This chapter clearly follows on from the previous chapter, ‘But of the times and the seasons, brethren’, v. 1. Paul has already been teaching them about the Lord’s coming for His own, what we know as the rapture. Now he is going to speak of what follows that great event. He has already taught them concerning this Day of the Lord, for he says, ‘ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night’, vv. 1, 2. How thoroughly they had been equipped concerning future events in such a short space of time (three weeks’ mission). This is a challenge to us preachers and teachers as to how much of the counsel of God we share in our preaching. Many Christians today know so little of future events; note how important these things are, and how relevant to our walk with the Lord.
In these verses, Paul is speaking of times [ages] and seasons [events], and the need to know them and not confuse them, as many do. They are likened to days in this chapter. The first is the ‘day of the Lord’, vv. 2, 4. It is described as a day of ‘destruction’, ‘travail [pain and sorrow]’, and ‘darkness [night]’, from which there is no escape. Neither is there any warning, only that it will come suddenly, when they think that they have secured peace and safety at last. But, says Paul, ‘ye … are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief’, v. 4. What follows proves how ignorant so many believers are in relation to that ‘day of the Lord’.
Paul states, ‘Ye are all the children of light … of the day’, v. 5, and stresses the beauty of this by saying, ‘we are not of the night, nor of darkness’. Light has come into the world; the Saviour has come, not to judge but to save. Jesus Himself said, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’, John 8. 12. This is the acceptable year of the Lord, of which He spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth, Luke 4. 19. On that occasion, Jesus closed the book without going on to read of the ‘day of vengeance’, Isa. 61. 2; it was not to be confused with the ‘day of salvation’. Paul wrote, ‘now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation’, 2 Cor. 6. 2. For the second time in 1 Thessalonians, note 1. 10, Paul emphasizes that we are not going through that awful day of wrath; ‘For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ’, v. 9. Is this not plain enough language for us? We are not going through the tribulation! But, how should we live in the light of such deliverance and privilege? We have it before us in these verses, ‘let us not sleep … but let us watch and be sober’, v. 6. We are not to be dozy, indifferent, and inactive, but to be on our guard, and ready to serve. We are not to be hindered by the intoxicating things of this world, but alert to the guidance and ways of our Lord ‘that … we should live together with him’ who died for us, v. 10. How can we experience this kind of living? Verse 8 holds the key – we are told there are two things that we are to put on in order that we shall be able to withstand the opposition, snares and attacks of Satan. It is the armour of God which has been provided for our use, so that we might be victorious in any and every circumstance of life.
It is of utmost importance that we guard our affections from all the allurements of the world; they are many. They are all around us, the idols, the little foxes that spoil the vines. But do not think you can turn from the idols until you turn to God. Paul commended these Thessalonian believers for that in the early part of the letter. As we look to Him in faith, we will experience the warmth of His love, and that will become a sure breastplate for the protection of our hearts.
But more, what about our minds? They play such tricks and cause us so many fears and distresses. So, we are exhorted to put on:
This is not salvation from our sins, nor our daily salvation from everything that besets us, but our ultimate salvation. When He will come for us, to take us to our heavenly home, to be with Him, and like Him for ever. Glory, Hallelujah!
He closes this section by encouraging them to make the most of their fellowship together, ‘comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do’, v. 11. There is nothing like the fellowship of the Lord’s people! He uses two words here: ‘comfort’ and ‘edify’. Comfort is to help and encourage one another and edify is to strengthen and build up one another. This is not just a public work but a personal work for all to do!
He pleads, beseeching them to recognize and know those who work among them, and esteem them. He knows what a difficult job they have in caring for the flock, because their needs are so varied and different. These are not ‘elders’ in name only but those who ‘labour among you, and are over you in the Lord’, v. 12. They are working among the flock to help, and they watch over to protect it. Note also, ‘and admonish you’. There are times when they may have to caution, warn and reprove, all for your good. Such are to be ‘very highly’ esteemed ‘for their work’s sake’, v. 13. Lastly in this connection, he says, ‘be at peace among yourselves’. Happy is the church that enjoys such peace!
From this blessed state of peace among them, he moves on to give specific guidance for their lives and service. For without this peace among ourselves in our fellowship with one another, we cannot expect the Lord’s help and blessing. But now he says, ‘we exhort you’, or, ‘I call you to observe and do what I say’. This is apostolic teaching to which we would do well to take heed. This teaching is very personal and covers every part of our lives:
What a wonderful conclusion or summing up the apostle gives in verses 23 and 24. He turns our eyes upward and heavenward, and says, if you observe these words of exhortation, ‘the very God of peace sanctify you wholly [completely]’. We are sanctified, holy, set apart, positionally in Christ through the once-for-all cleansing of His precious blood. But God desires us to be sanctified experimentally, in practice daily, so that we might meet Him at His coming having been preserved free of any blame or evil accusation. He follows this by reminding them and us that God is faithful ‘that calleth you, who also will do it’, v. 24. In other words, we might not always be as faithful as we ought to be, but God is, and He will present us without blame, or faultless, ‘Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy’, Jude 24.
In closing the letter, his first request is for their prayers for them as the Lord’s servants, ‘Brethren, pray for us’, v. 25. He wants them to know that, as the Lord’s servants, they too need and value their prayers for them as they continue in their ministry and work for the Lord. How we all need one another’s prayers! Then, he wants them to know how much they are loved, by telling them to greet one another ‘with an holy kiss’, v. 26, from them, and to each other. Show your affection and love for all the brethren. Across the world there are so many ways of greeting; what is important is that we do love one another and make each one feel that our love is genuine. Then he gives them a solemn charge that the letter is to be read to all the brethren, in order that all may benefit from the teaching given. Finally, he closes with the greatest blessing that could be given, ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen’, v. 28.