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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Thessalonians 5

Verse 1

4. The second advent, though not at hand, will be a sudden surprise to those upon whom it does come, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

1. But This very distinct outline of the event of Christ’s coming I can reveal, but the when is in the dark background.

Times and the seasons Of the great closing events of the world. The plural is used, as in Daniel 2:21, Acts 1:7, to denote the general principle that prophecies of the mundane future, though indicated by mystic chronological measures, are essentially timeless. Times are the great time-flows of thousands of years; seasons, the special time-points, or epochs, that divide off the flow. It was on this very point that 2 Peter 3:8 declares that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Prophetic time is measured by the arithmetic of God.

No need For they had already been warned by St. Paul of the entire unrevealedness of times, and were in the Christian state of preparedness.

Verse 2

2. Yourselves Emphatic; as also 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Day of the Lord An Old Testament phrase to designate any period of God’s terrible visitation. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:11; Ezekiel 13:5; Isaiah 2:12. Here specifically applied to the day of the event just described, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, the Parousia.

A thief in the night This remarkable comparison of the Lord to a thief was first used by our Lord himself in Matthew 24:43-44; and Luke 12:39-40. And thence it became a standard simile. 2 Peter 3:10. Wordsworth acutely argues that none but Jesus would have invented such a comparison, and that, therefore, the Thessalonians must have had a gospel of either Matthew or Luke, to have learned it from. That Matthew, in its Hebrew form, was early written, we have indicated in our Introduction to that gospel. And we are inclined to believe that Luke was now extant. But had the Thessalonians a copy of either in possession, how could they be so ignorant of the resurrection as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 implies? There are striking coincidents of Greek words, however, between St. Paul’s language and our Lord’s in Luke.

Lunemann calls to mind the impression made by this phrase in the night on the mind of the early Church. The so-called vigils, or watch-nights, were held, especially on Easter-night, in expectation that the sign of the coming Son of man would streak the darkness of the midnight sky. They awaited that solemn token with watching, and fasting, and prayer. A beautiful error, solemnizing the soul and reforming the character! So Lactantius, in the fourth century, says: “This is the night which by us is celebrated; of which night, twofold is the reason, because in it He received life when he suffered, and because in it He will soon receive the dominion of the earth.” And Jerome says, on Matthew 25:6, “It is a tradition of the Jews, that the Messiah is to come at midnight, as in the time of Egypt; when the Passover was celebrated, and the destroyer came, and the Lord passed over their tents. Whence I recognise the permanent apostolic tradition, that in the paschal vigils it is not permissible to dismiss the people in the earlier half of the night, while they are waiting the advent of Christ.”

Cometh Not future; for it is an ever-pending He cometh!

Verse 3

3. They shall say A sudden and significant change from ye to they; the they of the age of the advent, who will be in no state of faith and preparation. Comp. Matthew 24:38, and Luke 17:26.

Then At whatever age of the world this event takes place, its then shall be a sudden one, and the result shall be destruction, that is, not annihilation, but ruin to the unbelieving rioters.

Travail Lunemann unhappily sanctions the false inference of De Wette, that as the woman knows the near approach though not the hour, so the apostle claimed the unknown hour to be within his own day. But the only point of comparison is between the suddenness, of the birth-pang and that of the advent; nothing of the woman’s earlier knowledge is adduced.

Verse 4

4. From the physical darkness of the advent night St. Paul passes allusively to the deeper mental darkness wrapping the souls of the careless in regard to that event. Ye are not in that deeper darkness of spirit, and so, however dark the physical night of the advent, it is all clear to your mind’s eye.

That Greek, in order that; for infidel unbelief is by God’s purpose predestined to this sudden destruction.

Verse 5

5. Children Rather, sons of light… of the day That is, of a true spiritual light and day.

Night… darkness The darkness of the advent night would be destructive to none were they not sons of a deeper darkness of soul. But of that deeper darkness you are not sons, and so will not be overtaken or destroyed.

Verse 6

6. Let us not sleep That deeper than bodily sleep, which is slept in that deeper than natural darkness and night which render the advent a destruction.

