Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5

Theme: Wait for Christ

3. By abounding in love (3:12 - 5:28)

*The theme of the whole epistle is to "wait for Christ". This is necessary when believers endure persecution for their faith.  Punishment will come on persecutors during the tribulation and after. Christ will rapture believers before the tribulation, saving them from persecution and tribulation wrath. In light of these facts, believers should wait for Christ. Chapter five shows how to wait for Christ: by abounding in love. This includes encouraging others with rapture hope (1-11), and practicing love in a variety of ways (12-28).*

Abounding in love means encouraging others with rapture hope (4:13 - 5:11).

The words used for "Now" (peri de), in verse one, are those used to show a sharp contrast in subjects. 4:13-18 just taught about the rapture of the church, something the Thessalonians had not heard about before. By contrast, the events described in 5:1-11, pertained to events which the Thessalonians had been taught, and were described in the OT: The day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord describes life during the tribulation, when, after an unmentioned church age, the anti-christ makes a peace treaty with Israel, and the Lord begins to pour wrath on the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 4; cf. Daniel). 

Thus, the rapture, or time when Christ catches the church up to Himself, is not the "Day of the Lord". In addition to the strong contrast "Now", in 5:1, there are a series of other contrasts which show that those who go through the Day of the Lord, are different from church age believers, who will be raptured "from" (not out of) tribulation wrath (1-3; cf. 1:10; Rev. 3:10).  He first says "you" know the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, while "they" are saying "Peace and safety!". The destruction which comes, is said to come on "them", and it is "they" who will not escape.

By contrast, "you brethren", are not in darkness" (4-8).  This means believers know about the events of the day, but also that they are no longer members of the kingdom of darkness, who will enter the tribulation, as are the unsaved (cf. Col. 1). Believers, are sons of light, having been delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). Since believers are of the day, and not of the night, like those unsaved people who will enter the tribulation, they should put on faith, love, and the hope of salvation.

In contrast to the wrath which will come upon the unsaved during the tribulation, and the judgments which follow, "God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (9). This includes not only salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of our sins, but also from the very "hour" in which tribulation wrath comes upon the unsaved inhabitants of the earth (cf. 1:10; Rev. 3:10).

Christ died for us, so that whether we are dead or alive, ready (spiritually alert) or not, we may live together with Him (10).  4:13-18 indicates it is the rapture of the church from the earth which accomplishes this goal of bringing the church to live with Christ.  5:9-11 apparently equates this union of believers with Christ to salvation from tribulation and eternal wrath. Thus, Christ will rapture the church before the tribulation, saving it from wrath, something they are "not" appointed to. This hope of salvation from tribulation and eternal wrath, is a truth which should "encourage" and "build up" other believers (11).

Abounding in love means practicing it in a variety of ways (5:12 -28).

The passage mentions several practical ways to abound in love towards others. It says, to appreciate and respect those who diligently labor and teach (13-14), to admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with all men (14). Verse 15 says to "see that no one repays another with evil for evil". Rather, believers should "always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men".

Other brief instructions include those to "rejoice always; pray without ceasing", and to give thanks in everything (16-18a). Such conduct is "God's will" for believers (18b). What believers are not supposed to do is "quench the Spirit" (19), which may include despising "prophetic utterances." Instead, they should examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good (21), and "abstain from every form of evil" (22).

Since the Bible is now complete, believers do not receive any additional revelation, or prophecy. The Scriptures, however, are God's revelation and prophecy to the church, and are what the Spirit uses to defend and confirm gospel truth in the lives of believers (Eph. 6:17b; Heb. 4:12-13; Matt. 4; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; etc.). As such, believers should not despise the Bible, but hold fast to its truths. Also, Romans 6:1-11, and Galatians 5 tell us to walk in step with the Spirit, yielding ourselves to God's will, by faith in Christ.

In closing, verses 23 through 28 wish God's sanctification, and blameless preservation upon the Thessalonians, reminding them that God had called them, and is able to complete these things in their lives (23-24). He asks them to pray for the missionary team (25), to greet and read this letter to all the brethren (26-27), and commends them to the presence of Christ's grace (28).

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