1 Thessalonians


3. Exhortations toward Christian living, 4:1-5:22

iv] Being prepared for the return of Christ


In the last part of chapter 4, Paul the apostle writes concerning the coming of the Lord. This subject was most likely the purpose of the letter. In the section before us, Paul deals with the date of the second coming, v1-3, and then goes on to encourage his readers to live lives which reflect their hope in eternity, v4-11.


i] Context: See 4:1-8. Paul continues to deal with the subject of the parousia / Christ's second coming.


ii] Structure: This passage, Being prepared for the return of Christ, presents as follows:

peri de, "now concerning" = "on the subject of [the times and the dates]", v1;

The timing of Christ's return is not revealed, v2-3:

"the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."

"sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman."

Exhortation, v4-8:

"let us be awake and sober ...."

"putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet."

Proposition, v9-10:

What God has done for believers in Christ.

Exhortation, v11:

As Paul encourages the Thessalonians so they should encourage each other.


iii] Interpretation:

Why does Paul raise the issue of the second coming? It seems likely that the subject of the parousia is central to this letter. This may be because the subject was on Paul's mind at the time of writing, but it seems more likely that he is addressing a problem within the congregation itself. Possibly "the matter requiring attention was the promise of some Christian prophets in Thessalonica of peace and security which Paul thinks could have ruinous consequences", Malherbe. See Issues [ii]: Background - the theological problem worrying the Thessalonian believers, 4:13-18


Authenticity: It is often argued that the passage reflects a delay in the parousia, as against its immediacy in the previous verses, and that such indicates that the passage is an addition to the original text. The problem facing this argument is that a delay in the second coming is not overtly present in the passage. Source issues have also been raised as if the writer has used the synoptic gospels, but there is nothing unusual in Paul being aware of a pre-synoptic tradition, a tradition which would have been taking shape at this time through the preaching and teaching of the apostles.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 5:1

Preparing for Christ's return, v1-11: i] Now concerning the date of Christ's return, v1.

de "now" - but, and. Transitional, as NIV; commencing a new section.

peri + gen. "[brothers / brothers and sisters] about" - Reference / respect; "concerning, about."

twn cronwn kai twn kairwn gen. "times and dates" - times and seasons. For the times and seasons see Daniel 2:21, 4:34. What we have here is technical language encapsulating the timing and events surrounding the parousia. Jesus had already ended such speculation, Act.1:7, but it is something believers find hard to give up. "The time or date when all this will happen", CEV.

grafesqai (grafw) pres. pas. inf. "[we do not need] to write" - [you have no need] to be written. The infinitive is probably best classified as introducing an object complement, complement of the direct object "a need." As a complement it makes a statement about the direct object; "you have no need that I should write to you" = "you need no correspondence", Berkeley.

uJmin dat. pers. pro. "to you" - Dative of recipient.


ii] The day of the Lord, v2-3. Paul is not willing to be drawn on the subject of timing when it comes to the second coming of Christ. He simply makes the point that Christ's coming will be sudden and unexpected. So, as for "times and dates", no person has the ability to prophecy the day or the hour.

gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason, introducing a causal clause explaining why he has no need to write to them on the subject of the day of the Lord - although obviously he does have a need to write to them about this subject!!!!

autoi "you" - [you] yourselves [know]. Reflective use of the personal pronoun.

akribwV adv. "very well" - accurately, precisely. Not a common word in Paul's usage and so possibly it comes from the Thessalonians themselves, some of whom know very well!!! Do some in the congregation think they know the details of the second coming? Believers caught out will be those who don't believe in an unexpected return, or think they know the date. "Perfectly well", NEB.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they know.

kuriou (oV) gen. "[the day] of the Lord" - [day] of Lord. The genitive is adjectival, probably temporal; "the day when the Lord comes" = "the day of judgment." The expression is anarthrous, possibly due to Semitic influence, BDF. "The Lord" is used initially of God in the LXX and then of Jesus in the NT. The phrase "the day of the Lord" comes originally from Amos 5:18 and refers to the day of judgment. The popular prophets spoke of the day of God's coming to Israel as a day of blessing, but this day is a day of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The term is picked up in the NT, again with the idea of judgment; "the day of the Son of Man", Lk, 17:24-30, "that day", Matt.7:22, cf. Matt.10:15, 12:36.

