1 Thessalonians 5:1–11
Jesus Christ is returning to earth, and when He does nothing will ever be the same. The first time He came in humility, the next in glory. The first time He came as a suffering servant, the next time as victorious Lord of heaven and earth. The first time few people saw Him, the next time “every eye shall see, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.” The first time He came as Savior, the next time as Righteous Judge.
Scripture is consistent on the centrality of the return of Christ. As Paul said earlier, “If we believe that Christ died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who are asleep in Jesus” (4:14). This is not a possibility or a probability — it is the gospel truth. Everything — literally everything — is dependent on the return of Christ.
Warning Issued (1–3)
Echoing Jesus’ warning from Matthew 24:42-51, Paul promises our Lord’s return will be like “a thief in the night,” for which God’s people are to stay awake. Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Some details we must leave with the Lord, and the timing of His return is chief among them.
Humanity being the way it is — inquisitive, relentless, presumptuous — mankind keeps trying to find a loophole in Jesus’ words. The faithful, however, take Him at His word and find comfort there. Here Paul is saying, “It should be enough for you to know Jesus is returning and that the event will come suddenly and unexpectedly, which means we should live in readiness.”
Alertness Required (4–8)
We are not people “of night or darkness.” (“Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil,” Jesus said in John 3:19).
Being “of the day,” the faithful are to be clear-minded and ready for whatever the Lord sends our way. I’m remembering a New Orleans woman’s comment about her elderly mother who had recently died. “On arising each morning, mother got dressed as though she were to meet the queen. ‘You never know what opportunities will open up,’ she’d say, ‘and I want to be ready!’”
That’s the idea for God’s people. We live in readiness.
Interestingly, Paul makes only a passing reference to the believer’s armor, a subject he would later develop more fully and record in Ephesians 6.
Future Defined (9–11)
God alone knows the details of our future, but for the redeemed, it’s all good: not wrath but salvation; not condemnation, but eternal life. In Jeremiah 29:11, God told exiled Israel, “I know the plans I have for you… plans for your welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
So whether we “are awake or asleep,” Paul says for believers the future is all good. “We will live together with Him,” and nothing could be better than that.
Far from frightening us, this assurance of our destiny with Christ fills us with joy and comfort. The news should encourage and strengthen us and bolster any who waver.
Earlier, in 4:18, Paul says we should “comfort one another with these words” of the return of Christ. And here he says we ourselves should encourage and build up one another.
One Anothering is a wonderful book by Dan Crawford and Al Meredith. These retired seminary professors/pastors identify 31 instructions in the New Testament where believers are told to minister to “one another” (loving, instructing, rebuking, encouraging, etc.), with a chapter on each. I recommend it strongly.
By Joe McKeever
Pastor, writer and cartoonist from Ridgeland, Mississippi.