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1 Thessalonians Series: Living in Light of the Day of the Lord (1 Thess 5:1-11)

Living in Light of the Day of the Lord


Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1–11 (NET)



How should we live in light of the day of the Lord? The Christians in Thessalonica were interested in eschatology, the study of the end times. In Chapter 4, they were worried about those who had died in the faith and if they would miss out on the second coming, when Christ came to rapture his saints. In Chapter 5, it’s clear that some were worried about the day of the Lord.


In the Old Testament, the term day of the Lord often referred to a near event where God would judge the earth through famine, plague, or war (cf. Is 13:1-3, 6, Joel 1:1-4, 2:1-27) and at times referred to God’s final judgment in the end times. Those near events of God’s judgment were just pictures of the far event. John Walvoord describes the final day of the Lord this way:


The Day of the Lord is a period of time in which God will deal with wicked men directly and dramatically in fearful judgment. Today a man may be a blasphemer of God, an atheist, can denounce God and teach bad doctrine. Seemingly God does nothing about it. But the day designated in Scripture as ‘the day of the Lord’ is coming when God will punish human sin, and He will deal in wrath and in judgment with a Christ-rejecting world. One thing we are sure of, that God in His own way will bring every soul into judgment.[1]


No doubt, the end-time day of the Lord includes the tribulation period where God will judge the people of the earth through many cataclysmic events as described in Revelation 6-19. However, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul seems to focus on the return of Christ where he will bring ultimate judgment. This can be discerned in part by Paul’s use of the metaphor of Christ coming like a thief in the night in verse 2, which Christ used of his return in Matthew 24:43-44 and Revelation 16:15 (cf. 2 Pet 3:1-13). They say,


But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 

Matthew 24:43–44


(Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.) 

Revelation 16:15


With the sure reality of the day of the Lord coming where Christ will judge all governments, people, and sin, apparently, some of the Thessalonians were worried about it. Yes, they had put their faith in Christ, but was their faith genuine? Would Christ be angry with them when he came? Would they suffer on the day of the Lord because of unfaithfulness? Consequently, Paul addressed these fears and speculations so they could encourage one another and have hope.


As we consider Paul’s response to the Thessalonians, we learn how to live in light of this coming day of judgment. We’ll consider several principles.


Big Question: What principles can be discerned from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 about living in light of the day of the Lord?


To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Not Speculate About the Timing of It


Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-2


Interpretation Question: What is Paul referring to when he says times and seasons in verse 1?


When Paul says, “Now on the topic of times and seasons,” it’s clear he is switching topics. This was common in Paul’s writing. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 (ESV), when Paul wanted to leave the topic of singleness and marriage to talk about food offered to idols, he said, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” In 1 Corinthians 12:1 (ESV), when he wanted to leave the topic of the Lord’s Supper to talk about spiritual gifts, Paul said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Therefore, in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul was no longer talking specifically about the resurrection and rapture that would happen when Christ came (1 Thess 4:13-19); he was talking about the period of Christ’s judgment on the earth which will happen after Christ’s return.


When Paul mentions “times and seasons” in verse 1, this seems to indicate that some of the Thessalonians were speculating about the date of Christ’s return to judge. Consequently, he essentially says, “You know about this because I taught you. The day will come like a thief in the night!”—meaning nobody knows the date.


It’s clear that even the apostles at times wondered about the timing of other eschatological events, such as when Christ would establish his Jewish kingdom on the earth (cf. Is 62). In Acts 1:6-7, it says this:


So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.


Likewise, Scripture teaches that nobody knows the timing of Christ’s coming. In Matthew 24:36, Christ said this about his coming, “But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven—except the Father alone.” No doubt, the Thessalonians thought, if they knew the timing of Christ’s coming in judgment, they could better prepare for it. Many believers have fallen into this trap throughout history, even though Christ clearly taught that nobody knows the day or the hour. Richard Philips, in the Reformed Expository Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, talks about two errant historical attempts to set dates on Christ’s coming. He said:


In 1833, William Miller published his belief that Christ would return in 1843. When that year passed, the date was reset for April 18, 1844, and then again for October 22, 1844, with thousands of followers anxiously awaiting the end of the world, many of them having sold their possessions.[2]


G. K. Beale notes a similar occurrence when a group of Korean Christians so strongly expected Christ’s return in October 1992 that they sold their homes and goods. In the despair that overcame them when Christ failed to meet their schedule, some of them took their own lives.[3]


All attempts to set dates for Christ’s coming or other eschatological events have had the same outcome, as Scripture forewarns.


Interpretation Question: Why did God choose to not tell us the exact times and seasons of Christ’s return and other end-time events?


No doubt, God chose not to tell us the exact dates because it would be unhealthy for us. For example:


1.     If we knew the exact time of Christ’s return, some would become lazy instead of productive.


Many of us experienced this as students in school. A paper was due at the end of the semester and the teacher hoped that we would work on that paper all semester, so it could be the best paper possible. However, many (if not most) waited until the week or day before the paper was due to start working. They wasted all the time given to maximize the effectiveness of that paper and therefore created a poorer project. That’s how many people would be if they knew Christ would not come for another ten, twenty, fifty, hundred, or a thousand years. They would simply squander their opportunities.


2.     If we knew the exact time of Christ’s return, some would make foolish decisions.


Apparently, some in Thessalonica were already doing this. This is hinted at in 1 Thessalonians and made clearer in 2 Thessalonians, but it seems like some had quit their jobs and were mooching off the generosity of others while waiting for Christ to come. They probably said to themselves, “Christ is coming soon, why should I work? It’s a waste of time! Shouldn’t I just preach the gospel and focus on church activities till he comes?” In response, Paul said this in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13:


For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat.


Like the deceived Thessalonians, if we knew the exact time of eschatological events, some would make rash decisions. They might drop out of school, quit their jobs, sell all they had, quickly get married, or even go on vacation to try to see the world before judgment comes. Who knows how far the foolishness might go? The reality is if we would do something different than we are now if Christ was coming soon, we probably should do it. We should at all times be doing God’s will, and for most of us, that is just regular obedience. If Christ is coming tomorrow, for most of us, we should still go to class, be lights at work, raise a godly family, and seek to build God’s kingdom where God has placed us. Now certainly, the disciples left their jobs to get trained by Christ and go on missions, and God is calling some to do that. But for most, he is calling us to regular, unspectacular, obedience—like raising a family, cleaning the house, going to work, and being a light where he has placed us. Christ has chosen to not give us the times and seasons because it would lead to all types of foolishness.


What is another way that knowing the times and seasons of Christ’s coming would harm us?


