Getting Ready for the Second Coming

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

October 27, 2002 | Brian Bill

I can’t imagine what that would be like when the Book of Life is opened and your name is nowhere to be found!  The feelings of regret, loneliness, and outright alarm would be devastating.  And that would be nothing like the eternal punishment that awaits those who are not saved. In a recent Time magazine cover story, Nancy Gibbs writes, “In an apocalyptic age, people feel that the veil of normal, secular reality is lifting and we can see behind the scenes…” 

I can think of three categories in which we’re beginning to see the veil of secular reality lifting:

  • Catastrophic events like 9/11, the sniper shootings, the threat of more terrorist attacks, and the news about a senator and his family being killed in a plane crash have reminded us that life is a vapor that’s here one moment and gone the next. 
  • Continuing problems in the Middle East, impending war with Iraq, and the swings in the stock market make many of us feel insecure.  
  • And, our cultural climate is filled with increasing drug and alcohol addiction, the breakdown of the family, and mistrust of both state and church.

As we established last week, Jesus is coming again.  This topic fascinates many of us, while others are filled with fear at the prospect of His return.  For those who know Christ, the problem of sorrow is solved because the promise of the rapture is sure, the participants are certain, and the plan is set.  1 Thessalonians 4:18 states that the purpose of this teaching is to comfort us: “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

Let me show you this simple chart again to demonstrate my understanding of how the end time events lay out on a timeline:

As we come to 1 Thessalonians 5, it’s important to know that Paul is now addressing the “Day of the Lord,” not the Rapture.  We’ll learn more about this in a minute, but keep in mind that believers are raptured in chapter 4; in chapter 5, those who are left behind face unprecedented tribulation and terror.  We could say it this way: In chapter 4, the Rapture comforts the troubled; in chapter 5, the Day of the Lord troubles the comfortable.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a man, who in 1938, ordered an expensive, extremely sensitive barometer from a very respected company.  When it arrived, he was disappointed to discover that the needle was stuck on the dial marked “hurricane.”  After shaking his new gauge several times to no avail, he decided to write a scathing letter to the manufacturer.  He mailed the letter the next day on his way to the office.  That evening he returned home to find that his barometer was missing – along with his house that had been hurtled away by a hurricane!  

The Bible is our barometer.  This morning we’re going to see that it’s pointing to a holy hurricane, to a terrible time of tribulation.  Please turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and follow along as I read: “Now, brothers, 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, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.  You are all sons of the light and sons 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 alert and self-controlled.  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 self-controlled, 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.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Distinctives of the Day of the Lord (1-3)

Paul recognizes that the Thessalonians knew enough about “times and dates” that he did not need to give them any more information. They were well taught on this topic from the very beginning.  There are two reasons why they didn’t need any more data.  

  • Jesus made it clear that no one knows the exact time when He will return in Matthew 24:36: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  
  • Believers won’t be around anyway for the “Day of the Lord” because we will be raptured before it begins.

The “Day of the Lord” is a phrase that is used many times in the Old Testament.  The prophets used the term to describe God’s judgment on the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  In fact, throughout history there have been many periods that might be called “the day of the Lord.”  But all of those little “days” look forward to be the big “day” at the end of history.  They are like the preliminary fights leading up to the main event.  

Commentators suggest that this is not a single 24-hour day but an elastic and extended length of time that begins right after the rapture of the church, covering a period of seven years that we know as the Great Tribulation and concluding at the end of the millennium.  Here are some things we know from Scripture about the Day of the Lord.  I should warn you that this is some of the strongest language in the entire Bible and is not very “positive or uplifting,” but it’s the truth.  The Day of the Lord is the culmination of God’s fury in a final blast that consumes those who have not put their faith in Christ:

  • Isaiah 13:6: “Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.”
  • Isaiah 13:9: “See, the day of the LORD is coming –a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger–to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.”
  • Jeremiah 46:10: “But that day belongs to the Lord, the LORD Almighty–a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes.”
  • Joel 2:11: “…The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it?”
  • Zephaniah 1:14: “The great day of the LORD is near–near and coming quickly.  Listen!  The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter.”
  • Zephaniah 1:15: “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.”

