Knowledge of the Appearing and its Effect on Believers
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Thessalonians 5. In this epistle we have the Christian’s three enemies and how we can meet them. In chapter three it was the hindrance of the Devil that both Paul and the saints were facing, and the way it was overcome was by love working in grace, in spite of opposition. Though Paul was hindered by Satan, he was able to send Timothy instead. In chapter four the enemy is the flesh, and this is met with practical sanctification and love. But in chapter five the enemy is the world, and this enemy must be met with the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5 deals with how the appearing of Christ has it’s effect on believers. If we know the end of the world, that it will come under judgment at the day of the Lord, it will help us to live as children of the day.
Knowledge of the Day of the Lord (5:1-4)
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that ye should be written to, 2 for ye know perfectly well yourselves, that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief by night. vv.1-2 Knowledge of the Day of the Lord. The first verse is connected with 1 Thess. 4:14, before the parenthesis. The saints were ignorant of the truth of the rapture and resurrection of the dead in Christ at His coming. They were concerned that the sleeping saints would miss out on the kingdom, because they really were anticipating the kingdom at any moment, which is part of “the day of the Lord”. The day of the Lord begins with the appearing, and ends when death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. Read Isa. 13:6-13 for a description of the day of the Lord. “The day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains” (Joel 2:1-2). It is the time when all will acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, and it is in contrast with “the day of man” (1 Cor. 4:3). Read more… The Thessalonians were not ignorant of the day of the Lord, such that Paul had “no need to write” to them about “the times and the seasons”, which refers to those prophetic events that preceded the Lord’s appearing; i.e. specific measures of time like 1260 days (see Acts 1:7). The truth of the appearing is not a mystery as the rapture. There is nothing about the rapture in the Old Testament, but much about the appearing of Christ. Times and seasons pertain to the purposes of God under the heaven (Ecc. 3:1). God has confided these things to us because we are the friends of Christ (John 15:15). Apparently, Paul or Timothy had already unfolded some of this to them, as well as perhaps some had familiarity with the Old Testament prophecies. The fact of the Lord’s coming “as a thief” is mentioned five times in scripture, and it always refers to the appearing (Matt. 24:43; 1 Thess. 5:2-4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; Rev. 16:15). The idea of coming as a thief involves unwanted surprise. The Lord will not come for His saints as a thief as v.4 plainly states, but rather as a bridegroom. Nor does a thief blow a trumpet before he surprises his victims. The simple proof that the Lord will not come as a thief in the night for His saints is that He tells them He is coming for them (1 Thess. 4) and to be expecting and watching for Him. It could not also be said that the Lord was coming for His saints as a thief!
3 When they may say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon her that is with child; and they shall in no wise escape. v.3 The World’s Ignorance of Coming Judgment. While the saints are informed about the coming judgment that will engulf the world at the end of the age, the world is willingly ignorant of it. In fact, they will say “Peace and safety”, as if to reassure themselves that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). The world mocks the promise of the Lord’s appearing. But God will catch the wise in their own craftiness, and the promises of peace and safety will be shattered. It isn’t that during the tribulation the world is actually at peace, but they “say” so. The beast will promise safety through his great power (Rev. 13:4). In reality, their hearts are failing them for fear (Luke 21:26). Two characteristic”s of the coming judgment are emphasized by Paul, and equally attested in the prophets:
- God’s judgment is sudden. “Then sudden destruction comes upon them”, at the very time when they assure themselves that they have things under control. Our Lord warned of this in Matt. 24:27, “For as the lightning goes forth from the east and shines to the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of man”. When the Lord does come, it will like a flash of lightning. It will be sudden, swift, surprising, and maximally public.
- God’s judgment is sure. “As travail upon her that is with child; and they shall in no wise escape”. Just as in childbirth, where pain is universal and unavoidable, so the judgment that will fall in the day of the Lord will be inescapable. “For wheresoever the carcass is, there also shall the eagles be gathered together” (Matt. 24:28). The agents of God’s judgment will surely find their mark.
Notice the pronouns “they” and “them” in v.3, and compare with the pronouns “ye”, “we”, and “us” in v.4, v.8. and v.9. Clearly, the judgments associated with the day of the Lord are targeted toward those who are in darkness, not toward the children of the light.