ercetai (ercomai) pres. "will come" - comes. The present tense is possibly futuristic, as NIV, etc., although certainty may be the purpose behind the use of the tense here; "the day of the Lord" ouJtwV, adverb of manner, "so comes / in this way comes", wJV, comparative, "as / like ......"

en + dat. "in" - Temporal use of the preposition; "during the night."

nukti (nux, nuktoV) dat. "the night" - This image from Jesus is further developed by Paul in the passage. The early Christians came to believe that Jesus would return in the night, even Easter eve (Jerome). Paul develops the image of night in the terms of moral indifference and this was also used to identify a particular time for the return of Christ - a time of moral decay. Yet, here the image is portraying a moment when we least expect it.


oJtan + subj. "while" - when. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause, treated as definate; "when people are talking of how peaceful and secure life is", Barclay.

eirhnh (h) "peace" - Best in the sense of security, rather than Paul's usual sense of inward peace. It is unclear whether this "peace" is the opinion of secular Thessalonians, a version of pax Romana, or whether there are some in the church who are pushing this line.

asfaleia (a) "safety" - secure from outward threat. Hapax legomenon for Paul. cf. Ezk.13:10. The false prophets of Israel proclaimed security and safety when there was none.

tote adv. "-" - then [sudden destruction comes upon them]. Temporal adverb.

aifnidioV adj. "suddenly" - Another hapax legomenon for Paul. Either sudden destruction as an adjective, or suddenly / all of a sudden, if used as an adverb. The coming of the Lord is sudden and unexpected, cf. Lk.21:34-36.

oleqroV (oV) "destruction" - disaster, ruin. This word is opposite to salvation / life and therefore illustrates disaster in the sense of separation from God. "Suddenly they will suffer terribly", TH.

autoiV dat. pro. "[will come on] them" - [comes upon] them. Dative of direct object after the epi prefix verb "to come upon."

w{sper "as" - as, just. Comparative.

hJ wdin (in inoV) "labor pains" - the birth pain. "Like/as labor pains [coming upon] a woman who is pregnant." Often used to describe God's judgment in the Old Testament. The idea is not describing inevitability, but rather suddenness.

th/ ... ecoush/ (ecw) dat. pres. part. "on a pregnant woman" - to the one having. Dative of interest (as a male I am not sure whether this is a dative of advantage or disadvantage. It all depends on your perspective!!!). The participle serves as a substantive.

en + dat. "-" - in [the womb]. Local, expressing space / sphere. "With child."

ou mh + subj. "[they will] not [escape]". A subjunctive of emphatic negation; "escape there is none", Moffatt.


iii] An exhortation toward watchfulness, v4-8. The Thessalonian believers belong to the coming day of the Lord, they belong to the light, not the darkness, v4-5, ara oun, "so therefore .......", v6. This consequence is drawn out by a series of hortatory subjunctives encouraging watchfulness, v6, and supported by an observable reason, gar, "for ....", v7. Because (causal participle) the Thessalonian believers are children of the day/light, they belong to the coming day of the Lord, v8, so they are to live (hortatory subjunctive - "let us be self-controlled") a life of faith and its fruit love, and hope.

The imagery of light and darkness / day and night, may describe moral behavior, good / evil, so Malherbe. It probably describes the condition of spiritual dulness / spiritual perception, so Martin. This being in the day / light, belonging to the day/light, entails belonging to the coming day of the Lord when we will know as we are known. The human condition is one of darkness, night, sleeping, along with all the activities of the night, drunkenness etc. A believer stands in the light, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, and therefore understands eternal verities and should apply them, ie., be watchful = put on faith, hope and love, as we await the coming day.

de "but" - but, and. Here slightly adversative.

uJmeiV pers. pro. "you" - Emphatic by position and use.

en + dat. "in" - Local, expressing space / sphere; "immersed in the sphere of darkness."

