Lesson 10: "The Day of the Lord So Cometh as a Thief in the Night." (I Thessalonians 5:2)
I Thessalonians 5:1-11
This is Lesson #10. Thanks for coming. The last six verses of I Thessalonians, chapter 4, that we covered in our last lesson, has astounding information with respect to our faith. It's one of the few places in the New Testament where future events are foretold in such vivid detail. The coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which sleep. Death is viewed as sleep. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we have hope. Christ's resurrection from the dead is an assurance of our own resurrection. Jesus will come with mighty power. The living, when Christ returns, will have no advantage over those who sleep in Jesus. The dead in Christ shall rise. We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. The redeemed will be with the Lord and with each other for ever.
This naturally brings to mind the question, when? When will Jesus return? Paul anticipated that question and reminds them that he had answered the question when he was with them. Let's read the first 11 verses in I Thess. chapter 5. Are you ready to read! Beginning in 5:1, let's read. "But of the times and the season, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us know sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do."
Alright, keep this information mentally tied to what was said at the end of chapter 4, about the Lord's second coming. In chapter 4, Paul told how the Lord would return. However, notice in the first verse of chapter 5, Paul begins with "BUT," i. e. in contrast to what was said above; Paul cannot give them information with reference to the time. Paul couldn't tell them for the simple reason Paul didn't know. Jesus made it clear in Mark 13:32 that Jesus himself did not know. He said that only the Father knows the time this age will end. And, of all the things that are said in the New Testament, the doctrine of the secrecy of Jesus' second coming is one of the most clearly taught facts in the whole book. Like every other doctrine, some have perverted it. D. M. Canright, in his book entitled, "Seventh Day Adventism Renounced," told about a man named William Miller born in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1782. About 1831, Miller, a Baptist, claimed that he had discovered by the scripture the exact time, the very year, and finally, the very day when Christ would return. By his calculations, Miller succeeded in converting about 50,000 people to this view. The first date Miller set was 1843. It failed, of course. Then he fixed a day in October of 1844, and I don't have to tell you, that failed, too. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord said, "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken..." (18:22). Many similar calculations and predictions have been made in the 150 years that have intervened since William Miller. As a matter of fact, I have in my hand a book entitled "88 Reasons Why the Rapture could be in 1988," copyrighted by Edgar C. Whisenant. He gave September 11 -12- 13 of 1988 as the time for the Lord's return. I don't have to tell you, he failed as surely as Mr. Miller. Like I said, the teaching that the second coming of Jesus is an ABSOLUTE SECRET is one of the most clearly taught doctrines in the New Testament. And, religious people, who claim to study the Bible, have made these claims. One can't calculate from the Bible when Jesus is coming back! Yet, the most amazing thing is that after some set dates have failed, they try to justify their mistake. Denominations have been founded upon just such stuff. Mr. Miller, mentioned before, after he failed twice (1843 - 44), frankly admitted he was wrong. Canright quotes Miller as saying, "On the passing of my published time, I frankly acknowledge my disappointment... We expected the personal coming of Christ at that time; and now to contend that we were not mistaken, is dishonest. We should never be ashamed frankly to confess our errors. I have no confidence in any of the new theories that grew out of that movement, namely, that Christ then came as the Bridegroom, that the door of mercy was closed, that there is no salvation for sinners, that the seventh trumpet then sounded, or that it was a fulfillment of prophecy in any sense." Now, that's what Mr. Miller said. At least you must say he was an honest man. Guess what? Ultimately a common denomination of our day was founded by the followers of the Miller movement. Another denominational group claims that Jesus came in 1917 or 1921 in some secret way; and, as incredible as it seems, they have grown to be a large common denomination in our very midst today.
Now, take a look at v. 2 in our text. Paul said to the Thessalonians, "yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." You surely have no trouble seeing that Paul's illustration of a thief in the night is another way of saying it will be a time when it is least expected. Wonder where Paul got that illustration? In Matt. 24:43, in discussing the end of the world, Jesus said this, "Know this, that if the good roan of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up." Then after Jesus had said all that, he said in verse 44, "Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." The apostle Peter said In II Pet. 3:10, "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night..." Wonder where Peter got his illustration? You will remember, of course, Peter and three other apostles were on Mr. Olivet that day Jesus said what we have just quoted from Matt. 24:44. So, Jesus said it, Peter repeated it, Paul reiterated it. Now, look at v. 3, here in I Thessalonians. Paul said, "When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them." Then, take a look at how Paul illustrated that: "as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." Babies have a way of being born when the time comes, convenient or inconvenient. When that mysterious time comes, the process cannot be delayed. I can well remember 28 years ago, on the 16th of September 1962. My wife and I had gone to church at Blue Creek, Ohio, that Sunday morning. That afternoon she went into the hospital. She was doing fine; so, I left the hospital about four o'clock, and promised her I would be back in a couple of hours. At 4:20, she gave birth to a seven pound red-headed daughter. Paul said it's going to happen, just that suddenly. You can make certain preparations, yes, but, as every momma knows, you can't calculate the day and the hour. If we die before Jesus returns, the time is just as uncertain. You don't know what day you are going to die. Many die younger than you and me. So, it'll slip up on you. So, whether we live or whether we die, the time is uncertain. Thus, no one has an advantage in that sense.
