1 Thessalonians 5 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Thessalonians 5
Pulpit Commentary
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
Verse 1. - This verse is connected with what precedes. The apostle was comforting the Thessalonians under the loss of their deceased friends by the assurance that both the living and the dead would be gathered together at the advent. The question would naturally arise, "When shall these things be?" (Luke 21:7); and it would appear that the Thessalonians expected an immediate advent. The apostle represses their curiosity on this point by reminding them of the uncertainty of the time of the Lord's coming. But of the times and the seasons, brethren; that is, of the time and the precise period of the Lord's advent. "Times" and "seasons" are elsewhere united together (Ecclesiastes 3; Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:7). The word translated "times" denotes time absolutely without regard to circumstances; and the word rendered "seasons" denotes a definite point of time; not merely the day, but the hour (Mark 13:32). Ye have no need that I write unto you; literally, that ought be written unto you (R.V.); comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:9. The reason why it was not needful for the apostle to write unto them was, not because he regarded the information unprofitable or superfluous, or because he knew it to be impossible, but because he had already informed them when at Thessalonica that the time of the advent was beyond the sphere of his teaching. The apostle mentions this to repress that vain curiosity which is natural to man, and which was the occasion of so much disorder among the Thessalonians. Our duty is, not to pry into the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power (Acts 1:7), but to exercise constant watchfulness.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
Verse 2. - For yourselves know perfectly; namely, not from Scripture, nor from oral tradition, but from the teaching of the apostle when in Thessalonica. That the day of the Lord. "The day of the Lord" is a common Old Testament expression, denoting the coming of the Divine judgments (Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1); and by the phrase here is meant, not the destruction of Jerusalem, nor the day of one's death, but the day of the Lord's advent, when Christ shall descend from heaven in glory for the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of the world. The idea of judgment is contained in the term "day." So cometh as a thief in the night. The same comparison is used by our Lord himself (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39), and the very words are employed by Peter (2 Peter 3:10). The point of resemblance is evidently the unexpectedness and suddenness of the coming. The thief comes upon people in the night season, when they are asleep and unprepared; so, in a similar manner, when Christ comes, he will find the world unprepared and not expecting his advent. The ancient Fathers inferred from this passage that Christ would come to judgment in the night season, and hence they instituted vigils, or night watches. Some, still more precisely, fixed the coming on Easter night, from the analogy of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt on the paschal evening.
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.
Verse 3. - For; the best manuscripts omit this conjunction; the description is continuous. When they shall say; namely, the unbelieving world. Peace and safety; peace denoting internal rest, and safety external security. Sudden destruction cometh upon them. When they thought themselves most secure, they were then in the greatest danger; when they were most off their guard, then the crisis came. As travail upon a woman with child. The primary point of resemblance is certainly the suddenness and unexpectedness of the event; as labor comes upon a woman suddenly, so sudden destruction cometh upon the ungodly world. Still, however, the unavoidableness of the judgment may also be here intimated; there is no possibility of escape: this is implied in the last clause, and they shall not escape.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Verse 4. - But ye, brethren; ye believers, in opposition to the unbelieving world. Are not in darkness; referring back to the night (ver. 2), when the thief comes. By darkness is here meant, not merely ignorance, but moral depravity - the darkness of sin. Ye are not in the ignorant and sinful condition of the unredeemed world, so as to be surprised by the day of the Lord. With you it is not night, but day; the light of the gospel is shining around you; and therefore the day of the Lord's coming will not surprise you in an unprepared state. That; a statement, not of result, but of purpose - "in order that." That day; the day; namely, the day of the Lord. Should overtake you - surprise you - as a thief.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Verse 5. - Ye are all the children of the light, and the children of the day. Hebraistic expressions denoting, Ye all belong to the light and to the day. An affirmation, strengthening the previous declaration. The light and the day are synonymous expressions - the day being the period of light, as opposed to the night and darkness. We are not of the night, nor of darkness; rendering the positive assertion more emphatic.
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
Verse 6. - Therefore; because we are the children of the, light and of the day, because we have been enlightened and purified, we ought to be watchful and sober, so that we may not be unprepared for the day of the Lord. Privileges will avail us nothing, unless we use them and walk up to them. Let us not sleep. Sleep is here evidently used metaphorically to denote religious carelessness. As do others; the unbelieving and ungodly. But let us watch and be sober; evidently to be understood metaphorically of spiritual vigilance and sobriety: watchfulness denoting wakefulness from sleep, and sobriety freedom from intoxication. Both must be combined: we must be watchful, on our guard, and we must be sober, armed and prepared; "for even by day," observes St. Chrysostom, "if one watches, but is not sober, he will fall into numberless dangers." The same exhortation is given by Peter, but in the reverse order: "Be sober, be vigilant" (1 Peter 5:8).
