Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
1Th 5:1-28. The Suddenness of Christ's Coming a Motive for Watchfulness; Various Precepts: Prayer for Their Being Found Blameless, Body, Soul, and Spirit, at Christ's Coming: Conclusion.
1. times—the general and indefinite term for chronological periods.
seasons—the opportune times (Da 7:12; Ac 1:7). Time denotes quantity; season, quality. Seasons are parts of times.
ye have no need—those who watch do not need to be told when the hour will come, for they are always ready [Bengel].
cometh—present: expressing its speedy and awful certainty.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
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).
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
3. they—the men of the world. 1Th 5:5, 6; 1Th 4:13, "others," all the rest of the world save Christians.
Peace—(Jud 18:7, 9, 27, 28; Jer 6:14; Eze 13:10).
then—at the very moment when they least expect it. Compare the case of Belshazzar, Da 5:1-5, 6, 9, 26-28; Herod, Ac 12:21-23.
sudden—"unawares" (Lu 21:34).
as travail—"As the labor pang" comes in an instant on the woman when otherwise engaged (Ps 48:6; Isa 13:8).
shall not escape—Greek, "shall not at all escape." Another awful feature of their ruin: there shall be then no possibility of shunning it however they desire it (Am 9:2, 3; Re 6:15, 16).
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
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.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
5. The oldest manuscripts read, "FOR ye are all," &c. Ye have no reason for fear, or for being taken by surprise, by the coming of the day of the Lord: "For ye are all sons (so the Greek) of light and sons of day"; a Hebrew idiom, implying that as sons resemble their fathers, so you are in character light (intellectually and morally illuminated in a spiritual point of view), Lu 16:8; Joh 12:36.
are not of—that is, belong not to night nor darkness. The change of person from "ye" to "we" implies this: Ye are sons of light because ye are Christians; and we, Christians, are not of night nor darkness.
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
6. others—Greek, "the rest" of the world: the unconverted (1Th 4:13). "Sleep" here is worldly apathy to spiritual things (Ro 13:11; Eph 5:14); in 1Th 5:7, ordinary sleep; in 1Th 5:10, death.
watch—for Christ's coming; literally, "be wakeful." The same Greek occurs in 1Co 15:34; 2Ti 2:26.
be sober—refraining from carnal indulgence, mental or sensual (1Pe 5:8).
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
7. This verse is to be taken in the literal sense. Night is the time when sleepers sleep, and drinking men are drunk. To sleep by day would imply great indolence; to be drunken by day, great shamelessness. Now, in a spiritual sense, "we Christians profess to be day people, not night people; therefore our work ought to be day work, not night work; our conduct such as will bear the eye of day, and such has no need of the veil of night" [Edmunds], (1Th 5:8).
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.
8. Faith, hope, and love, are the three pre-eminent graces (1Th 1:3; 1Co 13:13). We must not only be awake and sober, but also armed; not only watchful, but also guarded. The armor here is only defensive; in Eph 6:13-17, also offensive. Here, therefore, the reference is to the Christian means of being guarded against being surprised by the day of the Lord as a thief in the night. The helmet and breastplate defend the two vital parts, the head and the heart respectively. "With head and heart right, the whole man is right" [Edmunds]. The head needs to be kept from error, the heart from sin. For "the breastplate of righteousness," Eph 6:14, we have here "the breastplate of faith and love"; for the righteousness which is imputed to man for justification, is "faith working by love" (Ro 4:3, 22-24; Ga 5:6). "Faith," as the motive within, and "love," exhibited in outward acts, constitute the perfection of righteousness. In Eph 6:17 the helmet is "salvation"; here, "the hope of salvation." In one aspect "salvation" is a present possession (Joh 3:36; 5:24; 1Jo 5:13); in another, it is a matter of "hope" (Ro 8:24, 25). Our Head primarily wore the "breastplate of righteousness" and "helmet of salvation," that we might, by union with Him, receive both.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
9. For—assigning the ground of our "hopes" (1Th 5:8).
appointed us—Translate, "set" (Ac 13:47), in His everlasting purpose of love (1Th 3:3; 2Ti 1:9). Contrast Ro 9:22; Jude 4.
to—that is, unto wrath.
to obtain—Greek, "to the acquisition of salvation"; said, according to Bengel, Of One saved out of a general wreck, when all things else have been lost: so of the elect saved out of the multitude of the lost (2Th 2:13, 14). The fact of God's "appointment" of His grace "through Jesus Christ" (Eph 1:5), takes away the notion of our being able to "acquire" salvation of ourselves. Christ "acquired (so the Greek for 'purchased') the Church (and its salvation) with His own blood" (Ac 20:28); each member is said to be appointed by God to the "acquiring of salvation." In the primary sense, God does the work; in the secondary sense, man does it.