3.     If we knew the exact time of Christ’s return, we might obsess over the date and maybe even panic.


We’ve all met people who are consumed with a wedding, graduation, vacation, political or sporting event, or something else. Every time we have a conversation with them, it comes up. They are overly preoccupied and anxious about that event. The same thing would happen to many if we knew the exact time and season of various eschatological events. Some would become anxious, and others would panic, which would just keep them from living effective Christian lives. Consequently, Christ has chosen to not give us the times and seasons of eschatological events, even as he did not tell the apostles about the timing of the promised Jewish kingdom in Acts 1:6-7 (cf. Is 60, 62). Instead of times and seasons, God has given us promises. Christ is coming again to rapture and resurrect his saints, judge all sin, rule his enemies, create a new heaven and earth, and rule with his people on the earth in perfect peace and righteousness (cf. 1 Thess 4:13-18, Ps 2, 1 Cor 15:24-28, Rev 20-22). We must hold onto that, as we await God’s perfect timing for the Lord’s Day and other eschatological events.


Application Question: In what ways have you seen, heard, or experienced people who have become unbalanced with a focus on eschatology? What does a proper balance look like and how is God calling you to pursue that? How is God calling you to hold onto his promises of Christ’s coming, judgment, and reward? How can we both prepare for Christ’s coming and kingdom and yet be faithful stewards of day to day normal duties (including working, paying bills, saving, retirement, etc.)?


To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Understand It Will Certainly Come, Both in an Unexpectant and Severe Manner


For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-3


Observation Question: In verses 2-3, what metaphors does Paul use to describe the Lord’s day and what do they represent?


When Paul used the metaphors of the day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night and a pregnant woman, he referred to the manner of Christ’s coming. It will happen unexpectedly like a thief’s robbery and severely like a woman’s birth pains. Specifically, with a pregnant woman and her birth pains, though she looks forward to having a baby, she knows it will happen through tremendous pain. It was part of God’s promise to the woman because of her role in the fall (cf. Gen 3:16). Birth would happen through pain. Likewise, God will bring a great judgment on the earth which will grow in intensity like birth pains until Christ comes to complete the judgment and redeem the earth.


Both of these metaphors were used by Christ to describe the great tribulation and his coming in Matthew 24. In Matthew 24:7-8, Christ said: “For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” As mentioned, Matthew 24:43-44 says,


But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 


 Also, in Matthew 24:28-29, Christ said people will be eating, drinking, and given in marriage before he comes to judge. There is nothing wrong with these activities; however, the point is that they will be consumed with temporary things instead of eternal things and therefore will be taken off guard when Christ comes.


Peace and Security


In 1 Thessalonians 5:3, when Paul says that people will be saying “peace and security” before the day of the Lord and that it will come upon them like birth pains, it corresponds with what Christ taught about his return. In Matthew 24, Christ taught that the tribulation will happen before his coming, and it will be noted by all types of cataclysmic events, worse than any time in history. Matthew 24:21 says, “For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen.” Again, in Matthew 24:7-8, Christ said this about the time before his coming: “For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” John MacArthur said this in describing the birth pains:


Famines, earthquakes, and conflicts have always characterized life in a fallen world; but by calling these things “the beginning” of labor pains, He indicated that things will get notably and remarkably worse at the end of the era as these unique tribulations signal the soon arrival of Messiah to judge sinful humanity and set up His millennial kingdom.[4]


With that said, when Paul refers to people saying, “peace and security” before Christ comes, this seems strange because people will be going through the tribulation, the worst period of human history. Consequently, Paul is probably referring to the words of false prophets and skeptics during that time. In Matthew 24:5 and 11, Christ said, “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many… And many false prophets will appear and deceive many.” Since Christ declared that there will be an increase of false teachers and false prophets up until he comes, most likely, that is what Paul is referring to by saying people will be declaring “peace and security.” Up until Christ comes, even through the tribulation period, false prophets will be declaring, “Wealth!” “Success!” “Peace!” and “Prosperity” which will probably pacify people during the tribulation and give them hope, instead of leading them to grieve, repent, and seek Christ for salvation which would be appropriate. These false prophets will lull people to sleep, making them unprepared and unrepentant for Christ’s return and judgment.


Furthermore, some of these false teachers and skeptics will declare that Christ is not coming at all. They will probably declare that natural causes explain all the strange events happening in the tribulation period and that they are not Divine judgments or precursors to it. In 2 Peter 3:3-7, Peter said this:


Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges and saying, “Where is his promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water. Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.


With all that said, despite current times of relative calm in the world, false prophets declaring peace and prosperity, and widespread scoffing at Christian beliefs, we must know that Christ’s return and judgment are certain. Like birth pains, God will bring cataclysmic judgments on the earth that will increase in severity to judge the wicked, and like a thief, Christ will come to consume all those who do not repent and put their faith in him.


As difficult as these truths may be to believe or accept, they are certain. The Thessalonians knew this and needed to be reminded of it, and we know it and must be reminded as well. God only delays his judgment as a means of grace so more people can come to faith. Second Peter 3:9-10 says this about the day of the Lord, when Christ returns to judge, destroy, and renew the earth:


The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare.


Consequently, though we are not called to speculate and set dates, we must know the day of the Lord is a surety. Following the tribulation period, Christ will come, judge, and bring universal peace and righteousness to the earth. To live in light of this day, we must know it is a certainty; it will surprise people like a thief and bring severe pain which will ultimately lead to good, even as birth pains do.


Application Question: In what ways do we see many false prophets and teachers that preach only peace, prosperity, and at times even tolerance of sin, instead of warning people of their need to repent and prepare for the coming kingdom? What does a balanced preaching of the full counsel of God look like from the pulpit (Acts 20:27)? Why does God delay his judgment, and how should we act in response to it, in considering both our lives and others’ (cf. 2 Peter 3:1-13)?


To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Understand Its Purpose, to Judge Unbelievers


Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness… For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:3-5, 10


In verse 3, in referring to Christ’s judgment at his return, Paul says, sudden destruction comes on ‘them’ and ‘they’ will surely not escape. Clearly, Paul was teaching that Christ’s judgment was for the unbelieving world, not believers. By using the words “they” and “them,” Paul separated the recipients of this judgment from the Thessalonians. He said, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief.” Again, this means that God plans to judge the world, not saints through the tribulation, Christ’s return, and his judgment. Further evidence is 1 Thessalonians 5:10, where Paul says, “For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since the context is not just eternal judgment but the judgment of Christ’s return, Paul was saying God’s wrath is not for believers; salvation is. Christ delivers us from God’s wrath on unbelievers at his return and his eternal wrath in hell. Since believers are not in darkness, referring to living like unbelievers in sin and without knowledge of the truth, this final day will not overtake them like a thief. Christ will save believers from God’s wrath and give them salvation.


