COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 5:1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape." NKJV (1 Thess 5:1-3)
Because of the centrality of the second coming of Christ, the Spirit will now develop the subject more fully. This will not be an academic approach, designed to appeal to the carnal mind, or offering curious novelties to those who are at home in this world. Nor, indeed, will it be an elaborate outline of the sequence of events that are associated with Christ's coming. Rather, He will address the subject so that faith can rise to dominance, for "the just shall live by faith." Carefully, He will turn the people to a spiritually profitable consideration of the coming of the Lord-one that will enable hope to flourish, thereby stimulating joy. It is vital that the heart be satisfied, and peace be given a door of entrance into the whole of our lives. The coming of the Lord must be addressed in a manner that will clarify life in this world. The burden of suffering must be reduced, and an intense longing for the Lord awakened. Much of what is being said about Christ's return these days is not conducive to these things. Too often it is presented as though it was not true. In fact, some have even found it easy to fictionalize the subject, so that even the ungodly become interested in the academic subject of the return of Jesus. No such interest among the ungodly will be generated by this text.
THE TIMES AND THE SEASONS
" 5:1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you." NKJV When dealing with the return of Jesus, it is imperative that we be drawn away from curious and unprofitable inquiry. While this subject deals with the future, it has immediate relevance. It impacts upon the way we live. It determines how we view persecution, trouble, and difficulty. It will direct how intense and consistent we are in purifying ourselves of moral and spiritual defilement (1 John 3:1-3). The degree of our rejoicing will be determined by our understanding of the Lord's return (Rom 5:2; 12:12). We even partake of the Lord's table with His coming in mind (1 Cor 11:25-26). Rewards are associated with the return of Christ (2 Tim 4:8; Rev 22:12). Faithfully keeping the commandment is related to "the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim 6:14). Our faith is being tried in order that it "might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:7). The judgment of the living and the dead will take place "at His appearing" (2 Tim 4:1). The destruction of the heavens and the earth will take place in the day Jesus comes "as a thief in the night" (2 Pet 3:10).
This subject, therefore, is so integrally related to the life of faith that we cannot afford to be ignorant of it. This is why the Spirit will not leave the people of God confused on the matter of Christ's return. Ignorance in this area is like a weighty stone that casts troubling ripples on the sea of life, from one end to the other. It causes hope to become emaciated, and weakens faith. If salvation finds men turning from idols to serve the living God and wait for His Son from heaven (1 Thess 1:9-10), we do well to have as good a grasp on this subject as is possible. That grasp involves knowing how NOT to ponder the matter.
TIMES AND SEASONS. Just before Jesus ascended from Olivet to glory, with the clouds as His chariots and the winds as His steeds, His disciples asked Him, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" With care, Jesus did not rebuke them, saying that such a restoration would never occur. Rather, His answer confirmed it would, indeed, occur, but they were not to occupy themselves with the thought of WHEN that would take place. "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:6-7). Obadiah had prophesied "But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, And there shall be holiness; The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions" (Obad 1:17). Amos declared the same thing (Amos 9:11-12), as well as Hosea (Hos 3:4). The disciples were asking if that time, when they were standing with the risen Christ, was the time it would take place. Christ's answer to them affirmed that WHEN it would take place was not something given to them to know. Those were things in the Father's power. That is, He would bring it to pass in strict accordance with His determined purpose. It was enough for them to know He would fulfill His promise.
The Spirit will develop the same sort of thought here - namely that the precise time of Christ's return is not to be the focus of our attention. The words "times and seasons" speak of precision, not generality. Other versions read "times and epochs," NASB "times and dates," NIV "times and moments," Duoay-Rheims "the times and their order (sequence)," BBE and "when all of this will happen." NJB Jesus referred to His coming in this way, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matt 24:36). By this, Jesus means His coming is not to be addressed in this manner - i.e., spelling out precisely when it will occur. That is not profitable for faith, and has more of an appeal to the flesh than to the spirit. First, the precise time cannot be known. Not even angels, who are wiser than men, know the day and hour. Even the Lord Jesus Himself does not know. I gather He has volunteered to lay that knowledge aside in order to fellowship with the redeemed in expectation (Heb 10:13).
