God Has Promised Eternity with the Lord (1 Thess 5:1-11)
5:1-2. The times and the seasons refer to when the day of the Lord will come. The believers in Thessalonica knew already (you have no need that I should write to you) that it would come as a thief in the night.
The day of the Lord, an expression used often in the Old and New Testaments, always refers to a coming time of temporal judgment. Sometimes in the OT it referred to a soon coming day in which God would judge other nations. Sometimes in the OT and NT it refers to one of two future judgments: the Tribulation or the putting down of the final rebellion at the end of the Millennium, which is immediately followed by the burning up of the present heavens and earth.
The thief in the night imagery comes from the teaching of the Lord (cf. Matt 24:42-44). The Rapture will not be preceded by signs which tip the observant person off to when He is coming.
5:3. This sudden destruction will come when they say, “Peace and safety!” The third plural pronoun, they, is emphatic here. The change to you in vv 4-5 reveals that Paul is clearly contrasting the unbelieving world (they) with the believers in Thessalonica (you).
Verse 3 shows that the Rapture will occur when the unbelieving world does not expect it. It will be during a time of relative peace and safety. In addition, hypothetically the time of peace and safety could fall immediately after the Rapture but before the Tribulation begins. Many theologians suggest that there is a time of 30 to 90 days after the Rapture before the event that signals the start of the Tribulation: the signing of a treaty between Israel and the man of sin.
They will not escape the Tribulation. The issue in this section is the wrath of God to be poured out during the day of the Lord, the Tribulation. The lake of fire and eternal condemnation are not in view in this context. (Of course, it is true that if an unbeliever dies during the Tribulation, his eternal destiny will be the lake of fire. But that is not the point here.)
Paul compares the coming of the Tribulation to labor pains which come upon a pregnant woman. The world has been pregnant for two thousand years now, and when the labor begins, it will not last for twelve or twenty-four hours, but seven years. After those seven years the glorious kingdom of God will be born on earth.
5:4. Believers (But you, brethren) are not in darkness. That is, the believers in Thessalonica had been instructed on this point. (Being in darkness in v 4 is probably different from being of darkness in v 5.) Thus this Day should not overtake you as a thief. While believers cannot know when it will occur, they can and should be living each day in light of that day.
Implicit in Paul’s statement in v 4 is that the Rapture might overtake believers as a thief in the night. This does not mean that such believers would miss the Rapture. It means they would be unpleasantly surprised. If a believer is not living in fellowship with Christ when the Rapture occurs, it will be a time of shame, not boldness (1 John 2:28).
5:5. Believers are all sons of light and sons of the day. Another way of saying that is that believers are not of the night nor of darkness. That means that in our position we are set apart, godly. This is similar to Paul’s statement in Eph 5:8, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Paul then continues with this command, “Walk as children of light.” That is exactly what Paul next does here as well (vv 6-8).
5:6. The Greek word used for sleep here is katheudœ. This differs from the word used for sleep in 4:13-14 to refer to the death of believers (koimaomai). This word refers to moral lethargy (vv 5:6-7,10). Let us not sleep is an exhortation to be morally alert in light of Christ’s soon return. The opposite of sleeping is given here: let us watch and be sober.
Watchfulness is an exhortation commonly found in eschatological passages dealing with the Lord’s coming as a thief in the night (cf. Matt 24:42-43; 25:13; Mark 13:34-35; Luke 12:37,39; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev 3:2; 16:15).
5:7. Those who sleep, sleep at night compares literal sleep to moral lethargy. Those who are morally asleep do their evil deeds at night, as the following reference to getting drunk shows. Similarly, the statement those who get drunk are drunk at night compares the actions and behaviors that are often associated with night to the shameful sins that people like to hide from others.
Rather than live lives of moral lethargy, believers must be those who are of the day. Rather than commit shameful sin, they must be sober. Paul uses sobriety to refer to moral purity in all areas, which is accomplished through living with the famous triad: faith, hope, and love.
5:8. Putting on the breastplate of faith and love is similar to James 2:14-26 or 1 John 3:16-18. Believers are to do something about their faith in Christ’s soon return. That faith should produce loving actions toward fellow believers, as well as to unbelievers (Gal 6:10).
Believers are also to put on as a helmet the hope of salvation. We must remember that salvation in First Thessalonians is not deliverance from eternal condemnation. It is deliverance from the Tribulation wrath. The believers’ hope—that is their certain expectation of a yet-future deliverance—should act as a protective helmet against all of Satan’s blows. Knowing that they are soon to be freed from this life is a great help to believers in their daily living.
Paul does not explain in these verses what watchful believers will get or what sleeping believers will fail to receive. However, we know from other texts in Paul and elsewhere that what is at stake is ruling with Christ, having His approval, and other privileges reserved for overcoming Christians (Luke 19:17,19; 1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:17,26; 22:14). Surely the believers in Thessalonica knew this as well. Compare 5:23 and being “preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
5:9. The wrath spoken of here is the Tribulation. Believers will not go through the Tribulation, because God did not appoint us to wrath. The salvation is then deliverance from the Tribulation by the Rapture. One of the benefits of the work of Christ on the cross is that believers who are alive when Christ returns will be raptured before the wrath falls on mankind.
5:10. Verse 10 is one of the clearest statements found in Scripture that all believers will be raptured. Our Lord Jesus Christ died for us, that whether we wake [lit., are watchful] or sleep, we should live together with Him. Whether watchful or asleep when the Rapture occurs (cf. vv 4-8), believers will live forever with Him. His death guarantees that as well for all believers. Though some today teach that unfaithful believers will miss the Millennium, their teaching is directly contradicted by this text (as well as others).
5:11. We should comfort each other and edify one another in light of the truth of the Rapture. Just as no departed believer will miss out on the Rapture or the coming Millennium (4:13-18), so no believer who is alive when Christ returns will miss out either.
God Has Promised Eternity with the Lord (1 Thess 5:1-11)