Scripture Reference: Isaiah 13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
The Church Is WatchfulDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 4, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Paul told the church at Thessalonica that there are two kinds of people, and that they will be revealed on Day of the Lord. There will be day people and night people and they will have different futures on that day of judgment. Night people will face the wrath of God; day people will be free from the wrath. Which camp are you in?
When God comes to church we become witnesses for our Lord. You say, “Well God is always coming to church.” Yes, most assuredly. But the work of the Holy Spirit often times is not distributed evenly. There are times when God comes mightily and in power and marriages that were thought to be hopeless are suddenly put back together through repentance and forgiveness. When God comes the power of addictions that have been long standing are suddenly broken.
I’ve wanted to tell you the story of what God did here in Chicago in 1858. I thought that I would do it in this message but I have changed my mind. It is such an important story that I would like to add a sermon to this series. There will be another message on when God comes to church which covers the last verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter five. I need more time to tell you about the prayer meetings that were held and the transformations that took place in Chicago. According to one secular historian it was called, “The event of the century.” That will be next time in this series.
Today we are emphasizing how God came to Thessalonica nearly two thousand years ago. The Apostle Paul was there for three weeks and shared in the synagogues and there were two categories of people who came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. One group was the Jews, who had Moses, and the other was the Greeks, who were schooled in Aristotle and Plato. Despite their brilliance, Plato and Aristotle were unable to lead people to ultimate truth, especially in their relationship with God. Moses had given the law and the means of the gospel and the coming of Jesus Christ had been predicted. Yet now that Jesus Christ came the Jews needed to understand that he was the Messiah.
It was these two groups that formed the church. You can imagine their divisions, their different cultures, and their different outlooks. But the gospel brought them together. When Timothy went to Thessalonica to find out how the people were doing he came back and told Paul that they were doing very well. But they did have some questions. One of the questions was, “What about the people that are dying among us?” They wanted to know what would happen to them when the Lord Jesus Christ returned from heaven.
If you have your Bibles and you turn to 1 Thessalonians chapter four, you will notice that the Apostle Paul answered. A couple of months ago I spoke specifically on this text so I shall only refer to it. He says, “Those of us who are living when Jesus returns will not precede those who are dead.” In fact Paul says, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
If you have a friend or a relative or a husband or a child who is a believer, they will rise first if the Lord shall come this week or even today. Then we shall all be transformed and given all new bodies. Paul says, “We will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” So take heart, those of you who mourn today, those of you who are lonely, those of you who are wondering whether or not you can continue to put up with all of the trouble that is in this world. Eternity is coming and you as a believer will be in the presence of Jesus.
Now having said that, in chapter five of 1 Thessalonians, which is our text today, Paul goes on and talks about what is going to happen after the rapture. Remember the sequence: the rapture of the church takes place here, the church goes to heaven, and then there is a period of tribulation. After that Jesus comes in glory and every eye will see him. When he comes in glory he will establish his kingdom. The second aspect of his coming is going to have connected with it judgment and all manner of different kinds of events.
Now as you know there are some people who believe there is only one phase to the second coming and they try to collapse all the scriptures into that one phase. I think it is much better to see the coming of Jesus Christ in two phases. First we have the rapture of the church and then the period of tribulation. We will be talking today about the glorious return of Jesus and how we should live in the midst of that and then also the establishment of the kingdom. That’s the sequence that Paul has here in the text.
Paul says in verse one of 1 Thessalonians chapter five, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.” I am just astounded by that! Paul was only in Thessalonica for three weeks. He taught them so thoroughly about the return of Jesus that he said, “I really don’t have to go over this, but we will for the sake of review because you already know about the future.” That shows you the emphasis that Paul put on the return of Jesus. He says, “You know the times,” the chrono, which is the Greek word from where we get chronology. He says, “You know the chronology and the seasons, those special epics in which God works mightily and you know what it is all going to be about.” How many of us know what it is all going to be about?