Obviously, some of the Thessalonians were afraid of the day of the Lord, the time when Christ came, and maybe some believed they were already in the tribulation period, as they suffered great persecution for their faith. Would they be judged for their unfaithfulness at Christ’s coming and experience his wrath? Sometimes Christians manifest similar fears today when they are afraid to read the book of Revelation or stay away from the study of Eschatology. Ultimately, behind this fear, for many, is a fear of God’s judgment, whether in the tribulation period or when Christ returns. However, Paul’s point is that God’s wrath is not for believers, both in the tribulation period and at Christ’s return. God’s wrath in both is for unbelievers. If it is God’s will for believers to go through the tribulation period, as in the post-tribulation rapture view, they will suffer the indirect effects of his wrath but will be protected through it. Like, Noah going through the flood in an ark, believers will not directly suffer God’s wrath. They will suffer from the world, Satan, and the flesh, as we all do now, but in some way, they will be protected from God’s wrath being poured out on the earth during that period. For those who take the pretribulation rapture view—that believers will not go through the tribulation—God will deliver them from God’s wrath by keeping them from ever entering it. Like Enoch being raptured before the flood, so will the church be, and believers who get saved during the tribulation and who will be on the earth when Christ returns to judge, they will go through the tribulation like Noah did, protected through it.


Revelation 3:10 is another verse used to support that believers will be delivered from God’s wrath, specifically during the tribulation and at Christ’s return. Christ said this to the church of Philadelphia: “Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” Again, those who believe in the pretribulation rapture say “keep” refers to protecting believers from the tribulation, as they will be taken to heaven before it. However, those who take the post-tribulation view interpret the word “keep” as God protecting believers through the tribulation. In James 1:27, the word “keep” is used that way. It says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity and to ‘keep’ oneself unstained by the world.” In James 1:27, we are not removed from the world, but we must keep ourselves from sin while in it. For believers who go through the tribulation (the church or those saved in the tribulation), God will protect them from his wrath. Like the Israelites being protected in Egypt while God judged the Egyptians through the plagues, God will make a distinction between the righteous and unrighteous during the tribulation and at Christ’s judgment. Believers will suffer the indirect effects of many of these judgments, but they will be directed toward the unrepentant.


Whatever view one takes on the rapture, because of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, God’s wrath is not for believers but unbelievers, including during the tribulation period, its conclusion when Christ returns, and throughout eternity. God’s wrath during the day of the Lord is for unbelievers. Paul sought to give the Thessalonians peace of mind as they considered the end times, and specifically Christ’s return to judge. If we are going to live in light of that day, we must understand its purpose—to judge those in darkness. Consequently, fear of the end times and Christ’s wrath at his coming is not for us and is misguided. We should joyfully study eschatology and anticipate the end times because in the end Christ will be victorious and so will his people.


Application Question: In what ways have you at times struggled with fear of the coming tribulation and Christ’s return? How should the fact that God’s wrath during the tribulation period and at Christ’s coming is for unbelievers affect believers as they consider the coming day of the Lord? What view of the rapture/tribulation period do you believe or have been trained under, that believers will go through the tribulation or be delivered from it? How should we handle orthodox doctrinal views on the end times that many godly believers take different sides on?


To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Turn Away from Spiritual Indifference, Including Practicing Sinful Actions and Attitudes


But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.

2 Thessalonians 5:4-7


After teaching that the day of the Lord is a season where God will judge unbelievers, Paul teaches that the Thessalonians should live differently because of their spiritual status. Instead of being in darkness like unbelievers, believers are “sons of the light” and “sons of the day” (v. 5). The phrase “sons of” is a common Hebraism that means to be characterized by. In Acts 4:36, a man named Joseph was named by the apostles, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” No doubt, this was because Barnabas was a gifted encourager who always encouraged others. When Paul was rejected by others because of his previous persecution of Christians, Barnabas befriended him and introduced him to the other believers (Acts 9:27). He was an encourager. When Christ called James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17), that meant they were characterized by harshness. When the Samaritans rejected Christ, they harshly responded, “Do you want us to call fire from heaven on them?” (Lk 9:54). Likewise, to be sons of the light and sons of the day means that as believers, we are no longer characterized by ignorance of God and the practice of sin which characterizes the world that lives in darkness. Unbelievers are in the dark because they are ignorant of the fact that Jesus is coming to judge sins, ignorant of the gospel of salvation, and ignorant of the fact that they are a purposeful creation, not a random accident of evolution. The world is in intellectual darkness because they don’t know the truths of God’s Word, or they have rejected them. But they are also in darkness because they live in sin. Paul illustrates this sin by describing unbelievers as sleeping at night and getting drunk at night in verses 6 and 7. Sleeping refers to spiritual indifference and drunkenness refers to active sin. Often the world wants nothing to do with hearing about God, Christ, judgment, and even salvation. To hear about these truths negatively affects their enjoyment of this world. As Paul said, they are spiritually sleeping (v. 6-7). They live as though they will not be judged by God for their sins. Because they are asleep as far as spiritual things, Paul describes their getting drunk at night as a picture of their spiritual lethargy and rebellion against God (v. 7). According to Paul, what may be promoted as acceptable, normal, and fun behavior in the world of darkness is totally unacceptable for believers who are of the light.


That fact that Paul reminds the Thessalonians of this reality and exhorts them to live as sons of the light means that some were probably compromising in their behavior (especially at night and on weekends since that’s when people get drunk, cf. Acts 2:15). In fact, in 5:14, he calls for the Thessalonians to “admonish the undisciplined,” and in 2 Thessalonians 2:6, he calls them to “keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us.” Certainly, there were some among the Thessalonians who were living like they were part of the darkness instead of the light. They were spiritually sleep instead of awake. They had secular worldviews, focused on temporary things like wealth and prosperity instead of kingdom worldviews, focused on the eternal. They were drunkards, living in various sins, instead of living in righteousness. Instead of letting their light shine in the world, they were putting their light under a bushel to fit in with friends, not be persecuted or considered strange, or even to be promoted in their workplaces. For some, their lifestyle of darkness was just proof that they were not part of the light, that they were not truly born again and therefore would be overtaken by God’s judgment like a thief. With others, they were true believers who were simply lethargic, missing God’s best, and under God’s discipline in various ways so they would repent (cf. Heb 12:6-8).




In Scripture, we have many negative examples of believers or those who professed to be believers sleeping. With the disciples, before Christ went to the cross in Matthew 26:41, he said to them, “Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation.” While Christ prayed for three hours, they slept and consequently, they fell into temptation. They all denied the Lord before he went to the cross. Certainly, one of the reasons, we must be spiritually alert instead of sleep is so that we can pray during these end times. As we watch ungodliness increase, people turn away from God, and the coming of Christ gets closer, we must pray for repentance and revival. We must also pray for pastors, teachers, and missionaries who have gone out into the field to be faithful and fruitful. We must pray for our government leaders to be wise, just, and ultimately saved (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-4). We must pray for the devil and all his works to be bound. In fact, Peter said this to suffering Christians in 1 Peter 4:7, “For the culmination of all things is near. So be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer.” Because of the coming of the day of the Lord, we must not be spiritually asleep but awake, people of prayer.


