Ready for His Return
A telemarketer called a home in order to try and sell a product. He was greeted by a younger boy who, whispered, “Hello.”
The telemarketer said, “Is your mom home?”
Still whispering, he said, “Yes, but she’s busy.”
“Well, is your dad home?”
“Yes, but he’s busy, too.”
“Well, are there any other adults in the house I can speak with?”
“Yes, the police, but they’re busy, too.”
The telemarketer said, “What are they all doing?”
“They’re looking for me!”
In recent years whenever Christ has looked down on us from Heaven, He could say that same thing: “They are looking for me. They are waiting for my return.”
U.S. News and World Report devoted an entire issue a while back that they entitled on the cover, “Waiting for the Messiah.” It said that 61% of the American population believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth. In recent years there has been an increased interest in the Second Coming. The Second Coming is a foundational point of Christianity, and yet opinions about it are so diverse that they are potentially divisive. They are so divisive, in fact, that it’s tempting to avoid the subject all together. Because you see, prophecy is a difficult subject. It is veiled in symbolism and mysterious language. And we must be careful not to allow our own personal interpretations and opinions to become matters of doctrine.
Now all of the books from Genesis through Malachi could be summed up as saying, “Jesus is coming.” From Matthew through John we could say, “Jesus is here.” But from Acts to Revelation, we could summarize it by saying, “Jesus is coming again!” And what we want to do through this study of the book of 2 Thessalonians is talk about the fact of Christ’s return. And the purpose of this series of messages is not to set a date or an agenda, or to try and convince you of every detail and how it will unfold, instead we want to get an overview by beginning and looking at Biblical prophecy. After that I want us to move down the funnel and find out the pertinence of 2 Thessalonians, and then to realize how it is that we can be ready for the return of Christ.
I. THE PURPOSE OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY.
Let’s begin by understanding the purpose of Biblical prophecy.
Throughout the Bible prophecies are used to explain and validate God’s will. They are not intended to confuse, but they are intended to inform the church and to prepare the church.
Now I don’t know if you are familiar with these terms, but a lot of people talk about “premillennial,” or “postmillennial,” or “amillennial” when it comes to the Second Coming of Christ. Now the millennium is a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth that the book of Revelation talks about in Revelation chapter 20.
Some people believe that Christians will be raptured or taken out of the world, that a time of tribulation will occur, and then Christ will return to set up the thousand-year reign on earth. People who believe that are called premillennialists.
There are others who believe that Christ’s thousand-year reign will take place and then the Second Coming will occur afterwards. These people are considered postmillennialists.
Now the amillennial view believes that the thousand-year reign of Christ is figurative and that it merely refers to the church in the world. They believe that the reign of Christ on earth is His kingdom, the church. They believe that the tribulation is not a short-term specific number of years, but rather the persecution that the church has endured throughout the centuries. And they believe that Christ’s return will take place sometime in the future and that all Christians will be taken to heaven all at the same time.
Now each group, or theory, has Scripture that they use to back up and substantiate their beliefs. So, you have premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial.
But there’s also a fourth belief, and that’s what I call panmillennial. This is the belief that it will all pan out in the end anyway!
Throughout this series I may refer to some of these terms. Now I don’t advocate that you dogmatically embrace any one of these theories. Personally, I lean more toward one than the other two, but for our purposes this morning I’m not going to tell you which one that is. Do you know why? Because it really doesn’t matter. Satan loves to get the church off on tangents which are so secondary that it keeps us from the priority of sharing the gospel with others. What I am suggesting this morning is that you be wary of anybody who tells you that they’ve got it all figured out. The more certain they are, the more skeptical I tend to be. And our focus as Christians is on the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Someone wrote, “A people brought together by a fact of the past, in order to be in fellowship in the present, should not divide themselves over a question of the future.” I believe that God, in His wisdom, has kept those specifics somewhat veiled so as to heighten the interest and to deepen our study of His Word. I like what Tony Campolo says about the second coming. He says, “I’m not on the planning committee, I’m on the welcoming committee.”
You see, Biblical prophecy reinforces our beliefs in the Bible.
Second Peter 1:19 says, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it….”
But Biblical prophecy also offers for us comfort and encouragement.
As you recall, Paul described the Second Coming of Christ in his first letter to the Thessalonians. He writes in 1 Thessalonians 4, verses 17 and 18, “After 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. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
You see, the whole reason that he wanted to tell them about the fact of Christ’s return was so that they would have something to put their hope in, so that they would have something to put their faith in, something to look forward too.
