Devotional # 182. 3/22/16. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
Intro. We’ve been going over eschatological (future things/ study of the end-times) themes in that last devotionals and we will continue to here, as we finish out the book of 1 Thessalonians and also as we move into 2 Thessalonians.
v. 1. By using “but” here Paul tells us he is transferring on specific subject matter (the Rapture) while keeping the theme of prophesy. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he doesn’t need to spend a lot of time on reviewing the Tribulation or Jesus’ Second Coming with them since they’ve talked about it before. However, it is good for us that Paul does go over some of it so we in 2016 can know!
v. 2. Paul gives us our first vocabulary phrase here: “the Day of the Lord”. Anytime we see this phrase it is referring to God’s Judgment (examples are in Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 13:6-9; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1-31; and Joel 3:14). MacArthur explains, “the future ‘Day of the Lord’ which unleashes God’s wrath, falls into two parts: 1) The end of the seven-year tribulation period (Rev. 19:11-21), and 2) The end of the Millennium…here, Paul refers to that aspect of the ‘Day of the Lord,’ which concludes the tribulation period” (Source 1). We should note that the “Day” doesn’t refer to one 24 hour period but can be an epoch of time.
We find our second vocabulary phrase: “as a thief in the night.” Often this is applied to the Rapture but instead this refers to how Jesus comes after the Tribulation. We see this in Revelation 16:15 when Jesus warns how He will come on the scene for the Battle of Armageddon. There also He tells people to be watchful just as we’re told here. Note that after the Battle of Armageddon has been raging Jesus suddenly appears on the scene and ends the war (Revelation 19:17-20).
v. 3. Here we have more descriptions of what the times will be like when Jesus comes for “the Second Coming.” In addition to 1. “as a thief in the night” (v. 2) it will also be: 2. When Peace is Spoken Instead Devastation Hits (“when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them”), 3. Quickly (“as labor pains”), 4. No Escape (“they shall not escape”). Let’s talk about what these mean:
“They say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them.” This will be noticeably different than any other time. We’ve always had plenty of people talk about “peace.” But when Jesus comes after literal hell on earth all of the people who have told others to be at peace and also have claimed there is peace and safety will see what true judgment and destruction looks like. This is very clear today considering the terrorist attacks in Brussels Belgium that happened at about midnight PST (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35869254 ). I heard an interview with someone from the U.S. Department of Defense this morning and when asked when terrorist attacks would stop she didn’t say, ‘only Jesus can bring peace’, she started listing tactics and intelligence and military might. But it’s hopeless without Jesus. I mean literally there is no way to get peace around the globe without Jesus’ intervention. The very people saying these things (“they say”) will be the ones immediately, completely annihilated (“sudden destruction comes upon them”). There will have been a time when the Anti-Christ offers a peace plan that will work for a short time (Revelation 6:2*) but his true motives will be revealed – “to conquer.” As this begins the 7 year Tribulation it will be evident that sin and evil will never result in peace. Sadly, there will be many who won’t acknowledge God’s peace plan and willfully condemn themselves to hell.
“As labor pains.” This is imagery meaning an increase in frequency and intensity. This, again, will be unlike anything the world has seen. As the Tribulation winds down the “destruction” will come on more quickly and painfully. Part of this is what Satan and the Anti-Christ bring into the picture but much of it is dished out by the Father and the Son.
“They shall not escape.” Revelation shows us people will try and commit suicide but will be unable to kill themselves (Revelation 9:6) and will try and hide from God although they will be unable to do so (Revelation 6:16). Both of these will have happened prior to the “Day of the Lord” that we’re talking about here but we see how stubborn it is for people who know God is real (acknowledging Him) and reject His salvation (instead they beg to be hidden from His face). They have no one to blame but themselves.
