Second Coming Comfort
William Nicholson, 1862
"And so we will be with the Lord forever! Therefore encourage each other with these words!" 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18
The scenes and transactions of a future day of judgment, as detailed in the Scriptures, are calculated to fill the mind of the sinner with awe. To him it is "a fearful looking for of judgment." But the people of God recognize it as the day of their "glory;" when Christ who was once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear the second time unto salvation. It will be . . .
the day of their deliverance from all evil,
the day of their exaltation,
the day of their coronation,
the day when they will have done with this material world, and all its vexatious affairs — and enter that paradise of immortality which Christ has prepared for his people!
A prospect like this cheers them in all the conflicts of life.
Probably some of the Christians at Thessalonica mourned for their relatives or friends who had died in the Lord. The design of the Apostle in the context is to dissuade them from inordinate sorrow on that account, and to inspire them with the hope of seeing those friends again under very different — yet infinitely more favorable circumstances.
Sometimes inordinate grief for the believing dead, makes a man more like a heathen without hope, than a Christian who has a good hope.
I. Christians Are Frequently Placed in Circumstances Causing Them to Require Divine Comfort.
How frequently is this the case! "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows!" John 16:33. If he has not trouble now, he may very soon have, for who can tell what a day may bring forth? What reverses in states and circumstances do we frequently see.
The rose of health departs from the cheek,
strength from the limbs, and
vivacity from the mind.
The man of wealth is seen sitting on his shipwrecked substance, and the once happy family is rendered desolate by the ravages of mortality.
All is transitory here on earth; "the fashion of this world is passing away." Nothing is certain but the Truth — the truth contained in the text and context, by which we learn that though believers must mourn, and change, and wither, and die — yet they shall bloom again, and be filled with infinite joy in the morning of the resurrection.
Believers need comfort:
1. In the season of spiritual conflict. "The flesh lusts against the Spirit," etc. Galatians 5:17. As long as we are in the body, this struggle will go on. The very attempts of sin to frustrate the spiritual designs of the soul, and to supplant the work of grace, are very distressing. In this respect, every heart knows its own bitterness.
The believer is often in heaviness and darkness through manifold temptations. He therefore needs comfort.
He needs to be pointed to that period when the body and soul shall be perfect and sinless. "And so we will be with the Lord forever!"
2. In times of persecution. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted!" 2 Timothy 3:12. The Apostles and primitive Christians were exposed to many violent persecutions, and even to death itself. Romans 8:36; 2 Corinthians 4:8-14. Subsequent ages too have had thousands of martyrs. Amid the fire of persecution, they were comforted by the sublime truths to which the Apostle refers when he says, "Therefore comfort one another with these words." They had respect to the recompense of reward. Hebrews 11:21-26. They looked forward to a glorious resurrection — to the day of judgment, when God will vindicate their cause, punish their persecutors, and give to his conquering servants the crown of immortality! Hence said Paul, "This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him." 2 Timothy 2:11-12
Though the fire of persecution has, in a great measure, been quenched — yet Christians now are sometimes assailed. They are ridiculed, and represented as fools — as enthusiasts — as fanatics, etc. They therefore need comfort; and especially so, if weak in knowledge and Christian experience. "And so we will be with the Lord forever!"
3. In the season of affliction. "I have tested you in the furnace of affliction!" Isaiah 48:10. "The Lord disciplines those he loves. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness."
Sometimes the Christian is tried by ungodly children and relatives, sometimes by reverses in his circumstances, and sometimes by bodily afflictions. These afflictions may be severe, long, and connected with great poverty as their result. Amid this darkness and distress, what would the Christian do without Divine support? He needs the comfort arising from these words: "And so we will be with the Lord forever!"
4. Under bereavements. Death destroys the dearest ties of nature. Death is no respecter of people.
The rich and the poor,
the honorable and the ignoble,
the young and the old,
the beautiful and the ordinary —
must be torn from the embraces of affection. How painful to deposit in the grave, as the food of worms — a beloved friend, a husband, or wife, or child, or parent!
Then the mind is frequently overwhelmed. "A voice is heard in Ramah, Rachael weeping for her children!" Who can bind up the shattered heart then? Who can stop those tears? Nothing but these words: "And so we will be with the Lord forever!"
5. Not merely under bereavements, but also in prospect of our own death. It is a solemn thing to die — to pass into eternity. Some have a constitutional feebleness of spirit, and such an overwhelming sense of their imperfections that the aspect of death, pale and ghastly, and his awful voice, "Prepare to meet your God!" strike terror into their hearts.
What is to comfort then? Not self-righteousness, not wealth, not human expedients, not philosophy. Nothing but these words: "And so we will be with the Lord forever!"
Let reason vainly boast her power
To teach her children how to die,
The sinner in a dying hour,
Needs more than reason can supply.
A view of Christ, the sinner's Friend,
Alone can cheer him in the end!
II. The Language of the Apostle in the Context Is Calculated to Yield Comfort.Verse 13-18.
1. It is declared that all true Christians have a hope of a glorious resurrection; and of a glorious reception by Christ at the judgment day, verse 13. This hope is founded on faith, verse 14; Hebrews 11:1; 1 Peter 1:3, 4. The doctrine of the resurrection is taught throughout the Scriptures, especially in 1 Corinthians 15; see also Philippians 3:20, 21, and other passages.
Christians have this hope while they live, and when they die. How cheering under the afore-mentioned trials of life!
In spiritual conflicts these words: "And so we will be with the Lord forever!" imply that every vestige of sin will be destroyed, that the body will he spiritual, and united to a holy soul, forming one glorious immaculate man for eternity!
