During his administration President Woodrow Wilson had the privilege of being the one who united the Atlantic and Pacific ocean. With the push of a button, he detonated the explosives over 4,000 miles away which blew up the last barrier on the Panama Canal. Thus he brought to completion the tremendous tasks engineers had been engaged in for so many years.
When we look into the Bible we find that this same sort of thing will one day happen to the world. The barrier between heaven and earth will be removed, Christ shall descend from heaven, and Man and God will meet.
Certainly, of all the events in history, that will be the most remarkable. As a matter of fact, it will be the climax of history. It will be the culmination of God’s plan of redemption. Everything before it is build up. Everything after it will be epilogue. The Bible testifies to the magnitude of this day by simply calling it ‘The day of the Lord.’ You find it all through the Scriptures.
And we find that phrase here in our passage this morning. Throughout this section of the book of Thessalonians the Apostle Paul has been talking about Jesus’ return to earth. He emphasizes how it is going to be a glorious thing for those of us who believe in Christ. It will be like a reunion of two lovers.
But in the section that we read we have a very different take on Christ’s coming. We see that for some people it isn’t going to be all that glorious. As a matter of fact, the picture presented here is quite grim. For this passage teaches us about how the day of the Lord will affect those who have not sought to follow Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you are here this evening and you are one such person. Perhaps you have never really given Christ the time of day. You might not have anything against him, but you’ve never given your life to him either. If you are such a person, I want you to pay particularly close attention to what is said here about the Day of the Lord. Because what you don’t know will hurt you.
It is important that you understand something about this “Day of the Lord” that is coming It is important that you know something of its timing, its terror, and its tragedy.
The question that we may ask this evening is “What is it we are to know about this Day of the Lord?” Well, the first thing we should know is that its timing is unknowable.
I. Its timing is unknowable
Our passage is very clear about this. Look at what it says in the first verse, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
Paul didn’t need to write about it because the Thessalonians already knew that the day of the Lord was unpredictable. Perhaps Paul talked about this when he was with them. Or perhaps they had heard what Jesus himself had said about his second coming. Jesus said, no one knows the day or time, not the angels in heaven or the Son of Man. Jesus readily admitted that he didn’t even know when he would return.
One thing that can be said though is that it will come like a “thief in the night.” Some people say take this as a reference to the rapture. They say, “What does a thief do? A thief steals. He takes things away.” And so they say that Jesus comes to steal his people away. But that is not what is being talked about here. This is not talking about Jesus stealing his people. Paul is not talking about what Jesus will do when he comes. He is talking about when Jesus will come.
When he says that it will be “like a thief in the night” he means that it will happen when no one is expecting it. When someone comes to rob your house, he comes while you are sleeping—when you are least expecting someone to come to your house.
So we cannot know when the Lord is coming. But this has not stopped people from trying to figure it out. While I was in seminary someone brought a book to class entitled 88 reasons why Christ will come back in 1988. Obviously they were wrong. And the second edition, 89 reasons why Christ will come back in 1989, did not sell as well as the first edition.
People have always tried to predict the day of the Lord. Cults are especially known for this. The Jehovah’s Witness, and the Seventh Day Adventists are particular examples. The Seventh Day Adventists have predicted Christ’s coming more than 7 times. The first time it happened, people sold their property and didn’t bother cultivating their farms. You can imagine that they suffered more than disappointment when it didn’t happen. They were stricken with poverty! (Recently there has been another fellow, by the name of Harold Camping who said that Christ will come on May 21st. I’m banking on that one. Our wedding anniversary is on the 22nd and I can use that as an excuse not to buy her a gift!)
All kidding aside. What is clear is that you cannot know when Christ will come. And the element of surprise should wake you up. A lot of people put Christ off. They say, “Oh, well, I’ll get religious when I get older.” Maybe you are that kind of person.
Or maybe you’ve just been toying with Christianity lately. You’ve kind of been on the fringe. You’re not sure if you want to commit your life to Christ or not. Well my friend, you better not dilly-dally with this decision. You don’t know when he will come.
As far as we know, Christ could come this very night. And when he comes there are no second chances. It is like this:
Suppose you were a citizen in a certain kingdom. Suppose you had just come back to your country after being away on a business trip. But as you get to the gates of you city you meet a friend you haven’t seen for a while and you begin to chat. As you are talking the king of that dominion comes to the gate and says, “Very soon I am going to close this gate.” You acknowledge the King and perhaps even give a wave to him to show that you heard him. But you don’t respond. You continue your conversation. Now suppose the king comes a second time and makes the same announcement. You get the picture that the doors won’t be open much longer. But you just have one more thing you need to tell your friend.
