The Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
After unfolding the truth concerning the rapture, the apostle turned his attention to the day of the Lord. Following the rapture of the saints, the world will experience the darkest period it has ever known. In many places in the Old Testament this period is referred to as the day of the Lord or the time of trouble. It is called the great tribulation in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul referred to that day in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2:
Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
Here we see that the subject of the day of the Lord is included in the expression “the times and the seasons.” Prophetic times and seasons never have to do with the Lord’s coming for His church. They always have to do with events preceding and culminating in the Lord’s coming to set up His kingdom here on the earth. Any attempt to figure out the time when the Lord will return for His own leads to confusion.
The expression **the times and the seasons” occurs twice elsewhere in the Scriptures: once in the book of Daniel and once in the book of Acts. In Daniel 2:19-22 we are told:
Then was the secret [concerning Nebuchadnezzar’s dream] revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.
Clearly here “the times and the seasons” had to do with events on the earth. God changes times and seasons when He postpones judgment because a nation has repented and turned to God. For example Jonah was commanded to go to Nineveh and announce that judgment would fall in forty days, but Nineveh repented and God put off her destruction for two centuries. Then judgment fell because of her further rejection of the Word of the Lord. God dealt in the same way with Israel and Judah on various occasions—He postponed judgment when they repented.
In Acts 1:6 the disciples asked the risen Savior, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” They were speaking of the time predicted in the Old Testament. Jesus replied:
It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (1:7-8).
Nothing could be plainer than the Lord’s words. Our business is not to know when the day of the Lord will begin. Our business is to preach the gospel. We are to go from people to people and from nation to nation until the entire world has heard the good news.
So we have the Old Testament predictions, Christ’s words regarding the day of the Lord, and Paul’s reminder that it will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
Paul did not need to write to the Thessalonians about the day of the Lord because it has to do with “the times and the seasons” and therefore cannot begin while the church is still in the world. Let me emphasize that in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 Paul was not referring, as some have supposed, to the descent of the Lord in the air to call His church away. He was referring to the coming of the Lord in visible glory to set up His kingdom. The day of the Lord has to do with events that will take place after the rapture of the church and prior to the revelation of the Lord in judgment. Some Old Testament Scriptures make this clear. In Amos 5:18-20, for example, we read:
Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
Some people in Israel were looking forward to the day of the Lord, for they thought that then their troubles would be over. But for them the prophet predicted woe. He said that the day of the Lord would mean fleeing from one danger only to encounter a greater one. As we would say, they would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The day of the Lord will be a time of judgment. God will deal with apostate Israel as well as the Gentiles because of their folly and sin. In that sense the day of the Lord is not to be desired by those who are still living in their sins. It will bring judgment and sore distress for the people still living on the earth.
Zephaniah 1:14-15 gives us a somber picture of the conditions that will prevail in the day of the Lord:
The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
In Joel 2:1-3 we read:
Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.
Joel’s words remind us of the words of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 24:21-22:
Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
In view of the terrible events that have taken place so recently, we should not have any difficulty believing these prophecies. Ever since the discovery and use of the atomic bomb it has been easy to see that another world war might entail the destruction of all flesh. When the Lord referred to the elect, He had in mind the remnant in Israel and those of the nations who will be waiting for the Lord during the great tribulation.
Turning again to the Old Testament, we read in Jeremiah 30:7: “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s [Israel’s] trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” God will have on the earth a remnant from Israel who will turn to the Lord and He will use them as witnesses to the Gentile world. As a result, many people will be prepared to welcome the Lord when He descends to take His kingdom.
Malachi 4:1-2 tells us that the ungodly Gentile world and apostate Judaism will all be destroyed in the day of the Lord, but those who turn to the Lord will be saved from destruction:
Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
The day of the Lord is the time when—the day of grace having ended—God will visit the world in judgment. Prior to that day of wrath, the first great event that will startle the world will be the disappearance of millions of people who have known and loved the Lord Jesus Christ. One moment they will be on the earth: some will be sleeping; some will be suffering in hospitals; some will be enduring pain, grief, and distress; some will be gathered together for worship. But the next moment “in the twinkling of an eye” these redeemed ones will be changed and they will disappear (1 Corinthians 15:52). The world will waken to find them gone.
