The Day of the Lord
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
The day of the Lord is coming.
For those who believe in Christ, this is good news. For as 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 says:
For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. (NLT)
The day of His appearing will be a time of rejoicing for those who believe, but for those who do not, there is only the certain expectation of wrath, judgment and trouble. However, even then there will be hope for those who repent.
The day of the Lord is a term used to describe a series of events foretold by the Scriptures regarding what could be termed the end of the world or end times prophecies. There are ministries whose entire existence centers around end times prophecies and world events: interpretations abound.
The passage we just read refers to the rapture of the church. However, three major teachings are dominant in regard to the rapture of the Church. These three are pre, mid and post. That is to say, pre means pre-tribulation. This is the teaching that Jesus will rapture His Church before the tribulation. This is often shortened so that one hears "pretrib." Mid and Post correspond to teachings that Jesus will return either in the middle of the seven year tribulation or at the end of the seven year tribulation.
These teachings are not to be confused with teachings regarding the millennium. The "tribulation" refers to seven years of unsurpassed evil and suffering. It will be a time of God's judgment, and a chance for the unbelieving to repent and be saved. The "millennium" refers to the thousand year reign of Christ on earth referred to in Revelation 20.
There are also three major teachings on the millennium: Pre, post or "a-." These three teachings have to do with when and whether or not Jesus will set up a literal, physical kingdom on earth. We are pre-mil, according to our doctrinal statement. In other words, we believe and teach that the tribulation and Jesus' return will happen before the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth.
While our doctrinal statement says nothing about pre, mid or post trib, we clearly state that we are pre-millennial or "pre-mil." This is because of the clear teaching of Scripture. We know the Spirit is indicating that Jesus will reign on earth. We know the Spirit is indicating there will be a period of tribulation preceding Jesus' reign. However, we are not in agreement about the timing of the rapture of the Church in relation to the tribulation. While I am convinced the Scriptures are clear on this point, I leave room for the Holy Spirit to convict me if I have misinterpreted His Word.
The tribulation and millennium together form a concept known as the "Day of the Lord." 1 Thessalonians 5:2 uses the term "day of the Lord" to describe the events of the last days.
As I said, there are ministries whose whole focus is on the end times or the day of the Lord, and interpretations abound. Some have been led astray by false doctrines in regard to these things, and even false religions and cults have sprung up as biblical prophecies are twisted or misused. Therefore, it is surprising that Paul starts 1 Thessalonians 5 with the statement:
Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. (1 Thessalonians 5:1, NLT)
Literally, he says, "Now concerning times and seasons..."
Is he saying this because these things are not important?
No, he is saying this because they already knew the truth. He is saying this to us as well. We already have all the revelation we need to discern the truth.
He uses the same language in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 in relation to love. He says:
But we don't need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. (NLT)
Loving each other is very important, and the reason Paul says there is no need to write to them about the importance is because they are taught by God. It is the same way with times and seasons. We are expected to know. Jesus scolded the religious teachers of His day because they could read the signs in the sky for the weather, but they could not discern the signs of the times. In truth, the point of the passage we are looking at today is that we should not be caught by surprise at the coming of the day of the Lord.
What is essential for us is that we encourage each other and build each other up. This is the conclusion that the Spirit works toward in verse 11.
We have all heard the saying that the day will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. And indeed, this is what verse 2 of 1 Thessalonians 5 starts with. It says:
For you know quite well that the day of the Lord's return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. (NLT)
At first glance, this does not seem encouraging. However, it works to the encouraging of us believers, and as a strong warning to those who do not believe.
