The Apostle Paul informs his readers that the great “day of the Lord” suddenly breaks forth on mankind when it is the consensus of the world that a time of “peace and safety” has been achieved. That does not seem to be what things are like today. Is there going to be a major change of some kind prior to the Tribulation?
It is pretty certain that if we knew about a coming significant event, we would take appropriate action to get ready. So, if we knew that we would lose our job in two months, we might start looking for another job as well as making some financial adjustments. If we knew that a hailstorm was going to hit in an hour, we would put our car in a garage out of harm’s way. If we knew that a burglar was going to break into our house in the early morning hours tomorrow, we would make a number of adjustments preparing for his coming.
Knowing ahead of time what is going to happen is one of the significant reasons why biblical prophecy is important in the believer’s life. When we become aware of coming events (and believe it) we do life differently. This was the Apostle Paul’s emphasis with the believers at Thessalonica as he instructed them about future events and our response to those events.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle reminded them of the coming of the Day of the Lord (5:1-3), and then of the needed response of the children of the Lord to this reality (5:4-11). In this study we will look at the matter of the coming “day of the Lord” (5:1-3) and then in the next study we will focus on what our response is supposed to be (5:4-11).
THE COMING OF THE LORD AND THE DAY OF THE LORD (5:1-3)
The Knowledge of Believers – 5:1-2. The discussion opens with “now” (peri de) which always introduces a new subject in Paul’s writings. He had been reminding them about the coming “rapture” (4:13-18) but now shifts to the subject of the coming “day of the Lord”; and specifically the judgment part of the day of the Lord (that is, the Tribulation). He had taught them about this before so this is a reminder and not brand new information. They had learned earlier about the “times” and the “seasons.” “Times” refers to the order or sequence of coming events, while “seasons” (or epochs) refers to significant events that are turning points in history. (For example, September 11, 2001 would be an “epoch” because the world was dramatically changed by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). It is worth noting that Paul believed that eschatology was a vital part of Christian theology, as seen by the fact that in the few weeks he was with the Thessalonian believers, he taught them carefully on prophecy. He not only talked about major events but also the sequence of future events.
The term “day of the Lord” has a rich Old Testament history as it used some 75 times in the OT prophets. It refers to a special time of Divine intervention into this world.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is just looking at the judgment aspect of the “day of the Lord”.
In the OT the “day of the Lord” is used: (1) in reference to the coming time of unprecedented trouble and judgment, which we commonly refer to the Tribulation; (2) in reference to the judgments and events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ to the earth; and (3) in reference to the coming time of blessing which is looking at the Messianic Kingdom.
The Ignorance of Unbelievers – 5:3. It is important to note the difference between “we” and “they” in this discussion. The “they” is looking at unbelievers and “we” refers to believers. In a most fascinating statement, Paul declares that the “day of the Lord” will come when they are saying “peace” and “safety”. This is an amazing thought. When it is the consensus of the world that we are now in a time of “peace” and “safety”, then suddenly the “day of the Lord” (like the thief who arrives unexpectedly—5:2) comes in its full fury. The word peace means that there is an absence of alarm because of the harmonious relationships and circumstances on the earth. Safety means secure from danger and enemies. These two words point to a time when men will feel inwardly that everything is safe and secure and they see no real outward evidence that contradicts that feeling. How they arrive at these feelings is not spelled out. But their general sense is that all is well and that sense ill prepares them for the sudden destructions of the Tribulation period. These judgments are likened to “birth pains” that come suddenly on the expectant mother. The concept of “birth pains” is used by the OT prophets, as well as the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul. It looks at judgments which will come and will increase in intensity and rapidity as time draws to the moment of the end (the birth pains which “birth” the messianic age). Now, which birth pain is it that catches the expectant mother off guard? The first one, of course. She could be sleeping peacefully or enjoying a nice meal, but things change dramatically when that first pain hits. This first birth pain points to Revelation 6 where the first judgments (the “seal judgments”) begin the Tribulation period. These are the judgments which catch the world off guard.
So in these verses, Paul informs us that unbelievers are not only ignorant of the true situation in the world, but they are also ignorant of God’s coming judgments.
One might wonder how they could be so surprised by these judgments. Jesus dealt with that very issue in His teachings (e.g. Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:28-29). He used the people of Noah’s day as an example. Even though the world had 120 years to prepare for the Noahic flood and heard Noah the preacher of righteousness proclaim this coming event, they were caught off guard by the Flood. Why? Because they simply did not believe God’s revelation. Like Noah’s day, mankind in the end times, will be pre-occupied with the things of the world and quite dismissive of God’s revealed truth. Mankind simply will not listen to the warnings given in God’s revelation and will most likely write them off (as well as anyone who might refer to them) as the ravings of unstable religionists. This attitude which will prevail in the last days combined with their view that the world is now a basically tranquil place, will set them up for the terrible surprise of the judgments of the “day of the Lord”. They simply do not see things as they actually exist.
But there is a nagging issue here. Why would any sane person see the world as a safe and peaceful place? Why would this become the consensus of most everyone in the world? Is the world safe and secure today? The answer, of course, is “no”. It is neither of these two things mentioned in the text. The reality today is that we have constant surveillance with the NSA, TSA, CIA, FBI and others monitoring life 24/7. We need to go through security checkpoints to get on a flight, go to school or go into a sports arena. Cameras are everywhere and, if the TV shows are correct, our movements, locations and much more are observable by many. The world is not a safe place and thus all the precautions. But apparently something dramatic changes our present situation.
The primary problem today which causes all these precautions is radical Islam. Could it be that the groups and nations that produce and fund these radicals are destroyed? Could it be that prior to the Tribulation period these radical elements are effectively neutralized thus causing a false sense of security in the world? Could it be that the famous Gog/Magog battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 takes place destroying these nations which hate Israel and produce the terrorists of the world? I would suggest (and this is, I admit, speculation) that after the “rapture” event but prior to the start of the Tribulation that God will destroy these nations as describe by the prophet Ezekiel, preparing the world for the great end time events.
Whether this is the exact chronology of events or not, we are faced with the matter of why the world would be saying “peace” and “safety”. We may not be able to figure this out this side of the events themselves but the truth is the world will be saying peace and safety and God’s judgments are a total surprise.
But there is much more in this passage as believers who know about future events must not be spiritually sleepy but alert and living with these events in view.