About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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1 Thessalonians 5

Previous Section - Chapter 4

ch. 5:1-11     ch. 5:12-28

The Coming of the Lord - continued 

We all want to know “about times and dates” when it comes to the return of the Lord.  This subject is one of the most well discussed, well studied, and well speculated topics in Christendom.  In chapter 5 verse 1 and 2 Paul says, “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”.  No one knows the exact date, or the exact time of Jesus' return.  Some say that you may not know the exact date and time but you will know the season.  This could easily be true for Jesus Himself spoke about these days and gave us many clues, or signs of His coming.  He told us to “watch and pray”, to look for the Day of the Lord.


We should note that Paul compares the coming of Jesus to a thief coming to steel in the night.  No one knows the thief is coming. It's a surprise.  But really, the return of Jesus is no surprise to the believer because he is watching for Jesus return.  I'm sure we in one sense of the word will be surprised, even though we look for His return.  The point here is that the total surprise will be to those who don't believe in his return. 


Note the words "you know very well".  The reason why Paul said this is because when he was with these people for the three short weeks, he told them all about the return of Jesus, including this point.  We need to know that some teachers were saying that Jesus had already returned to earth and that the believers in Thessalonica had missed His return.   


Another thing to note here is that when Paul uses the words "times and dates", it's clear to me that he was teaching people concerning the times and dates that Jesus would return.  He specifically says that these people knew about the times and dates.  That means he talked to them about them.     


We see Paul using the term, "the Day of the Lord" here in verse 2.  The Day of the Lord is seen in two ways in the Bible.  The term is actually an Old Testament Jewish term that means the exact day when Jesus will return to earth, and, it also means the general time prior to the exact day Jesus returns to earth.  I believe the context here tells us that Paul was thinking in terms of the exact day when Jesus would return.     


In verse 3 Paul says that when “people are saying peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly”.  To me this suggests a generation of people who are not looking for Jesus’ return.  They are caught up with their own way of living, their pursuit of “peace and safety”.  When we finally believe we have reached societal peace and safety, and everyone is relaxing, Jesus will suddenly come with destructive force.  As the rapture or catching up of God’s people is sudden and forceful, so will Jesus’ dealing with the world be sudden and forceful. Paul calls it destructive.  Jesus will not only come for His people, but He will come to bring judgement, which means destruction, “and the unsaved will not escape”, Paul says. With no warning Jesus will suddenly appear out of nowhere and bring quick judgment to the world.  This judgment is seen in two ways.  God will judge the Jews for forsaking Him, and He will judge the world for not living for Him and how they have treated Israel.


It's my thinking that the specific peace and safety Paul is talking about here is the peace and safety for the world that the anti-Christ provides at the end of this age.  As seems to be the case now, the Middle East, and especially Israel, is where the world is most concerned with war and bloodshed.  Prophetic Futurists believe that the anti-Christ will make a treaty with Israel, producing world peace.  During this time of peace, sudden destruction will begin as we see in the tribulation period.   


In verse 4 Paul clarifies his thinking concerning the subject of the thief in the night.  He says that his readers “are not in darkness”.  The Day of the Lord will not come as a surprise to the Christian who is actually watching and praying for this day.  This day will only come as a surprise to the unbeliever, and even perhaps to the believer who is not watching and praying.  So for you and I, we should not have to be caught off guard by Christ’s second return.  It should not be a surprise to us. It may not be a surprise in one sense of the word, but I think it will still be a shocking experience for all men, saved as well as unsaved. 


In verses 5 through 8 Paul says we are “sons of the light, and do not belong to the night”, we will be living righteously.  We will not be like drunkards who get drunk at night.  We will be “self-controlled”.  This is Paul’s exhortation to his readers, that they should be self-controlled, “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”.  Once again we have faith and love used together in the same phrase.  To faith and love Paul adds hope.  When speaking of hope, most of the time Paul is thinking about the hope that he has in the resurrected life.  Faith, love and hope will keep us on the right track.  It will keep us awake and help us not to fall asleep so that day catches us by surprise.  Some Christians don't think much about hope, but if you read Paul's writings carefully, you will noticed that he speaks a lot about hope, something he has a lot of, especially since his life on earth is very difficult.


