Monday Reverb – 20November2023

WELCOME and THANKS for joining us.




This week’s theme is preparation for the Lord’s rescue.

  • The call to worship Psalm humbly casts eyes upward in calling for mercy and deliverance from the proud.
  • The Old Testament reading from Judges recounts the story of Deborah who emphatically delivers God’s command to Barak, son of Abinoam, as God’s response to the cries of the Israelites in captivity.
  • The Gospel reading from Matthew records Jesus’ parable of the talents that emphasize faithfulness to the master while awaiting his return.
  • The text from 1 Thessalonians includes Paul’s instructions to prepare for the Lord’s return by living in faith, love, and hope.



Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Can you remember a time that you felt that you had had enough?
  • Why is reaching this point a good place to be?



Returning to Jesus’ Return

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (ESV)

Today, we have a wonderful opportunity to look at a subject often neglected in many churches – the return of Jesus Christ.  This falls under what is called eschatology, or the study of “last things.”  This topic has been so abused and misunderstood in so many ways throughout the church’s history, that it is not surprising that many may avoid the subject.  There tends to be two ditches we can fall into when talking about “the end times” and Jesus’ return.

One ditch is a preoccupation with the details of how and when Christ returns, while paying little attention to who is actually returning.  Detaching Christ’s return from his identity leaves us at a loss in our understanding of who God is and his good purposes toward us.  This will often lead to presentations of Jesus’ return that amounts to some scary doom and gloom depiction of “end times.”  I’m sure we have all witnessed to some degree a presentation that does more to scare you than encourage you.  And that is unfortunate seeing that the biblical presentations of Jesus’ return are always meant for our encouragement as we will see in today’s text.

Another ditch we may fall into, mostly from a reaction to this first ditch, is to simply avoid the topic altogether.  It does seem that is the prevalent approach often taken.  Lucky for us, today’s lectionary text will force us to deal with this often neglected and misunderstood topic.  We will do our best not to bring in any preconceived ideas of Jesus’ return, and instead, let the Apostle Paul speak on the subject as he does to the church of Thessalonians.  As we do, we will see that the faithful way forward in understanding Jesus’ return, the end times, and all things pertaining to eschatology, is to avoid both ditches by remaining focused on the center of who Jesus is and what he has done for us and will ultimately do for us upon his return.  In doing that we will receive great encouragement.

Let’s see where Paul begins.


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. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 ESV)

Paul is being gentle here in how he brings up the subject.  He tells his newly formed church that they already know all that they need to know in these matters.  But, for good measure, he is going to remind them of what they know anyway.  He is not berating his brothers and sisters in Christ for having concerns or confusions about the end times.  Rather, he is going to remind them what he has already taught them.  This shows the importance of being reminded of the truth.  Not in a way that is condemning, but in a sensitive way aimed to build up.  We are forgetful creatures, and a reminder of what we know can be just the word of encouragement we need.  There is always a temptation to act out of fear or emotion based on some other pressure that may come our way.  Paul is skillfully soothing their fears by bringing them back to the center of who the Lord is.

Paul begins by avoiding the first ditch.  There must have been some concern about the how and when, the “times and the seasons” of Jesus’ return.  So, he answers this concern by reminding them that they are “fully” aware that his return will come like a “thief in the night.”  The word “fully” here means “exactly.”  Paul is saying they already know the details, the how and when of Christ return.  He will return “exactly” as a “thief in the night.”  You can almost hear the tone of a loving father answering a child’s bad question.  Instead of telling them that they are asking a stupid question, he just gives them the answer to the right question.  Paul is not interested in pointing out their misunderstandings as much as he is interested in bringing the truth alongside their misunderstandings to do the correcting.

It may be good here to clarify what Paul means by the phrase “day of the Lord.”

  • In the Old Testament “day of the Lord” was understood as a time of judgment for the enemies of Israel.  This judgment was not understood to pertain to Israel.
  • However, in the New Testament, and how Paul is using it, the “day of the Lord” is understood to be God’s judgment for the entire world.

Judgment often gets a bad rap these days.  It seems the main thing Christians are told never to do is judge another.  There seems to be some confusion between being “judgmental” and exercising biblical judgment.

Judgment as the Bible speaks of it is first and foremost simply sifting through and sorting out between what is and what is not. It is the process of discerning by separating things out.

Judgment is a very good and necessary thing, not something to be avoided.  We value someone who is discerning when it comes to our doctor or our mechanic.  When we have a health concern that we can’t figure out, we hope our doctor will be able to sort through it and judge what is wrong with us.  We don’t take our car to a mechanic for them to say, “It’s ok that your car is not running, it’s beautiful just the way it is.”  No, we want the mechanic to find the problem and fix it.  And to fix the right problem.  If our car needs new brake pads, we sure hope the mechanic doesn’t replace the transmission.  We want them to judge, shall we say, “righteously” or rightly.  That’s the biblical understanding of judgment.

God’s judgment serves the purpose of healing and making us whole.  This is how we understand God’s judgment and wrath, another word that comes up later.

Wrath also serves the purpose of God’s grace to make us his children, whole and fully healed and redeemedGod’s judgment for the Christian is a most encouraging word to usGod will come to sort out, sift through, and set things right.  That’s what we can expect to fully be accomplished in Jesus’ return.

When Paul uses the picture of a “thief in the night” to refer to Jesus’ return, he is simply saying that Jesus’ return will be unexpected.  Even though we know he is coming back, we do not know exactly when.  Paul is not saying you better get your act together because Jesus may return and catch you in the act.  That is sometimes how we read Paul’s word picture here.  But that is not what he is saying.  He is not using some fear tactic to get the Thessalonians in line.  No, he is saying you know he will return, and there is great comfort in that, even if we don’t know exactly when and how he will returnJesus’ coming back is not a threat for the believer, it is a promise we cling to for encouragement and hope.

