The Great Separation – what not when
(Read 1Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11 NLT)
5 Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.
4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. 5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. 7 Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8 But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
9 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1Thess. 5:1-11 NLT)
Praise the Lord!!! What a great God we serve – He loves us so much and has provided for us in every way! When it comes to our salvation, it is finished! The whole of it has been bought and paid for by our Savior! And God has planned it all out perfectly, right down to the last detail. This is exciting news!
So, you wonder how all of God’s plan will wrap up? Well, I would like you to read, before you go any further, 1Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11 in the New Living Translation. If you don’t have that version, just find it on the internet (or read The Message). Chapter 5 is above. I want you to see the flow of what the Apostle Paul is describing – ignore the chapter breaks and verses, those are put there by man, not God. Remember, this is a letter written to a group of believers to answer their questions about, among other things, what happens to dead Christians who die before Jesus returns.
So, now that you have read it you will notice this passage deals with the events themselves, not the timing of them. Paul actually says, “we don’t need to write to you about the how and when”. All you really need to know is the facts of the return of Jesus. In chapter 4, it begins with the rapture of the Church saints – whether dead or alive; in chapter 5 it continues with the consequences for those who are left behind. Sadly, whole churches and denominations have split over the how and when of the events. Some have become so dogmatic in their “theology” of the end times, that they have created walls of separation, that divide instead of uniting believers together. Friends. This ought not to be!
Here’s what we need to know: the whole of the end will be “like a thief in the night”. This is a common phrase that simply means, “SUDDENLY”! Unexpectedly, it is just going to happen – the believers in Jesus will be taken up to heaven (4:13-18), and the judgment of God will fall (The Day of the Lord). That really is the heart of the message. These translations, and many others, seem to indicate one event, one coming of the Lord, one return of Jesus. God is coming back to get His bride -the church – and then the judgement of God falls on those who have rejected Jesus. It will be sudden, unexpected; everyone will be going about their regular business in “peace and safety”, and then disaster will hit them, with no escape (vs. 5:2-3). Now, this lines up with every other judgment event in the Bible. Noah warned the people of coming judgment for 120 years while he built the ark. Finally, the day came, unexpectedly for those who ignored the warnings, but it was a great hope and blessing for Noah and his family who were taken up into the ark – one big event – done and over with – no escape except through the Ark. The same was true for Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot was spared with his daughters from the judgment on Sodom. He was warned, was led out of the city, and then judgment fell unexpectedly on those who remained (Read 2Peter 2:4-10). We could continue on through the Old Testament with all the warnings to God’s people to prepare for the deliverance, while those who ignored the warning were judged – think of the Exodus from Egypt! First, the salvation, and deliverance by the blood of the lamb, and then the judgment on those who were not God’s people. Warnings, deliverance for the saints, and judgment for the rejecters – one taken up…one left to be judged (Read Matthew 24:37-51).
The timing is not important! What is important for us as followers of Jesus is, make sure you belong to the light not the darkness (vs. 5); be on guard not asleep; stay alert and clearheaded (vs. 6); live in the light (that means holiness, not according to the sins of the world – vs.7) walking in faith, love and the hope of our salvation (vs. 8). In other word, Be Ready! God chose to save us through Jesus Christ, to escape the sudden wrath and judgment of God. Twice, we are told to encourage one another with this truth (5:11 & 4:18). This truth should be an encouragement, not a source of division! Here it is in a nutshell: Saints raptured to be with Jesus forever; those who reject Christ experience the wrath of God. This should motivate us to preach the good news of salvation in Christ. So let us declare the “what” of the return of Jesus and stay away from the “when” that “no one knows”!
Be encouraged! Jesus is coming back for you!