Dear radio friends,
Paul is teaching the saints in the church of Thessalonica about the second coming of Christ. Today we will study briefly I Thessalonians 5:1-6. Paul writes in these verses,
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
The passage we study today teaches us when Christ comes. Christ will come again as He promised. But when will Christ come? That is a pertinent question. Paul had just explained to the saints of Thessalonica about those who would be alive and remaining when Christ would come. Did this mean Christ was coming in their lifetime? Obviously not! Can we say that Christ is coming in our lifetime? Can we say Christ is coming in the lifetime of our children or our grandchildren?
“Of the times and seasons ye have no need that I write unto you, for yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night!” This is what Paul writes at the outset of the verses we consider today. Paul then proceeds to give us instruction concerning the time of Christ’s appearance. With it he gives us practical instruction of our need to watch for that coming of Christ, right now in our lifetime!
Watching for Christ’s Return
I. A Thief in the Night
The goodman of the house and his wife are ready to lay themselves down to sleep. It is early evening, it is dark outside, and they must rise again at daybreak to begin anew their day’s labors. The goodman routinely checks the doors of the house to see that they are all bolted tight. Confident that the house is secure for the night he retires. He is confident that his house is safe, and he falls asleep thinking to himself peace and safety! But sometime in the night the thief, who knows his profession well, breaks into the man’s house and steals away the goodman’s wealth! He came swiftly, unexpectedly, and suddenly. No one was expecting him. Who was to know that the thief was coming? And who was to know in what watch of the night he was coming? So the goodman was caught totally unprepared. He was not watching, neither was he prepared. He was sleeping, and he lost his prized possessions. Such is the coming of the thief. He depends on the element of surprise! He comes when no one is expecting him. He descends upon the house suddenly and swiftly.
The Bible uses this figure in a number of places to describe the coming of Jesus Christ. Our text today does too. In verse 2 we read, “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” Throughout the verses we examine today the same figure is used in order to instruct us concerning Christ’s return. What does this earthly figure teach us concerning the spiritual truth of when Christ comes? The obvious meaning is: Christ’s coming is going to be swift, sudden, and unexpected. This is true, first of all, from the point of view of the wicked world itself. This world will have fallen asleep just as the goodman of the house. Jesus tells us that, just as in the days of Noah, so also at the end of time, men will be going on with life as if this world will never end. They will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Life will be going on as usual. The faithful church of Jesus Christ that keeps warning to watch for Christ’s return will be mocked and ignored: “Where is the promise of his coming, for all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation!” From a spiritual point of view therefore, this world will have fallen asleep calmly and confidently! They will say to themselves: “Peace and safety!” Being soundly asleep from a spiritual point of view, this world will not be prepared for or even expecting the coming of the thief!
This is true as far as the time of Christ’s coming as well. He comes at a time when we least expect it. He tells us He comes soon, and that He comes quickly, but just exactly when Christ is going to return no man knows! Not only is this idea established in the figure of a thief appearing suddenly in the night, but it is supported by another picture Paul uses in verse 3 of our text. We find there the picture of a woman in travail—a woman who is about to be delivered of a baby. The idea is that suddenly, without a clue, that first hard labor-pain hits. The woman has been expecting it all along—she knows it is close, but she does not know exactly when that first hard labor-pain will hit that will bring about the birth of her baby. Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected. He comes when this world believes that they have found their way, that they have found the answer to all the ills and problems of society. Christ comes when the kingdom of man in this world has established itself and is convinced that it is on the verge of establishing itself without God. At a time that no man can figure out, that no man will be able to determine or prophesy of, Christ will come. And that coming will not be quietly in rapture, but it will be a coming with shouts and trumpets, unto the destruction of the wicked of this world!
