WHEN WE ALL SEE JESUS
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 22, 2019
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
— 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12, ESV
The second coming of Jesus has been a confusing topic for Christians ever since the first coming of Christ. The two angels who attended the ascension of Christ after His resurrection made one simple promise, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (ref. Acts 1:11). What goes up must come down, it is said, and this is true, even of the Lord Jesus Christ. But when, where, how, and what will happen to whom?
Imagine being a new Christian in a new church and some prophecy peddlers (a cottage industry then and now) tell you the second coming has already occurred, and you missed it. This is exactly what happened to the church in Thessalonica shortly after they were founded in the first century. It was a new church, planted by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey, filled with baby Christians who had not yet learned to spell eschatology. They were not able to interpret Old Testament prophesy in the light of the New Testament, because there was no New Testament, yet. The synoptic Gospels containing the Olivet Discourse had not been published, and John’s Apocalypse was decades away from production. Given the current diversity of interpretations, I’m not sure that would have helped.
To calm their fears and correct their understandings, founding pastor Paul wrote two letters, First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians, two of the earliest New Testament books, to give them (and us) a basic lesson in end times. First Thessalonians touches on it, and Second Thessalonians is all about it, and so we begin today with a study of the Second. Two truths emerge:
The second coming of Jesus Christ is an absolute certainty.
One of the favorite fellows I ever worked with in the ministry was a terminal pessimist named Bill. We like to greet people in the South by saying, “How Ya Doing?” We all say, “Fine,” even when we’re not, but not Bad News Bill. He was always “terrible.”
We lived in northeast Arkansas where the New Madrid fault runs underneath. Bill liked to talk about the great earthquake that could be caused by such a fault. He was detailed in describing the destruction it could cause. Then he would close out his commentary by saying, “It’s not a matter of if, but when.” So we moved as soon as we could.
The theme of Second Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ. The second coming is a certainty, according to the inspired Apostle Paul. He did not speak in terms of “if” the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back, but “when,” “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire” (vs. 7-8); and, “when He comes on that day” (vs. 10).
This concurs with the words of Jesus Himself (ref. John 14:3), the angels who accompanied His ascension in Heaven (ref. Acts 1:11), and the prior teachings of Paul in his first post to the church at Thessalonica (ref. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11).
It’s not a matter of if, but when. When that will be, we don’t know. Every generation of Christians since the first has believed it will be on earth when Jesus returns. Every one has been wrong, but ours, so far. And though we cannot know exactly when it will happen (ref. Matthew 24:36), we do know exactly what will happen.
The end of the world as we know it can be explained by a great mathematical equation. For millennium, people have been added to the human race. A chosen few have been multiplied into the kingdom of God. When the King returns, the Lord Jesus Christ, a great division will take place, and the unbelievers will be subtracted from the believers for all of eternity.
Second Thessalonians focus on the division. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who currently divides all time between “BC” and “AD.” When He returns, Jesus will divide the whole of humanity into two distinct groups.
The second coming of Jesus Christ will divide all humanity.
Remember that Paul is writing to comfort Christians with some concrete news about the second coming of Jesus Christ. Though He will appear “with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance,” Christians have nothing to fear. We are on His side, for He has bought us and brought us to His side, by grace.
“Grace” is Paul’s first word to the church. It is also the first word to describe a Christian, a recipient of the grace, the unearned favor and blessing of God.
If you are saved, it is not because you are good, trying to do the right thing, or seeking out a relationship with God (ref. Romans 3:9-23). The things that please God are spiritual in nature, and lost people are spiritually dead (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff). Salvation requires a resurrection, and resurrections are wrought by God’s grace through His word and His Spirit (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10; James 1:18; Titus 3:5).
By grace God chose you, called you, and saved you (ref. Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:28-30). By grace, alone. But grace is never alone. Look at what comes with it: “peace ... faith ... love ... steadfastness ... persecutions ... and the righteous judgment of God.”
Peace is the cessation of hostilities, for you are no longer an enemy of God but His friend and dear child. Faith is the abiding trust you have in God and the faithfulness you give to God. Love is the obedience and affection you give to God and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Steadfastness means you don’t quit, even in spite of certain persecutions. The righteous judgement of God is yours, too, by grace, and it is a good judgment, the judgment that you have been made righteous and forgiven of all you sin by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is all of grace, and if you do not have all this, you do not have grace.
The graced will live with Christ on one side of the great divide, a divide that is surely coming and will shatter this present world with a force greater than any earthquake caused by any fault line. The graced will rise to meet Christ in the air, then live with Him upon the new heaven and earth for all of eternity.
The graceless, the unsaved, the non-Christians, will not. While many wonderful terms describe the graced, the graceless are described here in only two terms: “those who do not know God” and “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I know who Clint Eastwood is, but I do not know Clint Eastwood. Almost everybody knows who God is, but very few really know God. The word “know” in Scripture speaks of personal experience and relationship. The only way to truly know the Lord is to have an experience of His grace through a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. Most people in the world do not even claim to have this kind of knowledge and relationship with God; therefore, they will be on the wrong side of the divide when Jesus comes again.
Also on the wrong side will be those who claim they do but don’t, know the Lord, that is. They believe the gospel, intellectually, but they “do not obey the gospel,” volitionally. Scripture is repeat with warnings about hypocritical, nominal, superficial, fake Christianity (ref. Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; John 3:36). Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (ref. John 14:15). We are not saved by obedience, save the obedience of Jesus Christ on the cross, but there is no salvation without subsequent obedience. This puts the majority of professing Christians on the wrong side of the second coming of Jesus Christ.
And what will happen to the unbelieving and unfaithful at the unveiling of Christ? Nothing good, that is for certain, only “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.”
I used to have this recurring dream of being on death row, only I was innocent. Imagine yourself in that position for a moment, only you are guilty. You know your were wrong, you know you’ve been rightly convicted, and you know in a few moments you are going to die. The only good news is that your death will be very quick and virtually painless.
Imagine now that you are an unbeliever or a hypocrite when Jesus Christ returns. You will know in an instant you were wrong, Jesus is real, the Christians have just been caught up in the air to meet Him, and you have been left behind. Not capital punishment, but eternal punishment awaits, and whatever it is or however it feels, you will see God’s face in a flash for the first and last time.
Remember, the punishment is not limited to the rabble of terrorists, murderers, child molesters, and serial killers, but will be for all “those who do not know God” and “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The hymn writer Eliza Hewitt wrote, “When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” That’s only one side of the line, the side occupied by those saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. On the other side, there will be shouting of a different kind.
So let us examine our hearts and pray that we will be ready “when he comes on that day.” Will we glory or will we grieve? Will we marvel or will we be miserable? Will you be worthy or will we be worthless? It can only be well with your soul if you life has been lived “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So get ready, because we are going to all see Jesus, one way or another.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org