This is not just an Old Testament truth, as we will see in our passage for today.  The Book of Revelation records supernatural holocausts that take place, as God’s wrath is unleashed in the Day of the Lord.  Here’s a taste of what lies ahead for those who are left behind:

  • 8:13: “As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: ‘Woe!  Woe!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!’” 
  • 9:6: “During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.”
  • 16:18 -21: “Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake.  No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.  The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed…Every Island fled away and the mountains could not be found.  From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men.  And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, we see that there are three main distinctives of the Day of the Lord. 

1. It will be unexpected (2b).

Just as a thief comes in the night, when no one expects him, so too, the Day of the Lord will come when people are feeling safe and secure.  Jesus used this same comparison in Matthew 24:43-44“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  And in Revelation 16:15, Jesus says, “Behold, I come like a thief!”  Just as a burglar does not announce his arrival, Jesus will come when He is least expected.

2. It will be destructive (3a).

This word refers to the loss of everything worthwhile causing the victim to despair of life itself.  This is summed up with the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again.”

3. It will be inescapable (3b). 

Here is the most important fact we need to know about the future.  When the Day of the Lord finally comes and God’s fury is poured out on the earth, there will be no place to run and no place to hide.  He uses a fascinating analogy to make his point.  He compares it to a woman who is having labor pains.  

When Beth was beginning to go into labor with our first child, I flipped out.  I ran around the house like a wild man.  I tried to comfort her but didn’t know what to do – I’ll never be a poster boy for Lamaze training!  I was so nervous that I called one of Beth’s friends and asked her to come over and help.  Unbelievably, I went outside and started washing the car.  Beth didn’t really appreciate this but I told her I would just be gone between contractions!  I guess I was trying to escape, but there was nothing Beth could do to get away from those sharp pains or make them disappear.  When the time came, we jumped in the car because Emily was on the way.  I was pretty much useless through the whole ordeal, but at least our car was clean!

When God’s judgment is poured out, no one will escape

The same is true of the Day of the Lord.  When God’s judgment is poured out, no one will escape.  A double negative is used in the Greek to stress that fleeing will be futile.  The world cannot escape the tribulation period.  Your only hope is to flee to the Lord Jesus Christ right now.  

Before we move on to next verses, I want you to notice the change in subject and pronouns.  In verses 1-2, Paul is speaking of believers: “brothers,” “you,” and “you.”  In verse 3, when speaking of the Day of the Lord, he makes it clear that believers will no longer be here because the rapture has taken place.  This is evident by his use of: “people,” “them,” and “they.”  Chapters 4 and 5 are filled with contrasts:

The Rapture The Day of the Lord

Life Death

Hope Despair

Light Darkness

Day Night

Asleep Awake

Drunkenness Self-Control

Salvation Wrath

Being with the Lord Separated from the Lord

The delivered The doomed

As we learned last week, there is a complete and total division between believers and unbelievers.  In the rest of this section, Paul establishes the contrast between a Christian and a non-Christian.  Here’s a simple outline:

  • We have a new identity (4-5)
  • We have a unique responsibility (6-8)
  • We have a different destiny (9-10)

We Have a New Identity (4-5)

Verse 4 begins with a contrast and introduces an appeal to believers: “But you, brothers…” We won’t be here for the Day of the Lord, but we’re here now.  The first thing Paul wants us to know is that we have a new identity because of Christ.  Look at verse 5: “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day.  We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” Notice that he says, “You are all.”  There really are no categories of Christians.  You are either in the light or you are in the darkness and if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are in the light.  

Colossians 1:13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”  In the Bible, darkness represents ignorance, spiritual blindness, and wickedness.  As sons of the light, we have all the blessings and privileges associated with being sons of the King.

Friend, do you know who you are in Christ?  If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you have a new identity!  You are a different person.  You’ve become someone you never were before.  Many of us struggle with this because we see how far short we fall and Satan is a sniper who likes to take shots at Christians.  I wonder if some of us are more defined by what the WORLD thinks than by what the WORD teaches.  