Likewise, another negative illustration of servants being asleep when they should be awake is in Matthew 13, the Parable of the Weeds. In Matthew 13:24-26, Christ said this:


The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat and went away. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the darnel also appeared


When Christ interpreted the parable, he said the enemy is the devil, the field is the kingdom of God, the weeds are unbelievers, the wheat are believers, and the workers are angels. However, though the workers are the angels, we know God’s people are also workers in the kingdom, and unfortunately, we are often also asleep when the enemy sows negative seeds into God’s field. He constantly sows false workers, false doctrine, false miracles, and anything else that might hinder the harvest. As workers, we must be awake to protect the field, including God’s church. Are we sleeping or working? We protect God’s field by preaching God’s Word to our children, so they don’t grow up to be weeds in the church. We protect it by challenging our brothers and sisters when they are living in rebellion toward God and yet declaring faith in Christ. We also protect God’s field by being alert to false doctrine and sounding the alarm about it. Richard Philipps, the author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Reformed Expository Commentary said this in considering the enemies attack with false doctrine:


… in the tolerant spirit that grips the church today, there is little doctrinal vigilance over our churches and ministries. Christians are asleep to the threat of an active enemy who seeks to undermine and infiltrate the works of Christ’s kingdom so that we squander the gains given to us by God and lack the spiritual power to prevail in dangerous times.[5]


Are we sleeping while the enemy is sowing negative seeds into our friends, families, and churches?


Finally, probably the most applicable negative picture of sleeping is in the Parable of the Virgins. In Matthew 25:1-13, ten virgins were waiting on the bridegroom to return. Five of them had oil and five of them did not. While the bridegroom was away all ten fell asleep. When the bridegroom returned, who is a picture of Christ, the five virgins without oil tried to run and get oil, while the five with oil met with the bridegroom and went into the wedding banquet. When the five virgins without oil, got oil and tried to enter the banquet, the bridegroom said to them, “I don’t know you” (v. 12). The virgins with oil represent true believers who are alert and living and waiting for Christ, while the virgins without oil represent false believers who are spiritually lethargic, living in sin, and not waiting for Christ. By their lifestyle, being asleep and not prepared for Christ, they proved that they were not true believers. Though both sets fell asleep while the bridegroom was away, the five with oil’s sleep was that of preparedness for Christ’s coming and trust in him. However, the five without oil’s sleep was that of laziness and disobedience, since they were not truly saved. As mentioned, true believers will not be overtaken like a thief when Christ comes to judge because they are living for Christ, waiting for him, and will be saved. False believers will be overtaken because they sleep like the world, get drunk and live in sin like the world. Christ ended the parable by saying this in Matthew 25:13, “Therefore stay alert because you do not know the day or the hour.”


Are we sleeping by not living for our Lord who is returning? Are we getting drunk by living for wealth, power, entertainment, and unhealthy addictions like the world instead of living for Christ who is returning? With the world, judgment will quickly overtake them like a thief in the night when Christ returns, and it will be too late.


In Romans 13:11-14, Paul said it this way:


And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.


This is not a time to be sleep, the lateness of the hour requires that we put off spiritual lethargy, indifference, inactivity, and sin, because our Savior and his judgment are coming soon. If we are going to live in light of the day of the Lord, we must turn away from spiritual indifference, including sinful attitudes and actions. Our Lord is coming soon.


Application Question: Why is it so common for believers to live spiritually lethargic lives? In what ways are you specifically tempted towards spiritual lethargy, indifference, inactivity, and sin? How do you keep yourself spiritually alert and awake, or how is God calling you to be more spiritually awake?


To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Be Spiritually Awake by Being Armed with Faith, Love, and Hope


So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober…But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.

1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8-10


In contrast with sleeping and being drunk like the world, in verse 6, Paul said believers should be alert (awake in the NIV) and sober as we await Christ’s return. In verse 8, he repeats his call to be sober, which means free of intoxicants. Certainly, the call to be sober refers to not being drunk with alcohol or inebriated with illicit drugs, but it also refers to much more than that. Satan and the world are always trying to intoxicate believers with various sinful things to dull our spiritual vibrancy. The world seeks to intoxicate believers with wealth, prestige, and comfort. Certainly, we saw this with Satan as he offered Christ the kingdoms of this world if he would only bow down to him. He was encouraged to take the path of ease, comfort, and what might be called secular success instead of the path of the cross, which included difficulty, discomfort, and shame. First John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Also, 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.” If Satan can’t intoxicate us with the lure of wealth and comfort in this world, he will try to intoxicate us with addictions to various sins. In John 8:34, Christ said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.” When we open doors to sexual immorality, dishonesty, drunkenness, or other vices, though they promise pleasure, they bind and enslave us. Many are intoxicated and immobilized by various sins that keep them from growing in Christ and building his kingdom. Furthermore, if Satan can’t intoxicate us with the lure of wealth and sin, he will try to intoxicate us with fear and anxiety—fear of poverty, rejection, and persecution which also immobilizes us. It keeps us from witnessing and sharing our faith with others or being identified with those who do. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of people becomes a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be set on high.” And if wealth, sin, and fear don’t work, the enemy tries to intoxicate believers with false doctrine, so that their religious zeal does greater harm than good. Because of these realities, Peter said this in 1 Peter 5:5, “Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.” Certainly, his attacks will only increase as we get closer to the last days. Again, Paul said, “So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober [free of intoxicants]” (1 Thess 5:6).


Observation Question: According to 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 8, how can we stay spiritually awake, alert and sober, as we look forward to the Lord’s day and his return?


1.     To stay spiritually awake, we must expect various difficulties.


In verse 8, Paul says, “But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation.” The fact that Paul commands the Thessalonians to put on a breastplate and helmet (v. 8) implies that they needed to be prepared for spiritual battles by expecting difficulties in these last days. Consequently, to stay alert and sober, we must put on our spiritual armor, which represents righteous character, attitude, and actions (cf. Eph 6:10-20).


Again, the need to put on armor implies that following Christ by living in light of his return and judgment will not be easy. It will be hard. This may cause conflict with family when we don’t fulfill cultural and secular expectations. It might mean the loss of a job or promotion prospects because we don’t compromise our ethics along with our co-workers. It also means more spiritual attack from the enemy as he seeks to stop our spiritual advancement and that of the kingdom. If we don’t expect difficulties and discouragements, we may be shocked when they happen (in our friendships, family, workplace, or church) and give up, or we may overly blame others, including our family, coworkers, or church, when the enemy attacks. Our spiritual battle is against Satan and demons, not people. Ephesians 6:11-12 says it this way:


Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.


