ's return in vs. 1-3.
Paul is writing about the return of Christ here, but he uses the language "Day of the Lord," which is different than earlier in the book. Some people see two stages of the coming of Christ, where the church will be taken up and Christ will come later to land on the earth as Judge. Whether there are two stages or not, this takes us to that final moment when Christ will come back to the earth and will descend in this "Day of the Lord." This language is used throughout the Bible—"The Great Day," "The Day of Christ"—particularly in the Old Testament, there are a number of uses of this. We have to understand the background imagery that Paul wants his readers to take into consideration.
There are two things that happen on the "Day of the Lord." When Christ returns, he will come as Judge. For some it will be a moment of judgment, they will face judgment for their sins. For others, it will be a moment of deliverance.
Judgment: We see this language of judgment used in Isaiah 13:6-9. For most of us, when we think of Jesus, we have this image of this warm figure, who, regardless of what we do, pats us on the head and says, "Try a little harder, you're doing ok." We want someone to give us a hug and cuddle up with on the scary days of life. Though some of that imagery is true, he is also just. When he returns, he will come as a Judge. For those who have failed to place their faith in Christ, that is what this "Day of the Lord" will mean. It will be a moment of judgment for their sins and their opposition to God. It's scary language used in Isaiah. It's the primary imagery used throughout the Bible of this coming "Day of the Lord." As we think about this imagery, we have to ask ourselves, "Are we ready?"
Salvation: There is another image for the "Day of the Lord." It's not just a day of judgment; it's a day of salvation. For those who have given their lives to Christ the picture described in Joel 2:32 will be their destiny. The "Day of the Lord," for those of us who have given our lives to Christ will be a day of salvation. The salvation which we have already received will be culminated. We will be glorified and enter into eternity with Christ and other believers.
A day of judgment and deliverance. Are you ready? The metaphors Paul uses here help us know that the "Day of the Lord" is coming. For most of us, when we think about this coming day, it seems like science fiction and outside the realm of experience, but isn't this the way Christ usually works? He feeds the 5,000, lives a sinless life, born of a virgin, raised from the dead. That's what will occur again as Christ intervenes on this decisive day in history.
The metaphors are that of a thief and that of labor pains. Thieves typically come in a moment when they are unexpected, and so will Christ's return be. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly. As Paul describes here, people often don't like that. As planners, we want to know Jesus is coming at exactly this moment in time. We have known people throughout history who have proclaimed that they know the date of Christ's return, despite Paul's words which said, "I don't need to write to you about days or times" and Jesus' words which said that no one will know the hour or the day. Over and over people have done this. As early as the 2nd century, a priest thought that Christ would return in the year 500AD. Wrong. We have a non-Christian sect, Jehovah's Witnesses, who have predicted over and over again when Christ would return. First, in 1914—wrong, 1918—wrong, 1925—wrong, 1975—wrong. Within the evangelical world, a man named Edgar Whisenant wrote a book called 88 Reasons Christ will Return in 1988—Wrong. Most recently we have Harold Camping, who predicted that Christ would return on May 21, 2011—again, wrong.
People want a day or an hour. Christ says that's not the way it works. He will come. It will be a decisive intervention into history, but it will come like a thief—sudden and unexpected. It will also come like labor pains. When a woman is pregnant, her signs of labor come suddenly. She can't plan when it begins. It is unavoidable.
The question for each of us is: "Are you ready?" The only way to truly be ready for Christ's return is to give our lives to Christ. We are told that people during Paul's lifetime were saying things like, "Peace and safety." As they looked to the future, they thought, "Everything looks okay today. I don't need to concern myself with the future now." People looked to Rome as their safety. They didn't feel like they needed to concern themselves with the future or what was to come. We may find ourselves in that boat, as well, thinking things are safe. We look at our bank account and think we are insulated from difficult times. We think, "Peace and safety." But when Christ returns on this "Day of the Lord," the only people that will experience peace, safety, and salvation will be those who have given their lives to Christ. Those who have believed that Jesus Christ took on flesh, lived a perfect life, died on the cross to cover our sins, and rose from the dead. Salvation comes through Christ alone. By placing our faith in him, we can be forgiven and have salvation on this "Day of the Lord." These are the facts Paul wants us to know about this "Day of the Lord."
