1 Thessalonians: 5:6-10

map of greece1 Thess 5:6

(1 Thess. 5:6 ESV)  6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 

Paul is now doing midrash — rabbinic style commentary. He is taking “night” as in “thief in the night” and treating it as a reference to darkness — that is, the absence of God.

Since we are saved and hence among the children of the day, we need not fear Jesus coming as a thief. Rather, we should not sleep — not meaning “do not die” but “be vigilant.” We “keep awake” by being vigilant against those who would tempt us to give  up our salvation. And we should be sober — as Jesus will execute his wrath against drunkards.

In Greek, as in English, “sober”  can mean “not drunk” but can also mean “dispassionate or circumspect, that is, vigilant. And so Paul can go from “drunkard” to “sober” to “attentive” by taking advantage of both meanings of “sober.”

1 Thess 5:7-10

Now, if you read what Paul just wrote against the background of Matt 24:36-44, I think Paul’s next few comments make better sense. For example, in 1 Thess 5:7-8, Paul urges the church to be sober and not indulge in pagan drunkenness. Why? Maybe because Jesus’ words include —

(Matt 24:37-39 ESV) For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Jesus could be misread (or misheard) as anticipating drunkenness at his return. Paul is anxious to make clear that the drunkards are the ones left out of Christian hope.

Jesus also says in Matt 24:42,

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

“Stay awake” on Jesus’ lips means “be vigilant” or “be attentive.” But when Paul discusses the afterlife, he refers to the death of a Christian as sleeping. In context, then, “stay awake” sounds like “stay alive.” Paul uses the double meaning to preach on being ready for Jesus’ return. If you stay awake, you’ll not be afraid of sleep.

Paul moves the meaning of “awake” from “pay attention” to “be alive in this age” to “be alive in the  next age.” And that flow makes  perfect sense, despite (or because of) the word play.

(1 Thess. 5:6-10 ESV)  6 So then let us not sleep [be attentive to the things of God], as others do, but let us keep awake [be attentive] and be sober [not drunkards/attentive].  7 For those who sleep [the inattentive = the world], sleep at night  [when Jesus will return in wrath], and those who get drunk, are drunk at night [when Jesus will return in wrath. Don’t expect the world to be purified until after Jesus returns.].  8 But since we belong to the day [“Day” in the prophets is associated with the presence of God. Compare 1 John 1; Job 24:13-14.], let us be sober [not drunk, so we don’t forfeit our salvation], having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.  9 For God has not destined us for wrath [will be for those who in in the night or live outside the Kingdom], but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,  10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep [live or die in this age, rather than vigilant or not vigilant] we might live [eternally in the next age] with him [The Afterlife will involve living with Jesus!]. 

Anyway, I think that’s right. Recent scholarship has shown that it’s very likely that Paul’s letters were hand delivered by an emissary, who would read it to the church and would have had the letter explained to him by Paul. Oh, that we could have access to that knowledge!

The breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation

The metaphor of the Christian’s armour attracted Paul and he uses it a number of times (Rom. 13:12–13; 2 Cor. 6:7; 10:4; Eph. 6:13–17). The details are not always the same, which is a warning against pressing the metaphor too closely. Thus in Ephesians the breastplate is righteousness and faith is the shield, while neither hope nor love is mentioned. The idea probably goes back to Isaiah 59:17, where Yahweh is depicted as a warrior armed.

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NTC 13; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 97.

(Isa. 59:17 ESV) [God] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

Interesting that Paul is telling us to dress as God dresses. And it’s interesting that in these passages, the only parts of the armor mentioned are defensive. Unlike in Eph 6, there is no mention of a sword or spear.

“Peace and security” comes from someone who defeats his enemies with righteousness (covenant faithfulness) and eternal salvation — not mere iron and brass.

Just so, the armor we are to put on is made of faith, hope, and love — and these are all gifts from God (1 Cor 13). It’s these things that provide true peace and security.

Destined us

In 1 Thess 5:9, Paul says we’re not destined for wrath but for salvation through Jesus. Is this Calvinism? It’s not likely because the point of the passage is to be sober and awake so that you don’t lose your hope and so you have nothing to fear at the Second Coming. That is, the passage is a warning against falling away — hardly a Calvinist sort of teaching.

The negative possibility that lack of vigilance may lead to loss of salvation preserves Paul’s doctrine of election inherent in destined from that absolute rigorism into which it has often been pushed so that those who believed themselves elect were certain that no matter what they did they would persevere to inherit salvation.

Does our passage teach that some are destined for God’s anger? Paul does not draw this apparently obvious logical deduction. There is of course no need for him to do so since he is not writing about unbelievers, but equally there is no need for him to deny it. That Paul allows for the possibility of some of the ‘elect’ failing to reach salvation through their lack of vigilance suggests he would not have drawn it, or if he had that he would have qualified it. As at 1:4 we must say that there is no place in Paul where he writes positively of the ‘election’ of men to God’s anger.

Ernest Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Black’s New Testament Commentary, (London: Continuum, 1986), 217.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 5:6-10

  1. JohnF says:

    Jay ” Oh, that we could have access to that knowledge!”

    I think I would sooner have access to Jesus’ instructions to the apostles following His resurrection, prior to His ascension, referred to in Acts 1:3 “To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” ESV

    I have never seen a course offering or syllabus of that teaching — that’s a course I would gladly pay tuition!