Then he says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” We need to pause here and think. What is the day of the Lord? The day of the Lord is mentioned nineteen times in the Old Testament. It is always a time of judgment. It is a time when God works specifically with the nation of Israel, when he picks up the timetable of the nation’s history, because you know that the final scenario takes place in and around Jerusalem. All of the passages in the Old Testament regarding the day of the Lord are basically passages of judgment.
Now if you are here today and you are used to hearing only positive messages about the love of God and not the judgment and justice of God, this may come to you as a jolt. Let me read to you from the book of Isaiah to get you acclimatized to what the Old Testament says about this day of the Lord. “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.” That is the day of the Lord from the Old Testament taken from Isaiah chapter thirteen.
The Bible says it will come like a thief in the night. A thief coming in the night is never good news. This is not the good news of the rapture. It is the good news of the return of Jesus in glory and in judgment, not when he comes for his saints, but when he comes with his saints. Paul tells us that this is the way it is going to be.
Now let me tell you where we are going today so that you can follow me all the way to the station. What Paul does now in the rest of the verses is he says that there are basically two classes of people. As you look over this congregation you notice all of our differences. We have differences because of our locations, because of our skin color, because of our backgrounds, whether from wealth or poverty. But at the end of the day there are only two categories of people.
Paul is going to use this idea of light and darkness. He is going to talk about day people and night people. This has nothing to do with being a morning person or an evening person. Have you ever noticed how God often in his infinite sovereignty in marriage seems to put a day person with a night person? And then God is up in heaven smiling and saying, “Work it out, folks.” That is what God does.
This however is a different kind of day person and night person. The Bible says that when you are saved you are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Paul says that he was asked by Jesus to preach the gospel, to turn the Gentiles from darkness into light, that they might experience God’s forgiveness and grace. It is a light and darkness motif.
I want you to answer this question as we go through this passage: are you a night person or are you a day person? This will help us to understand where we are in the picture. For those of you who are investigating Christianity and you are considered to be a seeker, go through this exercise with us to help you answer the question as to whether you are a night person or a day person.
I’d like to give you four contrasts between night people and day people that arise out of this text. Notice first of all that the first contrast is knowledge versus ignorance. You’ll notice it says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” By the way, do you notice how Paul uses “we” and “they” terminology in this passage? It is the light versus darkness terminology; it’s the day people versus the night people.
Paul says, “The day will not overtake you like a thief. The night people are going to be deluded when people say, ‘Peace and safety.’” Let’s get the chronology here. You have the rapture of the church and then you have a period of time in which the nations prepare themselves according to the scriptural pattern. During that time of preparation you have a man called the antichrist who arises. The antichrist is going to be charismatic, he is going to be persuasive, he is going to be brilliant, and he is going to be satanically evil. He will guarantee Israel’s security and the world will believe him and everyone is going to say, “Peace and safety.” Everybody is going to say, “At last we have it.” It is during this period of time when there is a false sense of security that judgment will come.
Even today we can tell whether we are night people or day people by what we believe and how gullible we are. Night people believe in the big lie mentioned in 2 Thessalonians, which is basically the deity of man. Night people believe that man is God. Night people fall for New Age teaching that tells us that we are essentially gods. It is the lie of Eden: you shall be like God. We run our own lives according to our own schedules, we find our own truth and our own reality, and there is no god out there to whom we must answer and we are totally on our own. If you believe that I can assure you that from the standpoint of the Bible you are a night person and not a day person.
Day people have a different way of viewing the world. Why is it that we as Christians view the world differently? A lot of it has to do with our perception of ourselves and others. Night people always think of themselves as better than they are. Night people think to themselves, “Why should God ever judge me? What have I done that is so bad?” They especially think this way when they compare themselves to others. Night people are always thinking about the innate goodness of man. There is some goodness though because we are actually a mixture of goodness and badness.
