A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Post Sermon Reflections - May 10

Here are some of my additional thoughts on I Thessalonians 4:13-18 which was one of the texts I used in my sermon this morning as part of our "Through the Valley" sermon series.

After explaining in great detail the events that will take place when Jesus appears for his 2nd coming, the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians to, "encourage one another with these words."

Unfortunately, it seems that many Christian and churches have gone one of two ways regarding this topic of Jesus' second coming, and both are not very helpful or biblical.

For some Christians, they believe that when Christ returns, those who have placed their faith in Christ, will depart this earth (first those who have already died and then those who are still alive) to live in heaven forever. This is not the correct understanding of the scriptures.

The whole point about the Christian faith isn't that Christians will one day leave this earth to be in heaven. The whole point of the scriptures is that there will come a time when Jesus will return and God will renew the face of THIS earth. This is the long awaited hope that we find in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Our Judeo/Christian faith is a creation embracing faith, not a creation denying faith. "Rapture" theology has distorted this basic understanding of the biblical hope due to a misunderstanding of Paul's use of creative metaphors in this Thessalonian text.

On the other hand, there are also many Christians who have gone to the other extreme and have "spiritualized" the New Testament and Pauline hope of Jesus' second coming in which it is not seen as a future historical reality but as a generalized hope that the world will get better if we just try hard enough. While true, that our work toward transforming the world in the here and now does make a difference, the New Testament clearly points us toward a time in the future when heaven and earth will become as one and this will be fulfilled through the second coming of Jesus. At that time, Christ will take all the good that we have done through the power of his Holy Spirit in our day and age and through a special act of God's grace will flood THIS earth with justice, love, and peace.

A lot more can be said here, but one of the reasons why I am posting on this issue is that how we understand the second coming of Jesus isn't just an unimportant theoretical issue that's interesting to talk about once in while. It defines how we view God's creation. Why would we bother to make the world a better place if we're just going to escape it and go to heaven someday anyway? And why would we bother to make the world a better place if it's all up to us? We would feel defeated before we would even get started to make a difference in the world if that was the case!

This is why the Apostle Paul says to "encourage one another with these words." What we are doing in the present moment matters in the grand scheme of God's salvation history and we are to never forget that one day God will renew the face of the earth and that will be a time when there will be no more tears, death, sin, or pain. Imagine such a world!

"Encourage one another with these words."

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