5 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. 4:15–5:3
These verses are among those several from which our doctrines of “end-time truth” and “the rapture” are constructed. Entire denomin-ations are built around these eschatological arenas, and libraries are filled with volumes arguing a thousand variations on their theolog-ical details. These arguments have raged as internecine bloodsport since the Reformation era, and have torn the church apart without producing all that much in the way of nutritious fruit. I have no interest in adding any fuel to these fires at this time other than to point out that Paul had relatively little to say about the subject in proportion to his other concerns about the Faith and our disciple-ship. He does not spend much time talking about “how” or “when” the end of the age will come in his letters, but rather he more often emphasizes the reality that an end will come in God’s time, and that we must be prepared for this. His point here was that there will be a return of Christ and that no one who has given their heart to Christ will be forgotten by their Lord. He told the Thessalonians that the God to whom they had entrusted their lives and their souls will faithfully and certainly deal justly and righteously both with those who choose the forgiveness of Christ, and with those who live in rebellion to Him. This is in accord with the clear teaching of Christ Himself as it has been recorded in the gospels, and with the revela-tion given to us through the other New Covenant writers. Having made this point, Paul, the pastor, as always, becomes very practical and down to earth.
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 salva-tion. 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. 5:4–11
We, as Spirit-filled Spirit-led believers, are privileged to understand things that “the natural mind cannot” comprehend. 1 Corinthians 2:14–16 We have significant insight from God a-bout life, the uni-verse, and everything, and we understand that the world is going to end badly for everyone who has not made their peace with the Lord. We also understand that God has gone to extraordinary lengths to give everyone the opportunity to make peace with Him 2 Corinthians 5:18–21; 1 Timothy 2:3–6, that He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon the whole world to draw all human beings toward Himself Acts 2:16–21, that salvation is of the Lord (for whom we may become am-bassadors and messengers as He gives us such assignments) Jonah 2:8–9; 1 Corinthians 3:7–9; Revelation 12:11, and that all who belong to the Father will come to Him and not be lost John 6:44–45; John 6:37; John 6:65; John 17:12; John 17:1–6;. This is the promise of the New Covenant.
Paul’s entire counsel in this letter is constructed around the quality of life that ought to be the fruit of the Spirit that has come to us from God once we have confirmed covenant with Him. Throughout his letters Paul returns to the three core concepts of faith, hope, and love, and how these three work together in and out from our lives to create the organic “Body” of Christ in the world. It is this Body that is “what remains” Colossians 1:24–29 of the incarnation of Christ in Earth at this time through which the Kingdom of God is to be made manifest and the glory of God is to be revealed. Matthew 5:13–16; 1 Peter 2:11–12
The fact that there is a “world to come” and a “life beyond physical death” is extraordinarily important 1 Corinthians 15:18–19, but it is not of primary importance to the Plan and Purpose of our Father at this present time or for us in this life while we are “in skin”. We are here and now “for such a time as this” to have a positive and present moral effect up-on our world “in hope”. This is part of the meaning of the pattern prayer “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” We are “salt” in the earth Matthew 5:13–16 for a reason: to be seasoning, to be a healing agent, and to be a preserva-tive. There is a “fullness of the Gentiles” that must “come in” Romans 11:25–26 to the Kingdom, before the end of the age, and we do not know that number, for it is known “only to the Father”, and “not even to the Son” Mark 13:31–32.
We are not to spend overmuch time trying to evade or to escape this responsibility, or in devoting our attention to the mysteries of how the present world is going to end.
Paul, in all of his letters, spends remarkably little time talking about Heaven, even though he had been “caught up” to Heaven on at least one, and probably several, occasions. And he spends considerable time talking about very human and day-to-day interpersonal behav-ior and interactions and relationships: There must be a good rea-son for this, especially so for us who believe that God put every word in our scriptures for a reason and that all of them are significant.
Biblical discipleship is a way of life that ought to obviously demon-strate before a sin-darkened world a community of people who indi-vidually and corporately in every aspect of their attitude and activity represent the character and quality of the Lord whose name they bear. 1 John 4:17–21 Everything to accomplish this has been fully and freely provided to us under the terms of the covenant to which we have agreed 2 Peter 1:3–4. For the present time and in this life we are to be living as demonstrations of Kingdom principles and possibilities in contrast to the confusion and delusion that domin-ates the world around us. We are not to be overmuch distracted by trying to escape from or defend ourselves against the disintegration of that world.
