1 Thessalonians 5:1-11a
Today within wider Christendom multitudes of professing Christians know little or nothing at all about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus and the times and seasons that precede it. Around 30-40 years ago there was much more interest in Bible Prophecy than there is today within wider Christendom. Today for the most part it is Alpha, Purpose Driven, Seeker friendly, Ecumenism, Kingdom Dominion, Faith Prosperity and Charismania gone mad!
Many Christians hunger and thirst for, and chase after, signs, miracles, wonders, blessings, prosperity and for personal prophecies of one sort or another that tickle their ears and make them feel good and give them what they crave instead of what they need to grow spiritually. However, very few hunger and thirst after righteousness and holiness without which no one will see the LORD. (Matthew 5:6) (Hebrews 12:14)
Many Christians caught up in the euphoria of the hype and razzle and dazzle in most of the mega churches have no time for Bible prophecy or for receiving proper Bible teaching. Many are living from one spiritual experience to the next or trying to live off of a kind of spiritual diet of one persomal prophecy to the next and their leaders are not rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Many Christians are not even concerned about the coming Day of the LORD and for others it is not even on their radar spiritually speaking, not to mention the leaders who are feeding them a regular so called spiritual diet of sweets and fast foods instead of the milk and the meat of God’s Word. Many within Christendom are not ready for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus.
The Apostle Paul had spent only a matter of weeks with the assembly he started at Thessalonica and during that brief time he had taught them a considerable amount about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus and the times and seasons that would be a conspicuous mark of the days leading up to this great end-time event when the sky would be rolled back like a scroll and the Son of God revealed from heaven. Added to this not only had Paul been persecuted and run out of town by the Jewish religious leaders but the assembly had also been targeted for persecution.
For the believers at Thessalonica the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus to earth was their blessed hope. Furthermore, it is clear from Paul’s Second letter to them that they had become easily unsettled and alarmed by some prophecy, reports and letters supposedly from Paul telling them that the Day of the LORD had come and they had missed the rapture and resurrection which were a part of that Day and had been left behind.
He had to reassure them that this was not the case and this distress was compounded by the severe troubles, trials and afflictions they were receiving from the unbelievers at Thessalonica. Paul had to reassure them that when the Day of the LORD occurs that those who had been persecuting them would feel the full weight of the wrath of God. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; 2:1-2)
The blessed hope for these beleaguered and persecuted precious saints of God was the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus to earth and the rapture and resurrection for them was an integral part of this great event! In his first letter them Paul reminds them of what he first of all taught them about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus and what would precede it.
(Vs.1) “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.”
Soon after Paul had arrived at Thessalonica he had tried to preach the gospel to his fellow Jews in the local Synagogue but had been ejected by the religious leaders who had also rejected their own messiah the Lord Jesus. Consequently Paul had preached to the God-fearers, namely who were not ethnically Jewish but worshipped the God of the Jews. These had responded to the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit had done a deep spiritual work in their hearts despite severe opposition and persecution. (1:4-10) One of the first things Paul, Timothy and Silas had done was to teach them about the times and seasons concerning the last days and about what would happen at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus.
It is clear that teaching these new spiritual babies in the Messiah about the doctrine of eschatology was of primary importance to Paul and his companions in ministering to these new believers. He had already taught them quite a lot about these things. He had spoken to them about the rapture and resurrection of all of the saints and that those who had physically died would not precede those who were still alive in their bodies on earth when the rapture and resurrection occurs.
Furthermore they were to comfort and encourage one another concerning this important part of the Day of the LORD. (4:13-18) Even though he was moved to write to them concerning this they already had been taught about it when Paul was with them before he had been ‘railroaded’ as it were out of town by the so called ‘College of the Cardinals’ being the Jewish religious hierarchy of his day. In his second letter it is clear that they had been unsettled by wrong teaching about the Day of the LORD and especially concerning the rapture and resurrection.
(Vs.2) “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”
The idea of the Day of the LORD coming as a thief in the night is not referring to a secret Pre-Tribulation rapture but to the unexpectedness of His Second Coming and that when He comes it would be like a thief to ‘harpazo’ them or ‘snatch them away’ as a thief would do. When you look at the text concerning the rapture and resurrection you will see the term used “to meet the Lord in the air” (4:17) The term used in the Greek text “to meet” has the idea of a group of people coming out from a city to welcome an important dignitary coming towards the city and to gather around him and accompany him straight away back into the city. This is precisely what will happen when the Lord Jesus comes back. Believers will be gathered around Him in the air and accompany Him back to earth. This is the plain meaning of the text.
