The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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VII. Problems Concerning Christ's Coming (4:13-5:11)

A. Believers Who Fall Asleep (4:13-18)

v. 13
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
v. 14
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
v. 15
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
v. 16
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
v. 17
"then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
v. 18
"Wherefore comfort one another with these words."


v. 13 "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren": This is a common expression of Paul (Rom 1:13; 11:25; 1Co 10:1; 12:1; 2Co 1:8) when he wants to correct an erroneous idea, or to explain something that has caused perplexity. It is invariably accompanied by the address "brethren", revealing the affection and concern Paul feels for his charges.

"Concerning them which are asleep": The Greek "koimao" is the common word for sleep, from which we derive the English words "coma" and "cemetery" (a "sleeping-place"). In the New Testament death is often equated with sleep (Mat 9:24; 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1Co 15:6,18,20,51; 2Pe 3:4). (In 1Co 7:39, the same word for "sleep" is actually translated "dead" in the KJV.) Almost without exception, it is those who are in covenant relationship with God who are so characterized (cp v 14 here: them which "sleep in Jesus"). The Old Testament also uses the same figure (Gen 47:30; Deu 31:16; Psa 13:3; 1Ki 22:40; etc), though not so frequently. It occasionally refers in similar fashion to those who will never be resurrected, as sleeping "a perpetual sleep" (Jer 51:39,57; cp Isa 26:13,14; Psa 76:5,6).

Saints, who are dead "in Christ" (v 14), are nevertheless so related to life by the surety of a resurrection that in God's eyes they are simply "asleep." It may even be said that to Him they are alive (Luke 20:38), on the principle that God may call those things "which be not as though they were" (Rom 4:17). He counts their death no more an interruption of life than we would so count sleep!

Sleep is a resting to awaken refreshed. It is no disadvantage to those who so pass their time, and may even be a gain (John 11:12). Those who are dead with Christ will also live with Christ (2Ti 2:11).

"That ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope": The assurance our hope gives us is that our dead ones, dying in the Lord, will be restored to life and to us (Tit 1:2; 3:7; Acts 23:6). There is no room in this -- no matter the outward appearance -- for the inconsolable grief that the rest of mankind bows under because it has no hope. The world has no hope (Eph 2:12), because its ignorance alienates it from the life God promises (Eph 4:17,18).

v. 14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again": The Greek scholars tell us that the conditional "ei" ("if") assumes the hypothesis as a fact: "Since we believe..." There is no question that the Thessalonians believe that Jesus died and rose again. And therefore there is no question that those who sleep in Jesus will be raised.

"Even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him": "Bring" is in the sense of "lead" (John 18:28; Acts 8:32; 9:27; 17:15,19; Rom 2:4; 8:14), as a guide or companion (2Ti 4:11). God will bring forth (from the grave) those who sleep in Jesus, so that they will be with him. Since all believers form the "One Body" (1Co 12:12-27) they must be together, and they must not be separated from their Head.

God will lead them forth from death "with him (Jesus)" -- that is, through him (2Co 4:14) or after his example (1Co 6:14; Heb 2:10).

An alternative view, equally likely: When Christ appears from heaven, he will bring with him the "lives" of the saints, until then "hid with Christ" (Col 3:3,4). Though they have lived on earth, the saints have been spiritually in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3; 2:6). Thus it is their true selves -- their abiding reality -- which is revealed when Christ returns, bringing "new Jerusalem" (Rev 21:2) with him, the "house not made with hands eternal, in the heavens", with which his followers desire to be clothed (2Co 4:16; 5:4). This immortality is "the hope laid up in heaven" (1Pe 1:4), after the pattern of the golden pot of manna (Heb 9:4; Rev 2:17). The saints do not go to heaven to put on this immortality; instead, it is brought from heaven to them in the person of Christ.

v. 15 "By the word of the Lord": Paul claims to be speaking by the power of inspiration, as in 1Co 2:13; 7:10; 14:37; 2Co 2:17; and 7:12 with 1Co 5:4.

"The coming of the Lord": The "parousia" (1Th 2:19, notes).

