“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”
(Parts of this lesson are taken from an article written by Dr. John Valvoord, noted theologian and teacher)
The times and the epochs refer to information already taught to these believers. The word times is the Greek word “chronos” from which we get our word chronology.The Greek word for epochs is “kairos” meaning a particular time or season. The Thessalonian believers had already been taught the general time and the particular time when Christ would come. They had been taught about the Rapture and the Second Coming. Both are distinct and separate events. He had just reiterated the doctrine of the Rapture in chapter 4.
There is no reference in the Old Testament to the Rapture of the Church. There are however many references to Christ coming back to the earth and the resurrection from the dead. The term “the day of the Lord” refers to prophetic events predicted in both the Old and the New Testaments. In considering the Day of the Lord, we must consider the Old Testament doctrine, a doctrine that covers many passages in the Old Testament. Before examining the doctrine, it is necessary to determine precisely what this expression, “the day of the Lord” means. The Day of the Lord is a period of judgment. The Church Age (Age of Grace) ends with the Rapture of the Church, and no judgment. And then the Day of the Lord will begins and ends with judgment. Therefore the Day of the Lord begins at the beginning of the Tribulation. A twenty-four hour day is used as an analogy to explain coming prophetic events. (Isaiah 13:9-11; Zephaniah 1:14-16, 3:14-15)
The Day of the Lord is described as a day of wrath, which is a very important point. By comparing this passage with Revelation 6, which describes the beginning of the Great Tribulation we can pinpoint the time of “The Day of the Lord” which is immediately after the Rapture. But the Day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly. It is described as the day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night. A thief in the night comes unheralded. There are no signs that pertain to a thief. The point is that just as the Rapture of the Church is the end of the Church Age it also marks the beginning of the Day of the Lord. In other words, the one event seems to do two things: it serves as the closing of one “day” and the beginning of the other “day.” Since that is true, it gives us some very positive and definite teaching along the line that the Church will be taken out of the world before the days of trial and trouble overtake the world. Paul is reiterating to the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord is going to come.
At the time of the beginning of the Day of the Lord there will be some evidence for peace and safety as the Antichrist begins his march to world domination. The world situation at the beginning of the Day of the Lord will provide a false basis for peace. This will be accomplished by a world organization. At the beginning of the Day of the Lord they will be saying “peace and safety.” Then sudden destruction comes (after 3 ½ years). There will be no possibility of escape. The illustration given is that of travail coming suddenly upon a woman with child. It will be God’s divine, unescapable judgment upon those who are “in darkness.”
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.”
How are Christians related to this judgment? Verse 4 states: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day would overtake you like a thief.” Christians, of course, do not know when the Day of the Lord is coming either. As far as expectation is concerned, they are in the dark about it. Christ could come today and the Day of the Lord would follow, but no one can set the day. It is unexpected in this sense for us. What does He mean then by the statement, “You are not in darkness, that that day would overtake you like a thief”? The best explanation is that we will not be here. When the Day of the Lord comes, we will be in Heaven. “You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” In other words, we belong to a different dispensation, to a different day. We belong to the “day” of grace.
In verse 5 the doctrinal section is brought to its close. Verses 1-5 have revealed that the Day of the Lord will come suddenly as destruction upon evildoers, but we as Church Age Christians will have no part in it because we do not belong to that period of time. In verses 6-11 Paul makes the application. All true prophetic teaching has an application. The study of prophecy is not just for prophecy’s sake. God has taught us concerning future things because He wants us to be informed and, being informed, to be better Christians. One of the reasons for presenting the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ is that it is an impelling motive to be living for Him every day. There is no better reason for living for Christ, apart from real love for Him, than the motive that we might see Him today. It makes a tremendous difference whether Christ is coming now or whether our prospect is that we will go through the Tribulation and our only hope of seeing Him without dying would be to go through that awful time of trouble.
On the basis of this hope an exhortation is given, based upon the imminence of the Lord’s return: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” The word sober in Greek means exactly what is meant by it in English. It is the word for not being intoxicated. We are so prone to be intoxicated by the stimulants of the world — its glamour, pleasures, and appearance. Paul’s message to these Thessalonian Christians was to be watching and ready for the coming of the Lord.
“For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
Paul goes on to plead his case: “They that sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” That is the world’s life. “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” In Chapter 1 mention was made of these same three things—faith, love, and hope. In 1:3 Paul reminds the Thessalonians of their labor of love, and their work of faith, and patience of hope. In 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, the same is found— faith, hope, and love. On the basis of our being “of the day,” we are to continue in faith. We are to put on the breastplate of faith and love, the best possible protection for spiritual battles. In addition, we should put on the helmet of salvation (our hope).