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
Verse 7. - For; the reason of this exhortation. They that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunken are drunken in the night. Here not to be taken in a metaphorical sense, but a simple statement of fact - what occurs in ordinary experience. The night is the season in which sleep and drunkenness usually occur; whereas the day is the season of watchfulness, sobriety, and work. Both heathen and Jews considered it as eminently disgraceful for a man to be seen drunken in the day-time. Hence, when the Jews accused the believers on the day of Pentecost with being filled with new wine, Peter answered, "We are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day" (Acts 2:15).
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.
Verse 8. - But; contrast to the conduct of those who are of the night: let us not only be watchful, but armed. The apostle now adopts a favorite figure, that of spiritual armor. The arms which he here mentions are only two - the breastplate to protect the heart, and the helmet to guard the head; they are both defensive weapons, because the reference here is not so much to the believer's conflict with evil, as to his defense against surprise. And by these spiritual weapons are denoted the three cardinal graces - faith, love, and hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Let us who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love. By "faith" is here meant faith in Christ; and by "love," not so much love to God as love to man. These preserve the heart of a Christian against the assaults and influences of evil, as the breastplate guards the heart of the earthly warrior. And for a helmet, the hope of salvation. Salvation in its most comprehensive sense. The hope of salvation sustains our courage amid all the trials of life by holding out to us the prospect of eternal blessedness. Vigilance is of no avail unless armed by faith, hope, and love. In the Epistle to the Ephesians there is a still fuller enumeration of the Christian armor (Ephesians 6:14-18); and there is a slight difference in the description of the weapons. Here the apostle speaks of the breastplate of faith and love; there of the breastplate of righteousness and of the shield of faith. Here the helmet is called the hope of salvation; there the apostle speaks of the helmet of salvation. And besides these defensive weapons, other weapons of defense and the sword, a weapon of offence, are mentioned.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Verse 9. - For. Not a new reason for watchfulness and sobriety, but referring to "the hope of salvation," why we may with confidence put on such a hope as a helmet. God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain - or, to the acquisition of - salvation by - or, through - our Lord Jesus Christ. Not through the doctrine of Christ, nor even through faith in Christ, but through the Lord Jesus Christ himself, through what he has done for us, and especially through his atoning death. The appointment of God's grace is here mentioned as the efficient cause of our salvation; and the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Mediator through whom salvation is bestowed.
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Verse 10. - Who died. His death being the meritorious cause of our salvation. For us; that is here, not "instead of us," but "for our benefit," or "on our account." That, whether we wake or sleep. Here not to be taken in an ethical sense - whether we are spiritually awake or asleep, for those who are spiritually asleep will be surprised by the coming of the Lord; nor in a natural sense - whether he come in the night and find us taking our natural sleep, or in the day, when we are awake - which would be a mere trifling observation; but in a metaphorical sense - whether we are alive or dead. The apostle has just been speaking of those who are dead under the designation of those "who are asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and therefore it is natural to interpret the clause, "whether we wake or sleep," of the condition of believers at the coming of the Lord. There is here certainly a change of metaphor: "sleep" in ver. 6 denotes religious carelessness; in ver. 7, natural sleep; and here, death. We shall live together - or, in one company - with him. The apostle is still continuing his consolatory address to those who were mourning over their deceased friends; and he tells them that at the advent there will be no difference between those who are then alive and those who sleep - both will live together with the Lord (comp. Romans 14:8, 9).
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
Verse 11. - Wherefore; because, whether alive or dead, you will equally share in the blessings of the advent. Comfort yourselves together. The words refer back to the last verse of the preceding chapter (1 Thessalonians 4:18), and with them the apostle concludes his consolatory address to those who were mourning over the loss of their friends. And edify one another; or, build up. It was a favorite figure of the apostle to compare the Christian Church and each individual believer to a building.
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
Verse 12. - With this verse commences a new paragraph. The apostle adds in conclusion a few brief and somewhat miscellaneous exhortations. And we beseech you, brethren; an expression of earnestness and affection. To know; that is, to value, appreciate, and esteem. Them which labor among you. It was Paul's custom to organize the Churches which he had founded, and to appoint presbyters among them. Although the Church of Thessalonica had been so recently founded, yet it had its presbyters. And are over you. The presbyters, in virtue of their office, presided over the Christian assemblies. In the Lord; the sphere in which they were set over the Church; they were ordained to minister in sacred things. And admonish you. There are not three classes or orders of office-bearers here mentioned - those who labored among them, those who presided over them, and those who admonished them (Mac-knight); but all these duties belonged to one class, namely, the presbyters.