The blessed hope for the believer in the Messiah is not the rapture and resurrection although that is part and parcel of this great event but the main part being the Physical coming again of the Lord Jesus to earth. This was their blessed hope. It was not to be preserved from persecution. Paul himself had the blessed hope but lost his head in the process and all of the other apostles apart from John were martyred. In fact the emphasis in the New Testament is not on a secret, pre-tribulation rapture and resurrection but on the unexpectedness of the Lord Jesus’ Second Coming, an event that will not be missed and one that every eye will see. (Matthew 24:27) (Revelation 1:7) (2 Thessalonians 1:10)
As to one being taken and the other left refers to the fact that when the Lord Jesus comes back the wicked ones will be taken or swept away in the judgement but the righteous preserved and rescued to enter into the Millennial Kingdom. The context is the flood in Noah’s time and this is precisely what happened at that time. (Matthew 24:36-44) The ones taken away were the unbelievers swept away in the flood and the ones left were the faithful remnant being Noah and his immediate family. This is the context of one being taken and the other left. The idea of the wicked being swept away in judgement is mentioned elsewhere in scripture. (Proverbs 10:25; 21:7)
Furthermore, the text in Matthew 24 emphasizes the unexpectedness and suddenness of Jesus’ Second Coming as those swept away were caught totally unprepared. The idea that this passage teaches a secret pre-tribulation rapture is an inference and interpretation largely and primarily based on the Dispensational System of Eschatology that surfaced within Christendom in the nineteenth Century. The hope of the early Church was the Second Coming itself of which the rapture and resurrection was a part. We see this further in what Paul now writes.
(Vs. 3) “For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.”
We are told that in the time of Noah before the flood that the of his time were immersed in the everyday occupations and pastimes and that they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage and doing business as usual completely oblivious to the impending doom, much like those in Sodom and Gomorrah. Noah we are told was a preacher of righteousness and everyday he preached while he worked and worked while he preached. Just as the flood came in an hour when the unbelieving world did not expect so likewise, when the Lord Jesus comes back, it will be to an unsuspecting, unbelieving world. This time the judgement this time will be by fire and not by water and as it was in Noah’s time there will be no reprieve. (2 Peter 3:3-7)
God gave the people in Noah’s time a 120 years to repent and come into the ark of salvation by faith and God is giving time for men to repent because He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) However, the hour is late, the clock is about to strike midnight and the axe is already laid to the root of the tree of this world’s kingdoms, potentates, pleasures and pursuits. When the axe finally cuts through the tree the nations with all of their pomp and splendour will all come toppling down even into the depths of Hades where there will be no reprieve! Today is the day of salvation. Now is the accepted time. Today is the day to repent, and to believe on the Lord Jesus the Messiah to take away your sin, to pardon and cleanse your heart from its power and to impart to you His righteous standards and holiness without which no one shall see God, a standard of righteousness bestowed by faith and not by works. (Romans 3:21-31)
The ark of salvation is the Lord Jesus the Messiah. The only way to escape the coming deluge is to run into that ark by faith with no conditions, as it is written; “For by God’s unmerited favour are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God and not of works lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The idea of ‘labour pains’ in this context also carries with it the idea of sudden birth pains that hit a pregnant woman. These ‘labour pains’ come suddenly and without warning. The earthquakes, famines, wars, rumours of wars and pestilence come with intensity and frequency but suddenly in a moment of time all converge at once together. This convergence with the ‘labour pains’ coming one upon another will see the Day of the LORD being a series of consecutive portentous events culminating with the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus to earth to judge the nations, to inaugurate His Messianic Kingdom on earth and to make His capital at Jerusalem!
(Vs.4) “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.”
They say “to be forewarned is to be forearmed” and we are told as believers to stay spiritually sober and awake especially in light of the last days and in light of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. God always sends a warning before He sends judgement because He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but He must maintain justice and righteousness because He is a Holy and righteous God who cannot look upon sin.
Remember the parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins. They were all betrothed to their intended spouse as all believers are betrothed to the Lord Jesus in anticipation of the wedding feast and the consummation of that final union with Him. As believers, pledged to our husband the Lord Jesus, we are to have the oil of the Holy Spirit constantly flowing into the lamp of our spirit so that we can see in the spiritual darkness and have light to guide us through that spiritual darkness. In this way the Day of the LORD will not overtake us as a thief because we will have been prepared for it and waiting in expectation for the rescue when it comes.
This coming spiritual darkness will be “the night when no man shall be able to work” that will engulf the world just before the Lord Jesus comes back and already we see it rapidly approaching. If we are constantly filled up with the oil of the Holy Spirit then we will not be spiritually deceived and led into sin and spiritual deception and ultimately swept away with the wicked in the judgement. If we do not allow the oil of the Holy Spirit to constantly fill up the lamp of our spirit then the light we have will eventually go out and we will be in the darkness, lose our way and miss out on the wedding feast.
