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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Thessalonians 5

Verses 1-2

1 Thessalonians 5:1-2. But of the times and the seasons, &c.— "I have told you that the solemn day of universal judgment will certainly come; and have been endeavouring to lead your minds to those views of it which must be most reviving to every true believer: but concerning the particular times and seasons of this grand event, with which the oeconomy of Providence in this world is to close, and respecting some very wonderful occurrences which are to precede it, I am satisfied, my brethren, that you have no need of my writing to you largely. For you yourselves do already assuredly know, that wherever we come we make it one of our first doctrines, that the great day of the Lord, to which our eyes and hearts are so much directed, comes just like a thief in the night, and will surprise the inhabitants of the world in general by a dreadful alarm, when they are sleeping in the deepest security."

Verse 2

1 Thessalonians 5:2. The day of the Lord This phrase may be understood either figuratively, of Christ's coming in judgment upon the Jews; or literally, of his coming in glory to judge the world. Sometimes, indeed, it is used in the former sense; but it is more generallyemployed in the latter, by the writers of the New Testament; and the context plainly evinces that this latter is the sense in the present passage. There is a remarkable emphasis in the next expression: A thief comes upon people when they are bound in sleep; and they awake in amazement and confusion, being found unarmed, and in a helpless posture. Again, pangs come upon a woman, 1Th 5:3 when she is eating or drinking, and thinking of nothing less than that hour: and here it is said, not that the day of the Lord will come thus, but that it is actually coming; which increases the awfulness of the representation.

Verse 5

1 Thessalonians 5:5. Ye are all the children of light, Having compared our Lord's sudden and unexpected appearance to the coming of a thief in the night, he takes up the comparison again, 1Th 5:4 and pursues it to 1Th 5:10 calling holy and righteous men the children of the day, and of the light, and idolatrous and wicked persons, ignorant of the truth, children of the night, and of darkness. This comparison is frequently touched upon in the Holy Scriptures, as well as in the heathen poets, with the greatest justness and beauty. Wicked men are represented as skulking about in the night, like birds of prey, or like bats and moles, whose eyes cannot bear the light, Job 24:13-18. Matthew 8:12. On the other hand, good men fear not the light, as their deeds will bear examination. This was the state from which the converts among the idolatrous Gentiles had happily and most remarkably emerged. See Romans 13:12-14.Ephesians 5:7-8; Ephesians 5:7-8. Colossians 1:12-13.

Verse 8

1 Thessalonians 5:8. Putting on the breastplate of faith and love, &c.— The breast and head being particularly exposed in battle, and wounds in these parts being extremely dangerous, the ancients carefully defended the breast and the head of their soldiers by armour, to which the Apostle here compares the Christian graces of faith and love. The breastplate of faith and love, being made of more precious materials than any metal, and being of a truly heavenly fabric, will render the heart, the seat of the affections, invulnerable. The Apostle's meaning, stripped of the metaphor, is this; that to defend our affections against the impression of outward and sensible objects, nothing is so effectual as faith in the promises of Christ, and love to God and man. St. Paul had the skilful and happy address of using figures and similitudes, which would be well understood, nay, and be emphatical, in the country and among the persons to whom he was writing. Thus, in his Epistle to the Romans, he compares holiness and sin to two masters, who had each of themtheir slaves; and dwells for some time upon that custom, which was so common among the Romans, in order to their apprehending his meaning more clearly. In writing to the Ephesians, he uses the architect stile, ch. 1Th 2:20-20 as all Asia had such sublime thoughts of the celebrated temple of Diana at Ephesus. In writing to the Hebrew Christians, he compares Christianity to almost the whole Mosaic oeconomy, and shews how much the gospel-dispensation excels: sohere, in writing to the Thessalonians of Macedonia, he speaks the very language of that warlike people; and as the lesser Asia was so well acquainted with the like customs, he makes use of the same allusion, Ephesians 6:10-18. See the notes there.

Verse 9

1 Thessalonians 5:9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, The primary design of God in sending his Son into this world, was not to condemn the world, but to save it. He did not reveal the gospel that men might sin with the greater aggravation, and so be punished the more; but the motive was love, and the design was mercy: and he hath appointed none to wrath, but such as wilfully and obstinately refuse to believe and obey the gospel.

Verse 10

1 Thessalonians 5:10. Who died for us, The Apostles lay a great stress upon this,—that Christ not onlywas incarnate, but died also to save the penitent, believing, and obedient; and therefore he has a just claim to our love and obedience. See Romans 5:6-12; Romans 14:8-9. 1 Corinthians 6:20. Whether we wake or sleep, means, Whether we live or die; "Whether we be of the number of those who depart this life before the coming of Christ; or of those who survive till that time." The Apostle refers to what he had said, ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, &c.

