This week during our Connect Groups at Southern Calvert Baptist Church, we are going to study two chapters of the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church in Thessalonica. Of the subjects covered in this letter, the Apostle Paul attributes much ink to the subject of the end times. The reason that he does so is because false doctrine had wormed its way into the church and had begun to upset the faith of the believers. In Acts 17, we read the story of how the Gospel comes to Thessalonica. The Apostle Paul was on a missionary journey. He visited Philippi and as a result, a church plant was formed from him making disciples. After leaving Philippi, Paul and the team traveled to Thessalonica. While there, Paul and the team began to visit the synagogue and teach the Word of God. Some of the Jews accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Also, many Greeks accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. The team had a total of three weeks to train these new believers. Paul wanted to stay longer but was forced to flee the city because of persecution. According to II Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul taught much about the end times during his three week stay.
- The apostasy
- The man of lawlessness
- Abomination of desolation
- 2nd Coming of the Lord
Paul did a great job teaching the Thessalonians while he was with them. The problem was that false teachers had come in the church and taught heresy concerning the end times. This letter is Paul’s response to those false teachers. There are three major themes in I Thessalonians 4-5. Paul teaches the believers about the church and her role in the end times, the rapture and resurrection, and the day of the Lord. Let’s dig in and see what we can discover for ourselves.
I. The Church
Paul explains why he had to write to the Thessalonians in verse 13 of chapter 4.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
There is a danger of believers being uniformed when it comes to end time prophecy. It was true during Paul’s lifetime and it still rings true today. In the original Greek language, Paul used the word “ignorant”. He did not want the believers to be ignorant to end time prophecy because that ignorance can easily lead to a loss of hope. Are you ignorant about end time prophecy? Do you seek to understand it? God wrote about it and preserved His Word for us to be able to read and understand. What if we have trouble understanding? James 1 teaches us:
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
God gives wisdom (understanding) to those who ask Him. He gives generously and without reproach. This means that He will give as much wisdom (understanding) as you ask for and He will never chide you for asking. The rapture and resurrection are explained in end time prophecy and knowing these truths helps us deal with death of loved ones. Understanding this helps us maintain our hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (I Thessalonians 4)
The rapture and resurrection are directly connected to our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Understanding these things will help us
. . . comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:18)
Are you familiar with end time prophecy? Have you discovered these truths from the Word of God yourself? What keeps you from studying end time prophecy? It you need understanding, all you have to do is ask. Let’s take a look at the text and examine the rapture and the resurrection.
II. The Rapture and Resurrection
These are two major events that are promised in the Word of God, and although they have not yet happened, you can rest assured that they will happen. God’s Word is always as good as done.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (I Thessalonians 4:14)
This is a reference to the rapture, the return of Jesus Christ, which is different from the 2nd Coming. At the 2nd Coming, Jesus will place His feet on the earth, exactly like He did during His first advent. At the rapture, Jesus does not place His feet on the earth. When Jesus returns for the rapture, He is not alone. He returns with the believers who had already died.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4)
This teaching is not something that was revealed to Paul to share with the Thessalonians. Paul shares these teachings from the Word of God. Two examples that immediately come to mind are II Thessalonians 2 and Romans 15. There are Old Testament references as well.
Back to the end time subject in I Thessalonians 4. There is a clear order:
- Christ will descend from heaven.
- The bodies of the dead in Christ will rise first. (the believers will already be with Christ, returning with Him)
- Those who are alive when this event happens will ascend to meet Christ in the heavens. (this is why the rapture is different from the 2nd Coming, Jesus never puts His feet on the earth)
- We will all be with the Lord always.
Again, understanding this teaching will give hope and allow us to encourage one another to continue to be faithful to the Lord. This teaching pertains strictly to the followers of Jesus Christ. How else is the rapture different from the Day of the Lord? Let’s discover together.
III. The Day of the Lord
The rapture is an event that happens instantaneously. The Day of the Lord is not just a “day” but, it is a period of time.
2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. (I Thessalonians 5)
The Day of the Lord will come upon the inhabitants of the earth like a thief in the night. The people will be saying things like peace and safety while in reality, the world is about to be turned upside down. This event is going to happen sometime after the rapture. The amount of time is not specified. It will happen like the labor pains that come upon a woman. It is not an instantaneous event. This is going to happen over a period of time. The believers do not have to worry about this period of time because they will not be there.
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; (I Thessalonians 5:4)
This is a period of wrath as the wrath of God is going to be poured out upon the earth. The believers are not destined for this and that is how we know that the church will not be there.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (I Thessalonians 5:9)
These events are explained in detail in the book of Revelation. In Chapters 4-19, the church is absent from the earth. In chapters 1-3, the church is on the earth. Then, the church is seen in heaven, only to return to the earth with Christ in chapter 19. What should we do in the light of all of this knowledge? The Apostle Paul gives some very practical advice to us.
IV. Practical Advice
This is why I love the Word of God, because the teachings are not just loaded with information. The teachings are loaded with practical advice.
so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (I Thessalonians 5:6)
We need to be alert and sober on a daily basis. What does that look like practically?
But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. (I Thessalonians 5:8)
We need to but on the breastplate of faith and love. A breastplate protects us. Our faith protects us. Our love protects us. We also need to put on the helmet of salvation which will give us hope. Walking in the faith, understanding our salvation will produce hope in us, no matter what is going on around us.
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (I Thessalonians 5)
We need to encourage each other with this information.
- we are not destined for wrath
- we are destined for salvation
- Christ died so that we may live
We need to build one another up. We need to continue building one another up.
Knowing and understanding end time prophecy is very important. God wants us to understand it so that we can be encouraged and we can encourage others. May the Lord bless us as we dig down into His Holy Word!