All Roads Lead To Jesus - First Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians – Our Savior is Our Comfort in the Last Days
Reading: I Thessalonians 5:1-11

The early church lived with an expectancy that Jesus Christ would return at any moment. Many of them believed that they would be alive to see his return. His physical and glorious return gave them hope when they faced insurmountable earthly challenges. Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Paul writes these words to reinforce what the Thessalonians already believed – Jesus was coming back at any moment.

Just a few words earlier, Paul says Christians do not grieve in a hopeless way because the resurrection of Jesus secured our resurrection and the resurrection of those who had already died. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was written to remind the church that Jesus our Savior is our only true comfort as we wait for the last day and our true hope as we experience every day in between.

First Thessalonians is full of what we call eschatological statements and proof texts. Eschatology is just a big fancy word to label the study of the end times, the coming Kingdom of God, and how we interpret Scriptures that inform us about the last days. In the modern church and all throughout its 2000-year history, eschatology has been something of a weird science. There have been many pages written, podcasts recorded, movies produced, and sermons preached that either under-realize eschatological events or over-realized eschatological events as foretold in the Scriptures.

Over-realized eschatology is those positions that believe the promises of the Kingdom of God are here and now. We might say that they are underselling the return of Christ by overstating the importance of the here and now. These proponents might believe that their nation or government is God’s chosen nation or government. They might preach a health and wealth Gospel that says God wants to give you your best life now. Proponents of over-realized eschatology preach present prosperity, present rule, and present benefits of the Kingdom of God without explaining the hardship, failures, and sin of the present age. They focus on the “not yet” as if it has happened “already”.

Under-realized eschatology fails to recognize that the Kingdom of God has come in part with the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Proponents of this side of the coin often live in fear of the powers of the world, political opponents, or the very temporary troubles we face. They over-realize the powers of darkness without considering the ultimate power of the risen Christ. They underemphasize the “already” – that Jesus has conquered sin and death.

Paul wanted the church, and us, to understand that Jesus has already inaugurated His Kingdom and we as believers experience many of the benefits of being a part of the Kingdom in part. One day, we will experience all of the benefits of the Kingdom of God in full when Jesus returns to consummate his Kingdom.

The letters of Paul and the theology of the Bible teach us to live in the “already and the not yet.” The Kingdom has already been established but we have not yet seen all that the Kingdom will restore. We have experienced D-Day but there is still clean-up and reconstruction work to be done. When Jesus returns the reconstruction work of a New Heaven and New Earth will be finished. Until that time we live in the already of redemption past and present but look forward to the future of recreation.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is important because it teaches us how to live in the present while resting on the promises of the future that have been secured by the past. For Paul, Jesus is our present hope until he returns. These days are the last days. Our eschatology, how we understand the last days, informs us in how we go about living our lives in the present. A deep understanding of the already and the not yet helps us to interpret current events while giving us hope that when things go poorly, we have hope in a Savior who is going to make all things new.

The already and the not yet of the Kingdom of God is why we don’t have to fear when an evil government is ruling, when godless kings persecute the church, when we battle with personal struggles, or when things don’t go the right way. We realize in these moments that Jesus has already won and look forward to the day when all the benefits of his reign over sin and death will be realized in full at his return.

When Paul opens his eschatological section in his letter to the Thessalonians he starts with these words, “We don’t want you to be ignorant…” It is not by mistake that Paul weaves practical and moral instructions into the words that follow concerning the last days and the return of Jesus. Paul knew that as we grapple with the fact that Jesus is coming again at any moment, that our lives can’t help but be changed in the present.

There are so many things that the Thessalonians could have turned to in their times of trouble and grief. They could have been distracted from the return of Christ and his current power over the forces of evil with the same pleasures, powers, hobbies, and opportunities that we wrestle with today. Paul desired that the Thessalonians would learn to live among those distractions while never being distracted from the glory of Christ. Jesus was their true comfort in the last days.

We too face many distractions from the glory of Christ and his return. The church has misplaced earthly things in place of Christ as their only true hope. We find hope in well-run churches with weekend shows. We find hope in tight-knit small groups and friendships. We put our hope in bettering ourselves, our health, our education our bank accounts, or our relationships. We put copious amounts of hope in elections and politics. We put all of our hopes and dreams into scientific discovery. We are in a constant state of over-realizing and under-realizing what it means that Jesus has won, and Jesus is coming again.

We are facing many troubles today. The world is constantly changing at a rapid pace. Some of these changes are good developments and some of them are harmful. But Jesus is still Lord. Jesus has still risen. Jesus has still defeated death. Jesus is still coming again. We must not be ignorant to His return for His return is our true comfort in our time of need. Let his life, death, resurrection, and intercession keep us until he comes again.

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