Today: [1 Thessalonians 5:] For Whom Does Jesus Come as a Thief in the Night? In the final chapter of 1 Thessalonians Paul delineates the meaning of the coming of Christ for two groups – believers and unbelievers. Furthermore, he mandates what the conduct and practice of the church should be toward its own and the community at large as they wait for what they believed to be the imminent return of Christ.
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[1Th 5:1-17 KJV] 1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 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. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as [do] others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. 12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. [And] be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we urge you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all [men]. 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]. 16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing.
In the final chapter of 1 Thessalonians Paul continues speaking on the subject of the culmination of Christ’s return. He writes of the Thessalonians that they not only have knowledge regarding the coming of Christ but that they know “perfectly.” What would you think if someone today were to tell you that they have perfect knowledge of the mysteries related to the coming of Christ? They would be undoubtedly considered to be in error. The word that Paul uses leaves no ambiguity, meaning “diligently, accurately, and exactly.” If these believers knew these things is it possible for us to know them? If not why not?
Paul goes on to describe two groups of people as relates to the coming of Christ. He labels them as “they” and “you” meaning those who were outside of Christ and those who are in Christ. I don’t think I have ever heard v. 2 quoted where it was not applied to believers but given in the context that is in error. The verse speaks of those for whom the coming of Christ will be as a thief in the night yet in v. four speaking to brethren; Paul explicitly says the coming of Christ will not be as a thief in the night. So the next time somebody tells you that Jesus will come as a thief in the night remind them that statement only applies to those outside of Christ.
To be fair what Paul may be referring to here is that the coming of Christ will not be in secret. It will be a global event taking some by surprise from whom it will be experienced as destruction and travail without escape, but for others (the children of the day) it will be waking from sleep to a new state of existence.
In light of these remarks, Paul calls upon us to be sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for our helmet the hope of salvation. Is he only telling us to abstain from alcohol? He is almost making a direct quote from the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke:
[Luk 21:34 KJV] 34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and [so] that day come upon you unawares.
Jesus in this verse is equating worry (cares of this life) with overeating and drunkenness. We tend to see ourselves as those who are victimized by anxiety as though we can’t help it. If that is so then our lack of restraint is in the same categories as those who drink to excess and those who fail to restrain their appetites. It may also be observed that abuse of alcohol and behaviorally induced obesity is often a result of compensating for unrestrained worry and fearfulness. We need to treat all of these not just as physiological maladies but also as the scripture defines them in Rev. 21:8:
[Rev 21:8 KJV] 8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
We tend to see fearfulness, worry, and stress as something for which others should show pity for us but the scripture ranks fear and unbelief as that sin that leads all the other rank and immoral conduct into hell. We need to adjust our thinking on this.
In v. 9 Paul declares that God has not appointed us to wrath but to salvation because Christ died for us. Because Jesus paid the price for us on Calvary whether we are dead or alive when He returns to earth the end result is that we will find ourselves living together with Him for eternity. This tells us that the wrath of God exists for those who are outside of Christ and even for those in Christ who refuse to refrain from the behaviors that are contrary to God’s character and that grieve His Holy Spirit.
Some teachers say God’s wrath is non-existent to which the answer is only in Christ. What if you are in Christ but given to behaviors contrary to His character? Modern teaching leaves room for people to believe that saving grace gives them a pass for all un-Christlike behavior. This is a point of view it would be tough to back up in the light of scripture, which is not a problem for those believing this way because the scriptures are not really part of their lives.
Paul’s comments regarding the second coming are those which he encourages the Thessalonians to use as means of comfort not only for themselves but among themselves (v. 11) saying “comfort yourselves together and edify one another” with these words. When believers get together and speak of the coming of Christ today are they comforting one another or entering into doctrinal wrangling or showing off their supposed depth in the mysteries of these things?