Let me give you a brief overview of how God views you.  Close your eyes and allow these 20 truths to permeate your mind and percolate in your spirit:

  • You are a child of God (John 1:12)
  • You are a friend of Jesus (John 15:15)
  • You have been justified and redeemed (Romans 3:24)
  • You will never be condemned (Romans 8:1)
  • You have been set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)
  • You are a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
  • You have been accepted in Christ (Romans 15:7)
  • You are called to be a saint (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • You are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • You have been set free in Christ (Galatians 5:1)
  • You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)
  • You have been forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)
  • You are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13)
  • You are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
  • You are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You are a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • You will have all your needs supplied by God (Philippians 4:19)
  • You have been made complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)
  • You are loved and chosen by God (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

We Have a Unique Responsibility (6-8)

The first phrase of verse 6 is a great reminder that our identity is linked to our responsibility: “So then…”  Because of who we are, there is some unique behavior that should flow out of us.  Since we have a new identity, so then, we should live differently.  Actually, not only should we be different, we can and we must.  Our conduct demonstrates our condition.  Our identity gives us the power to be who we were created to be. Ephesians 5:8-9: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light.” 

Notice that Paul does not say, “Please be day people.”  He says, “You are day people.  Now live like it.”  Look at verse 6: “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”  There are two qualities that should mark the life of a Christian:

  • We must be alert.  That means, “to make a determined effort to stay awake.”  Some of us are spiritual sleepwalkers with low standards and loose morality.
  • We must be self-controlled.  This word describes a person with spiritual poise in an unsettled world.  A self-controlled Christian is serious about his or her spirituality.

Verse 7 spells out some things that should have no part of a believer’s life: “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.”  People who are spiritually asleep live in darkness.  We must not be like those who do their deeds in the dark because we are children of the light.  Paul reinforces the need to be alert and self-controlled by contrasting these qualities with drunkenness.  A person who is drunk is out of control and inattentive.  

Verse 8 lays out the contrast once again: “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” As Christians, we are to be spiritually awake, sober, and living in daily anticipation of the Lord’s imminent coming.  With the mention of a breastplate and helmet Paul uses the metaphor of a soldier.  This was one of his favorite illustrations for the Christian life.  We have the unique responsibility to live soberly like a soldier on duty.

Once again Paul uses the trilogy of faith, love, and hope to summarize a Christian’s responsibility.  A Roman breastplate covered a soldier from his neck to his waist and protected most of his vital organs.  Our faith in God is like the hard outside of the armor that protects us.  Underneath the hard armor was a soft cloth to warm the body – that’s love, which is directed to God and in tenderness toward others.  If we have resilient faith, we will have love for others.  

In addition, the hope of salvation is the helmet that guards our heads from attacks on our thinking.  This armor equips us to stand ready for the Rapture.  This hope of salvation is not a vague or wishful longing that someday we might be saved.  Followers of Christ have a sure hope.  The hope of salvation is the certainty that if we die before Jesus returns, we who believe will go directly to heaven.  If we are alive when He returns, it is the certainty that we will be raptured off this earth to meet the Lord in the earth.  Either way we’re going to be delivered.

Paul is telling us there is a moral value to the Second Coming of Christ.  There are certain standards that go with following the Savior.  The exhortation to put on the breastplate and the helmet is in the present tense: “keep putting on.”  While we wait for his return, we live in a world of spiritual darkness that is hostile to spiritual truth.  There is a battle raging all around us, a battle for the hearts and minds of men and women and every Christian is a soldier in that battle.  We must keep putting on our armor.  Every day.  Every hour.  Every minute.  Our defense against the debilitating deeds of darkness is fiery faith, a burning love, and a purifying hope for the day we will see Him face-to-face.

In a sermon on this passage, John MacArthur states: “By the way, night people can only be night people, they can’t be day people.  Night people cannot do the deeds of the day.  But day people can do the deeds of the night.  We can reach back to old patterns of conduct.  But we don’t have to because it’s not consistent with our new nature and our new identity and our sphere of life…there’s no place for night life among day people…if you do the deeds of darkness…you’re going contrary to your nature, you’re violating your identity.  Our behavior should be consistent with our nature.”

We Have a Different Destiny (9-10)

Our identity is that we are people of the day.  Our unique responsibility is to act like who we are.  And we can do that because we have a different destiny.  Look at verse 9: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The word “appoint” means “a destiny, an appointed end.”  We all plan for the future.  Most of you have already planned where you will eat lunch after church today.

