141109 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Last Updated on Monday, 10 November 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Theme: The Last Judgment Is A Source Of Encouragement

There is a reason why this Sunday is not a Friendship Sunday. Friendship Sunday was a couple months ago. That service included special Scripture readings and special music. I preached a sermon based on John 3:16 because in the clearest and simplest terms that verse tells us what God thinks of us (he loves us) and what he has done for us (he sent his one and only Son to save us).

The focus of the second Sunday in the season of End Time is a bit different. And I wouldn't be surprised if the designation for this Sunday gave a first-time visitor a negative impression. Imagine that you are talking to a friend and you want to invite that person to church and you say something like this: "This weekend we are observing Last Judgment Sunday. The pastor will be talking about fire and brimstone and judgment and eternal punishment. It's going to be great. You want to come?"

Last Judgment isn't a phrase that evokes warm and fuzzy feelings. There is an edge to it. There is a not so veiled threat behind it. Jesus the Judge is coming, and when you stand before him his judgment will last forever. Cue the thunder and lightning.

If this subject is less than pleasant to most people, then why do Christians talk about it? And why do we dedicate an entire Sunday to it? Skeptics might say that a day like today is a throwback to the Middle Ages when the church and its leaders conjured up images of fiery dungeons and unrelenting torture to scare the masses into submission.

But in our text for today the apostle Paul suggests that there is a different reason, a much more positive reason for Christians to observe Last Judgment Sunday. Paul's inspired words remind us that the Last Day will not be all doom and gloom. For everyone who trusts in Jesus, Judgment Day will a glorious day. Because of Jesus' first coming, we look forward to his second coming. Because of Jesus the Last Judgment doesn't fill our hearts with fear. Instead...


I. Because Jesus will return
II. Because we will be ready
III. Because we have been redeemed

Paul begins: "Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you..." (1). Why not? Why didn't Paul feel the need to address these important issues? Because he already had. Paul had visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. And even though strong opposition forced him to leave sooner than he would have liked, Paul was able to teach the Thessalonians the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, including the subject of eschatology (that is, the doctrine of the last things).

The Thessalonians understood the basics, but they still had questions. And so Paul used two different pictures to deepen their understanding. Illustration #1: "You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (2). A thief normally works when it's dark to avoid detection. A skilled thief cannot be seen or heard. A successful thief is able to do his work without anyone knowing he was ever there.

So what do an invading burglar and our returning Lord have in common? Not much, except that both come unexpectedly. Just like a thief, Jesus will appear without any advance warning. But unlike a thief, everyone will know when he arrives.

Illustration #2: "While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (3). I have never met a pregnant woman who didn't anticipate that she would eventually go into labor. Most pregnant women know their exact due date, but they also know there is no guarantee that the baby will be born on that day. In that sense, labor pains can come on suddenly. We can't predict when the contractions will start, but once they do there is no stopping them.

The same can be said of Judgment Day. We don't know when Jesus is coming back, but when he does there will be no turning back. The people who scoff at the idea of a final day of reckoning, the ones who think that the earth will continue to spin on its axis indefinitely, they will be not-so-pleasantly surprised to see the Lord when he descends from the clouds. And to quote Paul, "they will not escape."

After the sermon today, we will recite the Nicene Creed, and within that creed we will confess that Jesus "will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." We say it because we believe it. But do we always act like we believe it? Do we live each day like it could be our last day? Or have we gotten a little too comfortable? Have we grown spiritually soft and lazy? Do we give in to the temptation to put off until tomorrow what should be our top priority today? If we do, we are placing ourselves in real danger. If we do, God's judgment will come suddenly. If we do, we will not escape.

One of the reasons we observe a Last Judgment Sunday is to remind ourselves that the world is coming to an end. This is not a hypothetical possibility. It is a future reality. We don't know exactly when it will happen, but it will happen. Our Savior will return, and when he does he wants us to be ready.

