Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Thessalonian church had the end times on the brain. They wondered if those of their number who died would miss the Second Coming of Jesus. In the latter half of Chapter 4, Paul dispels this by telling them that those who have “fallen asleep” will rise first when Jesus descends and gives the shout. Then those of us still alive will be transformed into new bodies and meet the Lord and the departed saints in the air. This event, when we are “caught up” (Chapter 4 verse 17) is where we get the word Rapture. The church will be “snatched away” I believe, to attend a seven-year long party known as the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”.
But any discussion of the Rapture also introduces the Second Coming—when Jesus returns physically to the earth and sets up His government and ushers in a thousand-year golden age. While we in the church will celebrate, the residents of Planet Earth will go through a very difficult time known as the Tribulation. During this period mankind will descend to its worst, inspired by Satan, and will persecute Israel and any who call on the name of Jesus with a relentless hatred. The commercial, religious, and governmental structures will degrade morally and will be judged by God severely.
After Jesus’ return, He will judge the nations and individuals for how they treated His saints—and my extension Himself, holding them accountable. That’s the backdrop for the first half of 1 Thessalonians 5. In light of this knowledge, the Christian of today needs to do something—and we’ll get to that something as we go through the text.
1 – 2
First off: what are “times and seasons”? This is a reference to the things of the End Times. Back in Acts 1:7 Jesus said: “It is not for you to know times and periods that the Father has set by His own authority.” This was in answer to a question the disciples had posed, wondering if Jesus was going to set up His kingdom at that time. He went on to say that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So in essence Jesus is saying: “God knows when these things are to take place. Don’t worry about that—instead be concerned with your mission, which I am sending you on and giving you the tools you need to accomplish it.”
The becomes the same point Paul makes to the Thessalonians. My guess is that this discussion about what happens to a Christian when they die was all wrapped up in wondering when all the suffering was going to end by the return of Jesus to set up His kingdom and give recompense to the bad guys.
Paul says in reference to the events of Jesus’ return that they “do not need anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well…” Apparently Paul had talked to them about this before. But he reminds them of several important facts. We’re going to look at 4 of them.
- 1.The Day of the Lord comes suddenly and unexpectedly.
What is the “Day of the Lord”? Generally it refers to the time when Jesus returns, sets up His kingdom, and judges the nations. We find the first reference to it in Amos 5:18 - 27. The people longed for the Day of the Lord because they thought it meant prosperity and victory for Israel. But Amos points out that is “will be darkness and not light.” Israel was apostate—having a form of religion where they made sacrifices and held feasts but acted with injustice towards others and disregarded the Lordship of Yahweh to follow other gods.
The Day of the Lord can really be thought of as both a series of events and a period of time. For instance, When Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost and preached that incredible sermon, he described the events from that day forward—talking about the giving of the Holy Spirit and the return of Jesus: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes” (Acts 2:20). These are events described as taking place during the Tribulation period (Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24).
Jesus spoke to that period as one where individuals will be separated and judged (Matthew 25:31-46). Those that have been “blessed by My Father” by salvation and saw their characters changed through grace will be welcomed into the Kingdom. Those that did not know Jesus and continued in their sin are sent away to eternal darkness.
But Peter also describes the Day of the Lord as the final judgment after the Thousand Year Reign of Christ. In 2 Peter 3 the Apostle describes the Day of the Lord. It’s a good read where Peter talks about the attitude of humanity towards the Lord in the latter days. But in verse 10 he says: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth the works on it will be disclosed.”
Couple this with Revelation 20:11-15. There, John records the Great White Throne judgment that occurs after the Thousand Years. In those days “Earth and heaven fled” from God’s presence and everyone, nation and individual who rejected Jesus and His salvation receives judgment. Following that we see the new heavens and new earth and the New Jerusalem.
Back now to Thessalonians—Paul says all this will come “like a thief in the night.” The idea there is that no one will expect it. They won’t be paying attention. They will be asleep at the switch when it comes to attending to the importance of considering Jesus and giving their lives to Him. Other references to this are: Revelation 16:15 and Matthew 24:32-44. In fact, the Matthew passage is a great one to read as a parallel to 1 Thessalonians 5.
Is it any wonder that mankind rejects the gospel? Are we seeing perhaps the Great Apostasy that Paul described in 2 Thessalonians 2? I think so. They do so at their own peril for the Lord surely is coming back and everyone must give an account. Everyone. Just because you don’t expect something does not mean it won’t happen.