"Prevent": "Precede" is the correct translation of "phthano", which contains the idea of doing something before someone else and so of gaining an advantage over him.

v. 16 "The Lord himself": "This Jesus" (Acts 1:11), and no substitute or representative.

"With a shout": "Keleusma" signifies a call, a summons of authority, or a command ("a loud command" -- NIV). The word occurs in the LXX of Pro 30:27: the locusts marching forth in ranks at the word of command. This suggests that the loud shout, the voice of command by which the dead are raised (John 5:28,29; 11:43) -- like the "voice'' of instinct that commands the locusts -- will not necessarily be heard by all. The "whisper" of an angel can wake the dead, when breathed by the command of him who is the resurrection and life (John 11:25).

"With the voice of an archangel": The Bible names only one archangel, Michael (Jude 1:9), the one who stands up in Dan 12:1,2 -- as a signal for the resurrection of the dead.

"With the trump of God": Trumpets figure prominently in a variety of Scriptures -- quite a number of which have direct bearing on this passage:

  1. Trumpets summoned God's people to assemble before Him: Num 10:1-10; Mat 24:30,31; Isa 27:13.
  2. The feast of trumpets called Israel together on the first day of the seventh month (Lev 25:9; 23:24; Num 29:1), to prepare them for the Day of Atonement: the national offering for sin, the national day of repentance, and the time for a collective forgiveness of sins. See also Psa 81:3; Isa 58:1; Joel 2:15.
  3. The trumpet of "jubilee" proclaimed freedom to the captives and the restoration of their inheritance (Lev 25:9-13,39-42,47-55).
  4. Trumpets are directly connected with resurrection, not only in this passage, but also in Rev 11:15,18 and 1Co 15:51,52.
  5. Trumpets warned of approaching war (Eze 33:1-6, etc) and therefore were blown to assemble an army (Num 31:6; 2Ch 13:12,14; Jdg 3:27).
  6. Trumpets signaled the coronation or approach of a king (1Ki 1:34,39; 1Ki 9:13; 11:12,14; Psa 98:6), and therefore accompanied the ark to Zion (1Ch 15:24,28; 16:6,42) -- because it represented the presence of God, the true King of Israel.
"And the dead in Christ shall rise first": That is, before the events described in v 17. Not necessarily the very first thing to happen at the second coming. The dead are brought back to life before Jesus takes any action whatsoever toward those who were concerned about the deaths of their loved ones in Christ.

v. 17 "Caught up": "Harpazo" signifies to be snatched or plucked away (Acts 8:39; John 10:12,28; Jude 1:23), conveyed quickly from one place to another -- with no particular regard as to direction. (Compare an Old Testament instance of such a "snatching away" in 2Ki 2:11). Thus Paul speaks of himself being caught away (not "up") (the same word -- "harpazo") to the "third heaven" in 2Co 12:2,4.

The removal implied in "harpazo" is from one location to another on the earth (esp Acts 8:39). The saints are to be transported miraculously and instantaneously to the judgment seat (Rom 14:10), which is on earth (Psa 122:5; Mat 25:31; etc).

"In the clouds": While it is true that in one passage "cloud" refers to the witnesses, or the saints (Heb 12:1), the word is in fact different in the Greek. The most dominant Scriptural theme suggested by "the clouds" is the Shekinah Glory of the Almighty. In the Old Testament God consistently manifested Himself to Israel in the cloud and the fire (Exo 13:21,22; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:16-19; 20:18; 24:15-19; 33:18-21 with 34:4-7; 40:34-38; Num 10:34; 12:5,10; 14:9,10,14,21,22; Deu 31:14,15; Psa 104:3; 105:39; 1Co 10:1,2). In such He appeared also to David (Psa 18:6-15); Ezekiel (Eze 1:4; 10:4); Elijah (1Ki 19:11-13); Solomon (1Ki 8:10,11); Job (Job 38:1); and the apostles (Luke 9:34,35). The clouds of glory are associated with the judgments of God (Joel 2:2; Zep 1:15; Eze 30:3; Isa 19:1; 25:5). As Jesus ascended in such clouds (Acts 1:9), so he will return in clouds (Acts 1:11, Luke 21:27; Mat 26:64; Rev 1:7; 14:14-16; Dan 7:13).

