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1 Thessalonians. 5:1-11

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 314 - January 1882

 

Chapter 5:1-11.

From the special side of the Lord's coming which consummates His grace to those waiting for Him by their translation to His presence in the air, the apostle's now turns to the more general fact of " the day" when He deals with the world according to the concurrent testimony of the Old Testament and of the New. The gathering of the saints to Himself; asleep or alive changed into the image of His glory, is a new revelation, and is introduced here as such. Not so the appearing or day of the Lord, which had formed the burden of many prophecies, and, I think we may say, of all the prophets since time began. For it is an epoch and indeed period second to none in manifest importance, affecting every creature in heaven and earth, and displaying the immense change which God will then bring to pass in honour of His Son according to His word from the beginning.

"But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need to be written to. For yourselves know thoroughly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief at night. When they are saying peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh on them as the pain on her that is with child; and they shall in no 'vise escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief; for ye all are sons of light and sons of day: we are not of light nor of darkness. So, then, let us not sleep as [do] the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep by night, and they that are drunk drink by night; but we being of day, let us be sober, putting on a breastplate of faith and love, and hope of salvation as helmet. Because God did not appoint us unto wrath, hut unto obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another, and edify each other, even as also ye do." (Ver. 1-11.)

It will be remarked that there is no mention, no mixing up, of " the times and the seasons " with the presence of the Lord to gather His own to Himself on high. This, our hope, is wholly apart from the defined periods of which prophecy treats. Here where " the day of the Lord" is in question, they are expressly brought forward; for that day is the most momentous event embraced within this scope. It is not improbable from 2 Thess. ii. 5 that the apostle had already taught them of it orally, as he certainly did of antecedent circumstances. But it is not necessary to assume that he had taught them as much could be known, nor even that he had ever by word of mouth gone into detail on the day of the Lord. There was really no need for this, because the Old Testament treats of no theme more largely and minutely. It was already, therefore, a matter of common and familiar knowledge among the saints. Yet the accuracy of their knowledge is here simply said of the sure and sudden end unwelcome coming of the day of the Lord. There was no need of writing anything now, for they knew perfectly that Jehovah's day so comes as a thief at night. The apostle may not have gone into particulars; but this great and solemn truth was part of their inward conscious assurance. (Ver. 1, 2.) They knew perfectly, not as some strangely say that the time of it is uncertain, but that its coming is certain, and no less terrible than unlooked for.

With this is contrasted the fatal self-deceiving security of men around them, of the world. " When they ere saying peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh on them, as the pain on her that is with child; and they shall in no wise escape" (ver. 8). In 2 Peter iii. it is rather such scoffing unbelief as is found among philosophers, who point to the substantial stability of all things visible in the midst of superficial change and develop. went. Here it is rather inward quiet and outward exemption from danger, through confidence in the social and political state of mankind; yet not without uneasy qualms which betray the real unrest and underlying dread of those that know not God and His Christ. A; it was with men when the flood came and swept these all away who despised God's warning by Noah; as it was when, after feebler and briefer warning still in the days of Lot, condign judgment fell on the polluted cities of the plain; so shall it be in the day when the Sun of man is revealed. Sudden destruction, indeed, impends on those who trust themselves and their own thought,, rejecting the testimony of God. This is the judgment of the quick; and, it will be noticed, no trace accompanies it of a judgment of the dead, nor yet of a burning up of the earth, however surely both are to follow in their own due season. It is the end of the age, but not of the world materially . As a snare shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of all the earth. And they shall in no wise escape, any more than the woman with child when her hour is come and the birth-pang is on her. It is unspiritual ignorance, not to say folly, to apply this to the destruction of Jerusalem or to death, as some have done and do. It is the day of the Lord yet to fall on the world.

The apostle, however, immediately and carefully declares how different is the lot of the faithful. "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief; for ye all are sons of light and sons of day: we are not of light nor of darkness " (ver. 4, 5). He is not afraid that it would endanger the young believers in Thessalonica, or any others, to know how grace had distinguished them from the rest of mankind; his very aim here, as elsewhere, is to impress this distinction on them ineffaceably. He says, first, that they were not in darkness, that the day should surprise them as a thief; secondly, that they all were eons of light and sons of day. Not only were they unlike the world as in darkness and the objects of the Lord's judgment, but positive sharers of divine nature and blessedness. Indeed, such is the peculiar being of God's children generally, as he adds, "we are not of light nor of darkness." We are of God, who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all.

But privilege known and enjoyed by the believer is the very hinge and incentive of responsibility; and so the apostle proceeds to exhort—" So then let us not sleep as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober " (ver. 6). If children of God, it is a deep spring of joy in Christ and of thanksgiving to our Father; but how instant and inalienable the call to walk according to the relationship! So here, if sons of light and of day, sleep—indifference to the will of the Lord—becomes us not, but watchfulness and sobriety, as those who derive their life from Him who is the one true light, and will bring in the day, as free from excitement as from careless ease. The righteous shall then shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Then follows a brief but vivid picture of the slumbering world and of the wakeful Christian: "For those that sleep sleep by night, and those that are drank drink by night; but we, as being of day, let us be sober, putting on a breastplate of faith and love, and as helmet hope of salvation" (ver. 7, 8). Sleep suits the night, and so does excess: men naturally do in the dark what they would not like to do in the light. It is the common and undeniable practice of men which is thus brought before the mind. To what is the Christian exhorted? It is not exactly, as in the Authorised Version after the Vulgate, &e., " Let us who are of the day," which would require the article, but let us as being of day be sober, having put on a breastplate of faith and love, and hope of salvation as helmet.1 Thus the believer is called to be in arms as well as watchful and sober. But the arms here, as but young Christians were immediately addressed, are not offensive, but defensive only: the three characteristics of their life here below, faith, love, and hope. We have seen how they are used in chap. i. of this epistle; here they re-appear in the last. Indeed they cannot be absent if we would speak of the motive principles of Christ, whether in truth or in practice; and hence they are more or less prominent in all the apostolic writings.

