October 14, 2011

Saturday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 142, 149, 1 Kings 11:26-37, 1 Thess. 5:1-11
Evening - Ps. 97, 98, Job 2, Mt. 11:20

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Having shown that Christians who die before the return of Christ are actually with Him in Heaven and will return with Him to greet those who are alive at His coming, the Apostle turns to the event of the Second Coming in this morning's reading. Paul calls it "the day of the Lord" (5:1). It is important to see that today's passage is a continuation of yesterday's. Yesterday, in 4 13-18 Paul wrote of the condition of those who die prior to that Day; in today's passage he writes about discerning the times and seasons. The times and seasons are not signs that tell us the Day is near; they are the present time and season, and the future time and season of the Day of the Lord (Acts. 1:7). We live in the time and season prior to the fullness of Day of the Lord. But, the time and season of its fullness is coming, and Paul wants the Thessalonians, who are confused about this (1 Thess. 5:1, 2 Thess. 2:2), to know which time and season they are in, and how to conduct themselves in it.

The Day of the Lord is a frequent phrase in Scripture, describing the time in which God visits His wrath and grace upon the earth. It is the era in which He makes all things right and establishes His Kingdom in fullness upon the earth. It has the sense of both being here now, and the sense of being not yet here in its full and complete sense. We who are in the Church are in people of that Day, but the Day itself is visible only to the eyes of faith. One day our Lord, who came once in humility, will return in power. In that Day He will bring the time and season of darkness and sin to an end, and will establish the time and season of His Righteousness openly and fully in the New Heaven and New Earth. When will this happen? Paul says the Day will come "as a thief in the night" (5:2). This means it will come at a time when the world does not expect it. The people of the world will be going about life as usual, not looking for God, not concerned about Godliness, but, as in the days of Noah, carrying on with life as usual, thinking all is well and that they live in peace and safety (5:3). Then, as far as they are concerned, without warning, the way labour pains come upon a woman, the Day of the Lord will be upon them, and there will be no escape.

But it will not be that way for the Church. We are not in darkness (night) like the people of the world (5:7), so the Day will not overtake us like a thief (5:4). A thief comes secretly, at a time he thinks he will not be detected, his arrival is unexpected. If we knew when a thief was coming, we would be awake and ready. The point is that Christians are awake (5:6) and looking for the Lord's return. It will not be a surprise to us. We are ready always. Knowing that the Lord will return, and being people of the Day who look for the Day of the Lord, we are sober, put on the breast plate of faith and love; and the helmet of the hope of salvation (5:8). In other words, we live in anticipation of the return of the Lord, whether He comes to catch us up to meet him in the air (wake), or whether He comes to take us individually to His House of many Mansions (sleep), (5:10). We live in His grace, we conduct ourselves in Godliness, and we look for His Return.

Verse 9 brings us to an important point; we will not be overtaken by surprise, because we are appointed to salvation, not wrath. It is those appointed to wrath who will be surprised. They do not look for the Day because they do not seek God. They don't believe the Day is coming, just as those in the days of Noah did not believe the flood was coming. Since they didn't believe in it, they didn't prepare. Since they didn't prepare they were lost. Those who don't believe in the return of Christ will not prepare for it. They will not put on the breastplate of faith or the helmet of the hope of salvation. They will continue in the things of darkness (5:7). Since they will not prepare, they will be lost. But we who have put on faith and hope in Christ are prepared, and we will be saved.

It is integral to a right understanding of this passage to know that it is this spiritual preparation to which Paul refers. It is faith and hope in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven (5:8). Paul does not intend for us to spend our lives trying to make current events correspond with Scripture as "signs" that His return is near. Nor are we to attempt to "date" the Day of Christ's Return, as so many have done in recent decades. We are to be preoccupied with faith and Godliness. Note also that this passage, like 4:13-18, is not about the "rapture." It is about the Return of Christ, the Second Coming, the great and fearful Day of the Lord.

"Wherefore" (5:11), meaning, because of these things, because you know these things and because you are appointed for salvation, comfort and edify yourselves and one another with them. To comfort is to encourage faith and hope. To edify is to build up a person in the faith and hope of Christ. This is not accomplished by working up feelings. It is accomplished by putting us in mind of the great truths of this passage. It is done by reminding ourselves and others that we are in Christ whether we sleep or wake (5:10), and that either way we will see the Day of the Lord on this earth, and will participate in it in all its glory and goodness. This is our hope and comfort.