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
10. died for us—Greek, "in our behalf."
whether we wake or sleep—whether we be found at Christ's coming awake, that is, alive, or asleep, that is, in our graves.
together—all of us together; the living not preceding the dead in their glorification "with Him" at His coming (1Th 4:13).
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
11. comfort yourselves—Greek, "one another." Here he reverts to the same consolatory strain as in 1Th 4:18.
edify one another—rather as Greek, "edify (ye) the one the other"; "edify," literally, "build up," namely, in faith, hope, and love, by discoursing together on such edifying topics as the Lord's coming, and the glory of the saints (Mal 3:16).
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
12. beseech—"Exhort" is the expression in 1Th 5:14; here, "we beseech you," as if it were a personal favor (Paul making the cause of the Thessalonian presbyters, as it were, his own).
know—to have a regard and respect for. Recognize their office, and treat them accordingly (compare 1Co 16:18) with reverence and with liberality in supplying their needs (1Ti 5:17). The Thessalonian Church having been newly planted, the ministers were necessarily novices (1Ti 3:6), which may have been in part the cause of the people's treating them with less respect. Paul's practice seems to have been to ordain elders in every Church soon after its establishment (Ac 14:23).
them which labour … are over … admonish you—not three classes of ministers, but one, as there is but one article common to the three in the Greek. "Labor" expresses their laborious life; "are over you," their pre-eminence as presidents or superintendents ("bishops," that is, overseers, Php 1:1, "them that have rule over you," literally, leaders, Heb 13:17; "pastors," literally, shepherds, Eph 4:11); "admonish you," one of their leading functions; the Greek is "put in mind," implying not arbitrary authority, but gentle, though faithful, admonition (2Ti 2:14, 24, 25; 1Pe 5:3).
in the Lord—Their presidency over you is in divine things; not in worldly affairs, but in things appertaining to the Lord.
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
13. very highly—Greek, "exceeding abundantly."
for their work's sake—The high nature of their work alone, the furtherance of your salvation and of the kingdom of Christ, should be a sufficient motive to claim your reverential love. At the same time, the word "work," teaches ministers that, while claiming the reverence due to their office, it is not a sinecure, but a "work"; compare "labor" (even to weariness: so the Greek), 1Th 5:12.
be at peace among yourselves—The "and" is not in the original. Let there not only be peace between ministers and their flocks, but also no party rivalries among yourselves, one contending in behalf of some one favorite minister, another in behalf of another (Mr 9:50; 1Co 1:12; 4:6).
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
14. brethren—This exhortation to "warm (Greek, 'admonish,' as in 1Th 5:12) the unruly (those 'disorderly' persons, 2Th 3:6, 11, who would not work, and yet expected to be maintained, literally, said of soldiers who will not remain in their ranks, compare 1Th 4:11; also those insubordinate as to Church discipline, in relation to those 'over' the Church, 1Th 5:12), comfort the feeble-minded (the faint-hearted, who are ready to sink 'without hope' in afflictions, 1Th 4:13, and temptations)," applies to all clergy and laity alike, though primarily the duty of the clergy (who are meant in 1Th 5:12)."
support—literally, "lay fast hold on so as to support."
the weak—spiritually. Paul practiced what he preached (1Co 9:22).
be patient toward all men—There is no believer who needs not the exercise of patience "toward" him; there is none to whom a believer ought not to show it; many show it more to strangers than to their own families, more to the great than to the humble; but we ought to show it "toward all men" [Bengel]. Compare "the long-suffering of our Lord" (2Co 10:1; 2Pe 3:15).
See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
15. (Ro 12:17; 1Pe 3:9.)
unto any man—whether unto a Christian, or a heathen, however great the provocation.
follow—as a matter of earnest pursuit.
16, 17. In order to "rejoice evermore," we must "pray without ceasing" (1Th 5:17). He who is wont to thank God for all things as happening for the best, will have continuous joy [Theophylact]. Eph 6:18; Php 4:4, 6, "Rejoice in the Lord … by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving"; Ro 14:17, "in the Holy Ghost"; Ro 12:12, "in hope"; Ac 5:41, "in being counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's name"; Jas 1:2, in falling "into divers temptations."
