Lord’s Coming in Relation to Doctrine
October 20th, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
LORD’S COMING IN RELATION TO DOCTRINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
10-20-57 7:30 p.m.
Now, let all of us turn to the first Thessalonian letter – almost toward the end of your Bible, the first Thessalonian letter – and let’s read the whole chapter. If your neighbor doesn’t have his Bible, share it with him. Let’s all of us read it together: the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Now, do we have it? First Thessalonians, the first chapter – all right, let’s read it:
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of God and our Father,
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance, as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
And ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost,
So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith to God-ward is spread abroad, so that we need not to speak anything.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.
[1 Thessalonians 1:1-10]
Now, we begin this night almost in the middle of the sentence where we left off this morning. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to these two letters of Paul to the church at Thessalonica, and this morning’s message was the beginning of an introduction to the little epistles. They are so meaningful. They are most remarkable. And in order for us to enter into their meaning, I have prepared these introductory sermons.
This morning, we said that Paul, because of the outbreak of a persecution, within a matter of a few weeks was forced to leave that flourishing capital city of Thessalonica [Acts 17:1-10]. He came to Berea [Acts 17:10-15] then to Athens [Acts 17:16-34]. While he was at Athens, he tried twice to return to the church but could not [1 Thessalonians 2:18]. I suppose the persecution was so fierce he dared not enter again into the confines of the city, so he sent Timothy up there to see how they fared [1 Thessalonians 3:1-2].
In the meantime, Paul went to Corinth and began that great and effective ministry in that heathen city of Corinth [Acts 18:1-11]. While Paul was working there, Timothy came back from Thessalonica and made his report. It was a glowing report, a wonderful report [1 Thessalonians 3:6-8]. But they had a question in their hearts, and it was this.
When Paul was there in the city, he had preached of the coming of Jesus, of the kingdom He was to establish in the earth – that someday we should look upon His face and live in His presence. Now, while they were believing that and waiting for that, some of their members died. So they sent by Timothy to ask Paul, "What of these our beloved dead? Are they shut out from the kingdom of Jesus? He has not come, and they have died. What of them?" So Paul sat down and wrote this first letter to the church of Thessalonica answering that question [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17], rejoicing in their patience and faithfulness in persecution and tribulation [1 Thessalonians 1:2-8], and pointing them up to one of the most blessed and glorious of all the hopes that the Christian heart could ever know [1 Thessalonians 1:10].
Now, about five months later, in that time, somebody wrote a forged letter – a spurious letter – signed Paul’s name to it, and it purported to say many things about the apocalyptic return of our Lord [2 Thessalonians 2:1-3]. So Paul sat down and wrote a second letter; in that letter giving the people an appraisal, a program, of the second coming of Christ [2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, 2:1-12].
Now, I said – and here’s where I stopped this morning – that the theme of the return of our Lord is found through all the chapters of these two letters like a golden thread. In fact, each one of the chapters closes with something that Paul will say about the return of the Lord, and in that you will find this waiting for our Savior bound up, interwoven with the great doctrines of the Christian faith. So before our entrance into the actual preaching of the letter itself, I wanted to go through with you these references to the coming of our Lord and how Paul relates them to the great doctrines of our faith. And, I say, it’s in each chapter, and almost, he will close every chapter with that reference.
So we’re going to take this evening and look at the five chapters of the first Thessalonian letter. All right, the first one: He closes the first chapter with a remarkable, remarkable sentence; and in this, he relates the second coming of our Lord to the doctrine of salvation for he says:
They themselves show of us –
the citizenry there in Thessalonica –
what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.
[1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]
I say, what a remarkable sentence! Here is the doctrine of the salvation in Christ on the cross: "by which He delivered us from the wrath to come" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. Here is the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus: "whom God raised from the dead, even Jesus" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. And here is the doctrine of the second advent: "and to wait for his Son from heaven" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. Now that, I say, is a marvelous summary of the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God by His great missionary and evangelist, the apostle Paul.
These converts are less than a year old. They are just new Christians, and Paul writes to them what he preached to them and how they were convicted by it and how they were moved to conversion [1 Thessalonians 1:5-9]. And the thing that Paul preached to them, he says, was "the wrath of God" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. Some of these days, though it may be prolonged in the long-suffering of God and forbearance [2 Peter 3:9] – waits and waits – some of these days, Paul says, God shall judge this world [1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9].
