Saved from Wrath
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (1 Thess 5:1-11).
This is our last Sunday in this passage as well as in the topic of eschatology in the book of 1 Thessalonians. If we go on to 2 Thessalonians, we will get into more eschatology in chapters 1-2. But for now, it’s probably good that we are moving on from this topic, since Pastor Kit has started preaching an eschatology passage on Sunday mornings, as well. (Those of you who said, “You should talk more about eschatology!” You should be happy campers! J)
But before we move on, we don’t want to miss the riches of 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11.
We’ve covered 5:1-11 in four weeks. Part one was an introductory lesson on “the Day of the Lord.” Then, in our next lesson, we covered vv. 1-4, which is point #1 of this passage: “The Day of the Lord Will not Overtake You as a Thief.” Last week, we covered point #2, which is “Let Us not Sleep, but Let Us Watch and Be Sober.” This week, we will cover point #3, which is “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Once again, I am just going to just walk you through this passage.
First, we need to be reminded of the context from v. 8. Paul is urging the Thessalonians to avoid drunkenness (which is a metaphor that most likely refers to active sins or “sins of commission”) and he tells them to do so by putting on two pieces of Christian armor: the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of what? Not just “salvation,” but what? (“the hope of salvation”)
Now remember, “hope” is a very important word in the book of 1 Thessalonians! Can someone explain to me the difference between faith and hope?
Faith and hope are definitely inter-related, because Hebrews 11:2 says, “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for.” However, hope differs from faith in that hope is specifically future-oriented. You don’t technically hope in Christ’s death; you believe in it. You hope in His return.
One article I came across put it this way. It said, “The relationship between faith and hope can be illustrated in the joy a child feels when his father tells him they are going to an amusement park tomorrow. The child believes that he will go to the amusement park, based on his father’s word—that is faith. At the same time, that belief within the child kindles an irrepressible joy—that is hope. The child’s natural trust in his father’s promise is the faith; the child’s squeals of delight and jumping in place are the expressions of the hope. Faith and hope are complementary. Faith is grounded in the reality of the past; hope is looking to the reality of the future.”
Also, it’s important to note that biblical hope is not just wishful thinking. We often use the word in “hope” that way, don’t we? We say something like, “I sure hope the Dodgers win the World Series this year!” What do we mean by that? We mean that we want it to happen; not that we are absolutely sure that it will happen. Do you see the difference? Biblical hope, on the other hand, is a confident expectation that God will do what He promised.
So that being said, what is Paul talking about in v. 8 when he refers to “the hope of salvation”? Aren’t I already saved? Elsewhere, the Bible the refers to salvation as a present condition. So in what sense would I be looking forward to my salvation?
We have to remember that “salvation” can be broken down into three basic categories: justification, which is God’s declaring a sinner “not guilty” and which happens at the moment of “salvation” when I become born again; sanctification, which is the gradual process of growth in the Christian life; and glorification, which is when I receive my resurrection body at the Rapture. So there is a sense in which I can say, “I have been saved,” “I am being saved,” and, “I will be saved.” All of those statements are true. That is why Paul can say in Romans 13:11, “[F]or now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” He is talking there about the final aspect of salvation, which is glorification.
Of course, we have to remember that each of those aspects of salvation always go together. Everyone who is justified will be glorified! No one loses his salvation! That’s why Paul says in Romans 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
So, back to our text, what is “the helmet of the hope of salvation” in v. 8? It is the confident expectation of justified people that they will indeed be glorified. It is what might also be referred to as “assurance of salvation.”
Now, with that understanding in mind, I want you to look at v. 9 (v. 9).
According to this passage, there are two kinds of people: those who receive glory and those who receive wrath! What makes the difference between those two kinds of people? Is it that some are sinners, whereas others are righteous? No, Paul says in Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” He says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You and I are not Christians because we are better than other people. We are Christians because we have trusted in Christ. And we trusted in Christ because God chose us! “Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God,” Paul says in 1:4. Paul mentions the doctrine of election in this verse in order to comfort the Thessalonians! “God chose you,” he says!
The point is that because of these things, we have grounds for great assurance! Look at v. 9. Notice the sovereign hand of God in these matters (v. 9). Christian, how can you be sure that you are the kind of person who will be saved/glorified rather than the kind of person who will be judged? On what basis do you put on this helmet of the hope of salvation? Here is the answer: God has appointed me to it. Okay, but how do you know that? Turn back to chapter 1 (1:4). How do you know you’re elect (1:5-10)? You know that you are elect because of what God has done in your life! “You received the word of God. You believed the gospel message. You joyfully embraced a life of suffering! That’s not normal! You turned from idols to serve the living and true God. You are standing fast in the Lord,” Paul says in 3:7, “despite persecution! And you are expressing love toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia,” he says in 4:10. “Clearly, God has justified you. Clearly, He is sanctifying you. And that means that most assuredly, He will glorify you.” You are safe in His hands!