Verse 11

1 Thessalonians 5:11. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, He had used this expression ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:18. All that he has said since, concerning the time of Christ's coming, and the necessity of preparing for it, is to be looked upon as a parenthesis, or digression, though an exceedingly proper and useful one: and here, by his using this expression again, he shews that he is returning to where he left off, and closing this part of his Epistle.

Verse 12

1 Thessalonians 5:12. In a church which had been so lately planted, and that in the midst of so much confusion and opposition, it is no wonder that there should be several disorders. Among other things, many of them did not behave themselves with a proper deference and respect to such as presided over them as a church, instructing, directing, and admonishingthem;andparticularlytheyseem to have refused a compliance with such of their directions as concerned the regulating of their public worship. The Apostle, therefore, exhorts them to a due regard to these, in 1Th 5:12-13 after which he concludes his epistle with practical directions; some of them suited only to a church where many of them had extraordinary spiritual gifts, though other of the directions are suited to all Christians. Dr. Heylin reads the latter part of this verse, Who labour in the ministry, who preside over you in the Lord, and instruct you. See Hebrews 13:17.

Verse 14

1 Thessalonians 5:14. Them that are unruly, Dr. Heylin, with the margin of our Bibles, renders the original ατακτους, by disorderly. It is a military term, expressing the character of soldiers, who keep not their ranks, and will not know their colours.

Verse 16

1 Thessalonians 5:16. Rejoice evermore. "Be alway rejoicing in the midst of your trials and afflictions, knowing that you mayhave always the reconciled and approving presence of your God and Saviour, from which you may continually derive unutterable satisfaction and delight, sufficient to support you under all your sufferings."

Verse 17

1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing. "And, in order to maintain and improve this holy joy, pray incessantly. Be constant in your stated devotions at their returning seasons, and endeavour to keep your minds habitually prepared for those pious ejaculations which have so happy a tendency to promote the Christian temper." See Luke 18:1; Luke 24:53.Acts 2:46-47; Acts 2:46-47.

Verse 19

1 Thessalonians 5:19. Quench not the Spirit. This has generally been expounded as referring to the gifts of the Spirit; the exercise of which in themselves or others, should not be hindered. See 1 Timothy 4:14. 1 Corinthians 14:39. The phrase here used, σβεννυτε, quench, or extinguish, according to some, has a reference to the descent of the Spirit, as in flames of fire; as may also the original word αναζωπυρειν, 2 Timothy 1:6. The extensive meaning of thewords may be thus expressed: "Extinguish not spiritual gifts in others, by preventing them from the exercise of them in the solemn assembly; nor extinguish them in yourselves, by pride, idleness, absenting from the solemn assembly, or by the disorderly exercise of them there; much less by wickedness or apostacy. No, rather stir up the gifts which were given you by the laying on of my hands: allow others in their turns to exercise their gifts; and, by reading, meditation, prayer, and praise, by frequenting the solemn assembly, and by such an use of your spiritual gifts there, as may turn most to the edification of others, together with a steady perseverance in faith and love, and a holy Christian conversation;—by these means stir up and improve your spiritual gifts, until that holy religion, which they attest, through the power of Divine grace, entirely purify your hearts and lives, and blaze so bright, as to give light to all around you."

Verse 20

1 Thessalonians 5:20. Despise not prophesyings. By prophesying, here, we are not to understand barely a foretelling of future events, but a preaching by immediate inspiration; that is, speaking what tended to instruct or establish, convert or confirm, reprove or comfort mankind, in matters relating either to faith or practice. See 1 Corinthians 14:3-4. If we had only this one of all St. Paul's epistles, we should not perhaps have been able to understand the reason and design of this short direction; though the Thessalonians might easily understand it, from their thorough knowledge of the state of their own church: but in writing to other churches, which probably were more guilty of the same fault, he has opened his mind more fully. He evidently refers to the contentions about the exercise of spiritual gifts, Rom 12:3-8 and yet more evidently, 1 Corinthians 12:0; 1 Corinthians 13:0; 1 Corinthians 13:0; 1 Corinthians 14:0; 1 Corinthians 14:0 where he treats of this subject at large; shewing them that prophesying was the most valuable of all the spiritual gifts that were among them, as conducing most to edification. See the notes there.

