Listen to the teachings! What emotional response arises in you as you read today’s text? Many people read Paul’s text as though it foretells the exact way in which the “end” will arrive. This Thessalonians text raises concerns for a large number of people because they pay attention to rumors.
Read the text and listen to what it holds. The passage begins with a reminder of the hope that we have in the resurrection of Christ. In a very straightforward way, Paul speaks to those who grieve the death of loved ones. Here is a reminder to continue in the hope of Christ, even in grief—for resurrection does not happen without death. The passage ends with a plea to the community to offer encouragement to one another. In between these verses Paul attempts to describe the presence of Christ with believers at the end of the age. We grapple with this text. Some people read this and other end-time passages in fright. They live with a theology of fear, forgetting the basic biblical message to “fear not.” Some liken this passage to the ways in which people throng roadways to greet a king and then return with the king to the city. N. T. Wright connects this passage with the new heaven and the new earth of which Jesus spoke. Hope stands as the ultimate message in this text.
The passage closes with the words “encourage one another.” I hope that you hear much encouragement within the body of Christ. No matter our understanding of the end times, we need to hear hope and encouragement, the two primary themes in this text. This passage reminds me of the closing lines of “A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada”: “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God” (UMH, 883).
Season our lives with encouragement, gracious God, so that we may live as people of hope. Amen.
This week’s passages speak of ultimate commitment or of the return of Jesus or they speak in parables that reflect a protagonist who has been delayed in an anticipated appearance. Living so far from the time of the texts makes it difficult to appreciate the urgency with which the issues arose in various communities and the crises they precipitated. Eschatology, however, is not to be thought of merely as a speculative venture in which curious religious people gamble on a time when the world will end. In the Bible, the coming advent of God demands from and warrants for the people of God a distinctive style of life. In Joshua 24, Israel receives an opportunity to de ne itself by identifying its God. First Thessalonians 4 comforts anxious believers who are worried about the fate of their deceased parents. Jesus’ resurrection is not an isolated event, Paul argues, but the beginning of the resurrection of all people. The prospect of Jesus’ return forms the basis for hope.
• Read Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25. When have your ministry activities become so time-consuming that you lost your connection to God? How can you regain that connection?
• Read Psalm 78:1-7. Which of the teachers in your life are you most grateful for? Why?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. How concerned are you with the end of time? What would you say to someone who claimed to know when the “end of the age” would be?
• Read Matthew 25:1-13. What part has fear played in your journey of faith? What does fear have to do with receiving God’s love?
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