As we have moved up toward the celebration of our Lord’s first coming, we have been looking at His second coming. When He went away, the angel said, “The same Jesus, who has gone away, will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go.” So the promise of our Lord is that He would return. And we are obviously nearer to His return than ever in history. As time marches on, His return becomes nearer and nearer.
I think it’s important for us to live in the light of the return of Christ. It’s not necessarily a popular subject to talk about today, because with the prospects of the returning Christ, there is the reality of divine judgment on sinners on the earth, and even on the earth and the universe itself. But it’s important for us to understand that it is the very reality of the return of Christ and judgment, and the eternal punishment that goes along with judgment; it is behind our need to preach the gospel. You have to be faithful to give the bad news in order to make the good news good news. And that is exactly what the apostle Paul did.
We’re looking at 1 Thessalonians. He wrote two letters to the Thessalonians church, this first and second one, and much of the discussions in both letters has to do with the second coming of Christ, which is remarkable, I guess, in one sense, because he was only in Thessalonica for a very brief time. We don’t know exactly how long; some have said weeks, others have said a few months – probably, more likely, a few months. But in the time that he was there in that city preaching the gospel, he made the coming judgment very, very clear.
In fact, he always did that. It was necessary for people to understand the judgment of God which loomed over them and had eternal consequences of eternal conscious punishment in hell. It was necessary to preach that and to make that clear to make the gospel the good news to which people would flee for rescue from the wrath to come. Clearly this church was aware of that. They were even aware of the event itself, which the Scriptures call the day of the Lord. When man’s day is over and Satan’s day is over, and it’s the Lord’s Day; He returns to judge.
As we have been saying, there are many events connected with the day of the Lord. We have been considering some of them, we’ll continue to do that in the weeks yet even to come. But I want to draw you back to 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, and let’s go back to that and look at it briefly this morning before we have the time with the Lord’s Table.
Chapter 5, verse 1: “Now as to the times and epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness.” And we’ll stop there.
Now Paul was a faithful preacher, as I said. And even though he was only in Thessalonica perhaps a few months, he made sure that they understood the reality of judgment. That is required for all faithful preachers; it’s not very common in the contemporary world in which we live today. But faithful preachers preach the reality of divine judgment. I want to give you an illustration of it. If you’ll turn over to the twenty-fourth chapter of the book of Acts, twenty-fourth chapter of Acts, we meet Paul in a very interesting setting. He is really a prisoner of the Roman governor by the name of Felix. Actually his name was Marcus Antonius Felix. Paul is his prisoner in the twenty-fourth chapter of Acts. In verse 24 of that chapter we read this: “Some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Jesus Christ.”
Now just a brief little bit of a background. Felix was the Roman governor in Judea between the year 52 and 58 A.D. So that would have been during the time of the ministry of the apostle Paul. He had married this woman named Drusilla when she was 16 years old. She was a Jewess. Prior to that, she had been married to someone else, but he seduced her and took her as his wife. What is so interesting about her is that she was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I who was the monarch eaten by worms in Acts chapter 12. They actually had a son, and that son was buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in the year 79 according to history.
Drusilla was curious about Paul, as I think her husband Felix was. So they want to hear from Paul and they want to hear him talk about faith in Christ Jesus; that’s the gospel. You’d have to talk about, “Who is Christ Jesus? What does it mean in Christ?” That means Messiah. He is the Messiah Jesus, as we saw, Jehovah saves. He is the messianic Savior, and we can know Him and we can receive all that He provides by faith.
So he preached about the gospel of faith in Jesus Christ. But as he was doing that I want you to notice in verse 25 that says, “He was discussing righteousness, self-control and judgment to come.” Righteousness, self-control and judgment to come. This is where we have to begin with any presentation of faith in Christ Jesus; we have to talk about the problem before we can offer the solution. And here is an articulation of the problem: God is righteous, God is absolutely righteous, God is absolutely holy, God demands absolute righteousness for those who would come into His presence. God has a standard for acceptance with Him that is perfect: “Be ye perfect.” That’s what God requires. So Paul must have established the absolute holy standard of acceptance with God, which is perfect consistency with God’s holy nature.