So we’ve talked about the first group of people. But what about the second group? The first group of people receives glory. What does the second group receive? (wrath) Now I want you to think very hard before answering this. Think about all that we have learned over the past three lessons and don’t let me down here. J What kind of wrath is suggested by this context? What is the theme of this passage again? (“Day of the Lord”) And we saw from the Old Testament and the book of Revelation that one of the primary characteristics of the Day of the Lord is that it is a day of what? (of wrath) So what kind of wrath will we be saved from? (Day of the Lord wrath)
Believer, God’s Word is clear that you will never be the recipient of God’s wrath–not during the Tribulation, not in hell–never! No wrath! On what basis are we saved from God’s wrath? On the basis of Christ’s death for us on the cross (vv. 9-10)! 1 John 2:2 says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” That word propitiation means that Jesus absorbed God’s wrath. So there is no wrath for you because Jesus suffered in your place.
However, that does not mean that you will not suffer.
I mentioned Paul’s use of the word “appointed” in v. 9. That word appears one other time in this book. I want you to see this because there is a great lesson here (1 Thess 3:1-4). Christians are not appointed to wrath, but they are appointed to what according to v. 3? (Afflictions! Or “tribulation,” according to v. 4.)
You say, is v. 4 saying that Christians will live through the Tribulation? No. The word “tribulation” can be either a common noun, referring to affliction in general, or a proper noun, referring to the seventieth week of Daniel, that seven-year Tribulation period that is coming. In 1 Thessalonians 3:4, it is clearly referring to tribulation in general, since Paul says that they were already suffering tribulation, but he is clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 that the Day of the Lord has not come.
So Paul is not saying in 3:4 that Christians will live through the Tribulation. But he is teaching that Christians will suffer trials and persecution. This is exactly what Jesus said in John 16:33. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Notice that He doesn’t say, “You might have tribulation” but “You will have tribulation.” Based upon the authority of the Word of God, I can tell you that you will suffer as a Christian.
But that brings up an interesting question, doesn’t it? 3:3 says that we are appointed to afflictions. But 5:9 very clearly says that we are not appointed to wrath. So what’s the difference?
I thought of three ways in which the afflictions that we suffer are different than from wrath that we will never suffer.
- Purpose – What will be God’s purpose in pouring out His wrath on the world? (to punish their sin, thereby satisfying the demands of His justice) What is God’s purpose in allowing afflictions into the lives of Christians? (to change us more into Christ’s image) (However, I should point out that the ultimate purpose of God both in pouring out wrath and allowing afflictions is the same, and that is His glory.)
- Disposition – When God pours out His wrath on the wicked, what will be His disposition toward those people? (anger) What is God’s disposition toward Christians who are suffering? (love and compassion)
- Severity – Which is worse, afflictions or wrath? Wrath! That is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 4:17, where he says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” And he says something very similar in Romans 8:18. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Do you feel sometimes like your suffering is so heavy? In these verses, Paul reminds us that if you take a scale and put your present suffering on one side and glorification on the other, there is absolutely no contest. Our present suffering is light compared to the eternal weight of glory! Much better to suffer persecution and afflictions now as God’s child than to suffer as His enemy for all of eternity in hell! There is absolutely no comparison!
Now, does the fact that Christians will not face God’s wrath mean that God will not discipline us when we sin? No! “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:6). Christian, God will discipline you when you sin, and He may even discipline you severely–to the point of taking your life! (We see that in 1 Corinthians 11:30.) And yet, God will never give you what you deserve! You deserve hell, but Jesus died in your place.
So the next time God allows you to suffer, remember this: God loves you, His purpose is to make you Christlike, the pain is only for a season, and it will be worth it all when we see Jesus.
So we’ve seen that there are two groups of people in this passage: those who receive Day of the Lord wrath and those who are saved from that wrath/glorified. In vv. 4-8, we talked about “day people” and “night people.” In vv. 2-5, we saw the pronouns “us” and “them.” It’s the same two groups of people throughout the passage–believers and unbelievers. When the Day of the Lord comes like a thief, sudden destruction will come upon them, and they will not escape. But because you are children of the day who are not appointed to wrath, that day will not overtake you as a thief. Instead, you will be saved/glorified. Do you follow?
