First Thessalonians 004 – Watching or Waiting?1 Thessalonians 1:7-10a • Dr. Andy Woods • November 6, 2022 • First Thessalonians
First Thessalonians 004
Watching or Waiting?
1 Thessalonians 1:7-10a
November 6, 2022
Dr. Andy Woods
All righty. Well, good morning, y’all. Let’s take our Bibles and turn to First Thessalonians 1:7. And as you’re doing that, I’m going to open us in a word of prayer. Father, we’re grateful for today. Grateful for another month as this year, 2022, is coming to a close. We thank You for sustaining us this past year. Give us hearts filled with gratitude as we prepare ourselves to celebrate Thanksgiving this month. We do know, Father, that You lift up and abase another. That people come into positions of authority based on your sovereign will. And with that in mind, Lord, we do lift up the election that’s coming up November the eighth, this Tuesday. I do pray for Your perfect will to be accomplished in our country. And as we prepare our hearts to receive Your word today, we’re going to take a few moments of silence, if need be, to make proper confession of sins. We understand that position cannot be altered, but sometimes we do things in our natural selves which can break fellowship. And You’ve given us a promise of first John 1:9. for those issues, and that’s a personal matter. So we’re going to just take a few moments of silence in that regard. We thank You, Lord, for the illuminating Ministry of the Holy Spirit by which we can understand not just the things of God, but the deep things of God. And I pray that that ministry would be in operation today as we teach in Sunday School, the main service, all the teachers at this church from beginning to end.
And I pray also that this would be a special time as we commemorate what You did for us 2000 years ago. As we celebrate the Lord’s table, I pray you’ll give us sweet koinónia, fellowship, as we enjoy the fellowship lunch together. And we just asked Lord that people would leave this place, or anybody listening online would leave changed today. That Your Spirit would reveal something to them, illuminate them, convict them, correct. We pray for salvation as- as the gospel is shared at the end. And we’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory we ask these things in Jesus’ name, God’s people said Amen. So First Thessalonians 1:7. Just started looking at that particular book. And we wanted to keep the emphasis on prophecy having finished our Middle East meltdown study, and so we decided to move into the two Thessalonians books. Just barely into the first of the two. And in our first session together, we went through the background issues of the book. Chapters 1 through 3, Paul is sort of looking backward to his relationship with the Thessalonians and basically rehabilitating his reputation. Which had been trashed by the unbelieving Jews when Paul left town. And so it’s kind of hard to spiritually correct people, which he’ll do in chapters 4 and 5, unless his authority to correct is restored.
So one of the, well, there’s three attacks really against his character. Number one, the unbelieving Jews probably said to the Thessalonians Christians. The unbelieving Jews being very jealous that Paul had such numerical support in his ministry. So that was their motive for driving Paul out and then maligning him behind his back. The first argument is, well, your conversion was never real. You just got talked into something. I think Paul is responding to that in chapter 1. And then they’re going to say, well, Paul’s motives are impure. So Paul will respond to that in the first part of chapter 2. And then they’re going to say, Paul doesn’t really care about you. And he responds to that at the end of chapter 2 through the end of chapter 3. So, I mean, one of the reasons I think this is what’s happening is I’m just piecing the Thessalonians books together with what we have in Acts 17 and 18. And that to me sounds a very reasonable scenario as to why Paul is reacting the way he is. So studying the Bible is a little bit like listening to someone talk on the telephone. You know, sometimes my wife will be on the phone with somebody. And of course, I want to know who’s calling, Who are you talking to? And so I can listen to her, even though I don’t know who’s on the other side, and I can sort of piece together the conversation, Oh, that’s so-and-so and dot dot dot. And all that basically is how you study the Bible when you’re studying first Thessalonians basically what you’re looking at is sort of a telephone type of conversation.