When it comes to Biblical hope, this hope is not a worldly type of hope as in, "I hope I win the lottery".   Hope for the Christian isn't a wish.  It's a certainty of what we believe will come true.  We hope for Jesus' return.  That means we look forward to the certainty of His return.


Notice the word "asleep" here.  Paul is not speaking of death when he uses this word as he did earlier.   Asleep in this context means to not pay attention to the signs of the times concerning the end, which I would say, many Christians might well be doing today.   


In verse 9 Paul says that “God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but salvation”.  This is one of the great messages from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The wrath of God is real.  There will come a time when the world will see God’s wrath in its fullness.  On the cross God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus in order for us to escape His wrath in the day of judgement.  If God was so upset that He killed His own son to make provision for us to escape His wrath, how much more upset will He be with those who refuse this provision.


I believe the “wrath of God” here in verse 9 can be linked with the “sudden destruction” mentioned in verse 3.  You should be able to conclude that when Jesus returns and brings sudden destruction, some of this destruction may be the wrath of God in judgement.  


Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture use this verse as part of their defense.  The Great Tribulation is the time in which God pours out His wrath on the earth.  It is meant to once and for all to punish Israel and bring her to her knees.  It is also meant to punish all the nations of the earth for their wickedness, and especially for the way in which they have treated Israel.  In Genesis 15:2 and 3 God speaks about the future of Israel.  One thing He says is that He will curse those who curse Israel.  The seven years of the Great Tribulation is the ultimate in God's curses on those nations.   Paul, in verse 9 here says that Christians aren't appointed to wrath, will not suffer the wrath of God, and next to the Lake of Fire, this period of time demonstrates the wrath of God more than any other time.  Therefore those who believe in the pre-trib rapture say that God will not allow Christians to suffer this wrath.              


Paul continues by saying in verse 10, “He died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him”.  Once again this is the message of the gospel that Paul preached and he told his readers to encourage themselves with these words.  Simply put, we were saved in order to live with Jesus. 


In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians he speaks more of the return of Christ.  In summery what we have learned in this chapter goes as follows. Christ will come with a trumpet sound; an archangel shouts a command from His own mouth. This day will come when the world appears to be relatively in peace and safety, when the unbeliever least expects it.  It will be as a thief in the night to them but not to those Christians who are watching for that day to come. When Jesus appears in the atmosphere, the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are alive and saved will rise afterwards.  We all will meet Jesus in the air.  We will return to earth with Him and He will bring destructive judgement to the world.   


Final Instructions (ch. 5:12 - 28)


In verse 12 Paul gives some closing exhortations as he ends this letter to the Thessalonians.  He says “to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord …”   Paul is telling his readers to think highly of those “who work hard, and who are over you in the Lord”.  We need to understand the sentence structure in the Greek language in this verse.  “Over you in the Lord” is what you call a participle.  A participle is a half verb and half noun.  Sometimes this particular Greek word is translated as “leader”, which is a noun.  This is significant. Paul is telling these people to respect those who are actually  “taking the lead over you”.  He is not saying merely to respect your  leaders because they have the title of a leader, but respect those who are doing the job of leading.


This is important.  Just because one holds the office of a leader or has the title of leader, does not mean he is doing the job of a leader.  Paul says to respect the person who is actually doing the job, not simply holding a title or an office.  In the case of the Thessalonians, their leaders appear to be doing the job.  This is not always the case.  In our day and age when church leaders are not necessarily Christian, we are only to respect the leader who is leading according to Scripture.  Even certain Christian leaders can lead from wrong motives and in unbiblical ways.  Paul is not saying we should submit to them. We submit to godly leaders who are actually leading in a godly fashion.   Some people claim we submit to a leader simply because he is the leader.  I don't believe that to be Biblical.  


