1 Thessalonians 5:1-11


1 Thessalonians 5:1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,

In 4:13-18 Paul dealt with something which was causing some of the Thessalonian Christians sorrow concerning their departed believers. In the present text Paul deals with the believers. He begins by saying that for these believers he hardly needs to write more but then he proceeds to do the very thing which he said was not necessary. A very important point in pastoral practice. The preacher should never take anything for granted. He needs to repeat again and again and again what the people already know.

In verse 1 "now" denotes a transition. It means "but."  In 4:13 the topic was "concerning those who sleep (in death)."  Here the topic is "concerning the times and seasons."  The same expression occurs at Acts 1:7. There it plainly means inquiry about future events which God has hidden from our view. We know that Christ will come again but we know not the time. Paul says that there is no need for him to write to them about this.

Note that Paul again (4:13) calls them "brothers."  It is always used in a context of love and concern for those addressed.

1 Thessalonians 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

The verse is explanatory .Paul is going to give the reason why there is no need to write more. Note emphatic "you yourselves."   "You know perfectly well." 

The expression "day of the Lord"  (Yom Yaweh)  occurs at Amos 5:18; Joel 2:31; Malachi 4:5 meaning a day of judgment for nations. But in the New Testament it came to mean the last day of history on which day the Lord Jesus will judge all individuals.

The verb present tense. That day is always coming. The only thing unknown to mankind is the time. It is the only unfulfilled item in the Apostles Creed. The day is coming "as a thief by night."  The point of comparison is the utter unexpectedness of the Lord's coming. Cf. Matthew 24:42.

Paul is saying that the Thessalonian Christians already knew this. But he says it anyway. That's the way all preachers should preach. Christians are like little children. Although the children know full well what they are supposed to do in preparation for going to school of a given morning, the parents check carefully to make sure that all is in order. Preachers are constantly dealing with people who are like little children.

1 Thessalonians 5:3 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.

The subject of "are saying" is unbelievers. Throughout history, from generation to generation, the worldlings have been saying: "Peace and security"  when there really was no peace and security. Cf. the world at the time of the flood.

English uses an adverb:  "Destruction comes upon them suddenly."  Cf. Luke 21:34-36 and 2 Peter 3:3.4. The point of comparison is the suddenness. Every pregnant woman knows that the first pain will eventually come but she is surprised at its suddenness.

The final clause of this verse is the last four words.  "They will not escape."  just as in verse 15 of the previous chapter, denotes categorical denial.

Morris: The destruction spoken of is probably to be understood primarily in terms of separation from God, (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

1 Thessalonians 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.

The verse begins with an emphatic "but," in comparison to the worldlings.  "You are not in darkness," spiritual darkness. This is followed by a result clause. At Luke 21 :28 Jesus said: "Look up and lift up your heads for your deliverance is at hand." The prepared believer looks forward to the second coming of Christ. When it comes Christians will joyfully recognize it for what it is.

1 Thessalonians 5:5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

Again, an explanation. This sentence explains why believers will not be caught as by a thief. Christians, in so far as they are still sinners, often are concerned about what will happen to them on the last day. But Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, assures all Christians, that they will not be caught unawares, even though they do not know the time of the Parousia.  "All of you,"  without exception, both weak and strong believers.

"People of light, people of day." They are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Some commentators think that the word "day" points to the last day:  "people of the day of the Lord,"  people who have the right understanding and view of that day. If it is not that then it surely is, at least, a synonym.

Bruce: Since God is light, his children's lives are characterized by light (1 John 1:5.6).
Ward: All the New Testament passages which speak of God or of Christ as light are relevant here, Compare 2 Corinthians 4:6.

1 Thessalonians 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

"So then" a frequent combination in the Pauline corpus. It draws a conclusion.

We have three hortatory subjunctives in this verse, the first negative, the second and third positive. All three are present tense denoting continuous action. In verses 13-18 "asleep" denoted the sleep of death. Here a different verb denotes spiritual lethargy, dullness, insensitivity. It is used of moral indifference, Mark 13:36; Ephesians 5:14. The "others" as in 4:13, denotes the unbelievers.  "But" means "quite to the contrary." 

