1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Last week I asked you to consider what you’ve spent the most time preparing for. This week, I’d like you to consider what single event have you most longed for. I’m sure there’s a connection between the two for many of you, but think about it for a minute. What’s something you’ve especially looked forward to? How did that longing show up in your life? What did you do differently because of your eagerness for that thing to come to pass?
As I mentioned last week, there are two parts to Advent: 1) Celebrating the first coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah (OT, Hebrew)/Christ (NT, Greek) (that’s what I preached on last week), and 2) Cultivating longing for His second coming (today’s sermon). To be a bit more specific, my main aim this morning is to encourage you to use Advent as a time to develop “Maranatha” (come, Lord) as a banner over your entire life, and therein demonstrate the worthiness of God to be praised above all.
To accomplish that aim, we’re going to consider four main truths: 1) Jesus will return, 2) Jesus’ return will be glorious, 3) Jesus’ return will be both good and bad news, and 4) Advent is a special time to apply these truths. Let’s pray for God’s help to drive these things into us and then launch them out from us.
JESUS WILL RETURN
The Christmas story is the story of Jesus’ first coming. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, truly God and truly man. Jesus was both born without sin and lived a perfect life. All of this made Him a perfect example and an acceptable sacrifice to the Father for the sins of the world. And being filled with love and glory made Him willing to lay His life down.
He was mocked, beaten, crucified, forsaken by God, and murdered. For three days He remained in the grave. But on the third day, having satisfied the wrath of God, having canceled sins’ debt, and having defeated death, Jesus rose from the dead and revealed His glorified self to many. He then ascended into heaven where He sits even now at the right hand of God, interceding and advocating for those who receive Him, and waiting to return to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus came, and He will come again. Once again, learning to understand and long for that is what we are after this morning. And to that end, this sermon is one of the most Scripture-filled (not to say Scripture-based) sermons I’ve given in a while. I mean to share with you verse after verse concerning Jesus’ second coming. First, however, I’d like to read our church’s doctrinal statement on the subject of Jesus’ return. It is really good.
We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
I’m not going to address every clause in that statement, but it’s a great summary of both the Bible’s teaching and most of what I will be covering in this sermon: Jesus will return, it will be glorious, it will be very good news for many (and vary bad news for the rest), and it demands a response.
As we consider the second coming of Jesus, during Advent, as a means of increasing our longing for it, let’s begin with the simple fact that God’s Word contains multiple promises that Jesus will return.
Jesus Himself promised that He would return, “…you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
Similarly, we read Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, ” I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
In our text for this morning, which we will come back to in each of the points of the sermon, the Apostle Paul promised, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
And the author of Hebrews declared, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time…” (Hebrews 9:28).
Again, our denomination’s Scripture-filled explanation of this great reality bears hearing, “”[O]ur citizenship is in heaven,” Paul writes. “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20)…Peter also speaks of that day when “Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:7,13; 4:13) and when “the Chief Shepherd appears” (5:4)…James urges patience “until the Lord’s coming” (James 5:7-8). In his first epistle John instructs, “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28), with the encouragement that “when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2). The Revelation of John is centered on this glorious reality, as Jesus declares, “Look, I am coming soon!” (Rev. 22:7,12).”
Grace, the Christian Church has always understood the NT to teach that Jesus will come again. And our great hope has always been that Jesus came to rescue us from our sin, and will come again to set all things right. We do not know when that will happen, but we do know that it will be in the Lord’s perfect timing. Celebrating and anticipating these two “comings” are at the heart of Advent.
JESUS’ RETURN WILL BE GLORIOUS
God’s people greatly misjudged the nature of Jesus’ first coming. For that reason, we ought to be humble as we consider the specifics of His second. But being humble concerning the details does not mean we are entirely ignorant of what it will be like. And if anything is clear, it is that Jesus’ return will be glorious beyond anything we’ve ever seen.
Perhaps no passage says this more clearly or simply than Matthew 24:30 where Jesus Himself says, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Likewise, in Matthew 25:31 Jesus straight-forwardly declares, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”
In Titus 2:13 Paul describes the heart of the Christian as one “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”.
