Friday, April 19, 2013

WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday April 21, 2013
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LIVING WITH HOPE
(The coming of the LORD)
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11)

In Jerome’s “Vulgate”, which is the first Latin translation of the Holy Scriptures, the Latin word that is used for “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4, verse 17 is “Rapturo”. It is from this Latin word that we derive our English word “Rapture”. Here Paul is describing the “Rapture” of the church, when Christians will be “caught up” to meet CHRIST JESUS in the clouds (signaling the end of the Great Tribulation), at the time of HIS “Second Coming”.
The resurrected bodies of all believers who have already died, and, the bodies of all believers who are still living, and stayed loyal to JESUS through the Great Tribulation, will be united with HIM, and, with each other, at that time. From that point, and forevermore, we will reside with the LORD in HIS Millennial Kingdom here on earth (Revelations 20:1-6), and then later, in the Kingdom of Heaven (the New Jerusalem) (Revelations 21:1-4).
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Apostle Paul turns his attention to questions that the Thessalonians had concerning those Christians who die, prior to the second coming of CHRIST. They, through their lack of understanding, were concerned that their Christian loved ones, who had already passed away, would miss out on the rewards promised to those who believe and wait on the coming Glory of JESUS CHRIST.
Just like Christians in this generation, all generations prior to ours, believed that CHRIST would come during their lifetime. The reason being is that, we lose track, sometimes, of the true essence of the “Most High Faith”. One of the toughest things for the Christian, especially the “new” Christian, to grasp is that, this life is not the final act of the human drama. The Christian waits not for death, but rather, we wait for life, and to think otherwise is to share the attitude of a Pagan.
“I am the Resurrection, and the Life”, is what JESUS said to HIS friend Martha in John 11:25. For JESUS is Lord over both the physical, and the spiritual life. Our belief in HIM infuses in us a spiritual life that will persist, even after death. That is why, the greatest miracle of JESUS was not raising Lazareth back to the physical life (John 11:43-44), because we all know that Mary and Martha’s brother would again die. The greatest miracle was, and is, in JESUS’ power to grant endless spiritual life to those who believe in HIM.
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to be, neither grievers, nor, be ignorant like the Pagan World, who have no hope beyond this life. While certainly grieving is a normal human process for both Christians and non-Christians alike, it is still quite different for Christians because, we, as believers, have the revelation from GOD that gives us hope, and we know that we have a glorious future with CHRIST beyond this life. JESUS died, and was resurrected by GOD and re-united with HIM, and in the same way, Christians, who have died believing in CHRIST, will be resurrected and re-united with CHRIST at HIS second coming.
The death and resurrection of CHRIST, as far as the Christian is concerned, are among the best-known facts in the history of the world. And since we know that these events took place, we know that, likewise, the souls of believers, who have died, will return also, with CHRIST, when HE comes to collect HIS living saints, or believers, from this earth.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul moves his thoughts from the Rapture, to that period beyond the Rapture, now commonly known as the, “Day of the LORD”. The Day of the LORD is that future period of time, when GOD will be at work in world affairs, more directly, than HE has at any time since JESUS’ Earthly Ministry. Old Testament Prophets, such as Isaiah (13:9-11), Zephaniah (1:14-18, 3:14-15) and Joel (2:28-32) refer to such a time as this. They indicate that these days will include both judgment and blessings. This time will begin immediately following the Rapture, and end with the conclusion of the Millennium.
Christians are to be distinctly different from non-Christians, and by that I mean we must be as that difference between day and night. Christians are the children of light, and we live in a realm that is characterized by the light of CHRIST, by warmth, and, by growth. We are to behave according to our enlightened condition, and be prepared for the coming of the day of the LORD. That day will come suddenly and without further warning, it will be likened to the coming of a thief in the night.
Some things can’t be left until the last moment. It is too late to secure your house, once the storm has hit, just as it is too late to close the barn door, once the horses have gotten out. Paul insists that there is no reason for a person to be caught unawares. It is only the man who lives in darkness who will not be able to see what is coming at him. The man, who is a Christian, and lives in the light of CHRIST, will never be caught unprepared because he is watchful and sober at all times, and knows that the “Day of the LORD” will bring him blessings, instead of unfavorable judgment.
In the Old Testament book of the Prophet Daniel, in chapter 12, the biblical pictures of the “End Times” where given to encourage believers, not to make us afraid, or cause us to withdraw from the World. This, now famous, chapter is the end of a vision that came to Daniel in the time of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, and it answers the false hopes and fears of GOD’s people, then and now.
Understandably, it is very hard for us “not” to wonder if what is said in this chapter will occur in our lifetime. However, what we really need to do is look beyond life in the confines of this World, and look with earnest expectations to a life with GOD in the world to come.
JESUS cautions us in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows when the end will come, not even HIMSELF, at that time. Only GOD THE FATHER holds that answer, JESUS told us then. However, in order to please GOD, we need to be more concerned with how we’re living our lives from day to day, than we are with, when our lives will end.
In Matthew 25:31-46, concerning the final judgment, JESUS uses the analogy of the separation of the sheep and the goats to paint a picture of the criterion by which HE HIMSELF will judge us. This is one of the most vivid parables JESUS ever spoke, and the lesson is crystal clear. HE tells us there that HE will judge us “in accordance to our reaction to human need”. HIS judgment won’t depend upon the knowledge we’ve amassed, or the fame we’ve acquired, or the fortune that we’ve gained. We will be judged on the basis of the unselfish help that we’ve given to others.
In the final analysis, if you want to know the future, you must first know GOD. It is no man’s duty to speculate on what GOD’s secret plan may be for HIS return. It is our duty to prepare ourselves and wait on mercy from JESUS CHRIST to enable us to make our transition into Eternal Life.
The verses in Daniel chapter 12, serve to remind us to never become so engrossed in “time”, that we forget about “Eternity”. We should never let our concern for “worldly affairs” completely distract us from remembering that there is a GOD, and that the issues of life and death are always in HIS hands, and whenever HIS call comes, whether it be morning, noon, or night, hopefully, it will find us ready to go.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander




                                 
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