Successfully Avoiding God's Wrath- I Thessalonians 5:1-11
Introduction: All Mankind is Under God's Wrath
There is a story popularized by the Roman philosopher, Cicero in 45 B.C. that became known as the "Sword of Damocles." In Cicero's story, there was a King by the name of Dionysius II who ruled in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. He was a tyrannical monarch who was king over the Sicilian city of Syracuse. Dionysius was rich and powerful but, at the same time, was very unhappy. Because he was such a tyrant, he'd made himself many enemies and was constantly afraid of being assassinated. In fact, he was so afraid that he slept in a bedroom surrounded by a moat. And he only trusted his daughters to shave his beard with a razor when it needed it.
Things really came to a head when a man name Damocles started to flatter the king, telling him how nice his life must be to be the ruler and have everyone obey his every command. The King got perturbed with Damocles and asked him if he wanted to try out his life and get a taste of his good fortune.
Damocles jumped at the chance. So, King Dionysius, had him seated on a golden couch while servants waited on him hand and foot. He treated Damocles to the most succulent cuts of meat and lavished him with scented perfumes and ointments.
Damocles couldn't believe how fortunate he was. However, as he began to enjoy the life of a king and the royal treatment that he was receiving, he also noticed that Dionysius had hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling, just above his head. And, worse yet, it was suspended by a single strand of horsehair.
From then on, poor Damocles couldn't enjoy the opulence that surrounded him because he feared for his life. He made several glances above his head before finally asking to be excused from the "good fortune" that the king had bestowed upon him.
Cicero's point is that those in power always labor under constant danger and threat of death and can't really be happy under such circumstances. The sword of Damocles later became a "catchall phrase" for any looming danger. And the shorthand phrase: "hanging by a thread" is often given to any dangerous and precarious situation.
However, there is a real-life sword of Damocles of sorts that is hanging over the head of everyone in the world that doesn't know Jesus Christ as their Savior. While many live lives in peace and safety, and are seeking the "good life", whatever they perceive that to be, they are totally ignoring the wrath of God that is against them for their sins.
The Scriptures tell us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23). God is a holy God and cannot stand sin. And we are sinful beings that have offended that holy God.
Paul, in Romans 1:18-21, tells us:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. then rose again from the grave. And He has given His righteousness to all those who accept Him and His sacrifice for them. However, for those who choose to neglect that sacrifice, there is still a day of reckoning that lay ahead. As the Apostle John tells us:
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them." (John 3:36).
In I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul uses the phrase: "The Day of the Lord" which is found 25 times in 23 verses located in both Old and New Testaments. And though this exact phrase isn't used in other verses, it is obvious that this time is talked about more in other Scriptures as well. This Day of the Lord is closely associated with the wrath of God upon sinful mankind. It is the time when God brings the long-awaited and long-deserved judgment upon the earth.
In Chapter 4 of I Thessalonians, we just got finished looking at the Rapture, or the catching away of the Church, the Body of Christ from the earth. This is the end of the unprophesied time known as the Dispensation of the Grace of God in which we now live. Both the dead and living saints of this time period get taken by the Lord Jesus Christ to meet Him in the air. And we get removed from the wrath to come that takes place immediately following the Rapture.
The Apostle spent the last few lines of chapter 4 comforting the Thessalonian believers who knew that Christ was coming back for them but were worried about what would happen to their loved ones who had died before He returned. He told them not to worry because these believers would be the first to be caught up and then, afterward, those who were alive and remained would also be caught up as well. The Rapture, just before the Day of the Lord, is something that should bring comfort to every believer in Christ because it means that we will, from that moment on, always be with the Lord, whether alive or dead, when He returns for us.
But the Thessalonians, and all believers, should also be aware of the Day of the Lord that is coming. The world will be caught off guard.by this event. However, we who know the Lord Jesus Christ, should not be caught off guard. Not that we will be part of the coming wrath. We plainly won't. However, it should affect our lives in that we should live to please our Savior who has rescued us from the coming judgment upon the world. Also, we should be concerned for those left behind. And our lives should set an example so that the world will be more inclined to listen when we tell them about the coming wrath that they themselves can avoid by accepting Christ as their Savior.
