1 Thessalonians 5:2
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) Know perfectly.—Or, accurately. There is something of an oxymoron (see Note on 1Thessalonians 4:11) here. “I need not tell you about the time, for you know to a nicety—not the hour of Christ’s coming, but—the utter uncertainty respecting it.” The word shows at the same time with what scrupulous care St. Paul had instructed them on this topic.

The day of the Lord.—Here “the Lord” (as usual in the New Testament) means Jesus Christ; and this day can mean nothing else than the great day of His return to judgment. The expression is taken from the Old Testament, where, of course, it does not primarily mean what we call “the Day of Judgment,” but the set time which God has fixed for any great visitation. Thus in Joel 2:1, et seq., it means the time appointed for the plague of locusts; in Ezekiel 13:5, generally, any day when God visits His people; in Joel 3:14, the fixed time for vengeance to be taken upon the heathen for persecuting the Church; which, in Isaiah 2:12 (a passage largely influenced by recollections of Joel), seems to widen into a general day of judgment for mankind.

Cometh.—Not merely, will come; it is an absolute certainty that the time is on its way to come. (See Note on 1Thessalonians 1:10.)

As a thief in the nighti.e. unexpectedly (Matthew 24:43), and under cover of darkness. The frequency of the simile (see references) throws light on the words “know perfectly,” making it apparent that it was the ordinary formula in which the doctrine was universally taught by the Apostles.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-3. For yourselves know perfectly — It being a matter plainly revealed both by Christ and his apostles; that the day of the Lord — That great decisive day, to which our eyes and hearts are so much directed; so cometh as a thief in the night — Cometh suddenly and unexpectedly; and will occasion the greatest consternation to the ungodly. This comparison is used by our Lord himself to illustrate the unexpectedness of his coming, Matthew 24:43. It is used by St. Peter also, 2 Peter 3:10; see likewise Revelation 3:3. The ancients, from this comparison, and from the parable of the virgins, fancying that Christ’s coming to judgment would be in the night, instituted their vigils, in order that at his coming he might find them watching. But the true meaning of the comparison is, that, like the coming of a thief in the night, on those who are asleep and unarmed, the coming of Christ will be unexpected, and full of terror to the wicked; without determining whether it will be in the daytime or in the night. For when they — The men of the world; shall say — Shall promise to one another; peace and safety — And shall fear no evil of any kind; then sudden destruction cometh upon them — And a destruction of the most terrible kind; as travail upon a woman with child — “Nothing can be conceived more forcible to represent the anguish and torment of the wicked, occasioned by the stinging of their own consciences, and by the horrid fears which shall be excited in them, when they find themselves over-taken by the judgment, than to compare it to the pains of child- bearing.” And they shall not escape — Condemnation and punishment at that terrible day. See 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.5:1-5 It is needless or useless to ask about the particular time of Christ's coming. Christ did not reveal this to the apostles. There are times and seasons for us to work in, and these are our duty and interest to know and observe; but as to the time when we must give up our account, we know it not, nor is it needful that we should. The coming of Christ will be a great surprise to men. Our Lord himself said so. As the hour of death is the same to each person that the judgment will be to mankind in general, so the same remarks answer for both. Christ's coming will be terrible to the ungodly. Their destruction will overtake them while they dream of happiness, and please themselves with vain amusements. There will be no means to escape the terror or the punishment of that day. This day will be a happy day to the righteous. They are not in darkness; they are the children of the light. It is the happy condition of all true Christians. But how many are speaking peace and safety to themselves, over whose heads utter destruction is hovering! Let us endeavour to awaken ourselves and each other, and guard against our spiritual enemies.For yourselves know perfectly - That is, they had been fully taught this. There could be no doubt in their minds respecting it.

The day of the Lord so cometh - Of the Lord Jesus - for so the word "Lord" in the New Testament commonly means; see the notes, Acts 1:24. The "day of the Lord" means that day in which he will be manifested, or in which he will be the prominent object in view of the assembled universe.

As a thief in the night - Suddenly and unexpectedly, as a robber breaks into a dwelling. A thief comes without giving any warning, or any indications of his approach. He not only gives none, but he is careful that none shall be given. It is a point with him that, if possible, the man whose house he is about to rob shall have no means of ascertaining his approach until he comes suddenly upon him; compare Matthew 24:37-43 notes; Luke 12:39-40 notes. In this way the Lord Jesus will return to judgment; and this proves that all the attempts to determine the day, the year, or the century when he will come, must be fallacious. He intends that his coming to this world shall be sudden and unexpected, "like that of a thief in the night;" that there shall be no such indications of his approach that it shall not be sudden and unexpected; and that no warning of it shall be given so that people may know the time of his appearing. If this be not the point of the comparison in expressions like this, what is it? Is there anything else in which his coming will resemble that of a thief? And if this be the true point of comparison, how can it be true that people can ascertain when that is to occur? Assuredly, if they can, his coming will not be like that of a thief; comp. notes on Acts 1:7.

2. as a thief in the night—The apostles in this image follow the parable of their Lord, expressing how the Lord's coming shall take men by surprise (Mt 24:43; 2Pe 3:10). "The night is wherever there is quiet unconcern" [Bengel]. "At midnight" (perhaps figurative: to some parts of the earth it will be literal night), Mt 25:6. The thief not only gives no notice of his approach but takes all precaution to prevent the household knowing of it. So the Lord (Re 16:15). Signs will precede the coming, to confirm the patient hope of the watchful believer; but the coming itself shall be sudden at last (Mt 24:32-36; Lu 21:25-32, 35). By times and seasons then, before mentioned, he meant the time: of the Lord’s coming, or he applies what he spoke in general to this particular, which he here calls

the day of the Lord. And though they knew not the particular time, yet they did know this, it would be sudden and unexpected, coming

as a thief in the night, Revelation 16:15: the comparison is to be restrained only to the suddenness of it; for his coming will be welcome, and so not as a thief, to all that believe. And it is called

the day of the Lord here and elsewhere, 1 Corinthians 3:13 Philippians 1:6,10, and that day, 2 Timothy 1:18, not to be taken for a natural day, but a certain period of time. Any eminent manifestation of God, either in works of mercy or judgment, is called his day in Scripture, Isaiah 2:12 Jeremiah 46:10. And so because Christ will be more eminently manifested now than ever before, therefore his coming is called his day; and that it would be sudden they did not only know, but

know perfectly, or accurately; Ephesians 5:15, circumspectly: there could be only conjectures about the particular time: the influence hereof was powerful upon their hearts, and so they may be said to know it perfectly. In religion, knowledge is not perfect which is not operative. For yourselves know perfectly,.... With great exactness and accuracy, with great clearness and perspicuity, as a certain truth, which was made plain and evident to them, and about which there could be no question; and which perfect knowledge they had, either from the words of Christ, Matthew 24:42, or from the ministration of the apostle and his fellow labourers, when among them:

that the day of the Lord; of the Lord Jesus, when he will show himself to be King of kings, and Lord of lords, and the Judge of the whole earth; and which is sometimes styled the day of the Son of man, and the day of God, for Christ will appear then most gloriously, both in his divine and human nature; the day of redemption, that is, of the body from the grave, and from corruption and mortality; and the last day in which will be the resurrection of the dead, and the day of judgment, in which Christ will come to judge the quick and dead: and which

so cometh as a thief in the night; at an unawares, and the Lord himself in that day will so come, Revelation 3:3 respect is had not to the character of the thief, nor to the end of his coming; but to the manner of it, in the dark, indiscernibly, suddenly, and when not thought of and looked for; and such will be the coming of Christ, it will be sudden, and unknown before hand, and when least thought of and expected: and since the Thessalonians knew this full well, it was needless for the apostle to write about the time and season of it; which they were sensible of, could no more be known and fixed, than the coming of a thief into anyone of their houses.

For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Thessalonians 5:2. Αὐτοὶ γάρ] For ye yourselves, emphatically contrasted with the person of the writer, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

ἀκριβῶς] exactly, i.e. very well.

By the ἡμέρα κυρίου, Hammond, Schoettgen, and Harduin arbitrarily understand the time of the destruction of Jerusalem; Nicolas de Lyra, Bloomfield, and others, the day of each man’s death; Oecumenius, Theophylact, and Zwingli, the death of the individual and the end of everything earthly, ἡμέρα κυρίου can only be another expression for παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, and denotes, as everywhere else, the near impending period, when the present order of the world will come to an end, and Christ in His glory will return to the earth for the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment, and the completion of the kingdom of God; comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Php 1:6; Php 1:10; Php 2:16. Besides, the corresponding expression יוֹם יְהֹוָה is used in the Old Testament to denote a time in which God will manifest in a conspicuous manner His penal justice, or also His power and goodness; comp. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:11; Ezekiel 13:5; Isaiah 2:12.

ὡς κλέπτης ἐν νυκτί] as a thief in the night, sc. ἔρχεται; comp. 2 Peter 3:10. The figure is designed to depict the suddenness and unexpectedness of the coming; comp. Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39. Others, as Flatt, Schott, and Alford (similarly also Hofmann and Riggenbach), find expressed therein the further reference that the day of the Lord will also be terrible to all those who are not properly prepared for it. But this further idea is not contained in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, but only meets us in what follows. The comparison ὡς κλέπτης ἐν νυκτί was undoubtedly the chief reason of the opinion in the ancient church, that the advent is to be expected at night (more specifically, on an Easter-eve), which gave rise to the vigils, as one wished to be overtaken in a waking condition by the return of Christ. Comp. Lactantius, Institt. vii. 19: “Haec est nox, quae a nobis propter adventum regis ac Dei nostri pervigilio celebratur; cujus noctis duplex ratio est, quod in ea et vitam turn recepit, quum passus est, et postea orbis terrae regnum recepturus est.” Jerome on Matthew 25:6 (vol. vii. p. 203): “Traditio Judaeorum est, Christum media nocte venturum in similitudinem Aegyptii temporis, quando pascha celebratum est et exterminator venit, et dominus super tabernacula transiit.… Unde reor et traditionem apostolicam permansisse, ut in die vigiliarum paschae ante noctis dimidium populos dimittere non liceat, exspectantes adventum Christi.”

οὕτως] even so, a strong resumption of the preceding ὡς.

The present ἔρχετε is not here used instead of the future ἐλεύσεται (Vorstius, Koppe, Flatt, Pelt), but is designed to characterize the coming thus taking place as an absolute and certain truth. See Bernhardy, Syntax, p. 371; Winer, p. 237 [E. T. 331].1 Thessalonians 5:2. οἴδατε, referring to the teaching of Jesus on this crucial point, which Paul had transmitted to them (see Introduction).2. For yourselves know perfectly] “For yourselves know:” a turn of expression characteristic of these Epistles; ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (see note), 1 Thessalonians 2:1 (Identical with this), 2, 5, 11; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:7 (identical).

“Perfectly” is a somewhat vague rendering of an adverb that with verbs of knowing signifies precisely, or accurately; in Matthew 2:8, &c., it is rendered carefully (R. V.). Possibly the Thessalonians In sending their query had used this very word: “We should like to know more precisely,” they may have said, “about the times and seasons, and when the Day of the Lord will be.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 shows that the Church was full of eagerness about the Second Advent, and even after this caution many of its members continued to listen to those who professed to answer their Irrepressible questions. The Apostle replies, with a touch of gentle irony (comp. note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:11): “You already know precisely that nothing precise on the subject can be known,—that the Great Day will steal upon the world like a thief in the night!”

the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night] More exactly, as a thief in the night, so there is coming a day of the Lord; the definite article is absent in the Greek. Such a Day of the Lord as the Church expected is coming; it is on the way (comp. note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10). The event is certain: when it will arrive, no man can tell. Even in the act of going away Jesus said repeatedly, “I come,” “I am coming to you” (John 14:3; John 14:18; John 14:28; &c.).

The figure of the night-thief points, as the next verse shows, to the effect of the Day upon the unprepared. The simile is taken from the lips of Jesus in His discourse of the Judgement (Matthew 24:43; also Luke 12:39-40, where It is applied In warning to Christ’s servants): it is employed by other Apostles, in 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3, &c. It signifies, beside the unexpectedness of the event, its bereaving effect: it brings “sudden destruction” (1 Thessalonians 5:3); the house of the worldling is “broken through.”

“The day of the Lord” was a standing designation in the O.T., occurring first in Joel (ch. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1-2; Joel 2:11; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; comp. Amos 5:18) amongst the written prophets and handed down to Isaiah and Ezekiel, denoting the great epoch of judgement which in their age impended over Israel and the surrounding nations, and closed the prophetical horizon. In the O.T. therefore, the Day of the Lord has chiefly, if not exclusively, a judicial aspect. This meaning the expression carries over into the N.T.; and “the day of the Lord” is synonymous with “the day of Judgement” (Matthew 11:22, &c.)—often called simply “that day” (Matthew 7:22; Luke 17:31; &c.), also “the last day” (John 6:39, &c.). Moreover Christ ascribes to Himself, “the Son of Man” (Luke 17:24; Luke 17:26; Luke 17:30), what the O. T. in this connection predicts of “the Lord” (Jehovah). Hence St Paul describes the same Day of the Lord as “the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6, &c.). But our Apostle loves to regard the Day on its brighter side, as the time when Christ’s glory will be revealed in His people (2 Thessalonians 1:10; Php 2:16; &c.), “when He comes to be glorified in His saints and wondered at in all that believed.” Now the world is having its day; “this is your hour,” said Jesus to those who seized Him, “and the reign of darkness” (Luke 22:53). But that will be the Lord’s day, when the Lord and His Christ will be manifested, and vindicated whether in salvation or judgement,—when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). Afterwards the weekly day of Christ’s resurrection came to be called “the Lord’s Day,” as we call it now (Revelation 1:10)—this also a day of Divine vindication, and a pledge and foretaste of the final and perfect Day of the Lord: comp. the connection of the resurrection of Jesus with the Last Judgement in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Acts 17:31.

We have already observed a tacit reference under the words “as a thief in the night” to our Lord’s discourse on the Judgement; and we shall find others in the sequel. These allusions make one think that the Apostle in his preaching at Thessalonica had surely quoted from Christ’s words on this solemn theme. Otherwise, how would the Thessalonians “precisely know” that “the Day comes as a thief in the night”? While in regard to the state of the sainted dead a new revelation was needed (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:15), on the question of the time of His coming His own well-remembered words were sufficiently explicit.1 Thessalonians 5:2. Ὡς κλέπτης, as a thief) 2 Peter 3:10. A usual expression with the apostles, agreeing with the parable of the Lord, Matthew 24:43.—ἐν νυκτὶ, in the night) Refer those words to a thief, just now mentioned [not, the day of the Lord cometh in the night; but, as a thief cometh in the night]. The night is there, where there is unconcern and quiet; comp. however, Matthew 25:6.[25]—οὕτως) so, as we shall describe in the following verse. Comp. so after[26] for, Matthew 1:18, [“The birth of Christ was so; for when His mother Mary was espoused,” etc.: οὕτως ἦν. μνηστευθείσης γὰρ, etc.]—ἔρχεται, comes) The present expressing a sudden event with great emphasis. So 1 Thessalonians 5:3, Sudden destruction cometh; comp. Luke 21:34.

[25] “At midnight there was a cry made, Behold the Bridegroom cometh;” which seems to imply that it shall not be merely in a figurative, but in a literal sense, that the Lord shall come in the night.—ED.

[26] Here, however, γὰρ, for, is thought to be better omitted by the margin of both Ed. The Germ. Vers., for the sake of connection, puts nemlich.—E. B.

AGfg, Iren. 329, Cypr. 326, and Syr. Version, omit γὰρ, and so Tisch. Lachm. reads δὲ, with BD(Δ), Memph. and later Syr. Rec. Text reads γὰρ. with Vulg.—ED.Verse 2. - For yourselves know perfectly; namely, not from Scripture, nor from oral tradition, but from the teaching of the apostle when in Thessalonica. That the day of the Lord. "The day of the Lord" is a common Old Testament expression, denoting the coming of the Divine judgments (Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1); and by the phrase here is meant, not the destruction of Jerusalem, nor the day of one's death, but the day of the Lord's advent, when Christ shall descend from heaven in glory for the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of the world. The idea of judgment is contained in the term "day." So cometh as a thief in the night. The same comparison is used by our Lord himself (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39), and the very words are employed by Peter (2 Peter 3:10). The point of resemblance is evidently the unexpectedness and suddenness of the coming. The thief comes upon people in the night season, when they are asleep and unprepared; so, in a similar manner, when Christ comes, he will find the world unprepared and not expecting his advent. The ancient Fathers inferred from this passage that Christ would come to judgment in the night season, and hence they instituted vigils, or night watches. Some, still more precisely, fixed the coming on Easter night, from the analogy of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt on the paschal evening. Perfectly (ἀκριβῶς)

See on Luke 1:3.

The day of the Lord (ἡμέρα κυρίου)

The day of Christ's second coming. In Paul's Epistles this is expressed by ἡ ἡμέρα the day, absolutely, 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 3:13; Romans 13:12 : ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη that day, 2 Thessalonians 1:10 : ἡμέρα χριστοῦ the day of Christ, Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16 : ἡμέρα κυρίου or τοῦ κυρίου day of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2 : ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἱησοῦ (Χριστοῦ), 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:14. These expressions refer to a definite time when the Lord is expected to appear, and Paul expects this appearance soon. Attempts to evade this by referring such expressions to the day of death, or to the advance toward perfection after death until the final judgment, are forced, and are shaped by dogmatic conceptions of the nature of Biblical inspiration. In the O.T. the phrase day of the Lord denotes a time in which God will conspicuously manifest his power and goodness or his penal justice. See Isaiah 2:12; Ezekiel 13:5; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:11; and comp. Romans 2:5. The whole class of phrases is rare in N.T. outside of Paul's Epistles.

As a thief (ὡς κλέπτης)

Comp. Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15, and see on Revelation 3:3.

In the night (ἐν νυκιτί)

The ancient church held that the advent was to be expected at night, on an Easter eve. This gave rise to the custom of vigils. Jerome, on Matthew 25:6, says: "It is a tradition of the Jews that Messiah will come at midnight, after the likeness of that season in Egypt when the Passover was celebrated, and the Destroyer came, and the Lord passed over the dwellings. I think that this idea was perpetuated in the apostolic custom, that, on the day of vigils, at the Pascha, it was not allowed to dismiss the people before midnight, since they expected the advent of Christ." It is noteworthy how many of the gospel lessons on watchfulness are associated with the night and a visit by night. See Matthew 24:43; Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 13:35; Luke 12:35, Luke 12:38; Luke 17:34; Luke 12:20.

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