These verses state that Jesus’ return will be glorious. John got a glimpse of the nature of that glory. He described the glorified Jesus (as best as he could) in Revelation 1:13-16, “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
Our passage for this morning, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, also describes a bit of what it will be like when the glory of Jesus in Matthew 24, 25, Titus 2, and Revelation 1 is finally unleashed on earth “…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. 17 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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
I do not claim to have my head or heart fully around the glory that is to be revealed in Jesus’ second coming, but I do claim that it is the unmistakable and repeated teaching of God’s Word that Jesus is coming back and it will be in unprecedented glory. Advent (as I’ll talk more about in a few minutes) is about fighting to get our minds to truly understand and believe this, and our hearts to greatly appreciate and anticipate it.
JESUS’ RETURN WILL BE BOTH GOOD AND BAD NEWS
All of that leads to the third main point of this sermon: Jesus’ return will mean different things for different people. Ultimately, it will be really, really good news or really, really bad news. The simple fact and nature of this two-faceted return is clearly seen in Romans 2, “6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
I imagine it’s easy to see from that passage that there are two (and only two) responses to the second coming of Jesus. When Jesus comes back it will be to either inflict wrath and fury or bestow eternal life. If we are to live our lives and participate in Advent as God means us to, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of both of these paths.
The Default Path – Eternal Destruction
As uncomfortable as it is to consider this harsh reality (especially in light of how impotent and sentimental Christmas has become in our culture), the second coming of Jesus will mark the beginning of the just, eternal, and conscious torment for countless billions of people.
In Matthew 25:41 Jesus says to those who do not love as He loves, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. “ Likewise, in v.46 he says, “these will go away into eternal punishment…”.
In Mark 9:42-48 Jesus describes the fate of those who do not repent of their sin and trust in Him as being sent to a place of, “unquenchable fire… hell…[and] where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
More disturbing still, in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-19 we read, “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…”
And most disturbing of all, to the one who rejects God as God, Revelation 14 says, “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night (Revelation 14:10-11).
There are many more passages that speak to the eternal destruction that awaits all who do not hope in Jesus, but it is hard to stomach even these. The simple fact remains that this is the nature of the death that we all deserve on account of our sin. This is what God meant on the first pages of Genesis when He said, “If you eat of this you will surely die.” This is what Paul meant when he declared, “The wages of sin is death.” Ignoring this or watering it down does not help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t help us see the worthiness of God or the need for tools like Advent to seek it, love it, and proclaim it to the ends of the earth.
Grace, once again, Advent doesn’t even make sense apart from understanding that this eternal destruction is what we all deserve. The two comings of Jesus aren’t good news at all until we come to grips with the fact that they are about accomplishing and completing the Salvation of God from this kind of terrible destruction. It is uncomfortable to consider these things, but it is also necessary if we are to receive the Grace of God that has come and will come again. Advent is one way to learn and learn to appreciate all of this.
Eternal destruction is one of the two paths that all people, living and dead, will take when Jesus returns.
The Path of Faith – Eternal Reward
The other path, the only other path, is that of eternal reward. The Bible is clear on the reality and nature of the eternal destruction that awaits all who do not hope in God. It is equally clear on the reality and nature of all who trust in Jesus.
Upon His return, to those who in faith love as Jesus loves, Jesus will say, ” ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
In Hebrews we read, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
Our text for this morning states it simply, “16 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. 17 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.”
Peter describes the eternal reward, which will be distributed at Christ’s return, like this, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
And perhaps most familiar and beautiful of all, in Revelation 21:3-4 we read of the destination of those who walk the path of faith, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
How terrible is the wrath of God? How awesome is the blessing?
Jesus’ second coming will be either very, very bad news or very, very good news. The great question before us, then, is how to know which it will be for us. Many have stumbled by believing that the good news is for those who do enough good things or avoid enough bad things. Many have stumbled by believing that the good news is for those who are able in some way to earn God’s favor. Still others have stumbled by believing they’ve already been so bad that Jesus’ return can only mean bad news for them.
