Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Return of Jesus: A Shining Sun in our Christian Sky

When talking about a vision from God, we have to understand that we can't take it at the same level as scripture. It's a testimony, a vision, something we test against the word of God and prayer. But I sensed God asking me to share a bit of this testimony.

I had a vision from God when I was twenty years old. I was addicted to drugs, totally lost, and did not believe in God. Many were praying for me. So I believe God was giving me a warning. I saw myself seeing a bright shining glorious nexus, it was God’s presence and power and glory. And then I saw myself drifting from it. I had missed it. And I found myself in hell. I saw this in a vision from God. I was in hell. And I was being tormented. Yet even from hell I could see above the glory of God, everything I had missed. I had sinned. And I had lost everything.

I gave that testimony a few years ago, and shared it on a video online. And I watched it a few times, and I saw the way it was recorded, behind me was the big light in my kitchen, and it showed me as I watched the video, that I was now with the light, the light was with me, in me, and I now have the hope of salvation.

God had warned me that I was headed in the wrong direction. But praise God he has brought me to that bright shining light of hope and salvation.

We’re talking about the bright shining hope of every Christian who is alive today and every Christian who has ever lived. That is the return of Jesus Christ.

The world lives in the fear of death. I recall being afraid of death. I remember how empty it felt. I remember how scary it seemed. When you know that you’re really all alone, well, that’s terrifying.

But, we are not like the world. We have a great and powerful hope.

In 1st Thessalonians 4 it says in verse 13, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

The scripture talks about those who sleep in death. This is a picture that Jesus gave us, when speaking about Lazarus. He said Lazarus is sleeping, but I will go and wake him up. His disciples were confused, they asked him what he meant. He said Lazarus is dead. But Jesus would raise him from the dead.

The word tells us not to grieve for the dead in Christ like the rest of the world. Because though the world doesn’t have hope, we have an eternal hope.

It’s bright and it’s shining, it’s strong and consistent, much like Earth’s sun. It shines day and night. Whether we see it or not, it keeps shining. At night it keeps shining. During the day it shines. We don’t worry that it will run out of fuel. We don’t worry that it won’t shine. It always shines. It burns brightly in space.

What is this eternal hope? It’s the Return of Jesus. He will come again. He will not leave us as orphans. He has gone to prepare a place for us. And he will return to bring us there. God doesn’t lie. If he says it, it’s true. You can take that to the bank.

In verse 14, “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

We know for certain two key facts: One, Jesus died. He was crucified. Second, Jesus rose from the dead.

And Jesus will bring back those who died in Him.

Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus rose from the dead. Jesus spoke to Jairus’ daughter, she was dead, and then she was alive.

Since God made the universe, since he placed the sun burning at the center of our solar system, since he placed planet earth here, also, God is able to raise the dead and bring them back to life. One of my favorite Christian apologists Prof. Frank Turek often says, if God made the universe from nothing, is it really so hard for Him to raise Jesus from the dead? Not really. If God can make space, time, reality, and the human race, it can't be too hard for Him to raise Jesus from the dead. 

So when considering this bright shining hope that we cling to, this sun in our sky, of the return of Jesus, it includes a formula that we believe that Jesus died, and Jesus rose from the dead. Those facts, those historical truths are things we remember when considering the fate of the dead.

Next in verses 15-16 it says, “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Jesus promised to return again. And we know he will. The Lord himself will come down from heaven above, he will speak, a command, a trumpet blast will sound, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

There are all sorts of issues we could get into here. Don’t the dead in Christ immediately go to heaven? Do some wait in their graves? Or is it just their bodies being raised at this point but their souls were already with God? I don’t want to get into a lot of this. It’s enough for our purposes today to understand that the dead in Christ will live again, when Jesus returns.

Then, in verse 17 we see the rapture, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

In other words, those who are alive when Jesus returns, will never die, they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. We call this the rapture. The lucky people who are actually alive on Earth when Jesus returns will be changed as they are caught up in the air.

But here is where the controversy comes. Because the main event at the end of the book of Revelation is when Jesus Christ returns to Earth, with the saints, and defeats the anti-christ and sets up his millennial reign on Earth.

So some would say the rapture event is the same as the second coming of Jesus. But right here in 1st Thessalonians we see it says Jesus catches them up, takes them to heaven. But at the second coming Jesus is coming to Earth. So, some believe the rapture event is a separate event, where Jesus pulls the saints off the Earth, and takes them to heaven, before the great tribulation starts. And then, the saints come back with Jesus at the end of the tribulation, at the moment of the second coming, when Jesus returns to defeat the anti-christ.

The main question is simple, how can the saints be “going up” if Jesus is coming down? In this event in 1st Thessalonians, it appears that Jesus is appearing in the clouds, calling the saints up, and then going back up with them.

So then his second coming to Earth must be a separate event? Or is it just that the language is symbolic, and the saints being caught up, means they go up, are changed, and immediately they come back down again at the same event? It’s a debate in Christian circles.

But suffice to say, for us today, we know in general, that Jesus will raise the dead in Christ, and Jesus will also raise the alive in Christ. We are adding these elements to our understanding of the eternal hope we have after death.

Next it says in verse 18, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Use this picture that God is creating, of the living hope, the bright shining Sun, to encourage each other that there is hope after death.

We’re going to continue into 1st Thessalonians 5, where it talks about the day of the Lord.

It says, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Apparently, the church at Thessalonica had been wondering about dates and times for the day of the Lord, but, Paul writes to them telling them, it will come like a thief in the night.

What is the day of the Lord? Well, when speaking about the rapture, the catching up, it’s spoken of with excitement and joy. But, with the day of the Lord, it’s spoken of in scripture with warning, and intensity, and judgment.

