The Day of the Lord Will Not Overtake You as a Thief
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Two weeks ago, we dove into the topic of the Day of the Lord and then quickly climbed back out again. That lesson reminded me of jumping into a freezing cold pool. We got fully submersed, there was lots of information, it was really exciting, and then our time was up. Now, as a teacher, I am curious to find out how much of that information you retained. So someone tell me, what did you take away from our last lesson about the Day of the LORD?
- Promised in the OT/reaffirmed in the NT
- Often refers to an OT judgment which typifies ultimate end times fulfillment
- Includes at least part of the Tribulation (also clearly includes the Second Coming and the judgment following the Millennium; whether or not the Rapture and Millennium are included and how much of the Tribulation is involved is debated among Dispensationalists)
- A time when God’s wrath is poured out both on Israel and on the nations
- As in OT times, there will be false teachers who convince people that everything is okay.
- Day of darkness in more ways than one (literal, physical darkness because of cosmic disturbances, but also metaphorical judgment and gloom)
- Compared to labor pains
- Immanent (hanging over the heads of the ungodly; there is no time to put off repentance)
Good! Now let’s also review these Rapture positions. The Posttribulation Rapture Position (otherwise known as “Historic Premillennialism”) says that the Second Coming is a one-stage event that occurs at the end of the Tribulation. The other three views teach that the Second Coming is a two-stage event, with the Glorious Second Coming taking place at the end of the Tribulation and the Rapture of the Church occurring sometime before that. The Midtrib and Prewrath rapture positions teach that the Rapture takes place in the middle of the Tribulation, before God’s wrath is poured out; and the Pretrib Rapture Position teaches that the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation begins.
Now remember, one of the distinctions between these views is the duration of God’s wrath prior to the Second Coming. Most (but not all) Pretribulationists believe that the entire Tribulation period is a time of God’s wrath. Midtribulationists would restrict God’s wrath to the second half of the Tribulation. Prewrath advocates would restrict it even further to the last part of the second half of the Tribulation. And as I was discovering last week in my study (contrary to this chart), some Posttribulationists basically restrict God’s wrath to the Second Coming itself. Other Posttribulationists may agree that at least part of the Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath, but they would teach that believers may be kept from God’s wrath without being raptured. What we want to discuss over the next few weeks is what does the Bible say? How does God say that He will keep us from His wrath?
So we’re going to continue the conversation today about the Day of the Lord and the Rapture, but instead of looking primarily at Old Testament passages like we did last time we were together, this week, we are going to zero in on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. We’ll cover mainly vv. 1-4, but I’d also like to give you an overview of the passage (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
The Day of the Lord is a time of God’s wrath! It will be so terrible that even exalted leaders will run for their hills and hide in the caves! They will cry out in fear and pray for death rather than facing the wrath of the Lamb–but they will not escape! When the Day of the Lord comes, there will be tremendous earthquakes. The sun, moon, and starts will be darkened. Horrible warfare will ensue. So many people will be slaughtered that God says He will make a mortal rarer than fine gold. “Everyone who is found will be thrust through, and everyone who is captured will fall by the sword. Their children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.” It’s a terrible, awful picture!
The Thessalonians knew about these prophecies, and they took them very seriously. They seem to have been concerned that God’s wrath would fall upon them! But in this passage, Paul assures the Thessalonians that as born-again believers, they were not appointed to wrath, but to receive salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Day of the Lord is for them, not for you! Take comfort, little children!
But Paul also writes to tell the Thessalonians how they should be living in the meantime, in light of the coming Day of the Lord. He wants them to be watchful and sober, and to put on the armor of faith, hope and love. And so if you were going to break this passage down into three points, you could do it as follows. Point #1: “The Day of the Lord Will not Overtake You as a Thief” (vv. 1-4). Point #2: “Let Us not Sleep, but Let Us Watch and Be Sober” (vv. 5-8). Point #3: “God Did not Appoint Us to Wrath but to Obtain Salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 9-11). It’s like a sandwich: comfort, admonition, comfort.