Others Οι λοιποι . The rest; the unbelievers. Note, Ephesians 2:3.

Watch Of which word wake is another form, the opposite of sleep.

Sober The opposite of drunken in the next verse.

Verse 7

7. Sleep… night Doubly true. The body sleeps in natural night, the soul sleeps in the night of the soul. But in these words it is the physical that is adduced in illustration of the mental.

Drunken in the night Among the Greeks and Romans revelry and drunkenness were the order by night, but to be drunken by day is mentioned as the height of profligacy. The historian Polybius records it as a signal dishonour of one that he became so given to inebriation that “even by day he was often conspicuous to his friends, drunk.” And so 2 Peter 2:13, furnishes the trait, “They that count it pleasure to riot in the daytime.”

Verse 8

8. Day… sober… breastplate Not only must the sons of the day be wakeful and sober, but as soldiers or sentinels they must be clad in armour. St. Paul gives an armour in full, a panoply, in Ephesians 6:11, etc. The armour here is simply defensive.

Breastplate of faith and love Since faith in Christ, working love in the breast, is truly the best defence against tempting or menacing sin and evil.

A helmet, the hope of salvation That hope lifts up the head toward heaven, and wards off all the power of the blows inflicted by Satan and this world. Sorrow loses its power to weigh down; anticipations of coming evil are neutralized; infidel despair of immortality is dispersed, when the hope of salvation makes strong our head, as faith and love have confirmed our heart.

Verse 9

9. For Giving a reason for this hope of salvation.

Not appointed us Who wait, and watch, and war, in hope of his glorious coming.

To wrath Which waits the unwatching unbeliever.

Salvation From destruction at the advent.

Verse 10

10. Wake or sleep… live The question is raised whether wake or sleep is to be taken in a physical or spiritual sense. Sleep at the advent is the spiritual emblem of unbelief, and, therefore, excludes the life with Christ. Whitby’s sense, “whether the advent be by day or night,” is weak. As the live… with him must be the glorious life at the advent, the true meaning must be, whether we are living or dead at the advent.

Verse 11

11. Wherefore comfort As a close of this afterpiece St. Paul reverts to 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the close of the main picture of the advent, and advises the same consolatory uses.

Ye do Their practice has anticipated his precepts, and he delights to so commend them.

Verse 12

5. Closing charges and admonitions, and farewell, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28.

a. Fulfilment of churchly duties, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 .

12. Know them Appreciate, rightly estimate them.

Labour… over… admonish Three classes of functions, but, as the Greek shows, not three classes of men. The three terms thus translated are participles, and may be rendered those labouring, presiding over, and admonishing. Like a very high churchman, Dr. Wordsworth (though then but an archdeacon) finds in these three participles (where the working stands first and highest) “a body of clergy already established.” A Wesleyan commentator might as well find in the three words stewards, class leaders, and exhorters. It is not probable that the Thessalonian Church, but a year or so old, was numerous enough to support or need a “body of clergy.” But the absence of the repeated Greek articles shows that all three functions were performed by the same class of men. Dr. Wordsworth, in his note on 1 Thessalonians 1:1, (where see our note,) doubts, in fact, whether the Church was as yet organized. A higher dignitary than Wordsworth, Bishop Benson, as quoted by Bloomfield, gives the following more moderate and probable view: “It was common with St. Paul to collect a Church, and impart some spiritual and miraculous powers unto them, and then leave them for some time, without ordaining bishops and deacons among them. Acts 14:1; Acts 21:23; 1 Timothy 5:22; Titus 1:5; and many other places. But whenever things were found to be in a proper situation, then the apostle, or some of the evangelists, his assistants, went and ordained some of the elders, or first converts, to be bishops, and others to be deacons.” It would certainly seem, from the fact that St. Paul has no name or title to give to these functionaries, that this Church was in the inchoate state described by Benson, spontaneously controlled by men of natural or spiritual ascendency, by the spontaneous assent of the people, yet waiting for the appointment, by regular ordination, of regular officials.

Verse 13

13. Esteem… in love There should be an official esteem for them, but that esteem should be grounded in Christian love. Love should lie as the basis of the whole structure of their Christian republic.

