1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 - Awaiting the Lord's Return
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
The last event in the history of the redemption of God's people is the second coming of Christ. The question naturally arises, when will He come again? This question has been asked throughout the ages. Are we not to look forward to His coming? Can this be done if we don't know the time?
There were various questions in the Thessalonian church regarding the return of Christ and Paul deals with these questions in his letters to this particular church. However, when it comes to the question how long it will be before the Lord returns and the exact time of His coming, there is no need to give an answer. Jesus had spoken of this when He was still on earth. He had made it abundantly clear that no one knows the time. Therefore, it is a useless exercise to try to give an answer to such questions now. Later he will tell them about the things which must happen before He returns whereby they will have an idea as to the approximate time of His coming again, but it is not necessary to speculate regarding the exact time. The prophets had spoken of the approximate time of His first coming too, but not the exact time.
"As a Thief"
They are sufficiently acquainted with the teaching of Jesus and the Apostle's teaching during the time of his ministry among them to know that His second coming will be "as a thief in the night". Jesus had used similar terminology in His teaching about this matter. His coming will be sudden and unexpected. The thief does not give warning as to the time he will strike. So will it also be at His return. Surely, then, it is idle to speculate about the exact time.
The term "day of the Lord" is used here to describe the day of His return. This term had been used for the end of time since the days of Amos. It is the day which belongs to Him in a very peculiar way. It is the day of His triumph.
The writer now makes it clear that the unexpected return of Christ has reference primarily to the unbeliever. Many of them, of course, don't believe that He will return. They preach peace and safety. Jesus likened them to the people living in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot. They have lost themselves completely in the present.
Their engagement in the various pursuits of life, though legitimate in themselves, has only their own enjoyment as its goal. They speak of peace and safety because everything from the beginning of the world till that time seems to go on without a cloud in the sky. While they are "enjoying" life to the full, sudden destruction comes upon them. For them it is totally unexpected.
The one figure of speech crowds the other in the writings of Paul. He now speaks of that time as that of a woman in labor. No, this does not refer to the unexpected nature of that time because she indeed knows that time is coming, even though she does not know the exact hour. Neither does it refer to the destruction which comes upon them because this is not a figure to indicate destruction. But, they shall in no wise escape! A woman will bring forth! Neither can the labors attending it be escaped.
For the believer, however, that day will not come as a thief in the night, neither will it bring sudden destruction. The unbelievers are characterized as those who are in darkness. Their minds are darkened and they are not able to see where they are going. This is not true of the believers — even though they do not know the precise time of the Lord's return. These are his brethren in the faith. They have the light and are, therefore, prepared. We must not overlook the fact that the Apostle teaches very clearly that believers will be ready for His return even though they do not know the time!
The believers are the sons of light — in contrast with the darkness which characterizes the unbelievers. The light has taken possession of them. They are sons of the day rather than of the night. Christ has called them: The light of the world. They are the light of the world because they are united with Him who is THE light of the world. The contrast is as sharp as possible. The thief, coming at night, doesn't affect the sons of the day and of the light!
Seeing they are the children of light they must not sleep as do the sons of darkness and of the night. This sleep speaks of laxity on the unbelievers' part. They believe that all is well — peace and safety — they fall asleep, not realizing that the thief is about to victimize them. Not so His people. They are to keep watch. They are to be alert! They do not know the time, but are always ready. Though the unbeliever thinks he is fully aware of what is happening, he is asleep. While he thinks he is alert to his surroundings, he is drunken. His mind and heart are beclouded. Sleep and drunkenness belong to the night and the night is the sphere in which the unbeliever lives. The believer is to be watchful and to be sober — the direct opposites of the unbeliever — and so await the return of Christ.