It must be understood that " salvation " here is used in the final or complete sense when the body will share the application of that gracious power which has already dealt with the soul. The believer has already life everlasting and redemption in the Son of God, and thus receives the end of his faith, soul-salvation; he is therefore looking for the salvation of his body (Phil. iii. 21) at Christ's coming as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory, according to the working of the power which He has even to subdue all things to Himself. " Because God did not appoint us unto wrath, but unto obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live

together with Him." These are plain words which trace up to God the sovereign grace which distinguishes the saints from the world from first to last, and makes Christ and His death the turning-point of all blessing for those who look to Him, as His wrath abides on such as are not subject to His Son. As lawyers, however, are apt to find in the law more difficulties and stumbling-blocks and evasions than any other class, so do theologians in the written word, to the dishonour of God and the injury of all who confide in them. Could any minds save those perverted by systematic divinity have ever allowed so low a thought as that physical waking or sleeping was here meant? Yet Dr. Whitby did thus think; and even Calvin2 says that we might not unsuitably interpret it as meaning ordinary sleep, and that it is doubtful what is now intended by sleeping and waking, for it might seem as if he meant life and death, and this meaning would be more complete. Assuredly this pious and learned man here gives a very uncertain sound with the trumpet. It were better to utter no opinion at all than to leave the realer under such a confusion of sounds. But even this is not the lowest depth, for there have not been wanting men who wish the apostle to teach that the words beat the same ethical force in Var. 10 as in 6, 7, the necessary inference from which would be that, whether we be spiritually watchful or slothful, we shall alike enjoy the portion of everlasting blessedness altogether with Christ. Does not this sound uncommonly like moral indifferentism?

Dean Alford, to take a recent case, seems in no small strait as to all this in his remarks on the passage (iii. 278, 279, ed. iv.): "In what sense? surely not in an ethical sense, as above: for they who sleep will be overtaken by Him as a thief, and His day will be to them darkness, not light. If not in an ethical sense, it must be in that of living or dying, and the sense as Rom. xiv. 8. [For we cannot adopt the trifling sense given by Whitby, al.,—' whether He come in the night, and so find us taking our natural rest, or in the day when we are waking.'] Thus understood, however, it will be at the expense of perspicacity, seeing that γρηγορεῖν and καθεύδειν have been used ethically throughout this passage. If we wish to preserve the uniformity of the metaphor, we may [though I am not satisfied with this] interpret in this sense: that our Lord died for us, that whether we watch [are of the number of the watchful, i.e.. already Christians or sleep [are of the number of the sleeping, i.e. unconverted] we should live, &c. Thus it would = 'who died that all men might be saved: ' who came, not to call the righteous only, but sinners to life. There is to this interpretation the great objection that it confounds with the λοιποί, the ἡμᾶς who are definitely spoken of as set by God not to wrath but to περιποίησιν σωτηρίας.. So that the sense live or die must, I think, be accepted, and the want of perspicuity with it."

Of course Alford is right in accepting the sense of living or dying, but wrong and irreverent. in imputing want of perspicuity to Scripture. He saw Paul, not the Holy Ghost perfectly guiding and guarding him, in what is written. Apply the Dean's reasoning to a kindred mode of speech in Matt. viii. 21, 22. Was there want of perspicuity in the words of the Lord Jesus? or in 1 Cor. viii., does the unexpected but striking turn given to the word "edified" = "emboldened" in ver. 10 destroy perspicuity? It really gives force in every instance: it is only men's perception which is at fault, with the still worse fault of lack of faith in God's word. If they felt their own shortcoming but owned the perfection of Scripture, it would be the right attitude, and they would learn, instead of indulging an assumption which covers ignorance in themselves, injures others, and is a great disrespect to God. The verse is really the conclusion of the answer to the. Thessalonian difficulty as t^ the dead; and the Holy Spirit seems to have boldly used the words yp. and κ. ethically in 6 and 7, and metaphorically here, because He took for granted the mind of Christ in the saints, which could not misapprehend His different aims in the two cases. Christ died for us, that whether alive or dead, we should live together with Him. It is living along with Him where He is and as $e is, glorified on high. And as the Apostle called on the saints in iv. 18 to comfort or encourage one another with these words, he repeats it here in Var. 11, with the added call to edify one the other; for the solemn judgment to fall on the world in the day of the Lord should the more build up believers consoled and rejoicing in their own proper hope at His coming.

 

 

1) It may be worth while here to remark that the reason for the anarthrous structure of the phraseology is not what Bishop Ellicott assigns, following Winer's, Greek New Testament Grammar, namely, that as well-known terms they dispense with the article. Now there may be cases where with a connected word the phrase is virtually a proper name, which is sufficiently designative to do without the article unless special reasons require it; but as a general rule the facts do not bear out the conclusion, and the familiar words in question fall under the ordinary principle that, when they are intended to present an object before the mind, the article must be used; whereas it is dropped in order to characterise or predicate simply. The usage is not arbitrary nor careless, but correct in the New Testament and all exact writings. Sometimes the article might or might not be inserted, and both be true; but the force is never precisely the same.

2) "Dubium tamen eat quid nunc per somnium et vigilias intelligat: videri enim posset vitam et mortem designare, et hic sensus esset plenior, quanquam de quotidiano somno noii inepte etiam exponere liceat." (Comm. in locoe, Opera, vii. 418.)