So you’re seeing the things Paul is mentioning here and you’re trying to piece it together with the actual events to come up with sort of a plausible theory as to why Paul is surfacing, the things he’s surfacing. And so based on my telephone analysis, I think that’s what Paul is dealing with. He’s dealing with an attack that came against him and his converts that Christianity isn’t true. Their conversion wasn’t real. Paul is just kind of a pop philosopher, psychologist, so to speak, that talked you into something. And we’re going to talk you out of it. And so that’s why Paul in chapter 1, assembles the information that he does. He gives a greeting, verse 1. He reminds them of faith, hope and love. Verses 2 and 3. He reminds them of their response to the gospel. Verses 4 and 5, and he reminds them of how they had joy in affliction. And his point is the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit could have produced all of the above. So your conversion is real. And then you go down here to verse 7 where he continues this line of thought, and he says, “So that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
So God had so strategically worked in the lives of the Thessalonians that they had actually become an example to other Christians. They had a ministry without even realizing they had a ministry. They had a pulpit without even understanding they had a pulpit. They had a sphere of influence without understanding they had a sphere of influence. And their influence spread into Macedonia Paul mentions. So if your eyes are real good, you can see that coastal town, Thessalonica. That’s a city where this church that Paul is writing to is located. But Paul says, you know, your testimony reverberated outward into Macedonia. I guess to put that into modern language, Macedonia would be like a county where the city of Thessalonica is located. And if that weren’t enough, it also went into Achaia,. Achaia is the larger area containing the city of Corinth. The city of Corinth is the location that Paul is addressing the Thessalonians from. So the Thessalonians without even sending out any missionaries, without giving out any gospel tracts they already had a reputation. And their reputation was very good. Other Christians were talking about them because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Thessalonians. So you have- you have a ministry without even knowing you have a ministry and it’s gone into Macedonia and Achaia. You’ll notice and I try to make this point when places of geography are mentioned, just like in our study in Genesis, these are real places.
So you’re reading here a history book. I mean, this is not Jack and the Beanstalk or Veggie Tales. This is stuff that actually happened on my recent trip. We actually visited those exact places that are still there- although sometimes they go by different names- 2000 years later. So you’ve got a ministry without even knowing you have a ministry. Now, how could that have happened without the work of the Holy Spirit? And I hope that encourages you in here. And I hope it also raises your level of awareness. Is because of your stance concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. People are watching you. People are watching you that you don’t even know are watching you. And you learn this when you have kids because they’ll narrate conversations back to you that you don’t remember having. Oh, you were listening when I said that. Oops, Shouldn’t have said that. That’s sort of like how it is when you’re a Christian. I mean, when you’re a Christian because of your stance concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, people are actually listening to you. They may not tell you they’re listening. But they want to know, is this Christianity thing really true or not? And so all eyes are on you. And this is what happened to the Thessalonians. And Paul says that’s a work of the Holy Spirit. And then you drop down to verses 8 and 9where they had actually sent out a missionary endeavor without even having a missions committee.
You know, at our church, we have we raise money for missionaries. We have missions moments. You know, we place an emphasis on missions. Cornerstone has articles on the different missionaries, etc., and so it’s very formal. Well, these people had all of that with no missions moment. No budget that we know of. No written articles, and yet their testimony was so pure and their walk with God was so solid that God was actually using them as missionaries in the surrounding areas without them even knowing that they were missionaries. So he makes this point in verse 8 in the beginning and verse 9, he says, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith towards God has gone forth so that we-” that’s the apostles. “We have no need to say anything.” That’s quite a compliment. I mean, your missionary activity without even realizing how God is using you is so profound that us apostles, who, by the way, wrote the New Testament, I mean, we didn’t need to say anything. We just keep our mouths shut because the Holy Spirit is testifying to what’s happened in your heart. Verse 9 says, “For they themselves report about us what kind of reception we had with you.” So again, he makes references- makes reference to these areas.
Macedonia, Achaia. Macedonia and Achaia together. And basically he says your testimony has gone out not only into- not only into those areas but every place- which is a broader audience- every place where your faith is spoken of. Now, why did this happen? Probably one of the reasons is Thessalonica was on a major trade route. So people were passing through Thessalonica all of the time and they were getting wind of this- this group of people in Thessalonica that were under severe persecution through the unbelieving Jews. And yet they were walking in joy. In other words, they were seeing in the Thessalonians something completely, totally supernatural. It’s the same kind of thing happened in Act 16 where Paul and Silas are flogged in jail in Philippi. And in the middle of the night, they’re praising the Lord. Now, would you do that? I don’t think I could do that in my natural self. I’d have to be energized by something greater than myself. To such an extent that the jailer, the Philippine jailer. There’s an earthquake. Paul and Silas should have just fled. They didn’t. They stayed there. The jailer was ready to kill himself. Act 16. Because if you let prisoners out on your watch, you’re in a lot of trouble. So it’d be better for him if he just committed suicide. And Paul and Silas say to the jailer, Don’t- don’t harm yourself. We are all here. So the jailer saw in Paul and Silas, because of their joy in the middle of the night, praising the Lord in spite of being flogged and not doing what the natural man would do: flee when they had the opportunity.