Then Paul talked about self-control. What does that mean? The problem that sinners have is that they don’t have the power of self-control to conform themselves to God’s perfect law, so they are always short of what God requires. They lack the nature, the self-control, the ability to keep the law of God. The consequence of that is judgment. So Paul talked about judgment, the judgment that is to come, the judgment that God will bring down on the heads of all who have not completely obeyed His law and nor have come to faith in Christ Jesus. The inevitable result of violating God’s law is that you are under judgment.
Now the text says in Acts 24 that Felix was frightened, and that is an essential part of gospel work, to frighten the sinner, the terrify the sinner. That’s what we do, we terrify the sinner. We let the sinner know that he is on the brink of eternal judgment, which means eternal conscious punishment in hell. That’s a frightening reality. And whatever was the condition of the soul of Felix, it was very obvious that Paul made his message clear enough to terrify the man, and he basically said, “Go away. Get out of here.” All faithful preachers must speak of righteousness, self-control, and judgment. And Paul had done that on his short visit to Thessalonica, so much so that they knew well those issues, and they knew what the judgment to come was.
Back in chapter 1, Paul says about these believers, “They were waiting for God’s Son from heaven,” – that is Jesus – “who rescues us from the wrath to come.” That’s the gospel. “Wrath is coming. You’re under that wrath, you’re under that judgment, unless you’re rescued by faith in Jesus.”
In chapter 2 of this same letter, Paul makes, in verse 16, another comment about “the wrath that has come and will come to the utmost.” In chapter 4 and verse 6, he makes another comment that “the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” Again, he warned them about wrath; he warned them about divine vengeance; he warned them about judgment to come. So clearly did he warn them that he says, back to chapter 5, verses 1 and 2, “You have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”
They had full understanding of the coming day of the Lord. And as I told you last time, the day of the Lord is a technical term for divine judgment, divine judgment. It’s used nineteen times in the Old Testament, four times in the New Testament. It always refers to coming judgment.
Sometimes in the Old Testament, we saw last week, it can refer to a coming temporal judgment, like the Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom Israel was identified as the day of the Lord historically. The invasion of the Babylonians into the southern kingdom of Judah was characterized by the prophets as the day of the Lord. So there are historic days of the Lord, historic divine invasions and judgments, and the prophets spoke of them. But those were previews of the final, ultimate day of the Lord, which is yet to come, when the Lord Himself returns to judge all the sinners all over the face of the earth, and to destroy the universe and recreate a new heaven and a new earth.
And as I’ve been saying to you, the day of the Lord is a big event; it has many parts. The verse, verse 1, begins as to the times. There are chronological times. There are days and weeks and months and years, and even a millennium in this big sweeping concept of the day of the Lord; and the epochs, which means the events. So you have times and you have multiple events. The prophets wrote about those events.
Jesus spoke about those events in Matthew 24 and Luke 17. We have the record of His sermon on His second coming from the Mount of Olives. And then, of course, the book of Revelation lays out these times and these events. So they were taught a wide range of eschatological doctrine, so much so that they didn’t need anymore teaching, and they knew full well what the day of the Lord meant, and that it was coming in an unexpected time.
In fact, the Old Testament calls it the great and terrible day of the Lord. Whenever you read about the day of the Lord it is talking about divine judgment. We’re now living in man’s day. In a sense, we’re living in Satan’s day. This is when all of that is ended and it’s the Lord’s Day, the final wrath of God unleased on all unbelieving sinners. So our text is a text that is intended to warn us or help us warn others. This is very, very important.
At the same time, it is encouraging that we will not be a part of this coming day of the Lord, we’ll be snatched away. We saw that in chapter 4:13 to 18. We’re snatched away before this event happens. He makes that clear in verses 4 and 5, “We are not in the darkness, that the day would overtake us like a thief. We are sons of light, sons of the day, not of the night nor of the darkness.” We’re going to be gone in the snatching, or the rapture as it’s called in the previous passage.
The previous passage closes, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” We’re comforted in the fact that we’re going to be taken out, we’re going to meet the Lord in the air. The dead in Christ rise first. We who are alive and remain are gathered together to meet the Lord in the air. We go to heaven to the place He’s been preparing for us, and we’re with Him from then on forever. Even when He returns in judgment He comes with His saints to set up His kingdom on earth, and then we’re with Him through all eternity.
