1 Thessalonians 1.
I have just read afresh a letter I wrote more than twenty years ago, and it occurs to me that if I reproduce the substance of it you may like to read it.
I have not yet in this series written on the topic of our Lord's return. And yet it is a sure thing that we all should be waiting for the Son of God from heaven, as we find the children of God in Thessalonica were doing in the apostolic day — 1 Thess. 1:10.
An attitude expectant of this momentous event is inculcated throughout the New Testament. Hope is one of the three cardinal Christian virtues. Hope, therefore, should be as habitual with us as prayer and thanksgiving.
First, let us think of what is the great central feature of the Christian hope. Let us set aside for the time the effects of the coming of Christ and all attendant circumstances and events, important as they are in themselves, and in the last analysis we shall find that the believer's hope is a PERSONAL ONE. Christ Jesus Himself is our Hope — 1 Tim. 1:1.
The apostle Paul summed up the Christian outlook for the future in one short sentence, WE LOOK FOR THE SAVIOUR, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. — Phil. 3:21.
Because of the "might of His glory" the advent of this August Person must necessarily be of transcendent influence upon the destinies of men; and many scriptures tell of the far-reaching results of the coming of Christ. But the prime fact for the Christian heart and conscience is that our absent Master and Lord is on the way to us, so to speak. He said, "If I go away, I will come again." We look up therefore constantly in joyous hope of the coming One, for each one on the strength of the Lord's own promise is entitled to say, "My Lord, my Saviour, my Redeemer may be here today for me."
It is in this simple way that the subject is presented in the New Testament, and this fact disposes of the prevalent idea that the Lord's return is a matter of doctrine for advanced Christians only. On the contrary, we find that in very early days those who had been converted but a short while were commended by the apostle Paul for the very pronounced and unmistakable manner in which they made it clear to their fellow-men that they were awaiting the Lord's return.
For instance, it was so that the Apostle spoke of the Thessalonian converts to whom he wrote shortly after his visit to their city. They received the word of the preachers, not as the word of men but as the word of God. Hence the gospel wrought effectually in them, and the change in their lives was so remarkable that the report of their faith in God was spread abroad everywhere. So much was this the case, that it was unnecessary for the Apostle himself to say what had been done in Thessalonica, since it was noised throughout the two provinces, Macedonia and Achaia, that these persons had "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." — 1 Thess. 1:5-10.
Clearly there was something in the life and testimony of these persons which plainly indicated to their neighbours not only their open renunciation of their idolatry and their loving obedience to the word and will of the true God, but also their momentary expectancy of the return of Jesus who had been raised from the dead and who had delivered them from fear of coming wrath.
The narrative in the Acts of the Apostle's visit to Thessalonica makes it clear that his stay was a short one — too short to admit of a course of instruction to ignorant Gentiles concerning the abomination of desolation, the beasts, the kings of the north and the south, Babylon and Armageddon. But though the converts knew little, if anything, of these themes, they were clearly waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven with a degree of earnest conviction that showed itself in their lives,
In their cases therefore, an attitude of expectation was certainly no effect of their advanced spiritual intelligence, for we find from the two Epistles that the Apostle had a great deal more to teach them on this subject.
The truth is that now as then, the hope of the Lord's personal return for His sleeping and waking saints is in no way connected with prophetic times and seasons, but rests quite simply, but none the less surely, upon the Lord's own promise before His departure His words were, as you know, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also." — John 14:2, 3. Is not this promise sufficient to assure us that He is really coming back again?
If we look at the hope as resting upon the Lord's promise the essence of the matter becomes so beautifully simple that the most elementary disciple may be waiting day by day for the fulfilment of His word. Evidently it was so in Thessalonica. Paul made known there the promise of the Lord Jesus. The converts believed his declaration, and consequently set themselves to expect the Saviour at any moment without further warning from Him.
It is true that questions on the subject may arise at once, but many of them are answered in the Scripture. And they are all subsidiary to the great certainty that Christ is coming. We must not allow such queries as How? When? and Why to interfere with the hope of our hearts.