God’s Approved Plan of Waiting for Jesus’ Return
The church at Thessalonica was established during Paul’s second evangelistic journey when some of the Jews “and a great multitude of devout Greeks” were persuaded that Jesus is the Christ predicted by the Old Testament Scriptures (see Acts 17:1-4).
In Paul’s first letter “to the church of the Thessalonians” he reminded them how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven…even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:1,9-10). In this first epistle, Paul refers to the second coming of our Lord in all five chapters. In his second epistle, Paul addresses what appears to be a mistaken idea that some had at Thessalonica; they thought the Lord’s return was imminent, or it had possibly already occurred. Paul told them “not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
Paul’s expressed desire “to the church of the Thessalonians” was that the Lord would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). So Paul instructs them how to live prepared lives as they waited for the Lord’s return; these instructions serve us well as we wait for Jesus’ return.
Do Not be Concerned with Times and Seasons
“But concerning times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). Many religious groups are not content to wait on God’s unrevealed timetable for Jesus’ return; they constantly set dates, and re-set dates, as they inform everyone what they think they see as “the signs of times” for Jesus’ second coming. They do this in spite of the fact that Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away…But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only…Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:35-36,42-44).
Paul indicated that Jesus’ return was not imminent in the days of the early saints because a full revealing of lawlessness (lawlessness personified) would occur before Jesus’ return: “for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed…the lawless one…whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,8).
Jesus also provided hints that His return might be delayed as He used three illustrations to drive home the point that since we do not know when He will return, we should live our life so we are always ready for His second coming. The “evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’” so he mistreats his fellow servants and becomes a hypocrite (Matthew 24:44-51). “While the bridegroom was delayed,” the five foolish virgins “all slumbered and slept” and were unprepared to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus said: “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). Think about it: if Jesus had returned in the first century, or anytime before we were born, we would never have the hope and joy of being “in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
Serve the Living and True God
Instead of wasting our time trying to figure out when Jesus will return, we are to spend our time serving God so we are always prepared. The saints at the church in Thessalonica had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). We must turn from all modern forms of idolatry so we can fill our life with serving God. If we fit the description of some who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4), our self-centered interests and quest for money and pleasure become our “idols” and will keep us from wisely using our time in faithful service to God.
Paul said the saints at Thessalonica were to serve God by: supporting the spread of the gospel (1Thessalonians 1:8); walking worthy of God, pleasing God (2:12; 4:1); abstaining from sexual immorality (4:1-8); leading a quiet life and working to provide for themselves (4:11-12); rejoicing, praying and giving thanks (5:16-18); receiving and obeying the inspired teachings that come from God (2:13; 5:19-21); abstaining from every form of evil (5:22); manifesting patience and faith in enduring persecutions and tribulations (2 Thessalonians 1:4); standing fast and holding to the traditions and commands of the apostles (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:4,14).
Increase and Abound in Love
Paul began his first letter giving thanks to God for their “labor of love” (1 Thessalonians 1:2), and he wrote: “concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more” (4:9-10). Paul said that increasing and abounding in love for one another is essential to preparing for Jesus’ return: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all….so that He may establish your heats blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all saints” (3:12-13). If we have difficulty spending time with and showing love to one another in this life, it appears that we will not have to worry about spending eternity with the saints in heaven.
Paul admonished the saints in “the church of the Thessalonians” to show their love by: comforting each other and edifying one another; being at peace among themselves; warning the unruly (Jesus said: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten”—Revelation 3:19); comforting the fainthearted and upholding the weak; being patient with all; not rendering evil to anyone, but always pursuing what is good for all (5:11-15).
Do Not Sorrow as Those Who have No Hope
While we do experience sorrow when a loved one dies, we do not “sorrow as those who have no hope” because we are assured that our loved one “sleep(s) in Jesus” and “that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep…we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Our sorrow over a loved one is comforted as we “believe that Jesus died and rose again” and realize this means that our separation from our loved one is only temporary and we shall always be together with them and the Lord in eternity.