In times of affliction, these words imply that the body will sicken and die no more — it will oppress the soul no more.
In times of persecution, these words imply that future glory will forever separate him from the wicked, who will then cease from troubling him — and the weary will forever be at rest.
Under bereavements, these words imply that he shall see his believing friends and relatives again, who are not lost, but only gone before him.
Therefore it is improper for us under bereavements to act like the unregenerate, who have no hope, verse. 13. Christians have a sure hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, has promised.
This hope is sufficient to counterbalance all our griefs and sorrows on account of departed believing friends. We shall see them again, but only if we are true Christians ourselves.
(1.) The Apostle says, they sleep in Jesus, verse 14. They are asleep, verse 13. They are fallen asleep in Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:18. Death does not annihilate them. Sleep never implies this. Death is but a sleep to them. It is their undisturbed rest, until Christ shall come to awaken them. For a season they have retired from this troublesome world, and sleep in Jesus, in his arms, on his bosom, under his special care and protection. Their souls are with him in Paradise, and their dust waits in the grave for the manifestation of his mighty resurrection power!
(2.) They shall be raised from the dead, for "God will bring them with him." Those who sleep in Jesus, shall be raised up — s Christ was raised from the dead, by his own eternal power and energy, 1 Corinthians 15:18, 20. His resurrection is a full confirmation of all that is said in the Gospel, which has brought life and immortality to light. Then the saints will bid adieu to all sin, to all corruption, and to all death. Then they will bear the image of the Christ, and commence their immortal life.
(3.) He further intimates that the last generation would not die at all, but be, in a moment, changed to immortals, verse 15. "We who are alive," etc. The Apostle meant the Church in general found alive at the last day. The change of those found alive is so mysterious, that we cannot comprehend it, 1 Corinthians 15:51. But as flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, the mortal part must, in a moment, be changed — put on immortality.
(4.) Though the living shall not die, but be transformed — yet the dead will first be raised, and made glorious and immortal, and so in some measure have the preference and advantage. "According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep." 1 Thessalonians 4:15
2. It is declared the righteous shall finally triumph amid scenes of unparalleled grandeur! "For the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God — and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever!" 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
There are sublime and magnificent scenes before us! Great events are brought together here, any one of which is more grand than all the pomp of this world:
the glory of the descending Judge of all mankind;
the attending retinue of angels;
the loud shout of the descending host;
the blast of the archangel's trumpet;
the bursting open of graves;
the coming forth of the millions there entombed;
the rapid, sudden, glorious change on the millions of living men;
the consternation of the wicked;
the ascent of the innumerable host to the region's of the air;
and the solemn process of the judgment there!
Has anything ever occurred so magnificent as these events?
How strange it is that the thoughts of men are turned away from these bright and glorious realities — to the trifles, the vain show, the shadow, the glitter, the empty pageantry of this poor world!
Observe the order of this awfully glorious day:
(1.) Christ in all the dignity and splendor of his eternal majesty, shall descend from Heaven to the mid-region, what the apostle calls the air, somewhere within the earth's atmosphere. What a spectacle! how glorious his appearance, and how different from his first coming, when "his visage was so marred more than any man's, and his form more than the sons of men!" Isaiah 52:14.
The Lord shall come! but not the same,
As once in lowliness He came;
A silent Lamb before his foes,
A weary man, and full of woes.
The Lord shall come! a dreadful form,
With rainbow wreath and robes of storm,
On cherub-wings, and wings of wind!
Appointed Judge of all mankind.
Can this be He, who used to stray
As pilgrim on the world's highway,
Oppressed by power, and mocked by pride,
The Nazarene — the crucified!
While sinners in despair shall call,
"Rocks, hide us! mountains, on us fall!"
The saints, ascending from the tomb,
Shall joyful sing, "The Lord has come!"
(2.) Then the shout, or notice shall be given of the approach of Christ and his angels — the angelic shout — the shout of perfected spirits, coming to possess their glorified bodies — a shout of ecstasy, on account of the honor that shall be done to Christ, and the felicity that shall be given to the saints.
(3.) Then shall be heard the voice of the Archangel appointed by Christ to utter the command, "Arise, O dead, and come to judgment!" "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned!" John 5:28-29. This chief angel will be the servant and General of those Hosts of the Lord.
(4.) When all the dead are raised, then the trumpet shall sound, as the signal for angels, and devils, and men, to congregate before the throne of Christ. It was by the sound of the trumpet that the solemn assemblies under the law were convened, to which there is here an allusion.
(5.) Then follows the judgment, and also the triumph of the righteous. The dead bodies of the saints are raised — those who are alive are changed and made immortal — they are caught up together to meet the Lord in the air — the books are opened — the judgment proceeds — the righteous are acquitted, and welcomed to the kingdom prepared for them — while the wicked are condemned.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left!" Matthew 25:31-33
(6.) The triumph of the righteous will be eternal. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord!" They shall forever rest — forever enjoy — forever increase in knowledge and love. They shall be with the Lord — see him as he is, and be like him. "We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is!" 1 John 3:2
III. This Comfort Should Be Mutually Administered.
"And so we will be with the Lord forever! Therefore encourage each other with these words!"
1. It is a duty sadly neglected.
2. To comfort one another it is necessary to have an intimate knowledge of "these words," or truths. Therefore study them. They will yield a rich feast — and you can then richly feast others.
3. Be ready to impart this comfort when needed. Visit the afflicted — the tempted — the bereaved — the dying. To them relate these glorious truths.
4. Learn the necessity of Christian fellowship, "Comfort one another."
"Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name." Malachi 3:16.
"And so we will be with the Lord forever! Therefore encourage each other with these words!" 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18