A Study of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5: Part 2

It’s been several months since I shared a study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Today, I am beginning my follow-up study of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, which has more to say to the Thessalonian believers and how the future end times should effect them today. I am going to dive in to an exposition of this passage, but this post will only cover the first 5 verses (translation mine).

But concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you do not have need to write to you. For you yourselves carefully know that the day of the Lord in this manner comes–as a thief in night. Whenever they should say, “Peace and safety”, then destruction suddenly comes upon them just as birth pains experienced in the belly, and they certainly do not escape. But, you, brothers, are not in darkness resulting in the day overtaking you as a thief, for all of you are sons of light and sons of day. We are not [sons] of night neither [sons] of darkness.

The Day of the LORD Comes Suddenly as a Thief (vv1-3)

After discussing the rapture of the church, the text then turns to a new topic, the “times and seasons.” (v1) This phrase would appear to have reference to the end times since the passage as a whole is about that topic. Since this is Christian doctrine Paul is referring to, the common suggestion that Paul must’ve instructed them in the end times during his brief stay seems reasonable. They are also said to know it “carefully” (v2a) The focus of Paul’s attention is on the day of the LORD, which he says is to come suddenly. The metaphor he uses is that of a thief coming in the night to steal. (v2b) This does give an idea of “any moment” conception to the event, because as long as it is night there is a consistent threat of his coming to break in to steal. The text then goes on to describe the Day of the LORD in more explicit terms. It suggests that at some time when people may say “peace and safety” as if they are experiencing it, they will have the destruction of the day of the LORD come on them. Paul gives a strong expression that consigns those left on the earth to a certain destruction at the end of this day of the LORD. In one article (“When Is It? A Look at Why Evangelical Christians Don’t All Agree on the TIming of the Rapture” by Mike Stallard, in Israel My Glory for January/February 2018), the point is made that the pretrib rapture view fits this verse with the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week as the making of a peace treaty with Israel as the source of peace. Even with this link, one of the challenges I had in this passage is fitting the “peace and safety” of v3 with the coming of the rider of white horse in Revelation 6’s seal judgments. Revelation 6:2 says that the rider “went out conquering and to conquer.”  Some suggest that the rider conquers in a non-violent way, but that wouldn’t fit so well with this passage. Yet, the subsequent horseriders do indicate the kind of catastrophic destruction we would expect. It is probably safe to accept that the white horse rider does bring sudden destruction at the start of the Tribulation and that thus the Day of the LORD does begin in this manner. In this view, Israel may be at peace but the world may suffer the sudden destruction. It is hard to pin this down entirely, and admittedly I am trying to study the text itself rather than let my knowledge of how the Left Behind books dealt with these things influence my interpretation. Nevertheless, overall we can identify this section as referring to the day of the LORD that coincides with Daniel’s 70th week in the pre-tribulational rapture. This is also supported by the next two verses, as well as the rest of the passage.

The Thessalonians as Sons of Light Won’t be Surprised (vv4-5)

In vv4-5, Paul turns attention back to the Thessalonians. Paul says that they “are not in darkness resulting in the day overtaking you as a thief.” In this, Paul draws back to what he said in v2 about their knwoeldge about the day of the LORD. This too supports the pre-trib position because they are aware about the prophetic time table that includes them being taken out before the Day begins. He further grounds this reality in their position of being “sons of light and sons of day.” This seems to preclude any concept that only certain spiritual Christians will be raptures, since he describes them all as being true sons of light rather than “of night neither darkness.” Their knowledge about the prophetic timeline and position as Christians will ground Paul’s follow-up exhortation here.

I will complete vv6-11 in a follow-up post in the next couple weeks at most where I wrap up this passage by discussion the exhortation Paul gives in light of these things and the certain hope of salvation that they have from the day of the LORD wrath.