Summary: Are you anxiously waiting at the gate for the Rapture - or sleeping in your seat? Paul gives us some practical advise for how to stay alert and ready to board!
I like to watch people in airports. These days you have to arrive a week before your scheduled departure to make it through parking, hauling your baggage passed the porters, figuring out the new computer check in system - then see the security line snake around the block, waiting for lattes. At the gate then, people wait - in different ways. Some wait quietly - sleeping or reading so peacefully that it seems they don’t get up until the crew is about to latch the door - then there are the fidgety people - that can’t sit or stand but troll endlessly around the gate and jump into line even though they are in group 4.
We can wait for Christ’s return for the church in much the same way - as evidenced by the Thessalonians.
The Thessalonians had two problems about Jesus’ return for them in the Rapture - either they became blasé and just kicked back - making others provide for them - or they got panicked about it - running around worrying all the time. Neither mindset works very well for Christian discipleship. But in light of the Rapture, Paul has some practical suggestions and some warnings about how we should live in light of Jesus’ soon return.
1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 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.
They didn’t need to know specific time frames because they won’t be around.
The "day of the Lord" is referred to in many places throughout the Bible - including Isaiah 13:6, Matthew, Daniel, Jeremiah, Amos 5:18, and Joel 2:28. It is a day of judgment of sinners and victory for Israel.
It will come "like a thief in the night" because everyone will be sleeping - spiritually - and will not be prepared for it. Don’t confuse this with the Rapture - Paul here is talking about the fact that God’s judgment against sin is coming and people are so not aware of it that it will seem "like" a thief in the night.
People will think "all is well" but then the Lord will come back.
Like a woman in labor - the Great Tribulation is going to move them steadily towards judgment - you can’t just decide not to be pregnant when labor starts. If people reject Jesus they will go through the Great Tribulation and have to face Jesus upon His return.
4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
We know the signs - and we know the Lord. We belong to Him now and will go with Him when He returns for us in the clouds. So that should change the way we think and way we act.
5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 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.
(5) Though we will not suffer the same fate as those who do not belong to Christ - we can still adopt the same attitudes as the world - and we shouldn’t.
(6) We need to be "alert" and "self controlled" This suggests being aware of what’s going on, and have a sober attitude about it. We know these are the end times - we know we are going to be with the Lord soon - we are not "asleep" - but we are also not panicked or drunk with carelessness (we’re going soon so it doesn’t matter what we do.)
This is a time to become more like Christ - to up our prayer and worship and study of the Word - to be looking for opportunities to serve and to share the gospel.
(7) Paul’s using an illustration - if you are not aware because your are "asleep" spiritually - then you are in the dark - and if you are not coherent because you are drunk - again its going to probably be at night - so you simply aren’t going to know what’s going on.
(8) We’re not stumbling around drunk or sleepy in the dark - God has given us the light of His Word so we know what is happening and what’s going to happen.