  2. Dwight says:

    I think that 6-10 needs 1-5 as context. “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”
    The whole of the section is about being actively aware of Christ coming as others won’t be.
    I know many who try to make it about alcoholic drinking, of which should also be a commentary/command against sleeping as well.
    My thought is that those who are awake are busy doing things, as those who sleep or are drunk aren’t. Those that are awake are busy in warfare against Satan, thus breastplate and helmet, so it is not about waiting for Jesus coming, but being active in the work in day light.

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    Where would you get the concept that the (world) will be (purified when Jesus returns)? Your comment within (1 Thess. 5:7 ESV). The only context of the word (purified) in the NT is used in application of those who are his followers. I would believe that he could not purify any of the living at his return who had not accepted him without doing the same for all who have ever lived. Would that not be Universalism? All humanity saved. The full content of humans in the world will never be totally his followers. Impossible, because of man, we know that God could create a world such as this but man would be a robot having lost his free will. Even the heavenly beings have exercised free will, otherwise there would not have been a war in heaven and Satan and his followers kicked out.
    The New Heaven or the New Earth is never referred to as (world).

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    In regards to.
    “Anyway, I think that’s right. Recent scholarship has shown that it’s very likely that Paul’s letters were hand delivered by an emissary, who would read it to the church and would have had the letter explained to him by Paul. Oh, that we could have access to that knowledge!”
    Is scholarship really ready to make an accusation about the Holy Spirit not delivering a message that is vital in understanding the letter which Paul had written? Where would we look to document that the emissary was inspired with better understanding of God’s message than Paul could impart?
    Who is doing the reading in these messages from Paul, his emissary?
    Eph 3:4 ESV When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,
    Col 4:16 ESV And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
    1Th 5:27 ESV I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

  5. JohnF says:

    I can easily see where those who were with Paul and carried letters sent by Paul have some, likely significant, advantage over those removed by miles and time. I do not diminish inspiration — God has provided to us everything we need to know: 2 Peter 1:3-4 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
    NASU
    Yet I would still like to query those who were with Paul to see if they had insights from Paul’s spoken commentary. I di not see in Jay’s comment an “accusation about the Holy Spirit.”

    And clearly, there are pretentious commentators who view with some disdain the attempt of the “common man” to understand the scripture without the commentators “superior viewpoint” receiving due credence, just as the rulers of the Jewish looked down on the common people.

  6. JohnF says:

    OOPS … above should read “religious rulers of the Jewish people”

  7. dwight says:

    Eph 3:4 ESV When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,
    Col 4:16 ESV And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
    1Th 5:27 ESV I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
    presents a truth. They read Paul’s letters.
    We can do the same and we can have them read to us.
    But once we start breaking them down and rearranging them and explained, then it is just commentary.

  8. JohnF says:

    Larry’s comment above sent me back to 2Peter 3:10 which resulted in a VERY interesting thought. “Burned up (“kataka(n)setai”) is NOT in the oldest manuscripts — usually when Siniatic and Vatican (referring to where they were found (Siniatic) and where they reside (Vatican) agree that is the accepted reading. (Tischendorf, who found the Siniatic, keeps the “kata” term in his Greek script without footnote.) But here the term is 2 Peter 3:10 heureth(n)setai (see, found, obtain). Not sure yet what this means — I get to do some more digging.

    2 Peter 3:10

    At the close of ver. 10 the extant witnesses present a wide variety of readings, none of which seems to be original. The oldest reading, and the one which best explains the origin of the others that have been preserved, is eu(reqh/setai ,
    , which is attested by (aleph) B K P 424 c 1175 1739 txt 1852 syrph, hmg arm Origen. In view of the difficulty of extracting any acceptable sense from the passage, it is not strange that copyists and translators introduced a variety of modifications. Thus, several witnesses retain
    eu(reqh/setai but qualify it with other words: (a) the Sahidic version and one manuscript of the Harclean Syriac version insert the negative, and (b) the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë72) adds
    luo/mena (“the earth and the things in it will be found dissolved”) — an expedient, however, that overloads the context with three instances of the same verb. Other witnesses either (c) omit
    or substitute another verb that gives more or less good sense. Thus (d) C reads
    a)fanisqh/sontai all read katakah/setai (“will be burned up”).

    Because eu(reqh/setai, though the oldest of the extant readings, seems to be devoid of meaning in the context (even the expedient of punctuating as a question, “Will the earth and the things in it be found?” fails to commend itself), various conjectural emendations have been proposed:
    (a) after the word has fallen out (Bradshaw), “the earth and the things in it will be found useless”;
    (b)”the earth and the things in it will flow”;
    (c) … will flow together”;
    (d) … will be burnt to ashes”;
    (e) “… will be taken away”;
    (f) “… will be judged”;
    (g) “… will be healed (thoroughly)”;
    (h) “… will be burned.”

    (from Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27 th Revised Edition…)

    Perhaps here is a case where “scholarship” can help with the text through what the text “actually says,” not what do we “think” it means (commentary).

  9. dwight says:

    JohnF, I think many times we at the disadvantage when it comes to the text and maybe context in regards to meanings sans translations. This should keep us humble in our commentary on scriptures, but it doesn’t seem to as we press what we think we know we have read with certainty.

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