The bottom line
1Thessalonians 5: If he said it, he’ll do it.
When Paul first preached the gospel at Thessalonica he made it quite clear to them that not only is Jesus coming back, but that they can be ready for that sure event. Both of these things are absolutely true, facts that can be taken to the bank. He also told them in no uncertain terms that the date of the Lord’s return is quite uncertain. No secret codes reveal the date. We’re sure he’s coming but we’re in the dark as to when. What’s left? In the words of Jesus, we must “be ready.” Paul reminds them of that as he closes this short letter. As I live my life in the Lord, trusting in him and cooperating with him, he makes me “holy and whole” and keeps me “fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” The bottom line in any discussion concerning the Second Coming is that, while we don’t know when it will happen, we can be (and must be) ready for it. So I pay attention to the things that matter: prayer, cooperation with God, showing compassion, staying away from “anything tainted with evil.” I don’t know “when” but I’m reminded in this passage that I do know “how” to get ready and stay ready for Jesus to come back.
Take Away: The most important thing in life is being ready for the sure return of Jesus Christ.
Life and death and life
1Thessalonians 4: God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.
We’re about 20 years past the ascension of Jesus and his promise to return. The church at Thessalonica has been in existence for less than 10. When Paul first came to them with the gospel message there was a sense of urgency about it. Each day might be “the day.” If friends and loved ones were to be saved it had to happen soon, before the glorious return of Jesus. Now, years have passed and, while their belief in the Second Coming remains strong, a new concern has surfaced. There’s been a death in the church. One of their own has become sick and died. Now that the funeral is over there’s a quiet but serious debate about their fate. The decision is made to contact the man who first told them about Jesus and who taught them about the Second Coming. Paul’s answer is concise and certain. The dead in Christ will be just fine. In fact, they’ll rise to meet Jesus first, before the living believers get their turn. Even as Jesus rose from the grave so will they. Jesus has defeated death and it has no hold on his people. For believers, the final word isn’t the ritual said at the graveside. Today, I stake my eternity on this passage and others like it. This promise flavors my view of life and death and life after death. Sooner or later every person must have that “quiet and serious” conversation, at least with themselves, concerning what they really believe about this, “life and death” topic.
Take Away: Christians are a people of hope and that hope is no more evident than in our attitude toward death.
Looking back and being blessed all over again
1Thessalonians 2: We wanted to give you our hearts. And we did.
Before Paul turns his attention to the primary topic of the letter he has some reminiscing to do. He well remembers arriving in Thessalonica. At that time he was a rather beaten up apostle, having just gone through the Philippian jail experience we read about in Acts 16. Some of his enemies, in fact, followed him to Thessalonica as well, resulting in a riot. Still, many believed his message and, in spite of his obvious weaknesses, they became dear friends of Paul. This relationship, he tells them, is cherished and warms his heart even as he writes them this short letter. Looking back on those events, even though there was some pain and rejection in them, fills him with thanksgiving. He remembers how he gave them his heart and to this day he has no regrets about it whatsoever. There’s something powerful about relationships like this. For one thing, they hold. Paul has moved on in his ministry but something of him has stayed with his dear friends in Thessalonica. Now, when they have questions about the Second Coming of Christ they turn to him for answers. When he hears from them, he experiences some old blessings made new. I don’t think I should live in the past, dwelling on the “good old days.” Still, there’s a time for looking back and remembering people, events, friendships, and blessings from days gone by. I can’t live in the past but it doesn’t hurt to visit there once in a while.
Take Away: Precious memories sweeten our lives today.
I’ve been changed
1Thessalonians 1: Something happened in you.
The Apostle writes two letters to the church at Thessalonica, a city of Greece that still exists today: Thessaloniki. Bible scholars tell us that these letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned a mere 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ. Jesus promised that he’ll come back and it’s that promise that drives these letters. When the gospel was preached at Thessalonica a few years earlier it was wonderfully received. People believed and in believing their lives were changed right then. As our Lord put it, they were born again and thus made new. Not only were they changed in the present, but their view of the future was changed too. Now, every day contains in it a sense of anticipation as they “expectantly…await the arrival of…Jesus.” That expectancy drives them, flavoring their lives in positive ways. No life situation is forever and a better day will begin any moment now. This has made these made new people into optimists who are admittedly curious as to exactly how it will all come about. Today, I’m 2000 years distant from these believers. Still, I have this in common with them: I too look forward to that day with both optimism and a certain measure of curiosity as to how it will all play out in the end.
Take Away: Christians anticipate the Second Coming even though we admit we don’t know exactly how it will all play out.