- 2.The Day of the Lord will come despite visible conditions suggesting otherwise
Peace and security is what we crave both individually and as a world.
This is especially true when it comes to the Mideast crisis. The Arab nations want to push Israel into the sea and Israel says they have a divine claim on the land. The two sides are intractable and every attempt to broker peace has simply not worked in the long term. There will come someone who is able to bring about that peace in a way that seems lasting. That man is known as the Anti-Christ. The prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:27) says that: “He will make a firm covenant with many for one week.” In Daniel, a day is a year so this is a 7-year agreement. The verse goes on: “but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator."
So, the Anti-Christ sets up a peace deal, then breaks it half way through by declaring himself to be God and setting himself up in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem to be worshipped. What will stop him will be the return of Jesus. But notice that during what seems like the utopian age is just a prelude to a time of hell on Earth – “when they say, ‘Peace and security’ then sudden destruction comes on them.”
I think this is applicable to us as individuals as well. We humans need peace and security. But if we try to find it with human relationships, other religious philosophies, riches, fame, beauty or power—we will be suddenly disappointed because none of those things can give you eternal peace and eternal security. That only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Paul says that just as when labor starts a baby’s coming and there’s no stopping it, so too once the events of the final 7 years of Earth’s history in this age begin, Jesus will return to judge (Matthew 24:8).
- 3.The Day of the Lord should not surprise those who know Jesus
4 – 8
We are “sons of light and of the day” because we know the truth as revealed by the Lord. The truth is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that everyone needs a savior and the only name by which we must be saved is that of Jesus.
Light and darkness are often stand-ins for understanding the truth or “being in the dark.” Either people don’t know or don’t want to be held accountable for their deeds. They prefer darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
As children of the light then what should we do? Paul says don’t sleep. That’s a different word than the one used for sleep in Chapter 4. Here the meaning is not death but alertness (or lack thereof). In view as well is moral lethargy. Unlike those in the dark, we are not asleep to the need for change in our character. At night is when people feel freer to indulge in sin. We aren’t like that.
So, Paul says for us to be “serious, and put the armor of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet of the hope of salvation.” Paul liked the analogy of the armor. Here he goes back to what he said in 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Faith, hope and love are the three great pillars of being a Christian. We trust in Jesus for our salvation, hope for His soon coming with a certain expectation of a coming event, and love unselfishly our Lord and one another.
4. The Day of the Lord is one of celebration for the Christian
9 – 10
God has not appointed us for wrath. The Day of the Lord for those who don’t know Jesus is a day of wrath—God’s natural reaction to the presence of sin. This also is one of the reasons that I believe the church will not be here for the Tribulation because it is a time of God’s wrath poured out on a sinful world (Revelation 6:16). Instead we “obtain salvation.”
Verse 10 is interesting. The same word for “sleep” is used here as in verse 6 – moral lethargy not Christian death. So, Paul may be suggesting here that even if you blow it as a Christian you will still obtain salvation and be in the presence of the Lord because His blood is able to pay for all your sins. It’s important that we remain alert and morally transformed to reflect the character of one who is saved, but it isn’t your moral purity that saves you, it’s Jesus’ blood.
In Chapter 4 verse 18 Paul wanted the Thessalonians to encourage one another with the idea that those who die in Christ will rise. Here he wants them to encourage each other with the words that Jesus’ salvation is enough to save them. But here he adds “and build each other up”. “Help each other to be alert, serious, loving, faithful, and hopeful.” What a great aim each of us should have towards one another!
Disappointed, but not surprised
The state of the world around us, the moral decay, the rejection of the gospel, the adoption of any philosophy except Christianity – none of these things should take us by surprise. We are disappointed, yes, but not surprised. But this is true: appearances are deceiving when it comes to the final state of this age. The things this age values: power, wealth and physical beauty – are not going to last into God’s kingdom.
Rededicated to representing God
That should lead us to adopt what Paul is encouraging here, that we get serious and sober—not fall asleep morally but continue to reflect the purity of God’s character in an ever-darkening age. How do we do that? Just as Paul says: faith, hope, and love. Our trust in Jesus to provide for us and rescue us is a shield against the onslaught of opposition and unbelief. Love on our chests means we lead with agape love—giving even when it hurts us. And the helmet of salvation means we’re covered. We can act cheerfully and courageously to represent the love of Jesus no matter where we are or what happens to us!