This week, we are going to focus primarily on point #1: “The Day of the Lord Will Not Overtake You as a Thief.” But I’d also like to introduce you briefly to the other two points of the passage.
- The Day of the Lord Will Not Overtake You as a Thief (vv. 1-2).
It is quite possible in this passage that Paul is responding to a concern raised by the Thessalonians. And that concern had to do with “times and seasons.” Can you remember another passage in which that phrase is used? Turn with me to Acts 1:6-8 (Acts 1:6-8). The setting of these passage is that Jesus had been raised and had just spent the past forty days teaching His disciples about things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Now His disciples ask Him a question about timing. They say, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (By the way, this is a great argument for a literal Millennial Kingdom. It would be very surprising if, after forty days of teaching on this matter, the disciples were still confused on such a major point of doctrine!) That said, listen to how Jesus responds in v. 7 (v. 7). So how does Jesus answer the disciples’ timing question? He says, “None of your business!” And instead, He redirects their attention to what they need to be doing in the meantime!
There is a good application here for us. What question do we often focus on when discussing eschatology? “When”!? When will these things occur? Will it happen in my lifetime? It’s amazing that so many Christians throughout church history have attempted to predict the return of Christ! Did you know that this phenomenon is not limited to Jack Van Impe? I want to show you a Wikipedia page entitled “Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ.” (Now, I didn’t take the time to verify this entire page, but from what I can tell, it is accurate!) We as Christians want really badly to know when these things will occur! But God warns us in His Word that we cannot predict these events! We may see indications that the time is drawing near, but we can never be totally certain when the Day of the Lord will take place!
And that’s exactly what Paul tells the Thessalonians in 5:1-2. He says, “But concerning the times and seasons….” The times and seasons of what? Of the Rapture! Of the Day of the Lord! They all go together! “…You have no need that I should write to you.” Why don’t they need to hear from Paul about this issue of the times and seasons? “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” They don’t need Paul to write to them about the times and the seasons (in other words, the timing of this event) because they already know perfectly well that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly! We saw in our study of 4:13-18 that Paul wanted the Thessalonians to be informed about the timing of the resurrection of the dead relative to the rapture of the living, but when it comes to days, months, and years, he says, “I can’t help you!”
As we saw last week and reviewed earlier today, one of the primary features of the Day of the LORD according to the Old Testament is that it is immanent. A thief doesn’t set up an appointment. You get courtesy reminders from your dentist, not from thieves!
The phrase “thief in the night” is used by Jesus in the gospels and by John in the book of Revelation to refer to the Second Coming. It also refers to the judgment following the Millennium in 2 Peter 3:10-13. But no matter what it’s referring to, the point of the metaphor is that something will take place unexpectedly, without warning, that its timing will not be announced.
One of the problems with getting caught up with the “signs of the times” and date setting is that is a distraction. Can I say that again? Preoccupation with the signs of the times and the attempt to predict the date Christ’s return is a distraction! Jesus knew this back in Acts 1. That’s why He told His disciples, “That’s not for you to know; you stay focused on the Great Commission.” And next week, we are going to see that Paul tells the Thessalonians to stay focused on Christian virtues! As Christians, it can be very tempting to find some hobby horse, some point of theology to beat like a dead horse and to treat like that’s all that matters. Why? Because then we don’t have to focus so much on holiness! Sanctification isn’t easy! It’s hard to be humble and selfless, to work hard, to strengthen your marriage, to disciple your children, to break bad habits, to forgive those who’ve sinned against you, and the list could go on and on! It’s much easier to focus on the finer points of theology or even things that aren’t even in the Bible–like setting a date for Christ’s return! Brothers and sisters, don’t be hobby horse Christians! Not with this topic, not with any topic!
So we see that the Day of the Lord is coming like a thief. But next, Paul sets up a contrast that is very important (vv. 3-4).
We’ve already discussed the significance of some of these phrases last week. The phrase “peace and safety” points back to the false prophets in Israel who convinced God’s people that despite their sin, despite the judgment pronounced by the true prophets, and despite all indications to the contrary, everything was going to be fine! The people would be safe! There was nothing to worry about! God was happy with them! There was no reason to change their ways, no cause to repent! But of course, those prophets were liars! God didn’t send them! And when He finally came to judge the nation, those prophets were humiliated.
