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January 25, 2009

 

Lesson Passage: I Thessalonians 5:10-11

 

 

Introduction:

 

This week’s lesson continues the theme of the return of Christ, as we introduced in the lesson two weeks ago.  Paul’s pastoral instincts compelled him to comfort and encouraged these believers who were troubled by the Parousia.  For the first time in the Pauline letters, the apostle introduced the ancient theme of the Day of the Lord.

 

The Old Testament prophets utilized this concept.  Isaiah, for instance, predicted a great day of victory for the Lord’s people (See Isaiah 27:13).  Amos, Isaiah’s contemporary, mentioned this idea as well, and he reminded the Hebrews that they would suffer great calamity if they did not follow the Lord (See Amos 3:14). Obadiah warned the nations that they would know divine retribution in the Day of the Lord (See Obadiah 1:15).  Most devastating of all, the prophet Zephaniah anticipated a day when God would visit judgment on the whole earth (See Zephaniah 1:14-18).  The ungodly remain unaware of the wrath to come, and God will visit them in judgment like a thief comes on the night or a pregnant woman comes suddenly into the throes of labor.  They are so insensitive to the coming day that they believe all is peace, but God, in the end, will make war against his enemies.  Coins pressed in Thessalonica bore the inscription “freedom and security.”  The nations of Paul’s day comforted themselves that the protective arm of Rome would preserve them, but even the imperial army could not shield them from the wrath of God.

 

Thankfully, Paul reminded his readers, the Lord’s people will not be caught unprepared for the great Day of the Lord, and, in contrast to the rest of the world, and they will see the fulfillment of their salvation in Christ Jesus. The Day of the Lord holds no fear for the disciples of Christ. 

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Paul’s Confidence in the Thessalonians’ Knowledge (vv. 1-3):  Despite the brevity of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, he remained confident that the infant church had received adequate information about the return of Christ.  They needed no new instruction, just a reminder of the things they had already embraced.

A.    They knew the “times and the seasons” (v.1).

1.      “times”: translates the Greek word chronos, and it expresses the passage of long periods of time—the consummation of epochs of time.

2.      “seasons”: kairos probably refers to a sequence of events, in this case, events that presage the return of Jesus.

B.     They knew the sudden and unexpected nature of the Lord’s return (vv. 2-3): Please note that the Parousia should only come unexpectedly to those in the darkness (See v. 4).  Paul used two images to describe the sudden, imminent return: “like a thief in the night” (See Jesus’ use of this analogy in Matthew 24:43) and the labor pains often expectant woman (Again, Jesus used similar imagery in Mark 13:8). Paul predicted that the world, at the time of Christ’s return, would labor under the delusion of peace and security; then, suddenly, destruction would come.  This destruction applies, of course, only to those who live in spiritual darkness, and no one will escape the travail of this destruction.  Paul expressed his settled confidence that his Thessalonian brethren already understood these points.

 

II.                Paul’s Confidence in the Thessalonians’ Character (vv. 4-8)

A.    The Thessalonians were alert (vv. 4-7): Unlike the sons of darkness, the Thessalonian believers (and all Christians) are sons of the day.  The things that remain dark and mysterious to unbelievers should be clear to God’s people.  Paul used, in this case, the imagery of sleep to denote a drowsy, unresponsive state; that is, believers should not be caught off guard about the Lord’s return.  Illustration: a few months ago Kathy and I became first-time grandparents.  We, of course, greatly enjoy visiting with little Kyle.  Often, he falls asleep at our house, and, upon awakening, he has a bewildered look on his face.  It takes the little guy a while to really become alert.  Kyle’s mom, our daughter Heather, affectionately calls this the “zone.”  This may serve as a helpful analogy for understanding Paul’s point.  People who live in the darkness remain in a spiritual stupor, unaware of their moral surroundings.    The Parousia will, Paul predicted, catch these folks unaware and unprepared.  Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins serves as a help adjunct to Paul’s thought.  Five of the virgins fell asleep as they awaited the arrival of the wedding party.  These drowsy women had insufficient supplies of oil for their lamps, and they found themselves shut out of the joyous nuptial celebration (See Matthew 25:1-13).  Lost men are drunken and drowsy, and they will find themselves unprepared for the Lord’s return.

B.     The Thessalonians were sober (v. 8a): Paul introduced this concept of soberness in the previous verses, but, in verse eight, he urged the Thessalonians to remain morally alert.  Leon Morris observes that the word “sober” enjoins temperate, controlled conduct. It prohibits an excessive, out-of-control life. 

C.     The Thessalonians were prepared for spiritual combat (v. 8b):  Here, the apostle introduces an abbreviated list of the Christian’s armor. This theme, of course, commonly occurs in the Pauline letters (See Romans 13:12-14; II Corinthians 6:7; II Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:10-20).  In this text, Paul emphasized the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope of salvation. The imagery is not identical to Ephesians 6:10-20, but the passages bear a striking resemblance.  Faith and love provide vital protection for the heart (the seat of the affections), and the helmet of hope of salvation shields the believer’s mind.

 

III.             Paul’s Confidence in the Thessalonians’ Salvation (vv. 9-11): The apostle concluded this paragraph with an encouraging confirmation of the eternal hope enjoyed by the Thessalonians.

A.    “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation…”: This phrase emphasizes the divine prerogative in salvation.  “Wrath” reflects Paul’s convictions about the destiny of the ungodly, and he assured his readers that God had gracious designs that would save them from the coming destruction.

B.     “… through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…”:  Salvation does not, according to the apostle, merely arise from an arbitrary decree of God; rather, God determined that Christ’s death would serve as the means of redemption.  Paul did not outline an elaborate theory concerning the nature of the atonement; instead, he merely states the glorious mystery of the Lord’s death for his people.  Who can plumb the depths of his grace?  The Bible, as wonderful as it is, can only reflect the wonder of the cross in human analogies, analogies that, I have no doubt, do not fully capture the mystery of divine mercy.

C.     “…so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him.”  The glorious work of Christ is not restrained by the believer’s state.  Christ will save his people whether they die before he returns or not.  Whatever their condition, they are secure in the Savior.

D.    “Therefore, encourage… and build up one another…”: Paul related these truths to encourage and establish his readers, and they had the responsibility to bless and edify one another. Note that the text makes clear that the Thessalonians already encouraged each other, and Paul merely admonished them to continue their present course of action.