I read of a gentleman who once a month went to a certain city where great steel mills were constantly pounding, pounding, pounding. He wondered how the citizens of that city could sleep, but they were so used to the noise that it did not bother them. He could get no sleep when he spent the night in that town. Then in the middle of one night, something happened to the electricity and in a moment the mills stopped. Suddenly the whole town woke up. They were so used to the noise that it put them to sleep.
The world has heard the gospel down through the centuries and still sleeps on. But some day the church will be gone and the gospel, as now preached, will be silenced. Then the world will wake up to find that it is entering the day of the Lord. “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
In 1 Thessalonians 5:4 the apostle Paul turned his attention to comforting believers. The coming of the Lord will not be “as a thief in the night” for those who are waiting expectantly for His return. Those of us who arc saved are “children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (5:5). We used to be children of darkness, but God has brought us out of darkness into light.
While the world sleeps, we should be alert, awake, ever seeking to serve the Lord Jesus. We should be making His truth known to other people and we should be trying to get them ready to welcome Him when He returns. Oh, that Christians everywhere might be awakened out of their lethargy and out of their carelessness and frivolity! Oh, that they might realize the seriousness of the times in which we live! It is a solemn thing to be a Christian in a world like ours, for we will soon have to give an account of our works to the great Judge.
Those of us who are “children of light” should put on “the breastplate of faith and love” (5:8). Faith and love will protect our hearts. As the world is drifting on to its time of great trouble, we will be garrisoned by our confidence in God.
In addition to the breastplate, Paul told us to put on “for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath” (5:8-9). In other words, we will not be here to share in that day of wrath. We will be delivered out of this world, for we have been appointed “to obtain salvation.” Here Paul had in mind our final salvation.
The world is drifting on to the day when the wrath of God will be poured out from Heaven, and Satan will be cast down to earth. The devil will then set his wrath in opposition to the wrath of God. The hour of judgment will strike, but we will be saved from it by our Lord Jesus Christ. We will be taken away in accordance with the promise to the church of Philadelphia: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Revelation 3:10).
As Christians we do not dwell permanently on the earth; our citizenship is in Heaven from whence we look for the Savior who is coming to snatch us away from the wrath to come. Some of us who are living now may still be alive when the Lord comes to catch up His saints. But whether we live until He returns or die before He comes, we know that we will all be caught up to “live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).
The apostle concluded his message about the day of the Lord by saying, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together” (5:11). There is no comfort in this message for those who are not yet saved. The day of judgment looms for those who have not come to Christ. “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) and while the gospel is preached, God wants all to believe and live, but if men persistently reject His Son, only judgment awaits them. It is their own fault if they are left behind on the day of the rapture because God has made a way of escape, and they have failed to use it.
For those of us who are saved and who are expecting and waiting for the Lord’s return, it is comforting to know that we will have no part in the woes of this world during the great tribulation. We will be with the Lord in the Father’s house. When He descends to the earth to set up His kingdom, we will come with Him and reign with Him. He will appoint His redeemed ones to places of authority over this lower universe. In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 Paul asked, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?”
So we should be looking expectantly not for the day of Jehovah, but for the coming of the Lord Jesus to take us to be with Him and to be like Him forever. Hebrews 9:27-28 reassures us that “as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
We’re watching for Jesus who entered within
The Holiest of all when He put away sin:
A place in the glory He’s gone to prepare,
Where we shall be with Him; but will you be there?
Exhortations (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22)
This section of the chapter consists largely of exhortations based on truth revealed already.
The admonition in verses 12-13 deals with the attitude of members of the body of Christ toward those whom God has set in their midst as spiritual guides. It is God who calls men to be His servants and entrusts them with gifts such as teaching, preaching, and administration. It is He who gives these servants to His people in order to build them up and lead them on in Christ. True pastors are spiritual shepherds who are responsible for caring for the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock. Such leaders are to be reverenced as they seek to fulfill their ministries. We are not admonished simply to approve their personalities; we are told to recognize that God has entrusted to them the ministries of teaching, preaching, and exhorting the saints.
