Whole Life Whole Bible Day 47
1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NASB)
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NASB)
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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
46: A forward-looking faith
Paul looks back at what has gone before in the story of redemption (‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again’) and looks forward to what is to come (‘and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him’). One day, Jesus will be personally present as Lord of the nations, king and judge, in a transformed and recreated earth and heaven, the culmination of God’s purposes for his people and his world.
Jesus spoke about events to come in terms first used by the Old Testament prophets, who themselves looked forward to ‘the day of the Lord’. Immediately after his ascension, the apostles were told, ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way’ (Acts 1:11). Now Paul, in the first letter to the Thessalonians, dealing with their concerns about those who have already died, reassures them that the ‘already dead’ and the ‘still alive’ will rise and meet Jesus when he comes.
Of course, the rich metaphors and allusive language used to describe the return of Jesus can be confusing. A loud command, the archangel’s call, the sound of the trumpet, Jesus coming in the clouds from heaven — all these word pictures are, in a sense, attempting to describe the unimaginable. They highlight the importance of humility when it comes to trying to describe exactly what will happen and when. Even so, it seems likely that when Paul talks about Jesus coming down and being met by a movement upwards, he is using words that describe a royal visit to a city, when a welcome party would be sent out to meet the prestigious visitor, returning with joy to the city. That’s the image here, which implies that once our reunion has taken place, we will come back to the earth. And so, Paul says, ‘we will be with the Lord for ever’.
Small wonder, then, that he calls on us to ‘encourage one another with these words’. Like the Thessalonians, we will grieve the loss of loved ones and the separation that death brings, but we have a sure and certain hope. We will all be together at last, for he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Jesus will be personally present — the center and focus of the new heaven and earth. He will reign and we will reign with him.
For further reflection and action
If you think about the second coming, how do you picture it? Have you any expectations of the events that will precede it and those that will follow, after Jesus has returned? Do you know why you hold these views on the way this present age will end?
Read a few other passages related to the return of Jesus: 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12; 2 Peter 3:10–13; Matthew 24:29–44; Revelation 21:1–22:5. Rejoice in the sure and certain hope of Christ’s coming.
Many Christians pay only lip service to Christ’s return, in practice living as if the world will continue for ever as it is now. What difference would the perspective of eternity make to the way we might think about (a) material possessions, (b) other people, and (c) suffering?
Visit LICC to find out more or get an overview of the Biblical narrative and the ways it can shape us by reading the Introduction to Whole Life, Whole Bible from the Whole Life, Whole Bible book.