Predictions about the end of the world and Christ’s return have been made since Christ returned to heaven. In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul spoke to the Thessalonians, some of whom concluded that Jesus would return any day. Some of these people stirred up excitement and/or quit their jobs to await the event.
Paul was not happy when he heard about this. His opening sentence in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 was a reprimand. He told them on several occasions that Jesus’ return would be like a thief in the night. He was like our parents when they told us when we were children, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times…”. Jesus even said in Mark 13:32, “But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Saviour, but only the Father.”
Jesus’ return will be a surprise to everyone, especially to those who are doing business as usual and who place their hope in the world instead of in God. Jesus will find them deep in sinful indulgences. Will He find us as Christians doing His work?
What Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 is a continuation of what he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In that passage Paul gave us some details about what Christ’s return will look like. We must be ready for Christ’s sudden return. Waiting for Christ is what we do as believers. We see God’s work as the Gospel works in people’s lives throughout the world. Some meet Him for the first time, and others take a second look and see that their lives are changing as the Holy Spirit moves them to repentance and a thirst for the living water that only Jesus can provide.
The Day of the Lord includes everything that happens from the Rapture all the way through the Tribulation and the Millennium. It is a time of judgment that will begin when we least expect it-like a thief in the night-and set off seven years of unparalleled distress, warfare and plague that will culminate in the Battle of Armageddon. After that, the Lord will return to set up his glorious kingdom, ushering in the earth’s golden age.
The Day of the Lord will entail judgment not because God chooses to be judgmental, but because His holiness is destructive to whoever and whatever is unprepared to be close to it. That is the rationale behind Paul’s concern for holiness of life among the communities he served. He prepared his communities to be in the presence of pure holiness when Christ returns. Paul is also concerned that Christians today be prepared for God’s holiness when He returns.
We also have to be prepared for Christ’s return by putting on the armour of God, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 6. This armour is God’s strength made manifest in us. It is everything that keeps us grounded in both gratitude and God’s goodness, It is everything that helps us remember who we are. It is everything that allows us to see ourselves and others with compassion. It is everything that equips and empowers us to bear the light of Christ into the world and to live out our promises as Christians.
The cry of “Peace and safety” is likely an allusion to Jeremiah 6:14, where some people had a false sense of security that they would escape divine judgment. Paul compares the sudden destruction of the day of the Lord to the labour pains of a pregnant woman-it is an inevitable yet unpredictable event that will come suddenly. And like childbirth, it will be a time of intense pain for those who do not believe.
The phrase “to watch and be sober” means being morally alert and active as the Day approaches. As “sons of light and…of the day” Christian men and women are the light of the world and their deeds should not only be done openly-as in daylight-but also give light to others.
The call to be sober literally means “not be intoxicated,” but in verse 8 it means being alert and watchful. It means to be clear-headed by being mentally and spiritually prepared for the coming of Christ. This is no time for spiritual lethargy! Christians put on the breastplate of faith and love to protect their desires and affections and the helmet of salvation to protect their thoughts.
The Thessalonians did not have to worry about judgment at the Second Coming because they were destined for salvation rather than wrath. Similarly, believers will not have to worry about Christ’s return because they have been removed from spiritual darkness. They will escape God’s wrath. Those living in darkness are portrayed as sleeping and as being drunk. In this case sleep and drunkenness picture someone who is not in touch with or in control of his or her own life. When we are asleep, we are pretty much out of touch with the world around us, except for our dreams. The drunk has lost control of his or her ability to make wise decisions and to coordinate responses. People who do not live in expectation of Christ’s coming are likened to sleepers and drunks-not really in touch with present or ultimate reality. The words “wake” and “sleep” are allusions to the images in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 for life and death. At the Second Coming, both living and deceased believers will enjoy life with Christ.
There are metaphors for sleep and drunkenness in our modern society. We can be swept up in behaviours, attitudes, value systems and politics which are destructive and not even know it. Paul encourages us to stand back and recognize differences. People need to keep awake today because we are being constantly bombarded and manipulated by subtle strategies of persuasion and “spin.”
We might look like we are strong and stable believers, but we can’t survive apart from relationships with other believers. When adversity happens, we need each other. When we are confused and don’t know which way to turn, we need the counsel, the perspective and the listening ear of a friend.
For example, one of the first businessmen in the United States to be paid one million dollars per year was Charles Schwab. He was hired in 1921 to lead the United States Steel Company. When he was asked why he was paid such a big salary, Schwab replied, “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. “
Part of doing God’s work involves showing compassion. If we show compassion to everyone we meet, they will find that we are not harsh and judgmental toward them. In return, we will find them willing to listen to the truth. Jesus never accepted sin, but He was and is a friend to sinners, just as He was a friend to the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8. If we view people with compassion as Jesus did, it will be easy to reach out in love rather than condemning them. We will be obeying God’s instructions to encourage, strengthen and build up each other.
How can we better show compassion and encourage people? The first step is to ask God to help us be less self-focused and be more sensitive to the needs of others. Then we need to ask His wisdom in knowing how to encourage our fellow Christians. Then we will have to start challenging other people to see their own potential.
The gift of encouragement is important in our lives. Encouragement is a gift in the home, the workplace, the church-wherever we find ourselves. We can come alongside other people and be there for each other. We can listen, comfort, console and affirm. It is a way of living out the command to love one another.
We can also encourage each other and build each other up by being both a disciple and a discipler in the context of our Christian relationships. We have the privilege and responsibility both to be a teacher and a learner of what it means to be in Christ, walk in the spirit and live by faith. We may have roles in our families, our churches or Christian communities which give us specific responsibility to others, such as spouse/parent, minister, Sunday School teacher, Bible study leader, etc. Even as an appointed discipler, we are never not disciples who are learning and growing in Christ through our relationships. Conversely, we might not have official responsibilities to disciple anyone, but we are never not disciplers. We have the chance to help our children, friends and other believers grow in Christ through our caring and committed relationships with them.
When faith in Jesus and love for God and neighbour are our guiding affections, our hearts will not be easily distracted from God’s priorities or overcome by doubt. When salvation protects our minds like a warrior’s helmet protects his head, we won’t be susceptible to every wind of doctrine that passes by and entices us to doubt the Gospel and believe the ways of the world.
There is an urgent need for a great spiritual awakening in our volatile world. There is an urgent need for God and the need to live in harmony with His will. There is no hope for lasting peace and an end to hatred and violence without God. The closer we come to the Day of the Lord, the more urgently we need to put on the armour of God. This is no time for spiritual lethargy. We must put on the breastplate of faith and love to protect our desires and affections, and the helmet of salvation to protect our thoughts.
We are here to keep watch and observe ourselves with honest eyes. We are encouraged to admit what we have done and left undone in the short time we have. God’s call on our lives, the gifts He has given us, and His demand that we do some good work in the world in the time before He returns will bear fruit when He returns-unless they have been wasted, squandered or hidden. God’s gifts are meant to be used to do His work in our world, and there is an urgency to this truth because God’s reign has arrived in the here and now, and it will be reinforced when Jesus returns.
We who are faithful will be fully alert to the global events that will signal the return of Jesus. We don’t need to be assured of the day or hour of Christ’s return to make sure we are ready to meet Him. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us, so today is the best time to surrender to Christ’s keeping. If we are holding anything back or clinging to any stubborn sin, we should place it in His hands now. If we give Him our lives, and when we finally see Him face-to-face, He will give us a crown of glory and exclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
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