Now, it is important for us to realize the point Paul makes here before moving on. There was an error about Christ’s coming that prevailed in this church of Thessalonica. Many of the saints there believed that Christ would come in their lifetime. In fact, some of them had even quit working and were idly waiting for Christ to return. The instruction here is meant to combat the error of those who think they know when Christ will return. Notice how Paul begins our text in verses 1 and 2: “of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord cometh.” Paul explains at the outset, “I really have no need to write to you about the time of Christ’s return because you know about it perfectly! What you know through my preaching and through the words of Christ Himself is that that day comes as a thief in the night! You cannot speculate about a particular time in which Christ returns! You cannot predict that Christ is going to come in your lifetime! It is not your job to predict that time! He comes as a thief! That is all that Christ Himself reveals to you! Now, it is your job to watch! No man knows the time of Christ’s return, just as no man knows the hour in which a thief will come to rob a house, or no man knows when that labor pain will strike to bring forth a baby!”
II. Prepared for the Thief
But having established this fact, Paul goes on to say this, in verse 4: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” Now, that is striking. Paul tells those who believe that the coming of Christ ought not to overtake them as a thief in the night. God’s people who, in faith, look for the second coming of Christ will be prepared for that thief when he strikes unexpectedly. We may not know in what watch of the night that thief comes, but nevertheless we are those who will be prepared for the coming of the thief! Christ comes as a thief, but we will not be as the wicked world who sleeps. We will be sitting there awake and watching for the thief, that he might not break in on us unprepared. All this is true because we know perfectly of Christ’s coming!
We ought not to overlook that perfect knowledge we have of Christ’s coming. That is not just a knowledge about some facts of Christ’s coming. It is not some kind of human deduction we have made for ourselves that Christ comes again. It is a perfect knowledge. It is the knowledge of faith—a knowledge that people of this world do not have of Christ’s coming. When the unbelieving man (inside the church as well as outside) is warned and instructed concerning the swift and sudden return of Christ, he does not believe. His reasoning is blinded by unbelief. He knows, yet he does not know, that Christ comes again. He knows about it, but he does not believe it. And for that reason, too, Christ will come upon that unbelieving man suddenly and unexpectedly. Christ’s coming will overtake him with sudden destruction! But God’s people have been given a perfect knowledge that Christ is coming. We know He comes soon and suddenly. And we by all means believe it! We may at times grow weary in watching, we may not at times be so alert, but we know perfectly that Christ is coming, and we believe that.
Paul emphasizes this blessed truth in verse 5, where he teaches that God’s people are children of the light and not children of the darkness. We were at one time, of course, when we were lost in our unbelief and sin. We too were children of darkness. Sin had its hold over our hearts, minds, souls, and body! Our hearts and minds were darkened to the truth. We lived in the night of sin! We could not nor did we desire to know God and the things of the kingdom of heaven. Of the times and seasons, we could not know because God had not revealed them to us. This is true of countless throngs of people today. Our world is lost in the darkness of sin and unbelief—these are the children of the night to whom Paul refers in verses 5-7. Those still stumbling about in their unbelief, those whose hearts God has not opened, and whose hearts never will be opened, are the children of the night.
Yet, God is gracious, is He not? He has proved that in our lives. He still proves that in the hearts and lives of many people yet today. He graciously has poured out into our hearts the light of salvation. He has laid the burden of our sin and unbelief on the shoulders of Christ. Christ carried away the burden of our sin on the cross. He earned there for God’s people the gift of faith. And included in that faith is the certain knowledge that Christ returns as a thief in the night! We are given to know and believe that the thief is coming, and is coming soon, and that we should be prepared! How thankful we can be for the light of the knowledge of God we have received in Christ Jesus! How blessed we are that God has sent forth the Spirit of Christ into our hearts, that He might open our spiritual eyes and understanding! Now we know perfectly that Christ comes…soon, swiftly, unexpectedly! And we watch for Him! Carefully we keep our eyes open. We do not know what hour of the night He will return, but we are prepared—we are watching!!