The good news of the Christian faith is simply this: “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Wrath and fury will be for all who refused to acknowledge God as God, sin as sin, and death as just. Eternal life will be reserved for those who have believed in Jesus and receive His gospel of grace. Advent, once again, is the great reminder of these great promises.
ADVENT AS A TIME TO APPLY THESE TRUTHS
So what does all of this have to do with the way we actually approach Advent? Once again, Advent is an intentional time in the Church calendar that we set aside to focus on and apply these things to our lives. In particular, I want to close by calling you all to spend Advent meditating on these things, cultivating a heart for them, and then demonstrating your belief in them to the world.
To celebrate Advent well includes a time of meditating on the passages in God’s Word that speak to Jesus first and second coming. Take time to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider them. You might consider pulling up this sermon manuscript later today when it’s posted to our website and meditating on the verses I’ve shared. You might use the concordance in the back of your study Bible. Or you might read over Grudem’s chapter (or some other systematic theology) on the return of Jesus. However you prefer to gather the passages on Jesus’ return, do it, and then carefully consider them, asking God to help you understand them and their implications.
Give careful, prayerful thought to the promises of Jesus’ coming, the Holy Spirit’s conception, the virgin birth, and all that Jesus modeled and accomplished for sinners. Give careful, prayerful though to the promises of Jesus’ return, the everlasting horror that will mean for every friend, family member, neighbor, and stranger who does not receive Him in faith, and the eternal blessing it will be to those who simply surrender to the Maker of all. Memorize key passages. Mentally and spiritually press harder on them than usual in order to really consider their meaning and significance. Avoid the tendency to gloss over familiar passages.
To most fully participate in Advent is to meditate on passages of scripture that speak of Jesus’ comings.
Having carefully meditated on the meaning of the passages that speak of Jesus’ return, spend some time cultivating an appreciation for them. Ask God to make you afraid where you ought to be afraid, relieved where there should be relief, hope where it’s appropriate, love, urgency, and courage where those things are right. Spend your precious Advent time cultivating the right heart and convictions about Jesus’ second coming.
Above all, cultivate a longing for Jesus to come back. Titus 2:13 describes the life of a Christian as one “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Likewise, Philippians 3:20-21 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
And in 1 Corinthians 16:22, after acknowledging the busted nature of the world in which we live, the Apostle Paul cried out, “Maranatha,” “Our Lord, come!”
Our hearts, if not continually checked, will still drift out of tune to the things of God and in tune with the things of the world. Advent is a time to meditate on the reality of Jesus first and second comings and then to cultivate a heart that longs to be with Jesus. Advent is a time, with God’s help, to finely tune our hearts.
Finally, seek out specific ways to demonstrate the mind, heart, and convictions God develops in you through your meditation and cultivation. Come up with real ways to repent and obey; real ways to celebrate and anticipate; real ways to worship and share.
For instance, in our passage, Paul urges the Thessalonian Christians to respond to the fact that Jesus will return in a very specific way, “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). One way, then, to demonstrate your great hope in the promises tied to Jesus’ return would be to share them with a struggling brother or sister in Christ. Advent ought to be a time in which God’s people develop greater trust in God’s promises and then encourage one another with them.
Demonstrating a longing for Jesus to come back should make its way into our music and food and spending and calendar and relationships and decorations and reading an quiet times. Rightly understood, far from being a burden, Advent is a sweet, sweet gift to God’s people to consider the great glory that is already, but not yet ours.
In conclusion, the main takeaway for all of us is to ask ourselves a single question, “Is ‘Maranatha’ the great cry of our heart?”. When we are content with the things this world has to offer, we will not long for Jesus to come back and make them all right. When our appetites for glory have shrunk to the point that this world seems to satisfy them, then we will not long for the return of the King of Glory. But when Advent becomes for us the means of grace we hope for, God will use it to create in us a superior affection for the things of God and that will spill out into everything we do.
Do you know the God of the universe well enough to know that He is worthy of our great longing for His return. If that is already the growing cry of your heart, Advent is a great time to live that out. If not, Advent is a great time to seek the grace of God that was accomplished in Jesus’ coming and will be displayed most fully in His return.