The Day of the Lord will mean salvation to the “sons of light” who remain ever vigilant and prepared for it – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
Rather than provide a list of “signs” whereby believers can ascertain the imminence of the “Day of the Lord,” the Apostle Paul gave instructions on how they must live in anticipation of that day’s sudden and unexpected arrival. It would not overtake the Thessalonians because they “were not in darkness,” but instead, they were “sons of light” and “sons of the day.”
Unlike the unrighteous, watchful believers will not be caught off guard when the day arrives, whether they know its timing or not.
- (1 Thessalonians 5:4-7) – “But you are not in darkness, that the day overtakes you as upon thieves. For all you are sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of night nor of darkness, hence, then, let us not be sleeping, like 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.”
Paul’s concern is that the “Day of the Lord” does not “overtake” disciples because they are unprepared. Believers avoid “destruction” by remaining prepared always for its arrival. For them, that day It will bring salvation, but for the unprepared, it will mean their destruction.
He makes several contrasts between the prepared and the unprepared. Unbelievers are in “darkness” and belong “to the night.” They are asleep, and therefore, unprepared. In contrast, believers are “not in darkness.”
There is a verbal link between this passage and the preceding section where 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.”
Here, he exhorts them not “to sleep as others do but let us be alert and sober.” Both passages refer to unbelievers as “the others” (hoi loipoi), and both refer to “those who are asleep.” In the previous passage, those who “slept” were dead Christians. Here, Paul commands Christians not “to sleep” as the others do, and instead, they must “watch” always for that day’s arrival.
- (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 a helmet the hope of salvation. Because God did not appoint us for wrath, but for acquiring salvation through our Lord Jesus, who died for us that, whether we are watching or sleeping, together with him we should live. Wherefore, be consoling one another and building up each the other, even as you are also doing.”
Paul next encouraged the Thessalonians to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” The same triad of virtues was given in the opening passage of the letter – “work of faith, a labor of love and steadfastness of hope” – (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
Of great relevance is the theme of “hope.” For Paul, “hope” is realized “before our God and Father,” and the saints will be his “hope…before our Lord Jesus at His arrival” – (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2:19).
In the preceding chapter, Paul declared that believers are not “without hope” because at his “arrival” the dead in Christ will be raised first to join their living compatriots as they all “meet” Jesus. Here, the “hope of salvation” is the “acquisition of salvation,” and thus, the avoidance of the destruction that will overwhelm the unprepared. In both passages, the “hope” is realized at the “arrival of Jesus.”
At that time, the “wrath” of God will be executed on the disobedient. Here, “wrath” is contrasted with the final “salvation” that the faithful will receive when Jesus “arrives.” Those who remain watchful and persevere in faithful living will “obtain salvation through Jesus Christ,” but the unprepared will find that they have been “appointed to wrath.”
Paul describes Jesus as the one “who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we will live together with him.” In the previous section, Christians who died were called “those who have fallen asleep.” Once again, the Apostle refers to two different groups of believers – those who are awake and those who are “asleep.” Both acquire salvation at the same time, and both “will live together with him” forevermore from that day.
The clause “together with” is used to conclude both this and the preceding section about the “arrival of Jesus from heaven,” and the verbal link is deliberate. Christians who remain alive when Jesus “arrives” will be caught up “together with” the “dead in Christ.” Likewise, whether alive (“awake”) or dead (“asleep”), believers “will live together with him.” As before, the assurance of salvation is grounded in the past death and resurrection of Christ – (“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again”).
Previously, Paul told the Thessalonians to “comfort one another with these words.” Likewise, here, they are to “comfort one another and build up one another.” This is another verbal connection between the two sections. The Greek words translated “comfort one another” in both passages are identical (parakaleite allélous – 1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Another link is the promise that believers will be with Christ after he arrives. After the saints meet Jesus “in the air,” they will be “with the Lord evermore.” Likewise, “whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”
Both sections refer to unbelievers as “the others.” Previously, Paul stated that they mourned over their dead loved ones. Here, he refers to those who are spiritually asleep, and therefore, unprepared for his “arrival.”
These verbal links demonstrate that the same event is under discussion in both sections, the “arrival” of Jesus “from heaven.” The previous section concerned the future resurrection of dead saints when Jesus “arrived from heaven.” The present one describes how that event will overtake the unprepared. And in the present section, Paul connects the “arrival of Jesus” with the “Day of the Lord.”
In this section, Paul has let the Thessalonians know how and when the “Day of the Lord” will come. First, it will arrive unexpectedly “like a thief in the night.” That is something the Thessalonians already knew, and therefore, Paul had no need to write further regarding “signs and seasons.”
Second, for believers, his “arrival” is always imminent, an event for which they must always be prepared. It remains imminent precisely because its timing is unknown. For those anticipating it and living accordingly, though they remain ignorant of its timing, that day will not overtake them by surprise or overwhelm them with destruction because they are the “sons of light.” Instead, it will mean their salvation.