Then, Paul used vs. 4 - 11 in chapter 5 to encourage and motivate the brethren at Thessalonica to learn the lesson and learn it well. Paul used the idea of the thief in the night to push his illustration further. He suggested the idea that Christians are sons of the light. Evil people, such as a thief, choose darkness for their activities. The drunken are drunken in the night, v. 7. They that sleep, sleep in the night, i. e. those that nap on duty are not prepared for the Lord's corning. Paul, here, speaks of sleep as the sleep of spiritual death, i. e. unpreparedness. Those that do not watch, whose spiritual faculties are asleep, commonly lapse into drugs, alcoholism, gambling, and those things that fit into the night activities as suggested above. Christians should be open and honest and prefer to deal in the light where all can be seen and observed freely. Do you remember the last comment Jesus made to Nicodemus in John, chapter 3? Jesus told Mr. Pharisee Nicodemus, "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3: 20 - 21). It was common knowledge that the Greeks and Romans commonly used the night for frolicking. So, this point related back to "doing your own business, and to work with your hands...that ye may have lack of nothing." Those brethren had only recently turned from idols and worldly living. Their background was adequate and sufficient to understand Paul's illustrations very clearly.
Then, look at v. 8 of our text, i.e. v. 8 of chapter 5. Paul said, "But," i. e. in contrast to the common activities of the night, "But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation." To be sober, here, means to be spiritually prepared. Then Paul takes an illustration from the Roman soldiers. A breastplate was a piece of military apparatus used by the soldiers to prevent enemy arrows from penetrating their body. The equivalent today is the bullet-proof vest. And the helmet, of course, was used by the soldiers to protect the head. The Christian's breastplate is his faith and his love. You see, just as a bullet-proof vest protects one's body from flying projectiles, one's faith hi Jesus is constantly working in the spiritual sense; and, thus, protects by discouraging indulgence in lustful sins when tempted. And, just as the helmet protects the head in battle, our hope of salvation helps us to recognize and guard against the evil war of Paul's suggested night activity. Our faith, our hope, and our love motivates us NOT to participate in such worldly activity. We are diverted by constant awareness to more constructive activities suggested by Paul's illustration of day people. In this way, we stay prepared for the Lord's coming. And, even though we do not know the year or the day, i. e. the times or the seasons of Jesus' return (v. 1), we do expect his return and we won't be surprised at his coming.
I believe that God built into the natural order of things much that is suggestive of his spiritual order of things. For example, in these very verses, Paul suggested child birth (v. 3), something that every adult is made aware of by the natural order of things. We cannot calculate the exact timing of childbirth, but that timing is generally out of our control. Pregnancy is limited to certain stages of one's life and, even then, to certain cyclic activity. A day in our life is suggestive of a lifetime of activity followed by a rest that comes naturally at the end of a day as restful sleep in the natural order of things. Winter, summer, and the seasons of the year, when we study them in relation to the stages of our lives (infancy, youth, adolescence, marriage, parents, middle age, and old age), teaches us much about preparedness. The grass and the flowers come in the spring time and the trees lose their leaves in the fall. The squirrel and other animals get prepared for winter. Most animals have natural breeding seasons. We have to make certain preparations for these seasons. Whether we store our food reserves as individuals or as a society with such things built into our economic system, preparedness is required. Day and night, winter and summer occur over and over in our life. Surely, this would suggest that the same God who created both the natural order and the spiritual order, built into the natural order certain educational devices to help us understand his spiritual system, although we learn them in two different ways. And, again, it amazes me how the superstitions and old-wives-tales pervert these things. I recall talking to one lady who said that in the latter days (by that she meant, as we approach the second coming of Jesus), the seasons will wain and run together, so that one cannot recognize or separate winter from summer. She said the bible teaches that! You see, that's bologna! All of this folklore, old-wives-tales, and invented superstition is pawned off in ignorance; and, it's not uncommon for some to assert the Bible teaches such things as a means of selling their concocted wares. Just as some have tried to use the Bible to calculate the Lord's second coming, when the Bible specifically says that no man can determine that (as we have already talked about in this lesson). Genesis 8:22, at the time that Noah got off the ark and built an altar to the Lord, when God gave a new covenant for the generation, God said, "While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." You see, the lady I told you about undoubtedly had never read that scripture. If she HAD read it, she didn't believe it; because, she couldn't believe that and her season shrinking superstition, too, for the two are inconsistent.
Now, look at vs. 9 - 10 - 11 in our text. Verse 8 says, "But..." "But let us...be sober," i. e. pay attention. WHY? Well, I'll tell you why! Look at v. 9, "FOR." That word "for" means, very simply, here is the cause or here is the reason why. All right, why? "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ..." You see, God is not out to trap us. God set up the system so we can be aware and be prepared.. Now, look at v. 10! Jesus died for us. Why? For this reason, "that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." That means, that whether we are living when Christ returns or whether we have been resting in the grave for many years, it makes no difference. Either way, we shall live with Jesus at the last trump as discussed back in 4:16, you see. Then in v. 11, the apostle closed this section the same way he. closed the last section, i. e. back in 4:18. Paul discussed this timing bit at the beginning of chapter 5 for the very same reason Paul discussed Christ's second coming at the end of chapter 4. "Wherefore," i.e. for the reason just given, "comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do." Paul admits that they were doing that; but, the reason Paul said these things, was as a warning—just in case. And that is why we should read these things, too. One, use this as comfort. Comfort yourselves, if you are prepared. Two, edify one another. That means to educate yourselves. Learn the scriptures and know what they teach. Don't sleep spiritually and don't be sucked in by all the old-wives-tales. Have a good day!