1Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.
2For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
The writers now transitions to speaking of the day of the Lord, the time of Christ’s return for ultimate wrath and judgment on the earth. All will see Him at this point as He comes on the clouds in great glory, and all on the earth will mourn (Matthew 24:30). This is directly the opposite of the previous description of the rapture where the believers rejoice, rather than grieve. Here, the unbelievers see their impending doom, and they grieve. They won’t be able to practice their sin any longer. Those who endured the tribulation period and who are saved will be swept up to heaven (Matthew 24:31), and God will begin to deal with the armies of the earth and the Jewish people whom He loves.
What is interesting is that the writes speak of the Thessalonians already being familiar with the idea of the day of the Lord. This isn’t surprising given that this was revealed repeatedly by the Old Testament prophets. They often spoke of the day of the Lord (e.g. Joel 2:31, Zephaniah 1:7, Malachi 4:5) describing it as a day of horror, darkness, judgment, and wrath. The Thessalonians knew such a time would come, but they were unsure about the details surrounding the resurrection of the dead. They knew that God’s eternal wrath was not for them (1 Thessalonians 1:10), but they may not have understood whether the day of the Lord would come upon them. Fortunately, as the writers explained, they can have great hope because Christ will come to take His own prior to the coming day of the Lord (Revelation 3:10, Luke 17:22-37). This differentiation between a time and epoch that they understood and another event which up to this point had been a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:51) is further evidence of two “comings” of Christ, one to rapture His saints (Matthew 24:27) and another for destruction of antichrist and the armies of the earth (Revelation 19:11-21).
The Thessalonians were aware of the day of the Lord, and it wouldn’t overtake them as a thief coming to stealthily seize possessions under the cover of darkness. Believers are not in darkness lest they would be taken by surprise by the day of the Lord (v. 4). We are ready for it because we have prepared our hearts by washing them in the blood of the Lamb.
3While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
4But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;
5for you are all sons of light and sons of day We are not of night nor of darkness;
The world will be drunken in its sin until the day that Christ comes at which point they will mourn, not in repentance but in anger that God is taking them from their pleasure. They will go about thinking all is fine and good and that they are safe when suddenly they will be destroyed. God will pour out His wrath (Matthew 24:15-22), and most of the earth will be destroyed. When Christ appears on the clouds to deal the final blow, this tribulation and death will be accentuated. Just as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman all of a sudden and then don’t stop but grow worse and worse, so too will the day of the Lord be. As sons of light, the Thessalonians and all true believers will not be taken by surprise by this day for we will be taken earlier to be with Christ. Those who are saved in the tribulation period will have to endure this time, but for their sake, it will be shortened (Mark 13:20) until finally they are taken to be with Christ (Matthew 24:31).
6so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
7For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.
8But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.
9For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.
Since we as believers are children of the day, we need to live as such. We are not like the world who will be blind-sided by the coming of Christ in judgment, for we will be raptured. Since we are of the day, we are to put on the breastplate of faith and love, being steadfast in our trust in Christ and in love for all people, especially those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). We are to put on as a helmet our hope of our salvation. We are not destined for wrath but for life in Christ. This is our great hope and that in which we can find comfort. Those who are of the night and who get drunk on their sin as a way of life will face the day of the Lord. We are of the day and, though we are capable of sinning and do stumble, we are not characterized by a lifestyle of practicing sin (1 John 3:9). We are not destined for wrath, for Christ bore God’s wrath that we had stored up deservingly on the cross. Christ is Who keeps us from the day of the Lord and the wrath of God. The rapture is our hope and destiny, not the day of the Lord. The wrath of God is not for believers, and since both the lake of fire and the day of the Lord are outpourings of God’s wrath, believers will be kept from them.
We have been saved through Him Who died for us. This is crucial because whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Yet it is not because of our good works but because of the grace of God. Whether we are sober and storing up many eternal rewards or whether we have made shipwreck of our faith (1 Timothy 1:19) and will make it into heaven though as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:15), we will live together with Him. Christ is our hope and our boast, though our call is to live for Him now. Indeed, rewards, honor, and eternal glory are at stake (2 Corinthians 5:10).
11Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
What great encouragement there is in knowing for certain that we will be with Christ when He comes to take us home (1 John 5:13). We don’t have to doubt, but we can rest in the fact that we will be alive together with Him and those brothers and sisters whom we love forever. We are to encourage one another to be mindful of our future hope lest we become doubtful or discouraged. The Thessalonians were encouraging one another and strengthening one another to remain steadfast in serving Christ, but now they had some additional understanding as to exactly how they could encourage one another in relation to life after death and the coming of the Lord.
12But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,
13and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
There are those whom God has called to lead His church and shepherd the sheep. The sheep are to appreciate, have proper regard for, and pay attention to their shepherds as they labor among them and teach them the Word of God. If the shepherd is not instructing the sheep properly in the Word of God, the sheep will suffer. If they sheep are not listening and applying what they are being taught, they will do wrong. Both the shepherd and the sheep have a responsibility before God to teach and be taught. In the latter days, the sheep will get those to teach them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). The shepherd who serves in a God-honoring way ought to be rightly esteemed and loved because of his service and work. There should be peace amongst the sheep and between the shepherd and the sheep, which is only possible as all submit to the authority of the Word of God above all else.
14We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
There will be those who need correction because they will be refusing to listen to sound teaching and choosing rather to indulge fleshly pleasures. These need to be exhorted to repent and change, getting back to love for others and a submission to God. To let sin and rebellion go unchallenged is to fail in Christian love. Those who are faint in heart, meaning that they are growing weak in commitment or in hope, need some gentle admonition and/or encouragement. These are not unruly and stubborn but just wearing down and growing weak. They don’t need a pointed correction but more of a spiritual arm around the shoulder. The weak are those who are either physically or spiritually feeble and infirm, and maybe both in some cases. Obviously those who have physical infirmities need to be looked after and supported, but those who are spiritually ill are in great danger. It is not that they are just being lazy and insolent, needing correction, or that they are growing tired, and need some encouragement. These have been so taken and corrupted by sin and the flesh that they need to be held back from doing more damage. They are at risk of doing themselves or others severe harm. The command to help means to hold back, hold firmly, and pay careful attention to. Those who have really slipped into dangerous sinful habits or deception need to be essentially held back from destroying themselves. This is how these need to be helped until they begin thinking right again.
It is no accident that these admonitions come after speaking of living at peace with one another and speaking of interactions between the shepherds and the sheep. It is of vital importance that the family of God bears patiently with one another, enduring these difficulties and struggles that come upon all the people of God. It is not that we just tolerate weakness and failure as if it is to be excused. We don’t accept spiritual infirmity as if it should be unchangeable. The truth is that we will encounter rebellion, fatigue, and spiritual sickness in the church, but the challenge from the writers of this epistle is that it is dealt with perseveringly. Church discipline is a tough, wearing process as is tough love and looking out for another brother or sister in need. But we are to persevere in these tasks. This is the admonition to be patient with all. It is not that we just settle for mediocrity but that we consistently and with endurance challenge it.
15See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.
Sometimes when these spiritual ailments and sins are present in the body, we can be tempted to deal somebody evil in return for their evil. This will not help anybody. We must confront the sin and not let ourselves be provoked to unrighteous anger and evil actions, thoughts, or words. There is a Biblical process of handling wrongs committed, and this must be allowed to take its course (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15). This is what will be best for the individual in sin. This is the goodness that we must seek and be willing to commit to doing.