What did the Philippian jailer say? He said, Well, what must I do to be saved? Okay, what do I got to do to get what you guys have? And then it’s at that point Paul and Silas give the gospel in the most simple terms even a child can understand. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. You and your household. So the Philippian jailor had an interest in the gospel because he saw the supernatural Spirit-filled work of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. That is the kind of thing that’s happening to the Thessalonians on this major trading route as people are coming through. And they’re witnessing this group of people that’s naming the name Jesus Christ, that’s walking in joy in spite of affliction. And they wanted to tell other people about that. So the witness of the Thessalonians went into Macedonia, it went into Achaia. And Paul says it went into every place. He says, “In every place your faith-” I’m in verse 8 now. “Your faith towards God has gone forth.” I mean, what launched this relationship that these Thessalonians had with Jesus Christ? It was faith. The same message that Paul and Silas gave to the Philippian jailer.
Faith alone. Faith is mentioned there in verse 8, because Hebrews 11, verse 6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” So our relationship to the Lord begins with faith alone. That’s why Paul’s favorite verse when he’s writing his epistles is Genesis 15:6, which describes how Abraham, whose name was later changed to Abraham, he came into a relationship with God. It says Abraham believed God, Genesis 15:6, and it was counted to him as righteousness. And Paul keeps quoting that over and over again because Paul is saying this idea of faith alone in Christ alone, as the only means of justification, is not something I made up. This is the way God has always worked. And I’ve become aware of a lot of very troubling teaching out there. Where people are saying, well, you know, we’re saved by faith alone in this age. But in Old Testament times it was faith plus works. And in the tribulation period, it’ll be faith plus works. You know, faith plus not taking the mark of the beast. They always add some kind of work to it. And that is completely and utter theological nonsense. In fact, it’s heretical to go around saying stuff like that because Paul anchors his case in Genesis 15:6. That’s pre-Mosaic Law. Pre-church age. And he’s saying, God has always worked this way. And so the Thessalonians had this faith. This faith was actually showing up in their walk with God as they were enduring affliction with joy and it was contagious.
Lewis Sperry Chafer tells us that upwards of 150 passages of Scripture conditioned salvation upon believing only. And you could start your list right there in Genesis 15:6 and go right through the Bible. That is God’s way of justification. Good works and things like that that we do, those may relate to a rewards, but at the Bema Seat judgment, but not justification. God has always had and will always have one way of justifying the lost sinner, which is faith alone in Christ alone. And as people were moving through Thessalonica on this major trade route, they took note of that in these Thessalonians believers, and then they saw evidence that it was real. Because they were actually walking in joy. Despite a concerted effort to. Persecute these people. You know, it’s kind of like I don’t know if you remember that. Maybe, I don’t know, five years ago, ten years ago, and I can’t remember all the details, but ISIS was beheading Christians, remember that? And they were just being lined up in a- in a large line and they were just being executed. And you’re watching this actually, in terms of a live feed happening. Any of you saw that? And you’re just amazed that they could, you know, experience this and not be begging for their lives or whatever the natural man would do.
They were just- complete and total bravery. And it was sort of convicting because I didn’t see a Bible church person in the crowd and they all had these thick kind of clerical collars. So obviously they were sort of Anglican high church people. But here all these people were ready to die acting in a totally supernatural way. And when you see that kind of thing happening, you say to yourself, wow, this is real. I mean, these people are ready to die. They’re experiencing something supernatural in terms of courage or bravery. And that type of testimony works a lot better than a missions committee. Now, I’m not against the missions committee. I’m just saying if you really want missionary work, walk in the supernatural power of God and suddenly people everywhere are going to take notice of it. And that’s what Paul is saying. Paul is saying you have a ministry, you have a pulpit, you have missionary activity without even knowing it and you’re going to tell me that your conversion isn’t true? I mean, this is the supernatural power of God at work in your lives. He says in verse 8, “So that we have no need to say anything.” That’s the Apostles talking. These aren’t small fries, these apostles. Ephesians 2:20, says that the church has been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The apostles and the prophets were writing scripture as these stories are unfolding.
And the very authors of scripture are saying concerning the Thessalonians, Well, I don’t have anything to say about this. I mean, your testimony says it all. And then you go to the first part of verse . It says, “For they themselves report about us what kind of reception we had with you.” Everywhere we went, they did the talking and not us apostles. And they were talking about you because of the supernatural quality of your lives, which was initiated through faith alone. So obviously your conversion is very real. And you start to look at these factors and the argument of the unbelieving Jews going on behind Paul’s back that, oh, you know, you were just talked into something, it was just a pep talk. People don’t go to their graves, folks, for a pep talk or a motivational speech. They experience the supernatural peace of God in the midst of imminent death only through the power of the Holy Spirit. And Paul goes on in verse 9 and he talks about their true conversion. Second part of verse 9. “And how you turned to God from idols to serve the living God.” Now you’ll notice he mentions idols. Idols in that area in Athens and in Thessalonica- you see how close those cities are to each other- was all over the place. Paul, when he went into Athens, in Acts 17:16, and would later in that same chapter give his famous speech on Mars Hill.
