Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance. We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy. As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future. The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.
From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD. One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia. It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.
At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea. Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there. As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started. Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along.
We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again. Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives.
In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord. Paul is overflowing with thanks for them. And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else. He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God. That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25! Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?
Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus. Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time. When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses. They were added much later. But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul. Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?” Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return. And when will Jesus return?
That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.
Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming. But when will that happen? Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25.
In this passage, Jesus is in his final days. He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare. On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom. They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence. But Jesus was not that kind of King. His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world!
And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple. Their beloved church building. The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith. And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.”
The disciples are aghast. What is he talking about? When would this happen? They want to know details! How will they be able to tell? Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching.
First the near level. In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it. You can read about it in Acts 3-4.
Then the medium range level. I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day. This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed. And it happened! Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is. Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens? That is Jesus. He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.
Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy. That is what we are focusing on today. Look at verses 25-36.
There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again! As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour. His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising. So we should practice humility about signs. We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return? Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.