He preached the wrath of God [Romans 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10] which is something never preached in most of the acceptable pulpits of this world for we are enlightened in this twentieth century and who would think of a God of wrath, of judgment? Why, He’s a pasteboard God. He’s a puny God. He’s all sugar and spice and everything nice. He’s not mean and vicious and bad. That’s the devil. Our God, the modern God, is one of syrup and of molasses and of saccharin, but that’s not the God that Paul preached nor is it the God of the Bible [Acts 5:1-11; Hebrews 10:26-31]. Universally, from the beginning of that Bible to the end, the Scriptures say, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God . . . for our God is a consuming fire," [Hebrews 10:31, 12:29] and there’s no exception to that from the beginning to the end. The wrath of God is frightful to think of, frightful in prospect.
How frightful and terrible and awesome must it be when lost and unbelieving and recalcitrant and rejecting mankind faces the great judgment day of the Lord!
And I saw the heavens roll back as a scroll . . .
And the great men . . . and the mighty men . . . and the free men and every bondman hid themselves in the dens and caves of the earth,
And cried for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and to hide them from Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?
[from Revelation 6:14-17]
Isn’t that an unusual phrase: "the wrath of the Lamb" [Revelation 6:16] – the Lamb of God who died for our sins? But the man who spurns that overture of grace faces an ultimate and final and eternal damnation and perdition. It is everlasting fire and hell – an awesome and awful thing. Paul preached the wrath of God. It is the same thing that Nineveh preached – that Jonah preached when he entered into Nineveh saying, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!" [Jonah 3:4]: the wrath and the judgment of God. It is the same thing that our Savior spake of: "Fear not him that can destroy the body and can do nothing more, but fear Him who can destroy" – can damn – "both soul and body in hell" [from Matthew 10:28]. Fear Him.
I do not know of anything more filled with threatening than those letters of the risen Savior to the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 1:4-8, 2:1-3:22]. Read them again and you tremble as God speaks to His churches and to His people.
It is no slight, indifferent, optional thing a man’s relation with God. We are immortal souls and someday shall stand at the throne of Almighty God to be judged according to what we have done in the flesh [2 Corinthians 5:10]. Now, it is that that Paul preached to those heathen idolators there in the city of Thessalonica. Look what they did as they listened to Paul preach the judgment day and the wrath of God and our accountability unto Him.
There is something in a man’s heart – when that doctrine is preached – there is something in a man’s heart that responds. I don’t care who the man is – how he may trippingly, slidingly, turn aside from it. Yet, when he listens to it, there’s something in a man’s heart that says, "That’s true. That’s so. I am made for eternity, and there’s a God before whom, someday, I shall stand."
So it was there among those heathen idol worshipers in Thessalonica. As Paul preached that, they were convicted. And look how Paul will describe what they did. In the Greek language, you don’t have tense in the sense that everything is pocketed in time like you do in English. In English, everything you say has to be in a time. It’s either past or present or future. You can’t say anything without tense. In the Greek language, they didn’t have tense. They had kinds of action. A thing was looked upon as happening and forever thereafter it’d happen, or it was looked upon as continuing, or it was looked upon as out there in the future – going or coming or staying.
Now, you have it here in this Word: "And ye turned to God from idols" [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. You have an aoristic verb. That is, a thing happened one time and once for all in one great act – epestrepsate – "ye turned to God": one act, one definite and final decision for God.
Now, look: "and to wait" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. Now, there you have an altogether different kind of a Greek word. In our English language, we’d say it is a present tense. In the Greek, it is continuous action: anamenein, "and to wait." What the Greek says is: "and continually, continuously waiting." They turned in one great believing act to God, and now they are waiting, living in that faith and hope for His Son from heaven [1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]. The Christian faith is not only for the now and the present, but it is for the glorious by and by. So he speaks there in the first chapter of the coming of our Lord in reference to our salvation and our deliverance from the wrath that is to come.
Now, turn to the second chapter. He closes the second chapter with the return of our Lord in reference to our Christian service, our work, our reward in Him. Look at it: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy" [1 Thessalonians 2:19- 20].