The same thing is going to happen in the end times. Prior to the Day of the Lord, unbelievers will have a false sense of security. Jesus compares it to the days of Noah prior to the flood. Nobody batted an eye until it started to rain. But once the rain started, there was no stopping it. False prophets are going to convince everyone that everything is under control. But then, suddenly, destruction will come upon them!
Paul uses the figure of labor pains to talk about this destruction. Again, we talked about this last time, but the idea is that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly. Now, a pregnant woman definitely has some signs that labor is coming (e.g. her belly growing bigger)! But we have to remember that in a day before doctors and due dates, labor would have tended to come upon women much more surprisingly than it does today! Also, like I pointed out last time, labor is a process, climaxing in active labor. In that way, it is similar to the Tribulation, which is a process of God’s wrath being poured out, climaxing in the Second Coming. But as was the case with the flood, once that process has begun, it is usually irreversible. Once the Day of the Lord starts, there is no turning back.
Verse three ends with the ominous sentence, “And they shall not escape.” Unbelievers will not escape God’s wrath.
If we were to be honest and to take God seriously, apart from Christ, every single one of us should be shaking in our boots right now. The only reason many of you can listen to this description and not be personally fearful is because you know that your sins have been covered by the blood of Christ. But maybe you are fearful of these things because you can’t think of a good reason why you should be exempt from God’s wrath on the day when He strikes the whole earth. If so, that’s a good thing. That fear that you have in your heart right now is called “the fear of the LORD,” and the Bible says that it is the first step down the path to wisdom. If you want any chance of escaping God’s wrath, do not squelch that fear! Instead, let it drive you to ask the questions you need answered in order to know you’re right with God. Don’t assume that you’re right with Him! The Bible says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death.” Unless you have some special plea that is based on biblical truth, you will face the terrible wrath of God someday! “I’ve been a good person” is not good enough, nor is “I’ve been baptized,” or, “I attend church.” Your only hope for escaping God’s wrath is Jesus! 1 Thessalonians 5:10 says that Jesus died for us. There is a ton of theology packed into that little phrase, and you need to understand what it means. We’d love to help you with that. God’s Word has the answers. Please, don’t be too proud to ask! Your eternal destiny hangs on this issue! There are people in this room who love to explain to you those words from the Bible and to tell you how you can escape the wrath of God. Please talk to one of us today! I told you that this lesson was about comfort, but before you can experience the comfort, you must come face-to-face with the reality of your sin and God’s judgment.
The comfort for believers in this passage starts with the first two words of v. 4. What are they? (“But you…”) You see, Paul is setting up a contrast in vv. 3-4. Notice all of the pronouns in v. 3 (I’m taking you back to English class); what do they say? (“they,” “them,” “they”) Well that’s interesting! Do you think that’s purposeful? Let’s look at v. 4. What are the pronouns in v. 4? (“you”)
Paul is setting up an explicit contrast between the “they” who will receive God’s judgment and “you” who will not receive it! Can I say that again? Paul is setting up an explicit contrast between the “they” who will receive God’s judgment and “you” who will not receive it! Christian, God does not intend for you to dread the Day of the Lord! Why? Because He has clearly stated in His Word that you will not face His wrath!
The language in v. 4 is that this Day will not overtake you as a thief. Now, to be honest, that’s not as clear as we might like it to be. Does that mean that you will be delivered from the Day of the Lord or just that the Day of the Lord won’t surprise you? In reality, the answer is “yes.”
First, the Day of the Lord (the onset of which seems to be almost simultaneous with the Rapture in this passage) shouldn’t surprise you. Paul will go on to talk about the importance of watchfulness, but the implication from v. 2 is that the Day of the Lord is equally immanent for us just like it is for them! We don’t possess any special knowledge that tells us when this is going to happen. That’s why Paul starts off by saying, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have not need that I should write to you.” Why? “Because you yourselves already know that the Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” It’s immanent. You can’t predict it.