The devil has schemes and tricks, including to make us angry at others or God, even though the root of the issue or embellisher of the issue is the devil and his demons. Consequently, we must always be awake and prepared because we’re in a spiritual battle and difficulties will come. At times, they will come like a flood, and good soldiers expect and prepare for them. In 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul said this to Timothy, “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”


Are we staying spiritually awake by expecting various difficulties? Following Christ and waiting for his coming means being enlisted in a war. No one goes to war and expects ease and comfort, and neither should we. We have an enemy who is the ruler of this world and hates Christ and his followers. His attacks will only increase in these last days. Faithfully following Christ means we need to be spiritually prepared for difficulties.


2.     To stay spiritually awake, we must be equipped with faith.


When Paul says to put on the breastplate of faith, this differs from Paul’s exhortation to put on the breastplate of righteousness in Ephesians 6:14. However, both metaphors are meant to help us spiritually protect ourselves and others and advance God’s purposes in these last days. When a Roman soldier put on the breastplate, it covered not only the chest but also the stomach. It protected the vital organs against deadly blows from the enemy. When Paul described the breastplate as faith, this refers to knowing and trusting God’s Word, including his promises. For example, when the devil comes with anxiety and worry about our future, we must know and apply God’s promises in Philippians 4:6-7. It says,


Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


By choosing to reject worry about our future or some difficult prospect and instead constantly praying about the situation and giving God thanks for his goodness and faithfulness in it, God promises to guard our hearts with his peace. To extinguish the fiery darts of worry and anxiety, we must pray about everything (including bringing our petitions before God) and give thanks in everything. When we are prayerless, thankless, and whiny (constantly complaining), the enemy has a field day with our minds and hearts.


Another example of our need to be armed with faith is when considering the temptation of sexual immorality. The world teaches that sexual immorality is normal, including between those of the same gender. However, Scripture teaches that sexual immorality is a sin against our body and meant to happen only in the confines of a married man and woman. Abuses of this gift can lead to physical disease, emotional distress (including depression, jealousy, and confusion), and even national judgments. According to Leviticus 18, the practice of sexual immorality led to God’s judgment, not only on individuals but also nations. In Leviticus 18:24-25, God said this to Israel through Moses:


Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations that I am about to drive out before you have been defiled with all these things. Therefore the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it, so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants.


With the Canaanites, the land vomited them up because they practiced incest, homosexuality, and fornication (sex outside of marriage). No doubt, the land vomited the people up through droughts, floods, extreme temperatures, forest fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. Sexual immorality is a denial of God’s Word, which destroys our bodies, loved ones, and countries. Consequently, God calls us to flee sexual immorality and to understand that our bodies are not our own, but his. He purchased them on the cross, and we should treat them as his temple, not ours. First Corinthians 6:18-20 says,


Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”—but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.


Again, without knowing and believing what God’s Word teaches about sexual immorality, we leave ourselves without a breastplate and therefore vulnerable to Satan’s temptations.


Finally, another example of our need to put on the breastplate of faith is seen in our need to accept what Scripture says about creation. If we don’t trust what God says about his creation of the earth and all in it, we might believe what secular science teaches, in that people are mere accidents based on random processes instead of God’s purposeful creation. Without knowing that each of us was created by God with a purpose, we become prone to fatalism as though our life (and others’) doesn’t matter and the events around us are random with no purpose. This type of thought process makes it easy to quit and give up when things are difficult in marriage, work, faith, or even life. It also makes our societies less prone to protect the dignity of human life, especially that of the weak. We become Darwinistic societies that exalt the strong and neglect or condemn the weak, like the poor, elderly, sick, and unborn. In these last days, we must be alert and sober because deceptions and temptations are many.


Are we wearing the breastplate of faith? Do we know what God’s Word says about life, death, marriage, parenting, work, creation, humanity, and the world to come? If we’re not spiritually awake, we will believe various lies and experience destructive consequences from them. We will sleep like the world, get drunk like the world, experience consequences from our sin like the world, and miss God’s best for us, individually and corporately.


3.     To stay spiritually awake, we must put on the breastplate of love.


When Paul says to put on the breastplate of love, the word for love is agape, referring to God’s love. This means one of the greatest protections for us in this sin-filled, spiteful world is to love like God. Agape love is not simply an emotion. Emotional love comes and goes based on circumstances and feelings. If people treat us well, we love them. If they harm us, we don’t. However, agape love is a committed love. It’s an act of the will, not based on circumstances, feelings, or even the person or object. It is based on a decision to seek the highest good of the person no matter the circumstances. In fact, agape love has been described as when we love not caring what we get in return. For example, with God, we reject him and go our own way all the time, and yet God still loves and pursues us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). In contrast with God’s love, human love is self-centered. When people hurt us, we hate them, seek their harm, or pull away from them. But God’s love continues to seek the best of those who hurt him. In Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV), Christ said for us to love our enemies and pray for them instead of hating them and therefore demonstrate that we are children of God. In Romans 12:19-21, Paul said this about our enemies:


Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


In 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV), Paul said this about agape love: “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Natural love is consumed with self instead of others and consequently keeps a record of wrongs, constantly brings them up when others fail, and seeks to harm others for those failures. However, when we fail God and repent, he doesn’t keep bringing our failures up and bashing them over our heads. In fact, Scripture says he chooses to remember them no more (Heb 8:12), in the sense of not allowing them to hinder our current relationship with him.


Agape love is the opposite of human love. The world teaches that loving oneself is the highest good, but Christ said that we must die to ourselves and take up our cross. Love of self leads to all types of sin, blaspheming God because he didn’t give us what we wanted or allowed something bad to happen to us. Love of self leads to stealing from others or coveting what they have. Love of self leads to pride and boasting. Love of self leads to treating others poorly. Love of self leads to all types of sins. However, in contrast with the world that promotes self-love, Scripture teaches that the greatest commands are to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor, as ourselves. With the second, it is not a command to love ourselves as commonly misinterpreted. It is recognition that because of our sin nature, we all naturally love ourselves more than God or others. Because, in the garden, Adam chose to love himself more than God and others, we all now struggle with the same. Consequently, to conquer this natural, sinful disposition, we all must be born again, where God gives us his Spirit to enable us to love as we’ve been called to. Romans 5:5 describes this when it says: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Likewise, in response to this reality, Philippians 2:3 commands this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”


With all that said, putting on the breastplate of love does not mean running ourselves into the ground by serving God and others. Certainly, it means working hard, but to properly love others, we must by necessity get proper rest and have balance in our lives. In addition, putting on love doesn’t necessarily mean putting ourselves in dangerous or unwise situations or relationships. In Philippians 1:9, Paul prayed for the Philippians’ love to grow in knowledge and discernment. Agape love is not dumb but wise. It seeks the highest good for others and ourselves, even when that includes discipline and/or setting healthy boundaries.


