A Bible study on the set readings for November 8 shared by many Christian denominations, published a week early, to encourage reading the passages and reflecting on them before hearing them read and preached in a worship context. NIV text and commentary notes, taken in the Bible order which gives a progressive revelation with an overall theme that emerges. A print version to download and copy Bible-sized folder is on a link at the end.
Theme: Christ’s return will bring justice — and judgment
OT: Amos 5:18-24 — The Day of the Lord will be judgment on insincere worshippers
NT gospel: Matthew 25:1-13 — The unprepared bridesmaids teach us to be ready for Christ’s return when we least expect it
NT letter: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 — When the Lord comes He will bring back with Him His own who have passed away
Also read: Psalm 70
SEE ALSO article linked to this post ‘Understanding… The need to be ready for the Lord’s return‘
Amos 5:18-24 — The Day of the Lord will judge the insincere
It brings vindication if we are prepared — dire consequences if we are not
18 [This is what the Lord Almighty says:] “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light.
“The day of the Lord” — the earliest use of this expression. It was used by many of the prophets to describe any time when God would intervene to put right, what had gone wrong, meaning vindication for the righteous and judgment for the wicked.
“Why do you long for” — in Amos’ day people thought God’s purposes were a restoration of Israel’s military and political prosperity, as under David and Solomon. But because of Israel’s unfaithfulness it would be the opposite.
19 “It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.
“As though a man fled” — a picture of fleeing one danger to find oneself in a greater one.
20 “Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light — pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
“Darkness, not light” — Amos points to the Israelites’ distorted view of being entitled to be saved from judgment: in their pride they were turning into a pagan nation. In 722 BC Assyria’s conquest of the northern kingdom created the first exile.
• For further study, read 2 Kings 17:7-23.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
“I hate” — an even stronger word in Hebrew. Isaiah 1:14.
22-23 “Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
“Burnt offering and grain offerings” — it was not the practice that was wrong but the hypocrisy of making offerings with an absence of repentance.
24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
“Justice… righteousness” — need to be present for worship to be acceptable. A river bed that maintains its stream without drying up is a picture of justice and righteousness sustaining life in true worship.
A petition by David
1 Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.
2 May those who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.
3 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame.
4 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!”
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.
SUMMARY Amos prophesied at a time when both northern and southern kingdoms were enjoying economic success and security — and were complacent. They had become smug and self-reliant, and were losing sight of their need of covenant relationship with the Lord as prosperity increased. Amos wasn’t a priest or a court prophet, but a farmer of sheep and groves near Bethlehem whose prophetic words were carefully compiled, and here he sounds a warning. The pride of the rulers, believing that the nation as God’s chosen people would be guaranteed salvation, was misplaced. The Day of the Lord would be judgment on their insincere, unfeeling worship.
APPLICATION Worship can be following a set order, or it can be heartfelt and sincere. There are real dangers in going through the motions in a religious way, and not connecting to the Lord in a relational way. Following the form is no guarantee of acceptance — the heart behind it must be right.
QUESTION Do we find ourselves in a rut sometimes? How does Amos’ lesson speak to our orders of worship and personal devotion?
Matthew 25:1-13 — The story of the unprepared bridesmaids
We must be ready for Christ to come when we least expect it
1-2 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five wise.
“The kingdom of heaven” — the dominant theme of all Jesus’ teaching. This is now the fullness of the kingdom in the Second Coming and makes the point that those who are not prepared, cannot participate.
“Went out to meet the bridegroom” — marriage ceremonies often took place at nightfall and the bride and her entourage would wait for the groom and his party to come and lead her in procession from her parents’ house to the ceremony at his parents’ house — when everyone was ready.
3-4 “The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
“Took oil… with their lamps” — actually torches of rags on sticks which gave a good light but needed a lot of refreshing. The prepared girls had supplies of olive oil to cover the uncertain timing of the procession.
5-6 “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“At midnight” — this procession was unusually delayed and no one expected the groom’s arrival so late.
7-8 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“Trimmed their lamps” — cut off the charred ends and replenished the rags.
9 ” ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“Buy some for yourselves” — traders stayed open on a wedding night. Oil often stands for the Holy Spirit and is about our spiritual preparedness; we can only receive for ourselves, not by proxy.