I was just on Mars Hill. Believe me, I tried to do a little teaching, but it wasn’t much compared to what Paul did. Now, I was up there one year with Randy Price. We went to Mars Hill. And Randy Price, our tour guide, disappeared. And suddenly we’re on Mars Hill and Randy Price jumps out from behind The Rock’s dress like the Apostle Paul. And he gives Paul’s Mars Hill address in Acts 17 to us from memory. So I told our folks that, I said I said, you know, this is what happened with Randy Price. Don’t expect that from me. So I had to lower expectations. But when Paul went to Athens on Mars Hill, one of the things that really agitated him was idolatry. So in Acts 17:16 it says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” So there’s that famous song in Christianity, Lord Break My Heart with the things that break your heart. I mean, Paul was bothered by what bothered God. What bothers God is idolatry. And when Paul was in Athens, he was very, very agitated by idolatry. Athens is very near Thessalonica, as you can see from the map. And what the Thessalonians did is they, when they heard the gospel, they turned from their idols to serve the living God. In other words, they repented. In fact, when you get to the end of Paul’s Mars Hill address in Acts 17 he gets to the key point.
And he says in verse 30, Acts 17. “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” Repentance in the Greek language means change of mind. It comes from two words, meta and noeó. The verb is metanoeó. Meta as in metamorphosis or metastasize, change. Noeó, where we get the word notion or idea, that comes from the mind. When used correctly it’s not an antonym of faith, but a synonym of faith. Faith is trust. So when a person trusts Christ for salvation, they’re no longer trusting in religiosity, good works or whatever for salvation, but they place their faith exclusively in Christ. The moment that happens, they’ve automatically repented. So that’s a way to understand repentance in harmony with the idea of salvation through faith alone. And you have to explain this to people because the reams English translation, which is the Roman Catholic translation of the New Testament; going all the way back to like 13, 17 or something like that. He puts the word, instead of the English word repentance, They put in the word penance. Which is an anathema. That is an absolute abomination that they put that into the passage. They’re trying to make people think that repentance is Roman Catholic penance, because after all, in English, the word repentance sounds like penance.
And so many people today hear the word repentance, and they think it means some kind of work that they have to do on the front end to get right with Jesus. And I’m here to tell you that that is not what the Greek word means. It means change of mind, which automatically occurs the moment you place your faith or trust in Christ alone. And this is what the Thessalonians had experienced. And how you turn from God- turn to God, from idols. They changed their minds. They changed their minds about what they were trusting in. And this is how Paul drove the money changers- or not the money changers, the idol makers out of business in Acts 19 in Ephesus, which is fairly close also in Asia minor. Paul, when he went into Ephesus, he preached the gospel everywhere. He was in an area there called the School of Tyrannus, where he lectured for two years. And according to Acts 19:10, everybody in that area or that whole region heard the gospel. That’s how all of those churches that you read about in the Book of Revelation, Philadelphia, Smyrna, Sardis, Laodecia; that’s how they all got exposed to the gospel. So, how did Paul drive out the idol makers? Well, he just preached the gospel and nobody wanted idols anymore. Now, the idol makers didn’t like that very much because it cut into their profit and so they caused an uproar against Paul.
And that’s what’s going on in Acts 19, in Ephesus. We were just at the Colosseum in Ephesus, on the exact road where this likely happened. And what changed everything in Ephesus was Paul’s emphasis on the gospel. So Paul is bothered by idols wherever he goes. He preaches the gospel and many people stop trusting in the idols. They repent and they place their faith in Jesus Christ alone. This, by the way, is how we know that this audience is Gentile. And not Jewish. Certainly, there are some Jewish converts here, but the majority of those saved are Gentiles because Jews in the first century time period were not struggling with idolatry. Why were they not struggling with idolatry in the sense that you manufacture these little images and you worship them? Because the Babylonian captivity going back to the sixth century had purged the nation of idolatry. That’s why God sent the nation into the Babylonian captivity. And so that’s why idolatry is not a big issue for the Jews in the first century. But it was a big issue for the Gentiles. Idolatry was everywhere. And Paul preached the gospel. People left their idols because they were trusting in Christ alone. And then nobody wanted idols anymore and the idol makers were going out of business and that’s why they get mad at Paul in Ephesus drive him out of Ephesus. So this is the kind of thing it’s talking about here when it says, How you turned to God from idols.
