“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 )
Like square pegs into round holes – that is what it has been like the past few days trying to match scripture passage to the themes of “Sip of Scripture” to the themes from Reading the Anabaptist Bible. The historic Anabaptists applied this verse from 1 Thessalonians to the consequences of sin and of being sinners, catching those who committed the sin unaware. Bartholomeus Panten wrote to his daughter, “For the time will come when they [those who have sinned] shall lament it, who have spent their life here in that which was not proper; for when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 1 Thess. 5:3.”
The traditional understanding of these verses has been that Christ’s return will not be heralded by anything, so the faithful must be ready for Christ’s return. It is a different sort of spin to consider the warning being given to the sinful and what might befall them. The historic Anabaptists had a tradition of considering themselves a people apart from everyone else (and always being found living under God’s guidance), therefore seeing all others are sinful and fallen by default so logical.
That this verse is placed under the theme of “Vengeance” underlines the idea that the passage speaks to the vengeance of God coming to the sinful, as opposed to the surprising return of Christ coming to the world. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible, prefacing this passage with the following, “Be prepared always, for sudden destruction will come upon those who partake in sin” give us an insight into the thinking of the historic Anabaptists.
For me it is an interesting exercise to try to discern why the historic Anabaptists might have understood and why they used verses in such unique ways. What were their theological understandings that gave rise to such interpretations? How did their experience of oppression and persecution shape their theological understandings? And I wonder how have modern Anabaptist/Mennonite understandings have changed? And how might their historic understandings and modern understandings contrast to different denominations’ understandings? If this were a theological blog, I might try to answer these questions. I think my answers might reflect more of my personal theology. And I am not persuaded that you, beloved, are needful of hearing me espouse on my theology.
What is clear is this. First, we do not know when Christ will return. Or if it will be a judging vengeful Christ, or a forgiving and reconciling Christ. Second, there will always be those who misread the signs and portent, declaring safety when it is really disaster that is coming. Third, we do know that it is never wise to be caught “with our hand in the cookie jar” – so to speak.
May you beloved never have to fear for what will come because you will always be found in God’s grace. Selah!
P.S. Beloved, this is first week that posts will be appearing for the Advent theme. It is a transition period for me, moving from one way of writing this blog and posting to another. There will be duality for the Advent season, and then moving to a less frequent schedule. There will also be the duality of finishing Reading the Anabaptist Bible and starting in on the Advent and Christmas season. May our Lord God help us to hold both themes in our hearts and minds! Selah!