Expecting Christ’s Return (4)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 119:89-104;
  • 2Thessalonians 2:1-17

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Our Lord enriches the life of a minister in most unexpected ways.

I took services in a nursing home.  I made a point of it to shake hands with all at the end.  As regular as a heartbeat, one lady would slip in a $5.00 as her offering into my hand, even though there was not official offering taken.  She was of Hungarian extraction.  She had no relatives, children and ostensibly only some people in the nursing home she could count as friends.  

I one day started a conversation with her.  She told me how she grew up in Hungary and at about the age of nineteen, she got engaged to the love of her life.  Soon after, World War II broke out and her fiancé enlisted.  She never saw him again; he was registered as missing in action.  But, as she described it, her heart belonged to him and she vowed never to marry another.  Precious to her were the letters he had sent before he went missing.  In it, he assured her of his undivided love for her.  When the heartaches of missing him became too much, she would read and re-read his letters.  It was almost as if she could audibly hear him telling her how much he loved her. 

Months became years, and then she decided to migrate to Australia and start a new life.  Almost 40 years later, someone she met at work asked her where she was from.  She told her story and mentioned the name of her lost fiancé.  That person said his surname was very peculiar and asked if she knew a man in Perth with the same surname.  That sparked hope, and she followed it up, only to find her fiancé who had somehow escaped out of Hungary on a ship and ended up in Perth. He assured her that his heart still belonged to her and that he never got married.  He kept the letters she had sent to the front, and even some returned to him as unknown.

The two of them got married.  But now the sad part: not long after that her husband got cancer and died.  Our lady moved into the nursing home.  With her, she had his letters, and even the one she wrote to him.  She told me, “His promise of unfailing love through all the years kept me faithful in the hope that I would see him again.  Now I am looking forward to being reunited to him at the throne of God forever.”

Those letters.  Those promises.  The love!  What kept her hope up were those words of commitment.

I’ll never forget this lady. Her story is, in some way, a shadow of God’s commitment to us in Jesus Christ.  And we know it is true because the Holy Spirit inspired holy people to write it down in the Bible.

Don’t get unsettled

In 2Thessalonians 2:1-2, Paul writes:  

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1–2, NIV)

The apostle wrote as if would say, “Please, do get nervous about what  everyone else is telling you regarding the return of Christ. 

Throughout the history of the church when Christians have over-emphasised the return of Christ and the signs preceding it, they have become unsettled. It would be natural to think that in the early church where its nearness was especially felt, believers could easily be shaken.  For this word, Paul uses a word to describe what happens in a storm.  It is almost as if he asks the believers in Thessalonica to not be shaken out of sound thinking; or even, that they would not be shaken out of their right mind.  

As Romans 12:1 puts it, a Christian has a renewed mind, and therefore, he ought to be more stable and less readily alarmed by skewed thoughts surrounding the return of Christ.  If that day becomes a day of nervous expectation, Christians are in danger of being carried away by a new idea before it is clearly examined and tested against the Scriptures. 

The Christians in Thessalonica received new or unbiblical teachings which greatly disturbed them so that they found them in a continuous state of nervous excitement and anxiety. Even our Lord warned against this danger.  He taught his disciples, 

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (Mark 13:7, NIV)

There has been times in the past,  even so in recent times, when some so-called prophets came up with fantastic schemes regarding the Second Coming.  There were Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, Irenaeus who predicted Jesus would return in the year 500, a prediction based on the dimensions of Noah’s ark!  Others proposed that the end would occur 1000 years after Jesus’ birth, and when that did not happen, it was changed into (1033), 1000 years after his death.  In 1700 Henry Archer counted 1335 years from the end of the reign of Julian the Apostate because he took 1335 days in Daniel 12:12 as years.  Even John Wesley set 1836 as the year of Christ’s return, believing Revelation 12:14 referred to the years 1058–1836.  

The founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Russel, had his own calculation.  1874 would be the year of Christ’s Second Coming. Until his death, he taught that Christ was invisibly present, but said Christ would secretly return in 1874, the resurrection of the saints would be in 1875.  He predicted the end of the “harvest” and the rapture of the saints to heaven for 1878 and the final end of “the day of wrath” in 1914. 1874 was considered the end of 6,000 years of human history and the beginning of judgment by Christ.  

A certain Ronald Weinland predicted Jesus would return on September 29, 2011. When his prediction failed to come true, he moved the date of Jesus’ return to May 27, 2012.  When that prediction failed, he then moved the date to May 18, 2013, claiming that “a day with God is as a year,” giving himself another year for his prophecy to take place. People who believed his predictions, saw to it that their wives did not fall regnant (because Jesus said it would be dreadful times for a pregnant woman), they sold their homes, resigned their jobs and sat on their rooftops waiting for the return of Christ. One could say they were easily unsettled,  shaken out of their wits.  

And it is quite possible that some of the Thessalonians heeded to some false prophets and also stopped working.  Paul addressed this situation in 2Thessalonians 3:6

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people, we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:11–12, NIV)

Stand firm 

Paul stressed the point that something else had to happen before Christ returns:  the appearing of the lawless one.  We will tackle that next week.  In the meantime, Paul urges on believers on with these words: 

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NIV)

Let’s remember the lady with the letters:  her heart was rested calmly with the promises made in those letters.

As Christians, we must hold on to the Word of God — even in unsettling times when it seems that our Lord is tarrying too long.  Yes, even more so in the time of the lawless one who is to come to parade with false prophecies, counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and also every sort of evil which is aimed at deception 

What is this truth of the Word?  Why can we believe it?  Please open your Bibles and read with me what Paul states about the Gospel:

… our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6, NIV)

What was the effect?  

you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10, NIV)

About this Gospel, Paul testifies, 

we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4, NIV)

when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV)

If they would turn away from this Gospel, the tempter would have tempted them and the the labour of the apostle would be in vain (1 Thessalonians 3:5).  There he pleaded with them:  

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact, you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2, NIV)

These instructions and teaching certainly included, which were necessary for them to believe about the return of Christ.  And he continues: 

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:8, NIV)

Paul’s teaching about Christ’s return is by a revelation from God (4:15).  What did it include?  

  • Christ is surely coming again; we must be ready for that day because we don’t know the date and hour; 
  • we will be changed, or those who already died, will be raised again; 
  • after that, those who believed the Gospel will be forever with Christ; 
  • those who rejected the message will be under God’s eternal judgment. 

That is what we need to know.  To these things, we need to cling;  any other for of teaching and prophecy must be tested (5:19, 20).  That’s why the exhortation is so urgent and necessary: 

Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NIV)

The words of this book is precious.  Our reading from Psalm 119 puts it this way:  

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. (Psalm 119:92–93, NIV)

Life for Mrs Hungary would be one miserable existence without the assurance of the love of her husband through all those years.  Life for the Christian who do no cherish the Word of God and hang on to the teachings and promises, now sealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with his promise that He will surely return, will be a life of unsettled, nervous, anxiety and insecurity.   

My friend, read your Bible, study it, live by it, trust what it says, receive it not as human words, but as it actually is, the word of God!

Conclusion

The late Larry Thomas in his “Spiritual Discernment” seminar told of how he was once part of a very large ministry, which held daily devotional and prayer meetings among the ministers. The ministry leaders would take turns each day  sharing from the word of God. One day it was Larry’s turn to minister and instead of the Bible, Larry brought his  leather appointment book to the pulpit. Instead of Scripture, Larry began preaching from the quotes that were at the head of each page in his appointment book. He quoted  people such as Confucious and Mark Twain, and every once in a while, he would throw in a King James ‘thee’ or ‘thou’ to make it sound good. There were several hundred people present at this meeting. They were encouraging him by saying “Preach it Larry!” and “Amen.”  Larry jokingly said that revival almost broke out. He continued on for a few minutes before he told the people what he was doing. He was teaching them the need for spiritual discernment, in the church of Jesus Christ, in this modern day.

Don’t be tricked.  Know when you are tricked by the cunning of your enemy.

Amen.

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