Now notice this, To serve the living God. We teach here the three tenses of salvation, justification, sanctification, glorification. Justification is the past tense of salvation. Sanctification, as the present tense of salvation. Glorification is the future tense of salvation. At justification, we are delivered from sin’s penalty at the point of faith, alone or Christ alone. The moment you change your mind, repent, in that sense and place your faith in Jesus is the moment you’re justified before a holy God. Then God ushers you into the middle tense of your salvation, where you are being gradually delivered from sin’s power. By learning the resources that Christ has given you for the Christian life, appropriating those moment by moment, by faith and obeying the written will of God. And if we’re making progress in the middle tense of our salvation, we don’t become sinless but hopefully, we’re sinning less. Glorification is the future tense of salvation, where you’ll be delivered from sin’s, very presence because you’ll no longer have a sin nature. So the desire to go back to sin won’t even exist anymore. And so you receive glorification in a nanosecond at the point of death or the rapture, whichever comes first. So all true Christians have experienced justification. They will experience glorification, but whether they walk in the middle tense of their salvation, sanctification is a question mark that requires effort. You have to know God’s truth.
You have to know God’s promises and you have to make a conscious decision moment by moment to appropriate those resources by faith so that you say no to the sin nature. So you do have a very sad reality in Christianity. Paul mentions this in first Corinthians three, 1 through 3 and First Corinthians 3:15, where you have people justified and on their way to glory but are stumbling in the middle tense of salvation. They’re not aware of their resources in Christ. They’re not in environments that teach their resources in Christ. And they’re not obeying God in terms of what their resources are and saying no to the sin nature. And Paul warns Christians in that condition that when you show up at the Bema Seat judgment of Christ, the judgment seat of rewards, you’re not going to fare very well. I mean, you will be saved but your works will be wood, hay, and stubble. They will go through the fire. They will be burned. And you will be saved just as one is saved in heaven but smelling the smoke on their garments. That’s not a good place to be in, but it’s a possibility. You’ll notice that the Thessalonians were not in that category at all because not only were they justified, but they were making great progress in the middle tense of their salvation. Because it says in How you turn from- to God, from idols, look at this, To serve the living and true God.
So in other words, what gets a person justified is faith alone. But the Thessalonians had gone beyond that and they were actually serving God. Serving God doesn’t justify them. Serving God is evidence that they’re making progress in the middle tense of their salvation. Serving God doesn’t glorify them. Serving God is evidence that they were making progress in the middle tense of their salvation. And that’s why Paul is praising God for the Thessalonians. I mean, these are people that are saved by faith alone. They’re on their way to glory and they’re actually stepping out in the resources of God and doing incredible things by way of service. Not the least of which is having joy in the midst of affliction. I mean, that’s progress in tense number two, the middle tense of salvation. And since all these things are happening, how in the world could you ever be talked into this ridiculous idea, Paul is saying, concerning the unbelieving Jews that your conversion isn’t real? Of course, it’s real. Look at what God is doing in tense one. Look at what he’s going to do in tense three. And look what he’s doing right now in tense number two. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. And you’re making an active decision to yield yourself to the Holy Spirit moment by moment. And that’s why God is using you in a strategic way. And you have turned from idols to serve a living and true God.
Notice that the idols are dead but God is alive. This reminds me very much of what you read in the Book of Revelation. It talks about the idolatry of people in the tribulation. And it says in Revelation 9:20, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and brass and of stone and of wood.” This is what people in the tribulation, this group here, is worshiping. John writes, “Which can neither see nor hear nor walk.” That is the problem with turning to an idol. You are turning to something that has no power. Of course, an idol would not just be a statue, but basically it’s anything or anyone we place above God in terms of importance. It could be a career, it could be a reputation, it could be a job, it could be a bank account, it could be anything. And when we become idolatrous- and we have to watch this very carefully because our basic propensity in the sin nature is to be idolatrous. Because if you don’t have a relationship with God, you have to fill the void with something. And we turn to these idols for security significance. We’re turning to things that don’t have any power to help you in the day of deliverance when you’re going to need help.