There are a number of facts that Paul tells the believers in Thessalonica that all Christians should know about this coming Day of the Lord. Having knowledge of these facts will allow all of us to be prepared for His return and for the false teachers who, even today, try to control us and the world with their deceiving doctrines.
But before we do this, let us look briefly at the biblical understanding of the coming Day of the Lord.
I. Biblical Teaching 0n the Day of the Lord
In order to completely understand what Paul is teaching the Thessalonians here, we have to know what the Bible, in general, tells us about that coming time period. The first thing that we must realize is the fact that it covers more than just one 24 hour day. The Hebrew word yom, or day, can have more than one meaning depending upon the context in which it is used. It can indeed mean a 24 hour day, just as the English word can, or it can mean an unspecified period of time such as when a person says: "In my day we did things differently." Clearly, the person is talking about the era or time period of his youth here.
When referring to the Day of the Lord, the Bible is talking about a future era of time that has been prophesied by several of God's messengers, in which God will personally intervene in history to accomplish His plan for the universe. It is identifying the events that take place at the end of history.
The Rapture of the Church is not included in this time because it was previously unprophesied by anyone until revealed to the Apostle Paul. The era that we are living in is a parenthesis in prophetic history that took place because Israel, God's chosen people, refused to accept their Messiah, and have temporarily been set aside until what Paul calls the fulness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25).
Though the Body of Christ of this Dispensation is composed of both Jews and Gentiles, only a remnant of Jews are being saved today. It is mostly Gentiles who are accepting Jesus Christ and that will continue until the Rapture of the Church to meet the Lord in the air. That will be followed by a time of Great Tribulation, which begins the Day of the Lord. It is then that all Israel, as a nation, will be saved. (Romans 11:26).
The Day of the Lord is known as a 'day of wrath', a 'day of visitation', and the 'great day of God Almighty. It's a time when God's wrath will be poured out on the unbelieving world and upon unbelieving Israel.
However, besides a time of judgment, it will also be a period when God will deliver the remnant of Israel, fulfilling all of His promises to them. He will forgive HIs chosen people and restore them to the land that He promised their forefathers.
The ultimate outcome of the Day of the Lord, according to Isaiah 2:17 is that:
“The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day."
With all of these things in mind, let us look at the facts that the Apostle Paul gives us regarding this great future day.
II. Fact 1: The Day Will Come Suddenly (1-3)
The first fact all believers should know is that this coming Day will happen suddenly. Paul begins by reminding the Thessalonians of the earlier teaching they had received regarding the Day of the Lord. He said:
"Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you, yourselves know full well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying: 'Peace and safety!' then, destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape." (1-3).
Those who are robbed aren't expecting the thief, or they'd prepare for him to come. Also, a woman's labor pains begin unexpectedly and continue until the final event, the birth of a child. In the same way, the Day of the Lord will take place suddenly and will continue until Jesus hands over the Kingdom to God the Father and the Father will be all in all (I Corinthians 15:28).
The phrase 'a thief in the night' is never used to refer to the Rapture of the Church. It is used of Christ's coming in judgment on the Day of the Lord at the end of the 7-year tribulation. And it is used of the judgment which concludes the Millennium or the thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth (II Peter 3:10), As a thief comes unexpectedly at night, so will the Day of the Lord come in both of its final phases,
The world won't be prepared for it. They will go on sinning and carousing as they always have. They will be talking about peace and safety until the day comes on them suddenly.
For those who know biblical prophecy, they understand that the first 3 1/2 years of the coming 7-year Tribulation will bring peace, made possible by the anti-Christ. That will end during the second 3 1/2 years and literally all Hell will break loose on those who refuse to follow the anti-Christ and false prophet. Mankind is in the dark about all of this now and they won't be able to escape the wrath and judgment to come. However, the believer doesn't have to be. They can be prepared. This is fact 2.