The day of the Lord is spoken of numerous times in the scripture, as a day of judgment and retribution. Zechariah 14:1-3 speaks of Jerusalem being destroyed, and the Lord coming down and fighting against the nations that attacked Jerusalem.

In 2 Peter 3:10 it says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

So what do you think? Is the day of the Lord and the rapture the one in the same event? Or are they two separate events? I tend to believe they are separate events, that the rapture occurs, Jesus catches up the saints, the tribulation takes place, and the saints return with Jesus, at his second coming when he defeats the antichrist and sets up his millennial reign.

Others believe that the moment Jesus returns in the rapture, the saints are caught up, the anti-christ is destroyed, and the millennial reign begins then.

It’s what you call an “in family” debate. Christians debate it back and forth, and we agree that other views are acceptable within the Christian family. It’s in family. Now, a non in family debate would be whether Jesus is really the son of God. It’s not debatable in the family. If you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God, you aren’t a Christian, plain and simple.

In any case, it’s clear to me Paul is not trying to delineate here between the rapture and second coming and day of the Lord and everything else. He is making general statements to arm this church with the living hope, the sun in their sky, of the return of Jesus in general.

Yet Paul gives us further details, it says, 3-5, “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. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”

The Lord is explaining to us here that though the world will be surprised by everything that takes place, we will not be. We are not of the darkness. We do not walk in darkness. We wear the pendant of the son of God.

So think of this sun picture we’re putting together as a pendant that you wear on your chest, that reminds you everyday of the living hope you share in.

I’ve seen the horrors of destruction. I’ve seen the emptiness and despair of life without God. I’ve walked in pitch darkness. Now, I walk in the brightness, deep brightness surrounds me. I walk in the light as He is in the light. And the blood of Jesus cleanses me from every sin. You, saints, walk in the light as well, you are children of the light, and the light defines you. The light of God surrounds you. Like the sun over the morning fields in the farmlands of Shiawassee county, so the son Jesus shines over us each us day. Bright, steady, constant, firm, and true.

Yet Paul also gives us a warning, he says, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”

Because Christians sometimes end up mirroring the ways of the world. That’s why we get reminders like these, be awake and sober. Focus in on Jesus. Stay active in your faith walk. Laser focus on the Lord. Be awake. Be alert.

Paul does this all the time in all his letters, he makes the statement essentially, “You are, so be.”

“You are this, so be this.” You are light in the Lord, so be light, be awake and alert.

Why? Because it’s incredibly common for our talk to not match our walk. Paul reminds me, make sure it does match more and more. It’s something I try to do in my life, doesn’t always work, but I’m growing. Match the two, walk and talk!

Paul continues along these lines, in verses 7-8, “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”

Many of us here once lived “the night life” of parties and drinking and deeds done in darkness. But not anymore. We belong to the day now. To the Lord now. So...

Put on faith and love as a breastplate, and hope of salvation as a helmet. Those three words remind me of something, 1st Corinthians 13, but these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love, but the greatest of these is love.

As we wait for the return of Jesus we will need these three characteristics: Faith, Hope, and Love. One we will need faith, to trust God, that he really will do these things he’s promised. That’s faith. Second, we will need hope, hope encourages us to be excited about what Jesus will do when he returns. Hope is powerful. It stirs us to not give up. Hope is the key of this whole formula of life after death. It’s hope. But also, love, love binds it all together, faith, with hope, with love as well. Love means to love God, love others, and love His coming. With these three we cannot fail.

Lastly, in verses 9-11, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Verse 9 is sometimes pulled out of context to imply some intense form of predestination. But that isn’t actually what it’s saying. In it’s context, it’s contrasting for the Thessalonian Christians the day of the Lord with the rapture event. It’s saying, you are appointed, you have an appointment to keep, for salvation in Christ, while many yes have another appointment they are headed toward, to wrath, unfortunately.

I like also that Paul writes in verse 10, Jesus died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. That’s the goal. To live with Jesus with all the saints in paradise. I think Paul is also hinting, that it’s OK to literally sleep at night. He was using a metaphor for staying awake. But it’s still ok to sleep at night. Thankfully.

He's also of course saying, whether a Christian is right now dead, or right now alive, when Jesus returns, we will all be together again, alive and well.

And in verse 11, use all this to encourage each other as Christians and build each other up. And he’s pleased to see the Thessalonians are already doing that. Praise the Lord.

In conclusion brothers and sisters, this sun shining in our Christian skies, in each of our lives, is shining in the end with the radiance of eternal hope, which is our salvation. Glowing from the center of this moment, the return of Jesus, glows with radiance. It’s your salvation. The day of your salvation.

So return again and again to look at this hope. Look at it again and again. Encourage yourself with it. Jesus will return. Jesus will make all things new. Jesus will bring us to a new heavens and new earth.

Keep that in the sky of your mind as your live your life, just as the sun shines over the Earth, let the thought of the return of Jesus shine over your life, as a firm, fixed, powerful, and ever-present hope.

As firm and powerful Earth’s sun is, the return of Jesus is even more certain than the sun in the sky each day. It’s a fact, it will happen, and when it does, everything will change for us. Hallelujah. Come Lord Jesus!

Let’s Review Our Main Points Today:
1. We have an eternal hope to look to: The Return of Jesus

2. Jesus died and rose again (so he can do the same for us)

3. The dead in Christ will rise to life

4. Those living at the time of Jesus coming will rise to life

5. Encourage each other with the hope of life after death

6. The Rapture references the rising of the saints

7. The Day of the Lord references the judgment of God on the inhabitants of Earth

8. We are children of the day, so be awake and sober

9. Put on faith, hope and love as armor and helmet

10. The return of Jesus is the radiance of joy in your life, your salvation