The reason loving God and others is a protection from spiritually sleeping and living a spiritually lethargic life that is prone to sin, as we await Christ’s coming, is because love is the fulfillment of all God’s laws (Rom 13:9). When we supremely love God, we will not put any idols before him including our comfort. When we supremely love others, we will not do anything that would harm them, even if they hurt us first. When we supremely love God and others, we will zealously wait for the Lord’s return and seek to live in a way that is pleasing to him, helpful to others, and will be rewarded at his return.


When people don’t have on the breastplate of love, they will get hurt by someone at church, work, home, etc., and they will commonly withdraw from God and others. They were hurt at church, and now they are mad at God and mad at God’s people. Consequently, they stopped going to church and serving people in it. Because they didn’t have on the right armor, they were injured in battle and withdrew totally from the battle. Certainly, this is Satan’s strategy. He aims to harm people by making them offended at work, church, or with their family, so they take off their breastplate and get out of the battle altogether. However, by withdrawing from others or holding grudges, believers only harm themselves, as it gives the devil a greater foothold in their lives. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.” Also, in Matthew 18:23-35, in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Christ said if we don’t forgive others from our heart, God will hand us over to the tortures which clearly refers to the devil and his demons (cf. 1 Cor 5:5, 1 Tim 1:20). Not putting on the breastplate of love leads to hazardous consequences for us and others. But keeping it on helps protect us and keep us spiritually alert and sober for Christ’s return and ready for the spiritual battles that await us.


Do we have on the breastplate of love? Are we continually growing in our love for God and others? Are we pursuing God with all our hearts and seeking to love, forgive, and bless those around us, especially those in the church? If we’re not growing in love, we, by necessity, are becoming less loving—more concerned about ourselves, more prone to withdraw, and more prone to not stretch ourselves in serving. Without a breastplate, we’re vulnerable to not only get hurt but also destroyed. As mentioned, many people were hurt while faithfully serving God and the church and are now, nowhere to be found. They took off their armor and quit, and consequently will not be ready when Christ returns. They will be found as unfaithful servants or, at worse, not real servants.


As we near the end times when Christians will be increasingly persecuted, we must put on the breastplate of love, so we can stand and pour out God’s love in these last days.


4.     To stay spiritually awake, we must put on the helmet of hope in our salvation.


In verses 8-10, Paul said:


…as a helmet our hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.


When Paul refers to the helmet of hope for salvation, this obviously does not refer to our salvation in the past tense since we only hope in something future. Our salvation has a past-tense in that we were saved in the past when we repented of our sins and put our faith in Christ. As demonstrated, this aspect of salvation is referred to when Scripture speaks of salvation as happening in the past. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved [past tense] through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” When we were saved, God justified us by making us as though we never sinned because of Christ’s death on the cross and our faith in it (2 Cor 5:21). However, there is also a sense in which we are presently being saved. When salvation is referred to in the present tense, this refers to our sanctification. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.” We work out our salvation by daily fighting sin, growing in righteousness, and starting to look more like Christ. Finally, there is a future-tense aspect of salvation which Paul refered to here in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. When he says, “God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining [future-tense] salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” he was referring to our glorification, when we will receive glorified bodies at the resurrection (cf. Rom 13:11). We were all saved in the past when we first responded to God in faith, are being saved in the present as we are being set free from sin and growing into Christ’s image, and will be saved in the future when Christ comes and gives us resurrected bodies.


It is this helmet of hope we must put on to stand in these last days. It is the helmet that allowed Stephen, Paul, Peter, and other believers to be martyred for Christ. Their hope was not a comfortable retirement in old age but eternal reward, heavenly bodies, and reigning with Christ in the coming kingdom. When faced with persecution and the prospect of death, they knew that loss of earthly wealth only meant greater heavenly riches and to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord and eventually resurrected to rule with him eternally (cf. Mk 10:29-30, 2 Cor 5:8). Second Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” If we don’t have this helmet of hope in our salvation, then the attacks of the enemy, including threats to our health, wealth, and comfort, will be more important than God’s kingdom and serving him faithfully. We must have this helmet on to stand in a day that is increasingly becoming antagonistic to Christians and Christian values. Those who don’t have this helmet will be tempted to turn away from him when persecuted or to fret his return because they are not certain that they’re saved, and if so, whether Christ will be pleased with their lives.


Application Question: How do we put the helmet of hope on and keep it on so we can stand against the attacks of the devil and this world in these last days?


·      To put the helmet of hope on, we must first repent of our sins and put our faith in Christ, believing that he died for our sins and resurrected for our salvation.


Romans 10:9 says, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” To confess Christ as Lord is not to simply believe that Christ is God and master, for even the demons believe that (Jam 2:19). It means that he becomes our Master. It represents our repentance, turning from a life of self and sin to faith and submission to Christ as our Lord and Savior. This is what we must do to put on this helmet.


·      To keep the helmet of hope on, we must continue to believe in Christ.


Certainly, Satan is always trying to get us to take off our helmet of hope in salvation as he attacks the foundations of our faith. He attacks the reality of a historical Jesus who was God. He attacks the reality of the resurrection. He brings the allure of many other, easier, paths to God through cults or other religions. Like Christ warned the disciples of right before he went to the cross, Satan desires to sift us like wheat but Christ has prayed for us that our faith may not fail (Lk 22:32). There are many deconstructing their faith. In fact, Christ promised that this would be normal in the end times. He said the love of many would grow cold (Matt 24:12), and Paul warned of a great falling away which would happen as the day of the Lord, the great tribulation began. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, he said this: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” If we are going to keep the helmet of hope in our salvation on, we must continue to believe because as the day gets closer there will be more temptations to fall away, including persecution, and many around us will.


·      To keep the helmet of hope on, we must continue to repent of our sins and pursue righteousness.


Though we are not saved by our works, works are a proof of salvation. Christ said we will know a tree by its fruits (Matt 7:16), and John said that true believers are identified by righteousness and turning away from sin. First John 3:6-8 says,


Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning...


Consequently, a lifestyle of unrepentant sin might prove we are not truly saved (cf. Matt 7:21-23). Some are constantly getting hit in the head—struggling with doubts and fears about their salvation and Christ’s coming because they should be. They’ve never truly put on the helmet. Christ is not their Lord and Savior. They are their own Lord, as they’re still living unrepentant lives.


