Sons of Light

Paul did not detail “times and seasons” since the Thessalonians understood that the Lord is coming “like a thief in the night”1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Sunlight + Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash
Paul continued his discussion on the “
arrival” of Jesus by discussing the “when” of that day, and how its arrival would impact believers and nonbelievers. Faithful believers will be prepared for its sudden arrival, for they are the “sons of light.” They must live “in the day” and watch soberly, for the “Day of the Lord” is coming like “a thief in the night” - [Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash].

Paul discussed several aspects of the same “arrival” of Jesus that he just described in the preceding paragraph - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But instead of providing information about “when” it would come, he gave instructions on how Christians must live in anticipation of its sudden arrival.

Times and Seasons. “Now concerning” (deperi). The phrase marks the beginning of the section, although the subject matter is related to the previous paragraph, the “arrival of Jesus from heaven.” Paul now discloses additional information.
  • (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) – “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that anything be written to you, for you yourselves know perfectly well that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night. As soon as they are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ then suddenly upon them comes destruction, just as birth-pains to her that is with child, and in nowise will they escape.
Verse 2 begins with the conjunction “for,” which logically links the passage to the preceding verse.  Paul has no need to write about the “times and seasons” because the Thessalonians “themselves know accurately” that the “day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night,” and not because they know all the signs that may or may not mark its approach.

Paul used the emphatic pronoun “you yourselves” to emphasize what his readers already knew, and he described their knowledge as “accurate” (akribōs). What they understood was not detailed information about the “signs of the times,” but instead, that Jesus would come “like a thief in the night” - he would arrive unexpectedly at a time the householder could not know. This echoes the saying of Jesus:
  • (Matthew 24:42-45) - “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason, you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you think not” (AlsoLuke 12:39-40).
Both “times” and “seasons” are plural, and together, they include any possible delimitation of time. The answer to the question of “when,” is the answer provided earlier by Jesus – “No one knows except the Father alone” - (Acts 1:7-9).

The analogy of the “thief” stresses the unknowability of the timing of that day’s arrival.  The conclusion Paul drew was the need for believers to be prepared always, by watching, staying awake, and donning the “breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation.”

In the preceding paragraph, Paul used the term parousia or “arrival.” Here, he refers to is as the “Day of the Lord.”  When Jesus gave the analogy of the “thief,” he applied it to the “coming of the Son of Man.” The Apostle applies it to the “Day of the Lord.” This demonstrates that the “coming” of Jesus coincides with that day, and he also echoed another saying of Jesus from Luke:
  • (Luke 21:34-36) - “Be on guard that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you unexpectedly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
In the passage from Luke, “that day” refers to the “day of the Lord.” In Luke, Jesus exhorted the disciples to pray “to escape all these things,” while in Paul’s statement, the unprepared would “certainly not escape” that day.  The same Greek verb is used in both passages for “escape” (ekphugein).

According to Jesus, that day will come unexpectedly, “like a trap.” According to Paul, it will arrive “like birth pains.” Undoubtedly, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which had a word that could be translated either as “trap” or “birth-pangs” (hebel).  It is possible Luke translated it as “trap,” but Paul instead as “birth pains.”

Paul used a second analogy to highlight another aspect of that day, that of a pregnant woman in labor. No one is surprised when a pregnant woman goes into labor, and no one doubts the outcome. Labor pains point to the inevitable destruction of the unprepared. The picture of the thief emphasizes the unexpectedness of the day, the woman in labor the inevitability of disaster for the unprepared.

And “birth pains” (hōdin) echoes another saying of Jesus when he described certain events as “the beginning of birth pains” - (hōdin - Matthew 24:8Mark 13:8).

Unexpected destruction” will overtake the unprepared. Beforehand, they will proclaim “peace and security.” The phrase parallels the propaganda line of the Roman Empire - “Peace and security” (pax et securitas).  Paul may have this in mind. More likely, he is describing the typical human attitude of complacency.  This is borne out by the conjunction whenever.”
Men can prepare for the eventuality of a home invasion by a thief, but they cannot predict when it will occur.  For the unprepared, it will be an unexpected event that will result in dire consequences.

