The second coming of Christ is one of those issues that can easily divide Christians. On the one hand, some believers are so fascinated with Christ’s return that it can become an obsession. I think of the books of authors who claimed Jesus was returning in the 1980s. On the other hand, the fact that Jesus is returning plays no role at all in the lives of other Christians. For them, a person’s soul goes to be with Jesus at death, and that’s the end.
The last two chapters in 1 Thessalonians help us to see that neither approach is fundamentally helpful. In this section of the book, Paul provides Christians with a balanced approach. When we remember that Paul is speaking of the second coming to people who have only been Christians for a few months, we see that the doctrine is central — and it coincides with what we see in Acts, where the apostles mention the second coming of Christ in their initial gospel presentations (Acts 3:20, 10:42, and 17:31). Knowing that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead was, and should be, part of Christianity 101.
On the other hand, Paul doesn’t give us details. The Thessalonians had no need for times and dates (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Nor do we. What they needed was a general outline.
The Christ who died and rose again will descend from heaven in a very obvious way. He will raise dead believers, and the living will join him in the air to be with him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Christians do not need to mourn as those who grieve in hopelessness. God has not forgotten His people, and these truths should bring comfort (4:18).
In addition to bringing comfort, the second coming of Christ should bring spiritual sobriety. If we look at the future with clear heads, we know that life as we know it will one day end (1 Thessalonians 5:2). For those who do not know the Lord, the day will be terrifying and inescapable. We who claim to know Christ, however, should demonstrate what we believe, in the way we live in faith, love and hope (5:8). Paul uses the same order of virtues we see in 1:3. These virtues lead to work, labor and steadfastness.
The final section in 1 Thessalonians is a call for regular church involvement. Christians are to give respect to their leaders in the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Peace, admonishment, encouragement, patience and love are to characterize our lives as we constantly rejoice, pray, and give thanks (5:13-18). This passage again is a reminder to keep a balanced approach to the second coming. We should be busy serving Christ’s church until He comes.
The last few verses are reminders of what we need as we serve Christ’s church and look forward to His return. Paul prays that God will give grace to the believers to be holy and blameless at Christ’s coming. We, too, need God’s help to be the type of people who will glorify Him at His return (5:23-24). Paul’s instruction to read this letter in 5:27 to the churches is a reminder of how we also need Scripture to be the type of people God has called us to be.