What he says is that when the Lord comes and that great day is upon us, this shall be his crown of rejoicing. This shall be his gladness: "Ye." That is, when the Savior comes, when the Bridegroom comes, the fruit of the loving service of Paul will be these whom he has won to Christ and will introduce to Jesus. That’s his reward: "Even ye at the coming of the Lord Jesus" [1 Thessalonians 2:19]. Ah, how blessed that is!
In going around this world a few years ago, one of the things that impressed me the most was this. There, in a far, faraway land would be a missionary grave maybe by itself on a hillside, maybe just a little plot with a little fence around it. But around the missionary would be buried also some of the converts that he had won to the Lord. It greatly moved my heart to look upon it as I’d see the missionary buried there in the heart of the earth and his converts buried around.
I thought of that great and wonderful day, the resurrection, when he shall rise and these trophies of grace [Ephesians 2:4-7] he can lay at the Savior’s feet. "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? [1 Thessalonians 2:19] – you, somebody, we’ve won to Jesus."
I’ve often thought there could hardly be a sadder song than the one:
Must I go, and empty handed?
Must I meet my Savior so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him,
Must I empty-handed go?
["Must I Go, and Empty Handed?" by Charles C. Luther, 1877]
It was written by a man who in life, later life, had been converted and then an illness took his life away. Before he died, he wrote that song. He had won nobody to Jesus dying empty-handed. It’s the same sadness of that man who, on the other side of the ocean, wired back – cabled back – to the people in America. In a terrible shipwreck, all had been perished and lost but he, and he wired back: "saved alone."
That’s the tragedy of so many of our Christian lives: saved alone; empty-handed; nobody we could point to and say, "I won that one to Jesus." Oh, that is to be our hope and our joy and our crown of rejoicing at His coming: somebody to introduce to the Lord Jesus.
Have you ever won anybody to Christ? Have you? Is there somebody that you could say, "Lord, that one I brought to Thee?" Did you ever win somebody to Christ? If you never did, right now, while this preacher says these words, would you utter a prayer in your heart:"Lord, by Thy grace and with Thy help, I will win somebody to Thee"? It will be your joy and crown in the presence of our Lord at His coming [1 Thessalonians 2:19].
Now, look in the third chapter – how he closes the third chapter. He relates the doctrine of the second coming of Christ there to our Christian spirit of love and friendship which he says leads to the doctrine of holiness:
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all men, even as we do toward you,
To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
[1 Thessalonians 3:12-13]
Now, Paul says there that the attitude that I have toward you has a repercussion in that great day at the coming of the Lord when God is to establish our hearts unblameable in holiness before God. Isn’t that an unusual way to turn this thing? If I am filled with bitterness and rancor and criticism and littleness, if I am that way toward you now, in that great day of the coming of the Lord, He can’t establish our hearts unblameable in holiness before God. I am not to speak lightly of you, nor am I to be filled with criticism of you, nor am I to belittle you, nor am I to do other than to love you and pray for you and my heart go out to you.
Now, there may be things that are in us that are not pleasing to others of us, but I am not thereby to be bitter or hateful or mean or despicable. I am to make it a matter of prayer. I am to leave these things in the hands of God. And if a decision ever is to be made, it is to be made in loving devotion to Jesus and with a heart full of love and care for you. The Christian life is never one of bitterness and clamor and loud impatience, but the Christian life is always one of joy and gentleness – the fruits of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23] – suffering and forbearance: "forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted" [Ephesians 4:32].
It’s no praise for a man that his heart is like flint, that he never cried in his life, that suffering and sin and loss and failure touch him not, but it is a mark of the Christian man that his heart is moved by the woe and sorrow of this world: its failure, its dejection, its heartache, its pain and suffering and misery and death. That’s the way Paul says that God shall establish our hearts unblameable in holiness before God [1 Thessalonians 3:13] – by loving one another "even as we love you" [1 Thessalonians 3:12].
We ought to pray to be that way: "Lord, this stinging, biting tongue of mine – God, change it for Jesus’ sake, and where was a curse, put a blessing; where was an oath, put a benediction. O God, help me in my heart, that my tongue might drop words of love and appreciation, distilled dew and honey, that the love of God might be stored up in my soul as honey in the honeycomb."