I’ve stood in funeral homes with dozens of different families over the years. I’ve stood with families who believed that the dead person was gone forever and that they would never see them again. Times when the family were so saddened because they were pretty certain that that individual was headed into a Christless eternity in Hell. It is a tragic thing to watch physical life come to an end and have nothing to look forward to. How awful it is to live such a self-centered life, one that willingly chooses to spiritually roll the dice on where eternity will be spent.
But I’ve also stood in the funeral home with families who were filled with hope. I remember a man whose father had just died of a stroke saying, “It really hurts to give dad up, but I’m really really thankful that he’s not paralyzed, or unable to speak, or unable to function.” He said, “And there were a lot of blessings. The entire family all got here a few hours before he died.” He said, “A few days ago he was perfectly healthy, and now he’s gone to be with the Lord. And I’ll tell you what,” he said, “if anybody is there, my dad is!” And then he said, “I just feel both sad and happy at the same time.”
And maybe you can relate to that if you’ve had a close loved one or friend, who was a believer in Christ, pass away. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there’s that loss of companionship. But for the Christian, there is an eternal hope! When a Christian dies, amidst the grief there is still a hope that we can hang our hat on. Biblical prophecy gives us comfort and encouragement because it reminds us that someday we’ll be with Jesus forever—whether that is through physical death or through His climactic return to earth.
You see, Biblical prophecy encourages us to live holy lives.
Second Peter 3:14 says, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this (talking about the return of Christ), make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” That’s the purpose of Biblical prophecy.
II. THE PERTINENCE OF 2 THESSALONIANS.
But let’s move on down and find out the pertinence of 2 Thessalonians.
Paul wrote the book of 1 Thessalonians to encourage these young Christians to live for Jesus Christ. And in that book, he assured them that Christ would indeed come again and take all Christians to be home with Him forever. Now most scholars agree that 2 Thessalonians was written just a matter of weeks, or maybe a couple of months, after the first letter. Paul had intended to bring hope and encouragement to the Thessalonian Christians, but apparently his message stirred up some controversy.
In 2 Thessalonians, the second chapter, he writes to them by saying, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come” (vv. 1-2).
Now let me explain to you what has happened. Second Thessalonians is written because it seems that some false revelation or forged document had come to the church at Thessalonica, supposedly from Paul. But it was a forgery. And it suggested that the second coming of Christ had already taken place.
So, the first reason that 2 Thessalonians was written was as a means of clarification.
It was sent to clarify that Jesus hasn’t returned yet. Can you imagine being in the church at Thessalonica, being all pumped up and excited about the second coming that you’ve heard so much about, and then all of a sudden you get this letter, supposedly from Paul, which says: “Hey, you’ve missed it! Christ has already come and gone.” Man, you talk about a bummer. Well, that’s what was taking place. But through the Holy Spirit Paul was inspired to write a second letter, because he wanted to assure them that Christ had not yet returned. And he wanted to offer some further clarification of what would take place before Christ would actually arrive. So he stresses, “Don’t worry, you didn’t miss it. You’ll know it when He comes.”
But 2 Thessalonians was also written, not only for clarification, but also for motivation.
Apparently, some of the people who had heard Paul’s promise of the second coming assumed that it would be right away. And rather than working, and serving, and telling others the good news of Jesus Christ, they decided to quit their jobs and to sit back and wait for Christ’s return. Why plant a crop if Jesus would be back before the fall? Why repair the house if we will be in heaven before winter? Why send missionaries overseas when the Lord would be here before the missionaries would even arrive? And they got lazy.
Now sometimes I can be like that. I’m kind of a driven personality in most things, but if it comes to certain tasks, such as cleaning up the yard, I can be pretty lazy. I’m the guy who argues with his wife when she says, “You need to go out and rake those leaves.” I’ll say, “Oh honey, instead of doing it three or four times, let’s just wait for all of the leaves to fall down. That way I can be a better steward of the time that God has entrusted to me!”
Well, it’s good that I wasn’t living back in Thessalonica at that time, because I might have tried to become so enamored with Christ’s return that I would stop doing anything that was productive. You see, the people were so heavenly minded that they were of no earthly good.
Second Thessalonians 3, verses 11 and 12, say, “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”
You see, because they weren’t working, they were simply taking handouts from the church. And in so doing, instead of helping to advance the cause of Christ, they were becoming a burden unto the church.
Paul was merely echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew 24, verse 46: “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him [working] when he returns.“ Rather than waiting idly by, Paul wanted the people to be working expectantly, and he wanted to remind them of Jesus’ promise that He would come.