With those who are saved, unrepentant sin gives the devil a door to attack their head, their assurance of salvation. Since, according to Romans 8:16, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, if we are living in sin and not pursuing God, we quench the Spirit’s work and therefore lack assurance. To keep on the helmet, not only do we have to put our faith in Christ and keep believing, but we also must keep walking with him. Sin opens a door for the enemy to attack our head and other vital organs and can quench the Spirit’s assurance (cf. 1 Thess 5:19). That’s why we not only need the helmet but also the breastplate, represented by faith and love in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. Walking in repentance and righteousness is a protection for us as it helps us keep our helmet on, providing assurance of salvation. By growing in our faith, we make our election sure, according to 2 Peter 1:5-10, proving that our faith is real (cf. 2 Cor 13:5).


·      To keep the helmet of hope on, we must eagerly look forward to the coming of Christ and his kingdom.


One of the great signs of not having our helmet on is a lack of desire for the coming of Christ and his kingdom. This is exactly what Paul was exhorting the Thessalonians towards throughout the letter. In every chapter of 1 Thessalonians, he mentions the coming of Christ. In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, he described their salvation as turning from idols to God and waiting for the coming of Christ.


For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.


Likewise, previously in 1:3, he praised them for their “endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” When they came to Christ, they began to hope for his return, as all Christians should. No doubt, this is why they apparently asked so many eschatological questions, which Paul responded to in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. They were consumed with the coming of our Lord, which enabled them to keep on the helmet of hope in their salvation. Though they were excelling in hoping for the Lord’s coming (cf. 1:3), in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul encouraged them to do so even more.


Are we still hoping for Christ’s return and his judgment? Are we eagerly longing for it? Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV) says,


But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.


God promises a reward to those who love and eagerly long for the coming of Christ. Before Paul died, he said this in 2 Timothy 4:8: “Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.”


If we are going to live in light of the coming day, when God brings judgment on the earth and culminates that judgment with the coming of Christ, we must put on God’s armor, including the helmet of hope in our salvation. God will punish sin, but we will escape his wrath, so we have nothing to fear.


Doctrinal Difficulties


Interpretation Question: In verse 10, what do the words “alert” and “sleep” refer to? 


In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, Paul said, “For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.” There are differing opinions over what the words “alert” and “asleep” refer to. Some believe “alert” refers to being “alive” and “sleep” refers to being “dead.” Consequently, one of the ways God will save us from wrath is that when Christ comes, dead believers will be resurrected and living believers will be raptured to be with the Lord. Support for interpreting “alert” as “alive” and “sleep” as “dead” is the similarities with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, which describes Christ’s coming for his saints, including the resurrection and rapture. It says,


Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.


For those who believe in the pretrib rapture view, they would say this verse teaches that the church will be raptured before the tribulation, as it is a part of the Lord’s day, and therefore delivered from not only eternal wrath but God’s temporary wrath during the tribulation. Others who likewise believe it is best to interpret “sleep” as “death” and “alert” as “alive” but reject the pre-trib rapture view believe Paul is saying that when Christ returns to judge, which is the end of the Lord’s day, believers will not experience his wrath because they will be raptured or resurrected. Pretribulationist tend to see Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s day in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 as referring to the entire tribulation period, and postribulationist tend to see Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s day as only referring to Christ’s coming to judge. It's likely that when Paul refers to the Lord’s day there is an overlap, referring primarily to Christ’s return but also part of the tribulation period.


Finally, others see “awake” and “sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 as referring to being spiritually alert or spiritually indifferent instead of “alive” and “dead.” Support for this view is the preceding verses of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9 where Paul called the Thessalonians to be alert as people of the light (believers) instead of spiritually indifferent as people in the dark (unbelievers). In those verses, Paul used the same words for alert and sleep. The question would then be if the words (alert and asleep) in verse 10 were to be interpreted differently from the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9, why not use different words to avoid confusion? Also, the word for “sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 is different from the word used several times in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-19. Consequently, those who take this interpretation believe Paul is saying that even though all believers should be spiritually alert as they await Christ’s coming, whether we are spiritually vibrant or spiritually lethargic when Christ arrives, if we’re true believers, God will ultimately save us. Essentially, everything will work out for the good, whatever spiritual state we’re in.


With that said, as a rebuttal of that view, many commentators think Paul would be hurting his argument to essentially say it doesn’t matter if we are spiritually alert or not, as we await the day of the Lord, since we’ll be saved. For example, F.F. Bruce, who wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Word Biblical Commentary said this: “It is ludicrous to suppose that [Paul] means, ‘Whether you live like sons of light or like sons of darkness, it will make little difference: you will be all right in the end.’”[6] As further proof against such an interpretation, in the Parable of the Virgins (Matt 25:1-13), the ones who were not spiritually alert (lacking oil), as they awaited their master, were not truly saved. Subsequently, our alertness to Christ’s coming is a proof (not a means) of true salvation—that we are people of the light and not the dark. Because of that, to understand “alert” and “sleep” in verse 10 as referring to “alive” and “dead” instead of spiritually alert or indifferent seems to be the best interpretation. It would then mean whether we are alive or dead when Christ returns, we will all be resurrected or raptured to be with him forever, which will consummate our salvation. We will not experience God’s wrath at Christ’s coming, nor in eternity, because Christ will resurrect or rapture us so we will be with him forever.


Again, in context, if we are going to be awake and ready for Christ’s return, we must realize it will be difficult. That’s why we need to put on God’s armor, the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope in our salvation. We must put on faith by knowing and trusting God’s Word so we will not be deceived and intoxicated by the temptations of the world and Satan in these last days. We must put on God’s love by loving him and others supremely, which will enable us to overcome evil with good, especially as persecution and apostasy increase, as we near Christ’s return. Also, we must put on the helmet of hope in our salvation, as we trust in Christ for deliverance from God’s coming wrath, both temporary wrath during the tribulation and eternal wrath in hell. This helmet will enable us to suffer well and even give our lives for Christ, if he calls us to. To be without these crucial pieces of armor in these last days will lead to our harm and that of others.


To live in light of coming judgment, we must be awake by putting on faith, love, and hope—the holy trifecta of every believer. First Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love,” which leads to our final point. 


Application Question: In what ways is putting on faith, love, and hope a spiritual protection like armor in these last days? How is God calling you to increase your faith in his Word, love for God and others, and hope in Christ’s coming in these last days? Which one do you feel like you need to focus on most or first?


