Dystopian novels, while not a certainly not a new genre, hit their stride several years ago with the advent of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, in which an oppressive government drafts young people to fight in the deadly annual “Hunger Games” just to prove its power. Then along came the Divergent trilogy from Veronica Roth, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, and several other series. While teenagers devour these books, their parents remember being required to read dystopian works such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Perhaps you have no patience for imaginings of dystopia—a world of chaos and disorder. After all, why do we need to imagine it? 2020 was close enough!
As a teenager I read my own version of a dystopian series, The Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. However, these authors weren’t working only from their own imagination, but trying to picture what the end times will look like, as foretold primarily in Revelation and Daniel. I’m not here to debate how close the authors came or where they may have made mistakes. All that will sort itself out soon enough. What I want to point out is that we have a fascination with the end of the world—whether fictious or Scriptural. We’re entertained by it, frightened by it, motivated to action by it. However, we often overlook one end of eschatology.
We are commanded to comfort one another with our talks of the End (1 Thess. 4:18, 5:11).
Forever with the Lord
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church is as warm and fuzzy as any of Paul’s epistles. The apostle spends three of his five chapters gushing about his love for this church. They’re not off in left field theologically; they’ve not mixed the Gospel with the Law; and they’ve not been fighting amongst themselves over spiritual gifts or steaks from the marketplace. As far as we can tell, this church pretty much has it together.
So then, why does Paul write to them?
The biggest teaching section of the epistle gives a clue. They were experiencing some confusion regarding the Day of the Lord (the Second Coming of Christ) and what it would mean for people who had already passed away. At the end of chapter four, Paul explains that followers of Christ who die will not be forgotten when Christ returns for His church. That may seem obvious and old hat to us today, but the Thessalonians apparently were quite bothered by the prospect.
Paul comments in verse 13 that he’s telling them this so that they won’t “grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” If you have said goodbye to a loved one who has “fallen asleep in Christ,” you understand how precious this truth is.
Paul goes on to say that one day the Church will be gathered to “meet Christ in the air.” The most significant part of what he says comes at the end of verse 17: “And so shall we always be with the Lord.”
This is the first reason that we have to comfort one another with our eschatology. What’s often used as a scare tactic, is really the best news we can possibly offer.
From the time that Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden, our sin has separated us from our Creator. They experienced it immediately as they hid from the presence of the Lord and were later evicted from the Garden. We read in Genesis 5 of the generations of Seth, all of whom died—the ultimate manifestation of separation from God.
However, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, that separation has been undone.
Death is defeated, the curse broken.
“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Cor 15:55-57 )
When Christ returns, all those who acknowledge Him as Lord will be in His presence, holy and blameless, forever.
No more curse.
No more death.
No more sickness.
No more tears.
For “in His presence is the fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).
Spared God’s Wrath
I realize that theological debates rage regarding Christ’s return. Pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial—all the groups and sub-groups are dizzying. Though, like the rest of my fellow theological nerds, I do hold a position regarding these matters, I think we can all agree that when the pages of Revelation finally come to fruition, things are going to get wild. We may disagree on who the antichrist might be or where he might come from—but I hope we agree that he will come. We may disagree on what exactly the tribulation will look like and who exactly will be present for that period of time—but I think we can agree that God is going to unleash His wrath on the world as He removes what 2 Thessalonians calls “the restrainer.” I suspect that time will make 2020 look like a day at the beach.
And yet, Paul tells the Thessalonians to “encourage one another” (a command that could be translated “comfort”) and “build up one another” in light of the teaching of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s final judgment on earth. How is this possible?
Consider 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10:
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.”
As disciples of Christ and members of His body, we are not destined for wrath. We should be. My egregious acts of idolatry and heinous, high-handed treason against a holy God should purchase for me every day of the Tribulation in all its terror, and an eternity in the lake of fire.
But God intervened.
Because of His great love for me, He poured all the wrath that I rightly deserve onto His only Son so that I might “obtain salvation.” Because of this, I will be forever with the Lord.
The end of the world, from a biblical perspective, gives us ample opportunities to speak of the wrath of God, and the corresponding response to fear Him. That’s good. We should fear a God who is so righteously angry at sinners and their sin. However, may we not forget that at the very heart of the fear and the terror we find hope.
Though we deserve God’s wrath and to be separated from Him for all time, He has spared us, defeated death, and promised us Himself forever and ever.
“Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18)