Wednesday

13 December 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (v. 2)

Psalm: Psalm 137:1-7


Background

The core message of Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica is set out in chapter 4: those who are "in Christ" should strive for holiness so that they might be ready when the Lord comes again at the last judgement to rescue his people from the wrath that is coming (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Joel 2:1-11).

Paul now moves on to say that the timing of the Lord's return is unknown. (Even Jesus did not know it - Matthew 24:36). The term "times and seasons" (v. 1) comes from apocalyptic literature - that which speaks of the secrets of God being revealed at a particular moment determined by God. It was especially used in Daniel to describe God's giving to the 'Son of Man' - a representative human being - all power and dominion (Daniel 7:12-14). The title 'Son of Man' was used by Jesus to speak about himself (Mark 8:27-31).

Paul uses powerful imagery about the suddenness of the Lord's return: like a thief in the night, or the onset of labour. The words of Jesus describing his return as being as unpredictable as night-time robbery (Matthew 24:43) appear in a passage which is part of two chapters (24 and 25) in Matthew's Gospel devoted to the theme. Perhaps Paul had heard about these sayings of Jesus - though this letter was written as much as 15 years before the writing of Mark's Gospel. Nevertheless, Paul describes a thief in the night to a group of people who have seen Paul himself have to steal away in the middle of the night in order to escape from henchmen hired by the local synagogue (Acts 17:5). And if that event could not have been predicted, how much less predictable will be the end of the world? But Paul wants them to know that acting under the cover of darkness should not be the main means of operating as Christians! The Day of the Lord will be a day of judgement which nobody can escape (verse 3; Joel 2:3) but the 'children of light' (v. 5) who are united to the "light of the world" (John 8:12) should have no fear. Those who have faith, love and hope wear the armour of God. (Such imagery, based on Isaiah 59:17, is further developed by Ephesians 6:11-17.) Notice that hope is the last listed, as it is the last piece of armour to be realised. The wrath of God is only directed against God's enemies (verse 9). The image of labour pains appears in other writings about the Day of the Lord - such as Isaiah 13:6-8 - and Jesus himself spoke of the dangerous cocktail of drunkenness and unfaithfulness (Matthew 24:45-51), and the need to keep awake and ready for his return (Matthew 25:1-6).


To Ponder

  • Are an automatic security light and closed-circuit camera outside a house a good thing or a bad thing? What do you think verses 4-5 say about the long-term need for such devices?
  • How much do Christians 'live in the light' for its own sake, as opposed to seeking to avoid the wrath of God?
  • If we believe Jesus died for us, and saves us from the wrath to come, how much is that an invitation to be complacent in our behaviour?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.