The Return of Christ

I am teaching tonight on 1 Thessalonians. One of the passages that we will look at is Paul’s response to some questions he had received about why certain people had died when Christ’s return was supposed to happen at any moment. This response comes at 4:13-18:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.  15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.  18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul and his readers clearly thought that they would be “caught up in the clouds” to meet Jesus when he returned. Their expectations were never met. As a novice historian of Christianity, I think I can safely say that people in every generation since Paul’s also thought that they would experience the “return of Christ.” Every generation speaks of events in their lifetime as “signs of the end.” Every generation since Paul’s has been disappointed as Paul was.

What, then, are we to do as Christians today when we read this passage and the numerous other passages where Paul (1 Cor 7:29-31) and Jesus (Mt 16:27-28, 24:30-31; Jn 14:18) speak of the end of the age? How do you handle these texts? Do you assume that your generation is somehow markedly different from every generation that has gone before? Do you dare say that Paul was wrong? That Jesus was wrong?

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4 thoughts on “The Return of Christ

  1. When Christ spoke of his return he used several metaphors; one of which sticks out in my mind. The parable spoke of ten virgins relates of 5 who where ready for the wedding feast and five who were not.

    The Christ went on to say that ‘it’ would come like a thief in the night, giving signs so that we would know what to look for.

    The danger comes when we get so caught up ibn looking at the “signs” that we fail to see what is right in front of our face(2 Thess 2:3)

    In 1 Thess 5 Paul assures us that we do not need to worry about “the End” because of the hope We have in the Christ

    a work in progreaa,
    Nathanael

  2. I would dare say Paul was wrong, along with countless other historical figures who either 1) Expected the return of Jesus in their lifetime, 2) Thought that they were seeing “signs of the end of the age,” or 3) Attempted to discover the exact date of the return. Many biblical figures expected God to return while they were still alive. This is one reason the author of 2 Peter addresses the fact that the people thought “God was being slack concerning his promise” and had to remind them that “a day to the Lord is like a thousand years.” Obviously it became an issue or Peter wouldn’t have written about it. I’ve even heard pastor’s in my short lifetime say that they are fully convinced Jesus will return while they are still alive.

    But do I think Jesus was wrong? Definitely not. He did promise that the “generation would not pass away before all of the things took place” but the often misunderstood verse didn’t mean the generation alive during his time. I also don’t think it meant the future generation that would witness the signs. Rather I think the generation means the faithful and lovers of God (I might be wrong about the verse though). But through the verse we can be certain that those who remain faithful will witness the coming of Christ. It might not be the generation who helped shape the scriptures or form the early church, but He promised He would return at the right time.

    And so that leads us to our focus and goal. As Christians today, we should 1) Remain faithful, 2) Seek the will of God, 3) Focus on today and not tomorrow, next week, or next year (as found in Proverbs), and 4) Attempt to spread the Gospel as much as possible (because Peter wrote that the reason God has not heralded the Second Coming is because of His patience and longsuffering. But to say that Christ is returning in our lifetime, within the next 50 years, or even the next 200 years is foolish. No one knows, but we can be certain it will occur even if we can’t pinpoint the date.

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