Our plans don’t always work out the way we intend but God’s plan for us is so certain that we can call it a destiny, or an “appointment.”  Friend, if you have been born again, your destiny is deliverance! 

1. You will not suffer wrath. 

You will not go through the Tribulation period but will be raptured before God’s wrath is spilled out from the skies.  Paul calmed the concerns of the Thessalonians way back at the beginning of this letter when he wrote in 1:10: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” When God pours out His wrath on the Day of the Lord, we will not be targeted.  And when He pours out His final wrath in eternal Hell, it won’t be for us either.

2. You will receive salvation. 

This phrase means, “Full deliverance.”  Jesus Christ does not appoint us to wrath but to “full deliverance”.  When the seals are broken and the four horsemen ride across the earth, when the trumpets blow and the sea turns to blood, when the bowls of God’s judgment are emptied, the world will be caught totally unprepared.  But we won’t be surprised.  In fact, we won’t even be here.  We’ll be with the Lord forever!  

Verse 10 gives us the basis for our confidence: “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”   Jesus died in my place on the cross, bearing my sin, taking my shame.  That’s the substitutionary atonement.  He gave Himself for us as Galatians 1:4 makes clear: “Who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.”

Action Steps 

I want to wrap up this morning with a few action steps.  I want to first talk to those of you who are “day people.” 

1. Live out your faith.

The study of God’s prophetic program is always meant to have a purifying effect on His people

You have a new identity and a different destiny and therefore have a unique responsibility to live distinctively.  Are you?   What are you waiting for?   Do you live more like the world than as a follower of the Word?  The study of God’s prophetic program is always meant to have a purifying effect on His people.  1 John 3:2-3: “…But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

2. Encourage one another.

The last verse in chapter 4 is almost identical to 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  To “encourage” means to come alongside someone and give him or her whatever help they need.  The phrase “build each other up” was used when someone constructed a house, or remodeled a room.  Friend, every believer around you is undergoing a spiritual construction project and God wants to use you to come alongside and build into your brothers and sisters.

Be alert to His coming, aware of his presence, and accountable to your brothers and sisters.  Here are some practical ideas:

  • Talk about the return of Christ at least once a day.  
  • Interject the second coming into conversations by using the phrase, “Maranatha.”   This word is found at the end of the Book of Revelation and means, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
  • Pepper your prayers with references to His return.  
  • Sign your emails with an expectation of his imminent return. 
  • Remind your hurting friends that Jesus is coming again. 

3. Tell lost people about the Lord.  

Don’t get so caught up in prophecy that you forget to point people to Christ.  In Acts 1:7, in response to some more questions about the timing of His second coming, Jesus said: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”  We’re not to be focused on date setting but instead we’re called to be Spirit-empowered witnesses.  Look at the very next verse: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Instead of wondering, we should be worshipping and witnessing.

This last action step is for those of you who are trusting that you have enough in your spiritual suitcase to get you into heaven. 

4. Come to Christ for salvation and rescue. 

What trophies and accomplishments are you counting on?  Friend, you don’t need a portfolio of good deeds because the admission price has already been paid.  Don’t delay — you could die today!   Or, Jesus could come back while you’re having lunch this afternoon.  

Do you know why the Day of the Lord has not yet come?   It’s because God is giving you time to repent now…before it’s too late.  Listen to 2 Peter 3:8-10: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.   BUT the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” 

Friend, I don’t know how to say this any other way.  If you don’t know Jesus, you have an appointment with judgment.  Your future is wrath, judgment, and tribulation.  And there is no escape unless you put your faith in Jesus Christ this very moment.  It’s your choice.  What will it be?  Do you want to face ruin?  Or, do you want to be rescued?  Destruction?  Or deliverance?  Flee to Jesus now before it’s too late…before you’re left behind.  If you’re ready to be born again right now and become a child of the day, pray this prayer along with me.

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  I don’t want to be left behind.  No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking.  By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Thank for dying in my place as my substitute.  I believe your words are true.  I accept you into my heart.   Be my Savior and Lord.  I surrender to your leadership in my life.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?