Most of us don’t know very much about the ancient history of the region that many faith groups consider to be holy land. Most of us are not experts in the political maneuverings and post-war negotiations that set the stage for the seemingly unending trauma that has unfolded there in recent history. Most of us are also not scholars of apocalyptic Scripture in its original languages and contexts. Still, many Christians are certain that parts of the Bible herald violence in that region as a sign of Jesus’s imminent return. They believe that the horror happening now is a sign of heaven coming soon and they believe our government must help speed the way to that end time.
Much about the current horror is complex—much more complex than any social media outburst can convey—but some things are simple, like a faithful Christian response that wholly rejects hate, greed, lies, and violence. Some things are not only simple but urgent: a faithful Christian response that insists on God’s deep care for all people, and likewise insists that if God cares deeply for all people, so do we.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church offers the early believers a vision of the coming day of the Lord that does not hinge on horror, but on hope. It does not look for signs in prolonged violence and trauma, but for the unexpected day that will come in a time of peace and security. It does not claim that some people must suffer hell on earth so believers can obtain eternal heaven, but insists that Christians suit up in faith and love to encourage and build others up. Nearly two thousand years after Paul taught the Thessalonian believers how to live while they wait, we still have a lot to learn.
The world around us prefers power over patience, keeping control over keeping awake, expressing wrath over embodying peace—and all too often, the church agrees. When the things of God are twisted into tools for worldly leaders to wage power, control, and wrath, the church’s witness is anything but faith, hope, and love. When the people of God hope that human violence will hasten the coming of the Prince of Peace, we can no longer dare to testify that God so loves the world because we will have shown without a doubt that we definitely don’t.
- How important is the church’s witness in a time of national and international upheaval? What do you think the church’s witness should be? How do you—or how can you—contribute to that witness?
- Different parts of the Bible describe the “end times” differently. Why is it important to learn about the context of the world when these texts were written? How do these texts impact the way you wait with anticipation for Jesus’s return?
- Why are Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians a relevant and even necessary guide for us as we wait? No matter how or when “the day of the Lord” comes, why does it matter how we live while we wait?
- What do you think Paul means when he says the believers must “keep awake”? Do you think this only means we are to be looking for divine signs of the end times? Or might it mean that we are to live differently every day—fully “awake” to the presence of God and to the needs of God’s beloved world, for as long as it takes?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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