For their work’s sake They have not, like magistrates, a power of physical compulsion to secure respect; but in Christian love and duty they have a deeper claim. For the sake of the work they perform, as necessary and beneficial to the cause of Christ, you are bound to cultivate a voluntary esteem for them.

At peace among yourselves Which can be attained only by cultivating this harmony with your rulers.

Verse 14

14. Exhort you Conybeare heads this with a title indicating that it is addressed “to the presbyters.” And undoubtedly the functionaries implied in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 would be the proper persons to take these words especially to themselves. Yet we lack any word to authorize any limitation of the words to them. They are addressed to all persons in the Church able to receive and perform the duties aright.

Unruly Dr. Clarke, with some plausibility, treats the terms of this verse as being military. This word primarily designates a soldier who does not stand in rank or order; hence, disorderly.

Feeble-minded Literally, small-souled. The pusillanimous, the narrow-minded, people of little culture and small intellect, need the culture, the tender consideration, of our sweet gospel.

Support the weak The world in its pride is ready to crush them. It calls the feeble-minded man a fool, the timid a coward, and the weak a nuisance, and hustles them out. In “the struggle for existence” they have a poor chance. The law of “the survival of the fittest” has no mercy for them. “Natural Selection” rejects them and sends them off to perish. But our Christianity is a higher law than the law of death to the weakest. It sees an immortality, a redemption by Christ, a value above all physical worlds, In the humblest form of humanity. It stands before the weak and says, Do not crush, but support.

Toward all Not merely of the Church, but as in next verse, all others.

Verse 15

15. The negative cautions, necessary to the above positive duties, are now added. Avoid the law of retaliation in order to the above peace. It may be necessary to seek justice, to aim at correction, to rebuke wrong; but never necessary to act in the spirit of revenge, or in any other spirit than that of love and fairness.

Good Not merely profitable; but morally right, and spiritually excellent.

Yourselves The Church.

All The outside world.

Verse 16

16. Rejoice Why not? Are not Christ and all heaven yours? The wicked, the proud, the laughers, the revellers, the bloody rulers of this world, amid all their boisterous mirth and drunken hilarity, have just reason for despondency and despair. And underneath all their rollick and riot are a true despondency and hopelessness. They stand on a thin crust over the abyss of hell, and are dropping down and in by successive thousands. But beneath you is the basis of the everlasting atonement, above you is a smiling God, and before you an eternity of heaven. For you to despond or to not rejoice is an insult to the grace of God through Christ.

Evermore Always. For Christ, and God, and heaven are eternal. There is no time, then, in which you have a right to be despondent and miserable. No worldly adverse affairs, no menacing enemy, no bodily pain, excuses a refusal to rejoice evermore. If you ask to know how you can escape this foul sin of despondency, the next short verse shall tell you.

Verses 16-18

b. Duty of Christian joy, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 .

The central purpose of this epistle was to dismiss all spiritual despondency over their lately deceased. The writer now adds a few thrilling words to awaken their hearts to the right, nay, duty, for Christians to rejoice!

Verse 17

17. Pray without ceasing This recipe of St. Paul’s for a perpetual rejoice is in two Greek words, Pray incessantly. It means, not the being incessantly upon our knees, provided there be a perpetual submission of soul. It requires not perpetual utterance of words, provided there be a permanent communion of the heart with God. Yet will that submission and that communion often frame themselves in definite thought and positive words, and go out in vocal prayer for our own well-being and the highest good of others. And when the heart is in communion with God, and the soul has an interest in his unchanging favour, despondency, gloom, glowering over earthly prospects and discomforts, are out of place.

Verse 18

18. In every thing In every condition, fact, and act. Let your rejoice, pray, and thanks, be simultaneous and ever instantaneous. Just because your loving God is always and everywhere.

