Be Ready for Christ's Return!
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, with emphasis on 5:1-5
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous context: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
In verse 13, Paul let the Thessalonians know of his desire to make sure they were informed. He also longed for them to have hope. Christian hope is not merely wishful thinking. Rather, it's a future certainty based on the promises of God in Christ. Paul mentioned those who had "fallen asleep” in verse 14. This phrase was a euphemism for death, much like we would say “passed away” today. The Thessalonians were concerned about those Christians who died before the Lord's return. He assured them those still alive when the Lord's returns will have no particular advantage over those who had previously died.
Verse 16 speaks of the anticipated Second Advent of Christ. First, God will raise the dead in Christ. Then those who are still alive will be caught up to meet him in the air. Second, “we” will always be with the Lord. What happens sequentially after this, Paul does not say here. The primary issue in 1 Thessalonians is that Christ will return someday. When he does, those who have died in Christ, and those who are still alive will be reunited. Since we will be present with the Lord, there is no need for fear and despair. Instead, Christians should have hope and be encouraged.
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, with emphasis on 5:1-5
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
Chapter 5 begins with the transitional phrase “now about” (4:9, 13). In verse 1, he considered those alive at the Lord’s return. Paul claimed he didn’t need to write about times and dates, then he explained why. The only other place these words are found together in the New Testament is in Acts 1:7. Here, Jesus discussed with his disciples the final establishment of God’s Kingdom immediately before his ascension.
In verses 2, Paul affirmed their knowledge that the day of the Lord would come like a thief in the night (2 Thess. 2:2, 1 Cor. 5:5). This phrase "day of the Lord" is found in the Old Testament (see verses below). As God’s people, oppressed by foreign nations, Israel awaited his intervention in their suffering and oppression. They prayed and longed for the day when God would save and deliver his people. They also believed he would bring judgment on those who opposed his plan and his people. Here again, Paul reinterpreted an Old Testament concept in light of the risen Christ.
For Paul, the “day of the Lord” was the second coming of Christ referred to in 4:15. The simile, like a thief in the night, is most like drawn from the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 24:43-44). The phrase illustrated the unexpected danger of not being ready and watchful for the Lord’s return.
The experience of peace and safety was a desire of the first century, as much as it is in the twenty-first century. Verse 3 is probably an indictment against Rome. They promised peace and safety to all of their conquered subjects. However, the peace and security of the Roman Empire were achieved and maintained by violence and the sword.
The day of the Lord will overturn any human attempt at peace and security (Luke 21:34–36). It will bring sudden destruction and judgment, as suddenly and intensely, as a woman experiencing the pain of childbirth.
In verse 4, Paul presented a contrast using darkness and day imagery, while continuing the thief imagery from verse 2. In verse 5, the Thessalonians are described as children of the light and the day, not as those of night or darkness.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider the day of the Lord and its two sides-salvation and judgment. Thank God for his salvation in Christ.
Today, prayerfully consider where you receive a sense of peace and security. Is it God? Is it another source?
Prayerfully consider the contrast of light and darkness and what it means to be a child of the light versus darkness.
To do: (with the Holy Sprit's help)
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
Who needs to hear this message today?
Where specifically can you be a light in this world’s darkness?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the passages).
Read and study these Old Testament uses of the day of the Lord:
Read and study Paul’s similar day of the Lord phrases the "day of our Lord Jesus [Christ]" (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14), or only as the "day of [Jesus] Christ" (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16), or even just "the day" (2 Thess. 1:10).
Read and study 1 John 1-2 and see how many times light and darkness appear.