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Judgment Day

Most people are notoriously lazy. Because of an inclination to slothfulness, you must build accountability through a variety of means and methods. For example, many of us have scales in our bathrooms because we recognize that the only true way to be accountable for our weekly eating habits is to have an objective means for measuring our caloric intake. Teachers also recognize the value of accountability. Fully aware of the human tendency to choose play over study, teachers keep their students motivated by administering quizzes and tests. While most students would gladly welcome a test-free world, they admit that tests serve as proper motivation for them to study and learn. Indeed, the promise of a coming evaluation always serves as the best means for a present motivation.

Pause and let this truth sink in. When we stop worrying about tomorrow, we are truly liberated to live for today. Let me help you to see this truth by way of a practical illustration. Think for a moment about a time when you were unable to watch the big game on TV. Although you may have missed it live, you were still able to record the game so that you could watch it later. Desiring not to know the score until you have watched the game, you attempt to avoid all TVs, radios, computers, and smart phones. With remote in hand (to fast-forward through commercials), you settle into your favorite chair to view the action. However, as you turn on your TV, you somehow forgot that it was tuned to ESPN, and before you could switch it, the final score of the big game scrolls across the bottom of your screen. Your evening is ruined ... or is it? The good news is that you now know that your team won the game. The bad news is that the anticipation and thrill of watching the game is gone. But if you are a true sports fan, you will most likely still enjoy watching the game, but you will now watch it with a different attitude and perspective. In fact, it might even be a little more enjoyable to watch. When your team suffers a setback, you will recognize that it is only temporary. When your team falls behind, you won't become discouraged because you know the final outcome. In a real sense, when the future is not in doubt the present is much more enjoyable.

The Thessalonians' present discouragement was the result of their future uncertainties. But God did not intend for them to stumble around in the darkness of uncertainty. No matter how difficult their present circumstances might become, they could face them with the promise of a secure future. The Day of the Lord was not going to overtake them like a thief. God had opened their eyes to see how it was going to happen. They could now face their future with hope, their present with purpose, and their past without regret. All of this was possible because they were walking in the light of Christ. Light always has a way of changing our perspective (Ps 119:105; John 1:4-5; 9:5).

Being a Christian means something. It's one thing to say that you walk in the light, but it's another thing to prove that you walk in the light. Thus Paul reminds the Thessalonians that a Christian's new nature will be reflected by a Christian's new conduct. One of the most transforming days in a believer's life is when he moves past the why of salvation and begins to grasp the what of salvation. The Thessalonians were in danger of allowing their end times confusion to distract them from their present day living. And they clearly did not need more distractions. Their city was full of them. As I have mentioned, sexual immorality was right outside the window. Every day a thousand different things were competing for their attention. To borrow the words of singer Rich Mullins, the "stuff of earth" was competing for their allegiance ("If I Stand," 1988). Paul was challenging them to be true to their first love. He was imploring them to let their lifestyle reflect their loyalty to Christ. To challenge them in their loyalty to Christ, Paul makes a transition from their standing ("sons of light" and "sons of the day") to their living ("stay awake and be serious"). God expects them to live a sober life and to practice a serious faith.

They live their lives soberly. When it comes to following God's instruction, Christians do not "sleep" like the rest of the world (5:6). Sleep carries with it the connotation of a blissful ignorance. Some people live their lives with the mantra, "If the pressures of life become too difficult, a good nap will make them disappear." Of course, you know by experience that your problems never sleep. Paul employs the metaphor of sleep to describe how an unbelieving world views God. While God sounds the sirens of judgment, the world takes a nap. But as we have discovered, sleep is powerless to delay the Day of the Lord or to lessen its severity. While an unbelieving world slumbers, "sudden destruction" will come like a thief in the night (5:2-3). Jesus describes it this way:

Jonah learned the dangers of sleeping while God was talking. He surmised that if he slept long enough God would take His message to 138someone else (Jonah 1:5). He found out that God has a way of waking you up when He wants to get your attention. Turning your back on a problem will not make that problem go away. Jesus taught His disciples not to turn their backs to the reality of His return. They were to be living in a constant state of readiness. He said,

Watchfulness, however, involves more than merely waiting for what is coming. Watchfulness means doing something while we wait. Paul instructs the Thessalonians to be "serious" (5:6). The idea here is to live a self-controlled life. It relates directly to their behavior (1 Pet 4:7). Again note with care how the imminence of Christ's coming should affect our behavior. Paul makes this point plain in his exhortation to the Romans:

God has not intended for His people to sleep their lives away. He has called them to be sober. Even if Jesus delays His coming, the motivation to live faithfully still exists.