Ah, how sweet it would be if God’s children could be just like that. That’s what he says: in the presence of the Lord that we might be thus established in our hearts [1 Thessalonians 3:12-13].
Now, the fourth one: I just mention it because it is far too much for me. This is where he answers the question of the beloved dead. He closes the fourth chapter. In fact, a third of the chapter is that. Beginning at the thirteenth verse:
I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-14]
I cannot have the time to speak of it. I just say this about it. That is the sweetest, the tenderest, the most precious, the most comforting of all of the passages in the Bible on the coming of our Lord is this passage here in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter. The implications of every little syllable in this are dear and holy and precious to a child of God. For example, we’ll just take one: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so also them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him" [1 Thessalonians 4:14].
All right. I say the overtures of just a little phrase like that: "will God bring with Him when the Lord comes," when
The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ rise first.
And we that are alive and remain caught up together to meet them in the air . . . to be with the Lord.
[from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
Now, look at this: "will God bring with Him" [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. Then, they must be somewhere or He couldn’t bring them with Him. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? Our beloved dead are not in the dust, and they’re not in ashes, and they’re not in the grave. They’re somewhere or God could not bring them with Him. Another thing about them: They must be somebody for God to bring them. Isn’t that correct? They’re not just nothing in a limbo. They’re not just washed into ethereal nothingness, but they’re somebody. God’s going to bring them with Him. They’re still somebody.
Why, the revelation and the strength and the comfort of that takes away the sting of death. When I die, I am still somebody me. When I die, I still am myself, living in the presence of God [2 Corinthians 5:8]. And someday, the Lord shall redeem the whole possession: my spirit now when I trust in Jesus [Titus 2:14] and my body when the Lord’s trump shall sound and we shall be raised incorruptible [1 Corinthians 15:52] – the redemption of the whole purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14], my spirit and my body, somebody you.
All of this stuff about impersonal immortality, ethereal celestial spirits – all of that is philosophy. It’s not the Book. This Bible is always tied on to the most tangible things you could ever know in this world. "Handle Me and see," said the Lord, "It is I Myself for a spirit hath not flesh and bone such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39].
We are going to live. We are going to live! And that one’ll be Raphael, and that one will be Gabriel, and this one will be Michael, and that one will be the Lord Jesus, a body: the God that you will see and hear and touch and handle and love and worship and live with forever. And you will be you, John; and you will be you, Mary; and I will be I: Wally Amos Criswell. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Gonna be me. Gonna be great too ’cause the Lord’ll change me and I’ll be perfect in His sight [1 John 3:2].
And now, we close with this fifth chapter. That chapter was related to the resurrection of the dead. Now, the fifth chapter: he relates two things there. The first part of it is to our watchfulness, and I haven’t time to mention it. I want to go to the last one. In that twenty-third verse, he relates there – and that goes all through this letter. I haven’t mentioned it. We don’t have time in one little place like this, but several sermons I’m going to preach on the doctrine of sanctification. Paul mentions it several times in this first little epistle.
Now, I just want to show you this. He relates the doctrine of sanctification to the second coming of our Lord, the return of Jesus. The twenty-third verse:
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.
[1 Thessalonians 5:23-24]
All right. Now, we’re just going to have a little introduction to that doctrine of sanctification which he relates here to the coming of our Lord.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly . . . and preserve you in that blamelessness unto the coming of our Lord Jesus.
He is faithful who hath called you, and He will do it.
[1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24]
All right, sanctification: almost all of us have fallen into the doctrinal error that sanctification is the progressive getting rid of sin. Today, then I’m better and I’m better, and I overcome and I overcome, and finally I am sanctified. It is in our doctrinal aberration, our error, we think of sanctification as something that we achieve. It is something we do. Now, there is no such a thing as sanctification in the Bible in the sense of getting rid of sin – progressively better.
For example, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of John, Jesus says, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself" [John 17:19]. That’s not Jesus getting rid of the sin in His life [1 Peter 2:21-22; 1 John 3:5]. It has no connotation like that.
Now, sanctification here in this verse is presented as a work of grace just like your salvation [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Sanctification is something God does for us [John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23]. It is something God gives us [Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 13:12].