How we need to respond
Focus on eternity. Paul wants us to live differently today, because of this future reality. We see this first in vs. 4. The first way we respond today is to begin reflecting on the reality of Christ's return. We have two choices in life: We can live for the moment or we can live for eternity. All of Scripture points us to live for God rather than the temporal things of this world. We have to understand that Christ's return is real. We have to consider this in how we live. Am I choosing to take shortcuts at work? Am I choosing to rationalize my sinful behavior because it feels good in the moment or do I choose to live for eternity? Our first response is to understand that Christ is returning.
Understand our identity. We also need to understand our identity. We see this in vs. 5. Paul describes two different types of people—those that are going to face judgment and those who will face deliverance. Here we see the children of the day (light) and children of the night (darkness). Those who are children of the day will reap salvation and children of the darkness will undergo judgment. Understanding who we are is crucial to the way we live. In The Bourne Identity movies we are introduced in to Jason Bourne—who has no idea who he is. He doesn't know what city he's in or who is family is—he's confused. He has no idea what to do with his life, because he doesn't know who he is. As followers of Christ and people who are to live future-focused, we have to understand who we are. Our identity is that which God grants to us when we are born again. His character is given to us. His Spirit is placed within us. We are people of the light and day. We see from John 8:12 that this is who Christ is. As we think about being future focused, we have to think about, "What is our identity?" If our identity is that of an eternal being made in the image of God, it makes sense to prepare ourselves for Christ's return.
We see a close connection here between understanding our identity, and our behavior. Understanding who we are dictates the way we live. If being a child of God is the most important part of our identity, then we understand that we are to live in a way that reflects that. We see what this connection means in vs. 6-8. If you think about those verses, there is a clear connection between our identity and our behavior. We are to be "awake" and "sober." To be children who reflect God, unlike those who will face judgment and live as people who are "asleep" and "drunk." The imagery of "awake" and "asleep" is meant to describe a person's perception of reality. If we are "asleep" we have no idea what is going on around us. We are unaware. Eyes closed. When we are awake, our eyes should be open and we should be able to see the truth. Here is the truth of eternity versus the moment. We are to be aware of the fact that Christ is coming back.
There's an insurance group that recently looked at 65,000 fatal crashes in the U.S. They wanted to determine the number one reason for these fatal crashes. We may think it's texting or changing the radio. But the number one reason is daydreaming—falling asleep at the wheel. Isn't this so often how we cruise through life? Daydreaming—unaware of the reality of Christ's return. We are to be "awake."
We are also to be "sober." When the Bible speaks of being drunk, it's all about control. A person who is sober is in control of his actions. A person who is drunk has allowed alcohol to control the way they live. Ephesians 5:18 helps us to understand this. It's about allowing God's Spirit to control us. It's about allowing God to control us—at work, shopping—do we have our eyes set on the moment or eternity? We see further language in these verses, as well. Not only are we to be "awake" and "sober," but we are to put on faith, love, and hope.
We are to clothe ourselves with these three things. These words are seen together throughout Scripture. We have a choice. Do I live for the moment or eternity? Faith means to live with a reliance on God—to trust him instead of ourselves—to trust in God rather than me. Love is to allow our affections to be caught up in God, where we value the things of eternity. Hope is to have confidence that Christ is returning and that he will one day make everything right. If Christ is truly returning, we need to put on faith, love, and hope every day.
Understand your destiny. Finally, we are to understand our destiny in vs. 9-10. There are two different groups of people with two vastly different destinies. For those who have given their lives to Christ, what awaits them is salvation. We are told that this is to live together with Jesus. It's to live in paradise with God. On those who have not given their lives to God, what awaits them is wrath. There is no grey. You are either in or you're out. Are you ready? Christ will return. We are ready by giving our lives to Christ as our Savior and Lord.
We receive our final encouragement on how to respond to the "Day of the Lord" in vs. 11. This isn't just a personal response. It should radiate out into all of our relationships. We should encourage one another with the reality that Christ is coming back. It means that sin will finally be dealt with. It's encouragement, because the hope of tomorrow can carry us through. What encouragement we can share with others who are going through difficult times. In a loving and gracious way we can point them toward our hope of Christ's return.
It should also encourage us to share the gospel with those whose destiny is judgment. Eternity is at stake. Christ is going to return. Are those who you know ready? For some it will be a day of salvation for others a day of judgment. Are you ready?