Watching For Christ’s Return

January 3, 2016 / No. 3809

Dear radio friends,
In this first week of the New Year I want to consider with you a passage that addresses Christ’s second coming. It is found in the first six verses of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5. We read there: “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” Beginning in chapter 4 already, the apostle Paul treats the subject of Christ’s second coming at the end of the world. In the last several verses of I Thessalonians 4 Paul’s chief concern was to comfort the saints by assuring them of the final resurrection, the glorious gathering in of the church of Christ in the last day. When Christ returns to earth at the end of time, the dead in Christ shall rise to meet Him in the air while, at the same time, we that are alive and remain will be gathered by the angels to meet Christ and the resurrected elect in the air.
Then, Paul says, shall we ever be with the Lord in heaven. This is the greatest of comfort to the child of God who at times is called to see his loved one buried in the grave. This is not the end, but we shall sleep, and when Christ comes, we shall all live. Comfort each other with these words, Paul writes.
But that is not all that needs be said about that second coming of Jesus Christ. That is why the Word of God we consider today starts with the conjunction “but.” More needs to be said of Christ’s coming. And that more addresses itself to the when, that is, the time of Christ’s return! That is the heart of the verses we consider in our broadcast today! Christ comes again as He has promised. But when will Christ come?
That was and is a pertinent question. Paul had just explained to the saints of Thessalonica about their being alive and remaining when Christ came. Did this mean Christ was coming in their lifetime? Obviously not! Can we say that Christ is coming in our lifetime? Can we say Christ is coming in the lifetime of our children or of their children? “Of the times and seasons, ye have no need that I write unto you, for yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night!” With this Paul in the verses of our text proceeds to give us instruction of the time of Christ’s appearance. And with it he gives us practical instruction of our need to watch for that coming of Christ, right now in our lifetime!
I. A Thief in the Night
The goodman of the house and his wife are ready to lay themselves down to sleep. It is early evening, it is dark outside and they must rise again at daybreak to begin anew their day’s labors. The goodman routinely checks the doors of the house to see that they are all bolted tight. Confident that the house is secure for the night he retires. He is confident that his house is safe and he lays himself down thinking to himself peace and safety! But sometime in the night, a thief who knows his profession well breaks into the man’s house and steals away all the goodman’s possessions! He came swiftly, unexpectedly, and suddenly. Who would have thought it was his intent that night to rob and plunder the goodman’s house? Who was to know that the thief was coming? And who was to know what watch of the night he was coming in? So the goodman was caught totally unprepared. He was not watching, neither was he prepared. He was sleeping; and he lost his precious possessions.
Such is the coming of the thief. He depends on the element of surprise! He comes when no one is expecting him. He descends upon the house suddenly and swiftly. Whether he is loud or quiet in his coming, he usually achieves his intent. If he comes quietly it is to rob and steal without the goodman knowing it, and to escape the house undetected. If he comes loudly, it is probably not only to rob but also to harm anyone that will get in his way.
And usually he succeeds too, because he is unexpected. The goodman of the house is simply not prepared to keep him from robbing him. The thief is foiled in his attempt only when the goodman is forewarned and prepared. Everywhere the Bible uses this one and the same figure to describe the coming of Jesus Christ. Our text does too. In verse 2 we read, “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” And throughout these verses the same figure is used in order to instruct us concerning Christ’s return. Christ’s coming at the end of time will be as the coming of the thief in the middle of the night!
Now, let us apply this figure to the coming of Christ. The obvious meaning here is that Christ’s coming is going to be swift, sudden, and unexpected. This is true first of all from the point of view of the wicked world itself. This world will have fallen asleep just like the goodman of the house. Jesus tells us that just as in the days of Noah, so also at the end of time men will be going on with life as if this world will never end. They will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Life will be going on as usual. The church of Jesus Christ that keeps warning to watch for Christ’s return will be mocked and ignored: “Where is the promise of His coming, for all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation!” From a spiritual point of view, therefore, this world will have fallen asleep calmly and confidently! They will say to themselves: “Peace and safety!” Being sound asleep from a spiritual point of view, this world will not be prepared for or even expecting the coming of Christ!