skotei (oV) "darkness" - Here the sense is of the realm of wickedness, an image often used to describe the human condition.

iJna + subj. "that" - This construction usually forms a purpose clause, but here consecutive expressing result, "with the result that", or better hypothetical result ("conceived result", Burton); "so that."

katalabh/ (katalambanw) aor. "[this day] should surprise" - [the day] should overtake, take. Different meanings are possible, such as "harm" or "seize", but "surprise" seems best. "The day", of course, is "the day of the Lord."

wJV "as" - as, like. Comparative; as a thief surprises their target.

klepthV "thief" - Variant kleptaV, acc. gives the sense "surprise you like thieves [are surprised]" - the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly, but we will not be surprised as a thief is surprised by the light of the new day. This reading is unlikely. The surprise is ours when we discover that we were robbed during the night while we were asleep. A believer who is watchful will not be surprised like this.


gar "for" - for. If the accusative klaptaV is read then gar would be causal; "The great day cannot catch up on you like a thief (is surprized by sunrise), for you are all sons of the light", Barclay. If the nominative klepthV is read, then gar is explanatory and so not translated, as NIV. Believers are not in darkness and so are not surprised by a burglary. It is not the hope of what we will be that impels us in the Christian life, but what we are.

panteV adj. "all" - all, every. Here used with an inclusive sense.

uiJoi fwtoV "sons of light / children of the light" - As with "sons of the day / children of the day", the phrase "sons of" is Semitic idiom and simply means belonging to, ie. the genitive is adjectival, relational / possessive. So a phrase like "son of wickedness" means nothing more than "a wicked person" / "those given over to wickedness." So here of belonging to / given over to Christ the light, you belong to / are given over to the age to come / the new day; "you belong to the light", CEV.

nutkoV (ux uktoV) gen. "[we do not] belong to the night" - [we are not] of the night. The genitive is adjectival, relational / possessive.


The believer, through the power of the indwelling Spirit, knows the truth, is aware of reality, is aware of eternal verities. We know the rights and wrongs of things, we know very well when we sin, and our failings are always before us. It is this knowledge that aids us in our struggle with sin. It does not make us perfect in the flesh, for perfection is found only in Christ. In Christ, through the Spirit, sin is no longer our master, we are no longer children of the darkness, blind. A believer, no longer under the law as a tool of condemnation, is set free to serve God through the indwelling compelling of the Spirit of Christ. We will still sin, for nothing good dwells in our flesh, Rom.7:18, but our spiritual perception gives us many victories. The watchful servant therefore, is alert to life, striving to be what they are in Christ.

ara oun "so then" - therefore therefore. Drawing a logical conclusion.

mh kaqeudwmen (kaqeudw) subj. "let us not be [like others] who are asleep" - let us not sleep [as the rest]. Hortatory subjunctive. As noted above the image is not primarily one of moral laxity, but of spiritual perception, watchfulness, of being "alert and self-controlled.".

wJV "like [others]" - Comparative.

alla "but" - but. Strong adversative, as NIV.

grhgorwmen (gregorew) subj. "alert" - let us keep awake, be vigilant, watchful. Hortatory subjunctive. Here of vigilance in the Christian life, as summarized in v8.

nhfwmen (nhfw) subj. "self-controlled" - sober, not influenced by alcohol. Hortatory subjunctive. The idea is either of self-control, or quietness of mind, both of which are lacking in an intoxicated person.


gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why believers are not like the others who are asleep, for those who sleep, sleep in darkness, similar to drunkards, who usually get drunk at night, all oblivious to what is going on in their lives. Again, being "alert", watchful, is the issue here.

oi ... kaqeudonteV (kaqeudw) pres. part. "those who sleep" - the ones sleeping. The participle serves as a substantive.

nuktoV (x ktoV) gen. "[sleep] at night" - The genitive is adverbial, temporal; "get drunk during the night."

oiJ ... mequskomenoi (mequskomai) pas. part. "those who get drunk" - the ones being drunk. The participle serves as a substantive. The sober sleep at night while drunkards party at night. The sons of the day / light sleep at night. "Drunkards", Moffatt.