However, here’s the advantage that you have over the unbeliever when it comes to predicting the Day of the Lord: you are aware of its immanence. Does that make sense? You know that it’s coming, even if you can’t predict when. That’s opposed to unbelievers, who don’t even believe that the Day of the Lord is a “thing”! Depending on their religious background, they may never even have heard about it before! They may not even be familiar with the concept! And yet they are in active rebellion against God! When the Day of the Lord comes upon such people, it is going to take them completely by surprise! But you should not be surprised like that. Why? Because you are living as if the Day of the Lord could commence at any time. The Day of the Lord shouldn’t surprise you because you are always ready.
Are you living as if the Day of the Lord could commence at any time? Are you ready for the return of Christ? Or are you sleeping in a spiritual sense (as Paul warns about in the next few verses) or even getting drunk? Brothers and sisters, one of the greatest temptations you will face as a Christian is spiritual apathy. I read the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation last week in my devotions. Do you know what God says about apathetic Christians? He says that He wants to spew them out of His mouth! Don’t assume that just because you affirm the gospel and attend church regularly, that you are pleasing to God. Are you passionate about your Savior? Do live with a sense of urgency to reach the lost and make disciples? What do your spending habits say about your values? Christian, do not fall asleep on the job! Stay awake and be watchful in light of Christ’s return!
Why won’t the Day of the Lord surprise us like it will the unbeliever? What is it that makes us different from them? Paul is going to answer that question in the form of an extended metaphor. He’s going to build off Day of the Lord terminology and say that we are not in darkness, but in light. We are “day people,” as opposed to “night people.” And he’s going to use that metaphor in order to tell us what we ought to be doing in the meantime before the Day of the Lord takes place. That’s point #1, and that’s what we’ll focus on next week.
But before we wrap up, I want to consider the second half of the meaning of v. 4. Remember we asked the question, “Does this mean that believers will be delivered from the Day of the Lord or just that they won’t be surprised by it?” And I said that the answer was “yes”? We already looked at the first part of that answer, which is that believers should not be surprised by the Day of the Lord in the same way that unbelievers are surprised by it. But does Paul also intend to teach that we will be delivered from the Day of the Lord? We won’t have time to answer that question fully this morning, but really quick, I want you to look down to v. 8 (v. 8). What does Paul mean when he says, “the hope of salvation”? Aren’t we already saved? He is talking about the future portion of our salvation–glorification–which takes place at the Second Coming of Christ. Now notice very carefully where Paul goes next. He says in v. 9, “For God did not appoint us to wrath….” Now what kind of wrath is he talking about in this context? It’s Day of the Lord wrath! This is one of those massively important promises as it relates to Pretribulationism. How is God going to keep us from wrath (vv. 9-11)? We don’t have time to get into all of this this morning, but v. 10 is clearly a reference back to 4:13-18 and its discussion about dead Christians (those who are “asleep”) and living Christians (those who are “awake”). It’s also a reference to the discussion in that passage about the resurrection, because Paul says that we will “live together with Him.” So how does God preserve us from wrath? He sends His Son Jesus–the very One who died on the cross for our sins–to rapture us away. “Therefore,” Paul says, “Comfort one another and edify one another,” which is repetition of the same command that he gives in 4:18.
Now, in case you didn’t follow all of that, that’s okay. We’re going to come back to this passage next week, and it looks like we’ll be here for another week after that, as well. But before we go, I want to leave believers with one closing application. If this passage truly represents what you believe about the Day of the Lord, then what are doing to warn others about it?
One very convicting quote from that “American Gospel” movie was from Nabeel Qureshi. As a Muslim looking in on Christianity, he observed (and I’m paraphrasing), “I didn’t understand why Christians didn’t tell me about their faith (seeing that they believed in hell).” He concluded that one of two things must be true: “either they didn’t really believe what they say they believe, or, they don’t care at all about me.”
That’s a stinging assessment of our lack of witness! But you know, Nabeel was right. If we aren’t warning people about the coming judgment, one of those things is probably true. What does that say about you?