1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
25 ‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 ‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
7 ‘Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
9 ‘“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”
10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 ‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”
12 ‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”
13 ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We don’t know the day or even the hour, but we know the forever, and that makes all days and hours difference for now.
In these words we hear of our sure future in Jesus:
16 ….. the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Like a couple in love, those who have died in the Lord and those still living at the time of this full and final appearing of Jesus will all ‘be caught up together’ in embrace as the trumpets blast and Jesus loud voice calls time.
What a vision of our future! We don’t know the exact day or hour, but we know this forever, and it makes all the difference for now.
Many call this future event ‘the second coming’. But that name “second coming’ is a bit of an unhelpful name.
As the time has grown long since the “first coming,” there is a tendency, after two thousand years, to doubt in the whole truth of a parousia (final and full appearance, presence Of Jesus).
The term ”Second Coming” can lull Christians into a believe that says that our hope is fruitless or delusional, as if nothing much is happening between the two comings!
Like the 5 young women who got drowsy and did not keep up the oil supplies we can get pretty sleepy and dull to Jesus’ appearing. With all of our comforts, our wants, our busyness, our loves from many things and people, and our endless fixation on who we are and what we want and what we need and what the world needs, in our view, we can live like there is not much going on between these two ‘comings’!
“Let the oil supplies run low. Stay in our own space a little longer. There is no urgency. I’m safe anyway. I will go to heaven when I die…”…
Jesus has come once. He has set up the church. It is up to us to be the church. One day we will all go to heaven. In the meantime, we just do our best or do what we see fit to do and hope it is OK with him – hope that we won’t be left out at the end or that those we love who have already died will get left out at this glorious moment at the end.
That seems to be the issue for these Christian in Thessalonica. They were wondering if they and those they had already lost were lost. When they thought about the world and its future and their future, they were wondering if they were going to make it into this beautiful forever future.
Paul says yes and Paul says now. Not just ‘when you go to heaven’.
Friends, we are not here to do whatever we want or can as much or as little as we want because our who life is about “going to heaven when we die”. We are here now for much more than that!
Paul sees the time between the first coming and this final coming as active, real, important, crucial! He says that there has been and is plenty going on and that there will always be plenty going on between the comings. We live in this space. We live in it with a watchful, expectant, aware, active, patient spirit.
Maybe it would be better for us to simply name this future moment “The Coming,” as this translation does in verse 15.
That would help us trust that we not living in an empty open space where there is nothing going on; no activity of God; no work of Jesus; no calling of God’s Spirit, but instead, help us trust that we are actually living our lives, for however long or short, in an electrically charged space where Jesus is present and the Spirit is calling and transforming every hour.
That is why Paul is sharing this vision of Jesus’ appearing – to help people trust their sure future in Jesus for their life now, no matter their circumstances.
He wants us to encourage each other with this sure future of Jesus’ coming so we stay awake, active, watching, always waiting and placing our hope in this future we already have been given by Jesus.
Paul surely does not want to lull us to sleep as we live in some lifeless, colourless boring in-between time until this all happens.
This is what he wants us to be really like in this ‘in-between’ time before this final coming occurs
12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).
Does to me. Reminds me of the words on the Lutheran Church of Australia’s logo? We are a place “Where love comes to life”. It is from this text (among others). This hope of Jesus final and full appearing gives us meaning and purpose for now, despite all circumstances we find ourselves in as individuals and as church.
That is what the Lord Jesus wants for us as we trim our lamps, keep our oil ready and stay awake and aware of this final and full hope that will surely come.
Friends, we are not all waiting at a bus stop getting bored and fixated on ourselves while we wait for the bus that never comes. We are already en route together with Jesus. We are moving. We are watching and waiting and facing what is up ahead in the spotlights together with this final great revealing in our hearts.
God created us, his church, to be the vehicle for his continued work of bringing love to life in the world. We live on the gifts of God – God’s forgiveness, God’s love, God’s own life, as we watch, wait, listen and act in this time between.
We pray that our families and our communities, our workplaces and our cultural settings might well experience through us something of God’s love as it comes to life in us, week-by-week, day-by-day.
That’s the plan. This is our plan at St Petri. We live our faith active in love (Galatians 5), empowered by the love of Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 13). Indeed, we have no other obligation, except to participate in this world transforming gift of God’s love (Romans 13).
Someone wrote a song on this tag line of the LCA. Sometimes we sing it here:
Where love comes to life: Jesus’ church in the world
Where love comes to life: at home, at work, at play,
we are the place, people of grace,
where love comes to life.
Friend, you are not living in some empty space where nothing much happens and Jesus is not present and active. Your goal is not merely to ‘go to heaven when you die”.
Your goal is to be with him and in him now and be a person through which his love comes to life in the life of others.
We don’t know the exact day or hour, but we know this forever, and it makes all the difference for now.