Living with hope and great expectations
By Edna M. Thompson
Siloam Youth Sunday School Teacher
What would you do differently if you knew that Jesus would knock on your door tomorrow? It is so easy to dismiss the coming of the Lord, because we get so deeply involved in our own concerns. Our agenda becomes more important than His. We do not get advance word about Jesus’ coming; therefore, we can take steps to be ready to meet Him. Because Jesus died, rose from the grave, and is coming again, we can fit our goals and fears into His good and perfect will. Knowing Jesus makes life worthwhile.
The church in Thessalonica was birthed during Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul preached about God’s action in the life of Jesus and His resurrection to life from the dead. Many persons in Thessalonica, converted to Christianity and many Gentiles turned from idol worship to the living God. A large number of Jews resisted Paul’s message and created much hostility and opposition to the Christian movement. Paul was concerned for the stability of the community of believers in Thessalonica. Given the hostility from unbelievers, the Thessalonian Christians were encouraged to remain steadfast in their faith while they maintained great expectations and their apocalyptic hope for the return of the crucified Christ.
Waiting on Jesus’ return became both a sociological and theological dilemma for the Thessalonian Christians. How could the Thessalonians live faithfully and survive as believers in the Messiah, in a world that ridiculed them for their belief in Jesus’ return to earth as the Lord of Life? How were they to live practically and make practical decisions about living while they invested hope in a reality that they believed was soon to come? Paul wrote to them with a general concern for the community’s stability in face of continuing hostility from their non-Christian neighbors.
In the letters written to the Thessalonians, Paul addressed the theological topic of Christ’s second coming and the meaning of life after death. Paul attempted to unpack the theological content of “the second coming of Christ” by balancing the expectation of the return of Christ with an understanding of what it means to have life with Christ amid the practical demands of social existence – while living with faith. The Thessalonian Christians anticipated sharing in the blessings that would come with the arrival of the Lord of life from heaven. This anticipation raised theological concerns regarding the relation of the dead in Christ to the expected “second coming of Christ.”
Living with expectations, between “the already” and “the not yet” poses great challenges to one’s faith. Paul’s exhortation and teaching to the Christians in Thessalonica represent the strongest appeal for steadfast hope in the midst of opposition and resistance to the purpose of God. Paul’s apocalyptic spirit was similar to that spirit found in the experience and struggle of African slaves who were forced to wait for freedom and lived in the tension between the “hope of freedom” and the “absence of freedom” on American plantations. Like the Christian community in Thessalonica, there was little in the environment of oppression to console and comfort them to know that their struggle for freedom was consistent with God’s purpose. Paul’s apocalyptic vision of God’s new age in Christ serves to help contemporary Christians hold on to the hope of Jesus Christ.