Having studied Chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians, we turn to the next. In Chapter 5, Paul reminds the believers of what he had told them concerning the times and seasons that would lead up to the Day of the Lord. On that Day the events he'd already described in Chapter 4 would be the believer's experience. Paul now relates again what will happen to the unbeliever in that Day, and also reinforces a correct attitude of watchfulness: the Church will see the Day of the Lord arriving and take part in its events.
Although advocates of pretribulationism often use Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 to bolster their position, it's important to note that Paul gives no indication in either of his letters that the Thessalonians were wondering about whether the changing of the saints would occur before or after the Tribulation. Also not being questioned was whether the Church would find itself in the Tribulation. The believers already knew when it would happen in relation to the times and seasons (i.e., the Tribulation period; 1 Thess. 5:1). Once Paul told them where the resurrection of the dead fit into this picture of Christ's return, they could place it into what they already knew about the end of the age.
Now what, exactly, are Paul's "times and seasons"? In 2 Thessalonians, we will see that these terms are synonymous with "the Tribulation" and "the reign of the man of lawlessness."
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
It is apparent that Paul had discussed the "times and seasons" with the Church at Thessalonica on other occasions. Vine defines the terms:
". . ; in I Thess. 5:I, "times" refers to the length of the interval before the Parousia takes place (the presence of Christ with the saints when He comes to receive them to Himself at the Rapture), and to the length of time the Parousia will occupy; "seasons" refers to the special features of the period before, during, and after the Parousia" (7).
In chapter 4, Paul's emphasis was on the saints who will have died before Christ returns. Nothing will happen to these dead saints until the Day of the Lord. Now in chapter 5, he's referring to those who will live through the special period of time just prior to, and introducing, the Day of the Lord.
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
The word "For" in verse 2 relates the "times and epochs" of verse 1 to the "day of the Lord" in this verse. The Day will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But as we will see, it will not be a surprise to the saints, because they know the characteristics of the period preceding the arrival of that Day.
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
Here Paul pinpoints exactly who will be surprised by the sudden arrival of the Day of the Lord: the unbelievers alive at that time. He mentions one of the characteristics of the "times and seasons": believers will hear people saying "Peace and safety!" Just as birth pangs begin suddenly and inevitably result in the birth of a baby, so shall the Day of the Lord come upon unbelievers, resulting in certain destruction. Destruction is defined by Vine:
". . ; in I Thess. 5:3 and 2 Thess. I:9, of the effect of the Divine judgements upon men at the ushering in of the Day of the Lord and the revelation of the Lord Jesus" (8).
The destruction is the result of God's wrath mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, from which the saints will be preserved. But for the unbeliever, there will be no escape, no place to hide (see Rev. 6:12-17).
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Paul, placing saints on earth during these events, promises that the Day (of the Lord in verse 2) will not overtake the saints as it does unbelievers, not because they are previously raptured, but because they will recognize the time of its arrival. Summarizing the first four verses:
Verse 1 - The Thessalonians knew what it would be like in the times preceding the arrival of the Day of the Lord.
Verses 2-3 - They knew full well that the Day of the Lord will come upon unbelievers just like a thief in the night.
Verse 4 - The facts Paul taught them about the characteristics of the period preceding the Day of the Lord (the times and seasons) would enable them to "look through" these seasons and see the Day of the Lord approaching. Therefore, that Day will not come upon the Church as a thief, because the Church will see it coming.
Paul's assurance (that an alert Church won't be surprised by the sudden arrival of the Day of the Lord) would make no sense if "the day" isn't coming upon the believers as well as the unbelievers. So the Church must be present throughout the 'times and seasons," which introduce the Day of the Lord.
STUDY VERSES: 1:5:5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6: Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
Notice the word "Therefore" in verse 6. Paul means, "Therefore, since you're not in the dark about the times and seasons, stay spiritually awake and soberly aware of what's really happening around you. You'll know when the Day of the Lord is approaching, and if you're alert, it won't catch you by surprise."
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
The alternative to staying spiritually awake and sober is getting spiritually sleepy, drunk and undiscerning because of the cares of the world.
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
Faith, hope and love are the "three things that last" (1 Cor. 13:13). These will carry the Church through the times and seasons into the Day of the Lord. Hope, described here as a spiritual helmet, will protect the believer against the persecutions and lies of the Antichrist. Then, as the world runs in terror from the wrath of the Lamb in the Day of the Lord (Rev. 6:12-17), our hope of salvation will be fulfilled; we will escape God's wrath which is poured out at the end of the Tribulation. In contrast, pretribulationism teaches that God's wrath is poured out during the Tribulation. In order to escape, these believers must hope in a pretribulational rapture. But the Tribulational wrath is that of Satan against the Church and Jews who won't yield to the man of lawlessness.