In verse 9 it is stated: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” In this passage he is expressly saying that our appointment is to be caught up to be with Christ; the appointment of the world system is for the Day of the Lord, the day of wrath. One cannot keep both of these appointments. Certainly, there will be some after the church is gone who will believe in Christ, and in Revelation 7 it is stated that there will be an innumerable company of martyrs. Many will be saved after the church has gone to Heaven, but they will experience the awfulness of that period. As the wrath of God is poured upon the earth, it will involve them too.
They will participate in the awful trials and troubles of that day, and the reason they will be subjected to these things is that they were not ready for Christ when He came for His church. They had not trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ at that time. But you and I who have trusted Him, who have believed in Christ as our personal Savior, are not appointed to that day of wrath. We are appointed unto the day of grace to meet Christ in the air and to be forever with the Lord. This passage of Scripture teaches that Christ is coming for His church before the Day of the Lord begins, before the day of trouble pictured in Revelation that overtakes the world. We are not appointed to wrath, but to salvation.
In that day, in connection with our faith in Christ, we will have obtained “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore, comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” In other words, whether we “wake,” that is, are living in the world at the time the Lord comes, or whether we “sleep” and our bodies have been laid in the grave, though our soul and spirits have gone to Heaven, when Christ comes back for His church there will be a wonderful reunion— both a rapture of the living saints and a resurrection from the dead. It is all based on the hope of the death of Christ.
On the basis of this wonderful prospect, we should “comfort” one another and encourage one another in the faith, “even as also ye do.” As we look forward to the coming of the Lord, may it not only be a part of our theology and of our hope, but may it be a mainspring of our Christian life and testimony. If today is the last day on earth before Christ comes, may it be a day that is well spent in God’s service for His glory and for the testimony of the truth!
The Dispensation of the Church is also called the Age of Grace, because mankind now has a new ruling factor from God. Introduced by Christ in the Dispensation of the Hypostatic Union, God’s grace has replaced the Mosaic Law as ruling factor in the life of mankind. Grace is defined as all that God is free to do for us on the basis of what Christ did for us on the Cross. Though God’s grace has always been, and always will be operational in the life of every human being, in this dispensation it becomes the factor by which God administers His policies to mankind. (Galatians 3:19-25; Romans 6:14; Titus 2:11-12)
God’s will in this age is to accept Christ as Savior and obey God on the basis of grace, because of what Christ has done for us, not in obedience to the Law. We have a new law, the Law of Christ. We are to follow His example and produce His character under the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Man’s failure in this age is rejection of grace for a “by-works salvation” of religion, which is no salvation at all. And many believers failure is to learn and apply the Word of God. Not learning God’s recovery system from sin, results in no spiritual life, no glorification of God, reversionistic and immature Christians.
Divine judgment is reserved until after death; there is no judgment in this age. The believer, however, is dealt with as a child of God, receiving divine discipline in three stages: warning, intensive and premature death (the sin unto death). (Hebrews 12:5-13; I Corinthians 11:27-28)
Immediately following the Church Age, the Day of the Lord begins called the Tribulation.
This dispensation is, in reality, the last seven years of the Dispensation of Israel, which was delayed until after the Church Age. This age is also called the “Seventieth Week of Daniel,” fulfilling a prophecy recorded in the book of Daniel. The Church will be taken out of the world prior to this dispensation by the Rapture. Many who remain will, however, believe in Christ during this period. It is during this dispensation that we see the Antichrist, the False Prophet, the Mark of the Beast, etc. It will be a time of great persecution for believers, especially the Jews, and culminate with the Second Coming of Christ to destroy the Antichrist, the False Prophet and all unbelievers. Only believers will remain alive and go into the Millennium.
God’s will in this dispensation is to obey God and His mandates under the ruling factors of conscience, the restraint of the Holy Spirit, human government, promise and the Mosaic Law. One new mandate will be added: do not take the Mark of the Beast.
Man’s failure in this dispensation is taking the Mark of the Beast, which is tantamount to rejection of Christ as Savior. Upon rejection of Christ much of the human race will worship and serve the Antichrist as god.
Divine judgment in this dispensation will be through death, as violence becomes the method of the Antichrist to control the world. The culmination will be the coming of Jesus Christ with His army to destroy the Antichrist, the False Prophet and all who oppose God (unbelievers). Satan will also be bound at this time for a thousand years.