Pessimism, the doctrine that we live in a scene of chance, where unintelligent causation rules, and remediless misery is predominant, teaches a different doctrine. This pessimism is the child of atheism and the mother of despair. The mental philosophy of Schopenhauer, and the physical philosophy of Tyndall, lead to the same sad deduction. So the founder of Buddhism was the preacher of misery and hopelessness, teaching that death was but a change and no relief, and that the only aim of man is to find the shortest route back to annihilation. But from Christ St. Paul learned and taught a different doctrine. He lays the foundation in God through Christ, he builds his structure of faith, hope, love; and its crowning minaret is pray, thanks, and rejoice evermore.

Verse 19

c. Precepts touching supernaturalisms, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 .

19. Quench… Spirit The gift of the Spirit was then existing, deep and powerful, in the young Thessalonian Church. It varied in form according to its own divine will. It operated in utterances, inspirations, and convicting influences. It was a divine fire, and must not be quenched. It could be quenched by sceptical neglect, disobedience, depreciation, or by sin.

Verse 20

20. Prophesyings Held by Paul to be the best, because the most profitable and edifying, gift of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:1. It was inspired utterance, whether predictive, doctrinal, hortatory, or admonitory.

Verse 21

21. Prove That is, probe, try, test, put to the test. The word is specially used of testing counterfeit coin by ringing, weighing, fire, or touchstone. And so a precept was traditionally ascribed to our Lord, “Be ye skilful testers of coin.”

All Not things, but charisms, or professed supernatural gifts of the Spirit, as well as the doctrines they propound. And this is equivalent to 1 John 4:1: “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” This duty is enjoined upon private Christians, and so, is an assertion of the right of private judgment. It admits of no pope, to impose a spirit or a doctrine upon us without any of our own trying or testing. The tests for a doctrine are pre-eminently Scripture, the consent and harmony of holy men, our own conscience, our own sense of decency and propriety, and our sober common sense. It is possible that even these Thessalonians had one or two written gospels. They had the counsel of those apostles whose spirit they had tried and found not wanting. They were, doubtless, much endowed with the gift of discerning spirits. As, then, they had the tests in their hands, they must not despise or quench indiscriminately, but test, criticise calmly, select wisely, and form a permanent conclusion.

Hold fast… good When the good (spirit or doctrine) was critically and fairly found, they should grasp and hold it fast as a divine acquisition. It is more precious than rubies. It is a coin of the sanctuary that will open the gates of heaven.

Verse 22

22. But while ye grasp the good, abstain, that is, hold yourself away from evil. When your test, your prove, has proved the spirit or doctrine not good, but evil, then avaunt! away! abstain!

All appearance Rather, every form or kind of evil. It is wide of the mark to interpret this, Avoid exhibiting to others any appearance of wrong in your own conduct. That may be, if sensibly and cautiously applied, a very good precept. Hence a saying of the Rabbies, “Keep far from baseness, and from every thing that has the appearance of it.” Yet often the apparent evil may be a real good, or evil only in a narrow and foolish judgment, which should not be encouraged but corrected. But such a rendering of this verse breaks the connexion. The evil is the antithesis of the good in the last verse, which signifies the good spirit or doctrine we hold fast.

Appearance Rather, form, or species. The meaning is: Withdraw yourself from every form or kind of evil of doctrine or spirit detected by your prove in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. The reader should be careful to combine the whole of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 into one paragraph.

Verse 23

23. And the very God The sole One who can perform this great work.

Of peace This prayer for their entire sanctification closes upon the whole paragraph, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, the sum and aim of which is their churchly peace. This peace is the aim of both the governmental cautions of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, and of the words of harmony touching supernaturalism in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22. From that quarter of peace he would have the Spirit of the God of peace visit, enter, pervade, and sanctify their nature, whole and every part.

