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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
1 Thessalonians 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-28

THE FIRST AND second verses of chapter 5 stand in very direct contrast to 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:15. As to the coming of the Lord Jesus for His saints—that which is commonly spoken of as “the rapture”—they had been ignorant, and consequently they were in needless difficulty and sorrow, and the Apostle wrote to them “by the word of the Lord” to enlighten them. But as to “the times and the seasons” they were not at all ignorant and there was no need for Paul to write to them on that subject.

We must not fail to notice the distinction which is thus made between these two parts of prophetic truth. It is possible to be quite ignorant as to the rapture while being well informed as to the times and the seasons. Plainly then they are two different things, quite distinct from each other. Were the rapture an essential part of the times and seasons, then to be wholly ignorant of it would mean partial ignorance as to them. The Thessalonians however were quite ignorant as to it, while being so well instructed as to them that the apostle could say you “know perfectly” and “have no need that I write unto you.”

The times and seasons have to do with the earth and not heaven, as Genesis 1:14 shows us. The term is used in Thessalonians to indicate not the various divisions of earth’s history as regulated by the heavenly bodies but those larger divisions, each characterized by its own special features as regulated by God’s moral government of the earth. In the past fresh seasons have been introduced by such events as the flood, the redemption of Israel from Egypt and the giving of the law, the overthrow of David’s line of kings and the passing of dominion into Gentile hands. Another season yet to come is to be introduced by the Lord Jesus assuming His great power that He may reign. That will be “the day of the Lord.”

The rapture of the saints is however disconnected from these earthly seasons. It is not just an item on the programme of earthly happenings. It will be the Lord calling up His saints to heaven for the enjoyment of their heavenly portion. The church—composed of all the called-out saints of the present dispensation—is heavenly in its calling and destiny. It does not belong to the earth, which is the reason why its translation from earth to heaven is not included in the programme of earthly events. There is no hint consequently of the rapture in Old Testament Scripture. A right understanding of this matter furnishes us with a key that unlocks much dispensational truth, which otherwise must remain closed to our minds.

The day when the Lord shall have His rights and dominate the whole situation is certainly coming. Its arrival will be unexpected, sudden, inevitable, and unerring in its effects. It will come, as all God’s dealings have come, m the most appropriate time and manner possible, and it will mean destruction for the ungodly. Just when men are saying “Peace and Safety” then the judgment will fall. Conditions amongst the nations are such that peace is an urgent necessity. Modern teachings, both scientific and religious, are such that men feel increasingly secure from supernatural happenings. In the minds of the people God has been reduced to a nonentity by the popular doctrine of evolution; so they fear nothing from that quarter. To their minds the only danger that threatens is from man. Man, wonderful man, has sought out many inventions, but unfortunately his marvellous discoveries in chemistry coupled with researches in other directions are capable of being turned to the most diabolical uses. Now if only peace can be maintained amongst men safety is assured.

When men congratulate themselves on having achieved this desirable end then God will assert Himself and the day of the Lord arrive. The world will be overtaken by it like those who are asleep in the dark; but not thus is it going to be with believers. Today the world is asleep in the dark, today the believer is a child of light, and in the light.

The contrast between the believer and the world, as given to us in verses 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8, is very striking, and we do well to ponder it. The world is in darkness. The world is asleep. The world is even “drunken,” intoxicated with influences that are from beneath. This was never more apparent than it is today when multiplied means of inter-communication spread new ideas and influences with great rapidity. Think of the potency with which the one word “evolution” has drugged the minds of men! No opiate for the body ever yet discovered can compare with it!

The believer is not in darkness nor is he of the darkness. He is a child of light and of the day. He has been begotten, so to speak, of the light which reached him m the Gospel, and he partakes of the character of that which gave him birth. Hence, though he is in the world, which is in darkness, he is not in darkness himself; rather light divine surrounds his going. He is a child of the coming day and hence he knows where he is going and what is coming.

Upon this is based the exhortation to shake off anything like sleep that we may watch and be sober. As a means to this sober watching we are to be characterized by faith, love and hope. These virtues, if in active exercise, will be to us like breastplate and helmet, protecting both heart and head in this day of conflict. Though children of light we are surrounded by the darkness of the world and ugly blows may fall upon us, struck from out the darkness.

The hope which is ours is the “hope of salvation.” The Christian is never spoken of in Scripture as hoping for forgiveness of sins, but he is as hoping for salvation, for salvation is a word of large meaning, embracing the final deliverance which shall reach us at the coming of the Lord. For that we hope; that is, we await it with expectation. It is certain to arrive in its due season for there is no element of uncertainty in hopes which are founded on God and His word.

The Christ-rejecting world is appointed to wrath when the vials of His judgment will be out-poured on earth. Details as to this solemn time we find in the book of Revelation. We however have been appointed to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s appointments are always kept to time. They never fail. Wrath for the world and salvation for the saints are alike sure.