4 But “ye”, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief: 5 for all “ye” are sons of light and sons of day; we are not of night nor of darkness. vv.4-5 Moral Difference between Believers and the World. “Sons of light” are those that share the moral character of God, who is Light. It’s important that we understand that we’re living in a time of darkness and night. Eph. 5:8-6. We need to know how to live as “sons of light and sons of day” in the night. It is true the day is getting darker but in 1 John 2:8, “the darkness is passing and the true light already shines”, and in Prov. 4:18, “the path of the righteous is as the shining light, going on and brightening until the day be fully come.” The path of the believer here in this world of darkness should shine more and more until the Lord comes and the millennial day dawns.
The Effect on the Lives of Believers (5:6-11)
6 So then do not let us sleep as the rest do, but let us watch and be sober; 7 for they that sleep sleep by night, and they that drink drink by night; vv.6-7 Awareness vs. Sleepiness and Sobriety vs. Intoxication. To “watch” is to be aware, or ready for action. A soldier standing on guard would need to watch for danger, and be ready to sound the alarm. To be sober is to have right moral judgment with respect to the world. This does not mean going around with a long face. We can still be characterized by joy while we watch and are sober. Those who are “sober” are separate now from what will soon be judged. In v.7 Paul uses the common knowledge that physical sleep is suited to physical darkness or night. If you are going to be unconscious, the time to be so is when it is dark out. This illustrates that the spiritual condition of sleep (ignorance) is suited to those who are of the spiritual night; i.e. unbelievers. Paul also says “they that drink drink by night”, meaning that physical drunkenness is suitable to the physical darkness, rather than the daytime when a farmer can be in the field, or a soldier standing at arms. Intoxication is suited to darkness, rather than to light. The same is true in a moral sense; a lifestyle of excess in anything, alcohol, sex, career, money, etc. is characteristic of those who are sons of the darkness. The following verse makes it clear why we should not be characterized by these things; because we are of the day. Therefore, we can “watch” (be aware, ready for action), and “be sober” (have right moral judgment).
Watching in scripture. To “watch” is to be aware, or ready for action. Scripture exhorts us to “watch” for a number of things. First of all, we are to be watching for the Lord to come; “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 25:13). No doubt, this does not mean to literally watch with our eyes, but instead to live our lives in expectation that “perhaps today”, the Lord will come. We are also to “watch” in prayer, being aware of the Lord’s working in our lives; “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2, Matt. 26:38; 1 Pet. 4:7; Eph. 6:18). Third, we are to be watching for ourselves, on account of the dangers and pitfalls that surround us; “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), “But watch thou in all things” (2 Tim. 4:5). Fourthly, we are to be watching for others; “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:15). Those in oversight are to “watch” for those committed to their trust; “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief” (Heb. 13:17). The assembly is to watch that evil not come in; “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Rev 3:3).
8 but “we” being of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as helmet the hope of salvation; v.8 The Christian’s Armor against Carelessness. There are two pieces of the the armor in 1 Thess. 5; the breastplate and the helmet. When we come to Ephesians 6, we have a fuller explanation, and there are six pieces! Another difference is that the enemy in Ephesians 6 is the Devil himself, while in 1 Thessalonians 5 the enemy is the world. The line of truth given in Ephesians is a higher aspect of things, connected with the mystery. The more truth we are given, the more the direct the attacks will be, and the more armor is needed. The danger in 1 Thessalonians 5 is that of becoming complacent, and slipping into worldly living, where the sons of the day act as if they were sons of the night. The “breastplate of faith” is needed so we do not lose courage, and the “breastplate of love” is needed so our affections don’t get cold. The world around us is skeptical, which means it is opposed to faith; i.e. complete trust in God. The world is also cynical, which means it is full of deceit, mistrust, and selfishness. To combat this the Christian must wear the breastplate of love, which keeps the saint in the conscious enjoyment of God’s love, and then results in love flowing out to others.1 The second piece of the armor is the helmet, which is “the hope of salvation”. Now the salvation that is referred to is the same salvation or deliverance mentioned earlier in the epistle; “Jesus, which delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10), also in terms of being “caught up” to “ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17), and mentioned in the following verse, “God has not set us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). Notice that the word “hope” is used, putting this salvation in the future; it is a deferred certainty. In other words, this “salvation” is a future salvation which the saints will have when the Lord comes to catch them away. This is one of three aspects of salvation mentioned in the New Testament. Read more… A helmet covers the soldier’s head, which is a critical area to keep protected. The head of course represents our mind and our thoughts. One of the most dangerous weapons known to man is the idea. Consider how the Germans used the ideas of Vladimir Lenin to bring down the Russian Empire, and take Russia out of World War I. The impact of those ideas, planted in the minds of the Russian working class, were far more effective than any amount of military force. In a similar way, the world puts before the Christian many thoughts, temptations, and schemes that run contrary to the Word of God. How careful we need to be with our thoughts! Keeping the hope of the Lord’s coming before us will be like a helmet for our mind, to help us to “be sober”, and to block out the alluring attractions of the world, that are designed to drag us down into moral sleep and drunkenness. So in conclusion, the three things that were active in the Thessalonians from the very beginning – faith, love, and hope (1 Thess. 1:3) – are what would preserve them. The One who is the object of our faith, also draws out the affections of our heart, and we look for Him as our hope.
