A STUDY OF 1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-11 (Part 2)
In the previous study we observed that knowledge of the future ought to cause us to take appropriate action in the present. So, if I learned that the new computer I needed to get would cost $250 less during the coming Saturday sale, I would make preparations to buy it at the Saturday sale, and not on Friday or Sunday. This is normal and natural. As believers, we have been informed about coming future events and the Apostle Paul encourages us to take appropriate action right now.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle reminded believers of the coming “day of the Lord” (5:1-3) and then spoke of the appropriate actions believers should take as a result (5:4-11). In the previous study we discussed 5:1-3 and in this study we look at 5:4-11.
THE CHILDREN OF THE LORD AND COMING EVENTS (5:4-11).
The Status of Believers (5:4-5). We, as believers in Jesus, do not have the same status as unbelievers. They are “in darkness” but we are not. The phrase “in darkness” has to do with the sphere in which a person lives and the phrase “of darkness” refers to the nature of the unbeliever; something true of us before trusting Christ. “Darkness” is the realm of Satan and his kingdom (Col. 1:13; Eph. 4:18; 6:12). The person who believes in Jesus is taken out of that realm and is placed in the realm of light. As Peter declares, by His grace we have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Because we are in the light and not in darkness, the day of the Lord will not “overtake” us. This powerful verb means “to seize with hostile intent”; and it teaches that because believers are not in darkness, the Tribulation will not lay hold of believers and will not catch them by surprise. Why? Because believers in the Church will not be present on the earth when this takes place. It is important to note in the verses that follow that Paul is clear that believers can live badly and be spiritual asleep. And since that is possible, then we can see that a “sleeping” believer would likely be very surprised by the sudden birth pains—if it were not for the fact that no church age believer will be on the earth. The Apostle stresses in 5:5 that every single believer has been removed from the realm of darkness (“are all sons of light”) which eliminates the possibility that any will experience the birth pains of the Tribulation. (Note that the word “day” in 5:5 is without the article and is, therefore, not speaking of “the day of the Lord”). People of “light/day” will not experience the wrath of God in the tribulation.
The Exhortation to Believers (5:6-8). Next three exhortations target believers: (1) don’t sleep; (2) be alert; and (3) be sober. First, the Apostle warns believers not to be sleeping (a present tense emphasizing on going present action). This word for “sleep” is different than the one found in 4:13-18 where it there speaks of the death of a believer. Here it speaks of moral and spiritual indifference. This is the true status of the unbeliever but, unfortunately, it can also be true of a believer in Jesus. If this is not possible, then we must ask why Paul exhorts believers not to be this way! So, contrary to the way it ought to be, believers can be sluggish and indifferent to spiritual and moral matters. Unbelievers are that way but we are not to be like them (see Rom. 13:12-14).
Second, the believer is to be alert. This word has the idea of being wide awake and watching like a sentry on duty. This echoes the Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:42. We are to be observing the world around us while keeping one eye on the heavens from which the Savior comes (Phil 3:20-21). We are to live with the conscious expectation of the Lord’s return. The emphasis here is not simply about one’s theological position but also one’s attitude of expectancy. We can become dulled by the passage of time and the Lord’s seeming delay and become careless.
Third, believers are to be sober; that is, we are to be rational and aware of our condition and the conditions around us. A person who is drunk (not sober) is often completely unaware of events swirling around him and which could dramatically impact him (and very often does). In 5:7, Paul describes the unbelieving world which is notoriously careless in the way it lives. They are spiritually asleep and intoxicated (by many things in culture, not just alcohol) because they are of the night.
In 5:8, the metaphor changes somewhat as we are exhorted to be like good soldiers, alert and prepared for war. We are to put on (1) the breastplate of love and faith, and (2) the helmet of the hope of salvation. The metaphor is the same as Ephesians 6, though the armor in view is different. As in Ephesians 6, it is the responsibility of the believer to put these things on. The breastplate is made up of faith and love. Faith is our belief and proper response to the Lord and what He has said. We understand from His Word that terrible days lie ahead but we are not to be fearful or anxious because we have His promise that we are not going to experience the birth pains. Love looks at our proper response towards others. We are not to be self-indulgent and self-centered (this would be part of our being “sober”) as we live in the end times. The helmet protects the head and guards our thought life. Salvation has the primary idea of “deliverance.” In this case it is our deliverance from the coming “day of the Lord.” Hope refers to our confident expectation. We can know that we are delivered because we belong to the Lord Jesus who will not allow His bride to experience end time wrath.
The Deliverance of Believers (5:9-10). Our confidence in being delivered from the day of the Lord is a reasonable thing because God has declared two things: (1) we are not destined for wrath; and (2) we are destined for final deliverance. First, God has not destined the believer to experience His future, eschatological wrath. Why? Because the believer’s sin (all of it) has been removed and God is now propitiated (satisfied) by the death of Jesus. Christ’s death accomplished once and for all the deliverance of those who believe. There is no need for “purgatory” of any kind, including being “purified” by the Tribulation. Second, believers are destined for the final phase of their salvation; that of glorification which includes that resurrection body (given at the rapture—1 Cor. 15:51-53). God will finish what He has begun in us. It is important to observe that the only agent of this salvation is Jesus Christ (5:9) and that we believers are not mentioned as contributing in any way to our own salvation. The deliverance from the time of God’s wrath (the tribulation) is Jesus removing His people via the rapture event.
All believers will be part of this final deliverance. It is instructive to note (in 5:10) that two kinds of believers are spoken of; those who are awake and those who are asleep. As noted earlier, believers can live poorly and be asleep; that is, they can be spiritually and morally indifferent. That, however, makes no difference at the rapture event, as all believers in Jesus will be taken. This one verse pretty well destroys the “partial rapture” view, which holds that only godly believers who are walking with the Lord will be taken at the rapture, while the carnal Christian will be left to go into the tribulation. It should be said that immediately following the rapture will be the Judgment Seat of Christ and there the “sleepy” believer will answer for the way he has lived.
The Encouragement of Believers (5:11). The section closes with the exhortation to keep on encouraging one another with these truths. And what a wonderful exhortation it is! We are to comfort one another with the truth of being with Christ; of our final salvation; and of exemption from Divine wrath. We are constantly (present tense) to be reminding each other of these ultimate realities.
What shall we do with these exhortations by God’s Apostle. First, it might be a good idea to take a few moments and determine (with the Spirit’s help, of course) what my true spiritual state is—sleeping? Alert? Sober? Second, ask the tough question of yourself, “do I love His appearing?” And third, do I speak often encouraging other believers with this great truth of the Lord’s return and His promise of final deliverance?