Preparing for the End

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Introduction

1 Thess. 5:1-11 “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
This passage is primarily about the Day of the Lord and being ready for it. As I was preparing for this sermon and trying to find some good illustrations, I stumbled upon this TV show that started 10 years ago called Doomsday Preppers.
Naturally, I had to watch part of the first episode. This couple believed the polarity of the earth would shift at any moment causes mass chaos to break out. So, they built their house out of steel shipping containers. In the first scene they are firing civilian rifles at their own house to make sure it’s bullet proof. They had made alternate energy sources so they could survive off the grid. They used methane gas from themselves and from their animals to use for cooking. Sort of like Ezekiel, if you don’t know that story you can look it up in Ezekiel 4.
In stead of cooking three meals a day, they cook eight meals a day and can the rest. They claimed to have enough food in their pantry to last 22 people 15 years. They put in 50 hours a week all for something that may or may not happen within their lifetime.
In our passage, Paul tells us how to be ready for the last days; however, in a much different way.

The Nature of the Day of the Lord (vv. 1-3)

Paul writes in verse 1, “Now concerning” this is the word he uses for transitioning to another topic. In the previous passage, he was discussing the fate of those who were dead in Christ. Here, he transitions to discussing the Day of the Lord. “The times and the seasons” he mentions in verse one are end times references. He goes on to say, “you have no need to have anything written.” Paul, here, is probably referencing what he had previously taught them on the subject.
In verse 2 he explains why they don’t have need while also expanding the teaching on the day of the Lord. He says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief int he night.”
We need to pause for a moment here and take an excursus on the topic of the Day of the Lord. When using the Day of the Lord, Paul pulls from a great wealth of information all throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets. I want to cover some major things concerning the day of the Lord

The Day of the Lord is sudden and unexpected

Paul says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Whenever you see a comparison in scripture which is indicated to us by the word “like” or “as,” we have to identify the point of comparison. If I say someone is walking like a duck, what do you expect to see? Someone waddling, right? I’m not trying to say that they have webbed feet or have very thin legs or have grown feathers, or a bill. The point of comparison is how a duck waddles.
And this is where we need to be clear, when the passage says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, this does not mean that Jesus will come and steal things. Nor does it mean that it must occur at night and can only occur during a solar eclipse.
Y’all think I’m being weird here, right? Maybe I’m being a little overly clear in my explanation. But let’s be honest, here. . . when we get to talking about the return of Jesus, people get a little weird. This is when we get the 88 reasons Jesus is returning in 1988 and the blood moons and we start measuring all the earthquakes and such. Let me just add some extra information here, sort of an aside. If talking about the return of Christ encourages us to read the newspaper more than the Bible, we probably have a skewed understanding of Christ’s return.
Back to the point of comparison: the day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night is not that Jesus will come a steal things, nor is it something wicked that had to be done in darkness. The point of comparison is that it is unexpected.
Have any of you in here been robbed before? Don’t you remember how vulnerable that made you feel, and how unexpected it was? I mean, it would be totally different if we expected the robber to show up. I mean, could you imagine the robber giving you a heads up?
“Hey there, this is Jim Bob and Sally. Yes. We’re just giving you a courtesy call to let y’all know that we’re going to show up at about 1:15 AM to rob your house. Do you have any valuables you would like to go ahead and list over the phone for us? Okay, thanks see you soon.”
That would be ridiculous! I mean, what would you do then? Get ready of course! Update your security system, start packing some heat, call the police. You would be ready.
But that’s not how thieves work, they come when you least expect it to get past all the security and steal valuables.
The day of the Lord comes when we least expect it so that we always stay diligent, eager, and expectant.

