“A Thief in the Night” 1 Thess 5:1-3 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 13]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 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.

How do you prepare for the Second Coming?

Some say – we prepare by setting dates! I know of 242 examples of people doing this, from the time of the early church until 2011 – and others since 2011 – but I think there are probably many more that didn’t make the list.

Others are selling things, robbing people: Buy my book! Buy my survival kit!

Paul now examines the coming of Christ from the angle of daily living. First, no one knows the time of his return; we can’t prepare ourselves by mathematical calculation. Second, to prepare for this surprise means expecting the kingdom, in holy alertness. (see 2:12)

“Times and dates” – some people claim, we cannot know the hour, but the date; or the week; or the month, or the year; or definitely in my lifetime

What exactly is he saying?

  1. About times and dates, we do not need to write to you, because you already know the date? No!
  2. Because you can calculate the date, either now, or when the date draws closer? No!
  3. The true meaning: We do not need to tell you anything about setting dates, because we perceive that already you know what it is that you don’t know; that is, already you know that the time of the Lord’s return is not knowable.

Paul is clearly basing his teaching here on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24-25

Matt 24: 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Doesn’t this sound just like 1 Thess 4:16-17? – For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

Here are some elected verses Matthew 24-25 about the question of “when?”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

World evangelism: 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

15-21 – abomination of desolation

Astronomical signs: 29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” (quoting Isaiah 13:10). Also – “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31).

Now, this red moon must be more than a lunar eclipse – “During the five thousand year period from 2000 BCE through 3000 CE, there are 7,718 eclipses of the Moon (partial and total). This averages out to about one and a half eclipses each year.”  There are lunar (and also solar) eclipses almost every year.

Note that Jesus uses the phrase “all these things”, emphasis on “all”:

24:32-33 32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.

“All these things” in context are: antichrist; sun darkened, moon darkened, stars fall from heaven, heavenly bodies shaken – not just war, earthquakes, famines, but ALL.

24:36 –  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:42-44 – 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

25:1-13, parable of the ten virgins concludes: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

It seems clear that Paul had taught them this material from Jesus; this is why they knew that they could not and should not set dates. We also have this text:

Acts 1:6–7 also begins with the question of eschatological timing when the disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” There Jesus corrected them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Thomas Aquinas commented on it – “For what He refused to tell the apostles, He will not reveal to others.”

Times and dates – broad description, “with regard to time, you know that we know nothing”

The Day of the Lord is when Jesus will come to judge the world. There are three metaphors of what the wicked will experience: (1) a thief who comes by night to steal; (2) a land that clings to the illusion of peace that is then brutally invaded; (3) a pregnant woman who feels her first contraction.

(1 ) Thief in the night – “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” (24:42–43; see Luke 12:39; also 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15). Today the “thief in the night” has become for many readers a dead metaphor. Moreover, in suburban North America, “thief” does not strike the same emotional chord or immediacy as does, for example, ladrón in the Spanish versions. He breaks into the house.

(2) A Devastating military invasion

False prophets “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14)

Paul echoes a well-known slogan of the Roman Empire, Pax et securitas (“Peace and security”), which comes from living under the Pax romana. Not even the Roman Empire, with its Caesar who proclaimed himself the divine savior, would protect them from God’s judgment.

(3) a pregnant woman who feels her first contraction. Why is this frightening? Childbirth in the age of Paul was risky in the extreme, and the large number of women who died while giving birth lowered the life expectancy of women to somewhere in their twenties or thirties.

Isaiah 13:6–9 contains several of the points found in Paul: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty … [all] will writhe like a woman in labor.… See, the day of the Lord is coming.”

While today’s readers might think of that first contraction as something relatively predictable—since due dates can now be rather accurately predicted—even in our times it seems to come as a surprise.

No escape: Amos 2:14–15 LXX:

… flight shall perish from the runner, the strong shall by no means (οὐ μή) retain his strength and the fighter shall by no means save his soul; and the archer shall by no means stand, and he who is swift on his feet shall by no means escape, and by no means shall the horseman save his soul. (NETS, slightly paraphrased by author)

One point of difficulty in this section is whether Paul means to say that the parousia will come as a surprise to Christians. Throughout the tradition on which he bases his teaching, all people will be taken by surprise: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42, italics added). It is the church that Jesus warns about his return: “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed” (Rev 16:15).

The solution to this tension lies in recognizing the various levels of preparedness. The Christians will not be taken by surprise, but not because they possess some method of calculating the time of the Second Coming. The believer is said to be “ready” if he or she is always walking in God’s light, even though the event itself will come as a surprise.

If you knew Christ was coming this week, what would you change? Holy apprehension about the end has been around ever since the Lord unnerved his followers with a parable about ten virgins.

There have been Christians who have said, the way to be watchful, on the alert, is to calculate when Jesus will come. There is a list I looked at last week that shows how many times people have said the second coming would happen in the near future.

Just a couple of examples, ones that I personally remember: 1972 (Armstrong), 1975 (JV), 1981 (Chuck Smith), 1982 (alignment of the planets), 1982 (Pat Robertson of the 700 Club), 1988 (40th anniv of Israel), another group in 1988, 1992 (Korea), 1994, 2000 (Y2K), 2007. A man who says it’s the end times because of the recession in 2008; another this year because of the revolution in Egypt. Harold Camping: Jesus would return in 1993, then May 21 2011, then Oct 21, 2011. 2012 – secret message in the Bible that a comet would hit the earth; then end of 2012, Mayan calendar. Then 2014, 2015 (Sept 13, Sept 23, Sept 28 (eclipse)), 2016, 2017 and beyond. Website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictions_and_claims_for_the_Second_Coming_of_Christ

All these people are wrong, NOT because they CALCULATED WRONG, but because IT IS WRONG TO CALCULATE: they shouldn’t be calculating a date at all. They are “preparing” for the Second Coming, ironically, by sinning against what Jesus told us!

True preparedness: believe the gospel – 1:10, 5:10; walk in the gospel

Life in the light of Christ’s return is not some mystical experience. Rather, it reveals itself in concrete, everyday actions as empowered by the Spirit, like the things we read about in 4:9-12. In this letter alone, “readiness” includes the following: deeds of love, patience, peace, gentleness, mutual encouragement, hard work

Interesting Website:


“A Thief in the Night” 1 Thess 5:1-3 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 13], Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testamento, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

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