"To meet": "Eis": "for the purpose of" (meeting). "Apantesin" (meeting) is an unusual expression. In ancient times it was used for officials going out to welcome a newly arriving dignitary and to escort him into the city. This same expression, with this peculiar meaning, was used of the welcoming committee of brethren who met Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 28:15,16). Thus the brethren accorded Paul the respect due to an important personage.

The implication of Paul's use of this expression here is clear:

Those who go forth to meet the Lord do so for the purpose of welcoming him as a royal dignitary and escorting him to the city of his throne and of his marriage feast (compare the use of "apantesin" in Mat 25:1,6).

"In the air": "Eis" -- into the air. Not in heaven (Greek "ouranos"), but into the air (Greek "aer") which extends by the most liberal estimate only a few miles above the earth! This phrase should be translated: "Then we... shall be caught away into the air in clouds, in order to meet the Lord." There is no suggestion in these words that the saints remain for any time in the air, or that they are carried any appreciable distance above the earth itself. Instead, there is the idea (with "harpazo") of almost instantaneous transport (Latin "rapture") through the air from one place to another on earth. The saints are gathered "from the uttermost part of earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13:27), that is, from all places. It is clear the saints will reign with Christ on the earth (Gen 13:15; Num 14:21; Psa 37:29,34; Pro 10:30; 11:31; Isa 11:9; Dan 2:44; Zec 14:16; Mat 5:5; Luke 13:28; Rom 4:13; Rev 2:26). Their dominion will be "on the earth" (Rev 5:10), "under the whole heaven" (Dan 7:27).

"And so shall we ever be with the Lord": Where? Suspended in the air, no more than a few miles above the earth? Or upon the earth, assisting the Lord in the subjugation and ruling and teaching of the mortal nations, thus helping to fill the earth with the glory of God? There can be only one answer.

v. 18 "Wherefore comfort one another with these words": Once joined with Christ, we will be always with him. As we cannot be separated from his love even now (Rom 8:38,39), so we will not be denied fellowship with him in the age to come. This is comfort indeed, the only real comfort.


When Paul claims to speak "unto you -- the Thessalonians -- by the word of the Lord", it would seem he had in mind the Olivet prophecy, especially as recorded in Matthew with its explanatory parables:

1 Thessalonians
4:16 The Lord descends from heaven
24:30 The Son of Man coming
4:16 The voice of an angel, trump of God
24:31 An angel, trumpet
4:17 We who are alive and remain
24:31 His elect
4:17 Clouds
24:30 Clouds
5:2 Thief in the night
24:43 The "thief" comes
5:3 "Peace and safety" cry
24:48 "My lord delays his coming"
5:3 Sudden destruction
24:43,51 House broken up
5:3 Travail, woman with child
24:8 The beginning of sorrows (ie, birth pangs)
5:5 Children of light
25:1-13 Wise virgins with lamps
5:6,10 Sleep... wake
25:5 Some slumbered
5:6 Be sober
24:49 Eat and drink with the drunken

Thus Paul in this section, and in subsequent ones (1Th 5:1-11), is providing his own commentary and exhortation on the great prophecy of his Lord.

* * *

It seems there are three possible (though related) questions from the Thessalonians, that could have led to Paul's "answer" in these verses:

  1. Did the death of believers before the coming of Christ mean they would never see Jesus and never enter his kingdom?
  2. Or did it mean they would not be raised until the end of the thousand years? In other words, did the Thessalonians associate resurrection only with the end of the millennium?
  3. Or did they simply fear that their loved ones would be denied the opportunity of witnessing the glorious return of Christ?
To have asked the first of these would have revealed an extraordinary lack of understanding of the gospel; so on that account it seems unlikely. Either of the last two seems much more plausible as being concerns of the newly-converted Thessalonian believers. And Paul's answer then provides the wonderful assurance that nothing will happen to those who are living at Christ's return that will not be experienced by the sleeping believers then awakened.