So Paul had given them thorough eschatological doctrine. This text is a warning passage that after the church is snatched away, the day of the Lord will begin to unfold. The actual day of the Lord is when the Lord returns, but there are some preliminary precursors and signs that lead up to that in a very brief time, a period of time of seven years called the tribulation. So for seven years there are preliminary signs, precursors, previews of the coming of the Lord who will return at the end of that time and judge all sinners all over the world.
Now the followers of our Lord have always been curious about when is this going to happen. The disciples asked that in Acts 1, they asked that in Matthew 24, “When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?” And we have already noted that the Lord said, “It’s not for you to know the times and the seasons. It’s not helpful for you to know the details of that. You don’t need to know when, you just need to be ready. You need to be ready at all times.”
The rapture is a signless event, the snatching away of believers a signless event. There’s nothing that has to happen on the prophetic clock before that can happen, it’s the next thing; it could happen any split second, any moment; and it’ll be over in the twinkling of an eye. But we don’t need to know the time, we don’t need to know that, because it’s instructive and helpful for every generation of Christians to live as if it would happen in their lifetime; and that, says John, 1 John 3, is a purifying hope. That’s a purifying hope. If we know He could come at any moment, it’s likely that we will keep ourselves ready.
Now before the Lord comes in the day of the Lord, then there will be some signs. The first sign is going to be the snatching away of the church. We talked about a little bit a couple of weeks ago. Can you imagine how the world is going to be when all believers all over the face of the earth disappear in a flash? They’re all gone instantaneously. There has to be an explanation. That’s the first sign that we’re very near the day of the Lord, because following the snatching away of believers into heaven to be with the Lord at the marriage supper of the Lamb and receive our eternal rewards, on earth after we’re gone all hell breaks loose, as the events leading up to the day of the Lord begin to unfold as the wrath of God begins to be unleashed. The first thing that people should think about when all believers disappear is the day of the Lord must be near, the day of the Lord must be near.
They could have some other signs as well. If you look at 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, Paul says, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,” – that’s the rapture – “that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect the day of the Lord has already come.” There were some who had pulled out a false letter, supposedly from Paul, to say the day of the Lord had already come and they were in the day of the Lord. He says, “That’s not true.”
Verse 3, “Let no one in any way deceive you, for” – the day of the Lord – “it will not come unless the apostasy comes first,” – that’s the massive religious defection of the Christian church – “and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” The day of the Lord will not come until there’s a snatching away of the church, until there is an apostatizing of true Christianity into false Christianity, which becomes the universal character of Christianity, and until the Antichrist appears, that the rebellion and the rise of the Antichrist who is clearly described in the Old Testament and the New Testament as to his character and his career.
So Paul says there are going to be signs. The rapture is the first sign. The rebellion and the rise of Antichrist is another sign. Apostasy, a false form of Christianity is another sign. There are more.
Joel 2:31, looking at the day of the Lord says, “The sun will be turned to darkness, the moon to blood before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Pretty dramatic signs. And our Lord repeats that in Matthew 24:29, “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
And there’s one more monumental sign that the day of the Lord is very near. It’s one that you’re familiar with, Matthew 24. Listen to verse 29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” – as I read – “the sun is darkened, the moon doesn’t give its like, the stars fall, powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky,” – He will actually appear in the sky, the Lord, the Son of Man – “and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” That’s the final sign.
Everything from the rapture to the actual appearing of the Son of Man after the time of tribulation. There are many more signs between the rapture and the appearing of our Lord – many, many more signs. They are outlined for us in the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, and also paralleled in Revelation chapters 6 to 18. They’re all laid out. They’re explicit signs.
In fact, there are twenty-one specific signs: seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls, and they run sequentially, telescopically, one after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other. Those are all explicit, clear signs. And they’re not mistakable signs, because they involve the death of life in the seas; a third of the population of the earth is killed, a fourth of the population of the earth is killed. Meteors or some kind of heavenly bodies crashing into the earth; the water, fresh water is poisoned; green grass burns up. Very, very devastating things; earthquakes like the world has never known, all of these things – wars, rumors of wars. There’s even a desolation of the temple in Jerusalem called the abomination of desolation. So there are plenty of signs. They begin after the church is snatched out.