We know that the time of Christ’s return is getting very, very close! How do we know that Christ’s coming is getting very close? Because believers know the times and the seasons! God has revealed to them the times, first of all! The Greek term for “times” is used in our English word “chronology or chronological.” When we use that term even in our own language it refers to a sequence or succession of events that take place in time. If we put something in chronological order, we are putting it in the sequence of events in which it happened. What God’s Word here means, therefore, is that we are given to know perfectly the sequence of events as they take place in the history and development of this world. That is quite a thing, you know! Unbelieving man has been trying to find out the purpose of this world and its development since time began. He never has! The believer has! He is given a knowledge and understanding of the order of events that take place in history. We know that all of history is ordered by God from eternity. We know that God has ordered all things in such a way that, through the saving of a church unto glory, God will glorify Himself! He created all things for that reason. Man fell into sin for that reason. Christ has come for that reason. The church is defended, guided, and preserved for that reason. The end of the world will come for that reason. Every event in creation and history leads to that perfect end. We are given to know the times. We understand what the development of this world is all about.
We are also given to know the “seasons.” This term refers to certain fixed periods of time. We know the various fixed periods of time in this world. We know of the period of time before the flood. We know the period of time from the flood to Christ—the period of the old dispensation of God’s covenant. In God’s Word, believers are given to know perfectly the period of the new dispensation of God’s covenant—the season or period of time from Christ’s first appearance unto His second coming. We know as well what will indicate the close of this period of time. We will be watching all the signs that indicate that this season in God’s chronological time-clock is coming to a close. The Bible everywhere gives us signs that point us to the imminent return of Christ. We are given to know what will transpire in history before Christ returns. We watch these signs as they develop in creation, in the nations, and in the church, in order that we might be prepared for the coming of the thief!
III. Watching for the Thief
Now you and I are given by God a command in the last part of verse 6: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” This command is based upon the knowledge we have of Christ’s coming. It is based on the fact that we know He comes suddenly and unexpectedly, at a time when no man knows. Do not sleep, do not be drunken, but watch and be sober! Always be prepared, for we do not know in what watch of the night the thief will appear!
Ah, that is the very error of those who wish to predict a certain hour in which Christ comes! If I knew that the thief was going to come at 4:00 in the morning, then I need not worry for the rest of the night, just so I am ready at that particular time for him. If I knew exactly when the birth of my baby was going to take place (as some do today, of course), then I need not worry about the labor pains until that particular time. If I knew exactly the year, month, day, and hour that Christ will return, then I would have no reason to watch right now! All I would have to do is wait until that time and then rather hurriedly and quickly prepare myself so I am ready! There would be no need to ready myself now, every day anew. That is why Christ does not reveal the exact time of His coming. He does not want us to know! He does not want us to know, in order that right now, today and tomorrow and every day of our lives, we might prepare ourselves for that coming! He wants us to live every day of our lives as if He is coming tomorrow. We must always be prepared—always anticipating His return! And that in order that we might walk a holy life in this world!
God does not want His children to sleep. Those who sleep sleep in the night, in the darkness. We are children of the day and of the light. We may not sleep. In other words, we may not grow weary in our expectation of Christ’s return. We must never become lethargic as far as our spiritual lives are concerned. We may not lay aside the fight of faith. We must not grow weary in the battle against sin and Satan. We must not close our eyes to the events that are going on around us and ignore them! We must not let our guard down as far as our battle against our enemies is concerned! We must live antithetically in this world and not build bridges between us and the ungodly wicked! Neither may we be drunk—spiritually drunk! We may not become intoxicated with the pleasures and treasures of this present world! We may not consume ourselves in them so that we become worldly minded and lose sight of our home in glory. Our heads may not whirl with earthly luxuries and pleasures, that as a result we lose sight of the times and seasons! This world ends, and we must watch for that end.
This means that we must be sober, first of all. Our minds must be clear and bright. Our spiritual senses must be honed so that we watch the signs around us. We must read them correctly, too, in order to understand just when it is that the thief comes. Our lives must be filled with spiritual concerns. We must be busy in our study of God’s Word, in worship and in prayer. All these means equip us to be sober and our eyesight keen. Then we will watch! We will stand in these last times with our eyes wide open and waiting. Every day, each day! The thief comes. Are you prepared to meet him when he comes? If the goodman is prepared, the thief will not catch him unawares. Are you prepared for Christ’s coming? Can He come tomorrow and will you be ready to meet your Lord? Watch! He comes soon! Prepare! Then we will be ready when Jesus comes!