The first pressing question we have about the second coming of Christ is, “What happens when we die?” The second question that usually comes to mind next is, “When will Christ come?” First, we want to know what will happen when Christ comes. Then we want to know when it will be that Christ will come. It has been a question that Christians have longed to know for nearly 2000 years. It appears that this was also a concern for the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul reminds them that he told them about this also. “You have no need to have anything written to you” (5:1). You know the answer to this. So let’s look at what the answer is to when Christ is coming and what this should mean for how we live our lives.
When Christ Will Come (5:2-3)
Notice that Paul makes very clear how the day of the Lord will come. In verse 2 Paul says that the day will come like a thief in the night. The timing and the conditions surrounding the return of Christ are not known. We live in a time where people are often trying to predict the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Many people thought it was surely the end when we came to New Year’s Day in 2000. Then there were many predicts in 2011 and 2012. Many religious have repeatedly attempted to predict the return of Christ. Some will try to use certain scriptures to prove they know when Christ is going to come. Every one of those passages are misused and misunderstood, however. I do not have time to correct all scriptures that have been twisted to refer to the second coming of Christ. I would rather you see this sentence in verse 2. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
How do thieves come? Do thieves announce ahead of time when they are going to strike? Do they tell you what to look for? Do they give you any warning? Do they give you signs before they arrive? The answer to all of these questions is a firm no. Any prediction of the second coming of Christ or the end of the world is a false prediction because God clearly states that we do not know when he is coming. His return will be like a thief. But this does not mean he is not coming. Listen to the apostle Paul:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31 ESV)
Notice how we can be sure that there is an appointed day of judgment: by raising Jesus from the dead, which is the theme of this paragraph. The resurrection of Jesus from dead proves so much to us. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 the resurrection of Jesus proves that the Lord will return with those who have died in Christ. The resurrection of Jesus also proves there is a day when the Lord will return in judgment. But Paul says that we do not know when he will return. In verse 3 we see that his coming will be when people do not expect. People will be thinking that his return is not going to happen. They will live in denial that there is a day when he is coming. Verse 3 describes a suddenness of his return. There will be no warning and there is be no escaping his coming.
Be Ready For Christ’s Coming (5:4-7)
Should we be nervous because the Lord is going to return like a thief in the night? Should we be concerned because we do not know when the Lord is going to return? The apostle Paul tells us that we do not need to be concerned. Look at verses 4-7.
But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. (1 Thessalonians 5:4–7 ESV)
The apostle Paul says that we have nothing to worry about because we are not in the darkness but are children of light. We are not in spiritual darkness so we will not be surprised. We will be ready. We do not live in spiritual cluelessness, ignorance, or rebellion. The Lord’s coming as a thief does not cause any concern for those who are prepared. Let’s use God’s illustration to see this. If you know that the thief is coming, then you make every preparation to be ready so that you are not surprised. You make everything ready for you know he will come.
This is the point of verse 6. Since we know the Lord is coming, “Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” We live our lives completely differently because we know the Lord is coming like a thief. The world does not live like this. They live in darkness. They live willfully unaware that the Lord has promised to return and his resurrection is the proof. We live differently because we know what is coming. We live in the world with different expectations. Therefore we will not be like the world that walks in spiritual darkness. You see that living life in the light of eternity truly changes everything. We know he is coming. He can come today. He could come tomorrow. He could come next week. We do not know when he is going to return. Therefore we live our lives with an awareness of this truth. I must be ready for his return today because he may come today. We must be spiritually ready and vigilant always. If you know a thief is coming, being asleep or drunk is not a good plan. We must be awake, ready, and sober. So how do we make ourselves ready? Paul gives us a picture in verses 8-10.
How To Be Ready For Christ’s Coming (5:8-10)
In verse 8 Paul says that since we belong to the day (to the light), let us be sober. What does this look like? We make ourselves ready by putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. We need the armor of God. If the armor of God is on us, then we are ready. How do you put on faith?
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 ESV)
Where do we get the hope of our salvation except through reading passages like this? Where do we learn about the love of God that transforms our hearts to love him and love others but the scriptures? The armor of God comes from nowhere else but through God’s word. Being ready for the Lord to come so that we are not surprised means that we are living in the word of God to equip us with faith, hope, and love. To use the very words of Jesus, the way we are coming to Christ by the drawing of the Father is by hearing and learning from God.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, “And they will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:44–45 ESV)
We get ourselves ready for the Lord’s coming by continuing to be taught by him. We love his word and it is what we think on all day because we love it so much. Now listen to why God wants you to be taught by him and put on the armor of God. Look at verses 9-10.
Destined For Salvation (5:9-11)
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10 ESV)
God has not destined us for wrath. Thanks be to God that we have not be appointed to receive wrath. God did not make the creation so that we would experience his wrath. This is not God’s desire nor is it God’s plan. We should know this from the cross. If we were destined for wrath, then Christ would never come for us and die for our sins. If we were destined for wrath, God has to do nothing and we would receive the just wrath of God for our sins. But that is not why we are here. God has not destined us for wrath but destined us for salvation through Jesus. Notice what Jesus said about eternal punishment.
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41 ESV)
God prepared eternal fire for the devil and his angels. God does not desire any people to go there. Does this mean that God does not have wrath? Should we think that we have all this wrong and God does not have wrath stored up for anyone? The rest of the scriptures certainly tell us that God’s wrath does continue to exist. Romans 1:18 tells us that the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. God’s plan is to deliver us from wrath through the death of Jesus. This is why we do not fear but look forward to Christ’s return. We have not been destined for wrath, but are destined for salvation by putting on the armor of God which is put on us through God’s word. The death of Jesus makes this possible. Without the death of Christ, there is no hope of salvation. We would be doomed. The wrath of God exists but we will not experience it when prepared by God’s armor.
But listen to verse 10. Because Christ died for us, whether we are alive or dead in the flesh, we will live with him. God has done all of this so that we have nothing to worry about on the day of judgment. We have nothing to worry about when Christ comes. God has done it all. Just be children of the day, the children of light. Notice that this is the message we are to tell each other when we come together. Look at verse 11.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)
This information is given to us to encourage us and strengthen our faith and walk with God. We need to keep our eyes on eternity. We must never forget that Christ is coming back. The Lord will descend from heaven and we do not know what day that will be. We do not know if he will be here in the next 10 minutes or 10,000 years. Here is what we do know: he is coming and we must be ready for his coming. You have been appointed to receive salvation. The armor of God is placed before you, awaiting for you to put it on. Listen to God. Learn from God. Be taught by God and changed by God so that you can sit in your seat right now and know that you are ready to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.