Now the question is, how is it then that the Lord will come like a thief in the night? How is it that He’s going to come and nobody’s going to expect it? A thief comes when he’s not expected. How is it that the world is going to be able to explain away the rapture, explain away the rise of Antichrist, explain away the apostasy, explain away the events of the seals and the trumpets and the bowls that are outlined, explain away all of the preliminaries and precursors that our Lord explicitly identified in His sermon on His second coming? How is it possible that the world, having all of that going on around them is still not going to understand the day of the Lord is near? The answer comes in verse 3: “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly.” We can stop there for the moment.
“While they,” – everything up to here has been “you, you believers have no need of anything to be written to you. You yourselves know full well.” This is “you.” Who are “they”? Now we have another group.
Who are they? Who could do such convincing of a world that is literally under siege by God Himself? Who could cause them to believe they’re safe? We have an Old Testament illustration of that to answer it. Go back to the book of Jeremiah for a moment. God had called Jeremiah to warn the people of the coming enemy, the captivity, the slaughter, the judgment. This was a temporal, historical day of the Lord.
In Jeremiah chapter 6 and verse 1, “Flee for safety, O sons of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem! Now blow a trumpet in Tekoa, raise a signal over Beth-haccerem; for evil looks down from the north, and a great destruction.” This is a warning, the destruction is coming. Down in chapter 6, verse 8, “Be warned, O Jerusalem, or I shall be alienated from you, and make you a desolation, a land not inhabited.”
This is Jeremiah the prophet telling the people, “The day of the Lord is coming.” Historically, “The judgment is coming at the hands of the Babylonians; it’s going to be a bloodbath of horrific proportions.” What did they do? They took Jeremiah and threw him in a pit. They rejected him completely and everything he said and every warning he gave. They got rid of him. They virtually silenced him.
How could they do that when he was speaking the Word of God? How could they not see the signs that he pointed to of their own sin and their own corruption? How could they not have expected judgment? Go back to chapter 5, verse 30. “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?”
What was happening here was that even in the midst of all of the signs and indications that judgment was coming, the prophets were prophesying lies. And here’s the most important thing of it: “My people love it so!” They hear what they want to hear.
Down in chapter 6, verse 14, “The prophets and the priests who deal falsely” – from verse 13 – “have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Over in chapter 8 and verse 11 we have another reference to this. Again, the prophets and the priests from verse 10, verse 11, “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”
Over in chapter 14 we get another indication of this in verses 13 and 14: “But, ‘Ah, Lord God!’ I said, ‘Look, the prophets are telling them, “You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.”’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying falsely in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.’” Why is it that people living in the events leading up to the day of the Lord don’t see the day of the Lord coming? The answer is because there are going to be countless false prophets lying to them, and they want to believe the lies.
In Lamentations 2:14 we hear it again. This is written also by Jeremiah, “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; they have not exposed your iniquity so as to rescue you from captivity. They have seen for you false and misleading oracles.” What’s going to happen in that era is that the world is going to be overrun with false religious teachers. Micah 3:5 speaks of “prophets who lead My people astray, crying ‘Peace.’” Now go back to 1 Thessalonians 5. “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’” Who is “they”? False prophets, false teachers, false leaders.
Our Lord addressed this in very powerful terms. Turn to Matthew 24 and His sermon on His second coming. He says in verse 21 of Matthew 24, “There will be a great tribulation.” That’s that seven-year period of tribulation, latter three-and-a-half years will be more severe than the first three-and-a-half. But, “There will be great tribulation, such as has never occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” This is the worst accumulation of natural and supernatural disasters in history, and it’s all unfolding in a very brief time. It is so devastating that, “Unless those days were cut short,” – unless they were abbreviated – “no life would have been saved. For the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
But notice what happens in verse 23: “If anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible,” – it’s not, but if possible – “even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance.” So here’s something else: not only is the day of the Lord coming, but when the preliminaries leading up to the day of the Lord begin to unfold in human history on this earth, be aware that false teachers are going to lie to you and tell you, “Peace and safety,” when there is no peace and there is no safety.
Why can people possibly, living in the middle of this, not believe they’re near the day of the Lord? Back to chapter 24, verse 5: “Many will come in My name,” – in that time – “saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and will mislead many.” Verse 11: “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” Verse 24: “False Christs and false prophets will arise showing signs and wonders, and misleading people.” This is going to be the character of that time. It’s going to be an unleashing of lying false teachers to explain away what’s happening.