17pray without ceasing;
18in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Here we are given three very basic commands that we as Christians generally do miserably at keeping. We are to always be joyful which is only possible because of the love and presence of Christ. Circumstances can be downright miserable, but our God is good and faithful. He is to be our joy always (Philippians 4:4). We are to pray without ceasing. This is a command to individuals to be constantly depending upon God and yielded to Him, offering prayers to Him as much as is possible. Our most effective time spent can be in prayer, though we are not always to be in a state of actual prayer. God has called us to do other things such as serve, teach, work, love our family, and so on. We can’t constantly be offering prayers; even Jesus didn’t pray constantly. But we can be constantly yielded to God in a spirit of humility longing for Him to be honored in our lives. The church as a whole, to which the writers are speaking, could potentially be offering prayers constantly, if there are enough people to pray around the clock with each taking various shifts. Whether they intended this meaning or not, I am not sure, but the message is that we pray as much as is possible as individuals and as a church, being always yielded to Him in surrender and humility. In all things we are to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving toward God, not complaining and griping but rather receiving all things as ordained by God for a purpose (see also Philippians 2:14). We are not to dispute with God over our circumstances or complain about Him being “unfair.” Rather, we are to praise Him and acknowledge Him in all things (Proverbs 3:5-6). God’s will is that we have joy always, that we yield to Him constantly, and that we maintain a spirit of gratefulness.
19Do not quench the Spirit;
20do not despise prophetic utterances.
21But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
22abstain from every form of evil.
Quenching the Spirit is stifling the power of God at work in and through us. Sin does this, and so does a mindset of self-sufficiency where we rely exclusively upon our minds to understand and our wills to make right choices. Even our minds will fail us and our wills will grow weak, but it is by the Spirit of God that we are strong (Zechariah 4:6). When the Spirit of God is filling His people (Ephesians 5:18) and they are walking after Him, they will not be fulfilling the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). They will have strength to pour into others, and God will inevitably use them to bear spiritual fruit by conforming their character (Galatians 5:22-23) and by providing good works for them beforehand to walk in at the appointed time (Ephesians 2:10). Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5), and it is this we must believe by faith so that God can work in and through us to accomplish true, lasting spiritual fruit. The power is not in us or in our God-given gifts and abilities. The strength is not in the person, the resources, or the gifting but in the Spirit Who energizes, empowers, and provides. We must be willing to yield in submission and surrender to His leading and guidance in our lives (John 16:13, Romans 8:14).
23Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
We will not be entirely sanctified until we receive new bodies at the coming of Christ, as was explained earlier in 4:14-17 (see also Romans 8:11). We have been regenerated in our spirits (Titus 3:5) and we have been given new hearts capable of purity (2 Timothy 2:22), but we still have flesh, we still have mortal bodies, and we still need our minds to be conformed to Christ. The clear teaching then is that until we meet Christ in the air and are glorified, we will be undergoing sanctification. There are thus no super-christians, for we are all works in progress. But the hope of the believer is that one day our bodies, spirits, and souls will be made perfect, and we will be glorified.
We don’t want to shrink away from Christ at His coming because of some unconfessed sin in our lives (1 John 2:28). We want to be pure before Him when He comes. As 2 Peter 3:14 says, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” Somehow, Christ will refine us by fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), and the writer’s prayer for the Thessalonians is that there would be very little, if any, refining yet to be done. Such a person could expect many eternal rewards. The desire of all believers should be to meet Jesus in the air without shame because of a clean heart before Him and a life lived faithfully to Him.
Now, as the writers had explained in 5:10, our hope of glorification is not founded fundamentally in our works as believers but ultimately in Christ Himself. His faithfulness is what will accomplish our sanctification. All believers will eventually be made blameless, complete, sanctified, and glorified. Some will take more rewards into heaven, but all of us will be made pure into the spotless bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-8, Ephesians 5:27). Christ will see to it that this is accomplished, for He is faithful even when we are not (2 Timothy 2:13).
25Brethren, pray for us.
26Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.
27I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.
28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
These apostles know that they need prayer just as any other believer needs prayer. They set a good example to be willing to ask for it. They desire that the Christians greet one another as had become their custom with a fraternal kiss as is commonplace in the Middle East. They desire that this letter be read to all of the church at Thessalonica so that all can hear the Word of God for themselves. They close this letter praying that God’s grace will be with them, sustaining them, keeping them, and caring for them, which it will. The issue and the implication of this prayer is that the Thessalonians will continue to respond in faith to the grace of God doing its sanctifying work in their lives.