A Thief in the Night

1 There are no signs of when Jesus is coming back (v2)

Paul taught them, v1, about the ‘times and dates.’ The timing of the ‘day of the Lord’, as he refers to it in v2, was a subject that the Thessalonian Christians were familiar with. ‘day of the Lord’ is a fairly common phrase throughout the Bible. It always refers to a time when God will judge and defeat his enemies. Today the enormous number of web sites and groups dedicated to researching and publicising dates for the return of Christ demonstrates the massive interest Christian people still have in finding out exactly, or at least approximately, when Christ will return.

Three reasons why Christians should never, ever put dates, on the return of Christ, the day of the Lord.

1. Church history

2. Every single time the phrase "times and dates," is used in Greek literature it always refers to an indefinite time in the future. The one thing you can know about "times and dates" is that you cannot know in advance which times and which dates they are.

3. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When he uses that phrase Paul is deliberately echoing the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 24, a passage Jesus also said that "no-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven." There is absolutely no point whatsoever trying to predict the date, even approximately, of the return of Jesus Christ. They Day of the Lord could be today. Or it could be another 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years. We don’t know. Nobody knows. There are no signs that will come to show us, even approximately, when it’s going to be. It’s like a thief in the night.

2 There is every sign that Jesus is coming back (v3)

"While people are saying, peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape."

And if you were looking for an illustration of sudden and unexpected pain, birth pains are actually a pretty odd thing to choose. Childbirth isn’t really like that. Because, as the mothers and expectant mothers among us know, the pains of actual childbirth are preceded by all sorts of other aches and discomforts!

So why does Paul choose this example? Because, unlike most of the other sudden pains we can suffer from, pregnant women know that childbirth is going to happen. Like the coming of the Lord Jesus, the coming of the pregnant woman to labour is both sudden (nobody, even in our incredibly advanced western societies) knows when it is going to a happen AND it is inevitable.

And if there are some people in the church who are excessively interested in naming a date or spotting signs of the return of Christ, I suspect there are rather more of us whose temptation is to ignore the pregnancy.

The people of the world do not believe that Jesus is coming back. So they go round saying "peace and safety." The world is coming to a crisis. And the people of the world are steadfastly ignoring all the signs of it, signs that have been with us for 2,000 years. The people of the world are like a woman with a swollen belly, who has felt nauseous about food for months, who is walking with a slight waddle but is making plans for a six month expedition trekking in Antarctica. They do not believe in the Day of the Lord.

Every time you hear about an earthquake it tells you nothing about when Jesus is returning. But it should remind you that he IS returning.

There are no signs that tell us when he is coming – he will be like a thief in the night.

But there is every sign that he is coming – like labour pains for a pregnant woman.

3. Two destinies

A) Wrath or destruction (v3).

The reality is that the people of this world are not facing the kind of death that they think they are. The death the world anticipates, the death that people influenced by secular humanism, is part of the circle of life. The popular idea in our culture is that coming to the end of your life is as natural as coming to the beginning of it. The suggestion that death, like birth and love and faith, is how things are and how they are meant to be.

For Paul people’s death, their end, is not the natural culmination of inevitable processes. It is the personal judgment of a God who brings destruction and wrath on those who reject their creator and disregard his laws. There will be, v3, no escape on the last day from the wrath of the living God as he comes in justice.

Our desire is to be like Jesus and Paul, not like religious people. At GBC we have no interest in condemning Muslims, homosexuals, liberals, abortionists, adulterers or anyone else. But, whoever you are and whatever you have done in your life, this morning you need to know that Jesus was very clear that judgment, that wrath is what the God of justice will bring on everyone who has not come to Christ for forgiveness. We do not say that you have to be part of our church to be right with God. We do not say you have to perform certain religious duties to be saved. We do not teach that you have to pray so many times or give so much money to be one of God’s people. We do not say those things because Jesus did not say those things.

But we do say what Jesus did say: that there is no way to know God the Father other than by coming to Jesus. We do say what Paul says here in v9: that salvation comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.

B) Salvation .

"Salvation" is not a word Paul used to describe having a slightly better life. It’s a word he used to mean the complete and utter opposite of judgment. It’s a word that means the total transformation of everything that we are into perfection.

C S Lewis: It is, he says, the process by which God will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine. A bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) his own boundless power and delight and goodness.

All of us will be dead soon. But none of us will simply be dead soon. For there are two destinies, not one. Two destinies: wrath or salvation. And each of those destinies, Paul says, brings with it a characteristic response: asleep in denial or awake as sons.

Sleep and drunkenness are both ways of forgetting. Our society is full of people in denial. They do their work, they gossip about trivia, they obsess about the possession stats and the leaky defences of their football teams, they immerse themselves in the minutiae of their stocks and shares, they go out on a Friday night to, as Jarvis Cocker put it, "dance and drink and screw" because they think there’s nothing else to do.

Of course all those people around us are aware that they are going to die. And if we were all going to die in the way Steve Jobs meant then actually it makes just as much sense to eat, drink and be merry; to try to forget it, to obliterate the anticipation.

I suspect that most of the people in this room will probably not waste your lives by worldly standards. You are more likely to take a Steve Jobs approach to the world. Life is short; so achieve what you can. Leave a legacy – a great career or an inheritance for your kids. But the leave-a-legacy approach is just as much a denial of reality as the eat-drink-and-be-merry approach. Because if there is no judgment and everybody just dies then, in the end, all legacies are futile and pointless. Whatever you leave behind you leave to people and a civilisation which is doomed to nothingness.

What a contrast to the response of those who are saved. The man or woman of the world is, v5, asleep, in denial, drunk at the wheel as life careers towards its terrible end. But the Christian is a child of the day, a child of light. God, the Bible says, IS light. And his people, Christian people, those appointed to receive salvation in the Lord Jesus, are like the God we belong to.

God, has given us a destiny – salvation. Because of that destiny we have an identity – children of light. Because of that identity we will live in particular ways.

Why shouldn’t Christians get drunk on alcohol? Because it’s bad for your health? Because it might lead you to hurt other people? Because it’s a waste of your money? Because God says it’s a bad idea? Why shouldn’t Christians get drunk on alcohol? Because it’s not who we are any more. We don’t belong to the night. We don’t belong to the world that is passing away and destined for judgment. We belong to a new world. To a new kingdom that is dawning. We belong to the day. So we will behave like people behave in the day, v8, self-controlled.

Why shouldn’t Christians blaspheme – curse or abuse God’s name? Is it because we’ll be judged if we do? No – because Christians won’t be judged – we’re destined for salvation remember. Is it because it might put other people off believing in God? Well it might – but it might not ! And even if you could prove that blaspheming didn’t put anybody off becoming a Christian it would still be wrong ! Why shouldn’t Christians blaspheme? Because we are the children of a perfect Father destined to live harmoniously together with him forever.

We all need to reflect on what Christ, who, v10, died for us, has won, so that we might delight in our salvation and live as children of the day.