Week of April 21: Our hope and conviction is in Jesus' death and resurrection
By Dr. Hal Brady
Week of April 21
Scripture: I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
There will be times when the Christian will long for the coming of Christ. This is another way of saying that there will be times when the person of faith will be in danger of losing heart.
As Christians, we believe that the kingdom of God is here and now, in the hearts and minds of all those who have accepted the rule of God in their lives. On the other hand, when we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for things that have not happened yet. The kingdom of God has not fully come.
Anne Frank, the little Jewish girl who suffered persecution and death under the Nazis, wrote in her diary, “Things will change and men and women become good again. And these pitiless days will come to an end and the world will once more know order, rest and peace.”
In our varying discouragements, we asked, “When? When, Lord? How long before all this devastation ends? When will things improve? When will the kingdom fully come?”
Today, we are dealing with hope. We are dealing with Paul’s understanding of hope as he expresses it to the Thessalonians in our scripture lesson. Paul states, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again…” (4:14). That statement is the foundational assurance of the hope that Paul proclaims. It is also the early church’s most basic confession and creed—“Jesus Christ died and rose again.” It is not that nothing else matters but that everything else comes to be interpreted in its light. The life and ministry of Jesus, the stories of Christian community in the New Testament, which remain crucial for disciples, take on significance through the astonishing declaration of Jesus being raised by God. Stating it simply, that is our hope and the conviction by which we live our lives in confidence and courage.
Hope in our mourning
Paul addresses an enormous concern in the Thessalonian community of faith. The idea of the Second Coming of Christ or parousia (Christ’s return) has brought about great expectation among the believers, but also a deep concern about those who have already died in the faith. What will happen to them? Will they just lie in the ground as the pagans expected to do? Or will they have a glorious resurrection and have part in the parousia.
These six verses of chapter 4:13-18 bring strong comfort to those who question and are discouraged. To them and others, Paul states his absolute certainty that all who die in Christ will remain in Christ (v. 16). The relationship between Jesus Christ and the person who loves Him is unbreakable. “Nothing,” Paul said later to the Romans, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
Concerning Paul’s description of the day when Christ will come (4:14-17), the late scholar, William Barclay, stated:
“It is an attempt to put into words what is inexpressible and to describe what is indescribable…we are not meant to state with crude and insensitive literalism that which is a seer’s vision. It is not the details which are important. What is important is that in life and in death the Christian is in Christ, and that is a union which nothing can break.”
Thus, it is not the grief that Paul rejects but the absence of hope. As believers, we grieve with hope.
Hope in the Coming Day of the Lord
Following the ascension, the responsibility shifted from Christ to the church to be the “body of Christ” upon the earth while we wait Christ’s return. Our task, as the church, was and is to be the hands, feet and voice of the risen and ascended Christ. We do this in the midst of troubling circumstances and delayed promises, even with the gift of the Spirit, that it is not all finally left up to us. Hope, in the day of the Lord, is the inner assurance that against all odds, and worldly evidence, God’s kingdom will come and God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Hope in ministry taking place
Paul presses the point that living with hope means practicing it. He urges the Thessalonians not to “fall asleep.” Scholars remind us that hope is not a matter of “sleepwalking” through life until Jesus plucks us up into the air, as if nothing else matters. Life matters greatly and Resurrection hope leads us into, not out of, daily living.
Twice, Paul interrupts the teaching of Christ’s Second Coming and the call to live by hope with the words, “Therefore encourage one another” (4:18, 5:11). In the second reference, he adds, “Build up one another.” For Paul, eschatological (“end times”) proclamation is not about speculative timetables concerning when it might happen but about offering practical encouragement to people in demanding times. Paul’s overwhelming desire is to build up Christ’s community as we live and serve with hope. Therefore, in the light and hope of Christ’s resurrection and return, as his brothers and sisters, we are also brothers and sisters to one another. So, let us encourage and be encouraged.
1. Ask the class to discuss what Paul is saying about Christ’s return.
2. Even though we posses the hope of Christ’s return, urge class members to identify ways we might encounter His presence with us now.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues his ministry through Hal Brady Ministries (www.halbradyministries.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.