Stay on the lookout for the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11.

In the original text of 1 Thessalonians it was all one continuous stream. No punctuation, no sentences, no paragraphs. We had to figure these things out by their context. The sentences are easy enough to figure out, but naturally Christians are gonna disagree on the rest. Hence different Greek New Testaments disagree on where the paragraph breaks should go… and since I’ve been writing about this book a paragraph at a time, y’might notice I’m not precisely following any one GNT.

  • Textus Receptus and United Bible Societies’ edition: One big paragraph from 1-11.
  • Nestle-Aland: One big paragraph, but they capitalize the first word in the sentences which they think might be the start of a new subject, and therefore are debatably new paragraphs.
  • Tyndale House: Four paragraphs. 1-3, 4-5, 6-10, and 11 by itself.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Emphatic Diaglott has 1-4, and 5 all the way to the end of the chapter. But I don’t think its focus was on proper paragraph breaks. (Or on accuracy of translation either, but that’s another discussion.)

Anywho, today’s passage continues along the same theme as the previous: Be prepared for the second coming. ’Cause ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Mt 24.44 KJV Anytime now.

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11 KWL
6 So then we shouldn’t be asleep like the others,
Instead we should be awake, and we should be sober:
7 Sleepers sleep at night, and drinkers get drunk at night.
8 We, being in the day, should be sober,
wearing a chestplate of faith and love, and a helmet of salvation hope,
9 so God doesn’t assign us to wrath, but get us saved
through our Master, Christ Jesus, 10 who died for us
so that whether we’re awake or sleeping, we might live together with him.
11 So help one another and build one another
into the one body—just like you’re doing.

The pagans of this world will do their thing. Pagans gonna pagan. They’ll ignore what Jesus is doing; they’ll get stoned and wasted, or distract themselves some other way. But we’re meant to be holy. We don’t do like they do. We aren’t to let the world pass us by. We’re to engage with it, be active in it, point others towards God’s kingdom—and practice a little self-control for once. Love our neighbors. Don’t be dicks.

Because supposedly, we’re living lives which follow the Holy Spirit. We’re choosing to love and trust God. We’re altering our mindsets to embrace the idea God wants to save us, not destroy us; wants to reform the wicked, not be forced to smite them. For it’s true. God loves humanity.

And whether we actively live godly lives, or suck as hard as dark Christians who only flinch at everything with fear and rage, God loves us, and intends to live forever with us. Let’s get ready for that—so it’s not so drastic of a culture shock when Jesus returns.

Hey look! It’s the armor of God!

I’ve found a lot of Christians read this passage, and immediately wanna talk about some other passage. Namely the armor of God passage in Ephesians 6. Because they’re like little kids distracted by toy guns and lightsabers: “Look, there’s toys I can fight with! I wanna play cops and Jedis.” And for Christians, that’d be playing spiritual warriors who get to slash at devils with our sword of the Spirit.

Ephesians 6.10-18 KJV
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.

It’s very Pavlovian. Mention armor and they wanna get all fighty.

Isaiah 59.17 KJV
For [God] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.

Anyway I may as well deal with verse 8, then get on to the rest of the passage.

Y’might notice the armor the apostles mention here, doesn’t line up with the other verses. In Isaiah and Ephesians the chestplate is of righteousness, not faith in God and love for him and others. Yeah, those things might lead us to righteousness, but not always. It’s not a match.

Okay yes, the helmet of salvation hope in 1 Thessalonians resembles God’s helmet of salvation in Isaiah, and ours in Ephesians. But there’s a big difference between God’s helmet and ours. His represents rescue. Ours represents being rescued. God dresses offensively; we dress defensively. The LORD expects to do all the fighting, y’know.

In any event the gear the apostles write about here, describes what Roman sentries commonly wore. They wore chestplates and helmets, lest a rock or arrow take ’em by surprise and kill them before they could alert others. Shields and swords were quickly available, but they didn’t necessarily have those tools on them at all times. They only had to be alert, watchful, and not drunk on duty.

But in this part of 1 Thessalonians, Jesus is the invader. So we’re not being watchful lest we have to defend ourselves against him; we’re joining him. And again, he’s gonna do all the fighting. We’re only meant to be sentries. We’re wearing temporary, short-term defense while we await our general.

It’s not a passage about predestination.

The apostles used a lot of conditional verbs in this passage. We shouldn’t be asleep, but awake and sober. 1Th 4.6 We should be sober. 1Th 4.8 We might live together with him. 1Th 4.9 It’s like these things aren’t guaranteed.

Well they’re not. Yet Christians don’t like conditional passages when it comes to the End. We like definite passages. We like guarantees. We wanna be saved, and want our bible to tell us we’re saved. So some translations render these verbs as “God will” or “Let us do,” rather than “God may” and “We should.” Some Greek grammarians even claim it’s okay to do this under certain circumstances.

But in the context of this letter, it doesn’t fit. These are directions to the Thessalonians about life under persecution. They aren’t Calvinist-style statements about how God’s predestined us for salvation, with our destiny wholly decided. They’re about how people oughta live now, not in the future. If you wanna put off obedience by projecting it into the future, that‘s one thing. But doesn’t Jesus warn us away from this very practice?

Luke 12.45-46 KJV
45 But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; 46 the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

This text is conditional because the sad fact is, not everyone who calls Jesus our Master is going into his kingdom. God wants to save us, and everybody. But once he’s forgiven us our sins, we need to take advantage of his forgiveness and live like we’ve been freed of those sins. We need to demonstrate our trust in him through our much improved behavior. Mk 16.17-18 Anyone who claims faith minus works will save, who thinks this and similar passages are promises that God’ll save Christians indiscriminately, rather than descriptions of the relationship God has with his obedient kids, is in for a horrific surprise at the End. What conqueror is interested in troops who treasonously defy his will while he’s away, then only take his side once he shows up?—and meanwhile act as if he’ll never show up?

God help us if we’re behaving in such a way. Time to repent.

But if you’re good, as the apostles acknowledged the Thessalonians were good, then good job! Keep it up.