Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:1-5

V1-5 – 1Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

At this point, we begin to see some differences in the interpretation of Paul’s teaching. Some commentators, such as most post-millennialists, see Paul starting a new discussion on a different event as we move into chapter 5. They might conclude that chapter 4 addressed the second coming of Christ and the rapture; they would say that chapter 5, as well as 2 Thessalonians 2, deal with “the day of the Lord” against the Jews who have heaped up their sins to an apostatized level beyond the patience of God and deemed worthy of imminent judgment, or specifically the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The similar language used in these chapters, corresponding with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, is used to justify their reasoning. Paul is likely familiar with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:3-25:46), and when he mentions “the day of the Lord” in v2, he introduces to the Gentile Christians of Thessalonica an Old Testament familiarity. Others (amillennialists) understand Paul to be speaking of the same event (the day of the Lord – Judgment Day – and the second coming and the rapture all occur together), laying out the application of previous teaching into this chapter. They might conclude that Paul has laid out some eschatological doctrine and now moves into the timeline details and how it all applies to life for believers.

Whichever way we lean on our eschatological perspective, we can agree that Paul’s teaching on eschatological matters continues here, but he doesn’t want anyone to speculate “about times and dates.” His audience already knows (v1) that the time and date of “the day of the Lord” is unknown and will come suddenly, “like a thief in the night” (v2) and “as labor pains on a pregnant woman” (v3). This event, whether it is specifically the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD or the rapture and/or the second coming, will come unexpectedly and painfully (inescapable destruction) for “people” (v3), thought to be unbelievers, since Paul seems to separate them from the “brothers” (v4); these people predict and desire all to have “peace and safety,” something I want very much in my prayers, but they fail to believe in and therefore realize the inability to escape the destruction about to befall them. Vincent Cheung has much to add here:

“Non-Christians operate under the deception that they have ‘peace and safety.’ They assume that they are safe from judgment for many reasons. Some of those who affirm the existence of God, or even claim to follow Christ, might hold to a distorted view of God (so that they think His standard is lax), of Christ (so that they think His atonement applies to everyone without faith and repentance), and of man and sin (so that they think they are not depraved, but righteous in themselves). Some people affirm non-Christian religions that they think will save them. Then, some of them deny God altogether, so to them there cannot be a judgment of destruction and hellfire. Perhaps they even think that human cooperation and scientific progress will secure this ‘peace and safety’ for them. But no human cooperation and no scientific progress can stem the wrath of God. As for the Jews in particular, perhaps they thought that they were the chosen people of God, and that the temple would remain forever. But Jesus told them that they were a rejected people, and in His parables, told them that God would send an army to kill them and burn their city (Matthew 22:7), which happened in AD 70. Paul adds that the unbelievers would remain under this deception up until the event occurs. What will come upon them will happen ‘suddenly.’ Shattering their illusion of peace and safety, suddenly, ‘destruction’ would come upon them… Whether we are talking about God’s judgment against the non-Christian Jews in the first century, or whether we are talking about God’s judgment against all non-Christians throughout history, or at the second coming of Christ, no unbeliever can escape from Him.”
But Christians, those in the light and “not in darkness,” need not be caught off guard (v4). The “sons of the light and sons of the day” (Isaiah 60:2) – namely Christians – are furnished with light and enjoying the daylight to always be ready – both intellectually and morally (“alert and self-controlled” as v6 says) – not asleep as in the darkness of nighttime. Christians have not been enlightened merely to see that they are in darkness; rather, Christians have been brought into the light and can therefore see the darkness that still envelopes unbelievers (John 3:19-21). And whether Paul is speaking of the same event in chapter 4 and 5, or two different events, we can reasonably conclude that the rapture will not occur prior to “the day of the Lord,” as both Christians and non-Christians will be alive at Christ’s return.

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