They take their faith seriously. Those who fail to take their Christianity seriously need to carefully consider Paul's instruction in this passage. The imagery portrayed by his use of darkness and light is telling. Christians are radically different from non-Christians. "Since we belong to the day," Paul argues, "we must be serious and put the armor of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet of the hope of salvation" (5:8). To paraphrase: "If we say that we are Christians, then let's get serious about it!" Commenting on this verse, Calvin describes how seriously Christians must view their faith:

Just as the soldier avoids the affairs of civilian life, so also the Christian avoids the allurements of the world (2 Tim 2:4). The way that some Christians mess around with worldly allurements makes us wonder how seriously they take their faith.

In verse 8 Paul suggests that the Christian faith is a battle. By employing the imagery of a soldier's armor, he challenges the Christian to prepare for this battle. A soldier who recognizes the dangers of the battlefield would never venture into combat without being prepared. In the same way, believers who take their faith seriously understand the importance of spiritual preparation. The picture that Paul paints here is similar to the one he used to describe the nature of a Christian's warfare in Ephesians 6:10-18. The fact that he instructs the Thessalonians to "put on" this armor indicates that such an act requires discipline.

Concerning the purpose of this armor, Paul identifies two areas of great vulnerability for the Christian: the heart and the head. The Christian virtues of faith, love, and hope are the three defenses available to the believer. Faith and love form the breastplate that protects the heart, and hope is the helmet that protects the head (5:8). Faith reflects confidence. Love declares loyalty. Hope provides security. This triumvirate of Christian virtues forms the essence of Christianity. Believe what God says by faith; do what God requires out of love; and trust what God promises because of hope. Paul therefore encourages the Thessalonians to guard their hearts and their heads by remembering their relationship with Christ.

Peter gave a struggling group of believers a similar reminder when he wrote, "Honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). A settled heart will always produce a steadfast hope. When we believe God by faith and respond to Him out of love, the natural outcome is a life filled with hope. For the Christian, hope is not wishful thinking; it is a steadfast conviction that God will always keep His word. If we believe God enough to obey what He commands, then we will also believe Him enough to never lose hope. Considering the Thessalonians' confusion, Paul was telling them to look past the trials 140of the present and see the hope of the future. This, however, would be impossible if they did not "put on" the armor of faith, love, and hope. Usually the first things to go when we get discouraged are the very things that you need to keep you from getting discouraged in the first place. If we want to live in hope, then we must take our faith seriously.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

If you have ever had the unfortunate experience of being pulled over by a policeman then you know the full range of emotions that sweep over you when you see the blue lights in your rearview mirror. Surprise, frustration, and guilt might be a few words to describe these emotions. Of course, you probably could add a few more of your own. Now think about the different emotions that you experienced when the policeman told you that he was not going to give you a ticket. Can you say, "RELIEF"? Maybe you actually deserved the ticket, and maybe you did not, but the response that you received from the policeman was not what you were expecting.

Paul has been addressing some very difficult issues in this section of Thessalonians. As already noted, end times passages like this often create more questions than they answer. However, amid the complexities of this text are some very plain and sobering truths. One of these truths is that God will pour out His righteous judgment on those who walk in darkness. This judgment will come surprisingly, swiftly, and inescapably (5:2-4). This somber warning troubled the Thessalonians. Their initial concerns about the Day of the Lord were what prompted Paul to write this in the first place. Now after hearing how terrible this day would be, they had to be wondering if they would be able to endure it. The warning lights were flashing and judgment day was coming. Against this backdrop, Paul's words in verse 9 must have brought them great relief: "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." With a few strokes of his pen he gave them reassuring words of comfort, hope, and peace.

The "wrath" Paul describes in verse 9 could be a wrath of tribulation associated with the Day of the Lord, or it could be a wrath of condemnation associated with hell and final judgment. Either way, we must conclude 141 that this is indeed good news. Having said that, the context seems to favor that Paul has in mind the wrath associated with the Day of the Lord (5:1-3). The Thessalonians clearly knew that Christ had pardoned their sin, purchased their redemption, and delivered them from death (1:4-5). Their present struggles do not appear to be related to questions about their eternal destiny. As the letter reveals, their present struggles were related to questions about future events, namely, the destiny of their dead friends and the coming Day of the Lord. Paul's purpose was to give them enough knowledge of future events to bring them comfort and encouragement (4:18; 5:11). Clearly those who walk in darkness will experience the sudden and inescapable wrath of God (5:3; Rom 1:18). Conversely, those who walk in light will "obtain salvation." He reassures them that they have a different destiny than that of an unbelieving world. They were "appointed" for salvation through Christ.

Before moving on, consider the implications of verse 9 as they relate to Paul's discussion about Christ's return in 4:13-18. Although there is far from universal agreement concerning how to interpret these texts, for us to consider how the two passages fit together is important. Generally speaking, there are two ways to view this: (1) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 refers to the rapture of the church prior to the Day of the Lord; (2) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 speaks of the rapture of the church followingthe Day of the Lord. Although some of these issues have already been introduced, let's briefly reconsider each as they relate to Paul's statement about God's wrath.