Now, this- because they can’t- they can’t even see your walk. There’s a little phrase I coined. I think I coined it. Maybe I got it from someone else. I don’t remember. But I call this the idiocy of idolatry. You’re turning to something without power. Isaiah 46:1-4. Actually chapters 40 through 48 of Isaiah. That whole unit of material. My daughter and I are reading through the Book of Isaiah in the evening, trying to cover a chapter a night. That whole unit deals with the idiocy of idolatry. This is the idolatrous nature of the children of Israel on the eve of the captivities or the captivity. Pre-exilic profit. And the whole section is, You realize how stupid you people are? Embracing these idols. I mean, Isaiah goes on for nine chapters and he says they don’t have any ability to predict the future. God says, I do. I predict things and then I move my hand in history. And what I said happens. Tell me which of your idols can do that. And then he says something very interesting in Isaiah 46:1-4. It says, “Bel-” that’s an Babylonian idol, “Has bowed down, Nebo-” another Babylonian idol, “Stoops over; their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things you carry are burdensome.” When you’re walking around with the statue and God is saying, Are you getting tired holding that stupid thing? He goes on and he says, “A load for the weary beast.”
I mean, even the animals, if they had that piece of metal tied on the back of the animal, they would be tired t. “A load for the weary beast. They stooped over, they have bowed down together; They could not rescue the burden, but have themselves gone into captivity.” In other words, this idolatry is what sent them into the 70-year captivity ultimately. God through Isaiah says, “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the House of Israel, you who have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb.” You’re carrying this statue when in reality God says, I’m the one that’s been carrying you the whole time. So why would you turn to the statue that doesn’t have any power? The idiocy of idolatry. “Even to your old age I will be the same, even to your graying hairs I will bear you! I have done it, I will carry you; I will bury you and I will deliver you.” In other words, here you are walking around with this statue and God is saying, Aren’t you getting tired of that thing? Isn’t it tiresome to carry that thing around with you all the time? And by the way, it’s stupid to carry that thing around with you all the time. Because I’m the one that’s been carrying you and the day in history is going to come where you’re going to get old.
We’re not getting any younger folks. Can I get an amen to that? You’re not even going to be able to lift this thing. But God says, I’ll tell you what, when you get old, I’ll carry you. So what He is saying- what all of these bastards are saying is the idiocy of idolatry relates to turning from the God that can actually help you when you need it; to something that has no power. And the Thessalonians had turned from those idols to the living God. And they were actually serving the living God. They were justified and they were making progress in the middle tense of their salvation. And that’s a pretty good move on their part. Because the God that they’re now serving is alive. And did you catch this next word? And He’s true. He’s true. The living and true God. God is the only one that will not lie to you. He is 100% truth 100% of the time. See, your family can let you down through deception. Your friends can let you down through inconsistency or deception. God cannot let you down because He is 100% true 100% of the time. Man is not. So why in the world would you worship a man or a person? And serve a man or a person instead of God? Because God is 100% true 100% of the time.
I mean, isn’t that what Jesus said in the upper room? John 14:6 “‘I am the way, the truth.” Definite article. Greek word, alétheia . I’m not just true. Some of the time I’m the truth. And the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me. So since we are God’s church we’re supposed to be truthful also. I mean, if you’re in a church that’s not truthful in terms of what’s spoken and what hopefully is being consistently lived, you’re being in a church that has fallen below the design of God. First Timothy 3:15 says, “But in case I am delayed, I write to you so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God-” notice it keeps saying God is alive. “And the pillar and the support of the truth.” You’re not going to get truth from the media. You’re not going to get truth from the culture. You’re not going to get truth from academia, but you can get it in the church. Why? Because that’s the nature of God. God is truthful. And so if we’re walking under His guidance and inspiration, the truth should be spoken of and lived out here in the church. And because of these things that have happened to you, how you’ve turned from idols to serve the living God, you’ve been justified. You’re making progress in the middle of your salvation.
You’re seeing the idiocy of idolatry and renouncing it. The reason you’re in that position is because the Holy Spirit is at work in your life. And everybody traveling through Thessalonica on this major trade route sees that. And that’s why you’re actually missionaries without even trying to be missionaries. I mean, they didn’t even have a social media account set up yet. Everybody knew about their relationship with Jesus. Now something else has happened to them. You have an eschatological hope. One of the things that we said about in the book of First Thessalonians, when we started in terms of unique characteristics, is every chapter ends with a reference to the return of Jesus. Every single one. And here it is. We’re at the end of chapter 1. What do we expect to find then in verse 10? A reference to the return of Christ, and what does verse 10 say? “And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” This is the first reference to the rapture of the church in First Thessalonians. Paul is going to develop it in much more detail, in chapter 4. We’re in chapter 4 at the end of chapter 4. Because we just learned that every chapter in First Thessalonians ends with a reference to the return of Christ. So he’s putting in seed form what later is going to be developed at the end of chapter 4.
