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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

1 Thessalonians 5



Other Authors
Verses 1-28

Chapter 5

LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

5:1-11 You have no need, brothers, that anything should be written to you about the times and seasons; for you yourselves well know that, as a thief in the night, so the day of the Lord comes. When they are saying, "All is well; all is safe," then sudden destruction comes upon them, just as the labour pains come on a woman who is with child, and very certainly they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the dark. You are not in a situation in which the day, like a thief, can surprise you. For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to night or darkness. So then, let us not sleep, as the rest of men do, but let us be watchful and sober. For those who sleep sleep at night; and those who get drunk get drunk at night; but, as for us, because we belong to the day, let us be sober and let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and let us take for a helmet the hope of salvation, because God did not appoint us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, so that, whether we wake or whether we sleep, we may live with him. So then encourage each other and build up one another--as indeed you are doing.

We shall not fully understand the New Testament pictures of the Second Coming unless we remember that they have an Old Testament background. In the Old Testament the conception of the Day of the Lord is very common; and all the pictures and apparatus which belong to the Day of the Lord have been attached to the Second Coming. To the Jew all time was divided into two ages. There was this present age which was wholly and incurably bad. There was the age to come which would be the golden age of God. In between there was the Day of the Lord which would be a terrible day. It would be a day in which one world was shattered and another was born.

Many of the most terrible pictures in the Old Testament are of the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 22:5; Isaiah 13:9; Zephaniah 1:14-16; Amos 5:18; Jeremiah 30:7; Malachi 4:1; Joel 2:31). Its main characteristics were as follows. (i) It would come suddenly and unexpectedly. (ii) It would involve a cosmic upheaval in which the universe was shaken to its very foundations. (iii) It would be a time of judgment.

Very naturally the New Testament writers to all intents and purposes identified the Day of the Lord with the day of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We will do well to remember that these are what we might call stock pictures. They are not meant to be taken literally. They are pictorial visions of what would happen when God broke into time.

Naturally men were anxious to know when that day would come. Jesus himself had bluntly said that no man knew when that day or hour would be, that even he did not know and only God knew (Mark 13:32; compare Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7). But that did not stop people speculating about it, as indeed they still do, although it is surely almost blasphemous that men should seek for knowledge which was denied even to Jesus. To these speculations Paul has two things to say.

He repeats that the coming of the day will be sudden. It will come like a thief in the night. But he also insists that that is no reason why a man should be caught unawares. It is only the man who lives in the dark and whose deeds are evil who will be caught unprepared. The Christian lives in the light and no matter when that day comes, if he is watchful and sober, it will find him ready. Waking or sleeping, the Christian is living already with Christ and is therefore always prepared.

No man knows when God's call will come for him and there are certain things that cannot be left until the last moment. It is too late to prepare for an examination when the examination paper is before you. It is too late to make the house secure when the storm has burst. When Queen Mary of Orange was dying, her chaplain wished to read to her. She answered, "I have not left this matter till this hour." It was similar with an old Scotsman to whom someone offered comforting sayings near the end. The old man's reply was, "Ah theekit (thatched) ma hoose when the weather was warm." If a call comes suddenly, it need not find us unprepared. The man who has lived all his life with Christ is never unprepared to enter his nearer presence.

ADVICE TO A CHURCH (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22)

5:12-22 We ask you, brothers, to give due recognition to those who labour among you and to those who preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to hold them very highly in love because of the work that they are doing.

Be at peace among yourselves. We urge you brothers, warn the lazy, comfort the fearful, cling to the weak, be patient with all. See that no one pays back evil for evil. Always pursue the good for each other and for all. Always rejoice. Never stop praying. In everything give thanks. For this is God's will in Christ Jesus for you. Don't quench the gifts of the Spirit, don't make light Of manifestations of the gift of prophecy. Test everything, hold fast to the fine thing. Keep yourselves well away from every kind of evil.

Paul comes to an end with a chain of jewels of good advice. He sets them out in the most summary way but every one is such that every Christian should ponder it.

Respect your leaders, says Paul; and the reason for the respect is the work that they are doing. It is not a question of personal prestige; it is the task which makes a man great and it is the service he is doing which is his badge of honour.

Live at peace. It is impossible that the gospel of love should be preached in an atmosphere poisoned by hate. Better far that a man should quit a congregation in which he is unhappy and in which he makes others unhappy and find one where he may be at peace.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 picks out those who need special care and attention. The word used for lazy originally described a soldier who had left the ranks. The phrase really means "Warn the quitters." The fearful are literally those whose souls are small. In every community there is the faint-hearted brother who instinctively fears the worst but in every community there should be Christians who, being brave, help others to be brave. "Cling to the weak" is a lovely piece of advice. Instead of letting the weak brother drift away and finally vanish altogether, the Christian community should make a deliberate attempt to grapple him to the Church in such a way that he cannot escape. It should forge bonds of fellowship and persuasion to hold on to the man who is likely to stray away. To be patient with all is perhaps hardest of all, for the last lesson most of us learn is to suffer fools gladly.

Don't take revenge, says Paul. Even if a man seeks our evil we must conquer him by seeking his good.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 give us three marks of a genuine Church. (i) It is a happy Church. There is in it that atmosphere of joy which makes its members feel that they are bathed in sunshine. True Christianity is an exhilarating and not a depressing thing. (ii) It is a praying Church. Maybe our Church's prayers would be more effective if we remembered that "they pray best together who also pray alone." (iii) It is a thankful Church. There is always something for which to give thanks; even on the darkest day there are blessings to count. We must remember that if we face the sun the shadows will fall behind us but if we turn our backs on the sun all the shadows will be in front.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 Paul warns the Thessalonians not to despise spiritual gifts. The prophets were really the equivalent of our modern preachers. It was they who brought the message of God to the congregation. Paul is really saying, "If a man has anything to say, don't stop him saying it."

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 describe the constant duty of the Christian. He must use Christ as touchstone by which to test all things; and even when it is hard he must keep on doing the fine thing and hold himself aloof from every kind of evil.

When a Church lives up to Paul's advice, it will indeed shine like a light in a dark place; it will have joy within itself and power to win others.

THE GRACE OF CHRIST BE WITH YOU (1 Thessalonians 5:23-28)

5:23-28 May the God of peace himself consecrate you through and through; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete so that you will be blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can rely on him who calls you--and he will do this very thing.

Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord that this letter should be read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

At the end of his letter Paul commends his friends to God in body, soul and spirit. But there is one very lovely saying here. "Brothers," said Paul, "pray for us." It is a wonderful thing that the greatest saint of them all should feel that he was strengthened by the prayers of the humblest Christians. Once his friends came to congratulate a great statesman who had been elected to the highest office his country could offer him. He said, "Don't give me your congratulations, but give me your prayers." For Paul prayer was a golden chain in which he prayed for others and others prayed for him.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)



J. E. Frame, Thessalonians (ICC G)

G. Milligan, St. Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians (MmC G)

W. Neil, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians (MC E)


CGT: Cambridge Greek Testament

ICC: International Critical Commentary

MC: Moffatt Commentary

MmC: Macmillan Commentary

TC: Tyndale Commentary

E: English Text

G: Greek Text

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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