The Day of the Lord is a day of Judgement

The Day of the Lord is a specific time when God plainly makes his justice known.
Romans 2:5 “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
God is currently “storing up” wrath against the ungodly. God has in history unleashed his judgment locally. In the Bible, you can think of Sodom and Gomorrah, his judgement on Nineveh in the book of Nahum, his judgment on Israel when they were taken into exile in 722 and Judah in 586.
All of this points to a future Day of the Lord when God will judge not just a single location, but the entire world, similar to the judgement we see in the flood.
Just to give you a survey of what the prophets have to say about the day of the Lord:
Isaiah prophesying against Babylon says, Is. 13:9 “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.”
Joel 2:1-2 “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Amos 5:18 “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light,” Remember the repeated imagery of light and darkness, because Paul brings this up later in the passage.
In the book of Amos, presumptuous Israel was calling for the day of the Lord because the believed God would judge everyone out there. But Amos is reminding them that the judgment of the Lord falls equally on everyone.
And this is what Paul reiterates in verse three. He says 1 Thess. 5:3 “While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
The language in the verse is chalk full of judgement language against the sinners. First they are judged in their thinking for the are unable to discern God’s will and how he operates, or have completely thrown him out of the picture and just expect peace and security. Second it says instead of peace they will receive destruction. And finally, you can see the phrase, “they will not escape.”
The main subject and verb of this sentence on which everything else is built is “destruction will come.” And I know talking about God’s judgement can make us feel squeamish. It makes me feel like when I was a kid and staying the night at a friend’s house and the friend’s parent was yelling at him, and I just wanted to leave the room.
But I think that it is important that the Bible has so much space devoted to teaching about God’s judgement.
I’ve noticed a pattern in my classroom at school. Whenever I slack off in giving write-ups, the student behavior slowly gets worse. Whenever I am diligent in discipline, all of a sudden, the overall classroom behavior is a lot better. And when I’m not squabbling over behavior all the time, guess what happens? Learning, the whole point of the classroom.
We live in an age where the judgment of God is almost never mentioned from the pastor’s mouth any more. “I don’t want to hear about all that judgment stuff, I just want to hear about God’s love.”
Paul does not say, “You know, the modern self is so emotionally fragile, so we just need to surround people with the love of Jesus until they feel comfortable coming to church.”
Paul does say, right here in verse three, “Sudden destruction will come upon them. . . and they will not escape.” “Now, that’s just not very loving.” And this forces us to two options: we either get our scissors out like Thomas Jefferson and just cut it out, or we learn how to balance the discussion of God’s judgement the way the Scripture balances them.
You see, right now there are church think tanks meeting around the globe discussing, “Why are so many people leaving the church? Why are so many churches closing? Why are there no more revivals? Why are people choosing sports over church attendance? Why is church membership down since Covid?”
Maybe it’s because we taught them to ignore God’s judgment because we did such a good job ignoring almost every passage in Scripture that talks about God’s judgment. Maybe they don’t believe God’s wrath is coming for their very soul
Listen, you cannot fully understand how much Christ loves you until you understand the judgement he took for you.
Hebrews 10:31 “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The day of the Lord is a day of judgement.

The Day of the Lord is when Jesus returns

Biblical prophets often prophesy by means of something nerdy theologians call prophetic foreshortening. This is also called “near view-far view.” Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever looked across a high mountain view? One of my favorite hikes in North Carolina is the Wesser bald hike. There’s an old fire tower you can climb at the top and you can see four different states. Now, when you look at that mountain range on the horizon, on the different mountains look like they are on one plane; however, one of the peaks could be 100’s of miles from another peak.
In the same way, when the prophets see these visions, they see multiple things on one plane even though these events could be taking place hundreds of years apart. Sometimes prophecies are fulfilled in small ways immediately but still point to a larger fulfillment in the future. For example, when Isaiah prophecies that a virgin will give birth, this prophecy is fulfilled in his day, but is fulfilled ultimately in Jesus.
So when the prophets prophesy concerning the day of the Lord, there are sometimes immediate and lesser fulfillments; however, ultimately they point forward to their great fulfillment at Christ’s second coming.
This great day of the Lord mentioned several times in the Old Testament and the New, is ultimately fulfilled when Jesus returns. Notice how this will be fulfilled according to Revelation 19:11-16 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
On Wednesday nights you have been discussing the biblical names of God. One of these names is Yahweh, or I AM. This is how God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3. The Hebrew for the day of the Lord is יוֹם יהוה which uses the divine name. Paul is not writing in Hebrew, he is writing in Greek (ἡμερα κυριου). What is theologically interesting is that this divine name, YHWH is applied to Jesus. Paul himself calls this day, “the day of Christ” in Phil 1:10 and 1 Cor. 1:8.
The day of the Lord is Jesus’ return. Jesus’ return will be bodily and obvious. His return will usher in the end of sin and its dominion and vindication for his saints.
So, in conclusion, the day of the Lord is unexpected by the unbelievers, it is a day of judgement, and it is the day Jesus returns.

