I recently read 1 Thessalonians again and was reminded of a neat little quirk about the book. Aside from a few lines of goodbye at the end, the end of each of the five chapters is a reminder that Jesus is coming back. Check it out:
Chapter 1: ...and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Chapter 2: For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.
Chapter 3: ...so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Chapter 4: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Chapter 5: Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Neat, huh? Now obviously the chapter breaks are not inspired, etc, but still, it gets the point across. Whatever Paul had to say to this church - every encouragement and exhortation, every command or rebuke, all theology and practice - was to be seen in light of the fact that Jesus is coming back to claim his people and judge the world.
So what does this mean for us?
For those who have repented of their sin and embraced the salvation which is in Jesus Christ alone, this is a great encouragement, greater even than grief over the death of a loved one (4:13-18). All the wrongs of this world are coming to an end, all persecution we face will meet ultimate justice, and all our hope will be fulfilled beyond our wildest imaginations. No matter what we've sacrificed in this world or how difficult the struggle may be, the glory at the end is exceedingly worth it. And the commands are not given in a vacuum - they are to be received in the knowledge that Jesus will judge his enemies and reward his people.
The big question facing Christians is whether we remember this well enough. How often do we remind ourselves and each other that Jesus is coming back? Are we living in light of this fact - and doing all we can to prepare others as well? Are we warning those who are still rebelling against God, and exhorting them to be reconciled through Jesus, with the necessary urgency while they still have time?
And for those who are still rebelling against their creator? This truth is the most dreadful news they could ever hear. I was reflecting on this during the 9/11 remembrance news we just went through, and found the juxtaposition rather jarring. The utter fear of another round of terrorist attacks, the kvetching about our emergency response readiness, the endless debates about if something else is coming, how severe it would be, and what we can do about it - all the while pretending to be blissfully unaware that Jesus Christ is definitely returning, it will be millions of times more severe than every terrorist attack and natural disaster in the history of the world combined, and while there's nothing anyone can do to stop it, God has graciously told us the only place to find shelter.
Jesus Christ is coming again. Be ready.
1 hour ago