Yet night people have a very naive view of human nature. They believe treaties and they don’t understand the subtleties of human nature. But day people understand that they are desperate sinners and they have stopped self justification. If you are a day person you have stopped self justification because you know that we stand in the presence of God and only Jesus is able to save us. That’s what makes you a day person as opposed to a night person.
Let’s move on to a second contrast. The other contrast is surprise versus expectancy. You’ll notice that Paul says in verse four, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day.” You see, what the world says when they think of the second coming of Jesus is, “It’s not going to happen.” They don’t believe it and they don’t look forward to it and they don’t think it will happen.
They believe in uniformitarianism. I haven’t used that word in a long time and I thought it would fit right here. Uniformitarianism says, “As it has been from the beginning, so it will continue to be forever and ever and ever.” They ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For since the father fell asleep all things continue on as they are.” If you don’t believe that Jesus is going to return to earth I can assure you that you are a night person.
Christians not only believe that Jesus is coming, so that they won’t be caught by surprise because they are expecting it, but they love his appearing. The Apostle Paul says that there is a special crown, symbolically speaking, given to those who love the appearing of Jesus. If you are here today and you don’t really look forward to seeing Jesus and you really fundamentally to not look forward to his return and you would just as soon that he not come back, you are a night person. Day people have a love for Jesus that has been implanted in their hearts at their conversion which makes them view all of these things differently.
The next contrast is soberness versus drunkenness. Notice it says in verse five, “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” He is not talking here about literal drunkenness, though that happens as well, especially if you are a night person. He is talking about a spiritual drunkenness that is totally and completely indifferent.
I was first acquainted with alcoholism when I was in high school and Bible school. There was a man who had a PA system on his car and so after church on Sunday evenings in Canada we would drive to a bad part of town sometimes referred to as skid row, I guess that is where people hit the skids, and that is where I learned to preach. We would have singing and a testimony and then almost every other Sunday night I preached for ten minutes. In those days ten minutes was just a hair’s breath short of eternity. Today ten minutes goes by so quickly that I can almost taste it. I look at the clock and the time is gone!
But in those days I used to preach and afterwards we would talk to people. This was a place where there were lots of alcoholics. I remember one man taking dollar bills that he had and throwing them out on the street. I began to see what it was like to be in a stupor. You think of these dear people with their priorities totally rearranged and not knowing what is valuable and what is not. That is really the spiritual indifference of night people that Paul is talking about here. They are trading important things for lesser things and they have virtually no concern about the future.
If you are here today and you have spent more time and more energy preparing for a trip to go to Europe and you’ve bought a travel book and you’ve spent hours reading it and you’ve not given an equal amount of time to where you are going to spend all of eternity, may I say lovingly and candidly, you are a night person. You are not a day person. Day people live for eternity and not just for right now.
Here is a poem: “My dad gave me one dollar bill ‘cause I’m the smartest son, I swapped it for two shinny quarters ‘cause two is more than one. And then I took the quarters and traded them to Lou; I guess he didn’t know that three is more than two. Just then along came old, blind Bates, and just because he cannot see he gave me four nickels for my three dimes, and four is more than three. I took the nickel to Hiram Colmes down at the Seed Feed store, and the fool gave me five pennies for them, and five is more than four. And then I went and showed my dad and he got red in the cheeks and closed his eyes and shook his head, too proud of me to speak.”
Night people have no sense of eternal value. They live for three things: money, sex and fame. That’s it. They have no concept of that which is truly valuable. They are constantly trading down rather than trading up. Paul tells us that is the third contrast.
I also want to point out that Paul tells us in verse eight to put on the “breastplate of faith and love.” That is a sermon all by itself. Why the breastplate of faith? It is where the arrows come. Every time you choose to sin deliberately it shows a lack of trust in God. Our faith, or a lack of it, lies at the root of virtually all our struggles, our joys, our sorrows and all of our temptations. When we fail it is because of a lack of faith. So we take on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of salvation.
