What are you most looking forward to? Retirement? Getting your braces removed? Marriage? Anticipation of these things gives life a sense of hope and purpose - something to live for. I wonder, however, if there isn't something greater than these things for us to anticipate. Ultimately, we are all anticipating our death, which could come at any minute, but anticipating death only leaves us with an "Eat, drink, and be merry" worldview #ecclesiastes. As Christians, what are we anticipating, and how should it change the way we live?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now, go back over verses 1-4. Here, we see that the Thessalonians knew very well of the impending return of Christ, their Savior. They were anticipating it. My first point is that Christians should actively anticipate Christ's return. The Thessalonians were aware that the Day of the Lord would come 'like a thief in the night' - an analogy that Jesus himself used when describing the end times to his disciples in Matthew 24. If you know that a thief is coming, do you just forget about it and go about your life? Of course not! Anticipating a thief means actively being on the alert, staying on your toes, making sure you're ready for his arrival. Do we anticipate Christ in this way? In the same passage in Matthew, Jesus also compares his return to the Flood. We're reminded that the people in Noah's time lived with an "Eat, drink, and be married" mentality (Matt. 24:38), while Noah, on the other hand, actively anticipated the impending flood. Because of this, he was able to actively engage himself in building an ark so that he and his family would be saved. If Noah's family had not been active in their anticipation, they would have been destroyed along with everyone else. Today, we ought to be anticipating the Day of the Lord as though it were a 2nd Flood, fearful of remaining idle and missing the boat. Though the idea of a thief and a Flood are rather frightening, active anticipation isn't just fearful - it is also wonderful. Think about what it's like to anticipate falling in love. It could happen at any time, so there is always a tension, a hope, an expectancy - and you do what you can to prepare yourself should you happen to encounter 'the one'. Without the anticipation of falling in love, you're free to look and behave however you want, but life becomes depressing and rather meaningless! Therefore, anticipation is hopeful, and it gives us something to live for (1 Peter 1:13). To be forgetful of the thief, the flood, or the possibility of love will inevitably leave you in a bad spot, but being alert in anticipation should encourage purposeful activity.
Now, read 1 Thess. 5:5.
Here, Paul uses the words brother, sister, and children - titles of filial relation. I think this speaks to the idea that anticipation has something to do with relationship. When Christ returns, it will be sudden like a thief, but he will not be threatening to those who know him. Instead, his arrival should be like that of a welcome loved one. There's this song by Newworldson called "There is a Way," and in it, there's a line that says, 'Would you recognize His face if He came to bring you home?" This speaks to the idea that salvation opened up a pathway of relationship that is meant to be accessed now. We are children of the light now and can get to know our God and Savior through personal relationship. God has laid on my heart lately the idea that Christianity is much more about a relationship than it is a religion. Therefore, my second point is that Christians should ardently anticipate Christ's return. We talked in youth group last Wednesday about spending quality time with God on a regular basis. The more we know, and are known, by someone, the deeper that relationship becomes and the greater that love becomes. An intimate connection makes separation a difficult thing to bear! Ardent love creates a heightened sense of anticipation, infusing each day with meaning and hope. Anticipation loves its object, and that love deepens as knowledge increases (John 17:24-26).
Now, what's neat is that active and ardent anticipation armors you against sins of the heart and errors of the mind. Read 1 Thess. 5:8. Here, we see that Christians should be armored by anticipation. If active anticipation is hopeful, then it serves to guard our minds, as a helmet does. Active anticipation keeps our thoughts guarded and on track. If ardent anticipation loves its object, then it serves to guard the heart from other passions. If you anticipate the return of the one you love dearly at any moment, then there is little temptation to commit adultery. All that remains, then, is faith (1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Thess. 1:3), and anticipation fosters faith. Actively and ardently anticipating the return of our Lord Jesus Christ requires faith in him, first and foremost! We must clothe ourselves with faith, hope, and love for Christ if we are to truly escape the destruction spoken of in 1 Thess. 5:9-10 (Romans 13:11-14).
I think it's really cool that while anticipation gives a sense of urgency to evangelism, it also bestows a sense of peace and confidence, because we know that we are armored. Plus, rather than just threatening people with a big, impersonal Flood you get to introduce them to a person whom you know, personally.
So how do we stay active, ardent, and armed in anticipation? What do we do?
First, we can actively anticipate by praying (Eph 6:18; Matthew 26:41)
Second, we can ardently anticipate by familiarizing (Matthew 7:21-13; John 17:24-26)
And third, we can arm each other through regular fellowship (1 Thess 5:11; Heb 10:23-25)
So anticipate the return of our Lord Jesus Christ! He could be here at any minute. This knowledge should give us joy, not fear, and we can remain on the alert by praying, being in the Word, and engaging in fellowship with other believers. Pray for sensitivity to the Spirit's leading, so that you can be active in the work of the Kingdom. Spend time getting to know God in His Word each day, so that your anticipation will be ardent. And encourage and build one another up in Christ continually, knowing that your anticipation puts you in a war zone where you need the support of your brothers and sisters.