Paul continues the discussion he began in 4:13-18 and in a sense repeats himself in slightly different words. He has been talking about what happens with those who have died, and as we saw last time, this is a continuation of his theme throughout the letter, which is encouragement in a time of persecution. Once again, his priority has been on the people remaining steadfast in their faith during this trial. He spoke of the dead to encourage people to hold onto their faith so that death will be powerless over them at the time of Christ’s coming; he continues along those lines here…
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (5:1-3)
Since we are keeping our study in context, this is an easy passage to understand: We don’t know when Jesus will return to raise the dead, it will be quite sudden and entirely without warning, so don’t waste any time or energy trying to figure it out; it could happen this very minute! If you’ve held onto your faith, it will be great. If you’ve turned your back on your faith, judgment will be problematic for you.
The next several verses use a metaphor of night and day; darkness and light to illustrate our situation in Christ. Those who are in darkness, in the night sleeping or drunk, and when the thief comes, they will be in a bad state. Those of us who hold onto our faith will be people of the day, so we will remain “awake” and when the Lord comes for us, we will have nothing to fear. Paul continues:
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (5:8-11)
Paul has told the Thessalonians to live as they have been taught, not as they did before they responded to the gospel. Here, he is simply telling them to keep it up and everything will turn out just fine for them. Notice in particular verse 11 where he draws essentially the same conclusion that he drew at the end of chapter 4: Keep living in Christ and you have nothing to fear either now or in the future, for death has no hold on you.
In our day, we love to argue about these verses, and we love to use them to teach all kinds of theories, and who knows, maybe those theories are right. But, if we just assign these verses to an end of the world theory, might we be missing the greatest of blessings? That great blessing that assures us that if we remain faithful, no matter what may happen in this life, we will spend all eternity with our Lord in glory.
I couldn’t possibly speak for anyone else, but the way I see it is that with such a blessing as this, who cares about a bunch of theories?