1 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 5.
Christian Watchfulness with Reference to the Last Day. 1 Thess. 5, 1-11,
The unexpected coming of the last day: V.1. But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. V.2. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. V.3. For 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. The same enthusiasm which looked forward to the coming of the Lord with eager impatience was apt to lead into an unhealthy state of mind, to a morbid anxiety which tried to penetrate into the secrets which the Lord had hidden from the eyes of men. The apostle, therefore, reminds the Christians of Thessalonica of the doctrine which they had learned: Concerning the times and periods, brethren, you are not in need that we should write to you. Paul here corrects both impatient expectancy and drowsy security, choosing such words as may convey the idea of length and repeated alternation of periods as well as of crises which might be expected very soon. It was a most effective way of urging them to maintain a well-balanced judgment and Christian sanity. They should never forget the words of the Lord which they had been taught, Matt. 24, 44; 25, 13: For yourselves know exactly that the day of the Lord, as a thief in the night, so it comes. This saying of the Lord had been given them, they had received instruction concerning the last things, they had exact knowledge to that extent to which the Lord had revealed the truth for all times. The day of the Lord, the last day of this present world, the Day of Judgment, is coming, as a day of terrible doom to the unbelievers, as a day of inexpressible joy to the believers. That is a precise, a definite knowledge. At the same time, however, the date is not known; the day will be a surprise to the whole world. The signs of the times will, in general, indicate when it is due, but the exact date cannot be determined by men, and every attempt to do so must result in disgraceful failure. Unexpectedly, as a thief in the night, this day will come upon the world. Cp. 2 Pet. 3, 10. Such is the manner of its coming, without any definite regard to the time.
This unexpectedness of the last dayís coming is aptly illustrated by the apostle: For when they are saying, Peace and security, then suddenly will come upon them destruction, just as travail to her with child, and they will not escape. This is the attitude taken by the unbelievers, by the scoffers, whom Peter also pictures, 2 Pet. 3, 3. 4. Their constant cry is: Allís well; Everything is all right; All is safe; The world was never so secure as to-day. But at the very moment when they will some time be crying so loudly, and with great suddenness, the destruction which they considered impossible will be upon them, will lay hold of them. Even as a woman with child knows the approximate time when her delivery may be expected, but cannot tell the day and the hour when labor will set in, being therefore often taken quite unawares, so the destruction of the last Judgment will strike the scoffers, and all escape will then be shut off: it will be too late to repent. There is a solemn warning in these words which needs to be heeded most seriously in our day.
The alertness and vigilance of the Christians: V.4. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief. V.5. Ye are all the children of light and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness. V.6. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober. V.7. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. V.8. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation. V.9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, v.10. who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. V.11. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. The Day of Judgment will come suddenly to Christians and unbelievers alike; but the contrast which the apostle brings out is this, that only the latter will be surprised by it. Christians are watchful, open-eyed, alert; they do not know when the last day is to come, but they are wide awake to any signs of its coming. This fact is brought out by the apostle in describing the state of the Christians: But you, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should surprise you like a thief; for you all are children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness. The unbelievers, the scoffers, are in darkness; moral corruption and want of intellectual insight renders them unable to read the signs of the times. With this condition the believers have nothing in common; their spiritual and intellectual condition is not such as to give them a false security and to make them blind to the signs of the times. They cannot be surprised by the coming of the last day, as a person would be when sleeping soundly in the darkness. The apostle rather makes a broad and sweeping statement concerning all Christians, namely, that they are children of light and of the day. As converted saints the believers are partakers of the salvation in Christ; they are now a light in the Lord; they know Jesus, their Savior. And they have put on the armor of light; their reason, enlightened by the understanding of Godís will, chooses those things which will bear the inspection of all men in the sight of God; they walk honestly, as in the day, Rom. 13, 12. 13. With pointed emphasis the apostle makes the personal application: Not are we (Christians) of the night nor of the darkness. We have nothing in common with the unfruitful works of darkness; we refuse to have our minds influenced by the judgment of unbelievers in spiritual matters.