The same is true of the time of Christ’s coming as well. He comes at a time when we least expect it. He tells us He comes soon, and that he comes quickly, but just exactly when Christ is going to return, no man knows! Not only is this idea established in the figure of a thief appearing suddenly in the night, but it is supported by another picture Paul uses, in verse 3 of our text. We find there the picture of a woman in travail—a woman who is about to be delivered of a baby. And the idea is that suddenly, without a clue, that first hard labor pain hits. The woman has been expecting it all along—she knows it is close, but she does not know exactly when that first hard labor pain will hit that will bring about the birth of her baby.
Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected. He comes when this world believes that they have found their way, that they have found the answer to all the ills and problems of society. Christ comes when the kingdom of man in this world has established itself and is convinced that there is peace and safety. At a time that no man can configure—that no man is able to determine or prophesy of, Christ will come. And that coming will not be quietly in rapture, but it will be a coming with shouts and trumpets, unto the destruction of the wicked of this world!
Now, it is important for us to realize the point Paul makes here before moving on. There was an error about Christ’s coming that prevailed in this church of Thessalonica. Many of the saints there believed that Christ would come in their life-time. In fact, some of them had even quit working and were idly waiting for Christ to return. The instruction here is meant to combat the error of unbelievers who precluded the coming of Christ. I really have no need to write to you about the time of Christ’s return, Paul says to the saints of Thessalonica, because you know about it perfectly! And what you know through my preaching and through the words of Christ Himself is that that day comes as a thief in the night! You cannot predict that Christ is going to come in your lifetime! It is not your job to predict that time! It is your job to watch! You know already that Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected! Make no assumptions, make no calculations, listen to no predictions of a man. Christ tells us that we will not know when He comes. He will strike as a thief in the night! And He will come when this world feels safe and content in its sin, and therefore says, “Peace and safety!” And when Christ comes, He will come with sudden destruction, and the wicked will not escape.
II. Prepared For the Thief
But having established this fact, Paul goes on to say this, in verse 4: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” Now, that is striking! Paul tells believers that the coming of Christ ought not to overtake us as a thief in the night. Or, in other words, God’s people are those who will be prepared for that thief when he strikes unexpectedly. We may not know in what watch of the night the thief will come, but nevertheless we are those who will be prepared for the coming of thief! Christ comes as a thief, but we will not be as the wicked world who spiritually sleeps. We will be spiritually awake and watching for the thief that he might not break in on us unprepared. And all this is true because we know perfectly of Christ’s coming!
We ought not to overlook that perfect knowledge we have of Christ’s coming that Paul speaks of in the second verse of this passage. That is not just a knowledge about some facts of Christ’s coming. It is not some kind of human deduction we have made for ourselves that Christ comes again. It is a perfect knowledge. It is the knowledge of faith—a knowledge that most people of this world do not have of Christ’s coming. When the wicked man (inside the church as well as outside) is warned and instructed concerning the swift and sudden return of Christ, he does not believe. His reasoning is blinded by unbelief. He knows, yet he does not know, that Christ comes again. He knows about it, but he does not believe it. And for that reason too Christ will come upon that unbelieving man suddenly and unexpectedly. Christ’s coming will overtake him with sudden destruction!
But God’s saints have been given a perfect knowledge that Christ is coming. We know He comes soon and suddenly. And we by all means believe it! We may at times grow weary in watching, we may be at times not so alert, but we know perfectly that Christ is coming and we believe that.
This blessed truth Paul emphasizes in verse 5 of our text: “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” You and I, fellow believers, are children of the light and not children of the darkness. We were at one time, of course, when we were lost in our unbelief and sin. We, too, then were children of darkness. Sin had its hold over our hearts, minds, souls, and body! Our hearts and minds were darkened to the truth. We lived in the night of sin! We could not nor did we desire to know God and the things of the kingdom of heaven. Of the times and seasons we could not know because God had not revealed them to us. And this is true of countless throngs of people today. Our world is lost in the darkness of sin and unbelief—these are the children of the night to which our text refers, those still stumbling about in their unbelief.