de "but" - but, and. Here slightly adversative.

onteV (eimi) pres. part. "since [we] belong" - [we] being. The participle of the verb "to be" is adverbial, causal, providing the ground of the following exhortation; "because we belong to the day, then ......"

hJmeraV (a) gen. "[we] belong to the day" - of day. The genitive is adjectival, relational / possessive, as NIV.

nhfwmen (nhfw) pres. subj. "let us be self-controlled" - may be sober. Hortatory subjunctive. The role of the watchman is to be "alert and self-controlled."

endusamenoi (enduw) aor. part. "putting on" - having clothed / armed oneself with. The participle is possibly modal, expressing the manner of being self-controlled, although Findlay suggests that it is instrumental, this being supported by the use of an aorist, such that the Thessalonians are to be self-controlled by putting on their armor. "It is not enough to watch and be sober, we must also be armed", Chrysostom.

pistewV kai agapaV gen. "faith and love as [a breastplate]" - [a breastplate] of faith and love. As often pointed out in these notes it is not always possible to offer a precise clarification for a genitive, and this because it may simply be idiomatic, a turn of phrase. Still, a reasonable classification here would be adjectival, of definition, appositional / epexegetic; "putting on a breastplate which consists of faith and love." This is certainly a valid starting point, but an idiomatic guess which captures the sense, as NIV, is where we need to end up; "Let us put on faith and love just as we would arm ourselves with a breastplate for battle." Note Jewish background to this imagery, cf. Wisdom 5:17-22. In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul uses a similar image of the Christian soldier's armor. In Ephesians the breastplate is "righteousness." Paul's meaning there is open to debate. Is he telling us to take on the divine qualities of Christ through identification with Christ (possible imagery from Isaiah), or is he telling us to behave in a particular way (righteousness then means acting rightly)? So, when it comes to the word "faith" here, if Paul is developing an ethical idea then it is the putting on of trustworthiness, in the sense of doing it. "Love" is certainly an ethical action, but "faith" is often linked to love as that which promotes love, an essential first step in the triad, faith, love and hope, as in 1:3, so Bruce, Morris, Fee, Wanamaker, Furnish, Marshall, Best, .... cf. Gal.5:6 - "their faith in God (1:8) and their love to other Christians and to all people (4:9-10)", Green. "Faith" may also possibly be "the faith"; "committed and equipped, the Christian soldier stands firm in the faith, stands firm in the face of opposition, stands firm until the end", Martin. None-the-less, it is likely that "faith" here takes the sense of to believe. This is supported by its common use in this letter: 1:3, 8, 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10, 4:14, 5:8. "Let us be ... outfitted with faith and love for our coat-of-mail", Berkeley.

swthriaV (a) gen. "[the hope] of salvation [as a helme" - [a helmet hope] of salvation. Technically the genitive "of salvation" is adjectival, limiting "hope", while the phrase "hope of salvation" stands in apposition to "helmet". None-the-less, the observation above applies; "let us put on the hope of salvation just as we would arm ourselves for battle with a helmet." Here the imagery is the same as Ephesians, and as in Ephesians, it is difficult to see how the imagery is ethical in nature. On the surface it seems like an exhortation toward assurance - "be sure of your eternal hope, your salvation." So, "hope" is used in the sense of "their hope in the coming of the Lord Jesus (1:3)", Green."And the hope of salvation for a helmet", Berkeley.


iv] Biblical truth, v9-10. Paul goes on to provide a reason for watchfulness, oJti, "because ......", v9. The reason lies in the ministry of Jesus, the purpose of whose death is that (iJna + subj. = purpose / hypothetical result clause, "so that", v10) "we may live together with him."

oJti "because" - that. Here causal, as NIV. "Paul grounds his statement about the eschatological dimension of their hope of salvation by placing it in the soteriological purpose of God", Malherbe.

