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02 September 2019

"Concerning Times and Seasons" - (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

An Unexpected Day
Paul continues his discussion about the “coming” or Parousia of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. He will now discuss the “when” of that day, how it will affect both believers and the disobedient, and how Christians must be prepared for its sudden arrival.
(1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) – “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren,—ye have no need that unto you anything be written; For, ye yourselves, perfectly well know—that the day of the Lord, as a thief in the night, so cometh; As soon as they begin to say—Peace! and safety! then, suddenly, upon them cometh destruction—just as the birth-throe unto her that is with child—and in nowise shall they escape.
 Now concerning” (deperi) marks the beginning of the next section.  This does not mean the topic is unrelated to what preceded it.  Paul had just dealt with anxieties about the participation of dead Christians in the “coming” or Parousia of Jesus.
The Apostle now discusses different aspects of that same coming of Jesus. He appears about to answer the question, “when,” but, instead, teaches how Christians are to live in anticipation of the “Day of the Lord.”
Paul does not provide the Thessalonians with details about the timing of Christ’s return, rather, he states that they have no need for such information concerning the “times and seasons.” Is this because they already possessed all the necessary information about its timing?
Some contend this indicates that Paul previously gave the Thessalonians a detailed explanation of the “signs of the times.” Considering their confusion about the Parousia of Jesus dealt with in the preceding paragraph, this is unlikely.
Verse 2 begins with the conjunction “for” (gar). This logically links it to the preceding verse.  Paul has no need to write about the “times and seasons” because the Thessalonians “themselves know accurately” that the “Day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night,” not because they know all the signs of its proximity.
The clause begins with an emphatic pronoun, “you yourselves.” This emphasizes that they already know this information.  Further, Paul describes their knowledge as “accurate” (akribōs). What the Thessalonians understand is not detailed information about the “signs of the times,” but that Jesus will come “like a thief in the night.” The point of the simile about a thief is that it will come unexpectedly at a time the householder cannot know.
Both “times” and “seasons” are plural; combined, they cover any possible delimitation of time.  Paul’s answer to the question of “when” is the same as that of Jesus:  no one knows except his Father (cp. Acts 1:7).
The reference to the arrival as “a thief in the night” echoes a saying of Jesus from the Parable of the Thief in the Night.  Note the following passage:
(Matthew 24:42-45) - “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason, you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you think not” (cp. Luke 12:39-40).
The analogy of the thief emphasizes the unknowability of that day's arrival.  The conclusion Paul draws is the need to always be prepared; not by calculating timeframes and dates, but by watching, staying awake, and donning “the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation.”
Is there a difference in meaning between chronos (“times”) and kairos (“seasons”)?  If so, Paul draws none. His usage of both is likely stylistic. Even if he intended some differentiation, he indicates that the Thessalonians have no need of such knowledge.  By using plural forms, he covers all temporal eventualities.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul described the future coming or parousia of Jesus.  Now he uses the term “Day of the Lord.”  When Jesus used the analogy of a thief, he referred to the “coming of the Son of Man.”  Paul applies this saying to the “Day of the Lord,” thus, demonstrating that the coming of Jesus coincides with the Day of the Lord or is synonymous with it. 
The Apostle also echoes a saying of Jesus recorded in Luke 21:34-36:
Be on guard that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you unexpectedly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Several verbal and thematic links demonstrate that Paul has this saying in view.  First, the reference to “that day” has the “Day of the Lord” in view. Second, the adjective translated “unexpectedly” (aiphnidios) occurs only here and in Luke 21:34-36. Third, the Greek verb rendered “come on” in both passages is ephistémi, which occurs frequently in Luke but only three times in Paul’s letters (1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Timothy 4:2, 4:6).
Fourth, in Luke 21:34-36, believers are called to pray in order “to escape all these things,” while in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 the unprepared will “certainly not escape.”  The same Greek verb is used in both (ekphugein). Fifth, in Luke 21:34, that day will come unexpectedly “like a trap,” whereas, in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 it comes on “like birth pains.”
At first glance, this appears to differentiate rather than connect the two passages.  However, Jesus undoubtedly spoke Aramaic, which has a word that can be translated either “trap” or “birth-pangs” (hebel).  It is possible Luke translated it into Greek as “trap,” whereas, Paul rendered it “birth pains.”
