The first and second verses of chapter 5 stand in very direct
contrast to verses 13 and 15 of chapter 4. As to the coming of the Lord
Jesus for His saints – that which is commonly spoken of as “the
rapture” – they had been ignorant, and consequently they were in
needless difficulty and sorrow, and the Apostle wrote to them “by the
word of the Lord” to enlighten them. But as to “the times and the
seasons” they were not at all ignorant and there was no need for Paul
to write to them on that subject.
We must not fail to notice the distinction which is thus made
between these two parts of prophetic truth. It is possible to be quite
ignorant as to the rapture while being well informed as to the times
and the seasons. Plainly then they are two different things, quite
distinct from each other. Were the rapture an essential part of the
times and seasons, then to be wholly ignorant of it would mean partial
ignorance as to them. The Thessalonians however were quite ignorant as
to it, while being so well instructed as to them that the apostle could
say you “know perfectly” and “have no need that I write unto you.”
The times and seasons have to do with the earth and not heaven, as
Genesis 1:14 shows us. The term is used in Thessalonians to indicate
not the various divisions of earth's history as regulated by the
heavenly bodies but those larger divisions, each characterized by its
own special features as regulated by God's moral government of the
earth. In the past fresh seasons have been introduced by such events as
the flood, the redemption of Israel from Egypt and the giving of the
law, the overthrow of David's line of kings and the passing of dominion
into Gentile hands. Another season yet to come is to be introduced by
the Lord Jesus assuming His great power that He may reign. That will be
“the day of the Lord.”
The rapture of the saints is however disconnected from these earthly
seasons. It is not just an item on the programme of earthly happenings.
It will be the Lord calling up His saints to heaven for the enjoyment
of their heavenly portion. The church – composed of all the called-out
saints of the present dispensation – is heavenly in its calling and
destiny. It does not belong to the earth, which is the reason why its
translation from earth to heaven is not included in the programme of
earthly events. There is no hint consequently of the rapture in Old
Testament Scripture. A right understanding of this matter furnishes us
with a key that unlocks much dispensational truth, which otherwise must
remain closed to our minds.
The day when the Lord shall have His rights and dominate the whole
situation is certainly coming. Its arrival will be unexpected, sudden,
inevitable, and unerring in its effects. It will come, as all God's
dealings have come, in the most appropriate time and manner possible,
and it will mean destruction for the ungodly. Just when men are saying
“Peace and Safety” then the judgment will fall. Conditions amongst the
nations are such that peace is an urgent necessity. Modern teachings,
both scientific and religious, are such that men feel increasingly
secure from supernatural happenings. In the minds of the people God
has been reduced to a nonentity by the popular doctrine of evolution;
so they fear nothing from that quarter. To their minds the only danger
that threatens is from man . Man, wonderful man, has sought
out many inventions, but unfortunately his marvellous discoveries in
chemistry coupled with researches in other directions are capable of
being turned to the most diabolical uses. Now if only peace can be
maintained amongst men safety is assured.
When men congratulate themselves on having achieved this desirable
end then God will assert Himself and the day of the Lord arrive. The
world will be overtaken by it like those who are asleep in the dark;
but not thus is it going to be with believers. Today the world is asleep in the dark; today the believer is a child of light, and in the light.
The contrast between the believer and the world, as given to us in
verses 4 to 8, is very striking, and we do well to ponder it. The world
is in darkness. The world is asleep. The world is even “drunken,”
intoxicated with influences that are from beneath. This was never more
apparent than it is today when multiplied means of inter-communication
spread new ideas and influences with great rapidity. Think of the
potency with which the one word “ evolution ” has drugged the minds of men! No opiate for the body ever yet discovered can compare with it!
The believer is not in darkness nor is he of the
darkness. He is a child of light and of the day. He has been begotten,
so to speak, of the light which reached him in the Gospel, and he
partakes of the character of that which gave him birth. Hence, though
he is in the world, which is in darkness, he is not in darkness
himself; rather light divine surrounds his going. He is a child of the
coming day and hence he knows where he is going and what is coming.
Upon this is based the exhortation to shake off anything like sleep
that we may watch and be sober. As a means to this sober watching we
are to be characterized by faith, love and hope. These virtues, if in
active exercise, will be to us like breastplate and helmet, protecting
both heart and head in this day of conflict. Though children of light
we are surrounded by the darkness of the world and ugly blows may fall
upon us, struck from out the darkness.
The hope which is ours is the “hope of salvation.” The Christian is
never spoken of in Scripture as hoping for forgiveness of sins, but he
is as hoping for salvation, for salvation is a word of large meaning,
embracing the final deliverance which shall reach us at the coming of
the Lord. For that we hope; that is, we await it with expectation. It
is certain to arrive in its due season for there is no element of
uncertainty in hopes which are founded on God and His word.
The Christ-rejecting world is appointed to wrath when the vials of
His judgment will be outpoured on earth. Details as to this solemn time
we find in the book of Revelation. We however have been appointed to
obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. God's appointments are
always kept to time. They never fail. Wrath for the world and salvation
for the saints are alike sure.