The thought added to the end of verse 13 is an exhortation that we as Christians always need to remember: “Be at peace among yourselves.” It is so easy to allow little things to set us against one another and thus bring in a spirit of strife among God’s people. Whenever we realize that our hearts are contentious, we should go immediately to the Lord in humiliation and self-judgment and seek the grace not to say or do anything willfully that is likely to cause quarreling among God’s children.
There are twelve distinct exhortations in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22. They are so plain and clear that one does not need to use many words in an attempt to explain them; they are self-explanatory.
1. “Warn them that are unruly” (5:14). Some of the people found in local churches or assemblies of saints are naturally rebellious. They always want to ran things to suit themselves. They have splendid dispositions as long as they can have everything their own way, but if anyone crosses them, the old nature soon shows itself. Such people are to be warned because they are hindrances to blessing.
2. “Comfort the feebleminded [faint-hearted].” Not everyone is courageous and quick to act. We must be considerate of those who are lacking in confidence and boldness.
3. “Support the weak.” Instead of censuring the weak, we should assist them and put up with their infirmities. We are inclined to condemn those who are not as strong in faith as we imagine ourselves to be. But a condemning attitude is not the spirit of Christ.
4. “Be patient toward all men.” Even in Christian circles, many things that try our patience might arouse ill-temper, but we are called to be considerate on all occasions.
5. “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (5:15). The Christian is not to retaliate. Savonarola said, “A Christian’s life consists in doing good and suffering evil.” The Lord taught us what our attitude should be when we encounter evil: “Unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also” (Luke 6:29). The apostle Paul said elsewhere, “Recompense to no man evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). We are to return good for evil.
6. “Rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). He who knows Christ can rejoice even in the midst of sorrow. Ezra said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). If His joy disappears, we can be sure that something is wrong; something needs to be put right. George Muller, that great nineteenth-century apostle of faith, said, “I never allow myself to begin the day without facing before God anything that has left me unhappy or distressed, because I want to be before Him always in the spirit of joyfulness.” We may blame others for our lack of joy, but the truth of the matter is that if our joy has gone, we have no one to blame but ourselves. It shows that we are out of fellowship with God. Our blessed Lord set the example; in spite of the fact that He was rejected by men, His spirit was always one of joyfulness and gladness as He communed with His Father.
7. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We cannot always be uttering words of prayer, but we can be in the attitude of prayer continuously; that is, we can always be in the spirit of dependence on God. As hymnist James Montgomery wrote, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, / Uttered or unexpressed.” We are to go through life with our hearts looking up to God no matter how much we may be occupied with other matters.
8. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (5:18). Thankfulness and holiness go together. It was when men began to be unthankful that they turned away from God and went into idolatry. We can give thanks “in every thing” because “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Giving thanks should do away with complaining. We have all seen people at the dinner table give thanks for the food God has provided, then begin to complain about it before their eyes are hardly open. To vast numbers of poverty-stricken people, that same food would seem most delicious and even sumptuous.
To give thanks “in every thing” is to recognize that all our circumstances come from God. You may ask, “Is it not Satan who brings evil things into my life?” The answer is yes, it was Satan who was permitted to afflict Job. But Job looked beyond Satan to the One who had allowed the enemy that liberty. Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord… shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10). If we remember that it is the Lord who permits the unpleasant things for our good, then we should be enabled to thank Him for them all. I should seek to learn the lessons He has for me in them.
9. “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The unsaved may resist the Spirit, but it is only believers who quench the Spirit. We may also grieve that divine personality who dwells within our hearts. To quench the Spirit is to fail to respond to His guidance.
10. “Despise not prophesyings” (5:20). We are to be ready to recognize the messages of God when His servants speak. In 1 Corinthians 14:3 we read, “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” A person who prophesies is not necessarily a foreteller. He may be a “forthteller,” one who tells forth the mind of God; and of course his message will always be based on the Word of God.
11. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to evaluate the different teachings we hear by comparing them to the Word of God, which is the only accurate test. We are to accept that which agrees with the Scriptures and reject everything else.
12. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (5:22). We Christians are prone to forget this exhortation because of the independence of our spirits. If you for example have a habit that some think is evil, you may say that they have no right to judge you since you are not harming anyone. But you need to consider the weaker person. All of us should remember that others are watching us and taking note of how we behave. We ought to abstain from all that looks like evil, or if we translate Paul’s words literally, “from every form of evil.”
Sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Verse 23 has troubled many people. Some have taken for granted that sanctification means the absolute eradication of all inbred sin. But there is not one passage of Scripture that treats sanctification from that standpoint. To sanctify means “to set apart, to separate from that which is evil.” A Christian is to be separated from worldly things, from all that is unholy (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Sanctification is presented in three different ways in Scripture. First, sanctification is presented as a work that begins before we ever come to a definite knowledge of salvation. We read in 1 Peter 1:2 that we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 we read, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Election was God’s purpose in the past and this is carried out in the present by sanctification of the Spirit. The Spirit of God working within us showed us our need of a Savior and led us to trust in Christ. Then the Spirit came to dwell within us and He continues the work of sanctification all through our Christian lives. Every believer is sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Second, sanctification is presented as positional. It is absolutely complete from the moment we believe. We are then set apart for God by virtue of the precious blood of Christ. Positional sanctification is perfect: “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Nothing can ever be taken from this sanctification; nothing can be added to it. Christ Himself is our sanctification and we are complete in Him.
Third, sanctification is presented in its practical aspect. As we read and study the Word of God, wonderful truths are opened up to us; we learn from that Word what is in accordance with His will and as we obey the Word, we are practically sanctified. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). This sanctification by the Word will not be complete until we reach the end of our pilgrimage. We are sanctified in Christ Jesus the moment we believe in Him, but as we feed on the Word and apply it to our lives, we are being sanctified by the truth.
When people tell me that they are already sanctified completely, I ask them, “Have you ever read through your Bible?” Some of them say, “No, I am afraid I cannot say that I have read it through all the way, but I have read a good deal of it.” Then I reply, “Since sanctification is by the Word, how can you be sanctified completely if you have never read through your Bible?”
Our sanctification will be complete at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then we will be wholly sanctified. “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The believer’s entire spirit (the highest part of man), soul (his emotional nature), and body (then glorified) will be sanctified completely on that day and he will be altogether conformed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you know Him now as your personal Savior? Do you yearn for the day when you will be absolutely free from grief, pain, and sins? Do you long to become like Him? God has called you for that purpose and He guarantees that He will bring you to that desired end in Christ Jesus. This is the precious promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Philippians 1:6 confirms the promise: “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” His faithfulness is infinite.
Conclusion (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28)
Paul asked for prayer for himself and his companions as servants of Christ, missionaries of the cross, teachers of the Word of God. Those who stand in places of public testimony need the prayers of God’s people. Because such teachers are so likely to fail in some way, they need prayer so that they will be able to maintain a consistent testimony for the glory of Christ as they seek to minister the Word of God.
Paul continued, “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26). In his day the kiss was the customary greeting, so the emphasis here is not on the word “kiss” but on the word “holy.” If our custom is to greet one another with a handshake, it should be a holy handshake. We all have seen unholy handshakes. For instance two men are talking unkindly about a third man when suddenly the third man appears; one of the two grasps the third man’s hand and says, “Oh, dear brother, I am so glad to see you!” Or two women are criticizing a third woman who unexpectedly appears; one of the two runs up to her and gives her a hearty kiss. That is a “Judas kiss.” If your attitude toward others is holy, you will never be embarrassed by the sudden appearance of a “third” person. The apostle was stressing the importance of reality in our greetings.
Before concluding his letter, Paul gave one more instruction to the Thessalonians: “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren” (5:27). Notice the expression “holy brethren.” The apostle dared to use that term because in Christ all believers are holy before God.
The Epistle closes with the usual Pauline benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (5:28).