Because of the hope that we have and because of our confidence in our Father and in our Lord, we can rest in the certainty that we will overcome and transcend that disintegration and will ultimately “be more than conquerors” as our Father’s plans move into their next phase. (In the above referenced letter of Peter, the entire argument by the apostle is to the same point. Peter comes head-on against speculative and contentious theology about the “mysteries” of God. He specifically affirms Paul, and says that it is by practical and right-eous Christian discipleship lived out before the world that we “has-ten” the coming of the Lord and the end of the age.)
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among your-selves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceas-ing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 5:12–18
Paul bullet-points what “brotherly love” in action looks like. Having identified and dealt with the false teachers who would divide the fellowship and who most probably were “outsiders” and “self-promoters”, he strongly encourages the fellowship to honor and support those who had the responsibility and the anointing from the Lord to guard and guide them. These were probably men who had been identified by the Holy Spirit and set apart by the laying on of hands when Paul and his team were in Thessalonica, and perhaps others who had been raised up since. They would have risen from within the fellowship, been well-vetted, men of integrity, and ac-countable to the body.
Paul reiterates his counsel about practical lived-out Christian disci-pleship: His advice could not be more clearly stated. So why do so many of us seem to have problems understanding what the will of God is? This is the second time Paul has used this specific phrase in this letter. In all his counsel, his descriptions of the will of God have been practical and “earthy”, not particularly super-spiritual or mysti-cal. We are not to live “spooky” or escapist lives. The phrase “the will of God” is only used seventeen times in the New Testament, and its implication is always one of becoming separated from the life-style of the fallen world and into a life of New Covenant discipleship and fruit-bearing as an example to that same fallen world. It is we who tend to impart to “God’s will” over-much of the elements of mysti-cism and what becomes superstitious and occultic behavior as we become enamored of the experience of the gifts and empowerments of the Holy Spirit and lose sight of the relationship with the Creator/ Father whose pleasure it is to give us those gifts for the purpose of heralding His Kingdom on earth. And when we do this our separa-tion from the world around us tends to become a barrier that offends those held captive in sin and walls them out instead of a difference that draws upon them and woos them in, and we become offensive to them rather than an offensive force against the enemy who has been holding them in his bondage.
Just because God seems to honor and bless what we are trying to do does not mean that what we are doing is His will for us or is His best intention for our lives. The scriptures are very clear that He will “work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes”. We can be gallivanting off on our merry misunderstandings of His intentions for our lives with all good faith and purpose and He will manage to bring good fruit from our efforts, but all the while we can be missing His will for us because we have created some illusion in our imagination that has blinded us to what He has been trying to tell us. The scriptures even bear witness of some who will stand before Him and be cast into “outer darkness” who effectively did miracles and cast out demons “in His name”. Matthew 7:21–23 As Rick Joyner has said many times, “God will bless that which He will not inhabit.”
In the original Greek, these phrases are all in the imperative voice, which gives them the force of commands, not suggestions. They are the expected behaviors of the Christian. We are not to keep making excuses about how we are trying and failing to accomplish these things. The available resources provided in the New Covenant do not support well our excuses. Read again the first part of 2 Peter.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 5:18–22
The First Church was effectively an entirely Spirit-filled Spirit-led Church. Its only inspired scripture was the scroll of the Books of Moses and perhaps the writings of the prophets and the historic documents of Israel, depending on the wealth of the fellowship. The New Testament that we know was being written, and some of its letters were in circulation after the middle of the first century. The body of the New Testament texts would not be collated for more than two hundred years. This letter of Paul’s is among the first of its documents. But for the most part the nascent fellowships were func-tioning dynamically through practicing what they had been taught by the apostles who founded them and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit moving through the many-membered body.
Paul here speaks of this. This is the same counsel he later expands in his letters to the Corinthians. The “testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophesy” Revelation 19:10 and is the heart of the Church: He must be present in order for a fellowship to be able to claim Christian au-thenticity. But “the prophetic” can be counterfeited by Satan: it is a supernatural phenomenon, and the demonic is supernatural. There is plenty of “false prophecy” and the world and the Church are full of false prophets and false prophetic teachers.