Changing the subject, Paul urges the Thessalonians to know and be familiar with those who labored among them in the gospel and were over them in the Lord. This tells us two things – that there were leaders in their midst whose full-time employment was leadership in the church. This is contrary to the teaching you will often hear that suggests full-time ministry as we know it was non-existent in New Testament times. He also speaks of these leaders as being over them in the Lord. Who is it that is over you in the Lord? You might mention your pastor but your pastor being your pastor may not, in reality, be over you in spiritual things. Just because he is the president of the non-profit corporation under which your church exists doesn’t mean there is an active accountability relationship between you and your pastor. We have taken the issue of accountability to leadership and shifted it to the infrastructure of the church as a legal entity without any real or personal line of connection to our own lives. Most pastors indeed would not be interested at all in being “over you” in any real or personal way. The word used for over you means that this is a leader who would superintend, protect and guard you, to aid and give you attention to keep you intact spiritually and honest before God.
We are to esteem our leaders for their work’s sake and to be at peace among ourselves. When leaders are not respected, and the saints don’t live in harmony with each other the cause of Christ is diminished. In the modern church, we have substituted such things with a benign personal distance from each other and from our leaders and any attempt to get too close is met with anywhere from a polite refusal to outright hostility.
What about those that are unruly? We are to warn them. Can you imagine someone in the congregation other than the pastor coming to advise you concerning your behavior? We are to comfort the feebleminded and to support the weak. He is not speaking to the leaders but the people. We tend to insist this is what we pay the pastor for. It is not the institution’s job to do this it is our responsibility as believers. Paul goes on to command that none render evil for evil whether they are in the church or without. Never retaliate. We are likewise to follow that which is good or beneficial in all our business and social transactions and (v. 16) to rejoice evermore (keep a happy heart even when things going on around us complicate our lives or make us uncomfortable).
[1Th 5:18-28 KJV]
18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 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. 24 Faithful [is] he that calleth you, who also will do [it]. 25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you. Amen.
Notice that verse 18 says to give thanks for everything. Amen? Is that what it means? In reality what it says (though often misquoted) is to give thanks IN everything. You don’t give thanks when the enemy comes to steal, kill or destroy. This verse is commonly misquoted by those who teach we are to welcome all things that happen to us as being sent by God for our good and our spiritual betterment. That constitutes attributing the works of the devil to God and the actions of God to the devil which according to Jesus (Matt. 12:41) is the theological definition of blasphemy.
Paul goes on to speak order into the church meetings we conduct by saying that we should quench not the Spirit and despise not prophesying. How do we apply this? How welcome is the move of the Spirit in your church? If someone were to stand up in your church and speak a word by the Spirit of God would the tension in the room go up? Does your church have rules prohibiting people from attempting to allow God to use them in the congregation or controlling them when they do so? Are you required to put in writing what you think God is sharing before it is ever considered for giving out to the people? What about sitting in the pew? Do you have to put that in writing beforehand as well? No, they don’t mind if you sit down, be quiet and put your donation in at offering time but if you do something other than quench the Spirit you are considered to be out of order. In v. 21 it says to prove all things. You cannot assess a move of the Spirit if you do not allow it to happen. There is a difference between quenching the Spirit in our meetings and proving all things. Prophesy should be allowed. Moving in the Spirit should be encouraged. If that isn’t happening in your church for whatever reason, there is a great need for some profound correction that it is very unlikely your pastor will ever consider because control rather than the move of God is his highest personal ethic.
Continuing on Paul prays that the people will be preserved blameless in these things until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He evidently believed in the imminent return of Jesus in his day. He asks the people to pray for him as was his custom. Paul felt spiritually naked without the prayers of the saints. He further charged that the letter would be read openly in their meetings. This tells us that the pastor at Thessalonica was not the last word of authority in that church. When Paul commanded this to happen he wasn’t asking, he was commanding. The church is not built on pastors with Jesus being the chief cornerstone. It is built on the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. A church that recognizes the office of the pastor but not the offices of apostle and prophet may call itself a church, but it has little in common with the church of the apostolic age. When was the last time the pastor of your church demonstrated accountability to a ministry other than his own? The lack of this is a metric that establishes the difference between the church as they knew it in the apostolic age and church as it is understood to operate today.