1 Thessalonians 1:4-10
Waiting for His Son from Heaven
Scholars tell us that along with his letter to the churches in Galatia, these letters to the Thessalonians are probably the first Paul wrote which are among those included in the New Testament. I agree. These letters lack the sophistication of those to the Ephesians and to the Romans and instead emphasize those most primitive and essential teachings of the Christian faith, and written with the passion the Apostle brought in those earlier times. The overriding concern in Galatians is the doctrine of justification by faith; here it is with our Lord’s return.
But in 1:4, Paul begins by declaring that he knows that “[God] has chosen you.” The doctrine of election always looms large behind the message of the gospel; indeed, it is inextricably tied to it. Why? Because the world lies under God’s wrath—not God’s love—God’s wrath. This is what is taught in 1:10 and Romans 1:18-32. John 3:16 cannot be understood as teaching that God’s redeeming love blankets the whole planet from Adam and Eve forward. Granted, God shows his benevolence the world over by raining on both the just and unjust and providing fruitful seasons (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). But the preaching of the gospel is predicated on the fact that this world is sinking into hell and that God is snatching some out of the fire before it is finally and justly condemned. The false teaching that God loves everybody equally and worse, unconditionally, completely undercuts any urgency out of the gospel message, for why would God send those He loves to hell? Did He stop loving them? Did He stop loving them because they did not freely believe in and choose Him? If so, He never loved them “unconditionally” in the first place. Those who do not believe are condemned already (John 3:18).
Paul says that he knew God had chosen them because the word came to them “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” This, the word does of itself. But even better, the word proved its power in the transformation of the lives of the Thessalonians themselves who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come,” such that the whole world had taken notice. This is what the gospel does when it is plowed into the heart of the believer through the Holy Spirit: It changes her such that her life becomes one of ardent and fervent waiting—passionate, love-sick, longing for the Lover of her soul to return and carry her home.
I ended this devotion referring to the soul of the believer ardently, passionately, and fervently waiting for the Lord to return and carry (him or her) home. I believe that such a passionate desire is presented in the Scriptures as evidence of a regenerated heart. I do not say that believers should make foolish decisions because of this expectation, such as not working and earning a living as Paul warned the Thessalonians in his second letter to them in 3:6-12. We are to be good stewards of the possessions God gives us and use them for His glory.
But we are to be patiently waiting, nonetheless; His return should be in the forefront of our minds—daily. But there is just one caution I would like to make, and it comes from my own life. We are warned not to love the world (1 John 2:15), that “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25), and “that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). And there is within me a definite loathing of this world. My problem is that I’m uncertain that I loathe it for the right reasons. Are my reasons rooted in pride? Is it a godly hatred for sin or just plain hatred? Am I just tired of being in it? What is the source of my disdain for this world? (Please note: I speak not of the people of this world to whom we should witness and feel pity, and whom God loves if only by benevolence and common grace, but of the world under the dominion of sin.)
I wish to caution us at this place that our disdain for this world will be pure if it is rooted in our waiting for His Son from heaven. Let me word it like this: We are not waiting for His Son from heaven because we despise the world; we despise the world because we are waiting for His Son from heaven. We may surely hate sin (specifically our own but also in general), the world, and the devil in and of themselves; but it is best to hate them for God’s sake. And if someone shall patronize me by telling me that Christians should not hate, I can only respond that the more we love God, the more we shall share His own hatred for that which is opposed to Him, and rejoice to see Him vindicate His Name when the day of wrath comes (Revelation 19:1-21).