* * *

This passage (1Th 4:13-18), if taken alone (like 1Co 15), could be construed as teaching that no unworthy "saints" will be raised or judged at the return of Christ. Such "arguments from omission", however, are always dangerous. Paul omits reference to those who are ultimately rejected (as he does also in 1Co 15:52) because he is intent on offering comfort and assurance. He must have known, moreover, that the Thessalonians had no misunderstanding about the punishment of the wicked -- or else he would have been more specific and detailed here. (This consideration by itself suggests they knew more about the events of the last days than we might first suppose.)

There is an enormous body of evidence to prove that worthy and unworthy are raised and judged together (Dan 12:1,2; Mat 8:10-12; 12;36,37; 13:30, 40-43, 47-50; 22:1-14; 25:1-30, 31-46; John 5:28;29; Acts 25:15,25; Rom 2:5-11; 2Co 5:10; 2Ti 4:1; Heb 6:2; 1Pe 4:4; 1Jo 4:17; Rev 11:18). There is no problem then in understanding that between the "rapture" and the "being forever with the Lord" there must intervene a judgment which eliminates the unworthy.

* * *

Similarly, it may be pointed out that Paul does not speak of a resurrection to condemnation for anyone not "in Christ." But again, an argument from omission would be dangerous. It is true that those who are "in Christ", nominally or otherwise, will be raised to a different sort of judgment than will those (few or many) who have absolutely and knowingly rejected the gospel. The first will be brought to a judgment seat for a decision; the others, only to be condemned, since for them there can be no possibility of acceptance. Paul, with his mind intent on comfort, omits reference to this class altogether here. The Scriptures as a whole, however, have a good deal to say about such a third class of resurrected ones (Mark 16:16; Luke 19:27; John 3:19; 12:47-50 with Deu 18:18,19; Acts 24:25; 1Pe 4:3-5).

* * *

Did Paul expect to be alive when Christ returned? It would appear so when he writes "we who are alive" (v 15). But in his later letters he reckons with the possibility and even the likelihood of his own death before Christ returns (1Co 6:14; 2Co 4:14; 5:1; Phi 1:20; 2Ti 4:6). It is clear that Paul believed in the possibility of Christ's imminent return -- as did the entire first-century church. Nothing Jesus said and nothing the apostles wrote should be construed so as to leave that possibility out of account for any believer (Rom 13:11; 1Co 7:26,29; 10:11; 15:51,52; 16:22). Jesus himself had warned his followers about the dangers in supposing "delay" (Mat 24:48; 25:5; Luke 19:11-27). However, as Paul grew older and experienced more and more of the infirmities of the flesh -- not to mention more and greater persecutions -- he began to consider, as any of us might today, the possibility of his death before the second coming. Surely such an expectation, tempered by practical considerations, should be the example for believers in all ages.

* * *

What simple comfort there is in Paul's closing words. "Together with them" (v 17)! Families, both natural and spiritual, united again in the Lord. "so shall we ever be with the Lord" (v 17). "Lo, I am with you alway" (Mat 28:20), he had said -- and now, at the end of the age, he will be with us still and forever in a more intimate fashion.

"And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing" (John 16:22,23).

B. The Time of the Coming (5:1-3)

v. 1
"But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
v. 2
"For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
v. 3
"For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."


v. 1 "Times": Greek "kronos", from which is derived the English "chronology." This word refers to time as to its duration (Rev 10:6; Acts 13:18; Luke 4:5), and thus refers to the date of an event (Mat 2:7; Luke 8:29; Acts 3:21; 7:17).

"Seasons": Greek "kairos" refers to the characteristics of a particular period -- as we might refer to the four "seasons" of a year, or the "seasons" of one's life (Mat 13:30; Acts 14:17; Gal 6:9; Rev 12:12; Luke 4:13). Whereas "times" speaks of the length of the interval before the coming of Christ, "seasons" suggests the suitability of a particular period, with regard to accompanying signs. "Kronos" has to do with quantity, "kairos" with quality -- although the two words may appear together as a general term denoting the period preceding the return of Christ (Acts 1:7).