The Nature of the People of the Lord (vv. 4-5)

Not only do we see the nature of the day of the Lord in verses 1-3, we also see the nature of the people of the Lord in verses 4-5.
1 Thess. 5:4-5 “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”
The phrase darkness can refer to ignorance or being generally opposed to God. Paul says of the believers that they are not in darkness. We are not going to be surprised when Jesus comes back. Why, because we know the date and hour? No, because no man know the hour. We won’t be surprised because we have the ability to discern the will of God, that which pleases him. Furthermore, Paul says that because are very nature is changed.
We are, “Children of the light”
Believers in Christ are by their very nature knowledgeable concerning God’s will and are unopposed to God.
Being children of the light does not mean that we can produce our own goodness to get into heaven. It also does not mean that we are perfect after we are saved.
Paul also says that the believers are children of the day. In other words, they eagerly expect the day of the Lord where they will be reunited with Jesus forevermore.
However, it does mean that we are not ignorant of God’s will and how God operates in the world. It also means that we desire to accomplish God’s will.
So I want you to take some time now and ask yourself some questions. We had a lot of discussion concerning the day of the Lord. Is this something that you are eager for or something that you dread? I want you to search in your hearts earnestly. Don’t let the world, or your flesh, or Satan hinder this time of self examination.
Paul divides humanity into two groups: children of the light and children of darkness.
If you were giving yourself an assessment, you know, like one of those personality test, which category would you find yourself in: light or darkness? Day or night?
Which category would God put you in if he were giving the test? Please take some time to think about this soberly.
Maybe you consider yourself a child of the light. Well then, the next question I would have for you is why? Why do you consider yourself a child of the light? And you begin to list for me: “Well, I came forward in a service, I prayed to God, I was baptized, I come to church regularly (even on Sunday night), I’ve never been to jail, I haven’t done anything majorly wrong, I even hope that Jesus comes back soon.”
Let me assure you that if that is your list then you are a child of darkness.
Titus 3:5-7 “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
How can we know that we are children of light? Because Jesus came to earth, he lived the perfect life I could never live, He died the death that I deserved, He rose from the dead defeating death and sin, He ascended to the Father’s right hand and ever lives to plead for me.
It is a very sobering thing when the Bible divides all humanity into two groups. And I pray it always causes us to pause and reflect, which group describes me?

Doomsday Preparation (vv. 6-8)

I talked about in the introduction how one particular doomsday prepping family prepared for what they saw as the coming destruction. How should a Christian, a child of the light and a child of the day prepare for the day of the Lord? Paul answers this question in verses 6-11.
1 Thess. 5:6-11 “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
This is the only time I will encourage anyone to be “woke” (tongue in cheek). The term woke came from this idea that the general population in the US is “asleep” to the fact that America is systemically racist.
Paul here recognizes that the general population, or as he puts it in verse 6, “the others” or “the rest” is asleep to the fact that Jesus will return suddenly and in judgement. He encourages us not to have that same attitude, but to be awake and alert. Not only awake and alert, but also sober.
One commentator writes, “Watchfulness without such self-control would prove fruitless since readiness for the day of the Lord means moral and religious readiness for the judgment of God.”
Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 184.
Paul pictures one group of humanity living it up unaware of the coming judgement and the other group watchful and sober expecting the coming judgement.
And like any good soldier standing guard, we have our own armor: the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation.
Whenever the Bible commands us clothe yourself or put on armor, this is something that is essential to the Christian faith. You would be naked and vulnerable without it. So the three virtues here that Paul says are essential are faith, hope, and love.
These three virtues probably sound familiar, but also peculiar. You see, if you went up to one of these doomsday preppers and asked them, “All this stuff you have prepared here is really good, I think you will be able to survive pretty much anything that could take place. But how is your faith, hope, and love?”
And this is where it really gets us, right? Because we can stand in awe at someone who believes honestly that the polarity of the earth is going to shift causing mass chaos and has the ability to live off the gird comfortably for over 15 years without continuing to farm or anything. And they spend over 55 hours a week to prepare for it.
Then we have to think: do we really believe in the day of the Lord? How many hours a week do we spend preparing for the day of the Lord? What do we do to build our faith, hope, and love? What sort of things would we do differently if we believed that Jesus was returning tommorrow? How more ferverently would we share the gospel?

Conclusion vv. 9-11

Why do we have this hope of salvation?
1 Thess. 5:9-11 “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
There is so much rich theology in these verses that we don’t have the time to go over. We have hope because God appointed us to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is grounded in Christ’s sacrifice.
Further more this is whether we are awake or asleep referring back to the previous passage of whether we are dead or alive.
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