CERTAINTY AND KNOWLEDGE. When men do not know WHEN something will happen, they imagine that the matter cannot be certain. Thus they attach dates to their promises and commitments. In the flesh, life is this way. The certainty of a thing is determined by the times and seasons attached to it. The whole of earthly life is organized around this principle. But it does not hold true in the Kingdom of God. Spiritual certainty is not driven by knowledge, but by faith, which is the "substance" and the "evidence" (Heb 11:1). Christ's return is a matter of Divine commitment. We do not need to know if He will return in the winter or summer, the spring or the fall. We do not need to know the date or the year, the day or the hour. In fact, such knowledge would detract from the ministry of hope, promoting spiritual laxity and disinterest.
NO NEED FOR WRITING. The Thessalonians had been taught so effectively, they did not require an elaboration of this matter. That means the coming of the Lord was a vital aspect of the teaching they had received. They had not been asking about dates.
AS A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
" 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." NKJV Other versions read, "you yourselves know full well," NASB "you know very well," NIV "yourselves have known thoroughly," YLT and "you are well aware." NJB Here was something the Thessalonians had fully grasped. It appears there are very few things that are fully grasped by the contemporary church-particularly in the area of Christ's return.
KNOWING PERFECTLY. Knowing perfectly well is to be contrasted with something requiring extensive "study" and research. The Bereans, for example, "searched the Scriptures daily to find out" whether the things Paul and Silas said were true or not (Acts 17:11). That was a mark of nobility - but not the greatest nobility. Knowing perfectly is being confident of the certainty of a matter. It is being well aware of something, and requiring no further proof of its reality. Certain knowledge is far better than unending investigation! At some point, honest research must yield the fruit of knowing "full well," or "perfectly."
THE DAY OF THE LORD. "The day of the Lord" is here equated with the return of Christ from heaven, with the angels and the trumpet of God. This is the time when the "dead in Christ" shall rise from their graves, and "we which are alive and remain" shall be changed. The last of the fourth chapter speaks of that day with the saints in mind (4:14-17). This passage sets it before us with the ungodly in mind. "The day of the Lord" is the day of His revealing. It is the time when all men will confront Him with a full awareness of who He is and why He has come. Joel prophesied, and Peter confirmed, that the door of salvation would be thrown open before "that great and notable day of the Lord come" (Joel 2:1; Acts 2:20). We are living in that time. The "day of the Lord" is when salvation is most critical (1 Cor 5:5). It is HIS DAY because, at that time, all other glories will be swallowed up by His glory. That is, He will be the dominating One at that time, with no competitors whatsoever. This is the "day" God has "appointed," and it is certain (Acts 17:31).
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. Some have taken these words to mean "secret." But that is not at all their meaning. This speaks of suddenness-something that is not expected. Christ's coming will catch the wicked by surprise, when they are sleeping "the sleep of death" (Psa 13:3). Nothing about it remotely suggests the Lord will come without the ungodly knowing what has happened. In fact, the text will develop this with staggering clarity.
Peter referred to the Lord coming as a thief in the night, declaring it would chronicle the end of the entire natural order. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (2 Pet 3:10). When Jesus returns in all of His glory the temporal order will flee from His face. As it is written, "from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them" (Rev 20:11). It is difficult to even imagine that such a thing could occur without being detected!
Later, the text will affirm that Jesus is coming to the wicked as a thief, not to the saints who are waiting for Him to return from heaven (5:4; 1:10). He will come in the night of human ignorance, when men are oblivious to His return, having no interest whatsoever in it. He will come to rob the wicked of all their preferences and joys. He will plunder their house and leave them standing naked before Him. It is true, when Jesus returns He is going to take all temporal things away. All holds upon them will be violently and suddenly broken!