Yet, God is gracious, is He not? He has proved that in our lives. He still proves that in the hearts and lives of many people yet today. He graciously has poured out into the hearts of His elect people the light of salvation. He has laid the burden of our sin and unbelief on the shoulders of Christ. And Christ carried away the burden of our sin on the cross. He earned there for God’s people the gift of faith—and included in that faith is the certain knowledge that Christ returns and that we should be prepared! How thankful we can be for the light of the knowledge of God we have received in Christ Jesus! Now, we know perfectly that Christ comes—soon, swiftly, unexpectedly! And we watch for Him!
We know that the time of Christ’s return is getting very, very close! How do we know that Christ returns soon? Because we know the times and the seasons. God has revealed to us the times, first of all! That term is used in our word “chronology or chronological.” When we use that term even in our own language it refers to a sequence or succession of events that take place in time. What our text here means therefore is that we are given to know perfectly the sequence of events that take place in the history and development of this world. That is quite a thing, you know! Wicked man has been trying to find out the purpose of this world and its development since time began. He never has! The believer has! He is given a knowledge and understanding of the order of events that take place in history. We know that all of history is ordered by God from eternity. We know that God has ordered all things in such a way that through the saving of a church unto glory, God will glorify Himself! He created all things for that reason. Man fell into sin for that reason. Christ has come for that reason. The church is defended, guided, and preserved for that reason. The end of the world will come for that reason. And every event in creation and history leads to that perfect end. We are given to know the times.
And we are given to know the seasons. This term refers to a certain fixed period of time! We know the various fixed periods of time in this world. We know the time of the prediluvian world—the world before the flood. We know the time from the flood to Christ—the period of the old dispensation. And we are given to know perfectly the period of the new dispensation—the time during which Christ rules over all this world from His throne in heaven—the time from Christ’s ascension to His second coming. We know as well what will indicate the close of this period of time. We will be watching all the signs that indicate that this period of time in God’s chronological time clock is coming to a close. The Bible everywhere gives us signs that point us to the imminent return of Christ. We are given to know what will transpire in history before Christ returns again. And we watch these signs as they develop in creation, in the nations, and in the church, in order that we might be prepared for the coming of the thief!
III. Watching for the Thief
In this regard, we receive a command in verse 6: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” This command is based upon the knowledge we have of Christ’s coming. It is based on the fact that we know He comes suddenly and unexpectedly. Do not sleep, do not be drunken, but watch and be sober! Always be prepared, for we do not know in what watch of the night the thief will appear!
Ah, that is the very error of those who wish to predict a certain hour in which Christ comes. If I knew exactly the year, month, day, and hour that Christ will return, then I would have no reason to watch right now! All I would have to do is wait until that time and then rather hurriedly prepare myself so I am ready! There would be no need to ready myself now. That is why Christ does not reveal the exact time of His coming. He does not want us to know! He does not want us to know, so that right now, and every day of our lives, we might prepare ourselves for that coming! He wants us to live every day of our lives as if He is coming tomorrow. We must always be prepared, in order that we might live a holy life in this world!
He does not want us to sleep. Those who sleep, sleep in darkness. We walk in the light, however, and must not sleep. In other words, we may not grow weary in our expectation of Christ’s return. We must never become lethargic as far as our spiritual lives are concerned. We may not lay aside the fight of faith, we must not grow weary in the battle against sin and Satan. We must not close our eyes to the events that are going on around us and ignore them! We must not let our guard down as far as our battle against our enemies is concerned! Neither may we be drunk—spiritually drunk! We may not be intoxicated with the pleasures and treasures of this present world! We may not consume ourselves in them so that we become worldly minded and lose sight of our home in glory. Our heads may not whirl with earthly luxuries and pleasures, so that, as a result, we lose sight of the times and seasons! This world ends and we must watch for that end.
This means that we must be sober. Our minds must be clear and bright. Our spiritual senses must be honed so that we watch the signs around us. And we must read them correctly too—in order to understand just when it is that the thief comes. We must be busy in our study of God’s Word, in worship, and in prayer. These means equip us to be sober and our eyesight keen. Then we will watch! We will stand in these last times with our eyes wide open and waiting.
Christ comes. Are you prepared to meet Him? Can He come tomorrow and will you be ready to meet your Lord? Watch! He comes soon! Prepare! Then we will be ready when Jesus comes!