Pray without ceasing.
17. The Greek is, "Pray without intermission"; without allowing prayerless gaps to intervene between the times of prayer.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
18. In every thing—even what seems adverse: for nothing is really so (compare Ro 8:28; Eph 5:20). See Christ's example (Mt 15:36; 26:27; Lu 10:21; Joh 11:41).
this—That ye should "rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, (and) in every thing give thanks," "is the will of God in Christ Jesus (as the Mediator and Revealer of that will, observed by those who are in Christ by faith, compare Php 3:14) concerning you." God's will is the believer's law. Lachmann rightly reads commas at the end of the three precepts (1Th 5:16-18), making "this" refer to all three.
Quench not the Spirit.
19. Quench not—the Spirit being a holy fire: "where the Spirit is, He burns" [Bengel] (Mt 3:11; Ac 2:3; 7:51). Do not throw cold water on those who, under extraordinary inspiration of the Spirit, stand up to speak with tongues, or reveal mysteries, or pray in the congregation. The enthusiastic exhibitions of some (perhaps as to the nearness of Christ's coming, exaggerating Paul's statement, 2Th 2:2, By spirit), led others (probably the presiding ministers, who had not always been treated with due respect by enthusiastic novices, 1Th 5:12), from dread of enthusiasm, to discourage the free utterances of those really inspired, in the Church assembly. On the other hand, the caution (1Th 5:21) was needed, not to receive "all" pretended revelations as divine, without "proving" them.
Despise not prophesyings.
20. prophesyings—whether exercised in inspired teaching, or in predicting the future. "Despised" by some as beneath "tongues," which seemed most miraculous; therefore declared by Paul to be a greater gift than tongues, though the latter were more showy (1Co 14:5).
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
21, 22. Some of the oldest manuscripts insert "But." You ought indeed not to "quench" the manifestations of "the Spirit," nor "despise prophesyings"; "but," at the same time, do not take "all" as genuine which professes to be so; "prove (test) all" such manifestations. The means of testing them existed in the Church, in those who had the "discerning of spirits" (1Co 12:10; 14:29; 1Jo 4:1). Another sure test, which we also have, is, to try the professed revelation whether it accords with Scripture, as the noble Bereans did (Isa 8:20; Ac 17:11; Ga 1:8, 9). This precept negatives the Romish priest's assumption of infallibly laying down the law, without the laity having the right, in the exercise of private judgment, to test it by Scripture. Locke says, Those who are for laying aside reason in matters of revelation, resemble one who would put out his eyes in order to use a telescope.
hold fast that which is good—Join this clause with the next clause (1Th 5:22), not merely with the sentence preceding. As the result of your "proving all things," and especially all prophesyings, "hold fast (Lu 8:15; 1Co 11:2; Heb 2:1) the good, and hold yourselves aloof from every appearance of evil" ("every evil species" [Bengel and Wahl]). Do not accept even a professedly spirit-inspired communication, if it be at variance with the truth taught you (2Th 2:2).
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
22. Tittmann supports English Version, "from every evil appearance" or "semblance." The context, however, does not refer to evil appearances IN OURSELVES which we ought to abstain from, but to holding ourselves aloof from every evil appearance IN OTHERS; as for instance, in the pretenders to spirit-inspired prophesyings. In many cases the Christian should not abstain from what has the semblance ("appearance") of evil, though really good. Jesus healed on the sabbath, and ate with publicans and sinners, acts which wore the appearance of evil, but which were not to be abstained from on that account, being really good. I agree with Tittmann rather than with Bengel, whom Alford follows. The context favors this sense: However specious be the form or outward appearance of such would-be prophets and their prophesyings, hold yourselves aloof from every such form when it is evil, literally, "Hold yourselves aloof from every evil appearance" or "form."