WATCH! Professing believers are not to imagine this has no application to them. If they allow unbelief to enter their hearts, or a root of bitterness to spring up in them, that day will also catch them unawares. God's people do well to fear being caught off guard by the return of Jesus. Jesus said to lethargic Sardius, "Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you" (Rev 3:3).
Jesus likened His return to a thief coming in the night. He spoke of preparing for it, and not being caught unawares by it. "But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12:39-40). The very return that will break up the house of the ungodly will bring blessings unimaginable to those who are waiting and watching. In the very passage just quoted, Jesus said of such, "Blessed are those servants whom the Master, when He comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that He will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them" (v 37). The word to every child of God is "WATCH!" As Jesus Himself said, "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mk 13:37). The purity maintained by the Thessalonians in the midst of persecution is, in part, accounted for by their watching!
PEACE AND SAFETY, BUT DESTRUCTION
" 3 For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape." NKJV The sudden appearing of the Lord will occur "While people are saying, 'Peace and safety.'" NIV Among the ungodly, there will be no feeling of eminent destruction. A sense of well being will upon them, and they will imagine that all is well. Jesus painted a remarkable picture of this. It will be as it was when the flood came. "For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." People will be living as usual, working in the field and grinding at the mill (Matt 24:38-41). He also likened His return to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. "Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Luke 17:28-30).
AT HIS APPEARING. Notice, this will occur at "the coming of the Son of man," when He "is revealed" or "will appear." This is categorically said to be the time when we also we be glorified. "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:1). And again, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4). The same appearing will bring blessing to the righteous and cursing to the wicked. There is not the remotest hint in this text of a secret rapture. That is a myth concocted by men, and it has cast a mantle of ignorance and lethargy upon the church.
SUDDEN DESTRUCTION. Notice, it is not tribulation that comes upon them, but "destruction." The word "destruction" does not mean annihilation, but utter ruin and devastation. All usefulness and productivity is suddenly terminated. Every purpose of the wicked will be violently dashed to the ground, never to be realized. Every ungodly desire will be utterly incapable of being fulfilled. They will remain with no possibility of gratification or fulfillment. While in this world the wicked are within the range of Divine influence. The sun shines upon them, and the rain falls upon them. The door of salvation is open to them, and they enjoy the daily graces of food, shelter, employment, and commerce. All of those things are the result of being in God's world.
But when Jesus comes, the wicked will be destroyed-removed from every aspect of God's presence. Here is how the Scriptures states the case. "These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." Not a shred of goodness will be available to them. Not a single benefit of His power will ever again be realized. They will be cast from the presence of the Lord forever, and it will be a irremediable judgment from which no recovery will be possible.
LABOR PAINS. Just as an expectant mother cannot predict her labor pains, so the coming of the Lord cannot be precisely predicted. In the case of a woman with child, she is aware a birth is eminent. She senses the time is drawing near, and makes the necessary preparations. However, it is not so with the wicked. The coming of the Lord is drawing near, but they are blissfully unaware of it. They live as though the Lord was not coming at all. That is as foolish as a woman nearing the end of her term conducting herself as though she was carrying no child at all. We would think such a person to have been deprived of the most rudimentary knowledge. The case is even worse with the wicked.
THEY SHALL NOT ESCAPE. Jesus declared "Heaven and earth will pass away." He then warned, "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly" (Lk 21:33-34). Why did He give such a solemn warning? Because those who are not ready "shall not escape." There will be no place to hide. The unrighteous are represented as crying out to the rocks and mountain in that day, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev 6:16-17). It is no wonder Jesus calls upon us to "watch" and "be ready."
One of the great tragedies of our time is that much religion leaves people unprepared and not watching for the return of Jesus. Today, there is little reference to this climactic event, and even less pleading for men to prepare for it. There is no way to calculate the unimaginable damage that is being done to the souls of men because of this circumstance. Truly, "it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Rom 13:11).