Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.
4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. 5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. 7 Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8 But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
9 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 [NLT]
Have you ever thought of Jesus as harsh? Strict. Challenging. Demanding. If you’re a woman caught in adultery and brought to him, you wouldn’t. If you’re a young man really wanting to learn what it takes to follow him and you see his look (Mark 10:21), you wouldn’t. But if you’re a religious leader, smug in your own righteousness, you’d think Jesus to be harsh. If you’re one of Jesus’ 12 disciples just trying to figure it out – how to follow him – you would think him challenging. And if you’re one in the multitude who hear Jesus’ teaching on murder (Matthew 5:21-26), you would definitely think him strict.
But, Paul says, Jesus didn’t come to pour out his anger on us. He came to save us. So with these words of comfort, we need to hear the words of warning. Don’t take this lightly. Don’t think little of The End. Don’t go to sleep in your faith. Keep it on the front burner. This is important.
These are wounds of a friend. They can be trusted. Jesus’ teaching in the gospels – sometimes kind and incredibly compassionate, sometimes challenging to the nth degree. But this is because the stakes are high. The dangers are real. We might yell at our child who is about to pull a hot pan off the stove. We might yell and scream and bang on our neighbor’s door if we see a fire breaking out in their home.
The very fact that Paul reminds the Thessalonians that Jesus came to save, not to show God’s anger points to the fact that some of these warnings are on the dire side. “Be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8 But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.” This is no minor point. We’re not talking angels on the head of a pin, or whether God can make a rock so big and heavy that he cannot lift it. We’re talking eternal life.
“Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever,” Paul says. This is his gift. This is our joy. He is totally dedicated to getting us there. Sometimes he must raise the level of challenge. Sometimes he must pour on us the balm of Gilead. Always he is working for our eternal good, and he wants us to live in light of that eternal grace, and encourage each other toward that end as well.