SONS OF LIGHT. That “day” will not overtake the Thessalonians because they “are not in darkness.” Unlike the unrighteous, believers will not be caught off guard when the day arrives, whether they know its timing or not. It is how one lives that makes all the difference.
  • (1 Thessalonians 5:4-7) – “But you are not in darkness, that the day overtakes you as upon thieves. For all you are sons of light and sons of day; we are not of night nor of darkness, hence, then, let us not be sleeping, like the rest, but let us watch and be sober; for they that sleep by night do sleep, and they that drink by night do drink.
The Greek term rendered “overtake” (katalambanô) means “overtake, seize, forcefully grasp, overpower.” Paul’s concern is that the “day” does not “overtake” Christians because they are unprepared.  Believers avoid “destruction” by being prepared for that event. It will bring salvation for some and destruction for others, depending on whether one is prepared or not.

Paul makes several contrasts between the prepared and the unprepared.  Unbelievers are in “darkness” and belong “to the night.”  They are asleep, and therefore, unprepared.  Believers, in contrast, are “not in darkness” - They are the “sons of light” and the “sons of the day.”

There is a verbal link between this passage and the preceding section where Paul expressed his desire for the Thessalonians not to be “ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the others who have no hope.” 

Here, he exhorts them to “not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” Both passages refer to unbelievers as “the others” (hoi loipoi), and both refer to “those who are asleep.”  In the previous passage, those who “slept” were dead Christians. In the present passage, Paul commands Christians not “to sleep” as the others do. Instead, they are to “watch” always for that day.

Words of Comfort. Next, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” The same triad of virtues is found in the opening passage of this letter, “work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope” - (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11) – “But we, being of the day, let us be sober, putting on a breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. Because God did not appoint us for wrath, but for acquiring salvation through our Lord Jesus, who died for us that, whether we are watching or sleeping, together with him we should live. Wherefore, be consoling one another and building up each the other, even as you are also doing.
Of great relevance is the theme of “hope.”  For Paul, “hope” is realized “before our God and Father” - The saints will be his “hope…before our Lord Jesus at His arrival” - (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2:19).

In the preceding paragraph, believers are not “without hope” because at his "arrival" the dead in Christ will be raised.  Here, the “hope of salvation” is the “obtaining of salvation” through Jesus, and thus, the avoidance of destruction. In both cases, the “hope” is realized at the “arrival of Jesus” when believers stand before God and the dead are raised.

Hope - Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash
Hope - Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

And at the same time, the "
wrath" of God will be executed on the disobedient, which is being contrasted with the final “salvation” that will be received when Jesus “arrives.” Those who are prepared because of faithful living and watchfulness will “obtain salvation through Jesus Christ,” but the unprepared will find themselves “appointed to wrath.”

Paul refers to Jesus as he “who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him.”  In the previous section, Christians who die are “those who have fallen asleep.”  Once again, he refers to two different groups of believers - those who are awake and those who are “asleep.” Both acquire salvation at the same time, and both groups “will live together with him” from that day forward.

The clause “together with” concludes both this and the preceding section about the “arrival of Jesus from heaven.” Nowhere else does the letter combine the two terms, and the verbal link is deliberate.  Christians who remain alive when Jesus “arrives” will be caught up “together with” the “dead in Christ.” Likewise, whether alive (“awake”) or dead (“asleep”), believers “will live together with him” forevermore.  As before, the assurance of salvation is grounded in the past death and resurrection of Christ - (“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again”).

Previously, Paul told the Thessalonians to “comfort one another with these words.” Likewise, here also, they are to “comfort one another and build up one another.”  This is another verbal connection between the two paragraphs. The Greek words translated “comfort one another” in both passages are identical (parakaleite allélous).

Another verbal link is the promise that believers will be with Christ after he arrives.  After the saints meet Jesus "in the air," they will be “with the Lord evermore.” Likewise, “whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

Both paragraphs refer to unbelievers as “the others.” In the preceding section, they mourned over their dead loved ones.  In the present passage, it refers to those who are spiritually asleep, and therefore, unprepared for his “arrival.

The verbal links demonstrate that the same event is in view. The previous paragraph concerned the future resurrection of dead saints when Jesus “arrived from heaven.” The present section describes how those events will overtake the unprepared.

Paul has answered the questions of when and how the “Day of the Lord” will come: “Like a thief in the night.” This is something the Thessalonians already knew. Paul had no need to write further regarding “signs" that may or may not mark its imminence.

For the Christian, the coming of Christ is always an imminent event, one for which he or she must always be prepared. It remains imminent precisely because its timing is unknown. For those anticipating the return of Jesus and living accordingly, although they remain ignorant of its timing, the day will not overtake them by surprise, and it will mean their salvation, precisely because they are the “sons of light.”


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