Note also the words "work hard".  Paul is joining two ideas here. He is uniting working hard with those over you in the Lord.  I suggest that if the ones who are over you in the Lord aren't working hard, then you think hard about how much respect to give them.  The respect is based on how hard they work. 


Notice also that it is "those who are over you."
Paul does not say "he that is over you."  I believe that Paul taught plurality of leadership in the church, not just one  man rule. 


These leaders "admonish".   This means they teach, and their teaching concerns both the knowing and understanding of Biblical truth as well as how it is worked out in the life of the believers.    


Verse 13 confirms the idea of respecting those who work hard.  It says, “Hold them in highest regard … because of their work”, not because they are called a leader. Respect for leaders is based on the work they do, not simply the office they hold or titles they have.  It's time for us to hold our leaders to proper Biblical practice.  If they don't follow Biblical practice, they need to be confronted with the truth of Scripture.  Scripture is the ultimate authority, not the one who leads.


Paul says all these things to the church at Thessalonica because their leaders are working hard and doing their job.  They are a good example of Christian leadership.


Paul continues by saying, “Live in peace with each other.”  Leadership sets the atmosphere for the church.  If they are working hard on behalf of God's people, then peace will come.  Leadership needs to provide an atmosphere of peace. 


Verse 14 states some more exhortations.  Paul says to “warn the idle”.  Christians are not to be idle, but to be busy in pursuit of the things of the Lord.  Being idle leads to time spent in things that are not Godly.


He also says to “encourage the weak, help the timid”.  We note here that there are weak and timid Christians.  This is partly due to people’s God given character traits, as well as life experiences. Not all people are strong. Yet these weak and timid Christians can receive encouragement which would help them grow as they should.  The weak and timid may not end up as a Paul, but they don’t have to stay weak and timid. 


In verse 14 Paul says to “be patient with everyone”.  In all we do, in all of our relationships there needs to be a measure of patience.  I am not suggesting that we be so patient that we condone sin in a person.  Paul himself would not do that.  Yet at the same time one cannot have good relationships with others without a measure of patience.  So, when it comes to admonishing or correcting your brother for one reason or another, that is something you don't take lightly.  You have patience, and once the proper time comes for the correction, you do it in patient love.


In verse 15 Paul says “to be kind with each other and to everyone else”.  Kindness is a key ingredient in Godly love. 


In verses 16 through 18 Paul tells us and his readers what God’s will for our lives are.  We all want to know God’s will, yet many times we seem to miss it.  Paul says that God’s will for us is to “be joyful, pray continually, and be thankful”.  This is not deep and heavy, but makes good sense if we are Christians.  Not doing these things makes a poor witness to those around us.


Paul tells these believers to give thanks in everything.  This was not an easy thing for them to have done.  Giving thanks in everything meant giving thanks while they were being persecuted; while they were loosing their jobs and lives for the sake of Christ. 


In verses 19 and 20 Paul says “to not put out the Spirit’s fire”.  This is one of the biggest downfalls of individual Christians and the church in general.  We too often dampen the fire that the Holy Spirit lights within us.  This can be done through out and out sin.  It can be done by ignoring the moving of the Spirit, and replacing His activity with our own.  Humanism is in direct opposition to the Holy Spirit, something the church is way to content with.  It can also be done through an over-emphasis on tradition and denominational thinking.


He also tells us not “to treat prophecy with contempt”.  Prophecy is speaking forth the Word of God, no matter what form it is presented to us in. Prophecy can be inspired preaching, or it can be God using a person in the first person singular to speak to the church.  That is, when someone stands up in a meeting and says something like “thus says the Lord…”  Yet once again, our preaching way to often is not Holy Spirit inspired, but humanistic in nature.  In many churches the “thus says the Lord…” prophecies are not allowed.


