1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 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. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5 1-11
The eschatologically-grounded Christian will not be caught off guard. He or she is sober, not somber. Alert, not asleep.
There is much written about end times in the Bible, and much exegeted by theological stalwarts of the faith. We have no need to wonder what’s in store. We know what, but not when. Granted, there are no shortage of opinions about how it all “pans out” in the end. The pitfalls of full immersion into these topics are becoming lost in the theological weeds, or becoming no earthly good at all.
I’ve been alive long enough to pick up on what preachers normally do with eschatology. They do a practical study in James instead. To me, studying and understanding what is to occur in the latter days is within the grasp of mere mortals. There is no need to eschew the latter chapters of Daniel, or shelve the book of Revelation as too difficult to understand, or tiptoe through the book of 1 Thessalonians.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, we’re told to exhort, or beseech one another with the prospect of the Rapture. At the conclusion of our present passage, we are urged to encourage and edify one another with the hope of the salvation that is to come, and I might add, “all the more as we see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25) How can we do these things without dwelling on, to some degree, “prophetic utterances?” Yet we have the tendency to “despise” them! (1 Thessalonians 5:20)
With that off my chest, the sober are alert to the signs of the times, and we intently study them, knowing, however, that we will never know the exact time or hour.
But knowing the exact hour seems different from knowing the “times and epochs.” It does not normally storm without the formation of dark clouds on the horizon and the retreat of the sun. But in Matthew 16:2-3, Jesus warns us about the wisdom of sign-seeking. Nevertheless, if we learn to confine ourselves to the Bible, as Jesus did with what could be gathered from the story of Jonah, we will not stray into “foolish speculations.” (2 Timothy 2:23)
There has to come a day when the die is, or seems to be, all but cast.
This means that Paul and Peter’s warnings in their final letters about the characteristics of the “last days” are relevant, and an “Ezekiel 38” war with familiar warring factions (Russia, Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya versus Israel) can be on the table. There has to come a day when the die is, or seems to be, all but cast.
So then, there is a story unfolding before our eyes that is both exciting and terrifying. While we may not be physically present on earth when all is finally revealed, we will surely see it from above, and gloriously participate in the final scene. (Revelation 19:14) Isn’t that exciting!
Knowing all this, we are at the ready, with breastplate of faith and love strapped on, and the helmet of the hope of salvation buckled tight. We are not to be “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good,” but focused on encouraging and edifying our brothers and sisters in Christ to work out our respective “salvations,” with all that this entails, while there is still time. This is done with fear and trembling! (Philippians 2:1)
Paul’s point in this discussion is that we need to be fully engaged, especially since in an instant we may be in his presence. If not, this message of staying at the plow would not be to exhort one another with the hope of Christ’s imminent return, but about how to endure the terrible storm that is to come, that is the Great Tribulation.
It is interesting to note the personal pronouns in our passage. For example, the use of “they” in the verse below.
While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 1 Thessalonians 5:3
As opposed to “us” in verse 9:
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In this case, this is not referring to the wrath foreseen in the Great Tribulation, but the wrath of eternal separation from God, which is far worse. This certain fate for the lost is why we attempt to expand our ranks before Christ returns.
Jude calls the play in verses 22–23.
Have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.