Paul says:  "Let us be watchful and let us be sober minded."  The believer heeds the signs of the times such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, famines, floods, individual deaths. Even lightning is a sign for him. Just that unexpectedly will the end of the world be. The Christian is a sober person. He does not let his appetites rule him. He is sober in his view of what God says to him. He is sober in his living.

Rienecker: 'Alert' denotes a condition of moral alertness.
Lenski: Christians must be warned in order not to drop back into their former state.

True. The preacher must remind even the most pious hearer of these things because no one is immune to debauchery and intemperate living. Cf. 1 Peter 5:8.

1 Thessalonians 5:7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.

Bruce: The language here is not figurative but factual; night is the time when people get drunk and therefore reckless.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

Compare the beginning of verse 4 with the beginning of this verse. In both cases we have adversative denoting contrast with what precedes. In both cases we have emphatic pronouns. But, in verse 8 Paul switches from "you" to "we." He includes himself. Every good preacher does that. He preaches not only to his hearers but also to himself. It is thrilling to learn from a sermon which one has written previously.

We take the first participle as causal:  "But since we are of the day,"  that is "of the light."  Thus RSV. Now we have a hortatory subjunctive again:  "Let us constantly be sober." 

The second participle is instrumental "by putting on faith and love as a breastplate and hope of salvation as a helmet."  Just as breastplate and helmet protect the soldier in battle, so faith, love and hope protect the believer from his spiritual enemies, faith toward God, love for neighbor and hope which denote certainty, not a mere wish. Mere human hope is only a wish. Divine hope is an unfailing certainty.

The Christian hopes for salvation. He is certain about it.

On the triad of faith, hope and love cf. 1 Timothy 1:3 and 1 Corinthians 13:13. We must always remember that faith, love and hope are gifts of God which come to us through the means of grace. That becomes clear in the next verse.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note the order of words, verb first, object second, subject third and destination fourth. Most commentators do not identify "appoint" with eternal election. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:13ff. in the margin.

Lenski: The reason for the whole of verse 8 is the act and intent of God regarding us.
Morris says: The hope of salvation clearly makes our salvation rest primarily on the divine initiative. It is due to Him that Christian men are brought into a state of salvation.

"Primarily" we wish he had said "solely."  And after  "Him" he should have added "only."  It is "through our Lord Jesus Christ" which reminds us of Acts 4: 12.

The "wrath" is more than eschatological wrath, though it surely does not exclude it. We take it here in the sense of John 3:36. The wrath of God rests on the unbeliever. By the way, if this verse (9) is speaking of election (and we think it does), then Paul is denying that there is any such thing as predestination to damnation.

"To receive" means "acquiring"  But here it surely is not synergistic because Paul adds "through our Lord." Faith, hope and love are gifts of God acquired for us by Jesus Christ and now made available through the means of grace. The Gospel is the very power of God for everyone who believes. Romans 1:16.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

This entire verse is an adjectival modifier of "our Lord Jesus Christ" in the previous verse It gives us the purpose for which Jesus died.  "For" denotes substitution. He died in our stead.

Bruce: The verbs are those used in verse 6 for moral watchfulness and carelessness respectively, but that is not their sense here.
Morris: The words are a further reassurance for the Thessalonians in their difficulty treated in 4:13-18.
Lenski: Paul makes us think of two kinds of sleep: the one that of the ungodly while they are yet alive, and, in contrast with it, the other that of the godly when they lie down in peace and sleep in death (4:13-14).
Irenaeus: Christ became what we are, in order that we might become what he is.

"That we might live together with Him" is very strong language. We shall live in close communion with Him forever. No one is closer to the believer than Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

"Therefore" means "in view of all I've said." 

Encouragement and edification should be on a one to one basis.

Morris: Paul is ever anxious to give credit where credit is due. Verse 11 is a good application of what we call the universal priesthood of believers. Encouraging one another.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 91-93. Used with permission.

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