Th 5:4-7 “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.”
In the first three verses of this chapter, Paul has laid out a scenario for the brethren of being taken unawares, as though by a thief. This he compared to the coming of the day of the Lord, and told them they had perfect knowledge of this truth. Perfect knowledge is usually gained by experiencing something first hand.
I remember my parents warning me often when I was small about the stove being hot. Unfortunately, I only gained “perfect” knowledge of what this meant while nursing a blistered palm. The experience served to bring about a change in my thinking and behavior around hot things.
The brethren at Thessalonica had experienced what it meant to be overtaken. The day of the Lord came upon them suddenly in the power and revelation from the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Paul and his companions. All the things they had once trusted in (their own abilities, doctrines, positions, etc.) had been destroyed, but they themselves were awakened to a wonderful truth.
While these brethren had undoubtedly been in darkness at one time, this was no longer their condition. We have great fellowship with this experience in our lives as followers of the Lord. The day of the Lord first came upon us suddenly: we were not looking for it or expecting it. Having experienced it, it brought about a change in our condition and attitude towards the day of the Lord. Once that wonderful, fearful day comes, like the church at Thessalonica we are no longer in darkness.
Since we have been delivered from darkness, “that day (1Th 5:2)” does not take us by surprise, but rather brings us great joy. Once we have experienced what it means to be visited by His holy presence, we look for it; we stand in anticipation of it; it becomes our chief desire. We walk in the light as He is in the light (1Jn 1:7). Walking in the light manifests our fellowship with Him and each other.
Although the blood of Jesus cleansed us from our sins while we were yet in darkness (Rom 5:8), as children of the day we now love the light and desire to walk in it. We are not of the night, and we do not wish to sleep (take our rest) in the things of the world as we once did. The sleep that Paul talked about in 1Th 4:14 comes from a different Greek word than the one used here in 1Th 5:6-7.
The Greek word rendered as sleep in the fourth chapter is “koimaō” and carries with it the idea of falling asleep or being dead. In this fifth chapter the word rendered as sleep is “katheudō.” This word means to “lie down to rest” or “fall asleep” but is not associated with death either literally or figuratively. Paul’s admonishment to us is that we are not to rest in the things that those who have not experienced the day of the Lord rest in.
We are to watch. It is now our calling to be awake and vigilant concerning the truth of Jesus Christ, our salvation by grace, and our need to work as the result of that salvation (as opposed to our work being the cause of our salvation). We are to be sober. We have a responsibility before God and His children to live discreetly and not become intoxicated with the things of the world.
The sleep that Paul warned us against is for those whose rest is still in the darkness (Joh 3:19). They are still intoxicated by their own ideas of self-righteousness and self-worth. Their natural environment is the night, and they do not love the day because they have not yet experienced the day. We need to remember that we were also such at one time (1Co 6:9-11).
May we rejoice in light of the day of the Lord and ever watch and long for His presence!