Alert and Sober
Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
In our last study, we examined 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18. Paul switched gears in this section, addressing the questions the Thessalonians had concerning the rapture.
In verses 13-15, Paul reassured the Thessalonians that their believing loved ones would not be left behind when this event took place. He said, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep" (vss. 14-15). This is the hope of every Christian. Paul was saying, "just as Christ died, so too did these believers die. And just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too will these believers be raised from the dead." Not only that, but those who have "fallen asleep" will be taken into Christ's presence before those who "remain." As believers, we have put our faith in the only One who has conquered death and sin. What a hope we have, that one day, we will be reunited with our believing loved ones in the presence of Christ Himself.
In verses 16-18, Paul explained the rapture in greater detail. He said, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord" (vss. 16,17). Again, one will notice that at the shout of the "archangel" those who are dead will rise first, followed by those who are alive. In an instant, we will be "caught up together with them in the clouds."
What a reunion! We, as believers, are assured that we will be with our loved ones again in heaven. Not only that, but "we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words" (vss. 17,18). This is our hope in the midst of persecution. We know that one day, maybe today, we will be with those we love in the presence of Christ for eternity.
Introduction 1 Thess. 5:1-11
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should over take you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But 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. For God has not designed us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
Paul begins chapter 5, "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you." The Thessalonians have been well educated by Paul regarding future events. This verse puts into perspective the importance of prophecy for believers. Some have a rather indifferent attitude concerning prophecy. They say things like, "Whatever God wants to do in the future is OK with me. It's in His hands and I don't need to really know what's going to happen." Yet Paul made the point when he was in Thessalonica to be sure that they were grounded in the understanding of prophetic truth.
He was confident enough in their understanding that he says, "as to the times and the epochs...you have no need of anything to be written to you." The "times" are the spans of time included in the prophecy, while the "epochs" are the events that occur in those time spans. They have "no need" to be taught anything more concerning prophetic events. This does not mean that they know everything, but evidently Paul felt that their understanding was adequate.
Beginning in verse two, Paul picks up on events that occur after the rapture of the church. He says, "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." Paul uses the phrase "day of the Lord." This is an expression that is drawn from the Old Testament that encompasses the period of time beginning with the tribulation which follows the rapture, running through the millennium, including the new heavens and new earth.
Isaiah 2 refers to the "day of the Lord." Verse 12 says, "For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty, and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased." In like manner Isaiah 13:6-9 say, "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty...Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation." Obviously, the "day of the Lord" is going to be a time of reckoning and judgment for those who reject God.
The book of Joel also addresses the "day of the Lord." In fact, this is the theme of this book. Joel 1:15 says, "Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty." Again, the truth is clear: the "day of the Lord" will be a day of destruction and judgment for the unrighteous. This is Paul's emphasis in 1 Thessalonians 5:2.
(See also Joel 2:1, 2:11, 3:14, Zephaniah 1:14)
Paul continues in verse 2; "..you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night" (italics mine). This day will come suddenly, when people are not expecting it. This has been an emphasis in the passages we just examined. The "day of the Lord" will occur without warning, like a robbery. Before anyone knows what is happening, the "day of the Lord" will be upon them.
This emphasis on surprise continues in verse 3. Paul says, "While they are saying, 'Peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." Interestingly enough, unbelievers will have deluded themselves into thinking they will have peace and security on this day. This may refer to the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation, when the earth exists in relative tranquility under the false peace that is established by the antichrist.
Jesus, Himself, talked about this period of time. He said, "just as in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood destroyed them all...It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed." (Luke 17:26, 27, 30). The people of that day were not expecting the judgment of God until it was too late. So too, shall it be in the "day of the Lord." People will be enjoying life in relative security. We live this way today. In the United States, most of us eat enough food to keep us healthy, but in other countries thousands of people starve to death. As sad as that is, we still must live on. We must go through our normal routine, whatever that may be. And the world will be the same way on the day of the Lord. People will be going about their normal routines, unsuspecting that the judgment of God is at their door.
