Tag Archives: Jesus return

Really?

At first sight, the opening of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth (we read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9) is very strange. Paul knows full well that there are lots of problems in that congregation. In the following chapters he will touch on the various cliques dividing the group, on his own position as a leader, sexual immorality, litigation, confusion about Christian status, freedom, discipline, complacency, worship, the resurrection . . . We can just imagine the sort of article a local paper might write now if it got wind of half those goings on!

Of course, this was Corinth, the seaport where everything happened, and the Christians were new to this faith, and only just exploring what it meant for them. They weren’t a well educated or wealthy group.

Paul isn’t joking when he talks about the grace they have been given, or the fact that they “do not lack any spiritual gift as [they] eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” They may still need to learn how to use some of those gifts. Certainly they have a good deal to learn about what Christian behaviour involves. But they have been given so much, and Paul is quite honest as he gives prayerful thanks for what has begun. – Not only begun, for he has confidence that a faithful God will continue, and bring them “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

That is probably the point for us, too. We can look at the list of failures in that ancient church, but may be less ready to face the failings of our own! If we were really such good examples of Christian life, would there not be more questions – that is positive questions, from those outside who want to know about the sources of our hope, love and faith? The reality is that every church organisation, each congregation, is less than perfect. But as we work and pray through that, is it not also true that we have been given grace, for which we might properly be thankful? Is it not also true that “we do not lack any spiritual gift”?

Yes, we might like to draw up a list of what we would like. But do we actually believe God has left us without anything we need for Stage 1 of our progress from this point in faith and time? Or are we just refusing to pray and see the first steps of our way forward, a way which may be less familiar in a post-Covid world?

Paul gave hearty thanks for what God had done and was doing for a poor and struggling church, at the same time as they were causing him some anxiety and problems. We also live in a world of less than perfect Christians and congregations, but can we give thanks for what God has done, is doing – and is now ready to lead us forward from?

Is there an End?

Where will it all end? – and will there be tears? The early followers of Jesus came to believe he was the promised coming King, the Messiah. He spoke of God’s Kingdom. When he met opposition and slander, they found his acceptance of suffering, and then of a criminal’s death, difficult. His resurrection, and the Old Testament prophecies (not least Isaiah’s Suffering Servant), helped them to see it all as part of God’s plan to save.

So the Christians met, worshipped, and wondered – Where would it all end? It is a question, not only for their times, but for ours. It has been echoed by many in times of war, persecution, and suffering. Destruction, death and disaster add weight to it. What can we hope for? What is the point? Political or economic insecurity adds to the doubt, but Christians ought to have some answers settled. As we remember the consequences of conflict elevated into war, what hope of peace, of justice?

Christians remember Jesus identification of John the Baptist as Elijah, and understand the “Day of the Lord” as the day Jesus returns with power for judgement. That day is mentioned in Matthew 24 and 25, at the Ascension, and in 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5, (and today we read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) among other places. The language is pictorial, the main theme clear: Jesus return brings to an end this time of uncertainty and conflict. God will rule, and his enemies be disarmed and judged.

In the Old Testament (we read an example in Zephaniah, but it starts with Amos, and is reflected in many prophets) a popular idea of the Day of the Lord – when “our God” would come to defeat “our enemies” – is turned round. Amos insists that God is not impressed by the unfaithfulness of his people, and the Day of his Coming would bring judgement on them, as well as on others. (so Zephaniah 1:12 “I will punish the people who are self-satisfied and confident, who say to themselves, ‘The LORD never does anything, one way or the other.'” ) By the time of Malachi, the last words of our Old Testament: “But before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes, I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children together again; otherwise I would have to come and destroy your country.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

When? We don’t know. 1Thessalonians 5:1,2 Suddenly and unexpectedly; but that is not to say we are unprepared. Paul speaks of a thief in the night. You don’t know when – but if you know he is coming, you can be ready. Valuables hidden or secure, doors firmly locked, people safe. We don’t know when, but we are to be ready. “We must wear faith and love as a breastplate, and our hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1Thessalonians 5:8

The Kingdom of God – his rule of justice and love, is something great, to be looked forward to and celebrated (at least by those who try already to live its life). The Day it comes and replaces all opposition is beyond our imagining, and unlikely to be uncontested. We need to be ready,

Panic or Potter?

Most of us are less kind when we are being threatened, and less generous if we’ve had a shock or been unsettled. No wonder, then, that Paul wants to settle and reassure his friends in Thessalonica who have been shocked and disturbed by conflicting teaching about the end of the world.