However, this unexpected return will not be a welcome return for the unbeliever.  So, Paul will now address that.

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:3 ESV)

It’s very possible that the “people” who are claiming “There is peace and security” is a specific reference to the Roman empire’s message of Pax RomanaPax Romana was a catch phrase during Rome’s rule of the world that meant “Roman Peace.”  It meant to claim a peace that would come by belonging to the Roman empire, regardless of the different nationalities existing within it.  However, this peace had a catch.  It came by the power and might of the Roman military.  It was a peace that came by way of coercion and force.  People would keep the “peace” because they knew that upsetting the Roman apple cart could lead to being nailed to a wooden cross.  Let’s face it, complying out of fear and intimidation is not exactly what we would call peace.

In more general terms, Paul has in mind that these “people” are those who reject Christ and the peace he brings.  They claim that “peace and security” only comes by their own means.  They advocate a man-made peace and security.  Only, it comes by doing as we say without protest.  Just trust in us or our ideologyNo need to trust in Jesus.  In that way, it is a word to all our self-striving and self-sufficient attempts to attain our own peace and security apart from Christ.  There are many voices today who are saying God does not exist and Jesus is a myth.  We can be our own god and create our own future.  Who needs Jesus to return?  We got this.

Paul switches metaphors here from a “thief in the night” to “labor pains” with the description of “sudden destruction.”  This picture indicates that for those who reject Christ and don’t want his way to peace, his return will also be unexpected, but also painful.  The pain will come as everything that runs counter to God’s peace in Jesus Christ will be destroyed and there is no escaping it.  They will not escape God’s good judgment and the end of evil.  The words of those who are saying follow us and not Jesus, will be silenced in the end.  For those who want to hold on to the evil ways of this present evil age, there will be severe consequences.  And this is because there is only one true source of peace and that is in Jesus Christ.

So, we may want to ask ourselves, “Where do we look for our peace and security?”   If it is in anything other than Jesus, we can know that it will come to a sudden end.  So, we can let go of those false hopes of peace and security and put our trust in Jesus which will prove to be true in the end.

Now Paul will switch back to those who do put their trust in Jesus.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.  For you are all children of light, children of the day.  We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 ESV)

Clearly, this is not a passage meant to scare us about Jesus’ return; it is a word of hope.  This is the reality that we can cling to as we wait and watch for Jesus’ return.   Something better is coming and the evil in our world does not get the last word.  We know the thief is coming, even if we don’t know whenThere will be no surprises because we know who is returningHe will deliver the very promises that we have been clinging to.  As children of light and children of the day, we see clearly who Jesus is for usWe know he is faithful and trueWe know he brings his peace and security, not by coercion, but by the Father’s love for usKnowing Jesus now puts us in a very different place when he returns.

Paul has some implications on account of this.

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 ESV)

In simplest terms, what Paul is saying is, since you know the reality, live in it.  Live today in light of who is coming tomorrow.  Align your life with the reality of who Jesus is.  Paul is using the word sleep here, not as a metaphor for death, but for moral indifference.

  • He is warning against living in such a way as thinking that it doesn’t matter what you do.
  • Sober, on the other hand, means mental alertness.  We are to remain alert to what is real, to Jesus, and put our trust in him every day.
  • Paul’s picture of those who “sleep at night” and “are drunk at night” is a picture of living in a non-reality.  They are not aware of what is really going on, like being lost in a dream or stumbling around drunk.

The command for us that Paul issues is that we “be sober.”   But he also gives us the preparations to keep that command.  He says, “having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  He is not saying that we must put these on, he assumes that we already have.

So, being sober is the command … and living out of the faith, hope, and love given to us in Christ is how we live “sober.”  As we continue to live in faith, hope, and love, we will wait and watch for Lord’s return, standing on his promises and praying unceasingly.  Our entire lives are oriented heavenward, anticipating the return of the one who has saved us to be children of his kingdom.

Paul will conclude with a final word of encouragement.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 ESV)

It’s not apparent in our English translations but “sleep” here means death, not moral indifference  like he used it earlier.  Paul uses a similar expression in Romans 14:8, and he is not undoing what he just said.  Paul is telling the Thessalonians, and you and I today, that we are not the object of God’s wrath.  He is not aiming to destroy us in the end, but he will bring the salvation that comes fully with Jesus who poured out God’s wrath on all that does destroy us.  He comes to fully deliver us from evil and all that dehumanizes, including death.  He saves us completely and that is what we look forward to.  And Paul concludes that we should continue to “encourage one another and build one another up.”  That’s what Paul has being doing as he reminds the Thessalonians and us of Jesus’ return.  For our encouragement it is good to return to Jesus’ returnMay we keep our eyes watching for his return as we continue to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”     



Small Group Discussion Questions

From the Sermon

  • What usually comes to mind when you hear about “Jesus’ return” or the “end times?”
  • According to the sermon, what are the two ditches we should avoid concerning eschatology (study of end times)?
  • In what ways is Jesus’ return for believers like a “thief in the night”?
  • How does Paul’s analogy of Jesus’ return being like a “thief in the night” strike you?
  • In what ways is Jesus’ return for unbelievers like labor pains?
  • What examples can you think of from people who are saying, “There is peace and security?”
  • Why do you think Paul chooses to continue to remind the Thessalonians of what they already know?




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