First, he gives the warning. 1 Thessalonians 5 3 says:
When people are saying, "Everything is peaceful and secure," then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman's labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. (NLT)
It is important to note that this says, "When people are saying..." It is ambiguous who is talking. However, it is clear that believers are not saying this. The Spirit clearly says that in the last days mockers will come, mocking the day of His appearing. 2 Peter 3:3-4 says:
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” (NLT)
It is upon such people that disaster will fall suddenly. This is why 1 Thessalonians 5:4 says:
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief. (NASB)
The teaching and encouragement begins here. Only those who do not take the word of God seriously will be caught off guard. The "thief in the night" analogy is for those who are asleep, not for us believers. There is no need to write to us believers about the times and seasons because we are already taught by God to be aware of the times and the seasons. Jesus is very clear that no one knows the day or hour of His appearing, but He also makes it clear that we should know the season.
This is where 1 Thessalonians 5:6 says, "Stay alert and be clearheaded." This is a two-part exhortation. The first part is to be alert, and the second part is to be clearheaded.
First, how do we stay alert?
I know I am speaking to those who take the word of God seriously, but I fear for those who do not. How often does the word of God warn us to stay alert? Jesus told a parable of a master who went away and left a servant in charge. In this parable Jesus taught, "Blessed is that servant whose master returns and finds him doing his job." (Matthew 24:46, Berean Study Bible) This seems to indicate there is a tendency for us to let down our guard and start "goofing off," as it were.
The first step in staying alert is to make our spiritual life a priority. The goal of a daily quite time is a relationship. Everyone has knowledge. I do not need to fill you with more knowledge, but I must exhort and encourage you to spend time alone with God every day. This is what Paul is talking about when he says he does not need to write to us about times and seasons. Knowledge is not the problem, staying alert is. When I say alone with God, I do not mean a devotional book. I mean time alone with the Bible and the Spirit of God. Ask God questions. Look at the verse you are reading and ask God why. "Why is this important?" "Why is this here?" We all miss days, but I do not know why. I have also gone days without talking to my wife, and I know from experience that this is a sure recipe for disaster, and a very stupid practice. While my wife is very patient, God is much more patient. However, this does not decrease the trouble I can get myself into if I am not listening to Him. I do not want to be legalistic about this, but how can we have a relationship with God if we do not take the time to listen to Him? This is the only way to stay alert that I know of.
1 Thessalonians 5:5 says:
For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.
Here, Paul's exhortation shifts focus from being alert to being clearheaded. Whoever takes the time to be in the word of God daily will develop knowledge. However, knowledge without humility and application to our lives leads only to pride and arrogance. 1 Corinthians 8:1 warns us, "But knowledge puffs up while love builds up." (NIV) I am not speaking against knowledge as much as I am trying to remind us all that it is important to remember who we are. Jesus reminded us that we are the light of the world. Ephesians 5:1 reminds us to imitate God because we are His children, and here in 1 Thessalonians 5 we are being reminded that we are children of the light. We do not belong to darkness and night. The danger to us as believers is not the difficulties that are to come, but becoming so intoxicated by the world that we live like we belong to the darkness around us.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 warns us:
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead.
This is why 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 8 tell us to be clearheaded. We are to have a sober assessment of the times and seasons we are living in, and verse 8 points us to the tools at our disposal that will enable us to remain clearheaded.
Verse 8 reminds us of the armor of God presented to us in Ephesians 6. It says:
But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
The armor of faith and love is the breastplate of righteousness. Our hearts are protected by the shield of faith and by the attitude of love. The shield of faith works by our confidence in the word of God. If the world we live in has shaken our faith in the word of God, we will not stand. If the world we live in has quenched the fire of our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will not stand. The helmet of salvation is our confidence in the truth of the gospel that protects our minds.
If we stay alert by humbly spending time alone with God every day, we stay clearheaded by humbly remaining in fellowship with other believers every week. This is why verse 11 says:
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
If we do not stay alert and clearheaded, the Lord's return will sneak up on us like a thief in the night. Caught off guard, we will suffer loss. However, there is no reason we should be caught off guard. The best preparation we can have is to stay ready. If we stay ready, we will not need to get ready. Indeed, this is the only way we will be ready. If you are not ready, there is not much time so get ready now, today.