Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
With things heating up in the Middle East, a variety of Christians are making predictions concerning the coming of Christ. A typical example is that of Tim Lahaye.
In a recent Newsweek interview, he offered this analysis: "Biblically speaking, the very nations that are mentioned in prophecy--and have been mentioned for 2,500 years as occupying the focus of the tension of the last days--are the very nations that are involved in the conflict right now. That may be one of the reasons there's a sudden interest in bible prophecy because all of a sudden they realize end-time events could possibly take place and break forth right now."
LeHaye was then asked this follow-up question: "Couldn't almost anything then be taken as a clue that any point in history might be the end times?" He responded, "Down through the years that's true. But never the accumulation of events as we have today. I have often said that no one knows the day nor the hour that Christ will come, but no generation has had so many signs of the times as our generation. We have more reason to believe that Christ could come in our lifetime than any generation before us."
Other Christian leaders have gone so far as to guarantee that this generation will see the coming of Christ, or, at least the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. It does in fact seem as if certain segments of the church are in a rapture frenzy.
An obvious myriad of questions are raised in light of such thinking and prediction. Yet, one question seems to rise to the top in terms of importance: "Shouldn't we be concerned about and be prepared for the Lord's coming regardless of what happens in the Middle East in light of the fact that such preparedness is a spiritual issue and not one relegated to a sensationalized view of current events?"
Let me offer three implications that flow from such a question. First, there is a spiritual readiness that characterizes endtime Christians. Of course, according to the Scriptures and contrary to LeHaye, we have been in the last days for two-thousand years (e.g. 1 John 2). Christians of all generations, according to 1 Thes. 5:5-7, should be awake, watchful, and sober.
Paul confirmed that the believers at Thessalonica were just that: believers in Christ (5:1-5). He referred to them as those who are not in darkness. Because they are not in spiritual darkness, they are spiritually prepared for the day of the Lord. Paul affirmed them as sons of light and sons of the day. Each of these phrases is descriptive of their spiritual condition before the Lord, that is, their salvation in Christ.
Now, by virtue of their status as sons of the day, they have a responsibility with reference to the reality of Christ's second coming, that is, the day of the Lord. Paul gives them this admonition: "Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober." Because Christ is coming in glory and indeed in judgment, we must be ready for His arrival.
In the first place, we are not to sleep, that is, we are not to be spiritually complacent or lethargic. We are not to live as if their will never be a day of judgment. We are to make sure that our focus is on Christ, His kingdom, and His glory.
At the same time, we are to be watchful in terms of expectancy and spiritual readiness for Christ's return. We are to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, strong in His service, and reflective of His character.
Further, we are to be sober. That is, we are to take the things of God and our own spiritual condition seriously. We must continually avail ourselves of God's means of grace that we might be progressively conformed to the image of Christ. We are to be sincere and diligent in regard to our walk with Christ. We are to take seriously Christ's return in power and glory and for judgment, but, as believers, we are to look for it with great anticipation.
Believers, that is, the children of the day, are contrasted with children of the night, that is, those who are not saved and are yet in spiritual darkness (v. 7). As sons of the day, we are to be awake, watchful, and sober. Why? "For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night." Paul uses figurative language here to convey spiritual truth.
Those who sleep, that is, those who are spiritually lethargic, the lost, sleep at night. Spiritually speaking, they are spiritually lax because they are children of the darkness. Spiritual sleepers sleep in spiritual darkness, that is, at night.
Paul further compares these lost souls to drunkards. When he says that "those who get drunk are drunk at night," he means that those who are not in control of their sinful inclinations because they are not saved, follow those sinful inclinations at night, that is, all the time, because they are in spiritual darkness. As such they are children of the night.
Believers are not such. They are children of the day. They do not sleep spiritually nor are their sinful inclinations out of control. Children of the day put off sin and put on righteousness through renewing their minds in the pure water of the word of God. This spiritual readiness should characterzize all beleivers no matter what happens in the Middle East.
Second, there is a spiritual activity that characterizes endtime Christians (v. 8). They are to be faithful, loving, and hopeful. Paul again highlights the believer's responsibility and offers a further word of practical application. He exhorts, "But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation." Believers are to be sober, as noted above, by exercising faith in Christ, love for Him and the saints, and hope in Him at His coming.
Third, there is a spiritual protection that characterizes endtime Christians. We are protected by active faith, active love, and active hope. Active faith in Christ, active love for others, and active hope in salvation keeps us focused on Him and His coming.
The breastplate and helmet to which Paul referred are items taken from the Roman soldiers protective battle gear. Each of those items protects one from mortal wounds. Paul mentions them both in Eph. 6:10f when he tells the believers at Ephesus to put on the armor of God. He refers there to the breastplate of righteousness. It is perfectly legitimate to take any piece of armor or other illustrative material and correlate it with spiritual reality of a variegated nature. Thus, here, he refers to the breastplate of faith and love. His actual point is that we need faith, love, and hope if we are to be protected from mortal, spiritual wounds.
Paul frequently refers to the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. These dynamics, wrought by God, provide spiritual protection in the midst of trial and temptation. Generally, our faith is directed toward the Lord Jesus and His gospel, our love is for Him and the brethren, and our sure hope of salvation is grounded in Him and His finished work for us on the cross. Our faith in Christ helps us to fight temptation and sin. Our love toward Christ and others is active so that we have no time to focus on self. Our hope is in Christ and the future He has for us and that motivates us to persevere despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
There is a bottom line here. If we are certain of His coming and seek to put faith and love into action here and now by virtue of the active hope we have in Christ and His referenced coming, then we are indeed spiritually ready for the day of the Lord. Our focus should be that readiness and not the day or the hour of His coming, for no one knows such despite the affirmations to the contrary by so many in our day. If we are spiritually prepared, it really doesn't matter what happens in the Middle East in terms of our salvation. Christ will come when we least expect it according to Paul in 1 Thes. 5:1f. It may be that nothing is going on in the Middle East when He comes. Won't that be a surprise? Well, not to those who are ready.
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