Knowledge of the Appearing and its Effect on Believers
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
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. v.2 Read Isa. 13 for a description of the day of the Lord.
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 It’s not that at this time they are really at peace… but they “say Peace and safety”. In reality, their hearts are failing them for fear (Luke 21:26).
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. 6 So then do not let us sleep as the rest do, but let us watch and be sober; v.6 To be sober is not to go around with a long face. It is to have right moral judgment with respect to the world. We can still be characterized by joy while we watch and are sober. “Sons of light” are those that share the moral character of God. Those who are “sober” are separate now from what will soon be judged.
7 for they that sleep sleep by night, and they that drink drink by night; v.7 Paul uses the common knowledge that physical sleep is suited to physical darkness or night. This illustrates that the spiritual condition of sleep (ignorance) is suited to those who are of the spiritual night; i.e. unbelievers.
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 “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.
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 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 rapture will save all believers on earth, whether living (“watch”), or whether they have died (“sleep”). All true believers will be preserved, spirit, soul, and body from the coming judgments “with Him”.
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’ (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’ (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.1234 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.
- 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.