Having said this if we are walking in the light of God’s Word moment by moment and live by faith and not by sight we will have the illuminating guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit and He will never lead us into sin or doctrinal error because He is the Spirit of truth and not error.(John 16:13) If we walk moment by moment by faith and in the Spirit according to the light revealed in God’s Word we will not be overtaken and swept away with the wicked when the judgements are unleashed on the day of the LORD.
(Vs.5) “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.”
If we are walking in the light as God is in the light then we will not only have fellowship with likeminded believers but the blood of the Lord Jesus will continuously cleanse us and keep us clean and free from all and every sin. (John 1:7) Those who are spiritually reborn by the Holy Spirit will not be wilfully sinning or living in sin or committing sin as the seed of God Spirit remains in them and they can no longer go on living in sin because they have the love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the blessed Holy Spirit and are seeking to obey God and to love the LORD their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all of their strength and with all their mind’ and to ‘Love their neighbour as themselves. (1 John 3:5-10) (Romans 5:5) (Luke 10:27)
Either we are a son or daughter of the light or a son or daughter of the darkness as we cannot be both. Those who are sons of the day are those who are looking forward to and anticipating the day when the Lord Jesus will come for them and are living in such a way that it would be unjust for God not to gather them to meet the Lord Jesus when He comes back. Their hope is not in this world or the things of this world but in that eternal city of light whose foundation and maker is God. Their eyes are not fixed on temporal things that can be seen but on invisible things that cannot be seen but comprehended by faith through the illumination of the blessed Holy Spirit.
Those who live in the darkness do not come to the light because it will expose their wicked hearts but those who live in the light show it by the fact that their lives and deeds have been done in God and by His power. (John 3:19-21) The people in this world have no hope apart from this life which is temporary anyway and its pleasures, pastimes and pursuits fleeting at the best of times. King Solomon rightly said; “As a man came from his mother’s womb, so he will depart again: naked as he arrived. He takes nothing for his labour to carry in his hands. This too is a grievous evil: Exactly as a man is born, so he will depart. What does he gain as he toils for the wind?” (Ecclesiastes 5:15-16) and as Job declares; “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.” (Job 1:21) We cannot take anything with us when we depart this life. A son of the light is a son of God but a son of the night and the darkness is a child of Satan
(Vs.6-7) “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.”
Watchfulness and sobriety in spiritual matters are the distinguishing marks of every genuine born again child of God living in this dark and fallen world. These things take effort and can only be accomplished in the strength and the power of the blessed Holy Spirit who enables us to put off the old man with its corrupted desires and appetites and to put on the new man being the life of the Lord Jesus and to put to death the deeds of our fallen human nature and its desires by the Spirit’s power, desires which are constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit within us. We must learn to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. (Romans 8:12-14) (Galatians 5:16-25) Sometimes we just need to say no to the devil when he comes at us to incite the flesh. As it is written; “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. It instructs us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we await the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour, Jesus the anointed Messiah.” (Titus 2:11-13)
Those dwelling in spiritual darkness will sin because they are by nature sinners and rebels and cannot submit to God’s laws and commandments because they do not have the Holy Spirit living within them so consequently they have no choice but to sin. (Romans 8:7-8) On the other hand those who are spiritually reborn by the Holy Spirit have a choice whether to sin or not because greater is He in them than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4) Sinning and confessing is not what the Lord Jesus died to bring about for us as the normal Christian life. He came to destroy the devils work because this was the reason He was manifested in the flesh.
As the apostle John also writes; “Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Christ is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the very start. This is why the Son of God was revealed, to destroy the works of the devil. Anyone born of God refuses to practice sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:7-9)
All sin and rebellion and disobedience to God is the work of the devil which the Lord Jesus came to destroy, not only its power in the world but also its power within the human heart of those who want to be saved from its power. Through the supernatural work of the blessed Holy Spirit we can receive a new heart, one that loves God and keeps His commandments. God promised this in the New Covenant. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
As believers in our Lord Jesus we have a choice and it is one we have to choose to make every day. Will we sin or will we not sin? We have that choice and of course the blessed Holy Spirit is within us to empower us to make the right choice when the opportunity to sin presents itself. Those who live in spiritual drunkenness, following the desires and appetites of their fallen nature, dwell in darkness and are asleep in their sins and unaware of the eternal and conscious torment that awaits them after they die. They are drunk with the pleasures and pursuits of this world and oblivious to the eternal darkness to come. Those who continue in their sin and are still alive when the Lord Jesus comes back will not escape the judgement of God. What they do with the Lord Jesus the Messiah in this life will determine what God does with them on judgement day. And so Paul writes…
(Vs.8) “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”
How do we as believers maintain spiritual sobriety in a world steeped in temptation and sin and wickedness at every level of society? Well it is not something we feel or think but what we will. It is an action of the will motivated by the blessed Holy Spirit within us that will gain us the victory over the world, the flesh and the devil and over the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. This is only possible through the mighty power of the blessed Holy Spirit. With the aid of the Holy Spirit we can put to death the deeds of the fallen human nature as we groan in the Spirit and call on God to deliver us from all evil and the evil one and from this present evil age.