Paul uses a second analogy; a pregnant woman in labor.  This highlights a different aspect of the “Day of the Lord.” No one is surprised when a pregnant woman goes into labor and no one doubts the outcome. Labor pains point to that which is inevitable, in the present passage, the destruction of the unprepared.
Paul stresses that they will not escape by using a double negative in the Greek (“they will certainly not escape”).  While the picture of the thief emphasizes the unexpectedness of Christ’s coming, the woman in labor points to the inevitability of destruction for the unprepared.
The analogy of “birth pains” (hōdin) is another echo of a saying of Jesus.  This Greek word occurs four times in the New Testament (Matthew 24:8, Mark 13:8, Acts 2:24) and in his Olivet Discourse Jesus described certain events as “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8 and Mark 13:8).
Paul states that “unexpected destruction” will overtake the unprepared.  This is the same Greek word he uses in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 for those who “will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction at the revealing of the Lord Jesus from heaven.”
The unprepared proclaim “peace and security.” The phrase parallels a propaganda line of the old Roman Empire, “peace and security” (pax et securitas).  Paul may have this in mind; more likely, he is describing a typical human attitude of complacency.  This is borne out by the conjunction hotan (“whenever”) with the present tense of legô (“to say”).  That is, whenever they may be saying, “peace and safety.” 
Paul addresses not the when of Christ’s return but the how. One can prepare for the eventuality of a home invasion by a thief, but he cannot know when it will occur.  Paul’s point; the timing of that day is unknowable.  For the unprepared, it will be an unexpected event that results in dire consequences.
The Need for Wakefulness
(1 Thessalonians 5:4-7) – “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day upon you, as upon thieves, should lay hold. For all ye are sons of light and sons of day,—we are not of night nor of darkness: Hence, then, let us not be sleeping, as the rest, but let us watch and be sober: For they that sleep, by night do sleep, and they that drink, by night do drink.
That Day will not overtake the Thessalonians because they “are not in darkness.” Unlike the unprepared, believers will not be caught off guard when that day arrives. 
The Greek term for “lay hold” (katalambanô) means, “overtake, seize, forcefully grasp, overpower.” Paul says nothing about an escape by departure from the earth.  His concern is that this day does not overtake Christians while in an unprepared state.  Believers avoid the coming “destruction” through preparation for it.  That day will bring either salvation or destruction, depending on one’s standing before God.
Paul makes several contrasts between the prepared and the unprepared.  Unbelievers are in “darkness” and belong “to the night.”  They are asleep and, therefore, unprepared.  Believers, in contrast, are not in darkness; they are “sons of light” and “sons of the day.” 
There is a verbal link between 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and 5:6. In 4:13, Paul expressed his desire for the Thessalonians not to be “ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the others who have no hope.”  In 5:6, he exhorts this same group to “let us not sleep as others do but let us be alert and sober.”
Both passages refer to unbelievers as “the others” (hoi loipoi); both refer to “those who are asleep.”  In 4:13, those who sleep are dead Christians; in 5:6, Paul commands Christians not “to sleep” as the others do. The latter refers, not to the sleep of death, but to the failure to remain alert.
In Luke’s version, immediately preceding the Parable of the Thief is the Parable of the Watchmen (Luke 12:35-38, “be dressed in readiness and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find watching when he comes”).
The verb used in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 for “watch” is grégoreō, the same verb used in Luke 12:37 for servants who “watch.” Note the similar usage of grégoreō in Matthew 24:42 (“therefore watch, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming”) and Matthew 25:13 (“watch, then, for you do not know the day nor the hour”). 
Words of Comfort
(1 Thessalonians 5:8-11) – “But we, being of the day, let us be sober, putting on a breastplate of faith and love, and for helmet, the hope of salvation. Because God did not appoint us unto anger, but unto acquiring salvation through our Lord Jesus [Christ] — Who died for us, in order that, whether we be watching or sleeping, together with him we should live. Wherefore, be consoling one another and building up each the other—even as ye are also doing.
Paul now exhorts the Thessalonians to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation” (cp. Romans 13:13, 2 Corinthians 6:7, Ephesians 6:14-16).  This same triad of virtues is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (“work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope”).