Then, just as you are wishing your friend goodbye you hear a loud bang. You turn to see that the steel gates have just crashed shut. Now you are left out in the cold of the night. You see your desperate situation. You know that the wolves will soon be out looking for dinner. So you run and start banging on the gates. You yell and cry out, pleading that they be opened. But the response comes, “I told you that they would be shut! Now you must live with the consequences of your laziness.”
If you are here this evening, know that Christ will most certainly come. We do not know exactly when, but he will. And when he does, the doors of the kingdom will be closed. You will have to live with the consequences of your actions (or inaction as the case may be).
The day of the Lord is going to be a surprise—its timing is unknowable. But, as our passage talks about the day of the Lord, it not only talks about its time, it also talks about its terror. And it says that its terror will be unbearable.
II. Its terror is unbearable
Look at verse 3. It says, “While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them.”
Most likely Paul is drawing on the book of Jeremiah when he wrote this. There are many parallels. In chapter 6 of that book Jeremiah writes about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah said that people will be going around saying, “Peace, Peace, when there is no peace.” But what happened. Those people were destroyed. They wouldn’t listen to God’s Word, so they were destroyed along with the rest of Jerusalem when the Babylonians swept through.
You can say that that was a “day of the Lord.” People would not listen to the Word of God, and they suffered for it. And that day foreshadows the final and ultimate day of the Lord. Wicked people will be saying, “Everything is fine. We have nothing to fear. God’s cool. He’s not going to do anything to harm me. Why would he do that?” And when they are least expecting it, they will be swept away.
Do you remember 9/11? I’m sure you do. I bet you remember that it was a beautiful day. I remember it was in Indiana where we were. I remember sitting in class and staring out the window, just wanting to be outside enjoying the day. And it was a glorious day in NY too. The sun was radiating throughout the city. People were going about their normal business. Then, wham, the first plane struck. Then the second plane struck. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, the towers folded in upon themselves and crumbled to the ground.
When they were least expecting it, destruction came upon them. That is a lot like it will be on the day of the Lord. Those who do not follow Jesus Christ—anyone who does not regard his word—will be devastated in the day of judgment.
When Jesus was on earth he said it will be like the days of Noah. People will be going about their normal activities—they will be marrying and being given in marriage. Then the floods came. Jesus said its going to be just like that, “Two will be in the field, one will be taken—i.e. he will be destroyed, swept way and cast into hell—and the other left. Two will be grinding grain, one will be taken and the other will be left.”
Surely, the day of the Lord is a sweet thing to those of us who love the Lord. But not so for the unbeliever. For them it will be terrible. Its terror will be unbearable. One second they will be enjoying the Lord’s gracious favor—they will be enjoying life on earth, having a glorious time—then the next second they will be subjected to the pains of hell. They will be ever dying, but never dead. They will be ever perishing, but never lifeless. Every second will be filled with unimaginable agony.
Hell will never be something someone “gets used to.” You know, when you are injured, you get used to the pain. It hurts, but there comes a point when it hurts, but you are used to the hurting. That won’t be what it is like in hell. Every moment will be unbearable. But perhaps the most agonizing moment will be right at the moment Christ comes. The shock will simply paralyze.
When it is dark out, and someone jumps out and scares you, that first instant of shock is the worst. You’re heart feels like it stops. When you are caught, as it were, with you hands in the cookie jar, that moment is horrendous, isn’t it. That is how it will be for those who have not turned from their sins. Christ will catch them in their unrepentance.
The terror of the event is increased by the words, “none will escape.” Have you ever watched that show, “Cops?” It’s a show that follows the police on their adventures. The criminal sees the police and is terrified. So he begins to run, and a chase ensues. He tries to run because there is a chance he can escape.
But there will be no escape for the unbeliever. Christ will appear, terror will fill his eyes. He will look for a place to hide, but there will be none. Jesus even says that they will run into the caves and call for the rocks to fall upon them. In that moment, they think that death would be better for them. But even death will not serve as a refuge. They will not escape.
If you are not in Christ, then you must understand that there is only one way to escape the wrath to come. It is only by turning to Christ now and forsaking your life of sin and unbelief. If you do not, then all will be lost.