We are to put on the breastplate of righteousness being the wisdom, the righteousness, holiness and redemption that has been provided for us in the Messiah our Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:30) It is a righteousness received and maintained in us as we walk moment by moment controlled by the Spirit and walking by the faith that produces obedience to God and to his commandments. (Philippians 4:7-9) (Romans 1:5; 16:26) The breastplate covers the heart, being the seat or control centre of the affections. As the Lord Jesus said; “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” As He also said; “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” What is in the heart in abundance will eventually come out of the mouth.
Added to this faith of obedience is the love of God. Our faith is one that works by love. (Galatians 5:6) If we really love and trust God then we will obey what He says calling upon the blessed Holy Spirit to empower us to do it. This is the whole duty of man to fear or reverence God and to keep His commandments. As it is written; “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, along with every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. If we really love the Lord Jesus then we will keep his commandments. (John 14:15) His commandments will not be a burden to us but a delight when we allow Him to yoke us to Himself. (Matthew 11:28)
The helmet in the spiritual dimension is the hope of salvation which we have promised to us as believers in the written Word of God. As John writes; “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) He also writes; “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
Regardless of how we feel or with the changing circumstances in life God’s Word will say the same thing tomorrow as it does today because God never changes, neither does He go back on His covenant promises ratified by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus by whom we have received the atonement. Filling our mind with the Word of God will garrison our thought life and be our shield wall of faith against all of the fiery darts of the evil one. It will prove to be a hard helmet that will protect our thought life and govern the imagination. And so Paul continues…
(Vs.9-10a) “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another.”
Every true child of God justified and washed by the blood of the Lord Jesus will never experience the bowls of God’s wrath. In this life as believers we will experience affliction, trial, persecution and adversity because we are, through the new creation, aliens and strangers to those living in the world who do not know God. We are called “a peculiar people” being that our lifestyle is completely different from the lifestyle of those enslaved to this world with its fallen appetites, passions and desires for sin and unrighteousness. We are not of this world but have been chosen out of this world to live for God and to be instruments through which the blessed Holy Spirit can reveal the Lord Jesus to the world. The only Bible many unbelievers will ever read will be us as believers and what they need to see is the image of God’s dear Son our Lord Jesus stamped upon our spirit and exhibited in our daily speech and conduct. To this we have been elected and called and by it prove our election and making it a sure thing. (Romans 8:29)
God’s wrath is surely coming and will come to its head in the Great Tribulation at the end of it. While believers will go into the Great Tribulation and suffer persecution they will see the judgements of God starting to fall upon the ungodly as the Israelites saw in Egypt. However, when the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out we will not experience these as believers. When the wrath of God was poured out upon the Egyptians at the Red Sea the Israelites were out of Egypt being a type of the world. Just as the blood of the animals sacrificed protected the Israelites from the wrath of God, in the same way the blood of the Lord Jesus the Messiah will protect us in the day of God’s wrath.
As it is written; “But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:9) This is the Lord Jesus “who rescues us from the coming wrath!” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
Those who have been truly redeemed eagerly await the return of the Son of God from heaven who will ‘harpazo’ them or ‘snatch them up’ to Himself when He comes back to earth at His Second Coming. Whether we are awake and living in our bodies or asleep in the Messiah when He returns to earth we will all be raised physically to life and receive brand new eternal glorified bodies that will never get sick, age or die and that in the the twinkling of the eye at the rapture and resurrection of all of the saints that have lived and died in this present age.
Whether we are present in our bodies or not we are alive in the Messiah and part of his eternal Kingdom having been spiritually reborn from above by the Holy Spirit, washed, sanctified, redeemed and protected by the blood of the Messiah through faith in Him in the heart, a faith that produces obedience to his commands in the life. Whether we live or die we belong to the LORD and we should comfort one another with these things. The Day of the LORD is fast approaching so then the blessed hope includes the rapture and resurrection but it is centred in the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus the anointed Messiah “who rescues us from the coming wrath!”