How are the "sons of light" going to remain watchful and sober until the return of Christ? Must the thought of His return fill their minds and hearts every day and color their whole existence? These are the natural questions which arise. First of all, the Apostle points out that, since we are of the day, we are to be sober. Sobriety is natural for him rather than the drunkenness of the world. This sobriety comes by way of faith and love. Those are the qualities natural and necessary for the believer. His faith in Christ readies him for the return of Christ! He makes us ready by giving that faith. Love is the manner of life which is the product of his faith. Now, this faith and love is the breastplate for the believer. It guards his vital organs. It is one of the pieces of the Christian's armor (Ephesians 6) and it is a defensive weapon. Only when faith and love is exercised will he be protected against all the forces which would lead him astray and cause him to sleep and be drunken.
It is noteworthy that the same things which are necessary for the union with Christ (faith and love) are necessary to defend us till the end of time. To know the exact time for the return of Christ is not essential. Faith and love are. His people have already received enough to keep them in safety even in the most difficult of times. He has given them a breastplate which nothing can pierce. Put it on! Exercise that faith and love! The inquisitive probing into the question of the exact time of His return betrays a lack of faith and love. Such inquisitive people think they need more than what He has given.
The hope of salvation is the result of the exercise of both faith and love in all of Paul's teaching. Salvation is hoped for, but is also assured. Hope is not used in the sense of desiring to obtain the uncertain, but is used in Scripture as that which is certain of fulfillment and is a present possession in principle. This hope must not only be kept alive but is to be worn as a defense until the great day of the Lord. They must put it on as a helmet. This, again, is a defensive piece of armor. It covers the head. It protects the thinking. They will not be led astray by the vain thoughts of others when they keep the hope of salvation clearly before them. Clothed with the breastplate and with the helmet, His people will be kept in safety.
When He comes again, what will be His purpose? Will it be a day of wrath for men? Indeed, for the unbeliever it will be the day in which he beholds the wrath of God. It will be the decisive day. It will be the day which cuts off the time and opportunity for conversion. The day of the Lord may, therefore, well be feared by every unbeliever.
But, such will not be the nature of this day for the sons of light. The hope of salvation will then be fulfilled. This does not mean that they have lacked that salvation until then, but that the full salvation will then be manifested. The last event in their salvation will then be completed. God has "appointed" us to the obtaining of that salvation. Although he uses a different word than is usual with him, the writer has the same thought in mind as when he uses the term "election". He also uses a strange word to show how his people come into the possession of this salvation. They "obtain" it. Immediately he adds: "through our Lord Jesus Christ" to make it clear that this "obtaining" is not their own work. His return will be a glorious day for His people because their salvation will be complete and they shall be with Him.
This Jesus, who will return, is the same one who has died for them in the past. Seeing that He died for them, all the rest of the deeds in their salvation are assured, including His return. Through His death salvation was begun. Because of His death they are drawn into union with Him. Whether we are awake, are on the watch, are alive, whether we die, or are asleep, we shall live with Him. Nothing can separate us from Jesus Christ. His return will demonstrate again His close relationship to His loved ones.
They are to exhort, to encourage, to comfort each other with these words. They do not need the "comfort" of knowing the precise time of His return, but they do need the comfort and instruction which the Apostle has brought them. A curious prying into those things which have not been revealed will never be able to comfort anyone, but the gospel which has been received will do so. They are to be obedient to this gospel.
Even though questions arose in Thessalonica concerning these matters, Paul is also aware of the fact that they do speak to each other in the vein he has held before them. God's people have sufficient knowledge and gifts to look forward to the return of their Lord whenever that may be. In full assurance of faith they pray: Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Questions for Discussion:
Why do so many wish to know the time of Christ's return? Why is it hidden from us?
May we speak of "doomsday"? May we speak of death as "the king of terrors"? Explain.
What responsibility rests on us as "sons of light"? How must our lives be different from those who "plant and build and marry" etc.?
The Bible has a higher estimate of our faith, love and hope than we do. Do you agree with that statement? If so, what should this teach us?
We often ask: Was he ready?, when someone is taken away. What does this mean? How do we get ready? Do we make ourselves ready?
Is there a danger of emphasizing eschatology (the doctrine of the last things) too much? Too little? What are the results of each?