(1) Deliverance from wrath points to the rapture of the church. Those who maintain this view conclude that since the church will be raptured prior to the unfurling of God's wrath (4:13-18), Christians will miss the Day of the Lord. For them, Paul's statement that "God did not appoint us to wrath" is directed toward the Thessalonians' concerns about the Day of the Lord. His message to them is that their fears are unfounded because Christ will come for them beforethis day occurs. This view seems to fit Paul's theme of encouragement (4:18; 5:11). It also appears to be very similar to Jesus' promise to keep His church "from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world" (Rev 3:10). This does not mean that no Christians will experience the Day of the Lord. Clearly, there will be those who will begin to follow the Lord during this time (Rev 6:11; 7:2-4; 13:7-8; 14:13). However, the purpose of Paul's statement in verse 9 is to show the Thessalonians that God's special plans for His people do not include the Day of the Lord.

142(2) The church will experience the Day of the Lord. Those who believe that the church will go through the Day of the Lord view 4:13-18 differently. For them, Christ will come for His church following the Day of the Lord. They argue that deliverance from wrath in verse 9 does not speak of the rapture but of the work of Christ in salvation. Since Paul clearly mentions both salvation and wrath together, the logical reading of the text would point to God's deliverance from His ultimate wrath—hell. Additionally, the biblical record clearly shows how God supernaturally protects His people in the midst of trials (e.g., the plagues in Egypt). So God is more than capable of caring for His people during the outpouring of His wrath during the Day of the Lord.

To be sure, not everyone agrees on these issues. Oh, that Paul were more specific in his instruction! However, the main tenets of his teaching are unambiguous. On these tenets there is consistency: Jesus is coming again; the Day of the Lord will bring God's judgment and vindicate God's people; and Jesus delivers His children from wrath. The church should be encouraged by these promises.

Verses 9b-10 would be encouraging if they were read alone, but when you consider these verses in the context of the entire passage, they take on a more profound sense of meaning. Leon Morris provides an important insight that will help you to see this passage in its proper light:

You will never fully appreciate what Christ has done for you until you first grasp why He had to die. Paul says that Jesus "died for us" (5:10; emphasis added). He became your substitute and died in your place. He did this so that you could obtain salvation (5:9b). Apart from His death "for us," we stand guilty before God as "children under wrath" (Eph 2:3). Jesus' death delivers us from what we rightly deserve—judgment. Morris' statement is so true. Until you recognize how hopelessly 143doomed you are apart from Christ, you will never fully appreciate how miraculous the cross of Christ really is.

Bringing this back to the Thessalonians, we can now see how profoundly encouraging Paul's words would be. He gives them the hope they were looking for. "Whether we are awake or sleep," he writes, "we will live together with Him" (5:10). This single statement answers their troubling questions. He is saying to them in the clearest way possible, "If you die [sleep], you will be with Jesus. And if you are alive [awake] when He comes, you will be with Jesus." Everyone who belongs to Him will one day be with Him. Jesus Himself gave His followers this promise:

Paul adds his exclamation point to the end of this passage with the statement, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing" (5:11). If these words sound familiar, they are. Paul used the same words at the end of chapter 4. In both texts Paul begins by addressing the Thessalonians' confusion about future events and ends with a strong note of exhortation (4:18; 5:11). Again, Paul gives them truth in order to bring them from confusion to confidence. A strong dose of God's Word is always the appropriate remedy for a confused and troubled heart.

How unfortunate it is that passages like this often create more confusion than they provide encouragement. It's easy to get caught up in debates about signs and seasons. However, the true test of whether we get it is not that we gathered all the facts but ultimately whether or not we get the point. And the point of this passage from beginning to end is that our only hope is Jesus.

Let's conclude by considering three practical ways that a passage like this can translate from the page of Scripture to the heart of a Christian.

God has called the church to comfort and not to conflict. Like the Thessalonians, we need to wake up, to sober up, and to look up. We 144have work to do and a Savior to please. It's time to lay aside petty disputes and silly disagreements. You and I cannot possibly be building one another up if we are constantly tearing one another down.

We have a limited opportunity to make a maximum impact. If we truly believe that Jesus' coming is imminent, then we will desire to make every moment count. The time to do something significant for God is now. Allow Him to show you what your task is, and don't delay when He reveals it to you. We were created for far more than most people realize. May God plant in you an insatiable desire to find out what your calling is, and may you not rest until you find it.

God provides the security, but you must take the risks. If you have any question about your future as a Christian then you need to listen again to Paul's statement: "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him" (5:9-10). How is that for maximum security? Life is too short to play it safe. Mark Batterson gets it right when he asserts,

With God, risk taking is not a foolish leap into the unknown, it is a bold step into a life of total dependence on Him.

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