According to Paul, the difference between believers and unbelievers is like the difference between night and day: "You, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness" (4,5).

What does it mean to be "sons of the light?" It means that we follow Jesus, the Light of the world (John 8:12). It means that God's Word is a light that guides us on our way (Psalm 119:105). It means that the Bible tells us everything we need to know about the end of the world. It means that we will have no excuse not to be prepared when Jesus returns.

And this leads to a very practical question. Since we know that Jesus is coming, since Jesus tells us to be ready when he returns, what can we do? We can we do to prepare ourselves for the Last Judgment? Listen to Paul's answer: "Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night" (6,7).

A person who is asleep is unaware of his/her surroundings. Alcohol numbs the senses of the person who has had too much to drink. And according to Paul, there were plenty of people (and there still are) who were stumbling from one day to the next, sleepwalking their way through life without giving the slightest thought to the life to come.

That was not what Paul wanted for the Thessalonians. That isn't what God wants for us either. God wants us to be self-controlled. God wants us to be alert. But God does more than just demand that we be ready. He gives us the help we need, he gives us the tools we need so that we will be ready when he returns: "Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet" (8).

It is no coincidence that Paul compares the Christian's preparation for the last day to a soldier preparing for battle. The forces of darkness are powerful. The prince of darkness wants to tear us up. The world wants to drag us down. And our own sinful flesh wants us to give up the fight, to give in to temptation, to drift off into a sin-induced slumber.

How can we cope? How can we survive? How can we possibly stand up against such powerful enemies? With the weapons that God himself provides: faith and hope and love. The Holy Spirit has given us the faith to believe the impossible, to trust in God at all times, to know that God will rescue us from every evil attack and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom.

As we put on the breastplate of faith and love, we remember how much God loves us. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. And because he did, we have hope. We have the hope of salvation. We have the hope of eternal life. We have hope for the future because of something that happened in the past. Our readiness for the Last Judgment is directly connected to our redemption.

"For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (9). Our God is not the kind of God who takes pleasure in our pain. Jesus is not the kind of judge who wants to lock us up and throw away the key. He doesn't want anyone to suffer. He wants all people to be saved (I Timothy 2:4). And he made the ultimate sacrifice to prove it.

"He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him" (10). Bible commentators have different ideas about what Paul meant by the phrase "whether we are awake or asleep," but there is no debate about the four words that precede it.

"He died for us." No confusion there. "He died for us." Those words are so simple. "He died for us." That says it all. Jesus gave up his life to save us from eternal death. Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. Jesus died for us so that we might one day live with him. And because he did, we long for that day. We look forward to that day because it will be the day of our final redemption.

If you were talking with another Christian who was feeling down and you wanted to offer some words of encouragement from Scripture, what passage would you choose? Perhaps you would open up to the Psalms, maybe Psalm 23 or Psalm 46. Or maybe you would turn to favorites like Romans 8:28 or John 3:16.

My guess is that I Thessalonians 5 would not be your first choice, but if you judge by the verses that bookend this text this chapter might deserve some consideration. In the last verse of chapter four Paul says: "Encourage each other with these words" (4:18). And at the end of our text Paul says: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" (5:11).

It is encouraging to know that this world is not all there is. It is encouraging to know that on our journey through life the Lord will be with us every step of the way. It is a great encouragement to know that the one who will come to judge the world is the same person who came to save it.

Thanks to Jesus we don't have to be afraid of the Last Judgment. Thanks to Jesus we don't have to be afraid of anything. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, we will be empowered by God's grace. We will immerse ourselves in God's Word. We will dedicate our time and energy to praising God's name. We will devote our talents and treasures to advancing God's kingdom.

And today we will confess the Nicene Creed with confidence. We will say "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" with smiles on our faces because we know what Jesus had done for us. We know what Jesus' return means for us. We know that the Last Judgment is a source of encouragement. Amen.

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