Now tell me, who is the agent of our salvation from the wrath of God? It is our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 9)! There is a lot of theology packed into that title! Jesus is the Lord, meaning that He is one with Yahweh God of the Old Testament. He is our Lord, meaning that we have given our lives to Him. And He is our Lord Jesus Christ, meaning that He is the promised Messiah! But notice that in this passage, He is also the Savior. He is the one who saves us from wrath. How does He do that? How does Jesus save us from wrath?
Well, we’ve already seen that the basis of our salvation from wrath is Christ death for us on the cross. However, this is so important that it’s worth saying again (v. 10). Our salvation from wrath is rooted in the substitutionary death of Christ for us on the cross. If Jesus had not died, you would have no hope of eternal salvation. Just think about that for a moment. Your entire destiny hinges on that act. That is why we constantly celebrate the death of Christ in our worship! Verse 10 says that He died “for us.” Jesus died in your place. You deserved to hang on that cross! You deserve God’s wrath! But Jesus was your substitute!
Not only did Jesus die in your place, but He died for your benefit. Christian, God had your redemption in mind when He enacted that terrible, wonderful plan that caused the death of His Son! What a comforting thought! Jesus died for us so that we should live together with Him!
And so the basis for our salvation is the death of Christ for our sins. But also, I want you to see the means of our salvation. I think there is strong indication from this passage that the means of our salvation is the Rapture (vv. 9-10).
The words “wake” and “sleep” are very significant in this verse. What do you think they refer to?
You may be tempted to think that they refer back to the command in v. 6 (v. 6). So in that case, those who sleep in v. 10 would be the sleepy Christians of v. 6, whereas those who are awake would be the watchful Christians. And Paul would be saying that although it is important to stay awake and be sober, God is going to save us whether or not we do that. Again, the thought would be that there is no partial Rapture. All true Christians, whether or not they are walking with the Lord, will be raptured when He comes. And of course, that is true; but I don’t think that is what Paul is saying in this verse.
The fact that Paul returns to the theme of comforting one another in v. 11 indicates that he is tying up this section on eschatology by referring back to previous material about the Rapture in 4:13-18. There are many links between 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Let’s read 4:13-18 again and look for those connections (4:13-18).
Did you notice all of the references to those who are asleep vs. those who are awake? Who are those two groups of people? (Christians who have died vs. Christians who are living at the Rapture) And what does Paul assure the Thessalonians? We are going to be glorified together at the Rapture, and after that point, we will always be with the Lord! Now look again at vv. 9-10 (vv. 9-10).
So based on all of those similarities, we can safely say that Paul is referring back to 4:13-18 and that the awake and the asleep in 5:10 are Christians those who are either dead or alive at the Rapture. Are you with me?
You say, “Why does that matter?” I want you to read that understanding of vv. 10-11 back into v. 9. (Okay? I’m not asking you to reading something into the Bible, I’m just asking you to read v. 9 in light of its context.) Let’s see if we can put this all together. “For God did not appoint us to [Day of the Lord] wrath, but to obtain [final] salvation [i.e. glorification] through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep [whether we are dead or alive at the Rapture], we should live together [all of us, both dead and living Christians at the Rapture] with Him.”
So the point is that I believe that the connections between 5:10-11 and 4:13-18 along with the definition of “salvation” as glorification in vv. 8-9 strongly suggest that Jesus is going to save us from wrath by glorifying us at the Rapture.
How will God save us from wrath? Is it that we will be sheltered from it here on earth as we live out the Tribulation? Could God have done it that way? Certainly! (He did something similar with the children of Israel when they were living in Egypt during the ten plagues.) Are there Christians who believe that is the way God will do it and that the Rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation? Yes! But I believe that this passage points to a Pretribulation Rapture.
Once again, this timing of the Rapture question is not a fundamental of the faith! It certainly is an issue over which good men differ. Are there any final questions or comments about that before we move on?
So what do we do with this message? We pat ourselves on the back for mastering this aspect of systematic theology, right? No! We comfort one another and edify one another. We speak words of assurance to each other in order to build one another up. The more I study 1 Thessalonians, the more I see that one of the major themes if not the major theme is comfort and assurance. We must comfort suffering Christians. We must encourage new believers. And one of the ways we do so is by teaching them the doctrines that will buttress their souls.
Do you know any suffering Christians? Do you ever struggle wondering what to say to them? Here’s something to say. Suffering Christians need to know that they are not hurting because God is mad at them.
If you see signs of grace in the suffering believer’s life, point those out to him. He might not be able to see them. Assure him, “You are God’s child! God’s wrath will be poured out, but not upon you. You will be saved because Christ died in your place. So put on the helmet of the hope of salvation and look to the skies! Jesus is coming, and you will be with Him! You will suffer affliction, but you won’t suffer wrath!”
That is our hope! What an exceeding weight of glory!