To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Practice the Ministry of Encouragement and Edification


Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11


In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, the word “encourage” can also be translated “exhort” or “comfort.” It comes from the Greek word parakaleo which has the idea of coming alongside those in their weakness, difficulty, or doubt to help them with their faith.[7] Paul also calls for them to “build up” or “edify” each other. The word has the sense of to rebuild, restore, and make others strong.[8] The fact that Paul calls the Thessalonians to encourage and build up one another as they were “in fact doing” means that they could always grow in this ministry. Encouraging and edifying others is something that we never become perfect at but can always grow in. Paul said something similar in Chapter 4 about their obeying God’s instructions and loving one another. First Thessalonians 4:1 and 9-10 say,


Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more.


Now on the topic of brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,


Therefore, this truth applies not just to encouraging and edifying others but also to all our spiritual life. We can always grow in the grace of encouraging and edifying others in the faith, understanding and obeying God’s Word, and loving one another.


In the context specifically, the Thessalonians were to encourage and edify one another with gospel truths, as it describes our being delivered from the coming wrath (v. 10). As we consider God’s coming judgment and eternal wrath in the end times, we must comfort one another with the gospel. Christ died for us and rose from the dead, so we would not have to experience his wrath. His wrath is for the world, not for believers. As children of God, we experience his discipline to train us but not his wrath to punish us. Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians whom God judged for abusing the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:32, Paul said, “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.” God’s condemnation and wrath are for the world, but with believers, he disciplines us like a loving father to help us grow in the faith. Like a good parent, he disciplines us first with rebuke, so that we understand and recognize our error and can turn from it, and if we don’t respond to rebuke, he spanks us through trials, so we will repent and turn back to him. Hebrews 12:5-6 describes this process: “… My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” The gospel is the reality that we have been welcomed into his family because of Christ, and he now treats us like sons and daughters.


This good news is not just something necessary for unbelievers to hear to draw them into the family. It is a truth that believers need to hear over and over again. Because of Christ, God is our father, and we are children. He has only good things planned for us, including with the trials he allows in our lives (cf. Jam 1:2-4). He treats us differently than the world, not only in considering eternity but also in Christ’s coming wrath on the earth. He is able to distinguish and separate the righteous from the wicked, just like he did with Noah during the flood. The author of the Reformed Commentary said it this way:


The words “[he] died for us” are to be a helmet of salvation hope, so that our heads are lifted in joyful expectation of Christ’s return as the beloved Savior in whose favor we are certain. Am I a sinner? Yes, but he died for me! Is my life still tainted by sin? Certainly, but he died for me! How can such a poor Christian as I hope for salvation in the end? Because Jesus died for me![9]


Therefore, we must repeatedly comfort one another with these gospel truths. We must encourage those who live in fear of God’s judgment, including the end time judgments and that of eternity. Christ bore God’s wrath for us, so we would never have to endure it. We are his children. We also must encourage those who are downcast at the loss of a loved one. Psalm 116:15 (ESV) says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” When they became born again, God put them in his hand and nothing will ever be able to separate them from his love, including death (cf. John 10:28-30, Rom 8:38-39). To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). At our death, we will not only be united with Christ but also our believing friends and relatives. And if we live till the rapture of the church, we will meet them in the air as we meet with Christ (1 Thess 4:13-19). We must comfort one another with these words, these gospel truths. But also, we must exhort believers living in sin and spiritual lethargy, as though they are sleep. As Paul taught, the world lives and sleeps in the dark as they practice sin, but that should not be true of believers who are light because of Christ. Though saved by God’s grace through faith, true faith results in godly works, including living for Christ and his coming. We must exhort those who are careless and sleeping. If they have a lifestyle of indifference to God and his Word, it may prove that they are truly of the night instead of the day (cf. Matt 7:21-23). We must always encourage and exhort the fearful, who think God’s wrath is for them, the downcast who have lost hope, and the undisciplined who live as though Christ is not coming back to judge and reward.


Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to encourage one another with gospel truths reminds us that ministry is not only for a few paid professionals; it is for every member of the church. We all must encourage and build others up as we wait on the coming of our Lord and his judgment. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,


And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,  not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. 


Paul’s exhortation also reminds us that most times what’s needed to grow in our faith is not learning something new. We just have to remember and continually practice what we already know. Again, in context, Paul’s point is that believers don’t need to be afraid of Christ’s coming and judgment because it will, in fact, consummate the salvation Christ purchased for us at his first coming. Christ came to deliver us from God’s wrath. This is a gospel truth we need to hear over and over and share with others. As the days get darker, we need to remind others to continue to believe in God, even when things are difficult. We need to remind them to repent of sin, instead of becoming comfortable with it, as the world has. We need to constantly pray for others and with them, share Scripture with them, meet with them to listen and build them up, and carry one another’s burdens. We must come alongside others to encourage and build them up as we wait for our Lord to come. Are we constantly doing this? We should aim to do it more and more, as we see the day approaching.


Application Question: What are some practical ways to do the ministries of encouragement and edification, and how is God calling you to do these even more? Share some ways that God has used others to encourage and edify you in the faith.




How should we live in light of the coming day of the Lord, where God judges unbelievers through Christ’s return, and the tribulation that precedes it? Apparently, the believers in Thessalonica were worried about this day. Were they prepared for it? Would they be judged or saved? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul answers these questions and teaches them (and us) how to live in light of the coming day.


1.     To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Not Speculate About the Timing of It

2.     To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Understand It Will Certainly Come, Both in an Unexpectant and Severe Manner

3.     To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Understand Its Purpose, to Judge Unbelievers

4.     To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Turn Away from Spiritual Indifference, Including Practicing Sinful Actions and Attitudes

5.     To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Be Spiritually Awake by Being Armed with Faith, Love, and Hope

6.     To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Practice the Ministry of Encouragement and Edification


Application Question: What stood out most in the study and why?



Prayer Prompts


·      Pray for God to equip us and the rest of his church with a greater knowledge of the end times through diligent study and strong biblical teaching.

·      Pray for God to deliver us and the rest of his church, especially the wealthy church, from spiritual lethargy and inactivity to spiritual alertness and zealous serving (cf. 1 Cor 15:58).

·      Pray for God to arm us and the rest of his church with greater faith in his Word, love for God and others, and hope in the second coming.

·      Pray for God to remove blindness from unbelievers and draw them to repentance and faith, and that he would mightily use us and his church in the process.

·      Pray for God to equip us and his church to excel in encouraging and edifying one another, especially our young people, the hurting, anxious, doubtful, undisciplined, and downcast.


[1] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, The Teacher’s Outline & Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1995), 85.

[2] Phillips, Richard. 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Reformed Expository Commentary). P&R Publishing, New Jersey, 2015

[3] Phillips, Richard. 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Reformed Expository Commentary). P&R Publishing, New Jersey, 2015

[4] MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible, Matthew 24:7-8

[5] Philips, Richard. 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Reformed Expository Commentary)

[7] Phillips, Richard. 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Reformed Expository Commentary)

[9] Phillip, Richards. 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Reformed Expository Commentary)


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