I Believe in the Return of Christ – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 (Mar 2-3)


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Synopsis of the Sermon

Pastor Rich opened by describing failed attempts from Christian leaders to predict our Lord’s return. He hypothesized that these failures serve, at least in part, to explain why Christ’s return may feel like a fringe belief when in reality it was very central for all N.T. writers. Even Jesus himself regularly spoke about his eventual return.
For context – Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians mention the return of Christ in every chapter. So the rhetorical question was asked – “is Christ’s return something new Christians need?” Apparently, Paul thought so. The return of Christ implicitly addresses the reality of human limitations. Embracing the fact that our Messiah will return, challenges the notion that human activities are progressively improving life on this planet. The truth is we can’t fix or save ourselves on our own – we need a Messiah.
The 2nd reason to teach the return of Jesus is that it helps comforts those in grief. There is something wrong, instinctually unnatural, about our experience of death. Christians should grieve, but not in the same ways as others because we know death in this age is not the end. V.13 from the text says our grief can be compounded by ignorance. Pastor Rich made the point that ignorance could translate into every area of life.  Our grief may also be compounded when we lack hope (v. 13). Andrew Delbanco, wrote about the American dream and talked about the shifting loci of people’s faith, their hope, from god to our nation and finally to self…it’s no wonder that so many people feel hopeless.
Finally, Christ will return personally. Mentioning Rev 1:7 – “every eye will see Jesus coming on the clouds”. Paul lays out the stages – Resurrection, return, rapture, reunion.

 

In 5 minutes or less, briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon.  What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling?  Explain.

Getting the Conversation Started

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

  • What are one or two things from this weekend’s sermon that really stood out to you?
  • What enlightening statements have you heard recently from friends, or coworkers, about where their hope lays? Were you able to share your faith in those conversations? If so, what did you say – if not, what would you say now?

 

Scripture Study

            Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-28

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[c] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

 

Paul wrote extensively to the church at Corinth, mostly because of their need for correction and instruction.  Modern theologians, and NT Wright concurs, that throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul repeatedly indicates that Christian behavior in the present life is predicated upon continuity between this life and the future one. Wright even goes so far as to say the first 14 chapters of the book lay the groundwork for the culmination we read in Ch. 15. The basic argument for Ch. 15 then is what God did for Jesus is both the “model and the means” of what he will do for Jesus’ people.[1] Paul holds firmly to a “bodily resurrection” which you’ll see is a foundational concept for believers to grasp.

 

  1. (vv. 13-17) What is the central condition upon which all of Paul’s case lies? (Resurrection of the dead really happens). List each of the problems that arise if that is untrue? (Christ could not have been raised v. 13, preaching and faith is useless v. 14, Paul and others would be liars v.15, faith is futile v. 17) What does it mean that our faith is useless and futile? (“waste of time” – the KOG would not have broken in to rescue us from our sins and given us freedom in Christ, Gal 1:3-5).
  2. The experience of the resurrected life is wonderfully depicted in Ezekiel 37:1-13. Consider reading it and then take a moment to share what you hear in this passage (note to focus on vv. 11-13). Additionally, what makes the resurrected life real to you? Share briefly how you were once dead and are now alive in Christ – hope restored, life granted, and relationship restored.
  3. (vv 18-19) What is Paul saying about those already dead and those alive? What is our hope tied to? (Christ, but it’s not just for this life but for the life to come as well. This is the grounding of our hope, mentioned in the sermon). Tie the understanding of hope/grief from this weekend’s message to these verses in 1 Cor.
  4. What’s your personal experience with grief/hope? Does the belief in the resurrection matter? Why or why not? Please share.
  5. (v. 20) Paul, not losing sight of his main argument about resurrection calls Christ the “first-fruits”. What are first fruits and why would he call Christ that? (Greek, aparche – first fruits, Rom 8:23, 11.16 – the first sheaf of the harvest which guarantees that there will be more to come).
  6. (vv. 21-22) In v. 3 Paul reminds that all of Scripture point to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, and even this central theme of resurrection, is alluded to in “all of scripture”. Again, in vv. 21-21 Paul is giving a theological basis for his beliefs. These themes Paul develops more significantly in Romans, Christ replaces and surpasses Adam.  Who then is saved in Christ? (Everyone).
  7. Does this word give any relief to doubts and hope to the hopeless? Has anyone been used by God as an agent of comfort to the hopeless? Did the promise of resurrection come in, if at all? Do you think after this weekend’s message it could enter in?
  8. (vv. 23-28) This is a long, dense argument Paul makes. In the weekend’s message, Pastor Rich laid out Paul’s formula in 1 Thessalonians – resurrection, return, rapture, reunion. In This passage the focus is on Christ’s final defeat of death and his reign over all powers. To close read Romans 8:37-39. The amazing thing is WE will one day reign with Christ, even over death – and for Paul, and hopefully for us, we deeply believe that we can’t be separated from Jesus’ Love.

 

Ministry Application

Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.

 

  • These are tough themes and may require further study. If people feel confused, or have questions unanswered about Jesus second coming, the KOG, of end times – consider reading together Wright’s Surprised by Hope, or Ladd’s A Blessed Hope, or Steve Gregg’s Revelation Four Views, or even Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. Also, if anyone is sharing their faith with someone and the end times question is as stumbling block, get together with one or two others and share some ideas about how to share God’s truth relevant ways. Finish by praying for that person.
  • How much of the resurrected life have you experienced? If the passage from Ezekiel excited you, consider praying for more of the Spirit’s life in you. What areas of life still feel dead, remain separated from God’s love and reign.
  • Is there anyone grieving today? Anyone to intercede for? Consider getting together and praying for each other.
  • If anyone is feeling this topic, and truth to be irrelevant, share with someone you trust and then pray together that God would help connect these truths in your heart. Sometimes our limited experience of Christ’s power diminishes our ability to hold on to the deeper and exciting mysteries of our faith.  Where does God need to break in? Why is there a loss of hope and excitement? Why have doubts crept in? Share freely and receive some prayer.


[1] For deeper insight into the Corinthian texts, consider reading NT Wright’s Resurrection and the Son of God pg. 277-372.