(See also Luke 17:28,29)
The fact is, people will believe they are more secure then than they are now. This is especially true with Israel. The book of Ezekiel, chapter 38, illustrates that Israel, of all people, will be living with this sense of false Security. Verse ll says, "and you (the enemies of Israel) will say, 'I Will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will go against those who are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls, and having no bars or gates;...'" This is in reference to an attack on Israel that will take place, led by the nation Russia. Verse 14 continues, "Therefore, prophecy son of man, and say to Gog, 'Thus says the Lord God, "On that day when My people Israel are living securely, will you know it? This is not the way Israel is today. Today, they are a military power that is prepared to defend itself; but that will change. For example, Israel now has an outflow of people instead of an inflow. Their population is shrinking. For the first time, the costs of maintaining such a strong military are beginning to be felt all across the nation. There will come a time in the future when Israel will disband her military, and funnel all her income into developing the nation. Why? The Israelites will receive a promise from the antichrist guaranteeing her safety. For the first part of the tribulation, this promise will remain true, but after 3 1/2 years the peace will end, and Israel will be attacked.
How does the antichrist pull off this false peace? Revelation 13:4 says, "And they worshipped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, 'Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?'" People will be convinced that the antichrist is actually the Messiah. They will be Worshipping him as God. Is it any wonder people will feel safe? They will think that the Messiah Himself is actually ruling the earth.
God allows this to happen by removing His Holy Spirit. Second Thessalonians addresses this truth; "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming." The Holy Spirit, as we know Him, will be removed at the rapture of the church. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit will no longer exist on the earth, but He will no longer be present as He is today, permanently indwelling believers. Instead, He will be present as He was in the Old Testament. As a result, the restraints on wickedness and evil will be removed.
Who is the antichrist? It is pointless for believers to speculate on his identity because he is not even revealed until after the rapture and the departure of the Holy Spirit occur. We do know that he is someone who is currently irrelevant (a "little horn," as Daniel 7:8 identifies him), but who rises to supreme power after the rapture occurs. Paul continues in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. He says, "And then the lawless one will be revealed...that is , the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and wonders and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (vss. 8-10).
This man who is the antichrist will be supernaturally empowered by Satan to perform "powers, signs, and wonders." This verse gives us a picture of the power of Satan. Remember, it was Satan who took Christ up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, and offered them to Christ, if only He would bow down to Satan. Satan is a being of tremendous power who, during the tribulation, will have the freedom and liberty to manifest and direct his power through the antichrist.
The antichrist will be a very dynamic, charismatic person. In fact, he will be so charismatic that the whole world will be attracted to him. Not only that, but he will have the power to pull the whole world together in unity because he will be ruling the kingdom of Satan under Satan's power.
When we are in heaven, we will hear about the antichrist and what he is doing on earth. We will be amazed at what he accomplishes on this fractured earth in the opening days of the tribulation. But remember, it is only by God's permission that he will be able to do so much. Second Thessalonians 5:11-12 says, "And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." The combination of God partially withdrawing His Holy Spirit, Satan using his power through the antichrist, and now God bringing a "deluding influence" upon the people of the earth, will result in the people turning in mass to follow the antichrist as their leader. When one understands that Satan will be free to exercise his power, and God will send a "deluding influence", it is easy to comprehend how fast the antichrist will gain power.
Paul continues in 1 Thessalonians 5:3; "...then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." While the people think they have peace and safety, destruction is looming. Suddenly, God will pour out His wrath upon the earth in the form of terrible tribulations and trials that will only increase with intensity the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation. The whole earth will shake and break apart in anticipation of the coming of Christ.
It is important that we understand that this is not just a temporary punishment. These judgments are eternal. As 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, "And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." There will be no escape for those who experience the eternal judgment of God.
Paul turns his attention to the Thessalonians in verse 4. He says, "But you brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief." Believers are not in darkness. Paul stressed this point to the Colossians as well. He said, "For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1: 13). Those who are in spiritual darkness have no perception or spiritual understanding. It is important that we, as believers, are not surprised at these events. We are to be sensitive to what is happening on earth because we are expecting the coming of Christ.
Paul continues in verse 5; "for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness." Before we became children of God we were "formerly darkness" (Ephesians 5:8). Now we are "sons of light." We partake of the quality of light. We have the ability to perceive and understand spiritual truth. The danger is that after we have been believers for awhile, we will take this truth for granted. Ask yourself, "How many people do you know who have been believers for a long time who are really, really excited to get into the Word of God?" Tragically, it seems more Christians know the statistics of their favorite sports team better than they know the prophecy of Scripture. We fail to understand the great privilege we have as "sons of light." We are those who are privileged and responsible to know and understand the Word of God. This is what Paul is stressing in verse 5. He is reminding them who they are and what their responsibilities are.