With this thought the apostle now connects his admonition: Now, then, let us not sleep, like the rest, but let us be vigilant and alertly sober. For the sleepers sleep by night, and the drunkards are drunken in the night; we, however, being of the day, let us be in our alert senses, having put on the breastplate of faith and love and as our helmet the hope of salvation. It will not do for Christians to yield to drowsiness, to fall into spiritual sleep, in these last days of the world, which is the condition of the rest, of the great majority of the people in the world, of all the unbelievers. The Christiansí constant attitude is that of vigilance, of watchfulness, of alert soberness, 1 Pet. 5, 8. For the sake of comparison the apostle refers to the example of the spiritual sleepers, of those that are of the night and the darkness. Their habitual condition is the very opposite of sober alertness: they are asleep in the night of sins, they are like people under the influence of strong drink, drowsy, stupefied, unable to understand the dangers of these latter days. The unbelievers, in their carelessness and profligacy, indulge in the lusts of the flesh, avoid all means of instruction, are unable to discern the signs of the times, preferring their ignorance to the light of Godís Word in faith and life. We Christians, on the other hand, belong to the day, where the light of the Word of God rules. Therefore it behooves us at all times to make use of sober vigilance; for if the saying is true anywhere, it is true in spiritual matters, that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. To that end we should put on the armor of God, which enables us to guard both body and soul against attacks from all sides. There is the breastplate of faith and love, of a faith which rests upon the merits of Christ and therefore manifests itself in a life of love; there is the helmet, namely, the hope of salvation, the certain trust and confidence that God, who has made us sure of the redemption in Christ Jesus, will confirm us in this faith to the end, finally taking us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven, where we shall enjoy complete salvation and deliverance from sin and death, world without end. Eph. 6, 13-17.
This point the apostle now drives home with the comforting assurance: Because God did not appoint us to wrath, but for the acquisition of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. God did not ordain us, set us forth, for the purpose of enduring His wrath; for it is not His will that any man should perish; He brought no man into being only to elect him to everlasting perdition. Of this fact the believers are so sure that no consideration of human logic can shake their position in the matter. We Christians know that we have been appointed by God for the obtaining or acquisition of eternal salvation, not by our own works or merits, but through our Lord Jesus Christ. How this salvation was gained and its possession by us made possible, St. Paul writes: Who died for us, in our behalf. By giving Himself into death in our stead, for our benefit, Christ gained a complete redemption for us. But this fact puts us under the obligation: So that, whether we are awake or asleep, we should live together with Him. Under all circumstances and conditions we Christians belong to the Lord, being in the most intimate fellowship with Him, partaking of His life, whether we are carrying out the obligation of alert watchfulness in this life, or whether our body is peacefully sleeping in the grave. On the great day of His coming, therefore, we shall appear as living with him, no matter whether this coming finds us watching in life or sleeping in death. In any event, to be with Him will be the true life out of death. Well may the apostle therefore add: Wherefore encourage one another, and let each one edify the other, even as you also do. While Paulís fine courtesy and tact acknowledge the progress which has been made by the Thessalonian Christians in this respect, he does not hesitate for a moment to urge them forward toward further comfort and edification. Exuberant energy, joyful hopefulness, willing steadfastness must characterize the Christians at all times.
Concluding Admonitions and Greeting. 1 Thess. 5, 12-28.
The conduct of Christians toward others: V.12. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; v.13. and to esteem them very highly in love for their workís sake. And be at peace among yourselves. V.14. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. V.15. See that none render evil for evil unto any man, but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men. In concluding his letter the apostle gives the Thessalonian Christians some rules of order as to how they ought to conduct themselves. He speaks first of all of their behavior toward their teachers: But we beg you, brethren, to know those which toil among you and preside over you in the Lord and maintain discipline, and regard them superabundantly in love for the sake of their work. He speaks of the members of the presbytery in the various functions of their office. In the spirit of true evangelical admonition he does not command and threaten, but he begs them to heed and follow his words. The Thessalonian Christians should know, acknowledge with due respect, give full credit to, those who in the work of their office are engaged in toil, in hard work, in their midst. For these officers were presiding over them in the Lord, they were guiding them, overseeing them in His behalf. Their work, moreover, was not merely in the nature of teaching and instructing, but also of admonishing and warning, both in a general way and in specific instances. In short, these men were both preachers and pastors. And theirs was a toil, a form of hard work. The persons outside of the ministerial office, and also those within the office that regard the work as a sinecure, have not the slightest conception of its requirements and responsibilities. But Paul, speaking in the name of the Lord, bids the Christians esteem the men that hold this office very exceedingly, superabundantly in love. They are not merely to be tolerated as necessary evils, but they are to be regarded in true love, not for the sake of their person (for they are but sinful men), but for the sake of their work, their office. The apostle assumes, of course, that all ministers that bear the title properly will also faithfully perform the serious work for the souls entrusted to their care. Note: This admonition is very timely also in our days; for though the ministers are given a certain amount of reverence, the love and esteem which the apostle here names is often sadly missing.
