The Day of the Lord
1 Thessalonians 5:1–3
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, we saw that Christians (both dead and living) will be raptured to be with Christ when He appears to receive His church. But what about those left behind? The only One who can truly tell us about the future is God, and the only place He has revealed His plan is in the Bible.
Almost a third of the Bible is prophecy. In fact, some entire books are prophetic. Neglect prophecy and you neglect a third of what God has revealed about the future.
What is prophecy? It is simply God’s prewritten program for the human race. The Lord said, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand’” (Isa. 46:9–10).
In 1 Thessalonians 5, God tells us, via the apostle Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonian church, what we should know about the Day of the Lord (vv. 1–3) and how we should live prior to the Rapture of the church.
The Approach of Destruction
Paul reminded the Thessalonians, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you” (v. 1). The word but indicates Paul was shifting from answering their questions about the Rapture to a new subject: the Day of the Lord. The Thessalonians already had Paul’s instruction on “the times and the seasons” because he said there was “no need” that he should write to them.
The word times (Greek, chronos) refers to the successive ticking off of seconds or time each day. Seasons (Greek, kairoi) is an epoch or period, such as an age. Times speaks of chronology, whereas seasons refers to characteristics within the age that were specifically ordained by God. Paul had dealt thoroughly with teaching the church about what happens at the Rapture. Christians did not need to speculate or try to set dates for when these events would take place.
Jesus warned us not to set dates, particularly concerning His Second Coming: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Mt. 24:36). In fact, when the disciples asked the risen Savior, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:6–7).
People who set dates on prophetic events disobey God’s teaching. God determines times and seasons, and we should never speculate. We are admonished to wait and watch, preparing for the revelation and fulfillment of God’s prophetic plan.
The Arrival of Destruction
Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers what they already knew about the Day of the Lord: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Th. 5:2).
The word for reinforces the reason he did not need to restate his teaching: “You yourselves know perfectly” means they had full knowledge because they had been diligently taught about all things pertaining to the Day of the Lord. Apparently, whenever Paul planted a church, he and his associates taught prophecy and, specifically, prophecy about the Day of the Lord—something seldom done in the ministry today.
Paul, of course, never provided a date for the Day of the Lord but simply said it “comes as a thief in the night,” using the present tense. That is, the Day of the Lord will come without warning. When a thief comes, he does so quickly, suddenly, and stealthily. He gives no warning. His coming brings tragedy or misfortune to his victim. The Rapture is never associated with a thief’s coming; but unbelievers who experience Christ’s Second Coming, when He returns to judge unrepentant humanity, will be shocked at the event.
What is meant by “the Day of the Lord?”
First, it is when God intervenes directly in human affairs and unleashes His vengeance and fury on a world of wicked nations and individuals during seven years of unparalleled tribulation. His judgment will cause global, cataclysmic destruction on an unprecedented scale. Unlike the Rapture, which is a signless event, the Day of the Lord has many biblical signs.
Scripture clearly reveals that this terrible time does not involve the wrath of men or the wrath of Satan. It is when God pours out His wrath on Earth (Rev. 14:7, 10, 19; 15:7; 16:1, 19). Matthew 24:4–31 presents many of the events that will take place during the Day of the Lord, which will be a time unlike any other in its character, intensity, and severity. Many Old and New Testament Scriptures speak of the severity of the Day of the Lord.
Second, this day also includes a time of blessing, both for Israel and the church, during Christ’s Millennial reign on Earth.
The Agony of Destruction
The world will be completely unprepared for the Day of the Lord: “When they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Th. 5:3).
No specific group is identified by the word they. We know the word brethren refers to saved people in verse 4: “But you, brethren, are not in darkness.” The contrast probably means they refers to everyone who does not know Jesus Christ as Savior.
Jesus indicated as much when He said, “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt. 24:38–39).
Those people had no clue God’s judgment was about to fall on the world and destroy every living thing not in the ark of safety. They lived as they always had, with no concern for God or His agenda.
Likewise, people living during the Day of the Lord will be deceived by a false sense of security. They continually will reassure each other by saying, “Peace and safety!” Yet they will have received ample warnings of impending judgment. Many will have deliberately dulled their minds and hearts to God’s message because they had no love of the truth. So God will give them a strong delusion, and they will believe the Antichrist’s lie (cf. 2 Th. 2:10–12).
What a surprise! While they talk about peace and safety, “Then [at that very moment] sudden destruction comes upon them” (1 Th. 5:3). The word sudden (Greek, aiphnidios) means this judgment catches them completely unaware.
Destruction (Greek, olethros) does not mean annihilation. It means “ruin” and speaks of a person’s well-being or purpose ending abruptly. The word comes connotes destruction hovering over the people of that day; and when it strikes, people are surprised and are overwhelmed as it falls.
The judgments that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day and the universal flood that destroyed all the people of Noah’s day, apart from Noah and his family, clearly illustrate the type of calamities that will afflict people living during the Day of the Lord.
Also, in Lot’s and Noah’s days, people laughed at the idea of preparing for God’s judgment. So, too, those living at the beginning of the Tribulation will be unprepared and overcome by God’s wrath. The word them refers to these people, who continually reject warnings to repent and mock the opportunity to receive Christ. They will be lost.
Judgment will come “as labor pains upon a pregnant woman” (v. 3). “Labor pains” connote suddenness and inescapable anguish.
Paul concluded the verse with this sobering comment: “And they shall not escape” (v. 3). The word escape means “flee” and emphasizes the futility of trying to avoid judgment. The word not reinforces the thought, meaning, “no, never, under no condition are they able to escape.” The unbelievers are doomed when the Day of the Lord arrives.
The apostle Peter revealed the Day of the Lord’s culmination: “The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). Ultimately, the Lord will dissolve the physical elements of Earth, along with all its sinful deeds. In its place will appear the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (v. 13).
This message also applies to today’s generation because most people are unprepared for the judgment that awaits them. Are you?