Notice the words "the hope of salvation." You might say, "But I thought I was already saved!" Yes, you are saved if you've accepted Christ, but the "hope of salvation" refers to the redemption of the body that makes our salvation complete, once and for all. Vine defines this "hope":
". . , in the N. T., favourable and confident expectation . . . . It has to do with the unseen and the future, Rom. 8:24,25. . . . [In] I Thess. 5:8, 'the hope of salvation,' i.e., of the Rapture of believers, to take place at the opening of the Parousia of Christ" (9).
Of "salvation" Vine says it
". . . denotes deliverance, preservation, salvation. Salvation is used in the N.T. . . . of the future deliverance of believers at the Parousia of Christ for His saints, a salvation which is the object of their confident hope, e.g., Rom. I3:II; I Thess. 5:8, and ver. 9, where salvation is assured to them, as being deliverance from the wrath of God destined to be executed upon the ungodly at the end of this age (see I Thess. I:I0)" (10).
Here in verse 8, the meaning of salvation is the total spirit, soul, and body salvation. When the Church finds itself in the "times and seasons," we are to look for Christ, who will fulfill the Christian's hope of glory as Jesus comes in the Day of the Lord.
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Paul described this salvation in chapter 4. It is the culmination of God's intention for man through Christ: the manifestation of God in, with and through His creation. This is the salvation we hope for, His life in our total being. He will preserve us in the midst of His end-time, destructive wrath, poured out on the Christ-rejecting world after the Tribulation. So, God has not destined us for wrath, but for salvation at the coming of Christ.
Pretribulationists use this verse to say we cannot be in the tribulation because we cannot see the wrath of God, meaning the seven bowls of wrath. But, the saints are safe from the seven vials of wrath because they are meant for the Beast's kingdom and the unrepentent. There is another wrath we are in the midst of and saved from, though, and that is found in Revelation 19. In the sixth bowl, the armies gather at Armageddon and Christ comes shortly after to rapture His saints and pour out His wrath on the unrepentent and the antichrist's armies. THIS is the wrath we are saved from by obtaining the salvation in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and we are saved from it because we are changed to be like Him in the rapture:
Phil 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Phil 3:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
Having a body like His, we cannot be harmed.
The pretrib argument that we can't be in the trib because of 1 Thess 5:9 is a usless one because it is not referring to the seven bowls of wrath against the beast's kingdom and the unrepentent. It refers to the wrath when Chnrist returns in Revelation 19. Every believer will be in the midst of it with Him, but it cannot harm us because we are saved by now having an incorruptible body.
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Vine comments on the word "live":
"Note: In I Thess. 5:I0, to live means to experience that change, I Cor. I5:5I, which is to be the portion of all in Christ who will be alive upon the earth at the Parousia of the Lord Jesus, cp. John II:25, and which corresponds to the resurrection of those who had previously died in Christ, I Cor. I5:52-54" (11).
This definition of "live" gives new meaning to Romans 5:9-10, for it is directly related to God's wrath being unleashed on the world and we saints experiencing our salvation:
9: Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him [in the Day of the Lord]. 10: For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved [preserved] by his life [a life we will totally experience when we are changed or raised in the Day of the Lord] (Rom. 5).
The saints are saved from God's wrath by Christ's life totally manifested in them, which nullifies the effects of God's wrath on them.
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The unbeliever is to experience God's wrath; the believer will experience salvation by preservation "unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (see also 1 Thess. 1:10). As for the word "preserve", Vine says the Greek word
". . . is translated to preserve in I Thess. 5:23, where the verb is in the singular number, as the threefold subject, "spirit and soul and body," is regarded as the unit, constituting the person. The aorist or 'point' tense regards the continuous preservation of the believer as a single, complete act, without reference to the time occupied in its accomplishment" (12).
STUDY VERSE: 1:5:24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
Calls us to what? To the kingdom and glory of 1 Thessalonians 2:12:
12: . . . walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2).
Only God can bring about the total preservation (v. 23). He is faithful, and He will do it, right up to "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Pretribulationists believe that the second advent will occur in two separate stages, as Hal Lindsey states in his book, There's A New World Coming:
"I personally believe that the Bible teaches the Church will escape these calamities [the Tribulation]. Although believers may well experience severe persecution as the day of Christ's return draws near, I believe Scripture teaches clearly that believers will be kept from the "time of trial" which God will send upon the world to try unbelievers (Revelation 3:10).