Paul reminds us in verse 6 that, as believers, we need to be alert. He says, "so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober." The word "sleep" as it is used in verse 6, means "indifferent." As believers, we are not to be walking around, insensitive to what is happening around us. Some believers live like this. Their lives are preoccupied with their job, their hobbies, and other things besides the Word of God. Their attitude toward the Word of God is "I wi11 go to church on Sunday for an hour or so; but that's all I have time for." This is how the world functions, and Paul is reminding us that we are not like the world. We are not to be "asleep."
The world is consumed with worldly things, while believers are to be consumed with the truth of the Word of God, and living lives that bring honor and glory to the Lord.
Paul continues in verse 7; "For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night." This is a picture of what it is to be "asleep" and not sober. But we are not children of night, we are sons of the day! This picture is similar to the experience of a time change. When I went overseas several years ago, I had to get used to the time change in that country. When I returned to the United States, it took me awhile to adjust back. For example, when it was three in the morning, I was wide awake, but when it was five in the evening, I was ready for bed. Some believers are like that. They know that Christ is going to return, yet they close their eyes to the truth, going around acting like what really matters is their house, their income, and their social set. They are living like those who are "asleep"
Note what Paul says in verse 8; "But 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." For those of us who are alert, this is our armament. This armor is developed in detail in Ephesians chapter 6, but here he only mentions two pieces of armor: the "breastplate of faith and love," and the "helmet." A breastplate was a piece of armor that protected the vital organs in the chest and stomach area.
As believers, our breastplate is "faith and love." "Faith" is our trust in Christ and reliance upon Him, while "love" is the character of Christ we manifest in our relationship with other believers.
Our "helmet" is "the hope of salvation." As believers, we are to be "looking for the blessed hope" (Titus 2: 13) which is the appearing of the glory of our Savior Jesus Christ.
The truth is clear: as believers, we are to be putting on our armor through our faith and reliance on Christ and His Word, and manifesting love for other believers with our hope fixed on Christ's coming. This is what is meant by being an "alert" child of God.
While the world stumbles around, blind to the fact that the judgment of God will be poured out on them, we as believers, have something better to anticipate. In verse 9, Paul explains "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." We will miss the judgment of God. What an encouragement! Why? Because we are going to be in glory with Jesus Christ, Himself, when the judgment of God falls upon the earth. This is our salvation.
How are we destined for "obtaining salvation?" Is it something we have done? No, it is through "Jesus Christ...who died for us...." This is the only time in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians that he makes the point of this personal issue of salvation. He stresses the death of Christ on our behalf.
The purpose of His death is that "...whether we are awake our asleep, we may live together with Him." This is a personal issue for each of us. Christ died so that we may "live together with Him" for eternity.
The Word of God promises each of us, as believers, "whether we are awake or asleep" that we will enter into the presence of Christ. This is the same word for "asleep" that Paul used in chapter 4 when he was referring to the sleep of death. This is a reminder that all believers, alive or dead, will spend eternity in the presence of the glory of our Lord and Savior.
Paul concludes this section of 1 Thessalonians in verse 11. He says, "Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing." Paul is saying, "We are those who are destined to spend eternity with Christ, therefore let us invest our lives in one another, helping build each other to maturity. You are already doing that, but keep doing it even more."
For believers, the truth of the "day of the Lord" should cause us to live our lives in light of that truth. The world is destined to experience the full wrath of God, yet we will spend eternity in the presence of Christ, through His grace in providing our salvation. Our destiny is that we are "sons of light."
Until that day when Christ comes to take us into His presence, we have a responsibility to invest our lives in serving Him, and loving one another, in anticipation of His coming. What a privilege!
How are we living our lives? Are we alert, on guard, and sober? Are our lives characterized by a motivation to serve the living God by putting on our armor every day? What fills our lives every morning, and every week? Do we spend our days thinking about the coming of the Lord? Are we living our lives in light of that fact?
As believers, we have the responsibility and privilege to live our lives serving the living God. Have you come to trust in Christ alone as your Lord and Savior? If you have, you have the hope that you will one day be brought into His presence for eternity. If you have not, you have nothing to look forward to but the assured judgment of God, and an eternity in a very real and very horrible hell.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.
INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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