As we read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17, we see Paul’s balance. He has told these Christians to expect Jesus return, with power and judgement, bringing vindication for the faithful. It is not surprising that they are disturbed by reports that Jesus has already returned – while they are still struggling with persecution and difficulty.

On the one hand, Paul reassures them that Jesus has not yet returned. That is still (for them, and for us) in the future, and they should take heart and be encouraged. It is a difficult time, but that is to be expected.

On the other, Paul urges this church to stand firm. They are to get on with Christian life, showing and sharing the glory of the risen Lord as they go about their work. God’s grace will give them all they need, and they are secure in what he has promised.

It is interesting to ask whether your Church over or under emphasises teaching about the end of the world. There is much which will be clear only when it happens, but the promise of the full realisation of God’s just and gentle rule is something to look forward to. It encourages us as we get on with the sometimes difficult reality of Christian living.

[I found Mariam Kamell’s comments on the Working Preacher website very helpful, and think you might too.]

Kingdom Hazard

When Paul writes his second letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, [2 Thessalonians 1:1-12] two things are clear. They are having a hard time, with “persecutions and trials”. But at the same time there are good things to give thanks for. Faith and love are mentioned immediately, and perseverance.

It is in this context that the fate of those causing the trouble is mentioned. When Christ returns, they will be shut out of his presence. It is the consequence of their wilful refusal of the good news of God’s Kingdom – they are punished for not obeying the gospel, not for not knowing it.

While the fate of the wicked seems once to have been a popular theme for Christian preachers, today we seem more reluctant to judge. That is surely a good thing! God alone knows the full truth about peoples actions, and certainly their motivations. But for ourselves we might beware of ignoring what is said about the danger of ignoring or refusing the offer of Christ to enter his Kingdom, benefit from his grace, and learn a new life.

But is this the message of Jesus? It could sound a bit negative, not like the good news of grace and love. After all, we read today [Luke 19:1-10] of the party at Zacchaeus’ house, where Jesus eats with “sinners”. Perhaps we need to notice that the Kingdom welcomes Zacchaeus, and his repentance – but there is real danger for those who complain. Those who label the “sinners” at the party are in real danger of missing the eternal party!

Things were not perfect in the Thessalonian Church, but there was faith. Yes, their Christian life needed some corrections, but they were learning the ways of the Kingdom. Wherever God’s Kingdom is seen, there is the danger of missing out, with terrible consequences. We shouldn’t let a proper reluctance to judge blind us to the real danger of missing out in God’s judgement.

Fair Warning

An aerial photograph gives us a different point of view – we see things we know in a new way, and the pattern as well. Today’s gospel (Luke 21:25-36 – today on Advent Sunday we start a new “year”, with Luke as our main gospel) may seem taken from a strange angle: Jesus is talking, and finishing comments started with the warning that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed.

Jesus talks about three things in the future (though for Luke 1 or perhaps 2 are past):

  • Pentecost –  21:32 seems to be about that
  • The Destruction of Jerusalem – in AD 70, by the Romans (including the destruction of the temple)
  • Jesus return in glory at the end of time.

Each of these is important: Pentecost as the arrival of the Holy Spirit; the destruction of Jerusalem, because Jesus saw it coming and the Christians seem to have taken the hint and escaped.

But the idea of Jesus coming back is even more important. Why should we take notice? Because it will happen when many people don’t expect it. And it will come when sin has run, apparently unchecked, to mislead many people. Finally, sin meets God. The Lord comes back to take charge, and hear the account his people give.

It is possible to get lost in this. Some Christians will want you to consider whether descriptions like verse 25 do not correspond to global warming, or the space programme , or … (There have always been those convinced that the end was just around the corner – but we are not called to speculation.)

Some people will find the idea of judgement a suggestion of a religion of fear and repression – but no, it is good news, and no threat to those who will heed the warning. We are told in general what will happen – disorder, wickedness, desertion – so that we are not taken in, but remain faithful and alert. And that’s the point. Jesus warned his disciples what was coming so that they would be prepared.

Pentecost has come; the Roman Empire has long gone. We don’t know when Jesus will return – Tuesday afternoon, or a few more millenia. So don’t be surprised if the world is a mess; don’t be misled by those who say God doesn’t notice and his standards are out of date an unenforcable; be alert, be ready to welcome Jesus whenever he comes; and pray for wisdom in the meantime.