ouk eqeto (tiqhmi) aor. "did not appoint" - did not put, arrange, appoint. The word "appoint" carries with it divine intent in the sense of "chose", "destined", but a simple sense of the word is probably intended, so "put". God did not gather us into the Christian fellowship to then destroy us.

orghn (h) "wrath" - wrath / anger. In v9-10 Paul defines the basis of our assurance, but here he takes a negative tack. We are not set to face condemnation in the day of judgment.

alla "but" - Strong adversative.

eiV "to" - Introducing the prepositional phrase "to the attainment of salvation", which phrase goes with "through our Lord Jesus Christ" rather than "God did not appoint us."

peripoihsin (iV ewV) "receive" - the preservation / possession, attainment. Here taking a positive sense, the attainment of the gift of eternal life.

swthriaV (a) gen. "salvation" - of salvation. This genitive would usually be classified as verbal, objective.

dia + gen. "through" - through, by means of. Expressing agency here - Christ is the agent of our salvation. As already noted, the prepositional phrase, "through our Lord Jesus Christ" goes with swthriaV, "salvation", rather than eqeto, "appoint, destine."

Ihsou Cristou gen. "[our Lord] Jesus Christ" - [the Lord of us] Jesus Christ. "Jesus Christ" stands in apposition to Lord.


tou apoqanontoV (apoqnhskw) gen. aor. part. "he died" - the one having died. The participle serves as a substantive, and with the prepositional phrase "for us" forms a participial construction standing in apposition to "Jesus Christ", v9. Here Paul defines the causal activity of Christ in his death on our behalf.

uJper + gen. "for" - for. Here taking a representative sense, "on behalf of / for the sake of." "For us" in the sense of for our sins, Rom. 4:25, 1Cor.15:3, 2Cor.5:14, Gal.3:12, and/or "for us" in the sense of in our place / interchange, Rom.14:9, 2Cor.5:15-21, Gal.1:4.

iJna + subj. "so that" - in order that [...... we might live]. Introducing a purpose clause.

eite .... eite "whether ....... or ...." Comparative construction.

kaqeudwmen (kaqeudw) subj. "asleep" - we are sleeping. Here the sleep is most likely the sleep of death, while those who are awake are those who are living now. Paul does seem to have changed the imagery at this point from the imagery of waking and sleeping earlier in this chapter. A bit confusing! If Paul had used koimaw for "sleep", as in 4:13f, then obviously the use here, as there, would serve as a euphemism for death, but he uses kaqeudw, as 5:7, where it is a euphemism for living in darkness / night. So is Paul referring here to believers who are spiritually dull, rather than self-controlled and vigilant, and who, although caught out by the coming day, are saved? Probably Paul is using the word here for death, so Morris, etc. "Sleeping in death", Moffatt.

zhswmen (zaw) aor. subj. "we may live" - The aorist is futuristic and possibly ingressive, "begin to live", Best. The purpose of Christ's death on our behalf is that we might live eternally with him. "We should live together with him", Moffatt.

aJma sun + dat. "together with [him]" - This construction, the adv. + prep., expresses association. Possibly with the sense "we might together live with him", but note 1:17, "caught up together with...." A picture of life forever with God.


v] A concluding exhortation, v11. This exhortation probably serves to conclude the eschatological section of the letter, 4:13-5:11, so Bruce, ..... Possibly better viewed as "transitional", Malherbe.

dio "therefore" - Drawing a logical conclusion, probably for the whole section, 4:13-5:10.

parakaleite (parakalew) pres. imp. "encourage" - We should encourage one another to live as children of light as we await that awful day. Possibly in the sense of 4:18, "encourage one another with these words."

oikodomeite (oikodomew) imp. "build [each other] up" - edify. This is a popular concept for Paul; the building up and constructing of the Christian character. Standing in apposition to "encourage", "build up" interprets / further explains, "encourage". The following verses, v12-22, explicates this building up. "So then, we must encourage each other, and we must always make life stronger and better for each other", Barclay.

kaqwV "just as [you are doing]" - [even] as [you do]. Comparative. "It can be irritating to be told to do what one is already doing; this note of commendation would guard against such a possibility", Bruce. "As indeed you are doing."


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