Another section of Scripture that I think is instructive, Ezekiel 13, another prophet who prophesied of the coming judgment of the Lord on Israel, on Judah. Chapter 13 of Ezekiel, and you remember Ezekiel prophesied to God’s people about more judgment to come. Verse 10: “It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace.” This is what the false prophets have done. Verse 9 says, “They have offered false visions and lying divinations. They have misled My people.”
Verse 11 gives kind of analogy: “So tell those who plaster it over with whitewash,” – let’s pick up the end of verse 10: “When anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. Behold, when the wind has fallen, will you not be asked, ‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?’ Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘I’ll make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding raid and hailstones to consume it in wrath. I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it fails, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the Lord. Then I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, “The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,”’ declares the Lord God.”
What is this about? The Lord says, “The prophets are erecting a wall; it’s a wall of lies, it’s a wall of lies. They’ve plastered over with whitewash so that it looks substantial. But when the flood comes and the hailstone falls and the rain drops, it will completely collapse.” False teachers are building a false wall, a wall that offers zero protection. It’s going to come crashing down in judgment. But that is what false teachers do, that’s their stock and trade.
Our Lord is saying the same thing as Jeremiah in Matthew 24. He’s saying, “Judgment is coming, and here are the preliminaries. And at the same time you’re going to be overrun with false teachers who are going to convince people in the midst of all of this that there’s peace and safety.” That’s the work of false teachers.
But the day of the Lord is coming, and I want you to know what those signs are and what those events are for two reasons: one, so you can thank the Lord you’re not going to be a part of it; but two, so that you can warn people as to the reality of it. What our Lord says about the precursors to His return in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 is explained in detail in the visions that our Lord gave John in Revelation 6 through 18. So over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at both Matthew 24, Luke 17, and the book of Revelation.
But go with me for just a final moment to 2 Thessalonians 2, verse 9. “Once the Antichrist is released, the lawless one, the one” – verse 9 – “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish,” – this is what is going to be characteristic of that time – “deception over all who are wicked, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”
If they reject the gospel, look at verse 11: “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” Wow. They’re going to believe the false teachers, they’re going to believe the lies, they’re going to reject the gospel, and then God is going to send them a deluding influence and lock them in their deception.
“We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation.” This isn’t for us, but this is what will happen in the world. More on the day of the Lord next time. More on the preliminaries, the precursors that lead up to it.
Now in the light of this, we have a great responsibility – don’t we? – like the apostle Paul, to speak to people concerning righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come. The same time, we’re here at the Lord’s Table; our hearts are full of praise and worship and gratitude, because we have been rescued from the wrath to come. We are waiting for God’s Son from heaven who rescues us from the wrath to come. The day will not come on us like a thief in the night. We’re not of the night, we’re of the day, because the Savior has been our rescuer.
When that day comes life will be going on as usual – pretty amazing. Our Lord said people will be married and giving in marriage; eating, drinking; planting, harvesting; life as usual. Prophets will have been so convincing that everybody will just be going on like it’s normal; and then the day will come with unbelievable devastation. Look at verse 3: “Then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.” This is the day of the Lord, of which we must warn everyone. The only escape from it is in the ark of safety, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we come now to the Table which celebrates our Savior, our Rescuer, the One who delivered us from the wrath to come. We come now to remember His sacrifice for us. He offered His body. He poured out His blood. He gave His life up in death in our place. He died the death we deserved. He bore Your wrath for us in our place, in order that we might be delivered and forgiven and redeemed.
As we come to the manger, we see across the manger the shadow of the cross. As we come to celebrate the birth of Christ we can’t help but be reminded that the Child needed to be named Jesus, because He came to save His people from their sins by dying in their place under divine wrath, so that we would escape that wrath. We thank You that You will take us to glory. But, Lord, as John the apostle saw it, this kind of truth was both sweet and bitter: sweet, because we are delivered; bitter, because so many are not.
May we be faithful like the apostle Paul to speak of righteousness, self-control, and judgment; to tell the truth about the bad news in all its horrible detail, to frighten sinners so that they may flee to the only one who can rescue them, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s our prayer.
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