That salvation is going to reach us by our Lord Jesus Christ acting
as described in chapter 4:16,17. His people shall be taken by Him out
of the place where the judgment is going to fall, just as of old God
removed Enoch before death reached him or the flood came. In more
places than one the Old Testament bears witness to the way in which God
shelters his people from judgment. He may do it by safely housing them
and carrying them through it, as once he did with Noah, and as He will
do with a godly remnant of His people Israel when soon His judgments
are abroad in the earth. He may do it by removing them from the very
scene of judgment, so that they never see it, as with Enoch in the past
and the church in the future. But He always does it.
When we thus “obtain salvation,” it will reach us righteously for
the One who will bring it to us has died for us, as we are reminded in
verse 10. The object He had before Him in dying for us was that we
might “live together with Him.” How full of comfort and edification is
this wonderful truth.
From chapter 4:13, to chapter 5:11 is one long paragraph, and the
close of it brings us back to where it started. Jesus died for us that
He might have us with Him. He will put the finishing touches to His
design when He raptures the saints into His presence whether they are
awake on earth or sleeping in their graves.
Let us all ponder the words that “ we should live together with Him ,” so that their sweetness may deeply penetrate our souls. He died that we might live. But not only is life before us, but life together with Christ.
We noticed the word “together” at the end of chapter 4. It was
delightful to discover that in the resurrection day we should be united with all the saints – and reunited
with those we knew on earth – in order to meet the Lord. It is more
delightful still to know that as one united company we shall for
eternity enjoy life together with Him. All that life means, its
pursuits and joys, we are to share with Him. We shall have His life so that we may be capacitated to share
His life in that day. Even today we may share His thoughts, His joys,
though not in the wonderful fulness of this glad tomorrow.
With verse 12 the closing exhortations begin. There were evidently
no officially appointed elders at Thessalonica. Hence the apostle's
desire that they should know – in sense of recognizing
– those in their midst who were qualified as such and doing the work of
elders. They were not only to know them but to listen to their
admonitions and esteem them in love. The carnal mind, which is by
nature insubordinate, would take advantage of the absence of any
official appointment to flout their spiritual authority; but thus it
was not to be.
How clearly this shows that the thing of all importance is moral qualification and authority as given of God, and not official sanction and appointment ,
even when such can be ministered through an apostle. The latter without
the former is but an empty husk. What is it when even the official
appointment has nothing apostolic about it? And Scripture is quite
silent as to apostolic powers and authority being transmitted from
generation to generation.
If the Lord raises up godly men with shepherd instincts to care for
the spiritual welfare of His people we should thankfully recognize and
profit by them, even though apostolic power to appoint them be lacking.
This, we believe, is just our position today. Let us beware of spurning
such spiritual guides. It is not difficult after all to discern between
those who are but tiresome meddlers with other people's affairs and
those who care lovingly for our spiritual welfare in the fear of God.
In verses 14 to 22 we have a series of important exhortations
couched in very brief terms. It is very evident that the church of God
is not intended to be a community wherein everyone may go as they
please. It is rather a place where spiritual order under divine
authority is maintained. This is as we should expect, remembering that
it is God's house. Warning, comfort and support are to be administered
as occasion arises. Patience is to be exercised. Good is to be pursued.
Joy, prayer and thanksgiving are to be the happy occupations of the
saints, and that abidingly.
Nothing is to quench the believer's joy for it is occasioned by that
which is eternal. Prayer is to be unceasing for the need is continuous,
and access to the throne of grace is never closed on God's side.
Prayer, and that attitude of soul of which prayer is the expression, is
to be habitual. As for thanksgiving it should be rendered to God “in everything ,”
inasmuch as we know that “all things work together for good to them
that love God.” Moreover it is God's will that we should be a thankful
people, so that He may “inhabit” our praises, according to the spirit
of Psalm 22:3. These things are all intensely individual.
Verses 19 to 22 refer more to matters which concerned the assembly
of God's saints, where the Spirit of God operated and made known the
mind of God. There, in those early days, He was accustomed sometimes to
speak and act in supernatural ways, – see Acts 13:2;
1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 1 Timothy 4:1. He also, in a more general way,
made His voice heard in the ministry of the prophets, as contemplated
in 1 Corinthians 14. The Thessalonians were not to attempt to regulate
the action of the Spirit in the assembly or they would quench His
action. It is not for us to control the Spirit, but for Him to control
us. Prophesyings were to be given their due place of importance and
yet, seeing that such a thing as prophecy of a spurious sort was not
unknown, everything they heard was to be “proved;” i.e., tested,
for though they had not as yet the written New Testament, they had the
Old Testament and the verbal instructions of the apostle. Having tested
what they heard they were to “hold fast” all that was good and “abstain
from” or “hold aloof from” evil in all its forms.
Reading the exhortations do we not feel that a very lofty standard
is set before us? It is so indeed, and that it may be reached we need
to be set apart for God; and God Himself, the God of peace, must be the
Author of our sanctification . The Apostle's desire was that
God might work to this end; the whole man, spirit, soul and body being
brought under His power. Thus they would be sanctified wholly .
In as far as we are really set apart for God, in spirit, in soul and
in body we shall be preserved blameless. At the coming of the Lord
Jesus we shall be removed altogether from the scene of defilement and
we shall no longer have the flesh within us. But how cheering is verse
24! In spite of all the breakdowns and defections upon our side God has
called us to this blameless condition in glory and He will not fail to
achieve His purpose with us. He will do it!
To this end what is needed but that the grace of our Lord Jesus
Christ should be with us? With a benediction to this effect the epistle