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VI. The Authentic Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11)

4:13 Paul knows how dangerous ignorance can be; therefore, he doesn’t want the Thessalonians to be uninformed. An ignorant Christian can become a hopeless Christian. And as sure as wrong doctrine leads to wrong beliefs, wrong beliefs lead to wrong living. To know the truth is to be set free from the hopelessness of ignorance. As Jesus said, the truth shall set us free (see John 8:32).

5:1 Paul knows the Thessalonians want to hear about the times and the seasons—that is, they want a timeline for Jesus’s return. But the illustrations Paul uses here remind us that we will not get one. After all, if we’re busily looking at dates on the calendar we’ll fail to look for the Lord. Jesus’s second coming is imminent—that is, we should expect him to return at any time. It could be tomorrow or it could be in a hundred years. One thing is certain: It will be a surprise for people who do not expect it.

5:2 The day of the Lord is the future time of judgment and blessing after the rapture through the conclusion of the millennial kingdom (see Isa 13:9-11; Joel 2:28-32; Zeph 1:14-18; 3:14-15). Paul says Jesus will return like a thief in the night (5:2). A thief does not send a note in advance. He doesn’t say, “Tomorrow night, around 11:00 pm, I plan to break your back door with a sledgehammer and take your television.” So, if you are not prepared for a thief to arrive at any hour, you are not prepared at all.

5:3 The other analogy Paul uses here is labor pains (5:3). Doctors can tell mothers when they think a particular baby will arrive, but mothers know that the baby will ultimately choose the time of his arrival. And when baby decides to come, Mom isn’t going anywhere. In one moment, everything changes for her. The day of the Lord is that time after the rapture when God directly intervenes in world affairs for judgment during the tribulation and for blessings in Messiah’s millennial reign.

5:4-5 Jesus’s return will be a surprise for nonbelievers, but it should not be a surprise for Christians. You are not in the dark, for this day to surprise you (5:4). If you are a Christian, you should not be staggering through life like everyone else. You do not belong to the night because you are all children of light and children of the day (5:5). Therefore, you ought to be living with grateful assurance, knowing you are headed to glory and not to the wrath of the tribulation (5:9). Your knowledge of the future should grant you confidence in the present.

5:6-10 We must stay awake and be self-controlled (5:6), rather than sleep and get drunk (5:7)—which is a reference to spiritual soberness and spiritual drunkenness. To do this, we need three things: faith, hope, and love. We must put these on: the armor of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation (5:8). Without these, we have no protection in this world. With them, however, we can be confident in our deliverance since God has not destined us for wrath (5:9).

5:11 Here is that command again: encourage one another. And this time Paul adds, build each other up. These theological truths are not for personal education alone but for our corporate edification. We stand or we fall—together.

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