Explore the Bible: Returning!

9:46 AM

This week, the national news featured the homecoming of a soldier who surprised her daughter as she was teaching school. The mom showed up at her daughter’s school and surprised her by walking into her classroom. The daughter knew her mom would return but didn’t know when. When she least expected it, her mom showed up unannounced! Jesus Christ will return one day as well and it will be when we least expect it. The Explore the Bible Study: Returning focuses on how people will respond when Jesus returns and how believers should prepare.

Paul desired for the Thessalonians to live with an eye toward the future—specifically the day Jesus would come back (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). He emphasized three truths: (1) Christ would come back as promised; (2) those who have died will meet Him first; and (3) those who are alive will unite with them in the air. 

Paul also knew that there was another side of the coin in regard to the second coming. What brought joy and hope to Christians would also bring judgment on unbelievers (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Instead of being lulled into a false complacency, he challenged the Thessalonians to stay alert for the return of Jesus and to work as if He could come back at any moment—which He could.

Jesus’ Return Will Be a Surprise - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

Most of us do everything possible to make our homes secure. Obviously, a thief doesn’t give you a date or a time when he is going to break in. He just shows up, usually when we least expect it. 

As Paul noted, those most caught by surprise won’t be looking for Him. Many will be lulled into a sense of complacency. Paul wrote that these individuals will accept claims of peace and security, believing that all is well. For them, Christ’s return will be a shock. 

He also compared it to labor pains. Labor pains are expected to a degree, but they can come on suddenly and be more severe than expected. Paul summarized the surety of this judgment: they will not escape. They will be separated from Christ completely—physically, and spiritually. They will realize that they have no hope because their opportunities to accept His offer of salvation will be gone. Their eternal destiny will be sealed. 

When we consider Paul’s descriptions of those who don’t believe, what we be motivated to do? What should be our attitude toward those who don’t know Christ?

We Should Remain Alert – 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8

Notice Paul tells them they are “children of light” not THE light. He also says they are “children of the day.” During His time on earth, Jesus called Himself the light of the world (John 8:12). In his Gospel, John referred to Christ as the light that shined in the darkness—though the darkness could not comprehend Him (John 1:4-5). His followers also serve as the light of Christ in a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16). 

Believers belong to Jesus, not to the night or the darkness. Darkness and light are mutually exclusive, and darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. Spiritually, God has moved us from darkness into His light (1 Peter 2:9), and that transformation alters our lives. Living in God’s light helps us see things differently, including the truth about Christ’s return.

So then indicates a transition for Paul in verses 6-7. He had drawn a sharp distinction between light and darkness. Now he was ready to provide the practical application by sharing how that difference should affect their everyday lives. 

Instead of dropping our guard like the rest, believers are called to a different standard. The best way to prepare for the second coming is not to worry about the details or to create timelines about what He did not reveal. Instead, Christ’s people should be alert and live in readiness.

What practical steps can you take to be more spiritually vigilant? What obstacles will you need to overcome?

All believers, dead (asleep) and alive will live together with Christ - 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

In chapter 4, Paul wrote that all believers—living and dead—will participate in Christ’s return. Since Christ died for us, He will return for us. Those who are awake in Christ will be alive at His coming, while those who have fallen asleep will have died before that day. Regardless, both groups will live together with Christ. This promise would be fulfilled at His return, and every believer will experience eternity with the Savior. 

THEREFORE - What do we do?

"Therefore" again provides a transition in Paul’s writing. He urged his readers to move beyond simply knowing the truth to living out the truth. Once again, the apostle urged the Thessalonians to encourage one another (see also 4:18) and build each other up. 

These final words from Paul emphasized the importance of relationships. We can’t encourage one another or build each other up when we place our own opinions, ambitions, or agendas above the relationships to which Christ has called us to have within His church. Christ is returning one day; until that day we should be looking toward helping fellow believers prepare for that day and telling those who don’t know Christ that they can’t depend on their own safety and security for their future eternity. It can only be found in a personal relationship with Christ.

In what ways can you encourage one another? How can we build each other up?

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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