And in so doing, he teaches the doctrine of Imminency. That Jesus can come back in the next split second. Because he says here and to wait for His Son from heaven. Notice it does not say to wait for the Antichrist. To wait for the temple being rebuilt. To wait for the World Economic Forum. Klaus Schwab, the One World Money System. I mean, the New Testament never says any of those things. Now, those are very real developments for what will happen after the rapture, i.e. the tribulation. But when you get into any focus discussion on the rapture, it always presents the Rapture as if it could take place in the next split second. This is called Imminency. These verses on the screen. Second bullet point. As well as the ones in parentheses above. You look at all of them. They teach Imminency. They never teach any sign that has to happen before the rapture can occur. Jesus articulated the rapture of the church for the first time in the upper room. And He said to the disciples there, John 14 one through four, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you-” Ascension. He goes into heaven.
Ascension. Preparing a place for us. What’s going to happen next? “I will come again and receive you to myself.” Rapture. That where I am there you may be also and you know the way I’m going, which is in heaven. He doesn’t say I’m going to prepare a place for you. Now I want you to really bunker down. Get the freeze-dried food and get the bullets. Now, having said all that, I’m sort of a prepper myself because we live in a fallen world. But I don’t prep because I think I’m going to eyeball it with the Antichrist. If my destiny is to eyeball it with the Antichrist do you think my freeze-dried food is going to help much anyway? And my copper bullets and all of these things that everybody says I have to have? What he says, I’ll go and prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to Myself. He puts no sign in between Ascension and Rapture. He doesn’t say anti-Christ, First Temple first, World Economic Forum first. What He says is I’m coming back at any moment to receive you to Myself. In other words, the rapture of the church could happen at any second, any split second. Wayne Brindle, Formerly of Liberty University, lays out the criteria for New Testament imminency passages. He says, quote, Four criteria may be suggested, any one of which indicates imminence: Number one, the passage speaks of Christ’s return at any moment.
Check. Got that one? Verse 10. Number two, the passage speaks of Christ’s return as near without stating any signs that must precede his coming. Check. Got that one. Number three, the passage speaks of Christ’s return as something that gives believers hope and encouragement without indicating that these believers will suffer tribulation. Check. Got that. Number four, the passage speaks of Christ’s return as giving hope without it relating to- relating it to God’s judgment of unbelievers. Check. Got that. This is a classic imminency passage. So we have all of these different perspectives today on the timing of the rapture. When is the rapture going to happen relative to the tribulation period? And sometimes even debating this with people, you feel like you’re actually in the tribulation period itself because there’s such acrimony on this subject, some people say the church will be raptured in the middle of the tribulation. Mid-tribulation. Some people say the church is going to be raptured at the end of the tribulation, post-tribulationalism. Some people say the church is going to be raptured three-quarters into the tribulation. They call that pre-wrath rapturism, which is a very misnamed view. But then at the top there, there is what we think is the correct view, pre-tribulationalism. The church is going to be raptured before the tribulation period starts. We believe the top view on the screen is correct. Why would we believe that? Oh, you’re just wanting an easy way out.
Well, yeah, I do kind of want that, I’ll admit. Oh, that’s just an American doctrine. You don’t understand suffering. That there may be some truth to that. I don’t think we do understand suffering here in America, like our brothers and sisters experienced throughout the world. But I’m a pre-tribulationalist for several reasons, one of which is Imminency. Which of these views teaches that perhaps today the rapture could occur? Mid-tribulationalist don’t. You know, Dr. John Walvoord, one of the great defenders of Pre-tribulationalism in the 20th century, had on his office wall at Dallas Seminary a plaque that read Perhaps Today. The rapture could occur today. The rapture could occur before this lesson is over. Some of you are probably praying for that to happen. Mr. Mid-tribulationalist, Can Jesus come back today? Nope! 42 months of hell on earth first. Comfort one another with these words. Mr. Post-tribulationalist, Can Jesus come back today? Nope! Seven years of tribulation first. Mr. Pre-wrath Rapturist, can Jesus come back today? No. Three-quarters of the tribulation has to elapse first. Mr. Pre-tribulationalist, can Jesus come back today? Yes, He can. So you’ll notice that only Pre-tribulationalism harmonizes with imminency. Because in all of these rapture texts, no specific sign is ever inserted before the Rapture can occur. Now there are specific signs for the seven-year tribulation that follows, but not the rapture.
