Like a Thief in the Night: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3


supermoon-moon_3455459bWhen I was growing up my dad was a high school baseball coach. That meant he was away from home a lot during baseball season and would get home really late, especially when the team played out of town. I remember as a kid always asking, “When will Daddy be home? When will Daddy be home?” “Soon,” my mom would answer. On the weekends she would let me stay up late to wait for him. I would go play a game or with some toys and then come back and ask, “Is he back yet? Huh, is he back yet?” I’m sure it was very annoying! But I really wanted to know when my dad was coming back.

Anytime astronomical phenomena occur, many charismatic (and other) Christians interpret these events as signs of the return of Jesus. Many in charismatic traditions have a seemingly insatiable desire to know exactly when Jesus is going to return. Many Christians sound like a rambunctious little child asking exactly when his daddy will be home. This seemed to be Paul’s experience with the Thessalonians. They were concerned about when Jesus would return.

The life of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels and Acts, consists of his birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent God the Son to earth. Jesus left the riches of his throne among angels in heaven to be born as a poor baby among farm animals on earth. Coming in full humility, Jesus revealed the Father to us in his life as he perfectly obeyed the command “Be holy as I am holy.” Jesus perfectly loved God with all his being and he perfectly loved his neighbor as himself. After living a sinless life, Jesus was convicted of crimes he didn’t commit and was crucified in the midst of criminals. While he was not a criminal, his criminal status was ascribed to him not only by Pilate, but by God himself. God treated Jesus as a criminal. Though he lived perfectly, he was treated as a sinner. Though he should have received reward, he received a curse–the curse of death on a tree. The one who gives life lost his own at the hands of his Father for the sake of his glory in his salvation of sinners. After giving up his spirit fully surrendering to the clutches of death, the King of glory was buried in a typical tomb. Dead. Gone. Done.

Or so they thought.

Three days later, Jesus arose from the dead. His Father accepted his sacrifice. He conquered sin and death by dying and rising in power over them. After Jesus died and rose again, he ascended in the presence of his disciples to the right hand of his Father. He reigns from his throne in heaven now.

One day Jesus is coming back again. He is coming back to bring his people home and judge his enemies forever. We can be certain that Jesus is coming back. He promised to return and we should pray for him to return (Rev. 22:20). But there is something we don’t know about Jesus’ return: we don’t know when it will happen. When will Jesus come back? We just don’t know.

The Thessalonians were worried about when Jesus was coming back. They wanted to know a date and time so they could be ready. There were many eschatological concerns in the Thessalonian church. But Paul said, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” (1 Thess. 5:1). Paul is basically saying, “You know better than to ask such a thing!” Paul doesn’t know when Jesus is coming back. For all the blood moon fanatics out there, this is a word you desperately need to hear. If the blood moon has raised concerns over end times questions, let Paul’s words to the Thessalonians settle your soul.

He says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). A thief doesn’t announce when he is coming to break in your house. He waits until everyone is either asleep or away from home. Thieves are sneaky. They always take us by surprise. We definitely don’t know when they are coming. In the same way, Jesus will return. He isn’t going to announce his return. He isn’t going to give us a certain date or time. He is going to return like a thief in the night.

This is a big deal for both Christians and non-Christians. For Christians, this means we must be ready at all times for Christ’s return. Not that we should always have our Bibles with us, but that we should strive to live out the gospel every day. The return of Christ for Christians will be a blessed day, for we were not destined for wrath, but to obtain salvation (1 Thess. 5:9). For non-Christians, the return of Christ will be sudden and they will be caught in the guilt of their sin. They will be caught off-guard, and like a family losing valuable things to a thief, non-believers will be shocked to discover that they have lost their lives at Christ’s return.

Non-Christians will be thinking, “There is peace and security” or “Oh, everything is fine” when in fact judgment is coming quick, like when a woman starts to have a baby (1 Thess. 5:3). The Day of the Lord will be a day when Jesus comes to earth. But unlike his first advent, this time around Jesus will come with a sword of judgment to wipe out all his enemies with one swift stroke. As we wait, we must cling to the gospel–the good news that Jesus is not only conquering Lion, but also a sacrificial Lamb. We must cling to and proclaim the truth that Jesus himself came under the stroke of that sword of judgment. He was judged in the place of all who trust in him. May this reality be power to live justly, humbly, and wisely as we wait for the second advent of Jesus. As Christians, we must not only be ready for Jesus’ return by walking in faith and love, but we must also share the gospel with non-Christians before it’s too late.


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

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A Review of ‘The Bible and the Future’


414wAcl8loL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979. 343 pp. $19.44

Introduction

 The Bible and the Future is a Reformed eschatological masterpiece written by one of the greatest Reformed evangelical minds of the 20th century. Anthony Hoekema presents one of the most prominent evangelical works on eschatology in the first part of his three-volume journey through the major tenets of Reformed theology. His other two works, Created in God’s Image and Saved by Grace capture the doctrines of anthropology and soteriology, respectively. Hoekema served as both a pastor and professor throughout his life and his theological writings are considered some of the best Reformed theological works of the 20th century. His robust historical, theological, and biblical grasp of each doctrine he takes up to teach makes this work on eschatology one of the go-to works on the subject.

Summary

If one were to ask me what this book was about, I would simply point him or her to the title. The Bible and the Future is a book about just that—the Bible’s own claims about all things last things. Hoekema strives in this book to biblically and systematically understand and interpret what God has revealed to his people in his Word about last things.

