ENCOURAGED BY THE COMING OF CHRIST WHILE WORKING IN A FAITHFUL WAY
First and 2 Thessalonians particularly stress the last dimension—hope—more than the other two. Whatever we are and whatever we do must be in the light of the coming of the Lord. As the members of the Body, the church, we must live in the light of the Lord’s coming. As the church, the corporate Body, we must exist in the light of the Lord’s coming. If one is an apostle, he must be an apostle in the light of the Lord’s coming. If one is a minister of the word, he must minister in the light of the Lord’s coming. This is the third dimension of the Christian walk. This is the reason that the second coming of the Lord is mentioned at the end of every chapter of 1 Thessalonians. The apostle Paul composed all the matters of the Christian life in the light of the Lord’s coming.
However, we should not be an unturned cake, burned on one side but raw on the other (Hosea 7:8). We need to be balanced. To be sure, the coming of the Lord is an encouragement to us, but we should not take this encouragement improperly, believing that since the Lord is coming soon we can do things irresponsibly. This is wrong. We must still do things in a proper way. On the one hand, we realize that the Lord is coming, and we are encouraged by this. On the other hand, we must realize that the Lord may not come right away. He may delay His coming, so there is still time left for us to do His work faithfully and properly. We should be faithful, honest, and diligent to do our duty, being encouraged by His coming.
At all times we must be encouraged by the Lord’s coming. We need to be reminded that one day we will see Him. Regardless of how much we suffer for Him and lose for Him, His coming is a comfort to us. However, we must not receive this comfort in the way of neglecting our duty, our ministry. We must not think that since the Lord is coming for us, we can waste our days in a loose and light way. We are encouraged by the Lord’s coming, but we realize that the Lord still gives us the time to do things in a proper way. We must be balanced in these two aspects of the Lord’s coming.
THE PAROUSIA OF CHRIST
Second Thessalonians 2:1 says, “Now we ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” Coming is a key word. This is not the ordinary word for coming in Greek. It is the Greek word parousia, meaning “presence.” From Matthew through Revelation, this word is often used in the passages that relate to the Lord’s coming. If we do not know the proper meaning and usage of this word, we can never understand the Lord’s coming in an accurate way. All the verses in the Bible relating to the Lord’s second coming are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and without this key word we would not know how to put the pieces together.
When we speak of the Lord’s coming, our human thought is that He will come back suddenly at a definite hour. However, the Lord’s parousia, His presence, is not something that comes all of a sudden. By the study of the entire New Testament, we know that the Lord’s parousia will last for a certain period of time. It will not be only a day or a month; it will probably last for a period of a few years. Certain passages of the Scriptures indicate that His parousia will be before the great tribulation, others indicate that it will be during the tribulation, while other verses show us that it will be at the end of the tribulation. If we put all these puzzle pieces together, we can see the full picture. The parousia of the Lord will not come suddenly and then vanish. It will last for a certain period of time.
In Matthew 24:36 the Lord says clearly that no one knows the time of His parousia except the Father. According to this word, the day of the Lord’s parousia is a secret that no one knows, a secret kept in the mind of God the Father until a certain time that we do not know. Second Thessalonians 2:3-4, however, tells us that the day of the Lord comes after the man of lawlessness, Antichrist, is revealed and does certain things. According to this word, the day of the Lord’s coming can be determined. On the one hand, the Scriptures indicate that we can determine the time of the day of the Lord, while on the other hand, the Lord Himself tells us that no one knows the day. Seemingly this is a contradiction, but in actuality it is not. Whereas no one can know the time of the beginning of the Lord’s parousia, the end of His parousia can be determined by signs. No one knows when the Lord’s parousia will begin, but by signs in the future, the signs to come, we can calculate when the Lord’s parousia will end.
This should cause us to be watchful. We should not say that since we have not yet seen the signs, the Lord’s coming will not be soon. This is only one aspect. We must take care of the other aspect. The Lord’s parousia can begin at any time without signs; therefore, we must be watchful. His parousia will be like a thief in the night who comes without giving notice. When a thief comes, he does not make a telephone call to say when he will come. A thief comes mainly when people are not ready. No one can determine when the Lord’s parousia will begin. Therefore, we must be warned to be watchful. We cannot be sloppy or loose. We have to be watchful because at any time the Lord’s parousia may begin.
(General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, A - Part 2: Romans through Philemon, Chapter 13, by Witness Lee)