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
Verse 13. - And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake; that is, both on account of their labors, and especially on account of the dignity of their office, for their work is the work of the Lord. Both love for their persons and respect for their authority are here enjoined. And; to be omitted, as not in the original. Be at peace among yourselves. A new exhortation, entirely independent of the preceding; it is not addressed to the presbyters, but to the members of the Church in general.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
Verse 14. - Now we exhort you, brethren; an exhortation also addressed to all. Warn them that are unruly; or, as in the margin, disorderly (R.V.). Different modes of treatment have to be adapted to different classes; the unruly have to be warned. The word here rendered "unruly" or "disorderly" was originally a military term expressing the character of those soldiers who would not keep their ranks - out of the ranks. It would seem from this and other intimations that disorders existed among the Thessalonians; and that, especially being impressed by a belief in the near approach of the advent, several of them neglected the common duties of life, and abstained from working. Comfort the feebleminded. By "the feeble-minded" are meant the desponding or faint-hearted; those who were agitated about the fate of their deceased friends, or those who despaired of the grace of God by reason of their sins. These were not to be reprimanded, but comforted and exhorted. Support the weak. By "the weak" are not meant those who are physically weak - the sick; but those who are spiritually weak, whose faith was feeble - those who were afraid of persecution, or were troubled with vain scruples. These were to be supported - confirmed in the faith, be patient toward all men; all men in general, whether believers or unbelievers; toward them patience and forbearance were to be exercised.
See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
Verse 15. - See that none render evil for evil unto any. The prohibition of revenge is peculiarly Christian, neither corresponding to the spirit of heathenism, nor yet clearly revealed in Judaism. A precisely similar prohibition is given in Romans 12:17, "Recompense to no man evil for evil." But ever follow; pursue after. That which is good; the good, the beneficial. Both among yourselves; your fellow-Christians. And to all men. The human race in general; the one being brotherly kindness and the other charity (2 Peter 1:7).
Rejoice evermore.
Verse 16. - Rejoice evermore; or, rejoice always (R.V.). Joy is that feeling of delight which arises from the possession of present good, or from the anticipation of future happiness; and in both respects the believer has abundant reason for constant joy. He possesses the blessedness of forgiveness and the sure prospect of eternal life, and he has the consciousness that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). God wishes his people to be happy, and does not suffer them to be indifferent to their own peace. He commands them to rejoice, yea, to rejoice evermore. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).
Pray without ceasing.
Verse 17. - Pray without ceasing. The means of promoting religious joy is prayer. This prayer is to be "without ceasing," implying constancy (Colossians 4:2) and perseverance (Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Luke 18:1). This is not a mere precept "capable of fulfillment in idea, rather than in fact" (Jowett); but it is an exhortation to live in a devotional frame of mind. It is impossible to be always on our bended knees, but we may be in the spirit of prayer when engaged in the duties of our earthly calling. Prayer may be without ceasing in the heart which is full of the presence of God, and evermore communing with him.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Verse 18. - In everything give thanks. In every circumstance - in joy and in sorrow; for everything - for prosperity and for adversity; in every place - in the house of God and on the bed of sickness; Christians should not only be engaged in constant prayer, but in constant thanksgiving; indeed, their prayers should partake largely of the nature of thanksgiving. For this; this thankful spirit. Is the will of God; his desire. In Christ Jesus; the sphere in which this will of God is displayed. Concerning you. God by the gift of his Son has laid us under the obligation of perpetual thanksgiving. Our whole lives ought to be one continued thank-offering for all the blessings of redemption.
Quench not the Spirit.
Verse 19. - Quench not the Spirit. The Spirit is here considered as a flame which may be extinguished (Matthew 3:11). The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost was in the form of cloven tongues like as of fire (Acts 2:3). By the Spirit here is usually understood the miraculous gifts of the Spirit - speaking with tongues or prophesyings; and it is supposed that the apostle here forbids the exercise of these gifts being hindered or checked. In the next verse the gift of prophesying is mentioned. But there is no reason to exclude the ordinary and still more valuable gifts of the Spirit, such as pure thoughts, holy actions, devout affections, which may be effectually quenched by a careless or immoral life. "Quench not the Spirit." Do not those things which are opposed to his influences. Be on your guard against sin, as opposed to the work of the Spirit in the soul. In this sense the admonition is similar to that given by Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30).
Despise not prophesyings.
Verse 20. - Despise not prophesyings. This refers to the miraculous gift of prophecy possessed by the primitive Church. And by prophesyings here we are to understand, not the prediction of the future, but inspired discourse, conducive to the instruction and edification of the Church. "By the term 'prophesying,'" observes Calvin, "I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but the science of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of the will of God." This useful gift, it would seem, was apt to be despised, and the inferior miraculous gift of tongues to be preferred before it (1 Corinthians 14:1-3).