* Revelation 6:2: The Anti-Christ has a “bow” which is considered a peace plan. But since there are no arrows the peace plan will fail.
vv. 4-5. “But you” marks an important point: Paul notes he’s not talking about the non-Christians from verse 3 anymore, now he’s speaking to the Christians both in Thessalonica and us today. He’s saying the believers (“brethren” and sisters!) are “not in darkness” which means we have a light, a roadmap, for the end times. We also are of the “light” and not of the “darkness” (v. 6). We know “that this Day” will not “overtake [us] as a thief” because this “Day” refers specifically to the Tribulation and since Christians won’t be on earth of that it won’t “overtake us.”
vv. 6-8. So if Christians aren’t on earth for the Tribulation or for the “Day of the Lord” why does Paul give a warning of not “sleeping” here? Because true Christians will be raptured (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Devotional # 181) but that doesn’t mean just because you go to church or say you’re a Christian that you will be raptured. The clear distinction between the “true” Christian and everyone else (the “pretend” religious person included) is shown here. Let’s look at it like this:
–“True” Christian: 1. “sons and daughters of light and of the day” (v. 5); 2. “not asleep”; 3. “watching”; and 4. “sober” (v. 6).
–Everyone Else: 1. “of the night” and “of darkness”; 2. Not watching (by implication); 3. “sleeping at night”; and 4. “drunk at night” (v. 7).
It should be obvious that this has nothing to do with being lazy or any sort of physical sleep and certainly not with drinking alcohol but the principles and attributes that accompany such things. If you are scared of not being a “true” Christian then now is the time to take action! If you allow yourself to be spiritually lulled to sleep you will miss the Rapture and consequently endure the Tribulation. And for anyone reading this thinking, “this is the typical doomsday speech about becoming a Christian to avoid all the bad stuff” I would agree with you in one way, but in another way I would ask you what’s the alternative? If I die and I’m wrong then I’ve lived a life helping people and reading a Book that has told me to put my family first and stop being selfish. But if you’re wrong you end up going through hell on earth (the Tribulation) and the only time it stops is when you find out that you’re going to the very literal hell. Personally, I hate fire and brimstone tactics to force people into repentance. Jesus never forced anyone, but He made sure they knew. Now you know.
So for those of us who want to be found “watching” and “sober” what can we do? Paul gives us two things to put on: 1. “the breastplate of faith and love” and 2. “as a helmet the hope of salvation.” The “breastplate” covered the vital organs of the body and in the same way “faith and love” protect our vital spiritual “organs.” Interestingly, “salvation” is always associated with the “helmet” (as we saw in Ephesians 6:17, Devotional # 119).
v. 9. This is probably the most important verse to show that believers won’t endure God’s wrath but instead will be saved from His judgement. If you think about it, what would be the point? Why would God put us through something like that if we’ve been faithful to His command of “denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him” (Matthew 16:24)? Although some think that this refers to Christians being saved from God’s eternal wrath and not His Tribulation wrath I disagree. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15 we see “asleep” and so it follows that “whether we wake or sleep” we will “live together with Him.” Sure, God’s judgment wrath was “appointed” on us before we accepted Jesus and it would apply then that if we were among the last group of Christians on earth that the wrath reserved for sinful people during the Tribulation would also be “appointed” on us. But the very fact of accepting Jesus removes us out of any and all of God’s wrath, whether that be hell or hell on earth.
There is an incredibly interesting contrariety (not contradiction) here: Paul says, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation.” In the same way that we can’t have Three-in-One and yet we have the Trinity and we can’t have Jesus be both fully God and fully Man and yet He is, in the same way, we see here that the words “appoint” and “obtain” sit comfortably next to each other. “Appoint emphasizes God’s sovereignty, but obtain is a word that emphasizes human effort. Together, they show that the full scope of salvation involves both divine initiative and human effort” (Source 2). Somehow, although we cannot do good works to earn our way into heaven, God has given us a choice and as such, we are responsible for choosing what He has done for us.
vv. 10-11. What has He done? “Our Lord Jesus Christ…died for us.” The fact that the same God that holds that “wrath”, that terrible “Day of the Lord”, our fate, in His hand, would humble Himself and come down to earth and die for our sins is incredible! But what else would have worked? How could anyone but a perfect God judge us? And at the same time how could He ever find anyone equal to Him in perfection? So it had to be Him who saved us! And that is the great news that Paul tells us to “comfort each other and edify one another” with.
Conclusion. Has this put things into perspective for you? Sure, an understanding of our Bible vocabulary words will be really helpful for you as you strive to be “watchful” and “sober”, but even if you can’t remember all of those things what will stick with you is that Jesus wants us to be vigilant and to encourage each other with Jesus’ great gift of salvation! But we can’t keep it to ourselves! We have to share this gift with other who haven’t trust Him as their Lord and Savior!
Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1849.
Source 2: David Guzik, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_1Th/1Th_5.cfm?a=1116001