"Part of the confusion on this issue rises from a failure to distinguish two stages in Jesus' second coming. One passage of Scripture speaks of Christ's coming in the air and in secret, like a thief coming in the night. Another part of the Scripture describes Christ's coming in power and majesty to the earth, with every eye seeing Him" (13).
As we saw in 1 Thessalonians 5:2,3, the Lord's coming "as a thief in the night" means the suddenness of His coming upon unbelievers only. They experience destruction. "That day" does not come upon the believers "as a thief in the night" because they will see it coming. This means that the destruction poured out in that Day, which arrives at the end of the Tribulation, also places the saints in the midst of that destruction (God's end-time wrath). We must ask the question, "Is there a way of escape, even at that late hour?" Yes, but we must come to see what it means that Jesus Christ is "the blessed hope" who will appear for salvation and wrath at the end of the age. This is stated very specifically in 1 Thessalonians 5:9:
9: For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess.).
How then can we escape it? The answer can be found in the meaning of the words used in this verse:
STUDY VERSE: 1:1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
The wrath of God is poured out near the end of the Tribulation on antichrist's kingdom (six bowls), with Christ pouring out God's final wrath at His coming shortly thereafter. The first four seals (Rev. 6) are God's four "standard" judgements sent against Israel when they strayed from Him (Ezk. 14:21; Rev. 6:1-8). Also present is Satan's fury against the Jews and the Church (Rev. 12:12,17; 13:7,9,10,15-17), including what is most likely demonic power exerted against mankind (Rev. 9). But none of these are God's end-time wrath because He uses these things to get men to repent and turn to the Lord.
At the end of the age, however, there are two things to come: God's end-time wrath, and Jesus, the Deliverer from that wrath. We already saw in Part 2 of our study that Jesus not only brings God's wrath in the Day of the Lord, but He also brings salvation for the saints at the same time, thus completing God's plan. The wrath mentioned in verse 10 is defined this way:
". . . anger, as the strongest of all passions. . . .(14) suggests a more settled or abiding condition of mind, frequently with a view to taking revenge" (15).
Because many will have rejected God's salvation in Christ, God has reserved this wrath for them at the end of the age.
The word "from" in the phrase "delivered us from the wrath to come" does not mean removal from the immediate presence and danger of God's wrath, but rather preservation in the very midst of it. It is the same word Jesus used in John 17:15 in His prayer to the Father for the preservation of the Church:
15: I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (Jn. 17).
Though Satan represented a real danger to the disciples, Jesus prayed that they would be kept safe in the sphere of that immediate danger, not taken out of it. In the message to the Church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:10 we see the same words, "keep" and "from":
10: Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep [preserve] thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Rev. 3).
This verse also speaks of preservation for the Church, this time during the Tribulation: an "hour of testing" will come upon the world, but the Church will be preserved in the midst of that immediate danger. Commenting on these verses, George Eldon Ladd writes,
"This verse [Rev. 3:10] appears at first sight to teach a pretribulation rapture. . . . The language of this verse, taken by itself, could be interpreted to teach complete escape from the coming hour of Tribulation. The language is, "I will keep thee out of the hour of trial" (tereso ek).
"This language, however, neither asserts nor demands the idea of bodily removal from the midst of the coming trial. This is proven by the fact that precisely the same words are used by our Lord in His prayer that God would keep His disciples "out of the evil" (Tereses ek tou ponerou, Jn. 17:15). In our Lord's prayer, there is no idea of bodily removal of the disciples from the evil world but of preservation from the power of evil even when they are in its very presence. . .
"In the same way, the promise of Revelation 3:10 of being kept ek [from] the hour of trial need not be a promise of a removal from the very physical presence of tribulation. It is a promise of preservation and deliverance in and through it. This verse neither asserts that the Rapture is to occur before the Tribulation, nor does its interpretation require us to think that such a removal is intended" (16).
History itself has established the meaning of this verse. This verse was spoken to the Philadelphian church in the time of John, and that church went through the period of tribulation that came upon it. It was not removed from it by any means. The meaning of the verse must remain as determined by the past. If it meant that the Philadelphians of old went through their tribulation period, we in our time cannot now change this verse of scripture to mean that we will be taken out of the time of tribulation. Doing so would change the meaning of scripture established by history itself.