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Verse 21. - Prove all things. This exhortation is closely connected with the preceding. "Prove all things," namely, whatever was advanced by the prophets in their inspired discourses (comp. 1 John 4:1, "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God"). "Prove" here means to test, as metals are tested in the fire; and hence the word frequently denotes the favorable result of the testing, or approval. There was a special gift of discerning spirits in the primitive Church (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29). But although the words primarily refer to the testing of prophetic utterances, yet they have a general application. We should not rest our faith on the authority of others. The right of private judgment is the characteristic and privilege of Protestantism. We ought thoroughly to examine all doctrines by the test of Scripture, and then, discerning their reasons, we shall be able to take a firmer hold of them. At the same time, the fundamental principle of rationalism, that reason as such is the judge of the doctrines of revelation, is not contained in these words, and cannot be inferred from them. Hold fast; retain. That which is good; the good, the beautiful, the honorable; a different word from that rendered "good" in ver. 15. We are to retain whatever is good in those "all things" which we are to prove or test, namely, in the prophesyings.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Verse 22. - Abstain from all appearance of evil. This verse is connected with the last, and states negatively what is there stated positively. Test the declarations of the prophets; retain the good, and reject the evil. The word translated "appearance" has been differently rendered; it denotes form, figure, species, kind; so that the clause is to be rendered, "Abstain from all form of evil" (R.V.), or, "of the evil," the word being an abstract substantive. The whole exhortation is similar to that given in Romans 12:9, only there the negative statement is put first: "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." Some suppose that the metaphor employed is from the practice of money-changers who tested the money offered to them, rejecting what was base and retaining what was genuine. Among the Fathers we meet with the phrase, "Be ye experienced money-changers," as a traditionary saying of our Lord; and some suppose that the apostle refers to this saying, and give the following paraphrase: "The good money keep; with every sort of bad money have nothing to do; act as experienced money-changers: all the money presented to you as good, test." Such a supposition is fanciful and far-fetched.
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.
Verse 23. - And the very God of peace; the God who communicates peace; an expression frequently employed by Paul at the close of his Epistles (Romans 15:33; Romans 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). Sanctify you wholly; that is, perfectly, without anything wanting, referring to the entireness of the sanctification, which is presently expressed in detail. And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body; the adjective "whole" applies to all the three substantives. The apostle here divides human nature into three parts - spirit, soul, and body; and this threefold division is not a mere rhetorical statement: "The apostle pouring forth from the fullness of his heart a prayer for his converts" (Jowett); but a distinct statement of the three component parts of human nature. The "spirit" is the highest part of man, that which assimilates him to God; renders him capable of religion, and susceptible of being acted upon by the Spirit of God. The "soul" is the inferior part of his mental nature, the seat of the passions and desires, of the natural propensities. The "body" is the corporeal frame. Such a threefold distinction of human nature was not unknown among the Stoics and Platonists. There are also traces of it in the Old Testament, the spirit, or breath of God, being distinguished from the soul. Be preserved blameless. "The spirit is preserved blameless at the advent when the voice of truth rules it, the soul when it strives against all the charms of the senses, and the body when it is not abused as the instrument of shameful actions" (Lunemann). Unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
Verse 24. - Faithful is he that calleth you. Paul knows that he does not beseech God in vain. He who calls you to the Christian faith is faithful to fulfill his promises. God's calling is the commencement of a series which terminates in glorification (Romans 8:30). A similar appeal to the faithfulness of God is elsewhere made by the apostle (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Who also will do it; namely, will preserve you blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Brethren, pray for us.
Verse 25. - Brethren, pray for us; namely, that our apostolic work may be successful; that "the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1). The apostle, in almost all his Epistles, requests from his converts an interest in their prayers (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; comp. Hebrews 13:18). Ministers and people need each other's prayers, and prayer is a duty which they owe to each other.
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
Verse 26. - Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. That certain persons were enjoined to salute the other members of the Church is a proof that the Epistle was given into the hands of the presbyters. The reference is to the mode of salutation in the East. The kiss is called "holy" because it was the symbol of Christian affection. The same exhortation is made in other Epistles (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12).
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
Verse 27. - I charge you; namely, the presbyters. By the Lord; namely, Christ, an indirect proof of his Divinity, the adjuration being in his Name. The reason of this solemn charge was, not on account of any remissness on the part of the presbyters, but was occasioned by the earnestness of the apostle and by his consciousness that what he wrote was most important to the Thessalonians, and was the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. That this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren; unto the Church of Thessalonica.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Verse 28. - The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. A similar salutation is to be found at the close of all Paul's Epistles; indeed, in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, he states that this salutation was the token which he affixed to his Epistles (2 Thessalonians 3:17, 18). Amen. To be rejected, as not in the original.

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