Verses 21-23

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. Prove all things, &c.— Though they were not to despise prophesyings, yet they were not to receive every thing which might be so called; but to prove and examine all things that went under that name. Nor were they to stop here; but when they had separated them, or could distinguish between them, they were to reject the evil and hold fast the good. These two verses and the preceding verse ought to have been joined together, and then the connection would have been more evident. This direction was given,not only to such as presided among them, but to all the Christians at Thessalonica in general. Comp. 1 John 4:1.

Verse 23

1 Thessalonians 5:23. And the very God of peace, &c.— "And may that God himself, who is reconciled to you by the blood of Christ, and is the author, giver, and approver of peace one with another, and in your own consciences, and of all manner of prosperity; may he thoroughly purge your whole person from all iniquity, and make you eminently partakers of his holiness." I would translate the original ολοκληρον υμων, your whole person, because the word signifies the whole of a thing given by lot, consequently the whole of any thing; and here the whole frame of our nature, our whole person. Accordingly, Dr. Chandler has shewed, that this word is applied to a city, whose buildings are all standing; and to an empire, which has all its provinces; and to an army, whose troops are undiminished by any accident or calamity.

Your whole spirit, and soul, and body, The Pythagoreans, Platonists, and Stoics, divided the immaterial part of man into spirit and soul; an opinion which they seem to have derived from the most antient tradition, founded, perhaps, on the Mosaic account of the formation of man, Gen 2:7 where it is said, that God formed man, his body, of the dust of the earth, and breathed into man the breath of life, or lives; and, by means of this union, man became a living soul, par-taker of a sensitive, as well as of arational life. In short, the apostle's prayer does at least include this,—That theymightbethoroughly sanctified, of how many constituent parts soever their nature consisted. Dr. Heylin has it, May every part of you, your spirit, &c

Verse 27

1 Thessalonians 5:27. I charge you by the Lord, &c.— This was in the nature of a solemn oath, which the apostle upon occasion used himself, and by which he here obliges the Thessalonians. See Joshua 6:26. Matthew 26:63-64. St. Paul was not for having the scripture locked up from the common people, nor did he recommend it to them, first of all, to read a system of divinity, drawn up by uninspired and fallible men. See Colossians 4:16. How easy was it for the primitive Christians to distinguish St. Paul's genuine epistles from any counterfeit ones, when he sent them to the several churches by approved persons, and commonly by some of his own companions and attendants, when he ordered them to be read publicly upon the receipt of them, and took care to affix his name, written in some peculiar distinguishing manner, or with some very particular mark annexed to it: and if the fact was once ascertained, how easy was it to transmit it to posterity! See Philemon 1:19.

Inferences. Since we continually see so many around us suddenly surprised into the eternal world, and fixed in that state in which judgment will find them, it should render us very careful that the day of the Lord may not overtake us as a thief, but that we maintain a continual watch. How many are at this hour speaking peace and safety to themselves, over whose heads instantaneous destruction is hovering; such a destruction, as they shall never be able to escape, never able to recover from, if once it overtake them!

Let us endeavour, through grace, to awaken ourselves and each other to a due sense of these things. Are we indeed children of the day? Let us then rouze ourselves, and use the light; that by it we may dispatch our labours, and, favoured by it, be guarded against the most sudden attacks of our spiritual enemies. Let us be sober and vigilant, lest our adversary, the devil, break in upon us by surprize; which the unexpected weapons wherewith he attacks us, may render yet more dangerous.

Our armour is described, and provided, if we seek it from the magazine of God. Let faith and love ever defend our breast; let the hope of salvation cover our head. Let us adore the divine clemency and mercy, and enjoy the views of that salvation which is to be obtained by Jesus Christ. As he hath done his part to procure it for us, having died for this important purpose, be it our care to exert ourselves in our proper sphere for securing it, that we may lay hold on eternal life: then may we be happily indifferent to life or to death. While we continue in the body;—and when that is sleeping in the grave, and our souls remain in the invisible world;—and when our sleeping dust shall be rouzed, and both soul and body live in unremitting vigour and energy, beyond the need of that repose which is now so necessary;—still, in each of these different states, the faithful shall live with him; and he will make the progression of the soul from one state of being to another, its progression to stages of increasing goodness and joy. In the persuasion of this, let us comfort, exhort, and edify each other; and we shall feel the energy of the exhortations we give, and the sweetness of the consolations we administer.

