The Day of the Lord and Christian Duty
Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
In chapter four the Apostle had spoken about the Lord’s coming for His people, and in chapter five he continues with the theme, the second stage of His coming, His coming with His people. This subject is referred to in Colossians 3:4 and in 1 John 3:2, “When He shall be manifested” (R.V.). The Lord’s people in Thessalonica knew nothing about the rapture of the Church, it was a new revelation to the Apostle Paul particularly, but of the Day of the Lord they knew a great deal. “Ye have no need that I write unto you,” said the Apostle to them.
If the Apostle spent only three weeks in Thessalonica, he must have taught them considerable prophetic truth. “Ye yourselves know perfectly (accurately) that the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (V. 2).
The Day of the Lord is one of four important days mentioned in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 4:3 we read in the margin about Man’s Day, the present period of time, and in Philippians 2:16 we read of the Day of Christ, the period between the rapture of the Church and Christ’s return with the Church to earth. The Day of the Lord is the ushering in of the Millennial reign of Christ, while the Day of God mentioned in 2 Peter 3:12 is the Eternal State in which righteousness will forever dwell. Righteousness will there dwell rather than reign for there will be no trace of disobedience. God will find His eternal rest in that perfect condition.
It might be profitable, especially for young believers, to distinguish between the rapture of the Church to meet the Lord in the air and His appearing in glory with His Church.
· The rapture will be secret while the appearing will be public, “Every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7).
· The rapture is a new revelation found exclusively in the New Testament while the appearing is the subject of Old Testament prophecy.
· The rapture is related to sounds: voice, shout, trumpet, therefore the ears. The appearing is related to signs, therefore to the eyes.
· In the rapture we see the saints going in to be with the Lord, but in the appearing we see them coming out with Him in glory.
· At the rapture Christ comes alone (1 Thess. 4:16), whereas at the appearing He comes accompanied by the armies of Heaven (Matt. 25:31).
· At the rapture He appears as the Bright and Morning Star; at the appearing as the Sun of Righteousness.
· At the rapture He takes away the sheep and leaves the goats, but in the appearing, conversely, He takes away the goats and leaves the sheep.
· At the rapture He takes away the wheat and leaves the tares, but at the appearing He takes away the tares and leaves the wheat.
· The rapture will be a season of reunion and rejoicing, but the appearing will be a sad time of separation and sorrow.
The Day of the Lord is that dreadful time referred to in such passages as Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 2:31; 3:14, and many other Old Testament portions. It comes as a thief in the night, that is, unexpected, and the days which precede it are likened to those of Noah and of Lot. Of the people of those former times we read, “They knew not” (Matt. 24:36). A thief comes to take that which does not belong to him so shall it be on that day, “one shall be taken,” taken away in judgment, “and the other left” to enter the millennium. It then shall be as in the time of the flood and the antideluvians were taken away in judgment, but Noah and his family were left. What a day that will be for the ungodly! It will happen with sudden, startling, separating force, even as the shock of a burglary. In a time when “they” not you (a third party) will be saying, “peace and safety” sudden destruction will fall. In some respects this will be like a woman in travail, not unexpected but inevitable, and “they shall not escape.” In the days of Noah none escaped; in the ark there was no condemnation; outside of it, no salvation. See 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
At this point of his letter the Apostle Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to give a description of the moral condition of men and women at the close of this dispensation: darkness, drunkenness, and drowsiness. Darkness, of course, is ignorance; drunkenness, insensibility; and drowsiness, indifference. Such are the characteristics of these godless days. They that are drunken belong to the night, and they that sleep continue in the night.
From these dreadful conditions Paul turns to his converts, and addresses them, saying, “Ye are not in darkness,” you are not ignorant of that day, you know it perfectly, or correctly.
“Ye are all the sons” (not children as in the A.V.). “Sons” (R.V.) suggests more than relationship, it suggests character, as in Matthew 5:45 where we read, “The sons of your father” inferring that there is a family likeness. What a contrast to the ungodly! We are of the day, not of the night; sober, not drunken; watchful, not asleep. People should not sleep in the day, that is the time to work. The Lord Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day” (John 9:4). The day suggests opportunity, hence responsibility.
“Let us not sleep as do the rest” (V. 6). The word for sleep here is different to the word found in chapter 4:14; there it is death, here indifference, sloth.
Paul now changes the metaphor from sons to soldiers (V. 8). Many military metaphors are used by the Apostle in this letter; for example, in chapter 3:3 the word “appointed” means the posting of a sentry; in chapter 4:16 the word for shout is that of a Commander. Some of the Lord’s soldiers are on duty, others asleep, but the shout, the voice, and the trump will bring them all together; quicker than arrows fly, all the saints will be out of sight.
We are still in the enemies’ land, therefore safeguards are necessary: “Let us be sober.” “Let us be putting on” (V. 8). We are to be characterized by brightness, “the sons of light;” alertness, “watch;” sobriety, “be sober.” Avoid all excitement and be on your guard is the force of this admonition. Two vital parts of the person form the target for the enemy, the heart and the head. Let us therefore be putting on the breastplate and the helmet. The breastplate is one of faith and love, faith Godward and love manward. In Paul’s second letter to them, they were commended for their growing faith and abounding love.
The breastplate and helmet are mentioned in the Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 6. There is a slight difference between Ephesians and Thessalonians. In the first, salvation is a present experience from the power of Satan; whereas, in Thessalonians salvation is future and is from the presence of sin, “the hope of salvation.” In these days of new and unfounded theories, it is well for us to be guarded in our affections and thoughts.
“For God hath not appointed us (here Paul includes himself) to wrath, but to the obtaining (not attaining) of salvation,” the salvation of the body (1 Thess. 5:9). All this is made possible through our Lord Jesus who died for us. His death has brought us into divine favour and formed the foundation of our hope that whether we are watching or sleeping we should live together with Him (V. 10). In chapter 4:17 association is “with them,” here it is “with Him.” In 1 John 4:9, we live through Him, the past; in 1 Corinthians 5:15, we are to live to Him, the present; here it is future, “to live with Him.” How comforting to those who had lost their loved ones! Until that moment, we are to encourage one another and edify one another. The gifts bestowed by the Risen Lord according to Ephesians 4:12 are for the building up of the Body of Christ. This concept is quite common in the New Testament. It was used by Christ Himself in Matthew 16:18, and again in Acts 9:31 it appears in connection with the welfare of the local churches.