The book is divided into two major sections. The first is a small section dealing with inaugurated eschatology in which Hoekema importantly proves that eschatology is not reserved for the apocalyptic literature of Daniel and Revelation. Rather, Hoekema scans the entire Bible and points out the eschatological direction of the Old Testament, the eschatological nature of the New Testament, along with a look at the meaning and purpose of all history, the kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit’s role in inaugurated eschatology. This section closes with an ever-important look at the biblical eschatological theme of “already, not yet.” Hoekema shows that the new creation is already in progress, yet it has not been fully brought out. The primary purpose of this first section is to show the eschatological movement of redemptive history.

With this groundwork laid, the more familiar aspects of eschatology begin to make their way to the surface. Future eschatology is taken up in great detail in the second section of the book. This second section deals with four major eschatological themes: the death of believers, the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the final judgment. With regard to the death of believers, Hoekema begins in chapter 7 by describing what the Bible says about physical death. Chapter 8 deals with the immortality of humans after death. Chapter 9 goes further to discuss the intermediate state in which Christians are in the presence of God, but without their resurrected bodies.

Chapters 10-13 involve discussions about the second coming of Christ. Step by step he goes through the elements of the second coming—our expectation of it, the general and particular signs of it, and its very nature.

Next, Hoekema discusses the biblical doctrine of the millennium. Consistent with traditional Reformed theology, he presents future eschatological events through an amillenial perspective. While positing the amillennial understanding of future eschatology, Hoekema very spends time in chapter 14 discussing the various views of the millennium. Chapter 15 serves as a sort of continuation of chapter 14 as it gives significant space to critique the popular dispensational premillennial position. Then in chapter 16, Hoekema goes directly to the text of Scripture that teaches the millennium in Revelation 20. While he previously described what the amillennial position taught in chapter 14, here he interprets Revelation 20 from an amillennial perspective. Chapter 16 serves as a solid representation of amillennial interpretation of the millennium by looking at the text itself.

Finally, chapters 17-20 deal with the final judgment. Hoekema begins in chapter 17 with a description and discussion of the resurrection of the body. He shows this doctrine’s centrality to the Bible’s overall eschatology (239). This thought flows directly into Hoekema’s biblical teaching on the final judgment. All aspects of the final judgment are discussed here from the time it occurs to who is judged. Appropriately, the doctrine of the final judgment is followed by Hoekema’s presentation and defense of the traditional evangelical position concerning eternal punishment. He engages those who deny eternal punishment (universalists and annihilationists) while arguing for eternal conscious suffering in hell for sinners who remain under God’s wrath.

The book closes with a glorious look at the new earth. The final state of those who are in Christ is looked at in chapter 20 (274). Where all history and this book is heading is summed up in these words, which also is a good summation of Hoekema’s eschatology: “At the beginning of history God created the heavens and the earth. At the end of history we see the new heavens and the new earth, which will far surpass in splendor all that we have seen before. At the center of history is the Lamb that was slain, the first-born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Some day we shall cast all our crowns before him, ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise’” (287).

Critical Evaluation

As expected, Hoekema’s work is biblically faithful, theologically reliable, and historically consistent. What makes The Bible and the Future so important and reliable for any serious study of eschatology is his dual fervent defense of amillennialism and honest and fair presentation of all other millennial views. It is rare to find a theologian who stays faithful to one theological position while remaining fair to other positions. The balance of chapter 14 is very appealing. By presenting these other views alongside his amillennial perspective, this makes his arguments more reliable and persuasive.

Hoekema’s presentation of eschatology is also comprehensive. While other books in this field primarily deal with elements of future eschatology, Hoekema shows that eschatology is not limited to all things future, even showing eschatological elements throughout the Old Testament. This is a very important way to view and understand the doctrine of last things. What usually surrounds this doctrine is controversy and unhelpful charts. Hoekema does not allow this kind of thinking after reading his book because he presents the entire Bible, all of redemptive history, and all of the Christian life as having an eschatological twang to them. And when the aspects of future eschatology are taken up, they are rooted firmly in Scripture and accurately represent the Reformed understanding of eschatology.

Hoekema’s Reformed perspective does not seem to function as a blinding bias. Per usual, Hoekema gives ample attention and critique of positions he disagrees with. This fair treatment of various eschatological views makes his book all the more effective and worthy of consideration from all Christians. An example of this is chapters 14-15. Hoekema not only provides us with multiple eschatological understandings of the millennium, but he also gives us an excellent example of how to engage positions that differ from your own. He is fair, yet faithful to and confident in his own perspective.

Another very important aspect of The Bible and the Future is Hoekema’s emphasis on the importance of the resurrection of the body. He shows that this is absolutely central to future eschatology. Though after physical death and we are in the intermediate state, Hoekema emphasizes that we are not meant to be spiritual beings (239). This is excellent perspective as many Christians focus on the intermediate state or only a spiritual state in heaven when Christ returns. Hoekema eliminates this kind of thinking, which is one of the more important contributions of this book.

Conclusion

There are many evangelical works on eschatology. However, very few of these works can compare with Hoekema’s candor and comprehensive nature. After the publication of this work, there can be no serious discussion of eschatology without consideration of The Bible and the Future. Hoekema’s faithful biblical exposition and theological-historical reliance makes this work an eschatological masterpiece and maybe the most influential Reformed eschatology of the 20th century.