Paul explains what it means to be prepared for judgment day: have faith. Christians know how the world will end, and we do not have to fear it. Jesus died for us so that we might live with him.
The young Thessalonian church faced the same hostility that drove Paul out of town. Paul wrote this letter to encourage them in the faith. In the first three chapters, Paul reminded them:
- As believers, their great hope is waiting for Jesus to return so that they might inherit a place in the kingdom of God.
- In the meantime, they are to pursue holiness.
Beginning in chapter 4, Paul addresses some confusion about how to live now. First, he told them to handle their sexuality in an honorable way and to support themselves financially. Now Paul addresses their questions about the second coming of Christ.
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1Thessalonians 4:13-18
- Our hope as believers centers around the second coming of Christ. We believe Christ died for our sins to rescue us from sin and death, and grant us a place in his kingdom forever, a kingdom which will be inaugurated when he returns.
- The context suggests Paul is responding Timothy’s report. We have the answer, but not the question. The Thessalonians think those who have died will miss the second coming of Christ.
- The grief of believers differs because we have a legitimate hope. Jesus made it possible for his people to be resurrected.
- Paul reassures them Christ died and God raised him from the dead. God will do the same for believers who have died.
- Paul does not discourage grief. He discourages hopeless grief.
- Paul does not intend to explain all the circumstances of the second coming. His purpose is to inform them about those who die before Christ returns. When Jesus returns, he will gather all his people together, both those who are alive and those who have passed away.
- The Thessalonians and all believers should not grieve hopelessly, because the dead in Christ will be resurrected and they will be reunited with them when Christ returns.
- Paul also emphasizes that this is not his idea, the Lord himself taught this truth.
- Compare with Matthew 24:29-31; 1Corinthians 15:50-52.
Darby & the rapture
- The word “rapture” comes from the Latin translation of the verb “caught up” in 1Thessalonians 4:17. Today, the rapture refers to the idea that all believers will disappear before the second coming.
- The idea comes from John Darby (1800-1882). Darby divided history into different dispensations. The Old Testament was the dispensation of the nation of Israel. Today we are in the dispensation of the church of believers. Darby held that what applied to Israel in both the past and future does not apply to the church.
- Darby thought the prophetic clock stopped during the New Testament era because it only applies to Israel. Then when Jesus comes to snatch his people away in the rapture, the prophetic clock starts again and counts down to all those prophecies which only apply to Israel.
- Dispensationalism embraces the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture: All believers will disappear before a seven year tribulation and then Christ will return.
- 1Corinthians 15:50-52 and 1Thessalonians 4:13-18 suggest when Jesus returns, he gathers his people, judges the unrighteous and establishes the kingdom all at once.
- A hard break between the Old and New Testaments which separates the church from Israel is not taught in Scripture. The Old Testament is still very relevant to believers.
- Scripture teaches that God always disciplines His people through suffering and trials in one degree or another. There’s no reason to believe the church must be removed from suffering.
5:1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1Thessalonians 5:1-11
- God usually doesn’t tell us everything there is know about His plan. Usually, He gives us enough information to trust Him and tells us not worry about it.
- The “day of the Lord” refers to judgment day.
- Jesus also taught the thief in the night analogy Matthew 24:43-44.
- No thief announces his arrival. A thief takes advantage of the fact that no one expects him.
- We have two ways of dealing with thieves: 1) we can think it will never happen to us or 2) we can be prepared and lock our doors.
- Believers are to be prepared by having faith and hope in the gospel.
- Paul’s contemporary Roman citizens relied on the Roman government and believed the government would take care of them and give them everything they want (peace and security). The Romans think the Jewish God is of no concern to them, because they have Rome and her gods. But the day of the Lord will come and they will face their Creator.
- The Thessalonians believers are ready because they have faith. They know peace and security will be found in only the kingdom of God.
- When it’s dark at night, you can sleep or get drunk. It’s hard to look forward to Jesus setting things right if you’ve managed to distract yourself into forgetting anything needs to be set right.
- The day of the lord comes like a thief in the night on the world, because the world is not ready. They don’t expect Jesus to return. Not so for God’s people, because we believe His promises. We don’t know when it will happen but we know that it will happen.
- Christians know how the world will end and we don’t need to fear it.
- Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again
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Scripture references are from the English Standard version.