The next admonition of Paul concerns the brotherly relation which should obtain within the Christian congregation itself: Be at peace among yourselves. This exhortation is always timely and salutary, even where there are no serious disagreements afoot, and surely in Thessalonica, where Paul was obliged to point out the need of a quiet life, of every oneís attending strictly to his own business, and of making his living honestly. With these two basic points established, esteem for their ministers and peace among themselves, the Thessalonian Christians would be glad to follow also the other admonitions of the apostle: But we beseech you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all. See to it that no one render evil for evil to any one else, but always follow after the good toward one another and toward all. In a large congregation it was to be expected that not all members would prove to be model Christians. For that reason the disorderly, those that could not be induced to maintain order, but were always going forward in an aimless manner to the detriment of the work of the congregation, were to be admonished and set right, so that their work, done in an orderly way, would be of some benefit to the Church. The fainthearted were to be encouraged; whatever the sorrow and grief was that was stirring their soul, they were to be cheered with comforting truth from the Word of God. The weak were to be supported, held up spiritually, by passing an arm around them, as it were, as being precious in the sight of God; the strong should not become tired of always deferring to the weakness of less enlightened brethren and of instructing them with all patience. Toward all men the Christians were so to comport themselves as never to lose their temper, always to let true equanimity of mind govern their every action. Closely connected with this is the thought that Christians should be on their guard at all times, lest some one pay back an evil, an insult in kind. It is essential that believers leave vengeance to the Lord. In short, they should always aim at that which is good, not only in the midst of their own congregation, but also toward others, toward all men, in fact. These are fundamental principles for proper Christian conduct, which every Christian will do well to heed; for it is only by the most assiduous pursuit of the virtues here mentioned that headway may be made in Christian sanctification.
The Christianís personal bearing and conduct: V.16. Rejoice evermore. V.17. Pray without ceasing, V.18. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. V.19. Quench not the Spirit. V.20. Despise not prophesyings. V.21. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. V.22. Abstain from all appearance of evil. Of these brief admonitions one commentator says: ďTo comment adequately upon these diamond drops would be to outline a history of the Christian experience in its higher levels.Ē 3) Always to rejoice is a characteristic of all Christians, even in poverty, sickness, misery, persecution, and whatever other mischance befall them, for they know that all things work together for good to them that love God, Rom. 8, 28. As far as the attitude toward God is concerned, it cannot be anything but joyful. It is not easy, of course, for weak flesh and blood to reach this level, but the Christian has the remedy and the tonic all in one: Without ceasing pray. Believers, as children of God in Christ Jesus, have the habit of praying, of bringing all their needs to their heavenly Father. The apostle does not merely urge regularity in the practice of prayer, but he wants our hearts always to be disposed toward prayer, always in the mood to make all our wants known to Him who never fails His children. There must be a constant spirit of prayer breathing through the Christianís whole life. Incidentally, no prayer should be offered without thanksgiving, express or implied; every petition should be accompanied by thanksgiving, for the gift will surely be forthcoming if the prayer is made in faith, according to the will of God, The fulfillment may not agree with the form of our petition, but it surely is always in line with our needs; and so the will of God toward us in Christ Jesus, our Savior, is that we practice the giving of thanks at all times, in all things.
