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“As a Thief in the Night”


Again we are grateful for Dr. Paulien’s crisp, literary pen as he digs out the salient features of Paul’s remarkable letters to the Thessalonians. He rights with one eye on Paul and the other on us today–we who must understand Paul through twenty-first century eyes.

Even these eleven verses in 1 Thess. 5 give us plenty to thank Paul for, and plenty to digest and adjust our thinking to.

Paul emphasizes that last-day events will be saturated with peace movements (and who on earth is against peace?). In the midst of a world fragmented with perennial hostility, with most every nation devoting much of their tax dollars preparing for the next terroristic attack or rebellion, any Peace Plan attracts supporters with huge bankrolls to win the support of scared people.

Paul foresees a time, unforeseen a few years ago, when the appeal by world leaders, religious and political, will transcend normal compromises and ask for all to put aside doctrinal divisiveness and for the sake of humanity pledge themselves around unifying actions.  And world religion will be the actionable force!  What more could possibly get the attention of every nation in the world then to see their leaders signing the document, “Peace in our time.”  No longer a dream!

But perhaps some Adventists have their own security in “Peace and safety now!” I have listened to many, echoing this consolation, that Jesus has not returned because “the cup of iniquity” has not yet been filled (so we need more crime, etc.); or, God has His own cosmic clock and He is always on time; the 2520-Year prophecy tells when He returns; the pope who follows Benedict XVI wil be the final pontiff when Jesus returns to Earth, etc.

But we have known since the 1880’s that Jesus could have returned if His clear gospel message would be preached in its fullness and simplicity—the message of the Three Angels (Revelation 14) Adventists discover real peace when they discover why Jesus has delayed His return..

Dr. Paulien nailed something when he explained the “two sides of Judgment.  No one need fear the judgment as if God is simply waiting for the chance to “get even” with all the wicked. Hardly! No one will be surprised in the judgment, No One!  The judgment is simply accepting the consequence of our own choices. God is doing His best to save as many as possible! He shuts the door on no one! We shut the door on ourselves.  Like what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever ‘had faith’ in Him should not ‘commit spiritual suicide’ but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

Wrath is simply an English word we choose to describe God’s eternal hatred for all that rebellion has caused.  He hates with unspeakable displeasure sin in all its forms—but never the sinner.

When Paul refers to the day of the Lord as a thief in the night I am reminded of

Mark 13:33-37–“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

When is the time of the Master’s appearing when He finds “us” sleeping?I submit there is a parallel here with the Parable of the Bridegroom [Matt. 25:1-13]. He wants those willingly faithful to be alert for Satan’s “snares” and to so live that they can be “counted worthy”  (Luke 21:34-36). Jesus is not talking about when He returns in the clouds of heaven—He is talking about the awesome moment when He sends forth those solemn words: “He who is unjust let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11).

We know that when Jesus returns, the cases of all have been forever decided—everybody living has already decided who their Lord is, Jesus or Satan.  This is the time of reckoning with his servants. To those who have neglected the preparation, which would fit them to be waiting to welcome their Lord, probation has closed. Wheat and tares have matured! None of the living knows but Heaven does and for all practical purposes that time comes suddenly upon all.  Those who have neglected to purify their souls by obeying the truth are found sleeping.

Paul is a great pastor to emulate. He states the facts then tells his audience what they should do about it! He states clearly: Those who want to be among the awake and not the sleepers will “put on” the Heavenly Swat team uniform—the “breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8).

How much can any three words say? Paul has been forever immortalized in five NT uses of this mighty trilogy. With these three words, Paul  sums up  the gospel that Jesus wants proclaimed throughout the world, thus hastening the Advent (Matt 24: 14). 

“Faith”–the one word that has divided Christians since the first century.  Why? Because so many believe that knowing the Scriptures is the same as “knowing” Jesus as their personal Savior and Friend. Remember our Lord’s strong counsel to the Pharisees who knew the Scriptures better than anyone: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).

Most of the English translations of the NT use the word “believe” (or some form of the Greek word pistis) and that has caused huge problems—it should be “faith,” or “have faith.”  FAITH is the word that “describes” our human response to God’s grace: the response of heart and mind to God’s offer of forgiveness, the sheer bearing of the soul to God in repentance (more than mere confession), the joy of accepting forgiveness and of receiving His power to overcome those habits that are being forgiven. Faith is what keeps us awake while others who may be getting A+ in their Bible exams are “sleeping.”

Faith is what makes “love” genuine and authentic, as described in l Corinthians 13 (what a description!). Agape love is light years above “feeling” romantically about a person or a sunset. Faith working by love is this world’s only cleanser that removes the stain of broken relationships. But genuine faith and agape love must be working together!

Just like oxygen does wonder in our lungs, so genuine faith and love drive the Christian to higher mountain peaks of sheer joy we call “hope.” Really now, what is life without hope? Yes, we can live, often a long time, if we fill our lives with elusive hope that the next pill, the next fling, the next cruise, the next $100,000, etc., will fill the void.  But the yearning to fill our need for hope keeps us on an increasingly faster merry-go-round—if we do not experience genuine faith and love.

As Paul says it so eloquently, so crisply: It is the difference between night and day, between light and darkness! He urges his Thessalonian friends to face the future with their heads high, soberly facing the realities of the Great Controversy, keeping close to their Closest Friend, the Holy Spirit, as He empowers them daily to keep learning, keep repenting, keep growing and overcoming so “that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thess. 5:10).

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