"Ye have no need that I write unto you": Paul appears almost to scold the Thessalonians: "Why are you even asking anything more about the times and the season? You ought to know enough already about such matters!" Prophetic matters had occupied Paul's teaching while he was with them, and they should now have worked out the implications of his teaching sufficiently so as to answer their own questions. A good teacher knows when students possess adequate information already, and encourages them to make their own applications. So it was in this case. There is perhaps subtle rebuke here of their eagerness in discussing prophecy to the neglect of preparing themselves for the return of Christ. As we see in the next verse, Paul has not told them enough to predict accurately the exact date of Christ's return. Nor does he intend to do so now. It is possible to take an undue interest in the mechanics -- the facts and figures and timetables -- of fulfilling prophecy, to the exclusion (or denigration) of the current (and pressing) duties of a disciple of Christ.

v. 2 "For yourselves know perfectly": "Akribos" signifies "perfect" or "accurate" (Luke 1:3; Mat 2:8; Acts 18:25,26). Paul had spent a great deal of time instructing them on these matters. There is a touch of irony, however, in these words of Paul: "You know perfectly -- because I have already taught you -- that you cannot know accurately when these things will come to pass!" In this Paul is echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples just before his ascension:

"It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (Acts 1:7).
"The day of the Lord": This phrase means the day of Christ's return (1Co 1:8; 5:5; 2Co 1:14; Phi 1:10). It is also referred to as "the day of judgment" (2Pe 2:9), "the day of wrath" (Rom 2:5), "the day of God" (2Pe 3:12); "the day of Jesus Christ" (Phi 1:6), "that day" (2Th 1:10), "the great day" (Jude 1:6), and "the last day" (John 6:39-54; 11:24; 12:48).

The "day of the Lord" is an Old Testament concept: it was the day when Yahweh would indicate His righteous cause and execute impartial judgment (Amos 5:18; Joel 2:31; Mal 4:5).

"Cometh": Paul uses the present tense rather than the future: "It comes!" Even now it is imminent! This is not so much to define limits as to chronological time; as it is to emphasize the unexpectedness of Christ's coming: it might be any day. The Lord comes "quickly" (Rev 22:20), yet no one can know when it will be (Mark 13:32).

"As a thief": In every place where this figure is used, it refers to the condition of the Lord's servants:

Mat 24:42-44:
"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come... if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to the broken up. Therefore be ye also ready..." (cp Luke 12:35-40).
2Pe 3:9,10:
"The Lord is longsuffering... to us-ward... But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night."
Rev 3:3:
"If therefore thou (The church at Sardis) shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief..."
Rev 16:15:
"Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments..."

Paul, far from having his mind on political developments in the last days (important as those matters may be), is actually exhorting in a very pointed fashion against the casual indifference which would characterize many of the household of faith at the time of the Lord's coming. Nowhere else in all of 1Th may it even be suggested that Paul is writing of the state of the nations as such, or of their impending fate. But throughout the letter he is profoundly -- even desperately -- concerned for the well-being of his new converts: how they will stand before the Lord at his coming.

"In the night": It is noteworthy how many of the Scriptural lessons on watchfulness are associated with the night, and a visit by night (Mat 24:43; 25:1-13; Mark 13:35; Luke 12:20,35,38; 17:34). Night suggests confusion, disorientation, slumber, and a (false) sense of security -- all appropriate in this context.

v. 3: "Peace and safety": As may be seen from the outline in the previous section, there are a number of striking parallels between this section of 1Th and the Olivet prophecy. By a reference back to those lists, it may be clearly seen that "peace and safety" directly corresponds to the words of the evil servant: "My Lord delays his coming" (Mat 24:48). Paul is alluding to the heedless householder of Christ's parable, persuading himself that he is at peace and his goods in safety (cp Rev 3:17: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing"). Here is an attitude of self-satisfaction and complacency thoroughly incompatible with an alert watchfulness. But when he least expects it, ruin overtakes him in the person of a thief digging through the walls of his house and spoiling his goods (Rev 3:17 again: "and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked").

