1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28)
“Should I Fear the Second Coming?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 16, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle Reading recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
When we declare Jesus Christ as Lord, you and I confess with the Christian Church that Jesus Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles’ Creed) We believe and acknowledge what God’s Word tells us about Christ’s Second Coming. Jesus will return visibly and with great glory on the Last Day. He will return to judge the world, not to set up an earthly government. Christ will return on a specific day known by God alone. We believe that the return of Christ is a source of hope and joy for Christians. That being said, why are some Christians afraid of Jesus’ Second Coming?
One of the concerns of the Thessalonian Christians at the time of Paul was about the Second Coming of Christ. They were anxious about the Day of the Lord and whether they were spiritually and morally worthy to meet Jesus on that day of His coming. And it certainly looks like those early believers had cause to be afraid of the Day of the Lord.
Paul, by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, writes in the opening verse of our text, “Concerning the times and the proper seasons, brothers, you have no need to be written to, because you yourselves know accurately that the day of the Lord is thus coming like a thief in the night.” Paul uses a phrase very familiar to all those well-read in the Old Testament. The Day of the Lord, or in Hebrew, the yom Yahweh, refers to a future time when God Himself with come to punish the wicked and vindicate His people. However, the notion of judgment/punishment is what is more commonly stressed. Here’s a quick sampling:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come. … Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. (Isaiah 13:6, 9 ESV)
For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. (Ezek. 30:3 ESV)
Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. (Joel 1:15 ESV)
And from today’s Old Testament reading, “The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. (Zeph. 1:14 ESV)
Does the Day of the Lord really sound like a pleasing thing to go through? God’s appearance
and action on the Day of the Lord are described in terms of cosmic catastrophes, including raging fires, whirlwinds and storms, shaking of the heavens and the earth, floods, and the darkening of the heavenly bodies. There are depictions of armies marching to the decisive battle, graphic images of suffering, death, and destruction. The Day of the Lord is variously termed “The day of the Lord’s vengeance,” The day of the Lord’s anger,” and “The day of wrath.” The prophet Isaiah in chapter 2 of his book pictures a destruction so universal that people will hide in caves to try and escape from it. The Day of the Lord is associated with acts of God’s violent judgment against sin and evil. Do we really look forward to that day?
If Jesus’ Second Coming is to be understood as the Day of the Lord, and certainly Paul wants us to go there in our text, should we, like the Thessalonians, not be absolutely terrified? We heard last week the prophet Amos chiding those who were actually thinking the Day of the Lord was a good thing, “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light.” (Amos 5:18) Should we be afraid of the Day of the Lord? Should we be afraid of God’s judgment rendered by the Coming One, the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes . . . and no.
Yes, people should fear God’s perfect, holy, and just judgment against the sins of the world, including our own sins. To fear the Lord goes much deeper than revering Him alone as the highest being and honoring Him with our lives. To fear God is more than respect. It is, in Jesus’ own words, to be afraid of Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28) That eternal death apart from the presence of God is what people who are sinners actually deserve. The evidence is not stacked up in our favor. Not only are we, from the moment of conception and birth, (Ps. 51) corrupted with a sinful nature, but we also sin daily in our thinking, our speaking, our desiring, and in our doing. How do we even quantify and picture our sins against God’s Commandments, many which are known to us and for which we feel guilt, but at least equally as many sins that are simply unknown, the ones we haven’t even realized that we have committed or omitted?
The evidence against us is tremendous and it is all condemning. Left standing in our sins, left in a state of rebellion against God and His holy Word, we stand under the Lord’s wrath and the judgment of death—physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal. In this condition, should I fear the Second Coming of Christ as Judge? Yes, and then some! Left in my sins, the Second Coming of Jesus should be the very thing I want to avoid at all costs because, left covered in my sins, I stand under a sentence of death and destruction. The Day of the Lord will be darkness for all those whose sins are not removed.
Should we, then, be afraid of God’s judgment rendered by the Coming One, the Lord Jesus Christ? As the answer was yes, it is also oo. Neither the Thessalonian Christians, nor New England Christians, nor Christians anywhere in the world should fear the Day of the Lord because our sins have been removed. The Day of the Lord will be darkness for those still lost in sin. But Paul writes the Holy Spirit’s words to believers, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness! . . . You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of night nor of darkness.”
Oh, this is Good News! Something has happened to Christians to transfer them from one setting to another. People who were once in the darkness of sin and under God’s just condemnation are now moved into the light of God’s forgiveness and life. Ephesians 5:8, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” What happened? How did this transfer and transformation come about? Where did we get this status as sons of light and of the day? It was gifted to us because the true Light of the world, the Bright Morning Star, Jesus Christ secured salvation for all people.
God did not place us into His wrath, but into the salvation kept safe for the world through our Lord Jesus Christ who died on our behalf. Jesus suffered the judgment of the Day of the Lord, the day of God’s wrath and anger against our sins and the sins of the whole world. Jesus truly died our death and suffered our hell on the cross. The Light of the world carried the darkness of our sins and our death into the grave. “Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again.” (In Christ Alone) Sin has been paid for in full. It has been removed from us as far as the east is from the west. (Ps. 103:12) The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sins so that we walk in the light even as Jesus is the Light. (1 John 1:7) All those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord by grace through faith receive this forgiveness and cleansing from sin. All those who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord are saved from death and do not stand under the wrath of God’s judgment. Rather, we who believe in Christ by faith stand in God’s grace with nothing to fear when our Lord Jesus comes again because Christ endured the Day of the Lord for us.
And the proof is in the cross. Jesus died for us. He rose again for us. The forgiveness of sins and life everlasting which His death and shed blood won is for us. It is for everyone, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, hears the Word of Christ and receives the gifts of Christ by the power of that same Spirit. We who live by faith in the Son of God stand before the Lord with our sins removed. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1 ESV) And that is precisely why we do not fear the Day of the Lord’s coming again. We have been covered in the righteousness of Jesus Himself. We have been clothed with the robe of righteousness that covers our sins. And God has placed His battle armor on us.
This was a revelation to me as I prepared to proclaim this Word of God to you. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah wrote, from Isaiah 59, “[The Lord] saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then [the Lord’s] own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. [The Lord] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.” (Isa 59:16 ESV) Seven hundred plus years later, Paul, by the same Holy Spirit, wrote at the end of our lesson, “But we are of the day. Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet which is the hope of salvation.” To stand before God the Son who comes to judge on the Last Day, we wear His own armor. We wear HIS breastplate, the righteousness of God. We wear HIS helmet, salvation won for us by the Lord’s battle with sin and death at the cross and the grave. No longer does God wear these as the divine warrior whom Isaiah saw, but you and I and all believers wear the armor belonging to God which is now given to us.
How then can we be afraid to meet the God who gives us His own armor to wear for our protection and support? How can we be afraid of the God who wiped out our sins and declares us “not guilty”? We cannot be afraid of the Day of the Lord. Christ has died and Christ is risen. Christ will come again like a thief in the night. But we stand ready. We stand prepared. We stand together as sisters and brothers in Christ who are saved by grace through faith in Him who is Lord of all, Jesus our Savior. You are sons of light and sons of the day. For God has not destined you for wrath, but to be kept safe in salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. “For this reason encourage one another and build each other up, just as you have been doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11) Amen.