The Christian’s Armor vs. the World-ling’s Armor. The world also has armor, but it is completely opposite of the believer’s. In light of the coming judgment of the world, the earth-dweller turns to the system and principles of the world for protection. The world says “peace and safety”, inviting the souls of men to turn to it for protection. But sudden destruction will overtake the world, and all those who trust in the arm of the flesh. While the Christian puts on the breastplate of faith and love, the world-ling puts on the breastplate of independence and self-preservation. While the Christian puts on the helmet of the hope of salvation, the world-ling puts on the helmet of present distraction. One class of armor is effective, the other will fail. While the world’s destruction is unavoidable, the believer’s hope of being with the Lord is equally certain, but far more blessed!
9 because God has not set us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who has died for us, that whether we may be watching or sleep, we may live together with him. v.9 The Christian’s Hope. Having mentioned the “hope of salvation” as the Christian’s helmet, Paul now expands on what exactly this hope is. This hope involves two things: (1) we will be preserved from the coming wrath that will fall on this world, and (2) all the saints will live together with Christ. How are these two things accomplished? How will believers be exempted from the coming judgments that Revelation outlines? How will the saints, whether “watching” as alive on the earth or “sleeping” as dead in Christ, live together with Him? The obvious answers to these two questions are found in the preceding chapter: the rapture is the means of our being saved from wrath, and the resurrection is the means of the saints all living together with Christ. Those who insist that the Church will go through the tribulation will say that “wrath” or “the wrath to come” is eternal judgment. However, the context of this verse suggests that “wrath” refers to the judgments surrounding the appearing of Christ. The One who will save us is the One “who died for us”, connecting the immense and self-sacrificial love of Christ with His coming for us. To say that the Church will go through the wrath of God is an insult to the work of Christ on the cross, because He endured the wrath of God for us, and said “It is finished!”. The rapture will save all believers on earth, whether living (“watch”), or dead (“sleep”). All true believers will be preserved, spirit, soul, and body from the coming judgments “with Him”.
Salvation in v.9. We must understand that salvation in scripture is not always looked upon in the sense of the eternal, judicial salvation of our soul. By a careful analysis of the New Testament epistles, we find that more than half the occurances of the words “save”, “saved” or “salvation” refer to the other aspects of salvation! Read more… Sometimes salvation is looked at as something that we will receive at the end of our pathway when we are caught up to heaven at the rapture. Ultimately, our physical bodies are still under the curse of sin; that will be removed at the rapture when we are given glorified bodies. We also are living in the world that is fast coming under judgment; we will be taken up before the Tribulation begins and therefore saved from the coming wrath (Rom. 5:9; Rom. 13:11; Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 1:5; 1 Thess. 5:8-9).2 This is important to understand this because some would suggest that the “wrath to come” in v.10 must refer to eternal punishment because salvation is always from eternal punishment. This would be used as a basis to deny the pre-tribulation rapture. However, when we understand the scriptural application of the term “salvation” here, the meaning becomes clear: salvation in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 is with regard to the judgments that accompany the day of the Lord.