Now, in the Bible, most of the times, it will be referred to in a figure and the figure is the garment. Sanctification defined as the righteousness of the saints is something that God gives us and preserves us in. If God depended upon my life for that perfect garment, I don’t know what I’d do. All splotched and dirty and filthy with mistake and error and sin and, oh, what could I do in the presence of the great King dressed in a garment of my own doing in my own life? I’d be ashamed. I couldn’t enter in. But the doctrine of sanctification is that God gives it to us. It’s the garment of the wedding.
In the twenty-second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says the king comes in, and he sees there a man without a wedding garment [Matthew 22:1-14]. And he says, "Friend, how is it you’ve come thither without a wedding garment?" [Matthew 22:12] And the man was speechless. Now, the point of that is this. The wedding garment is provided by the king, and when he came in, there was one for him, but he wouldn’t have it. He was standing in his own righteousness. "I’ll take my own chances before God. My life I will place up against the life of any other man, and when that great day comes, I’ll stand on my own two feet and God can judge me by my own fine character." He’s there without what the Bible would call sanctification, without a wedding garment. And the Lord says, "Cast him into outer darkness" [Matthew 22:13]. The wedding garment is provided.
Now this last: that’s the beautiful, glorious scene you have in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. Now, listen to it: "Alleluia." That’s the nearest that a Greek could come to translating that glorious old Hebrew word "Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah" [Revelation 19:1-6]. Then it goes into that paeon of praise to God for it says:
The wedding, the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride hath made herself ready. –
Now listen to him –
And it was granted unto her that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the linen is the righteousness of the saints . . .
Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!
The righteousness of the saints: what is that? Beloved, that’s the righteousness we have in the atoning blood of Jesus that washes all our sins away [1 John 1:7]. Arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of the saint – the garment God gives to His bride [Revelation 19:7-8]. He gives it. We take it.
Lord, I’m not holy, and I am not righteous. I am not good. But, O Lord, there’s righteousness in Thee. There is goodness in Thee. There’s holiness and perfection in Thee. Lord, clothe me with Thy goodness and Thy righteousness. Give me the garment [2 Corinthians 5:17].
Ah, what it is to trust in Jesus and be preserved blameless [Colossians 1:19-23]. Sinners as we are, preserved blameless [1 Thessalonians 3:13, 5:23], sanctified unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it [1 Thessalonians 5:24].
Now, we must sing our song. Somebody here tonight who’d turn away from trusting in himself and look to Jesus, somebody tonight who would receive from His blessed hands forgiveness and righteousness and wisdom and sanctification, somebody who’ll trust in Jesus out of the night of the world into the life of the glory of God, would you come? In this pilgrimage, would you walk by our side, praying to Jesus, looking to Him, waiting for the Son from heaven who shall change our vile bodies that they might be made like unto His glorious body? [Philippians 3:21] Would you be a Christian? Would you? Into that aisle and down to the front, down these stairwells, would you come? A family to put your life in the church, or one somebody you, would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?
LORD’S COMING IN RELATION TO DOCTRINE
I. Second coming related to doctrine of
salvation(1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
of the preaching of the gospel
1. This truth a means
of conviction, a motive to conversion
"The wrath to come"(Revelation 6:12-17)
1. An appropriate
message to proclaim to the lost(Hebrews 10:31,
a. Jonah to Nineveh
b. Jesus(Matthew 10:28, Revelation 2, 3)
of Christ a glorious hope – for the present and future
turned to God – a single, definite act
Waiting continuously, living in that faith and hope for God’s Son
II. A motive to a faithful ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
inspiring hope of his own loving service for the souls of men
He expects to present his beloved people to the heavenly Bridegroom(1 Peter 5:1-4)
a. The missionary grave
How sad to go empty-handed
III. A motive for Christian spirit of love,
holiness, sanctification(1 Thessalonians
we are here, a repercussion in how we will be there, then
life never one of bitterness, clamor, impatience (Ephesians
IV. A source of comfort to the afflicted,
bereaved(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
who sleep in Jesus are living still (1
Thessalonians 4:16-17, Luke 24:39)
The reunion of God’s people
The meeting with the Lord in the air
V. A message of warning and a call to
watchfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, 4-6)
doctrine of sanctification to second coming (1
Sanctification a work of grace(John 17:19,
Matthew 22:11-14, Revelation 19:6-9)