Author: The Apostle Paul
Date of Writing: AD 51 (Paul's earliest epistle)
Target Audience: Jewish and Greek believers who gather as a “church” in Thessalonica.
Theme: Living in view of the coming of Christ
INTO THE WORD (STUDY):
- Do Paul's words about Christ's coming as "a thief in the night" (at an unknown time) calm you, or stir up fear?
- How do faith, love and hope sum up what it means to "belong to the day" (5:8, see also 1:3)?
Think Q.U.E.S.T.: Do you still have a lingering QUESTION? What is particularly UNEASY for you or catches your attention? Is there an EXHORTATION or command in this passage? What is the SETTING (historical/cultural/linguistic context)? Is there a TRUTH to grasp?
INTO MY LIFE (APPLICATION):
1. Of all the places you live (at home, work, school or church) where do you feel the need for more faith, more hope or more love?
2. How can you be better prepared for Christ's return?
3. How does this passage help you as you consider the future?
As a result of my conversational study in 1 Thessalonians 5, I choose to pursue the following transformative life action:
- To choose faith over fear
- To choose love over hate
- To choose hope over worry
HISTORICAL, CULTURAL AND BIBLICAL COMMENTARY
THE DAY OF THE LORD (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
In order to understand and properly interpret New Testament passages about the "day of the Lord," its critical that we know our Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the idea of the "day of the Lord" was rather common. In fact, their "story" had already had previous "days of the Lord" events, as we'll soon see. Furthermore, it's clear, from our text in 1 Thessalonians 5, that the Second Coming of Christ is considered a "day of the Lord" event for believers. It's also helpful to know that for the ancient Jew all time was divided into two ages: the present age (which was painful, difficult, evil and hopeless) and the "age to come" when the "golden age of God" would reign supreme. They believed what would end the "present age" and launch the "golden age" was a single event known as the "day of the Lord."
In the Old Testament, the Day of the Lord is a catastrophic event that brings a judgment by God. In fact, the Jews had already experienced a "day of the Lord" once already, when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon in 587 BC. Listen to Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 22):
A prophecy against the Valley of Vision (Jerusalem):
What troubles you now, that you have all gone up on the roofs, you town so full of commotion, you city of tumult and revelry?
Your slain were not killed by the sword, nor did they die in battle. All your leaders have fled together; they have been captured without using the bow. All you who were caught were taken prisoner together, having fled while the enemy was still far away.
Therefore I said, “Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people.”
The Lord, the Lord Almighty, has a day of tumult and trampling and terror in the Valley of Vision, a day of battering down walls and of crying out to the mountains. Elam takes up the quiver, with her charioteers and horses; Kir uncovers the shield. Your choicest valleys are full of chariots, and horsemen are posted at the city gates.
The Lord stripped away the defenses of Judah, and you looked in that day to the weapons in the Palace of the Forest.
You saw that the walls of the City of David were broken through in many places; you stored up water in the Lower Pool. You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall. You built a reservoir between the two walls
for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.
The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”
In fact, these "days of the Lord" sounded rather apocalyptic. Listen to Isaiah prophesy against Babylon and predict its fall (Isaiah 13:6-11):
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Because of this, all hands will go limp,
every heart will melt with fear. Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame.
See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger— to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkenedand the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
Or consider Zephaniah 1:14-16:
The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— a day of trumpet and battle cryagainst the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
Or Joel's prophecy against Israel and her holy city of Jerusalem (Joel 2):
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.
...They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows.
Before them the earth shakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. the Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?“
And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved...
Or Amos' ominous prophecy against the northern Kingdom of Israel: "Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light (Amos 5:18)"
Interestingly enough, two "day of the Lord" prophecies targeted toward Israel were fulfilled in the first century through the ministry of John the Baptist and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (AD 30).
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty...