On the word "from" in these same verses, Alexander Reese says,
"The preposition ek may possibly mean immunity from, but more probably it means out of in the sense of being "brought safe out of." In any case it may not be forced to prove a rapture out of the world, for in John xvii. 15 Christians are "kept out of the Evil one," whilst still remaining in his domain. . . .
"The use of ek in Rev. iii. 10 distinctly implies that the Overseer would be in the hour of tribulation; the promise refers, either to removal from out of the midst of it, or preservation through it (17).
The words "keep" and "kept" in the above verses support the idea of "preservation" in the midst of danger. Vine's definition of "keep" is as follows:
". . . to watch over, preserve, keep, watch. . . . is used of the keeping power of God the Father and Christ, exercised over His people, John I7:II, I2, I5; I Thess. 5:23, 'preserved'" (18).
The saints mentioned in the above verses are preserved, or kept safe in spite of surrounding dangers. This fact presupposes their presence in the midst of it; there's no need to be kept safe if the danger isn't present.
The word "from" in John 17:15 and Revelation 3:10 is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, showing that the wrath of God is immediately present with the Church being preserved in the midst of it. That preservation is the salvation of the Church. The word "Deliver," also carries the idea of preservation:
". . . to rescue from, to preserve from, and so, to deliver. . ." (19).
Commenting on the phrase, "Jesus, who delivers us" in our Thessalonians verse, Vine writes:
"In Rom. II:26 the present participle is used with the article, as a noun, "the Deliverer." This is the construction in I Thess. I:I0, where Christ is similarly spoken of. Here the A.V. wrongly has "which delivered" (the tense is not past); R.V., "which delivereth;" the translation might well be (as in Rom. II:26), "our Deliverer,"...from the retributive calamities with which God will visit men at the end of the present age. From that wrath believers are to be delivered" (20).
God's wrath poses no danger for a believer at the end of the age, because Jesus, our Preserver, descends with that wrath, and it cannot harm Him. The problem of saints being present when God's wrath is poured out by Christ in the Day of the Lord turns out to be no problem at all. Here is where pretribulation teaching has missed the power of the Lamb as our Life and as our salvation. Jesus preserves us by changing us to be like Him. In Philippians 3:18,19, Paul foretells the destruction of the unbeliever at the end of the age:
18 . . . they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19: Whose end is destruction...
Then in verses 20 and 21, we are told the means of the saint's preservation from this wrath:
20: For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Php. 3).
In the last chapter, we looked at 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, which confirms this fact of deliverance through preservation:
23: And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24: Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (1 Thess. 5).
Those who espouse a pretribulational rapture would do well to compare these two statements:
1. Pretribulationism states that the Church is raptured before the Tribulation and returns with Christ when it is over. Because He brings the wrath of God with Him, the Church is right in the midst of it. But no harm comes to the Church because it has been changed at the rapture to be imperishable and immortal.
2. Posttribulationism states that the Church is present on earth at the end of the Tribulation, and is changed by Christ as He descends with God's wrath. No harm comes to the Church because it has been changed at that time to be imperishable and immortal like Jesus.
As we can see, any debate over the timing of the changing of the saints, based on the need to escape God's wrath, is a senseless debate. In both of these scenarios, the saints will find themselves to be imperishable like Jesus in the midst of the wrath. This fact destroys one of the major reasons the pretribulation doctrine even exists.
51: Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52: In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54: So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Cor. 15).
In the Day of the Lord, the Church will experience the culmination of God's plan. We will come into our full inheritance. Our hope of salvation will be fulfilled. Creation's yearning to see the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-25) will be satisfied, itself being ushered into freedom from corruption. Here is the chronological order of events as Paul lays it out in 1 Thessalonians:
1. A future period of time, called times and seasons, will come upon the world. This period will immediately precede, and announce, the arrival of the Day of the Lord.
2. The saints will be present (and preserved) in that period, looking through its extraordinary characteristics and seeing that the Day of the Lord is approaching.
3. The times and epochs will come to an end as the Day of the Lord arrives, centering on the revelation of Christ.
4. Sudden destruction, which the saints will see approaching, will come upon the unbelievers as God pours out His wrath on those who rejected Him.
5. Simultaneously, Christ will begin His descent, the dead will be raised and the living changed, and they will meet the Lord in the air. This bodily changing of the saints to be like Christ will preserve the Church from the immediate danger of God's wrath.
6. Christ will complete His descent to the earth, escorted by the Church, and establish His millennial reign.