So prophecies must be “tested” to see if they are from God or from some other source. 1 John 4:1 Paul expands this instruction in detail in 2 Corinthians (chpts. 12-14). Proven and validated “prophets” are to authenticate any prophetic word that is spoken in the assembly of the church. Those words which pass their review are to be accepted as the “rhema” word of the Lord, and are to be acted upon accord-ingly. Those words that do not pass such a review are to be rejected. No word that diverges from or contradicts the “more sure word of prophesy” 2 Peter 1:19–21 (the “logos” of the written and time-proven Word of scripture as confirmed by the incarnate Word in Jesus Christ John 1:1,14) is to be accepted.
In this way “present day truth” can move forward and “the progress of revelation” can continue without “adding to or taking away from” what has been written, and the ongoing Plan of God can be revealed to us “in its season” and as the Father determines. In Paul’s day the “more sure word” was the Old Covenant scripture that spoke of the coming of Christ and also reached forward into the “times of the Gentiles” and “the end of the age” with increasing clarity to speak of the “last days”. This data-base was then continued and expanded as the apostles who walked with Jesus received direct revelatory im-partation from Him both while He was with them and after the Res-urrection. Hebrews 1:1–3 He also told them that there was much more that would be revealed after the Holy Spirit came. John 5:39–40; John 5:45–47; Luke 24:25–27; John 16:12–15
The most complete “download” of Kingdom theology was imparted to Paul through direct revelation after he was converted, and it was his assignment to reinterpret the Old Covenant into the New Cove-nant and to release the redemptive Plan of God from its confine-ment to Israel and offer it to the entire human race. This he did espe-cially in his letter to the Romans, and in Galatians. (Please read through my other study notes on these letters .) The Plans and Pur-poses of God for the Kingdom both for the present and in the future are laid out in the New Covenant documents that we have agreed upon as the Church over the past two thousand years to be revealed in the timings of the Father by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit.
(There are time-tested and hard-fought and hard-won reasons for the limitations the historic majority of the followers of Jesus Christ have placed on what documents they hold to be inspired prophetic scripture. While there are still some disagreements and differences of opinion among the varying disparate divisions of “the church” on what constitutes “the Bible”, the “canon” of scripture for Christian people is generally universally agreed upon and “closed”, and has been for many centuries 2 Peter 1:20–21. It is necessary that this immutability of the revelation remain intact and agreed upon, or there is opened a breach in our Faith through which Satan most certainly will overtly or covertly invade and begin to sow seeds of half-truths and deceptions that will germinate into doctrines of de-mons that will metastasize into eternally fatal delusions. Ours is a faith that is based both on a personal supernatural experience and an historic fact, and the two must remain linked in a way that pre-serves the continuity of the revelation that our Creator has given to the race of Adam all the way back to its origin point, and from there to its culmination, as much as that concerns us.)
The words of Paul and the other New Covenant writers, by their own testimony, are to be back-checked through the preceding re-velation and confirmed Acts 17:11–12, and the Church has done this thoroughly over the past two millennia. At this time we who belong to the “prophetic church” believe that prophets and prophecy are still valid operations of the Holy Spirit and that the Lord still speaks with ongoing revelation, but that none of this revelation will “add to or take away from the Word” as it has been given to us. To this end we require that all revelatory words must be “tested” and “proven” and be in harmony with “that which is written” as we move forward.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 5:23–24
The questions and concerns that Paul had in writing this letter indi-cate that that in his mind it is possible to fail to accomplish all that is offered to us in Christ. The confidence Paul speaks with here in this closing statement indicates that for those who yield to the process of God in its fullness, a successful outcome is guaranteed. In Christ we are invited to do impossible things. The clear testimony of the Gospel is that it is open to everyone, and that only a relatively few of those to whom the invitation is extended will ultimately receive its full rewards because of a myriad of excuses and personal choices.
There is no question concerning the faithfulness of God. 2 Timothy 2:11–13 All of his promises are certain to us in the New Covenant 2 Corinthians 1:20–22 However, it is for us to accept those promises and to embrace them and to walk with Him into their fulfillments.
Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 5:25–28
As with all of his letters, Paul instructs the fellowship to pass this letter around. In the First Church there were no fax machines or other easy or fast means of sharing information. Letters were most probably either passed along or were copied by hand and distri-buted among the growing networks of believers. Over time there would have been hundreds of copies of the correspondence that eventually became our New Testament in circulation throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. This also helps explain why there are variations in the many texts that archaeology has discovered, and why those variations have proven to reinforce rather than weaken the validity of the underlying original documents that were written by Paul and the other apostolic authors. (The academic arguments supporting all of this can be studied in summary in the second part of Josh McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.)