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Jesus taught that John the Baptist was the "Elijah" that Malachi predicted (Matthew 11:10-15):
This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
In Peter's sermon in Acts 2 he references Joel's prophecy (Joel 2) and states it is happening in their historical day. God is "pouring out His Spirit on all people" and that proved true. On the day of Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon believing Jews (Acts 2:37-40) and later it was equally poured out upon the Gentile Cornelius:and his believing household (Acts 10:44-48). In Joel's prophecy he talks about "sun going dark" and the "moon turning to blood" before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Joel 2:31). Are these literal atmospheric events? Possibly. At the cross the sun literally darkened for three hours. Luke records in his gospel: It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Luke 23:44-45). He also said the great temple curtain was ripped wide open. Matthew records a resurrection of God's faithful at that time (Matthew 27:52)! But, as Joel predicted and Luke recorded in Acts 2, these events about the "day of the Lord" happened BEFORE the Day of Pentecost. On THAT day God judged Israel by a new standard. It was not physical birthright (as a Jew) that made you acceptable and gave them the Holy Spirit, but spiritual washing of rebirth (baptism). We see the same scene play out again in Acts 10. It's why Peter doesn't forbid them from being baptized (immersed in water).
Some Bible students believe another "day of the Lord" happened in AD 70 when Jerusalem was ransacked and the temple destroyed. They view the book of Revelation as a historical prophesy fulfilled through the "great tribulation" of the Jewish-Roman Wars (AD 66-70). Still others argue this "day of the Lord" is a period of time, from Pentecost to the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 30-70) when God judged and destroyed His Old Covenant relationship with physical Israel. A new "golden age" emerged after AD 70 as the Church was no longer considered a Jewish sect but a new world religion. By the fourth century, it would be the official religion of the mighty Roman Empire.
Most Christians believe there will be a final "day of the Lord" that will end this physical world. In 2 Peter 3:10-14, the apostle reminds his reader that scoffers will come in the "last days" and question this "day of the Lord" and "coming of Christ." He encourages them to remember that God's time is different than our time: to God a thousand years is like a day and a day like a thousand years (2 Peter 2:8) but stay alert because God's delay is merely because He wants more to repent.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
In general, we can conclude that the Scriptures teach multiple "days of the Lord." Some have already happened and at least one (the end of the world) remains yet to happen. Apocalyptic "day of the Lord" language was applied to Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, ancient Israel and other nations. The phrase is also connected to the Second Coming of Christ. We can also conclude that this "day" will be unexpected, destructive and transformative. We need to be ready for it.
One more thought: in many ways our own death is a "day of the Lord" moment. It's also an unexpected, destructive (to our physical body) and transformative (to our spiritual self) event. It's the "day" we meet Jesus fully face to face. It's a day that "comes soon" for every man and woman and a "day" that signals an "end" to a previous "age" in order to issue in our "new glorious age" with God.
FINAL ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE CHURCH (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22)
Paul finishes 1 Thessalonians with a string of powerful proverbs that sound like great tweets:
Affirm those who work hard around you. Live in peace with each other.
Warn the idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.
Don't quench the Spirit or treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything...hold on to what's good...reject what is evil.
In verses 16-18 we see the three marks of a GREAT church (and a "life group"): it is a HAPPY community (full of joy), it is a PRAYING community and it is a GRATEFUL community. We are drawn to social situations that are happy (pleasing and pleasurable), but the Church (and our life group) is more than just a place to entertain us. It's a place that is baptized in a CONNECTION to God (through prayer). In fact without communal prayer (groups praying together) a church or life group is no different than a social party (or fellowship). Too many churches today no longer have a prayer and too many Christians today no longer pray (except privately before a meal or when they're in trouble). Jesus taught his disciples to pray and the early Church was a PRAYING community, first and foremost. When we are joyful and praying, it's therefore easy to be grateful. We should be continuously thankful for what God is doing in our lives.
The first letter to the Thessalonians church ends with a prayer that "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" be with this church. They were even encouraged to greet each other with a "holy kiss" (5:26). This was a Jewish custom that likely continued even as more Greeks and Romans entered the fellowship. A kiss was a sign of affection. In fact, the root word for "worship" in the Greek means to "kiss." When we worship God in song, prayer or gratitude, we are giving Him a "holy kiss" too!
Discipleship. Fellowship. Prayer. WORSHIP.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...
"A biblical community for the spiritually curious."
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.