The KJV says, “Despise not prophecy”.  The Greek word used here is “exoutheneo” which means “to make of no account”, or “to regard as nothing”.  Churches who don’t allow prophecy regard it as nothing.  Also in many charismatic churches you may hear it so often that you regard it as nothing.   Both are in error.   


The word prophecy in this verse might be in respect to what I've just said in the last chapter, however, it might well include prophecy as in predicting the future.  Many despise this kind of prophecy these days. 


In verse 21 Paul continues by saying, “Test everything”.  Not all that is called prophecy, or Holy Spirit preaching is of God.   He tells us to test it.  See if it lines up with Scripture and the truth of the gospel.  Then he says to “hold to that which is good”.  The good things we hear, we should cling to and follow after.  The bad things we hear we should expose as being bad.


In verse 22 Paul says, “Avoid every kind of evil”.  The KJV says to “abstain from every appearance of evil”.  This verse has been misunderstood and misused over the years because of the KJV translation.  There is no hint in the original manuscript where we are to abstain from the “appearance” of evil.  It simply says to “abstain from evil”.  Some KJV adherents would tell us that going into a restaurant that served alcohol is wrong because there is an appearance of evil.  This is not right.  We are told to abstain from evil, not the appearance of evil.  Jesus Himself was criticized for His association with drunkards.  If He were to interpret this verse as staying away from the appearance of evil, He should not have made friends with drunks.  This Scripture should not have the word “appearance” as part of the text.


In verse 23 Paul says, “may God sanctify you”.  That is to say, may God set you apart for His own purposes.  Non-Christians should view us as being set apart for Jesus, not by the way we dress, and not necessarily by the things we do or don't do, but by a holy lifestyle.


Paul goes on to say in closing, “may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless…” at the coming of our Lord.  He also says that God can do this for you.  It is this verse that those who believe that we are made up of three parts, that is spirit, soul and body use as a proof text for their thinking.  They may quite well be right but the subject is not that simple that you can use one verse to prove your point.  When God made man in the first place,  He made him as a “living soul” as the KJV states, or a living being as the NIV states. (Genesis 2:7)  Is the totality of man a living soul or his soul is part of who he is as seems to be the case stated here? 


We should know that much of Greek culture viewed man as spirit, soul, and body.  We should also know that Hebrew culture tended to believe than the totality of man is a soul.  That means he doesn't have a soul, but he is a soul.  Those who believe this say that Genesis 2:7 proves this point when the text states that man became a living soul, or, living being, depending on what text you are reading. 


I suggest you read my commentary on Genesis two for further details.  I state there a number of Old Testament passages that use the Hebrew word for "soul" in a New Testament Greek way, that is, as being part of man and not the totality of man.      


Many people believe in spirit, soul, and body, but they really don't know why they believe as they do.  The Genesis 1 and 2 account is important to this subject and must be considered when dealing with spirit, soul and body.


Paul closes his letter in verses 25 through 28.  He tells his readers to pray for him and his fellow workers, something Paul most likely feels he needs a lot of.  Along with this request he says to greet the brothers with “a holy kiss”.  Then he “charges” them “before the Lord” to read this letter to all of the brothers.  This letter was not meant for a select few, but for everyone.


Paul closes by saying, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”.  It all boils down to the grace that our Lord Jesus has for us.  It is His grace that has saved us and His grace that keeps us saved.  It is His grace that keeps this world together.  It will be His grace that we as believers will see when He returns to the world to bring judgement.  Paul will have more to say about this in his next letter


One last thought and that is about the word grace.  I will not prove my point here because I've done that elsewhere, but if you study the word grace in the New Testament, you will notice that there are two aspects to God's grace.  The first is well known, and that is "God's unmerited favour towards us."  That simply means that God shows love and mercy to us even though we don't deserve it.  The second aspect of God's grace is "the ability He offers us to do what He wants us to do."   We cannot do God's will on our own, so He gives us the ability to do it.  This aspect of grace is less known, maybe because it means we have no excuse not to do His will.  Paul knew both aspects of grace in his life, and so should we.    



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