Sanctify Bloomfield remarks that this term, like the Hebrew קדשׁ , properly signifies to set apart, to remove from common use, and is often in the Old Testament used of the Levitical offerings. From this meaning of apartness from the gross and common comes the idea of consecration, purity, holiness. Hence, to sanctify is to separate from sin; to bestow, by the Spirit’s aid, the power of avoiding sin and living without condemnation before God. This can never be in this our mortal life, if we are tried by the law of absolute purity. And yet we are accepted by the law of faith in Christ, and pardoned and justified even in this life. Scripture and experience teach that there may be, and often is, such a measure of the Spirit bestowed in answer to the prayer of faith, that such uncondemning state may, even after being defaulted by sin, be re-entered and more or less permanently retained. There may be a state of continuous justification, noncondemnation, undiminished divine approbation, from day to day, and of indefinite length. This spiritual power is seldom, if ever, in such measure conferred at justification, but is the result of a more powerful faith in a maturer Christian life. Though there be a continuous flow of infirmities and short comings, which the absolute would condemn, yet is there also a flow of continuous repentant faith, and a continuous flow of justifying grace and merciful acceptance through the atonement. This is that higher plane of Christian Life, that evangelical blamelessness, for which St. Paul here prays in behalf of his Thessalonians. Barnes, in his Commentary, objects, indeed, that prayer for such sanctification does not prove “that it is attained in this life;” but the apostle in the next verse assures us that God “will do it.” That it is to be done before death is plain from the word preserved, which means a continuous process previous to the coming of Christ.

Wholly Not the whole Church; but, as Lunemann and all the best commentators agree, the whole personality of the individual. He thus prays thus for the whole being as a unit, and then distributively for the different parts of our nature.

Spirit… soul… body While man is properly divided as twofold into body and soul, in which the soul includes the whole incorporeal nature, the Platonic subdivision of the incorporeal into soul and spirit produces a threefoldness, or (trichotomy) trinality. This Platonic triplicity is so consistent with apparent facts, that it passed into popular language and was adopted by the Rabbies. It is an unsupposable coincidence that St. Paul should fall upon it here accidentally without ever having heard of this trinality from others. It could not have been unknown to philosophical Tarsus. Notes on Matthew 5:3; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1Co 14:14 ; 1 Corinthians 15:44.

Unto Rather, in. The idea of continuity is not contained in the preposition, but is implied in preserved. The prayer is, that they may be so preserved in holiness as to be found blameless in the parousia of Christ.

Verse 24

24. Will do it Not that the prayer would be surely accomplished in every individual; but that its non-fulfilment will be no fault of our faithful God. God will do it, if we will allow it to be done.

Verse 25

25. Pray for us The literal Greek is, remarkably, pray concerning, about us. Let us and our affairs be the subject you pray about.

Verse 26

26. Greet This and the following verse, it is conjectured, are addressed to the Church officers.

Holy kiss See note on Romans 16:16.

Verse 27

27. I charge you Literally, I put you upon oath by the Lord. Bloomfield quotes from Bishop Benson as follows: “There were two ways of taking an oath, both of which, by the Jewish canons, were binding: 1. When a man swore by his own mouth, or pronounced the oath himself. 2. When he was adjured by the mouth of another, and that other pronounced the oath, and thereby laid him under the obligation of it. In all cases, an execration or curse is supposed to attend an oath; to which execration the person who takes it is exposed if he swear falsely. See Joshua 6:26; 1 Samuel 14:24; 1 Kings 2:23. When a person was adjured, he was bound by an oath, and it is lawful to answer to such an oath, as appears by our Saviour’s answering to the high-priest when he was adjured by the living God; and that other solemn oaths are lawful, see note on James 5:12. Why so solemn an adjuration that this epistle be read unto all? The oath and the express all suggest to some the thought that St. Paul suspected that official self-importance might desire to monopolize so important a document as an apostolic letter, containing extraordinary revelations, among a few. The popish withholding of the Scriptures may, in type, have already begun. But the all probably means simply the public congregation; and the read means the public reading in its presence. It is then, perhaps, sufficiently explained, particularly the all, on Alford’s supposition of its being simply an earnestness of expression characterizing this solemn close of the epistle. At any rate, this is a significant text against withholding the holy Scriptures from the people.

Verse 28

28. Grace… you Wordsworth remarks, that of the thirteen epistles to which the name of Paul is prefixed, all contain near the close the formula “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” During St. Paul’s life no one else, he says, “ever used this formula; but after his death it was appropriated by St. John in the Apocalypse, and by St. Clement at the close of his epistle to the Corinthians.” Hence he infers that this formula was that “salutation of Paul with mine own hand,” of which the apostle speaks, and was always autographic.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.