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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: December 11, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome to HBS everyone and thanks for being here today.Last week we studied “the day of the Lord” and “the times of the Gentiles” because of the confusion and misrepresentation of these two linked but separate periods. I used the Scriptures to show how and why God the Father will begin to bring to an end the day of man and enthrone His beloved Son as the nation of Israel’s long promised King of kings and Lord of lords on the earth and not in heaven. Now with that established we can press onward to the next section of Scripture.
Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11. As usual I’ve provided the passage below, but I’d rather you locate and read it from your own Bible which, hopefully, is the KJV translation because the inaccuracy of the modern Bibles.
"But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-11)
As if the Apostle Paul had not clearly shown the distinction between our Lord’s coming to “catch away” His own and His subsequent prophesied return to the earth to reign as Israel’s King, he continues to emphasize this distinction so that every saint in Christ Jesus can know for certain “the day of the Lord” and the Rapture of His own are two separate events and the latter precedes the former.
The word “But,” repeated in verse 5:4, re-emphasizes this distinction. “The day of the Lord” will overtake “them,” that are outside of Christ Jesus, i.e. the unsaved “as a thief in the night,” but the members of the Body of Christ belong to a different category altogether not merely because they are saved and the world-at-large around them are not, but because they will not be here on earth during “the night” of the Tribulation.
Night and Day
I once heard someone refer to verses 5:4-5 as the experience of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt during the “thick darkness” of the 9th plague. For the Egyptians there was “thick darkness” for “three days, but all the while “the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:21-23).
But the two are not exactly parallel, for the darkness and light in the case of Israel and Egypt were simultaneous, the Israelites enjoying light while the Egyptians suffered the darkness. But here, in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5, “the day” and “the night” are consecutive; “the night” following the day. Paul, in exhorting the Thessalonians (and us) to “comfort one another” with the truth of the Rapture, does not say one word about God helping or protecting His own as they go through the Tribulation period. Thinking this through as the diligent Bible student ought, would he not have done so if the Rapture followed the Tribulation, as many believe and teach?
We believe the average reader of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 would naturally recognize them as successive, not concurrent, events, our Lord first coming to take His own out of the world and then judging all those left behind. This agrees with what Paul said here about “the night” and “the day,” for it is after this blessed day of grace, this “day of salvation,” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2) has been brought to a close by the Rapture of the true Church, that this world will be plunged into the dark night of “God’s wrath” otherwise known as the seven-year Tribulation period.
Therefore, Paul is not merely saying that “we” are of the light while “they” are of the darkness, but that since we are “the children of the day” and “not of the night” (5:4), we belong to another category entirely. We will have been “caught up” and “the day of salvation” (the Age of Grace) will have been brought to a close when the “thief” comes “in the night” to plunder this Jesus Christ-rejecting world.
It is on this basis that we are exhorted not to “sleep” but to “watch and be sober” (5:6). Not once did Paul say we’re to be awake and ready to repel “the thief,” for “the day of the Lord” cannot overtake “the thief,” for the simple reason that “the day of the Lord” will come “as a thief in the night,” after we are “caught up” and away from the earth.
Thus, Paul exhorts us to “watch and be sober” for the best of all reasons: because the dark night of the Tribulation has not yet come and for us it still remains “the day of salvation.” At this time I point out to the group that to God one day can be like a thousand years and it might mean one literal day; one has to read the Bible context carefully to understand its meaning (2 Peter 3:8). In that Scripture passage Peter does not say that one day is a thousand years; he says that one day is like a thousand years. In other words, he is using figurative language to make his point. The point is not that we should interpret the word day as “a thousand years” everywhere we find it in Scripture; rather, the point is that the passing of time has no bearing on God’s faithfulness. He will do what He has promised.
“…we (Believers) are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
According to verse 5:7, nighttime is the time when people sleep while others imbibe, indulging in revelry, but for us it is not night, so, “…let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (5:8).
Many people entertain the erroneous idea that truly spiritual Christians must always be pious, solemn, and long-faced. In fact, they suppose that such Scripture passages as the one above teach this. They also borrow this Scripture passage to teach it’s a sin to drink alcohol. But nothing could be farther from the truth, for the word “sober,” in our English N.T. does not mean solemn, but practicing self-control. This is also true of the original Koine Greek word from which the English word “sober” is translated. Sobriety in Scripture, as in modern English, is the opposite of drunkenness. This truth is brought out in the rest of the passage cited above. Along with its context, the above exhortation reads thusly:
“For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken be drunken in the night.”(5:7)
“But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation.” (5:8)
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” (5:9)
“Who died for us that… we should live together with Him.” (5:10)
So, those who are “of the day,” and know Christ as their Savior, should not “sleep” on the one hand, or “be drunken” on the other, but should be awake and alert, their faculties completely under control, so that they might witness effectively to those who are lost the saving grace of Christ while “the day of salvation” remains intact.
Here Paul informed the Thessalonians that “faith” and “love” are a “breastplate” for the true Believer’s heart, and “the hope of salvation an helmet” for their head, and that knowledge ought to stablish them (to fix; to settle in a state for permanence; to make firm) in the truth and thus, “…the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
What does the phrase “the hope of salvation” mean? Is it our salvation from the penalty of sin? Not so much, it is our salvation from “the wrath to come,” and indeed, our complete salvation:
“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, awaiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our (complete) salvation nearer than when we believed” (Romans 13:11).
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”
About 2000 years ago Paul wrote to his fellow Believers in the vicinity of Ephesus: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming (buying up) the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Those were indeed evil days, when a wicked tyrant named Nero ruled the Roman Empire, when the Messiah had been rejected from His incarnation to His resurrection and subsequent ascension, and the Grace Churches were fighting a life-and-death battle to penetrate the prevailing pagan darkness with the light of truth re: God’s free gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8). Surely Paul never dreamed that the dispensation of grace would continue for more than nineteen hundred years. He expected the Lord to come at any time to recall His own and bring the day of grace to an end. Hence the urgency of his appeal to be “buying up the time, because the days are evil.”
But if Paul had reason to suspect that the day of grace would soon be brought to a close, we today have greater reason to think so. Now that the light of the gospel has been brought to every country on the earth the mindset of most people remain the same, for the most part, they reject God’s “good news” and our Apostle Paul’s authority as God’s called apostle to the gentiles. Only a small minority of even Christendom truly believe the Bible and know the Christ it presents and fewer still know the riches of His grace.
Meanwhile our governments, our educational institutions and our social systems are becoming more godless by the day. The result? The newspapers, radio, and TV, even a trip to the shopping mall in any fair-sized city, will tell us all we need to know. Once again “the days are evil” and the Lord’s coming for His own therefore seems imminent. There is still much talk about lasting peace, prosperity, social justice (whatever that’s supposed to mean) but no informed (sober) person believes that we are headed toward an utopia on the earth or that man is able to make such a place. That notion is more than ridiculous it contradicts the very Word of God for the world-at-large is heading directly toward the prophesied “day of God’s wrath.”
Therefore, what a “comfort” it is to the Believer to know that “God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…” (5:9,10).
“For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed” and “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:11-13).
(To be continued)
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