What a variety of excellent instructions does the short close of this chapter contain! yea, how much is expressed in some of its shortest sentences,—on this habitual joy in God,—this constant disposition to prayer,—this grateful temper which, upon every call, overflows in thanksgiving,—this abstinence from all appearance of evil! "Blessed Father of mercies, we need a better Spirit than our own, to teach us these things! May thy grace be with us, and may none of us quench thy Spirit, nor despise those ordinances which, by his heavenly communications, he so often vouchsafes to own! O may we endeavour, by the daily importunity of prayer, to engage more of his efficacious and purifying influences, to sanctify the whole frame of our nature, our spirits, and souls, and bodies; so shall we understand and choose, so shall we love and delight in things divine, and maintain that constant command over our appetites of flesh and blood, as to be continually fit for the appearance of thy dear Son, and more like what we hope we shall be, when presented before the presence of his glory."

To promote this, let us watch over each other in the Lord: may Christian societies preserve a regular discipline, with a due mixture of zeal and tenderness: may the friendship of private persons be rendered mutually subservient to religious improvement; and a due regard be ever paid to those who labour among them, and preside over them in the Lord. They will not require a blind submission to their dictates, if they rightly understand the gospel which they are to teach: they will allow, they will encourage, they will urge their hearers to prove all things; which even the apostles themselves, with all their plenitude of inspiration, did not think it beneath them to do. But they who thus candidly inquire, and are determined to hold fast what is truly good,—knowing how excellent an office the ministry is; knowing how much the edification of the church depends upon it; will esteem those who bear it, very highly in love, for their work's sake; and, in whatever instances they may be constrained by what they judge to be the evidence of truth, to differ from their brethren, or even from their teachers,—will be solicitous to maintain harmony and love in the society to which they belong, as it becomes them to do who are the disciples of that wisdom from above, which hath taught them inseparably to connect their regards to purity and peace.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Having mentioned the second advent of the Lord Jesus, the apostle bids them prepare for it.

1. Respecting the precise time of his coming, it is left in an aweful uncertainty, that we might be always ready, But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you: for yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night, so suddenly and unexpectedly. Note; It is a needless curiosity to desire precisely to know the hour of Christ's coming; but a most needful piece of wisdom to be always ready for his appearing.

2. His coming will be the terror and surprise of an ungodly world. For when they, who are secure in their sins, shall say, Peace and safety, promising themselves long years of sinful pleasures and indulgences, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. Note; When the day of the Lord comes, it will spread a terrible alarm through a world that lieth in wickedness; and then the ungodly and the sinner will in vain cry to rocks and mountains to cover their guilty heads.

3. This will be a day of light and triumph to the faithful people of God. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, sleeping in sinful and sensual security, but brought into the marvellous light of the gospel; and therefore need not terrify yourselves that that day should overtake you as a thief, though you must be prepared. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day, walking under the bright beams of the Sun of righteousness: we are not of the night, nor of darkness, in heathen ignorance, and under the blindness of the natural mind; but tread the shining path of truth, looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Son of man. Note; It is an unspeakable blessing to be delivered from the darkness of the fallen heart, and, walking in the light of life, to have ever in our view the bright crown of righteousness which fadeth not away. Then we can say, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

2nd, On the foregoing considerations the apostle grounds his exhortations to the practice of several necessary duties.
1. Therefore let us not sleep as do others, in carelessness about these eternal concerns, trifling away the precious moment of opportunity; but let us watch and pray, awake to the great affairs of our immortal souls, ever listening when the sound Behold he cometh, Go ye out to meet him, shall reach our ears. Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching. And,

2. Be sober, temperate in the use of all God's creatures, neither overcharged with surfeiting or drunkenness, nor with the cares or pleasures of this life. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken, are drunken in the night, and seek the darkness to hide their guilty heads, stupifying their consciences till the dreadful hour shall startle them into sensibility. But let us who are of the day, and walk in the light of truth, be sober and vigilant, not intoxicated with any earthly pursuits or enjoyments, but seeking in the first place the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

3. We must be armed, as well as on our guard; putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation; these being the cardinal graces, by which the soul, like a warrior completely clad in armour, is able to resist every attack of the enemy, unhurt amidst all the fiery darts which sin and Satan can hurl against it. Note; (1.) We have mighty foes to grapple with, and need be well armed against them. (2.) Where faith is grounded on Christ, love in lively exercise, and hope with piercing eye looking up to eternal things, then none of our enemies can hurt us, nor will any of the snares of this world be able to prevail to draw our affections off from God and the things which are above.