Of relevance is the theme of “hope.”  For Paul and the Thessalonians, “hope” will be realized “before our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3); they will be Paul’s “hope…before our Lord Jesus at His arrival” (2:19).
In 4:13-14, the Thessalonians are not to be “without hope” because at his coming the dead in Christ will be raised.  In 5:8-9, the “hope of salvation” is the “obtaining of salvation” through Jesus and thereby the avoidance of destruction.
In each case, the “hope” is realized at the arrival of Jesus when believers stand before God, the dead are raised, and the wrath of God is executed on the disobedient.
Coming “wrath” is contrasted with the final salvation of Christians when Jesus arrives.  Those prepared through faithful living and watchfulness “obtain salvation through Jesus Christ,” while the unprepared are “appointed to wrath.”
Since the final salvation of Christians is contrasted with the fate of unbelievers, it is natural to take “wrath” as a reference to final judgment, rather than to a series of plagues during an extended tribulation period. And the appointed “wrath” for some and the receipt of “salvation” by others occur at the same time.
In verse 10, Paul refers to Jesus “who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him.”  In the previous section (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), he described Christians who die as “those who have fallen asleep.”  Paul once again is describing two groups of believers:  those awake and those “asleep” (or dead).  Both acquire salvation at that time; both “will live together with him” from that day.
Based on the larger context, Paul now uses “sleep” metaphorically for Christians who die prior to the day of the Lord.  When that day comes, there will be both living and dead Christians on the earth.
Verses 10-11 have verbal parallels to 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Paul uses the same two words for “together with” (hama sun); nowhere else in his letters does he combine the two.  Christians still alive when Jesus comes will be caught up “together with” the dead in Christ. Likewise, whether alive (“awake”) or dead (“asleep”), on the Day of the Lord believers thereafter “will live together with him.”  As in 1 Thessalonians 4:14, the believer’s assurance of salvation is grounded in the death of Christ (“for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again”). 
Paul previously told the Thessalonians to “comfort one another with these words.” Likewise, he now tells them to “comfort one another and build up one another.”  This is another link between this and the preceding paragraph (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  The words translated “comfort one another” in both is the same in the Greek text (parakaleite allélous).
Another verbal link is the promise that when Jesus comes believers will be with Christ.  After the dead and living Christians meet Jesus in the air, they will be “with the Lord evermore.” Paul now promises that “whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” Both paragraphs refer to unbelievers as “the others” (Greek - hoi loipoi). In 4:13, the “others” were unbelievers who mourn over dead loved ones because they lack any resurrection hope.  In 5:6, “others” are those who are spiritually asleep and unprepared for the “Day of the Lord.”
In short, the verbal and thematic links between the two paragraphs demonstrate that the same set of events is in view in both. The concern of 4:13-18 is the future resurrection of dead and living saints when Jesus arrives, but in 5:1-11 Paul describes how events will overtake the unprepared.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul dealt with the question of the fate of the Christian dead when Jesus arrives.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the issue is the responsibility of those believers still alive, which is to be prepared for the Day of the Lord always.  This is necessary because no man knows the “times and seasons” of that day; it will come “like a thief in the night.”
Chronological sequence?
Because 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 follows 4:13-18, some assume this points to chronological sequence.  It is concluded that because the one paragraph precedes the other, the latter one must describe events that follow the former one chronologically.
However, nothing in the literary context indicates Paul intends for his audience to read the two sections in this way.  His letter to the Thessalonians is laid out topically, not chronologically. Paul was responding to specific issues and did so one at a time.  Further, specific words and themes link both paragraphs.
Summing Up
Paul answered the question of when the Day of the Lord would come.  That “day will come like a thief in the night.” This was something the Thessalonians already understood and, therefore, Paul had no need to write further regarding that day’s timing.
For the Christian, the coming of Christ is an imminent event, one for which he or she must always be prepared.  For unbelievers, that day will come suddenly and unexpectedly and bring with it the wrath of God. For those who are looking for the return of Jesus and live accordingly, though they remain ignorant of it timing the “Day of the Lord” will not take them by surprise; it will mean their salvation.

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