And that leads us to the last thing the passage says about the day of the Lord. The timing is unknowable, its terror is unbearable, and its tragedy is undeniable.
III. Its tragedy is undeniable
Look at the verse three again. It says this day comes upon the unbeliever “as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.”
Now every woman who is pregnant knows that someday she will go into labor and her baby will come forth. But no one knows when that will be. Even today, with all of our technology, the doctor can only say, “This is when we think it will happen.”
We may know that it is coming, but we don’t know when it will come.
The same is true for the day of the Lord. I submit to you that everyone in the world, believer and unbeliever alike, knows that there will be a day of the Lord. Everyone knows that there will be a day of reckoning—a day when we are all called to account for our actions. That knowledge is embedded deep within our hearts. The question is whether or not we chose to act on that knowledge or ignore it.
Think about it. We see injustices around us all the time, right? And we know that those things are wrong. We know they deserve to be punished.
Moreover, we know that we have done things that are morally wrong. And we know that those things should be punished too.
Just like that woman who knows that her baby must be born sometime, everyone knows that there is a God, and He shall come forth at some point too. And everyone knows that He is a righteous God who will come to judge those who have done wrong.
And that is the tragedy. Wicked people know it, but won’t acknowledge it. They won’t admit that the Lord is coming and they won’t seek him out so that they might find favor with him while there is still time.
Just think: a criminal who is the least bit sensitive to his guilt will throw himself upon the mercy of the judge. One who knows himself to be guilty, and stubborn in the face of his condemnation, is absurd. Yet this is how the wicked person acts. They just throw it all aside. They choose to ignore all of it and act as if nothing is going to happen.
How foolish it is! And how tragic it will be.
How I must appeal to you here today if you have not been converted. Don’t go on in your stupidity. The Lord is gracious in giving you time to repent. You need to wake up. This terrible day is not yet upon us. It is not yet the day of the Lord. It is still the day of salvation. You need to look to the Lord and find mercy.
Don’t be foolish and say, “Oh, all that is just silliness.” You shouldn’t deny what you know in your heart of hearts to be true. It would be a tragedy to let the day come. But it would be an even worse tragedy, when you look back and say, “I heard the preacher say the day was coming. I heard him say I could have avoided these agonies. I could have found safety, but no, I brushed it aside as ridiculous talk.” Oh how terrible that would be. How tragic it would be!
Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There was a rich man who enjoyed all the comforts of life. He ate well, he had a great big house. Most likely, because he was a Jew, he was trained in the ways of the Lord. All that time he was told that one day he would die and have to face his Maker. Then one day, it happened. He died, and he was cast into hell. There he was tormented and longed for a drop of water to be placed upon his tongue.
When you read that story, you can’t help but think, what a tragedy! It all could have been prevented. If only he would have listened to the Word of God. If only he would have sought follow Christ instead of living for himself all those years, it would never have turned out that way.
That story will be the story of every person who does not repent. The mental torment of hell will be just as excruciating as the physical miseries, if not more.
But all this can be prevented. Life does not have to end in tragedy. It can end in happiness and joy. Instead of destruction, life can end in salvation. Instead of suffering in the day of Christ, you can be saved.
You all know of the “Mighty Missisippi River.” Do you know though just how mighty it is? It is said that over half a trillion tons of wather flow down it every year, and it carries 63 thousand tons of soil downstream each day.
A man by the name of Michael Parfit once studied the river in depth—riding down it flying over it. One of the things he kept his eye on though, were the levies that were built to pinch the mighty river and keep it from flooding. The levees stand an average of 25 feet high and run for 2,203 miles along both sides of the river. Over the years, since these levees have been built, people have come to live under their protection. It is said that over 8 million people live in the Mississippe Delta, all at their own risk.
When Parfit flew over the delta he saw plainly the river’s tracks on the land, where it once flooded the delta. In Parfit’s mind were simply the words, “Someday soon.” Parfit went on to publish an article in February of 1993 warning that someday soon the delta would flood again, much like it did in 1882, 1927, and 1973.
He could never have imagined how right he would be. Only months after publishing his article, in the summer of 1993, one of the worst floods in the history of the River came. So much was destroyed in an instant.
The Word of God sends out the same message, “Someday soon.” We can choose to live like those who lived under those levees; we can live with a false sense of security. Or we can heed the warnings, look to Christ, and live in safety. May God grant you the wisdom to prepare for the great day of the Lord.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.