On Distractions and End Times

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

This entire passage speaks so strongly to our generation. See, as is so common to our nature, the Thessalonians were trying to predict the Day of the Lord. Even as the disciples had inquired the same of our Lord Jesus Himself, Whose response was “but of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36). See, it’s important that we recognize this, because the bookshelves and the blog posts are full of the same questions and the same theories. Mighty theologians, filled with knowledge, trained in the greatest of seminaries, with so many letters proceeding after their surname, using their theological calculators and drawing diagrams, contriving formulas seeking to determine when the end is coming; counting lunar cycles, painting the harvest moon blood red, using sabbath years and news headlines, thus that books might be sold and documentaries filmed and bank accounts padded. “Supposing godliness a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5).

And yet, to what end do we accept these teachings? Paul warned Timothy that “the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but according to their desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3). When a teenager’s parents go away for the week, the teenager will invite friends over, throw parties, violate curfews; they will act according to their own desires. Then, with the knowledge that his parents are returning Friday, he will spend all of Thursday cleaning, straightening up, cleansing any evidence of his decadence. It’s such a great image of how our nature works, and can be applied theologically. We are so in want of this knowledge, because it would allow us the freedom to satisfy our earthly and carnal longings, free from the threat of judgment and punishment. In fact, we so strongly desire that, that we begin to search for whatever teacher will commit to a day or time that the Day of the Lord will come, that we can “enjoy” ourselves free from fear. In our own pride and selfish ambition, we completely ignore Jesus’ warning that “none shall know the day or hour.” We see that statement as a challenge to be overcome, not a truth to be remembered, nor a warning to be heeded. And to what end do we do that? To the end that we will know, based on this prediction, exactly when to begin walking in obedience with the Lord. That we can cry out, “Jesus is coming back Friday, so enjoy life, eat drink and be merry, and Thursday we can repent.”

Paul is rebuking this very ideology, here. “You yourselves know that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” A thief would come unannounced. A thief would watch and see the exact moment that would be the easiest for him, when the owner was the least likely to be able to defend himself. He would come while the landowner was at work, or intoxicated, or even simply sleeping. It would be in a moment when he would have no ability to raise up a defense, but rather have to rely on the defenses he already has in place. Just as, implies the apostle, the Day of the Lord would not come according to our schedule. The Day of the Lord would never happen on Easter Sunday, when the most people are most prepared for His coming. It would come on a Friday while you’re at the bar, or a Monday when you are caught in the midst of your workday. The Lord won’t wait until we have swept and mopped our souls and cleansed it of the filth of iniquity. See, if we assign the date 9-12-2020 to the date of the second coming, then we have a date to have our cleaning party and can live to suit our own passions until that date. We can live at ease, complacent in our Bible studies and sermon/lectures, while not actually doing any of the work of the kingdom until the beginning of that September. We can proclaim “‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14).

Paul warns so strongly against this very mentality here though. “You are all sons of light and the day,” says the blessed apostle, “we are not of the night or of darkness.” John, in his epistle, explains that statement, teaching us that “if we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:6). Ben Sirach admonishes us, “His eyes are upon those who fear Him, and He Himself knows the deed of every man. He has commanded no one to be ungodly, and He has given no one license to sin.” (Sirach 15:19-20). Paul’s warning here is that we will not know when the Lord is coming, thus we must always walk in the light, that is to say, in Jesus’ steps. In obedience to the Father, as Jesus did. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us that “I have come down from heaven not to do My will, but the will of Him who Me.” (John 6:38). To walk in holiness, in purity, grace, compassion, patience, love. Paul admonishes us to keep watch and be sober. The word watch here is the word “gregorio,” which translates “to give strict attention to,” and the word sober is “nepho,” which means “sober, calm, collected, self-controlled.” His warning to walk in the light means to walk as Jesus walked, while being very attentive to the will of the Father, all the while bringing both our minds and bodies into submission, under our full control.

We must always be mindful that in determining dates, our natures will lead us to walk in the night. The sense of urgency will vanish and we will begin excusing various behaviors as being “not that bad.” I think of all of the people that I’ve ever met who are counting on that “deathbed confessional” as their plan for salvation, as though like the thief upon the cross, they will know the exact moment that they are about to die, and repent then without missing any of the “fun” of being in the world. We begin excusing those behaviors and then, like the “slippery slope” that so many argue against politically, we approach it with our skies waxed theologically. We allow the enemy to get his foothold and our sin begins to grow, to multiply. We begin with delayed obedience, which ultimately turns to disobedience, no longer feeling the weight of gluttony in our stomaches because we become accustomed to it. Our small sins and allowances soon become our habits, part of our daily routine, and then the next set of “small sins” that we determine “aren’t that bad” begin to creep in, and suddenly our “small sins” are twice removed from the Lord. Covetousness excused becomes the norm and avarice becomes the “exception,” as a result. Greed becomes our new “small sin” once we’ve allowed envy to grow from the “small sin exception” to the normative behavior.

Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of faith and of love. The breastplate was like a wall, protecting the heart of a soldier from his enemies. So too, with Christ’s soldiers, the breastplate protects the hearts of His children from the enemy; keeping out the attacks and temptations of the world and the enemy. Remain steadfast in faith and it will protect you from the “lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). He calls us to surround our hearts with the faith and love of Christ, that the enemies darts may not pierce into our souls. Nothing that the enemy can use as a weapon against us can penetrate a heart that is fully filled with the love of Christ. Greed, anger, hatred, envy, anger; nothing that is in this world can penetrate through the true love of Christ within us. The helmet of the hope of salvation guards our thoughts. When we consider the blessed salvation, the kingdom of God, then the desires and temptations of the world will pale in comparison. We will truly be able to heed the words of the blessed apostle, “cast down arguments and every high thing which sets itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5), knowing that “it is not Christ’s desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

My beloved brethern, we must always be forewarned. There are many teachers out there who would attempt to do anything in their power to lead us away from the truths of the Scripture and of the faith. They will do whatever they can to distract us. Remember, Satan tempted Eve by causing her to question the words of the Lord rather than taking them for what they were. The Lord told her, “if you eat this, you will die,” and Satan tempted her with “did He really say, no surely that’s not what He meant. You won’t die…He meant that you will no longer be as you are, but will be like Him.” And so often, I hear that very message. “But, did He really mean that? Let’s look at this instead.” He tempted Jesus in the desert by quoting the psalms, removing only one sentence to change the meaning of the psalm. How often, as I think of the books removed from Scripture and the different translations with with different wordings, do we see that as well? Do a translation comparison of Romans 8:1 and pay close attention to the second clause of the verse which is removed from most modern translations; it seems to be an important clause that COMPLETELY changes the meaning of everyone’s favorite coffee mug. No, we must be very careful, for a slight change of wording, a deleted word or two, a minor twist in doctrine, and we can very easily be led astray, especially in an era where we consider our own personal interpretation of a passage to be the ultimate authority. And, relating to this passage, it’s so easy for us to become distracted by something such as “end-times” prophecies. We find a teacher that teaches something that seems to make sense and suddenly become so distracted by that that we forget the commands surrounding the day of the Lord. Whether the Lord returns tomorrow or in a thousand years, His command is the same, to walk in the light, to attain to holiness, to be formed further into His image, to be obedient to the Father and to “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18). Never let anything distract you from these commands.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.

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