Chapter 5 concludes Paul’s discussion on eschatological matters and ends with a smorgasbord of commands to enable the Thessalonians to continue to live as salt and light in their dark world.
The Day of the Lord
5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
- “Now” – Paul continues his discussion on the parousia, but turns his attention from those who have died to those who are still living.
- “times and the seasons” – Paul may be responding to a specific question in these verses. One which revolves around the time the second coming may occur. The “dates” and “times” can be translated as epochs and crises. This phrase refers to a time period and to the conditions of a particular time. Both are secrets, hidden with God (Acts 1:7), not known by anyone else, even the angels or Jesus (Matt. 24:36).
- “you have no need to have anything written to you” – evidently the church has been told this information previously. Concern over the death of loved ones blended with some false teaching regarding the return of Christ has most likely resulted in some confusion among the church.
- “day of the Lord” – as described in the Old Testament, the day of the Lord is a day of Judgment for evil and unrepentant ones while being a day of salvation for the righteous.
- “will come” – Paul teaches on the return of Christ as inevitable.
- “thief in the night” – see also Matt. 24.36-43. Communicates the idea of suddenness and surprise. Luke 12:39–40: “If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” The people who will be caught by surprise are the unbelievers, the great masses of people throughout the world. It is not clear whether they are feeling secure and well economically and politically, or whether they feel “safe” spiritually, believing there is no God to worry about. Whatever the source of their security, it will be suddenly and irrevocably shattered.
- “labor pains” – Although this metaphor does not carry the same fame as the former, it is often used in the OT to suggest distress and disaster. As a woman who begins the process of labor, there is no reversal of the return of Christ.
- “There is peace and security” – The Lord’s return will be a surprise for those who aren’t watchful and ready (i.e. unbelievers). Although believers do not know the exact moment of Christ’s return, they are prepared because they are looking for it. Mankind has a history of presuming control over world events, often ignoring signs of judgment, yet scripture tells us that God alone is sovereign.
- “they will not escape” – it is a comprehensive judgment.
4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
- A contrast between two groups here. Christ divides all of humanity into two different groups:
- Unbelievers, destined for judgment – darkness/night/asleep/drunk (foggy)
- Believers, destined for salvation – light/day/aware/sober (self controlled)
- “But you” – In contrast to an unbelieving world, God’s people anxiously await His return. See Rom 8:18-25.
- “darkness” – In the Bible, darkness typically refers to moral or spiritual blindness, disobedience, or separation. This sphere of darkness is where the unbelieving world lives.
- “children” – the foundation for the two groups differs in their status. What makes the two groups different? One belongs to God, the other doesn’t.
- “let us not sleep” –Falling asleep is a picture of what can happen to us spiritually, ethically, or morally if we are not watchful. We simply drift off. Drowsiness begins, we become comfortable, our hearts become insensitive. Spiritual drowsiness slowly paralyzes the spirit. The person who was once vibrant and wide awake in following Christ can become lethargic and lazy about issues of the spirit. Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, pp. 69–70). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- Paul’s emphasis in these verses is for believers to “keep awake” (6) because we have been clothed with the gospel (8). Not only should our moral compass be God-centered, but our spiritual compass should be God-centered. We are in direct contrast to unbelievers, who never assume on the return of Christ, we constantly should be aware and on the look out for His return.
- Verse 6 urges us to live contrary to unbelievers.
- Verse 7 urges us to live consistent with our new nature.
- “having put on” – meaning to continually put on after an initial putting on.
- “sober” – to behave with restraint and moderation, thus not permitting excess—‘to be self- controlled, to be restrained, to be moderate in one’s behavior, to be sober.
- Verse 9 urges us to live prepared and aware of Christ’s impending return using the metaphor of a soldier.
- Paul’s uses of sobriety, being clothed as a soldier, and being a child of day is most likely an intentional contrast to many of the pagan worship practices of the day. (I.E. Thessalonica was known to be a worship center for the god Dionysus, the god of wine, whose ‘worship services’ occurred at night and involved drunkenness followed by activities which required little to no clothing.)
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
- “destined” – to cause someone to experience, with the implication of subjecting a person to something.
- “wrath” -God did not appoint, or destine, us to suffer his wrath. Wrath is the judgment of God upon unbelief. For the Christian, there is no fear of Christ’s appearing: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Larson, K. (2000).
- “to obtain” -that which is acquired, presumably with considerable effort. God has gone through great effort to make sure we are not subjected to His wrath, but that we might experience salvation. The word also denotes possession and/or experience.
- v. 10 – both the living and the dead “live” with Jesus. APP: Eternal life begins now…not when we die. APP: There is no death/separation from God for those who belong to Jesus.
- v. 11 – The goals of eschatology are 1) encouragement and 2) edification.
Final Instructions and Benediction
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.19 Do not quench the Spirit.20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
- Notice the cooperation between The work of the Spirit in sanctification and our responsibility in sanctification. Compare here with 1 Thessalonians 4:1-ff. God’s work in our sanctification is guaranteed because He is faithful in character (v. 24).
25 Brothers, pray for us.26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.