"Sudden destruction": The startling nature of the disaster is further emphasized by the use of the unusual adjective rendered "sudden." Elsewhere in the New Testament it is found only in Luke 21:34:

"And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."
The word for "destruction" occurs also in 2Th 1:9: they "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."

"As travail upon a woman with child": This is a common Biblical figure of speech (Psa 48:6; Isa 13:8; 26:17; 37:3; Jer 6:24; 22:23; Mic 4:9). The Greek "odino" signifies labor in childbirth, and is also used metaphorically of labor in Gal 4:19; Mat 24:8; Mark 13:8; Rev 12:2. At first glance this verse seems to picture childbearing as a terrifying, death-like experience, with the imminent prospect of "destruction." But this is reading too much into the text. The points of comparison between the "destruction" and childbirth are as to time and certainty. This destruction will come "suddenly", without warning, just as labor may begin unexpectedly. Once begun, the birth pangs will intensify in strength and frequency -- with no prospect of deliverance or postponement -- "and they shall not escape!" The coming of Christ, with its attendant judgments, can by no means be put off to a "more convenient season."


What is the point of Paul's simile "as a thief" in regard to believers at the return of Christ? When a burglar has broken into a house and slipped away with all the money and the choicest items of wealth it contains, the householder suddenly awakes to the fact that what he deemed to be his most treasured possessions are gone forever. For those who are not prepared to meet their Master, his coming will be most unexpected and most unwelcome. It will bring a day of acute self-awareness, as though they awake from a dream. Things will have been turned upside-down, and nothing can be "put right" again! Everything that once seemed so important will be suddenly both useless and meaningless, as though it had been stolen by a thief: cars, clothes, homes, bank accounts, hobbies, entertainments -- all vanished! And he who was perhaps put second, or even ignored at times, will be all-important.

* * *

"But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mat 24:28-51).
Those who speak (or, even more to the point, those who act) as though they are indifferent to the Lord's coming (cp 2Pe 3:4 -- "Where is the promise of his coming?") are within the church, and not its critics on the outside! Of course, no "responsible" believer ever denies the second coming in so many words; not a few deny faith in it, sadly, by their actions (or inactions?).

* * *

The "peace and safety" attitude of the ecclesia in the last days would seem to echo the attitude of another group of God's people, the nation of Israel, at several "crossroads" of their history:

It is evident, therefore, that "peace and safety" as they are meant in 1Th 5 cannot refer to the international political conditions preceding the return of Christ. Joel, by contrast, does tell us (and many other scriptures confirm the picture) that the last days will witness unprecedented preparation for war (Joel 3:9,10).

It may be suggested that awesome warmongering might reasonably be accompanied (as it has been to some already) by ludicrous posturings of "peace." But such proclamations are not to be believed by any of those who are in distress and perplexity, whose hearts are failing them for fear (Luke 21:25-27). Even so, such a condition in the world around us should not be postulated on the basis of a passage (1Th 5) that deals throughout with believers and their attitude towards the second coming.

C. Be Ready for His Coming (5:4-11)

v. 4
"But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
v. 5
"Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
v. 6
"Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
v. 7
"For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
v. 8
"But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast plate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
v. 9
"For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
v. 10
"who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
v. 11
"Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do."


v. 4 "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness": "Skotos" describes the absence of light in a physical sense (Mat 27:45; John 6:17), and also in intellectual (Rom 2:19; Eph 4:18) moral (Mat 6:23; 1Jo 1:6) and spiritual senses (Luke 1:79; Acts 26:18). The world in its present condition is a world of darkness (John 1:5; 8:12; 12:35), a reflection of the powers that dominate it (Luke 22:53; Col 1:13). Darkness also suggests the grave and the punishment of rejection from the presence of Christ (Mat 8:12; 2Pe 2:17). All that is indicated by darkness is hauntingly expressed in the Poetic imagery of John, when he records that Judas left the "light" of Christ in the upper room... "and he went immediately out... and it was night" (John 13:30).

