Today, I will complete the exegetical study of the Rapture by discussing the final section of 1 Thessalonians 5. As in the past, please find the verse below (translation mine).
Consequently then, we should not sleep, as the rest of them, but we should stay awake and be self-controlled; for those sleeping sleep during nighttime, and those becoming drunk become drunk during nighttime. But we being day should be self-controlled, clothed by a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet, [namely] hope of salvation, because God did not appoint us to wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died concerning us in order that if we should stay awake or should sleep we will live with him together. Therefore, encourage one another and build up one [to] one, as even you do.
The Thessalonians Should Live Properly in Light of the Coming Wrath of God (vv6-8)
v6 begins with a connecting words that indicate Paul is drawing a conclusion from the preceding verses (vv4-5) where it is said the Thessalonians are sons of light and sons of day. In light of this, Paul exhorts them that they should not sleep but rather stay awake. There seems to be an interesting play on words in vv6-8 regarding the ideas of day and darkness. While Paul affirms that the Thessalonians are light and of day, he still needed exhort them to act like they were people of the light and day. There is an important challenge here to recognize that while Christians are sons of light, that does not guarantee that they will live as sons of the day. This does have some significance to the Lordship salvation controversy and related soteriological issues. What does it mean to live as sons of light? Well, Paul identified self-control as the key idea, though expressed in our clothing ourselves with the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation. These three things may call to mind Ephesians 6 and the “armor of God”, but note some differences. First, here the breastplate is of faith and love instead of righteousness. Also, the helmet is actually the hope of salvation, not just salvation itself. These are all qualities that help us live for God as we wait for the rapture.
The Sure Salvation from the Day of the LORD Wrath through Christ (vv9-10)
Having mentioned the hope of salvation, Paul then reaffirms the pre-tribulation rapture by affirming that we are not appointed “to wrath but to obtain salvation.” (v9a) It is important to recognize that in v10, Paul ties this hope of salvation to the work of Jesus Christ. However, I agree with many dispensationalists here that the reference is not to salvation from the wrath of God in an ultimate sense, but from the wrath coming on the earth in the day of the LORD (c.f. v3). We also should not miss that His work of salvation is the basis of our salvation from the awful wrath coming on the earth in the future. We can praise Jesus for our salvation from all of God’s wrath. Since we have previously linked the Day of the LORD in v3 to the beginning of the Tribulation, this does demonstrate the pre-tribulation Rapture in context though we should be careful to explain the preceding context carefully (and admittedly there are some challenges to that passage, as I previously outlined). It is also telling (c.f.. Vv4-5) that Paul says that this is assured whether they should wake or sleep (v10b). It is difficult to tell for certain whether Paul is referring to his spiritual exhortation to be awake or if it is a reference to dieing before the Rapture or not. I don’t believe we should take it as a double reference, but we should avoid such unless we have contextual reasons to do so. Here, it is tempting to focus on the nearer context of the spiritual exhortation. However, if we regard this passage as continuous with the preceding 4:13-18 (as does Mike Stallard in his article “When Is It?” in Israel My Glory January/February 2018), then it becomes more likely that the phrase is referring to death. Today, I am more inclined to look at it this way, but it is hard to be certain. Either way, we can apply this statement to either condition—we will be saved in the Rapture whether we die or are alive at the Rapture and we will be saved whether we are faithful or unfaithful.
Concluding Exhortation (v11)
Paul concludes by telling them to “encourage” and “build up” each other. While this parallels the exhortation in 4:18, a contrast can be noted. There, the exhortation is of a personal and emotional nature, but here it is practical. We should not neglect either aspect as we seek to minister to each other, and neither should pastors. In conclusion, the goal for the Thessalonians is to have a sure hope of being reunited with the Lord and their loved ones before the start of the LORD’s wrath in the 7 year Tribulation. That is surely an encouragement for them, and it can be for us! I have gained a better apprecaition for the pre-tribulation position in studying these two chapters. I don’t have everything figured out though, and while I have come out gaining some decent support for myself for pre-tribulationism I believe I can still work a bit more on this as time goes on!