You know what it’s like when you are looking forward to something you enjoy. Say, the trip you are planning over spring break. Perhaps this year you are going to spend five days at Cocoa Beach in Florida. You’ve been there before, so you have a good picture in mind of what to expect: feeling the sand between your toes, soaking up the warm rays of the sun, walking the beach at sunset, watching the “pelican patrol” cruise the shoreline from 40 feet up.
What is the impact of eagerly anticipating this trip in the months and weeks beforehand? It can make a dreary day seem a little brighter, make the bitter cold of winter seem a little more bearable, bring a smile to your face in the middle of the day when your mind wanders to sights and sounds and smells of your sunny destination.
As believers in Jesus we have something truly wonderful to look forward to: the return of our Lord! Jesus promised very clearly to His disciples, “I will come back” (John 14:3). The Apostles, as they wrote Scripture under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, picked up the refrain and repeated Christ’s promise. Indeed, the Apostle John closes out the Bible with the promise of Jesus to come back, and with an exuberant exclamation of his own in response: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
What would it look like if we lived in eager anticipation of Christ’s return? The New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians provides some answers to that question. Over the past number of weeks we have been focusing on 1 Thessalonians during our worship services, calling this series, “Living in the light of Christ’s return.”
Did you know that each of the five chapters of 1 Thessalonians mentions Christ’s return? The Apostle Paul reminds the believers over and over in the book that Jesus is returning. The point seems to be that we need to be thinking about Christ’s return. We need to live with a conscious awareness that this spectacular event will occur. In fact, we are one day closer to it today than we were yesterday.
Perhaps a conscious awareness of Christ’s return is part of what Paul meant when he said, “having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8, emphasis added). That is, we need to guard our minds with the confident expectation that Jesus will come back to rescue us—“the hope of salvation.” Or, as Paul states in 1:10, “to wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” We are to look for Jesus to come back for us from heaven, to wait expectantly for Him.
This is the beginning point of living with an eager anticipation of Christ’s return: we actually think about it, our minds wander to that wonderful prospect in a slow moment during the day and a smile comes to our face.
But beyond merely thinking about that day, living in the light of Christ’s return should affect our choices and actions. One choice it leads us to make is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ more and more (4:9-10). We can demonstrate this love in any number of ways but one way Paul repeats twice over is to encourage one another. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, he exhorts believers to “encourage one another with these words.” What words? The words of truth he had just written in 4:13-17 about Christians who have died. They are with the Lord and when Christ returns, He will bring these deceased Christians back with Him. At that time we will experience a grand reunion with them and, more especially, with Christ! These are words that bring real comfort to bereaved believers who are grieving their loss of a dearly loved brother or sister in Christ. We need to speak such words to one another. If we are to live in the light of Christ’s return, we need to be speaking God’s words to one another in order to build up one another (5:11) in Christ.
Another way we can live in the light of Christ’s return is to live holy lives. This receives very direct attention from Paul in chapter 4: “for this is the will of God for you, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (verse 3). God’s people dare not embrace the sexual values of their culture. That was just as true of the Thessalonian believers in A.D. 51 as it is of American believers in A.D. 2018. Paul goes on to say that we “are children of the light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5) As we anticipate the coming of Jesus, we want to learn what pleases God and to pursue His will more and more (4:1).
Paul concludes his letter to the Thessalonians with a bullet list of more specific ways that anticipating Christ’s return should shape our live. For instance, we are to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in everything. (You can read the rest of the list in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22).
Paul also closes with a wonderful word of encouragement: our faithful God is the One who sanctifies us (5:23-24).
Jesus is coming back. Let’s eagerly look for Him to return, and let’s live in the light of that great day!