III. Fact 2: Believer's Can be Prepared With Knowledge (4-8)
In verse 4 Paul suddenly starts contrasting the world and the darkness that they are in, with the believer in Jesus Christ. The Day of the Lord doesn't have to take us by surprise. We have been warned of its coming and the judgment of the world that is ahead. We have been taken out of the domain of darkness and we've been transferred into the Kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). We're no longer in the spiritual darkness that keeps us from seeing all that God has for us.
Since we have this advantage, we don't have to act like the world acts. We don't have to be spiritually asleep and continuing as if there is no judgment day to come. Neither do we have to be drunk and under the control of something other than God and His perfect will for our lives. Children of light are not out of control. We are not under the domain of Satan, the prince of darkness. Rather, we are in our right minds and can be sober. We also have the spiritual armor of God. We have the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.
So, no matter if Christ comes to take us away in the Rapture today, or even takes us home in death, we are prepared for His coming. We know that our salvation is sure and do all we can to please HIm who gave Himself totally for us.
We also, do our best to tell the rest of the world of the coming wrath and judgment, imploring them to escape it just as we have done. We want them to know the love that God has given to us through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
IV. Fact 3: Believers are not Destined for the Coming Wrath (9-11)
Further, besides being prepared for what is ahead because we've been given knowledge through Gods Word, a final fact that Paul gives to the Thessalonian Church is that we are not destined for the coming wrath, but are rather destined for salvation. This happens when we receive our new bodies and meet the Lord and our dead believing loved ones in the air at the Rapture. We can comfort one another knowing that we will spend eternity with our Lord and not be tangled up in all that the world must endure.
Jesus Christ took all of God's wrath upon Himself when He died on the cross for our sins. He was forsaken by the Father so that we would never have to know what it's like to have God turn his face away from us. Paul tells us at the end of this section:
"For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep (i.e. alive or dead). we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are doing." (9-11).
So, Christ's return should not be a time of dread for the believer. We don't have to fear. It is rather a time of joy and great blessing.
It has been said that the wrath of God is the forgotten doctrine. People want to hear about the Lord's love, but don't want to hear that He is also a God of righteous wrath. J. I. Packer, in his book 'Knowing God' has said:
“The fact is that the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians, by and large, have accepted the taboo and have conditioned themselves never to raise the matter”
In Scripture, God's wrath is His strong and vigorous opposition to everything evil. It's His settled hostility toward sin in all of its various forms. Wrath has nothing to do with an uncontrollable rage or vindictive bitterness or even God losing His temper like human beings. It means that His holiness cannot coexist with sin in any form at all. It is both a holy hatred to all that is unholy and righteous indignation to all that is unrighteous.
If there is a just and Holy God in the world, then injustice and unholiness cannot go unchallenged and unpunished. Which means that God will have His day. The Day of the Lord will be that day and God's people must take that very seriously. We need to thank Him that we have been delivered from the wrath to come and we must do all we can to live a life that pleases Him if we truly love the Lord.
And all of us must also take seriously the sword that is hanging over everyone who refuses to acknowledge their sin and need for a Savior. They can only escape their fate by accepting the One who has born the wrath of God upon Himself on the cross of Calvary. God's grace and mercy are the fine threads standing in the way of the complete, utter and eternal destruction that is ahead for most people that we know, or come in contact with on a daily basis.
May the Lord lead each of us to at least one person this week who needs to escape the wrath of God. And I pray that He gives us the courage to warn them of the impending danger that they face, And it is also my hope that He gives us the ability to tell them about the only person who can give to them the means of escape- the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank, you Lord for our Savior who absorbed your wrath and who gave us a way to escape, the Day of the Lord. Let us never forget your anger toward sin, but always be grateful for your love which has rescued us from it for all eternity. Amen!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley