1 Thessalonians 5:4
But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) But ye.—“Though the world (which lieth in darkness) may be surprised at the coming of the Day, you, members of the Church, living in the light, cannot be surprised.” The words “in darkness” seem to be suggested by the mention of “night” in 1Thessalonians 5:2; and the chief thought (as the succeeding verses show) is that of supineness, inattention, torpor, not so much either ignorance or sin.

That day.—Literally, the day: so that it does not mean the Judgment Day simply as a point of time, but brings out its characteristic of being a day indeed. (Comp. 1Corinthians 3:13.)

As a thief.—There is another reading which has two of the best MSS. and he Coptic version in its favour, and the judgment of Lachmann and Dr. Lightfoot,” As thieves.” But not only is the evidence from the MSS. strongly in favour of the Received text, but the whole context shows that St. Paul was not thinking of the day as catching them at evil practices, but as catching them in inadvertence.

1 Thessalonians 5:4-6. But ye, brethren, are not — As formerly; in darkness — In a state of gross ignorance respecting these and all other divine things; that that awful day — Or the day of death, introductory thereto; should overtake you as a thief — Should surprise you in an unprepared state. Ye are all children of the light and of the day — Ye are blest with the bright day of the gospel, which gives you full information respecting these and all other matters that concern your salvation; and he that commanded light to shine out of darkness hath shined into your hearts; enduing you with divine knowledge, and the light of living, saving faith. We are not of the night — Of heathenism or of Judaism, destitute of gospel light, and of the information which the gospel gives, particularly respecting a future and eternal state; and neither are we, though surrounded with the light of a gospel-day, in darkness — Through unbelief and blindness of mind, God having inspired us with the faith of his operation, and opened the eyes of our understanding. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others — Who are not favoured with our advantages: let us not continue in a state of insensibility and carnal security respecting these things, as if we neither looked for death, the resurrection of the dead, nor a future judgment: having all our spiritual senses closed, and carelessly resting in lukewarmness, sloth, and indolence: but let us watch and be sober — Or, let us awake and be watchful, as some render γρηγορωμεν και νηφωμεν. Let us awake to a deep sense of the absolute certainty and infinite importance of these awful discoveries, and by continual sobriety, and a temperate use of God’s creatures, of all earthly things, and especially by walking continually in the light of truth and grace, and therefore in universal holiness and righteousness, let us stand constantly prepared for the awful scenes which await us, and which we must assuredly pass through.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.But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief - The allusion here is to the manner in which a thief or robber accomplishes his purpose. He comes in the night, when people are asleep. So, says the apostle, the Lord will come to the wicked. They are like those who are asleep when the thief comes upon them. But it is not so with Christians. They are, in relation to the coming of the day of the Lord, as people are who are awake when the robber comes. They could see his approach, and could prepare for it, so that it would not take them by surprise. 4. not in darkness—not in darkness of understanding (that is, spiritual ignorance) or of the moral nature (that is, a state of sin), Eph 4:18.

that—Greek, "in order that"; with God results are all purposed.

that day—Greek, "THE day"; the day of the Lord (Heb 10:25, "the day"), in contrast to "darkness."

overtake—unexpectedly (compare Joh 12:35).

as a thief—The two oldest manuscripts read, "as (the daylight overtakes) thieves" (Job 24:17). Old manuscripts and Vulgate read as English Version.

Lest these believing Thessalonians should be terrified in their minds by this discourse, he adds this by way of comfort to them, that they shall not be surprised as others; though they did not know the particular time of Christ’s coming, yet it would not find them unprepared for it as the world would be; and the reason he gives is, because they are not in darkness.

Darkness is to be taken metaphorically; and so in Scripture it is taken either for sin, ignorance, or misery. The two former are here meant, especially ignorance. These Thessalonians were brought into the light of the gospel; they had the knowledge of Christ, and the way of salvation by him; particularly they knew of his coming, and the manner and ends of his coming, which the infidel world did not; and though Christ’s coming would be to others as a thief in the night, yet not to them. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness,.... In a state of unregeneracy, which is a state of darkness, blindness, and ignorance, and which is the condition of all men by nature; they are born in darkness, and are brought up in it, and willingly, walk in it; they are covered with it, as the earth was covered with darkness in its first creation; and dwell in it, as the Egyptians did for some days, in thick darkness, darkness which might be felt; their understandings are darkened with respect to the true knowledge of God, the nature of sin, the way of salvation by Christ, the work of the spirit of God upon the soul, and the necessity of it, the Scriptures of truth, and the mysteries of the Gospel; and which is the case of God's elect themselves, while unregenerate: but now these persons were called out of darkness, turned from it, and delivered from the power of it; and therefore knew that the day of the Lord comes as above described, by the metaphors of a thief in the night, and a woman with child, and needed not to be informed about that matter: or

that that day should overtake you as a thief; or seize and lay hold upon you as a thief who comes in the dark, and lays hold upon a person suddenly; but these saints were not in the dark, but in the light, and so could see when the day of the Lord came; and would not be surprised with it, as a man is seized with terror and fright, when laid hold on by a thief; since they would be, or at least should be on their watch, and be looking out for, and hasting to the coming of the day of God.

{2} But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

(2) Returning to exhortations, he warns us who are enlightened with the knowledge of God, that it is our duty not to live securely in pleasures, lest we be suddenly taken in a dead sleep in pleasures. But contrary to this we are to have an eye to the Lord, and not allow ourselves to be oppressed with the cares of this world, for pleasures are fitting for the darkness of the night, and having an eye to the Lord is fitting for the light.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Thessalonians 5:4. Ὑμεῖς δέ] but ye, in contrast to the unbelieving and worldly-minded described in 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

ἐστέ] indicative, not imperative; for otherwise μὴ ἔστε would require to be written instead of οὐκ ἐστέ (see Schmalfeld, Syntax des Griech. Verb. p. 143), not to mention that, according to the Pauline view, Christians as such, i.e. in their ideas and principles, are no more σκότος, but φῶς ἐν κυρίῳ; comp. Ephesians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Colossians 1:12. The expression σκότος, darkness, here occasioned by the comparison ὡς κλέπτης ἐν νυκτί, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, is a designation of the ruined condition of the sinful and unredeemed world, which in its estrangement from God is neither enlightened concerning the divine will, nor possesses power to fulfil it.

ἵνα ὑμᾶς ἡ ἡμέρα κ.τ.λ.] By ὑμᾶς placed first the readers are fittingly and emphatically brought forward in opposition to those described in 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

ἵνα is not ἐκβατικῶς in the sense of so that (Flatt, Pelt, Olshausen, Baumgarten-Crusius, Bisping, and others), but τελικῶς: that, or in order that. But the design contained in ἵνα is to be referred to God. Paul intends to say: Ye are not among the unbelieving world alienated from God, and thus the design which God has in view in reference to that unbelieving and alienated world, namely, to surprise them by the day of the Lord, can have no application to you. Why this design of God can have no application to the readers, the apostle accordingly states—1 Thessalonians 5:4. From the sudden and unexpected nature of the Last Day, Paul passes, by a characteristic inversion of metaphor in κλέπτας, to a play of thought upon the day as light. A double symbolism of ἡμέρα, as of κοιμᾶσθαι, thus pervades 4–8. Lightfoot cites a very striking parallel from Eur., Iph. Taur., 1025–1026.4. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief] Properly, the day—the great Day, the “day of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:2); comp. the other elliptical phrase, “the wrath,” of ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:16. At the same time, this word, while it looks back to 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, suggests the wider, figurative sense of day that comes out in 1 Thessalonians 5:5. Since the Thessalonians are “not in darkness,” the coming of day will be no terror or surprise to them. The Day of the Lord will not “overtake them as a thief,” stealing on them suddenly and despoiling them of their treasures unawares, but it will come to them as the welcome daybreak, full of light and joy. To the wicked and careless, by a sad contradiction, the Day of the Lord will be night! it is to them “darkness and not light,—yea, very dark, and no brightness in it” (Amos 5:20). But for “the sons of light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) it is day indeed, and wears its true character.

The margin of the R. V. contains the interesting reading, found “in some ancient authorities,” preferred also by Westcott and Hort: overtake you as thieves! This gives a striking sense. It depicts the guilty as themselves “thieves,” surprised by daylight. But it involves an abrupt change of metaphor, not sustained by the following context; it transforms the “thief” from the cause of the surprise (1 Thessalonians 5:2) into its object.Verse 4. - But ye, brethren; ye believers, in opposition to the unbelieving world. Are not in darkness; referring back to the night (ver. 2), when the thief comes. By darkness is here meant, not merely ignorance, but moral depravity - the darkness of sin. Ye are not in the ignorant and sinful condition of the unredeemed world, so as to be surprised by the day of the Lord. With you it is not night, but day; the light of the gospel is shining around you; and therefore the day of the Lord's coming will not surprise you in an unprepared state. That; a statement, not of result, but of purpose - "in order that." That day; the day; namely, the day of the Lord. Should overtake you - surprise you - as a thief. Overtake (καταλάβῃ)

See on comprehended, John 1:5.

A thief (κλέπτης)

Tischendorf, Weiss, and Rev. T. retain this reading. Westcott and Hort read κλέπτας thieves, but with κλέπτης in margin. The weight of textual evidence is in favor of the singular.

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