The apostle now passes on to the source from which prayer and thanksgiving flow, admonishing the Christians not to quench or oppress the Spirit, The Holy Ghost, received as a gift of God through the Word, works in the hearts of the Christians, distributing various gifts of grace, making intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, Rom. 8, 26. To resist the influence of the Spirit, to grieve Him in His work, either by ingratitude or by any ever so slight transgression of the will of God, means to render His work ineffectual and even to drive Him out of the heart. For that reason the Thessalonian Christians were also not to disdain and despise prophetic revelations wherever they are given, since they are the work of the Spirit. Whenever a Christian, under this special influence of the Spirit, with this special gift, had a message to the Church, an explanation of some divine truth, especially with reference to the future, his proclamation should be received with all due respect. This does not mean, however, that every message purporting to be a prophecy should be accepted blindly and without judgment. All things prove, the good accept, the apostle says. We should apply a test, the test of the Word of God, to all matters that are presented for our consideration and for our acceptance, after the example of the Bereans, Acts 17, 11. And what, according to this criterion, is found excellent, that we should hold fast, that we should cling to, that we should retain. At the same time, of course, we should abstain from everything that appears to be wickedness or from every kind of evil, even from the apparently spiritual form, in doctrine as well as in conduct. So many forms of evil, particularly in our days, appear under the guise of the greatest good, under a sacred pretense, that it requires the most careful application of the standard given by the Word of God to detect the swindle and to remain uncontaminated. There are few pious frauds in our days that do not find ready acceptance, as the increasing number of sects plainly indicates.
Concluding greetings: V.23. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. V.24. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it. V.25. Brethren, pray for us. V.26. Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. V.27. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. V.28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you! Amen. The conclusions of Paul's letters are always serene and restful, his last word invariably being one of evangelical kindness. Whether he here had in mind the vices to which he had alluded in the body of his letter, which tend to disturb the harmony of the Church, or not, his closing benediction is one of singular beauty: He Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, blameless, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. To the Lord, the God of peace, the apostle commends the Thessalonian Christians, for it is He that is the Author and Giver of peace; He it was that sent His Son, the Prince of Peace, for the redemption of the world, to restore the right relation between Himself and fallen mankind. This God, reconciled to them through the death of His Son, also had the power to consecrate the Christians through and through, working in them that perfection which He desires in His children, through the Word. The result of the Spiritís sanctifying labors, then, would be that in the end the Christians would be blameless, irreproachable in soul, mind, and body. The soul, in its relation to God, the mind, in its judging of all matters pertaining to sanctification, the body, as the seat of the soul and the instrument of the mind: they all should make steady progress toward perfect sanctification. This goal may not be reached in this life, but at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ all the believers, clothed in the righteousness and holiness of their Redeemer, will be acceptable in the sight of God, washed by the blood of the Lamb that was slain. For the comfort of the Christians, who feel their own insufficiency all too well, the apostle adds: Faithful is He that calls you, who will also do this. The promises of God as to His keeping His own in the faith to the end are so numerous in Scriptures that every Christian should feel the calm certainty of the infallible Word, John 10, 28; 2 Tim. 4, 8. 18.
So far as his own person is concerned, Paul feels constrained to add the appeal: Brethren, pray for me. Not only were great responsibilities resting upon the apostle, but he had an unusual measure of personal affliction to contend with and therefore stood in need of their constant intercession. Incidentally, ever full of kind remembrance toward all members of the churches, he bids his readers salute all the brethren with a holy kiss, a custom of the early Church which was retained for several centuries in the public services, the women saluting the women and the men the men, in a very dignified and solemn manner, to signify the sincerity of the love which united them. The apostle also impressed upon their minds with great solemnity that all the brethren should be given an opportunity to read this letter, for he wanted every single member of the congregation to be acquainted with its contents. Here again the apostle shows the fine character of a pastor who is concerned about every soul entrusted to his care and makes it a special point to reach them all by either public or private appeal. At the end of his letter the apostle places the ordinary benediction in its short form: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you! It is a wish which implies not only that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, whose redemption secured free grace for all, but also that He is divine and can freely dispense of His boundless store of grace and mercy, as He obtained it for men by His suffering and death.
Summary. The apostle describes the unexpectedness of the return of Christ, which makes constant vigilance on the part of the Christians necessary; he gives his readers short instructions as to their conduct toward others and as to their personal bearing; he closes with a beautiful benediction, an appeal, and the apostolic greeting.