That salvation is going to reach us by our Lord Jesus Christ acting as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. His people shall be taken by Him out of the place where the judgment is going to fall, just as of old God removed Enoch before death reached him or the flood came. In more places than one the Old Testament bears witness to the way in which God shelters his people from judgment. He may do it by safely housing them and carrying them through it, as once he did with Noah, and as He will do with a godly remnant of His people Israel when soon His judgments are abroad in the earth. He may do it by removing them from the very scene of Judgment, so that they never see it, as with Enoch in the past and the church m the future. But He always does it.

When we thus “obtain salvation,” it will reach us righteously for the One who will bring it to us has died for us, as we are reminded in verse 10. The object He had before Him in dying for us was that we might “live together with Him.” How full of comfort and edification is this wonderful truth.

From 1 Thessalonians 4:13, to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 is one long paragraph, and the close of it brings us back to where it started. Jesus died for us that He might have us with Him. He will put the finishing touches to His design when He raptures the saints into His presence whether they are awake on earth or sleeping in their graves.

Let us all ponder the words that “we should live together with Him,” so that their sweetness may deeply penetrate our souls. He died that we might live. But not only is life before us, but life together with Christ. We noticed the word “together” at the end of chapter 4. It was delightful to discover that in the resurrection day we should be united with all the saints—and reunited with those we knew on earth—in order to meet the Lord. It is more delightful still to know that as one united company we shall for eternity enjoy life together with Him. All that life means, its pursuits and joys, we are to share with Him. We shall have His life so that we may be capacitated to share His life in that day. Even today we may share His thoughts, His joys, though not in the wonderful fulness of this glad tomorrow.

With verse 1 Thessalonians 5:12 the closing exhortations begin. There were evidently no officially appointed elders at Thessalonica. Hence the apostle’s desire that they should know—in sense of recognizing—those in their midst who were qualified as such and doing the work of elders. They were not only to know them but to listen to their admonitions and esteem them in love. The carnal mind, which is by nature insubordinate, would take advantage of the absence of any official appointment to flout their spiritual authority; but thus it was not to be.

How clearly this shows that the thing of all importance is moral qualification and authority as given of God, and not official sanction and appointment, even when such can be ministered through an apostle. The latter without the former is but an empty husk. What is it when even the official appointment has nothing apostolic about it? And Scripture is quite silent as to apostolic powers and authority being transmitted from generation to generation.

If the Lord raises up godly men with shepherd instincts to care for the spiritual welfare of His people we should thankfully recognize and profit by them, even though apostolic power to appoint them be lacking. This, we believe, is just our position today. Let us beware of spurning such spiritual guides. It is not difficult after all to discern between those who are but tiresome meddlers with other people’s affairs and those who care lovingly for our spiritual welfare in the fear of God.

In verses 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 we have a series of important exhortations couched in very brief terms. It is very evident that the church of God is not intended to be a community wherein everyone may go as they please. It is rather a place where spiritual order under divine authority is maintained. This is as we should expect, remembering that it is God’s house. Warning, comfort and support are to be administered as occasion arises. Patience is to be exercised. Good is to be pursued. Joy, prayer and thanksgiving are to be the happy occupations of the saints, and that abidingly.

Nothing is to quench the believer’s joy for it is occasioned by that which is eternal. Prayer is to be unceasing for the need is continuous, and access to the throne of grace is never closed on God’s side. Prayer, and that attitude of soul of which prayer is the expression, is to be habitual. As for thanksgiving it should be rendered to God “in everything,” inasmuch as we know that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” Moreover it is God’s will that we should be a thankful people, so that He may “inhabit” our praises, according to the spirit of Psalms 22:3. These things are all intensely individual.

Verses 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 refer more to matters which concerned the assembly of God’s saints, where the Spirit of God operated and made known the mind of God. There, in those early days, He was accustomed sometimes to speak and act in supernatural ways,—see Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 1 Timothy 4:1. He also, in a more general way, made His voice heard in the ministry of the prophets, as contemplated in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40. The Thessalonians were not to attempt to regulate the action of the Spirit in the assembly or they would quench His action. It is not for us to control the Spirit, but for Him to control us. Prophesyings were to be given their due place of importance and yet, seeing that such a thing as prophecy of a spurious sort was not unknown, everything they heard was to be “proved;” i.e., tested, for though they had not as yet the written New Testament, they had the Old Testament and the verbal instructions of the apostle. Having tested what they heard they were to “hold fast” all that was good and “abstain from” or “hold aloof from” evil in all its forms.

Reading the exhortations do we not feel that a very lofty standard is set before us? It is so indeed, and that it may be reached we need to be set apart for God; and God Himself, the God of peace, must be the Author of our sanctification. The Apostle’s desire was that God might work to this end; the whole man, spirit, soul and body being brought under His power. Thus they would be sanctified wholly.

In as far as we are really set apart for God, in spirit, in soul and in body we shall be preserved blameless. At the coming of the Lord Jesus we shall be removed altogether from the scene of defilement and we shall no longer have the flesh within us. But how cheering is verse 1 Thessalonians 5:24 ! In spite of all the breakdowns and defections upon our side God has called us to this blameless condition in glory and He will not fail to achieve His purpose with us. He will do it!

To this end what is needed but that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ should be with us? With a benediction to this effect the epistle closes.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1947.


Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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