4. He encourages them, from past experience, with confidence still to trust on the Lord. For God hath not appointed us to wrath; but, as is evident from his grace which we have already received, wills and entreats us to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, to purchase for us pardon, and for all his faithful saints eternal redemption; that, whether we wake or sleep, are numbered among the living or among the dead—at the day of his appearing, we should live together with him in glory everlasting. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and exhort or edify one another, even as also ye do; nothing affording such animating ground of hope, and serving to quicken the soul in all holy walking before God, as these blessed prospects and expectations. Note; (1.) The more we are enabled to exercise confidence in Christ, the more steadily shall we bear up under all opposition. (2.) Christians should delight in exhorting, comforting, and edifying one another; and nothing can afford them more abundant matter than the expected coming of their Lord.

3rdly, The apostle passes on to other needful exhortations.
1. He enjoins them to respect and honour their ministers. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, presiding in your worshipping assemblies, and admonish and instruct you in the good ways of the Lord, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Note; (1.) The duty of ministers is to labour with zeal and diligence for the good of their people's souls, to be over them, watching for their good, as the shepherd tends his flock, with a constant eye to the great Shepherd who hath committed his trust to them; and to admonish them publicly and privately, without partiality, instructing them in all God's holy will. (2.) The duty of the people to their ministers is to love them, to esteem them highly for their work's sake, to know and to acknowledge them, with thankfulness for their labours, and serious attention to their advice.

2. He exhorts them to the discharge of those duties, which, as Christians, they owed each other.
(1.) Be at peace among yourselves, cultivating that mutual harmony and love with each other, and your ministers, which, as a church, will most especially tend to your establishment.

(2.) Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, reprove them for their disorderly walk, and threaten them with the church's censures if they amend not their ways; comfort the feeble-minded, whose hearts are ready to sink under their trials, and are dejected with temptation or affliction, encourage them to bear up, and suggest every reviving motive to cheer their drooping spirits; support the weak, whose attainments are low in grace and knowledge, and are therefore more easily offended; we should therefore bear with their infirmities, and endeavour to strengthen their faith; be patient toward all men, put up with every affront or provocation, forbearing and forgiving one another in love, and still waiting and hoping for their amendment.

(3.) See that none render evil for evil unto any man, in look, in word or deed; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men; do good to their bodies and souls, and be ready to every work and labour of love.

4thly, We have divers short and weighty exhortations.
1. Rejoice evermore in God as your portion, in Christ as your Redeemer, in the Spirit as your Comforter; in one another, in all holy ordinances, and under every tribulation.

2. Pray without ceasing; be daily and often employed in this blessed work, in private, in your families, or among the faithful, and in ejaculatory and mental prayer. Note; To live without prayer, is the sure proof of an unregenerate heart.

3. In every thing give thanks, under every dispensation of Providence, not only for mercies received, but also under every affliction, maintaining still a cheerful spirit: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you, and the constant, grateful return we owe for the rich redemption which we have obtained in his dear Son.

4. Quench not the Spirit, by indulging any evil temper in your heart, or allowed sin in your conduct; by resisting his gracious motions, or neglecting those means of grace wherein his divine influences are communicated to you. (See the annotations.)

5. Despise not prophesyings, or prophesies, which still contain most useful matter, and should be constantly read and regarded; and attend upon the ministrations of the word. See the annotations for other views of this text.

6. Prove all things, and try, by the gospel test, every doctrine which is advanced, that you may not be a prey to deceivers: hold fast that which is good, unmoved by seducers among yourselves, or the persecutions of your enemies from without.

7. Abstain from all appearance of evil, dreading sin in its most distant approaches, and avoiding whatever may have a tendency to lead you into evil, under however innocent a guise it may present itself to you.

5thly, The apostle concludes,
1. With his prayers for them. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; may he, who is the author and giver of peace to your consciences, and who unites you together in this happy bond, may he cleanse you from all iniquity, and perfect you in holiness: and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, in every member and every faculty, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note; Prayer is one of the great means of sanctification.

2. He expresses his confidence in God's promises and protection. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it; he never hath failed, never can fail, those that continue to trust him.

3. He entreats an interest in their prayers. Brethren, pray for us. The greatest ministers need the prayers of all their people; and the more they are mindful of them at a throne of grace, the more good will they receive from their ministrations.

4. He adds his salutation. Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. Let every member of the church be assured of my most cordial and affectionate regards.

5. He adjures them solemnly to read this epistle to the whole church. I charge you by the Lord, in his name, that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. Note; (1.) All Christians are bound to read the scriptures diligently; nor can there be a stronger mark of Antichrist, than the keeping these sacred records sealed up in an unknown tongue. (2.) That public worship is very defective, where the scriptures are not read in the congregation.

6. He closes with his usual benediction. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. May the boundless and everlasting favour of the adored Jesus be your portion now and for ever. Amen!

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.