Maybe you heard about the preacher who every time he went to preach a revival service would always preach the same sermon out of the book of Revelation on the Second Coming of Christ. One day he got up to preach and was kind of waxing eloquent, moving around in flamboyant fashion on the stage. He walked over to one side and got right out to the edge and said, ‘”Behold, I am coming soon!”‘ And people kind of nodded. So again, he repeated Jesus’ words, “‘Behold, I am coming soon!”‘ And they were right there with him. Well since Jesus said it three times in Revelation, this guy thought that he had better do the same for emphasis. So, the last time he kind of leaned out and he said, “‘Behold, I am coming soon!”‘ About that time, he lost his balance, toppled over the modesty rail, and he landed right in the lap of an elderly woman on the front row. He said, “I’m so sorry, ma’am!” And she said, “Hey, don’t apologize, preacher. You warned me three times!”
Now the Bible teaches that history is moving toward a dramatic conclusion. In fact, it tells us not three times, but it tells us three hundred times in the New Testament – referring to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. That’s why we must be ready.
III. THE PRIORITY OF BEING READY.
But let’s also see the priority of being ready.
The second coming of Christ has been the ultimate hope of the church from the first century until now. Paul states in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, “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).
Now the return of Christ is not any more difficult to believe than the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
If you believe in the resurrection of Christ from the grave, then why should anyone have trouble believing in the second coming? In fact, if you believe the very first verse of the Bible – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) – if you can believe that, then you shouldn’t have difficulty in believing anything else that you read in God’s Word. If God is so awesome that He could speak the universe into existence, then coming back from the dead, or returning for a second time, is a piece of cake. The Bible tells us that nothing is impossible with God.
But even back at the time of the apostle Paul, people felt that the return of Christ was near. Now no one can deny America’s growing interest in eschatology. The study of last things and end times always draws a crowd. Many try to fit symbolic prophecies of Scripture into their own interpretation of modern events. People have tried for centuries to calculate when Christ’s return would be. The Jehovah’s Witnesses on 70 different occasions have incorrectly predicted Christ’s return. William Miller, a Seventh Day Adventist, tried two different times, and finally he quit.
Some of you may recall back in September of 1988 when everyone was talking about Edgar Whisenant’s book. Do you remember his book? It was entitled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. And Edgar Whisenant was so convinced that he had it pinpointed that he said, “Jesus will return on September 11th, 12th, or 13th.” He even had it narrowed down to specific dates.
When will Jesus return? Well, Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So we need to be skeptical of date setters. Knowing that He is coming is more important than when He is coming.
That’s why we must be ready at all times.
Look with me at 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, beginning with verse 3. Paul commends the people for being ready because of what’s taking place in three areas of their life. Paul says, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (vv. 3-4).
If you want to be ready for Christ’s return, first grow in your faith.
If you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, then accept by faith that you have been saved. Satan loves to shoot darts of doubt and to try and cause you to question your salvation. But if you have been obedient to what God has asked you to do, and you have made Him Lord of your life, then grow in faith and accept it. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Trust in His promises.
We’ve talked a lot about what’s going to happen when Christ returns, but think with me about what has already happened for the believer. There are some incredible things that the believer can enjoy and benefit from because of what took place at Calvary. You are a child of God. You are set free by the truth. You have been cleansed by Christ’s blood. You are confident that all things work together for your good. You are able to do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You have eternal life. And, my friends, that’s just the short list. In reality the list goes on and on. But grow in your faith and in that confidence.
Secondly, grow in love.
Grow in love. Usually, Christians are characterized and known by the things that we don’t do. Have you ever noticed that? “Well, I don’t drink, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do!” We are known by all these things we don’t participate in. Well, that’s great. I’m glad you don’t do those things. But Jesus said, “I want you to be known by what you do – namely acts of love.” Jesus said, “All men will know you are my followers by your love for one another” (John 13:35). That means that your co-workers should notice that there is something different about you, not only by the places that you choose to frequent, and by your language, but more importantly by the fact that you treat people and that you express unconditional love the same way that Jesus Christ did. Grow in your love.
Also, grow in your perseverance, Paul says.
He says, “Man, this church in Thessalonica, your perseverance and faith, well we’ve been boasting about it to everybody. What a great example you are!” (v. 4). You see, we can face the trials of this life because we realize that when Christ returns everything will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Everything will be changed just like that (finger snap). How much more can happen before God the Father says to Jesus, “It’s time!” And Jesus stands up from the throne and says, “Ready or not, here I come!”
The Bible compares the sudden return of Christ to a thief coming in the night. It will be like a mother’s labor pains. First Thessalonians 5:1-4 says, “Now, brothers, 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. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.”
When Jesus returns, He won’t have to announce His arrival. He won’t have to say anything. When you see a glorified Being riding on a cloud while trumpets play in stereo, trust me, it’s Jesus!
Jesus Himself said, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:44).
We have the word of One who has never failed to keep a promise. Every other prophecy in the Bible has come true, so why would Jesus lie about returning to take us to be with Him in eternity?