The day of the Lord
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9 NIV
Paul from the text does not answer the basic question of when in regard to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has already taught them about the inability to know that: “About times and dates we do not need to write to you” (1 Thessalonians 5:1). Rather, he focuses upon the how of the coming. If Christians know the how of the return, they can be encouraged and can live being prepared for that event. He uses two images to describe how that day will come. First, it will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; see also Matthew 24:42–44; Luke 12:39, 40; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15). The point, of course, is that it will occur suddenly and unexpectedly. The significance of this figure is always the need for watchfulness and anticipation. The second symbol describing how Jesus will return is “as labor pains on a pregnant woman” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). This figure also includes the idea of suddenness, but adds to it the idea of destruction for the unprepared: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). The coming of Jesus will be sudden, unexpected, and with inevitable consequences. Having dealt with the how of Jesus’ coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1–3), Paul turns to the status of the Thessalonians in view of the “thief in the night” figure (1 Thessalonians 5:4–10). It is a status that should be reassuring to them in light of the assertions Paul has just made about Jesus’ return. Since those who placed their faith in Christ are no longer living in darkness, there is no reason for them to be fearful for they do “not belong to the night or to the darkness,” but “to the day” (1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5, 8). The phrase “Day of the Lord” was often used to describe an important component of God’s relationship to His people. Ultimately, it was used to refer to that great “day of the Lord” at the end of history (see Zechariah 14:1–21; Malachi 3:13–4:6). It is apparent to realize that Jesus’ return to earth as the “day of the Lord” is when His presence becomes so visible that no unrighteousness can exist in that light. Those who “belong to the day,” the followers of Christ have nothing to fear, for “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). The challenge then as we wait for His return is to be faithful and “sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). We are not to be controlled by the evil forces of the night. Instead “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is God’s overwhelming presence in the life of believers that allows His followers to demonstrate these actions.