Let me give you a fourth contrast. The fourth contrast is people of the day are not destined to wrath, “but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” We are not appointed to wrath, isn’t that wonderful? The reason is that Jesus bore our wrath when he died on the cross. That is why many of us believe that the church will not go through the tribulation, which is the period of God’s extreme wrath and judgment. Why? We have been appointed not for wrath, but to obtain salvation.
Yet if you are a night person you are appointed to wrath. We always think of Jesus as being the loving Jesus, and thank God he is that. But to balance it let me give you what Paul wrote in the second letter of Thessalonians. He says that when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, “He will grant relief to those who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Jesus comes in wrath for the night people who think that they are okay.
But for those of us who are members of the day, we’ve seen the light. We have the good news of the gospel and we are shielded from the wrath to come.
Let me now share some observations. First, always remember that there is no place for “night life” if you are a day person. It is possible for someone who is a day person to live as if he is a night person with “night time values,” using that analogy. What we must do is come to the light. That’s why the Bible says to those of us who are Christians, “If we walk in the light as God is in the light we have fellowship one with another.” I know that we normally interpret that this way: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another. I have fellowship with you and you have fellowship with me.” Maybe that is what John meant.
But if you remember in grammar the antecedent is always interpreted in terms of the closeness that you have to the verbs and so forth. Therefore you can interpret it this way: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another. God and I have fellowship with one another when we walk in the light.” Is there anything more special than having fellowship with God, to be able to walk with God? But you need to walk in the light which means confession of all known sin. Whatever God points out to us we confess and by his grace we forsake. There is no room for “night life” activities if you are a day person.
If you are here today and you say, “I am a follower of Jesus but I am living as if I belong to the night,” it’s time for you to be brought into the light through repentance and faith. Also, and most importantly, no person can of himself go from darkness to light. That is the work of God and that is what God births in us when we trust Christ as Savior.
If you are here today and you have never believed on Jesus or you are listening on the internet and you have never trusted Christ, don’t even begin to think that the answer is to confess all of your sins. First, there is no way that you would remember all of them, right? None of us can remember all of our sins. You need to understand that the entry point is to receive Christ as Savior and to come under the protection of his grace so that you might be saved from the wrath to come. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The transformation of values and perspective is a work that God does within the human heart to those who believe.
Whenever we talk about light and darkness we are reminded of a passage written to believers, but it is really for everyone who is listening today. In fact, a very famous conversion took place because of this passage. It says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That is God’s word to my heart and to your heart today.
The conversion that took place is Augustine’s, the great theologian who impacted Christianity for a thousand years. He was in a garden and he thought he heard a voice say to him, “Take it and read.” There was a New Testament there and he read it, though it wasn’t a book like we have now, but he read the manuscript and was extremely convicted because he was living with a woman to whom he was not married and had a child with her. God says, “Walk properly in the daytime, not in orgies, not in drunkenness, not in immorality and sensuality,” and right there he knew he had to be converted. He believed in Christ and was converted. He went from being a night person to a day person.
However, his mistress wanted to continue to live with him and she was running toward him and she shouted, “It is I!” He turned around and said, “But it is not I. I’m not the person that I used to be because I have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness, with all of its deceptions, into the kingdom of his marvelous light.”
What about you? Are you a day person or a night person? The return of Jesus Christ is coming. There will be a rapture followed by the tribulation, followed by more tribulation and then the glorious return of Jesus to set up his kingdom and to judge the world. Where will you be when Jesus comes?
Let’s pray. Before I pray I want you to pray silently and you tell the Lord whether you think you are a night person or a day person. If you are a day person but you are walking in darkness, would you confess that to the Lord right now? If you are a night person say to the Lord, “I need to be converted; save me Lord Jesus.”
“Father, we pray for people who are struggling to cross the line. Cause them to see the light of the gospel and may they know that through Christ we go from darkness to light. Receive us we pray, in his blessed name, amen.”