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
23. the very God—rather as the Greek, "the God of peace Himself"; who can do for you by His own power what I cannot do by all my monitions, nor you by all your efforts (Ro 16:20; Heb 13:20), namely, keep you from all evil, and give you all that is good.
sanctify you—for holiness is the necessary condition of "peace" (Php 4:6-9).
wholly—Greek, "(so that you should be) perfect in every respect" [Tittmann].
and—that is, "and so (omit 'I pray God'; not in the Greek) may your … spirit and soul and body be preserved," &c.
whole—A different Greek word from "wholly." Translate, "entire"; with none of the integral parts wanting [Tittmann]. It refers to man in his normal integrity, as originally designed; an ideal which shall be attained by the glorified believer. All three, spirit, soul, and body, each in its due place, constitute man "entire." The "spirit" links man with the higher intelligences of heaven, and is that highest part of man which is receptive of the quickening Holy Spirit (1Co 15:47). In the unspiritual, the spirit is so sunk under the lower animal soul (which it ought to keep under) that such are termed "animal" (English Version. "sensual," having merely the body of organized matter, and the soul the immaterial animating essence), having not the Spirit (compare 1Co 2:14; see on 1Co 15:44; 1Cor 15:46-48; Joh 3:6). The unbeliever shall rise with an animal (soul-animated) body, but not like the believer with a spiritual (spirit-endued) body like Christ's (Ro 8:11).
blameless unto—rather as Greek, "blamelessly (so as to be in a blameless state) at the coming of Christ." In Hebrew, "peace" and "wholly" (perfect in every respect) are kindred terms; so that the prayer shows what the title "God of peace" implies. Bengel takes "wholly" as collectively, all the Thessalonians without exception, so that no one should fail. And "whole (entire)," individually, each one of them entire, with "spirit, soul, and body." The mention of the preservation of the body accords with the subject (1Th 4:16). Trench better regards "wholly" as meaning, "having perfectly attained the moral end," namely, to be a full-grown man in Christ. "Whole," complete, with no grace which ought to be wanting in a Christian.
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
24. Faithful—to His covenant promises (Joh 10:27-29; 1Co 1:9; 10:23; Php 1:6).
he that calleth you—God, the caller of His people, will cause His calling not to fall short of its designed end.
do it—preserve and present you blameless at the coming of Christ (1Th 5:23; Ro 8:30; 1Pe 5:10). You must not look at the foes before and behind, on the right hand and on the left, but to God's faithfulness to His promises, God's zeal for His honor, and God's love for those whom He calls.
Brethren, pray for us.
25. Some oldest manuscripts read, "Pray ye also for (literally, 'concerning') us"; make us and our work the subject of your prayers, even as we have been just praying for you (1Th 5:23). Others omit the "also." The clergy need much the prayers of their flocks. Paul makes the same request in the Epistles to Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and in Second Corinthians; not so in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, whose intercessions, as his spiritual sons, he was already sure of; nor in the Epistles, I Corinthians, and Galatians, as these Epistles abound in rebuke.
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
26. Hence it appears this Epistle was first handed to the elders, who communicated it to "the brethren."
holy kiss—pure and chaste. "A kiss of charity" (1Pe 5:14). A token of Christian fellowship in those days (compare Lu 7:45; Ac 20:37), as it is a common mode of salutation in many countries. The custom hence arose in the early Church of passing the kiss through the congregation at the holy communion [Justin Martyr, Apology, 1.65; Apostolic Constitutions, 2.57], the men kissing the men, and the women the women, in the Lord. So in the Syrian Church each takes his neighbor's right hand and gives the salutation, "Peace."
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
27. I charge—Greek, "I adjure you."
read unto all—namely, publicly in the congregation at a particular time. The Greek aorist tense implies a single act done at a particular time. The earnestness of his adjuration implies how solemnly important he felt this divinely inspired message to be. Also, as this was the FIRST of the Epistles of the New Testament, he makes this the occasion of a solemn charge, that so its being publicly read should be a sample of what should be done in the case of the others, just as the Pentateuch and the Prophets were publicly read under the Old Testament, and are still read in the synagogue. Compare the same injunction as to the public reading of the Apocalypse, the LAST of the New Testament canon (Re 1:3). The "all" includes women and children, and especially those who could not read it themselves (De 31:12; Jos 8:33-35). What Paul commands with an adjuration, Rome forbids under a curse [Bengel]. Though these Epistles had difficulties, the laity were all to hear them read (1Pe 4:11; 2Pe 3:10; even the very young, 2Ti 1:5; 3:15). "Holy" is omitted before "brethren" in most of the oldest manuscripts, though some of them support it.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
28. (See on 2Co 13:14.) Paul ends as he began (1Th 1:1), with "grace." The oldest manuscripts omit "Amen," which probably was the response of the Church after the public reading of the Epistle.
The subscription is a comparatively modern addition. The Epistle was not, as it states, written from Athens, but from Corinth; for it is written in the names of Silas and Timothy (besides Paul), who did not join the apostle before he reached the latter city (Ac 18:5).