In this sermon, we will move from chapter 4 into chapter 5 of Paul’s first letter to the young, Thessalonian church. When reading the letter without the chapter and verse designations (as it was originally written), it seems very natural to connect the main thought of chapter 4 with a continual flow into chapter 5. Classically and historically, this section from 4:13 – 5:11 has been widely interpreted as addressing the same event: Jesus’ return or as Paul says here, “The day of the Lord.”
While the end of chapter 4 was focused on answering the question of “what happens to dead believers” (with great emphasis on our future hope), chapter 5 focuses on addressing the timeless question of “when” and “how”. When is Jesus going to return and how should we live in light of that? The date of Christ’s return has fascinated many believers throughout the ages (going right back to the disciples!). But as Jesus said in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
So if the Thessalonian Christians were not supposed to speculate about the “when”, then what should be the “how” focus (by extension) for all Christians who live between his ascension and his return? Should we be like the Millerites (look up Millerism, yikes), Harold Camping or the early Adventist sects who saw the return of Jesus in every current event and misapplied text? (Have you heard of Jack Van Impe or Sid Roth?) Or should we be asleep at the wheel and live without urgency for his return? Obviously, those are two sides of the horse in which many have fallen! (be careful, there is a ditch on both sides) Our challenge will be to stay sober, vigilant and engaged in the kingdom battle.
After Paul uses two illustrations for how Jesus will be welcomed by unbelievers (thief, labor pains), he contrasts the believers’ anticipation for Jesus’ return in verses 4-10. Paul calls the church to be sober and filled with faith, hope and love. Don’t be overly excited and don’t be asleep! Be calm, steady and do your duty! As believers, we can anticipate the day of the Lord and prepare for it by living lives of purity, faithfulness and obedience. We are called to be “day people” who live appropriately in light of “that day”!
- What does it mean for something to happen like a “thief in the night”? Like “labor pains”?
- How is it that unbelievers will be unprepared, but believers will be prepared?
- The phrase “the day of the Lord” was often repeated by the OT prophets with “reference to various days of judgment by God upon the disobedient that resulted in the salvation of the righteous” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2310). For reference, see Isaiah 13:6- 16, 27:2-13, Jeremiah 30:8-9, Joel 1:13-15, 2:1-11, 2:31-32, Obadiah 15-21, Malachi 4:5. How do these verses serve as “types and shadows” of the ultimate “day of the Lord”?
- What application does Paul give in 5:6 that Peter also echoes in 2 Peter 3:10-13?
- According to 5:9, why can we have confident expectation (hope) for the future? What does it mean to be destined for something? (Compare to 1:4, 2:12 and 4:7; John 10:27-29)
- How are those asleep in 5:10 different from those asleep in 5:6? (Read 4:13-16 for refresh)
- What key points of application can we learn from the teaching of Jesus’ coming in 5:1-11?