So, are we watching or are we waiting? What does it say here? To wait for His Son from heaven. You notice it doesn’t say watch. It says, Wait. Now, when Jesus is addressing Israel in the tribulation, all of it discourse, He tells them to watch. Matthew 24:42. “Watch, therefore, for you to not know what hour your Lord is coming.” Who is he dealing with there? Jews fleeing on the Sabbath. Matthew 24:20, into the mountains of Judea. Matthew 24:15-16. To that crowd, he says, Watch. Why would He say watch to them? Because they have a specific chronology. They’re in the seven-year bracketed tribulation period itself. They have specific signs to watch for. But you’ll notice that when the Apostle Paul exhorts the Thessalonians concerning their eschatological hope, He doesn’t say, Watch. He says, Wait. So why would we wait instead of watch? Israel watches because she’s in the seven-year period and has a numerical count. The church doesn’t have that. The church is taken to heaven any moment before the seven-year period starts. So the church has no specific signs that have to happen first before the rapture can occur. Israel has specific signs that have to happen first before the second advent happens because they’re in the tribulation. The Church of Jesus Christ has no specific signs that have to manifest itself before the Rapture takes place. So we are exhorted not to watch, but to wait.
Now I realize this is going to upset a lot of ministry marquees and vision statements because they’re all talking about. Watch. Watch. Watch, watch, watch, watch. We’re not supposed to watch. Israel watches. We wait. Well, why can’t we watch? I guess you could watch. But Israel has specific signs before the second advent can occur. The church has no such thing. So the church is exhorted to wait instead of watch. It’s an outworking of the doctrine of Imminency. And I realize what you all are thinking: The pastor has just gone off the deep end. So let me just show you and I’ll close with this quote here, that this distinction between watching and waiting is not something I just made up. Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his systematic theology, says this, Volume four page 367, concerning the imminent return of Christ, which is the rapture. He says, Whether it be that coming of Christ to the earth in glory when Israel is to be delivered or that coming into the air to receive His Bride, the coming is imminent. Scripture, which directs Israel in the tribulation, which is terminated by the glorious return of Christ as their judge and Deliverer, warns her to watch, for He will then come ‘as a thief in the night.’ And he gives all of the verses that say, watch. When it says watch it’s dealing with people in the tribulation. Then he says, Over and against this, the church is instructed to wait.
And to look for his return for her. In both instances, the return of Christ is unannounced and therefore impending within the period to which the event belongs. The return of Christ for his church was not impending in Old Testament days. Nor is the glorious appearing appending until the tribulation. So get your wait and your watch separate. Watch relates to Israel in the tribulation who will have a clock. That’s seven years. And at the end of that clock, Jesus is coming back. And the Bible is going to reveal a lot of different signs for Israel in that time period. So she is to watch. Watch. Watch. Watch, watch, watch, watch. The church, which is us, by contrast, will not be in that time period. We have no such clock. We have no such signs to look for. So we are instructed not to watch, but to wait. Now I will say this. Boy, it sure looks like the world is being set up for the tribulation. And if the rapture of the church precedes the tribulation seems like our waiting is almost over. I’m not a date setter, nor the son of a date setter. But I mean, I’m really waiting like any second, I’m even practicing my vertical a little bit. Because I want to be the guy that hears the trumpet and I’m going to time my vertical at exact that moment and I’m going to be the first guy up.
How’s that for narcissism? So the analogy that I would give is- and it’s perfect for this time of the year; the world is being set up for Christmas, isn’t it? I mean, aren’t we seeing all the decor and the songs and the advertisements? And if Christmas is coming that fast? Thanksgiving, which is earlier than Christmas, is coming even faster. So we can watch in that sense, but we’re not watching because we think there’s going to be sign A, B, C, D, before the rapture. Israel has that. The church doesn’t because of the imminent appearance of Jesus, which will be preceded by no prophetic sign. So there are no signs to watch for in the immediate sense- in that sense. So we are not watching, but we are eagerly and expected- expectantly doing what? We’re waiting. How many churches can you go to in North America and get a distinction between watching and waiting? That’s why I entitled this little lesson Watching Versus Waiting. I think that’s the title. Let’s Pray. Father, We’re grateful for the specifics of Your word. We are waiting and we are eager for Your soon return. Help us to leave this place today with the condition of our world, not as pessimists, but as flaming optimists because of this precious promise that You’ve given us concerning the imminent return of Jesus. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said. Happy intermission.