"As a thief": Compare, of course, v 2.

v. 5 "Ye are all the children of light": The "all" gives reassurance that none need be excluded from the blessings implied; even those with uncertainties about the details of Christ's coming (1Th 4:11,12) or those who are "weak" (1Th 5:14) may take heart.

In Hebrew idiom, to be the "child" or "son" of a certain characteristic or quality means to exemplify it. A "child of light" is one who has experienced a complete transformation through the "light." In this way is the phrase used elsewhere:

"While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light" (John 12:36).

"for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8).

"For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Eph 5:8).
The condition of being in Christ is continually associated with light (Mat 5:14,16; John 3:21; 8:12; Acts 26:18; Col 1:12; 1Pe 2:9, 1Jo 1:7).

v. 6 "Let us not sleep": The "sleep" of carelessness and indifference, not the "sleep" of literal death (1Th 4:13-15). It is as though Paul were exhorting the Thessalonians: "Let us not say, 'Peace and safety'" (v 3). It is entirely possible for the "children of light" to relapse into the condition of being "children of darkness!" (Cp the lesson of Luke 12:39; Mat 24:43; 25:5; and Mark 13:35;36.)

"As do others": Again as in 1Th 4:13, the "others which have no hope." And, as in 1Th 4:5: "the Gentiles which know not God." "Sleep" is natural enough for the "children of darkness" and the "children of this world", but it is entirely out of place for the children of light.

"But let us watch": The Thessalonians were not to be in a state of spiritual insensibility, but they were to be mentally alert and watchful. "Watch" (Greek "gregores") is used of the attentiveness of a mind bent on receiving instruction (Pro 8:34, LXX) or an answer to prayer (Col 4:2). Believers are to "watch" for the return of the Lord (Mark 13:35-37; Mat 24:42; 25:13), and in the meantime also to "watch" for spiritual dangers (Acts 20:31; 1Co 1:13; Rev 3:2,3). Though the Thessalonians were, if anything, too "watchful" to the point of neglecting other duties (1Th 4:11,12; 2Th 3:6-15), they were not to cease watching altogether.

"And be sober": "Self-controlled" (NIV). "Nephos" literally signifies the absence of strong drink or other intoxicants. The drunk person has lost control of his own faculties and is out of touch with reality, but the "sober" person is thoroughly in control of himself, and thoroughly cognizant of the world around him. No doubt literal sobriety is an essential aspect of a believer's life (Rom 13:12,13; 1Pe 4:3,4), but Paul must certainly refer here to the avoidance of any kind of excess that would stifle sensitivity to God's revelation and purpose. One excess to which some Thessalonian believers had fallen prey was an undue agitation about the "last days" and their involvement therein (2Th 3:6-15).

v. 7 "For they that sleep sleep in the night: and they that be drunken are drunken in the night": Two kinds of activity are particularly appropriate for those who live in a perpetual state of "night": "sleep" and "drunkenness." Drunkenness during the daytime was regarded as even more reprehensible than night-time revelry (Isa 5:11; Acts 2:15; 2Pe 2:13).

v. 8 "Breastplate of faith and love": The metaphors of putting on clothing (Gal 3:27; Eph 4:24; Col 3;10,12) and of military service (Rom 6:13; 7:23; 1Co 9:7; 1Ti 1:18; 2Ti 2:3; 4:7) are both common for Paul. The two metaphors are combined in his concept of the "armor" of a believer (Rom 13:12; 2Co 6:7; 10:4; Eph 6:13-17). Underlying the New Testament usage is Isa 59:17, where it says of God himself:

"He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon His head."
"For an helmet, the hope of salvation": The breastplate and the helmet are the most important items in a suit of armor, covering as they do the vitals. Paul has in mind here the defensive elements of a warrior's preparation. In like manner, "faith, hope, and love" (1Th 1:3) are the three essential features of true Christianity, and the three cardinal virtues -- by which the believer may be protected from apostasy.

v. 9 "For God hath not appointed us to wrath": As noted in 1Th 1:10 (and cp 1Th 2:16), "wrath" ("orge") is practically a technical designation of the period just before Christ's Kingdom on the earth, when God will bring upon the world a series of unprecedented distresses and calamities (Mat 24:21; Luke 21:23; Rev 6:16,17). But the saints will be delivered from such "wrath." They are entitled to wear the "helmet" of salvation (v 9) because God has appointed it.