10-11 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“The door was shut” — at a real wedding, latecomers would have braved the shame and been let in. But this is a parable, teaching a spiritual lesson: once Jesus has returned it will be too late to repent, and we cannot afford to wait to think about how to respond to Him
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
“I don’t know you” — because they are unprepared, not-yet disciples who now want the privileges of being included.
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
“Keep watch” — reiterating the main point of the parable. No one knows when Jesus will return, but everyone is responsible for their own relationship with God.
SUMMARY Jesus used a picture of a typical Jewish wedding ceremony to make His point about being prepared. Weddings generally took place in the evening, lasting into the night, and there would be some last-minute negotiation about the dowry for the bride — so the timing of the procession from bride’s house was uncertain. The attendant bridesmaids needed to keep their flaming torches going, ready for the procession, but it all depended on when the groom with his attendants appeared to take the bride to his parent’s home; on this occasion the delay was unduly extended.
APPLICATION So it is with the Second Coming of Jesus which will bring the completion of the beginning experience of the kingdom of God we have now. Nobody knows the time, or much about the manner of its coming, and it’s a mystery in which we have to live prepared and expectantly. Will He find faith when He comes? That is the picture of the replenished torches burning brightly. Those who have let the flame of their faith go out may not be admitted to the great celebration.
QUESTION How do we measure up to the Lord’s expectation of vibrant worship and confident faith, and how does this tie in with Amos’ warning?
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 — Death is but a chapter in a longer story
When the Lord comes He will bring with Him those who have already passed away
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
“Sleep in death” — a good way of seeing death from a Christian perspective. Sleep is followed by awakening.
“Who have no hope — most Greeks of that time had a very negative view of death. The Thessalonian believers did not understand that deceased Christians would rise from the dead, and would not miss out on the blessings of the Second Coming.
• For further study about personal existence after death, see Luke 23:40-43; Acts 7:55-60; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Philippians 1:20-24; Revelation 6:9-11; awaiting the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:23.
14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.
“God will bring with Jesus” — the souls of those who have died and have been in heaven with Christ will come with Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. The body sleeps, the soul goes to heaven.
• For further study on the Christian hope in Christ’s resurrection, see Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:12–23; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:18.
15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
“According to the Lord’s word” — probably Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29-31, 40-41.
“We… who are left” — Paul is identifying himself with his readers, not implying that he will see Christ return. Paul assures them that they will not miss out when the Lord comes.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
“The trumpet call of God” — to herald the resurrection, as it previously announced the rescue of Israel, Zephaniah 1:16, Zechariah 9:14.
“The voice of the archangel” — the only angel so named is Michael, portrayed as the leader of the army of God, Daniel 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7-9.
17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
“Caught up together with them” — the Latin for “caught up”, rapturo produced the term rapture; this is the only mention of this in the Bible, referred to elsewhere by Paul as a mystery, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and as visual apocalyptic language, best not over-interpreted.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
“Encourage one another” — the main purpose of this passage is not to set out a scheme of prophecy but to reassure grieving Christians in the church that the dead will be resurrected, and will participate in the Lord’s coming for His own.
SUMMARY The Thessalonian readers of this letter will all have had their own relationship with the Lord, and despite the difficulties and persecutions of first-century Christians, they will all have known the joy of Spirit-led worship. But some have misunderstood Paul’s earlier teaching about Jesus’ return, and were confused by the unfulfilled expectation. And what about those in the fellowship who had died in the meantime? Paul here gives us his explanation of how the return will sweep the faithful ones on earth up with the Lord, meeting the souls of those who had gone to be with Him before, returning to share His triumphant rule and reign on heavenly earth.
APPLICATION Where Amos’ picture was of the judgment in the Second Coming (and other encounters before that), and Jesus’ story told of the exclusion of those found unprepared, this majors on the joyful vindication of the righteous, those submitted to Jesus. It also reminds us that death is not final for the believer, but the opening of another dimension of life with Jesus.
QUESTION How important is it to understand the details of how the Lord’s return will work out? What is more important?
PRAYER Lord Jesus, we long for Your return and the resolution of all injustice, war, religious strife and wanton hatred.
Our hope is in what Your resurrection means to us — our eventual resurrection.
Help us to spend our time here diligently and in awareness of Your Great Commandment and Great Commission, ready for heaven but fully engaged with the work and witness You have for us to do first.
To the glory of the king and His kingdom we pray. Amen.
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