Sleep in v.10. It may seem strange that Paul would use the same word for the sleep of the believer in v.10 as he does for the ignorance of the unbeliever and careless in vv.6-7. Two words for “sleep” are used in 1 Thessalonians. The words are literally translated ‘repose’ and ‘drowse’. The first word ‘repose’ (koimaō, G2837) which is used in other places for natural sleep (Matt. 28:13; Luke 22:45; Acts 12:6), is applied by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 to describe the death of a believer. The same word is used in a similar way in other places, as in the case of Lazarus, etc. (Matt. 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 7:39; 11:30). The second word ‘drowse’ (katheudō, G2518) which is also used for natural sleep (Matt. 8:24; 13:25; 26;40; 1 Thess. 5:7), is applied by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5 to the spiritual ignorance of unbelievers (1 Thess. 5:6). The same word is used in Eph. 5:14 to refer to careless believers. In fact, apart from 1 Thess. 5:10, the second word ‘drowse’ is never used in reference to believer who has died. The only case where it refers to a dead person is with the ruler’s daughter (Matt. 9:24), and there is no evidence that she was a believer, in contrast to the case of Lazarus. Why then is the word ‘drowse’ used for a sleeping saint in v.10? I believe it has to do with the meaning of the words. The first word ‘repose’ has the thought of fast asleep, the state of being asleep. In general, the death of a believer is viewed as a state. The second word ‘drowse’ has the thought of falling asleep, as in the process or partial state. The word ‘drowse’ is applied to the ruler’s daughter because, while to the Jews all hope was lost, to the Lord she was still within reach, like waking a drowsy person. In v.10, the rapture is presented as a comfort to believers that were facing an uncertain future. Death was as much a possibility for these dear saints as life, because of the persecution. We can see why Paul turns the word ‘drowse’ around in this case to comfort those who were facing the possibility of martyrdom. Furthermore, the context of the verse discourages the idea that “sleep” in v.10 is a careless believer. It would not be morally fitting in this passage that the rapture would be held out as a comfort to careless believers. It is true that whether we are watchful or are careless, we will still be taken out at the rapture. But it is not presented that way in scripture. The only comfort to careless believers is; “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14). Also, it says “we may live together with Him”, which involves resurrection. It is a suitable conclusion to the subject begun in ch.4, regarding the dead in Christ.3456 Note that a third word for sleep is used elsewhere in only a few places, the word ‘hupno’ from which we get our ‘hypnosis’, and it has the thought of being in a stupor. This word (G5258) is used always for physical sleep (Matt. 1:24; Luke 9:24; John 11:13; Acts 20:9) but is applied to a believer’s lack of spiritual awareness (Rom. 13:11).
11 Wherefore encourage one another, and build up each one the other, even as also ye do. v.11 Encouragement. This section of the epistle (1 Thess. 5:1-11) ends the same way as the previous section (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The hope of the Lord’s coming, whether for us at the rapture (ch.4) or with us at the appearing (ch.5), is to be a constant theme of Christian conversation and dialog, that we might “encourage” and “build up” one another. Notice however that that here Paul adds “even as also ye do”, while he could not say the same in 1 Thess. 4:18, because their knowledge of the appearing was good, but not so their knowledge of the rapture.
- Note that in Ephesians 6 there is a “breastplate of righteousness”; faith and love in action will produce practical righteousness.
- It must be understood that “salvation” here is used in the final or complete sense when the body will share the application of that gracious power which has already dealt with the soul. The believer has already life everlasting and redemption in the Son of God, and thus receives the end of his faith, soul-salvation; he is therefore looking for the salvation of his body (Phil. 3:21) at Christ’s coming as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory, according to the working of the power which He has even to subdue all things to Himself. – Kelly, William. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians.
- In strong disagreement with the other position: “…the necessary inference from which would be that, whether we be spiritually watchful or slothful, we shall alike enjoy the portion of everlasting blessedness together with Christ. Does not this sound uncommonly like moral indifferentism?” Kelly takes the view that v.10 refers to believers physically alive or physically dead that will live with Christ at the rapture. – Kelly, William. The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians.
- “…whether we belong to the class of the living or to that of the sleepers (the departed saints), when the Lord comes, we shall live together with Him.” – Darby, J.N. Notes on the Epistle to the Thessalonians.
- It is this which we hope for; and he speaks of salvation as the final deliverance “by our Lord Jesus Christ”: and he naturally adds, “who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep” (have died before His coming or be then alive), “we should live together with Him.” Death does not deprive us of this deliverance and glory; for Jesus died. Death became the means of obtaining them for us; and if we die, we shall equally live with Him. … This (v. 10) is the end of the special revelation with regard to those who sleep before the coming of the Lord Jesus, beginning with 1 Thessalonians 4:13. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
- Although rendered “watch” in verse 6, and “wake” in verse 10, it is really the same word… Understanding “salvation” as explained makes it evident that “watching” and “sleeping” in this verse are employed in the sense of being alive at, or having fallen asleep before, the Lord’s return. It is a comfort to be reminded in this connection, that whether we are of “the dead in Christ,” or of those that are “alive and remain” at the coming of the Lord, the object of His death for us will be fully accomplished for both classes alike — that we should live together with Him. – Dennet, Edward. The Christian Friend, Vol. 16, 1889.