"But to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ": Although salvation may be obtained or won (the word suggests an active effort of acquisition: cp 2Th 2:14), this is not to suggest that any man may "earn" it by his own works. That salvation is after all a free gift is stressed by the modifying phrase: "through our Lord Jesus Christ." But nevertheless man must in faith take some initiative to bring himself to the place (ie, the "mercy seat") where the gift will be conferred. The salvation by grace which God gives to man is not awarded independent of the action of that man, any more than God's wrath comes upon any man independent of his own choice.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ": The full title is distinctly impressive, and suggestive of the work accomplished by both the Father (who conferred the title) and the Son (who accepted and exalted it).

v. 10 "Who died for us": "For" ("huper") denotes an act done with reference to others. Jesus was identified with all men, and his sacrifice has the potential for procuring salvation for all men who accept him in faith. It is a fundamental principle that Jesus died on behalf of, but not instead of, believers, he was an example, but not a substitute.

The simple statement that Christ "died for us" -- the only explicit reference to the atonement in both Paul's Thessalonian letters - is amplified by such passages as:

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3:23-26).

"For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom 14:9).

"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2Co 5:14,15).

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2Co 5:19-21).

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father" (Gal 1:3,4).
It is true that the doctrine of the cross receives scant attention in Paul's letters to the Thessalonian ecclesia, but this may well be because it was so amply demonstrated to them during his initial preaching there (Acts 17:2;3).

"Whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him": This must certainly mean, "whether we are alive or dead" at Christ's coming. Earlier Paul has considered wakefulness and sleep as equivalents of moral states (5:6), respectively, of the children of light and the children of darkness (v 5). Now he returns to the thoughts, and the symbolism, of 4:13-18. The "sleep" here is the death state of those who are "in Jesus" (4:14). "Katheudo" ("sleep") is used in this symbolic sense in Mat 9:24 and Mark 5:39. Death is nothing but a passing inconvenience for those who have been promised life together with Jesus.

v. 11 "Wherefore comfort yourselves together": Repeating the phrase of 1Th 4:18. "Parakaleo" (the common word for comfort and exhortation: 1Th 3:2,7; 4:18) means literally to call alongside, or figuratively to encourage and strengthen.

"And edify one another": The foundation and the progress of a Christian life -- either individually or in this case collectively ("one another") -- is likened by Jesus to the process of building a house (Mat 7:24-27; Luke 14:28). Those who assist in the growth of the one Body of Christ are accounted as wise and profitable builders (1Co 3:9-12; 8:1; 14:3,4; Col 2:7; cp the figure in Eph 2:21; 4:12,16,29; 2Co 12:19; 13:10; 1Pe 2:5,7).

"Even as also ye do": Paul is quick to acknowledge progress along this line. Yet at the same time he also looks forward to even greater attainments (cp 1Th 4:1,10).


The true followers of Christ are "sons of the day" (v 5) -- even though the "day" has not officially arrived. That "day of the Lord" has cast its radiance ahead with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and especially with his sacrificial work. We must remember, and endeavor, to live in that "day", and to exemplify all its qualities, even now. In no other way may a people ever become prepared to enter into the glories of that future inheritance, when it does indeed arrive!

* * *

The believer is not only to be calm and vigilant (1Th 5:1-6); he is also to be armed and ready for spiritual defense and offence (v 8), all the while waiting for the appearance of his Lord. Here the armor described is composed of that familiar triad of virtues: faith, hope, and love. In the opening section of this letter Paul had viewed these virtues as forces -- active and positive -- each producing its characteristic effect in the spiritual life: "work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope" (1Th 1:3). Here (1Th 5:8) the same virtues are means of protection against the assaults of moral evil.

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