(From a message given at the BBF Fall Conference, October 2019).
“Harry R. Truman (October 30, 1896–May 18, 1980) was a resident of the U.S. state of Washington who lived near Mount St. Helens. He was the owner and caretaker of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake near the foot of the mountain, and he came to fame as a folk hero in the months preceding the volcano’s 1980 eruption after he refused to leave his home despite evacuation orders.
“…Truman became a minor celebrity during the two months of volcanic activity preceding the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, giving interviews to reporters and expressing his opinion that the danger was exaggerated. ‘I don’t have any idea whether it will blow,’ he said, ‘but I don’t believe it to the point that I’m going to pack up.’ Truman displayed little concern about the volcano and his situation: ‘If the mountain goes, I’m going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.’
“…Truman told reporters that he was knocked from his bed by precursor earthquakes, so he responded by moving his mattress to the basement…As a result of his defiant commentary, Truman became something of a folk hero and was the subject of many songs and poems by children.
“…As the likelihood of eruption increased, state officials tried to evacuate the area with the exception of a few scientists and security officials. On May 17, they attempted one final time to persuade Truman to leave, to no avail. The volcano erupted the next morning, and its entire northern flank collapsed. Truman was alone at his lodge with his 16 cats, and is presumed to have died in the eruption on May 18…The largest landslide in recorded history and a pyroclastic flow traveling atop the landslide engulfed the Spirit Lake area almost simultaneously, destroying the lake and burying the site of his lodge under 150 feet (46 m) of volcanic landslide debris. Authorities never found Truman’s remains.”1
As ambassadors for Christ, we warn others of a catastrophe that is coming to this world, and that they need to escape it before it’s too late. If people alive today do not heed the warnings of Scripture, they could be left behind at the Rapture and face a time of unprecedented destruction that will explode on this world with overwhelming power, like Mount St. Helens, but much, much worse.
Harry Truman didn’t have to die on May 18, 1980 had he only heeded the warnings. He was stubborn, however, and he refused to believe the warnings and govern himself accordingly. People today don’t have to face the judgment that will overtake the world after the Rapture if they heed the repeated warnings of Scripture. Like Harry though,
many are stubborn in their unbelief, and make excuses, and even scoff. But it’s the truth of God’s Word, and “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Num. 23:19).
The knowledge that the Lord could return for His Church at any moment, leaving the unbelieving behind to be plunged into the wrath of the Tribulation, makes the evangelization of the lost always urgent. It is to motivate the Church to reach out with the gospel of grace, so that others may escape the fearsome Day of the Lord.
Children of the Day
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 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” (1 Thes. 5:1-5).
After he taught about the catching away of the Church, the Body of Christ in 4:13-18, Paul turned in 5:1-3 to the horrific event that follows it, the seven-year Tribulation. After the Rapture, the next thing in God’s timeline of future events is Daniel’s 70th week of years (Dan. 9:24-27), the judgment of the Day of the Lord.
The Rapture is not the same as the Second Coming. The first verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 refer to events after the Rapture, not concurrent or prior to it. Our Lord will first come to take His Church out of the world and then judgment follows.
Paul’s explanation of the Rapture in 4:13-18 concerns us, believers in the Body of Christ. That is why the pronoun “we” is used four times in relation to our hope of the Rapture.
“For if WE believe that Jesus died and rose again… WE which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven… and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then WE which are alive… shall be caught up… and so shall WE ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:14-17).
However, Paul’s explanation of what takes place in 5:1-3 concerns “they” and “them,” or those left behind after the Rapture.
“For when THEY shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon THEM, as travail upon a woman with child; and THEY shall not escape” (1 Thes. 5:3).
We are reassured by our apostle that we will NOT be here for the Tribulation period, not any part of it. We will be caught up to be with the Lord before it ever begins.
Comparing verse 2 with verse 4 regarding the “thief in the night,” we see that Paul reinforces this fact:
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (v. 2).
“But ye, brethren [the Body of Christ], are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (v. 4).
The Day of the Lord will surprise the world after the Rapture and will come upon them like “a thief in the night.” But it will not overtake the Body of Christ as a thief, because we won’t be here! The Church will have been caught up to heaven to be with the Lord before the Tribulation.
Further, Paul contrasts “night” and “darkness” with “day” and “light” to teach how we are delivered from the wrath to come. In verses 4-5, the “night” and “darkness” Paul is referring to is the prophetic night and prophetic darkness of the Day of the Lord. Amos 5:20 teaches, “Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark…?” In contrast to that day of darkness, Paul wrote,
“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness…Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thes. 5:4-5).
We are not in darkness, and we are not in danger of the dark days of judgment in the Tribulation. All of us in the Church belong to the light, to the day, to heaven, to Christ, and we will all be caught up at the Rapture before the darkness of God’s wrath in the
Paul then turned to the practical ramifications of this truth, and how the Body of Christ is to live in light of the Lord’s return at the Rapture and of the Tribulation which follows it.
Stop and think about this: We may right now be living among people who will enter the Tribulation if the Rapture comes in our lifetime. The Body is “children of light, and children of the day,” and God wants us to be a light to the world for Christ and His gospel of grace. God wants us, by faith, to live aware and awake to the fact that our Savior could come at any time and that, as a result, people around us may go right into the Tribulation.
Thus, the Lord wants us to carry out our service, remaining spiritually awake and vigilant, always ready to forewarn others for their safety. God’s lifesaving truth is the unbeliever’s only chance of rescue from the ultimate, final hell in the Lake of Fire, and from hell on earth in the Tribulation.
“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” (1 Thes. 5:6-7).
“Therefore,” Paul wrote, or in light of the fact that we’re not going to go through any part of the night and darkness of the Tribulation, and that we are “the children of light, and the children of the day,” therefore, we should not sleep as do others. The “others” in verse 6 refers to unbelievers.
The Bible teaches that unbelievers are in darkness (Eph. 5:8; 2 Cor. 6:14). In their spiritual darkness, unbelievers do what we all do at night, they sleep—all the time, spiritually speaking. This is the sleep of spiritual indifference, negligence, and carelessness. The unbelieving have their spiritual eyes closed. They can’t see truth. They don’t even know they’re in darkness. And in the darkness, they are lost. They can’t see where to go. They aren’t even aware of the disaster that is coming right at them, and they live their lives as if there is no one, true, living God, no accountability to Him, and no judgment before Him.
In verse 7 of 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul made a simple, common, everyday observation: people sleep at night, and they get drunk at night. Sleep and drunkenness go with the night, and sleep and drunkenness are illustrations of the spiritual condition of the lost. Paul’s obvious implication is that those who are in spiritual darkness exhibit, in effect, the characteristics of the literal drunkenness that takes place at night.
Drunkenness causes people to lack focus and lose control. They can’t think straight or walk straight. They make poor, nonsensical choices. They lose sense of right and wrong. Their senses are dulled, and they’re not as aware of the circumstances and true reality around them. And drunkenness can lead to personal ruin. Many stumble and stagger through life this way.
In verses 6 and 7, Paul is making two points for the believer. First, we need to be aware and sensitive to unbelievers’ spiritual condition of being in darkness, and of their spiritual sleep and drunkenness. We know that the only way that one can be delivered from spiritual darkness is by “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4), and trusting Christ alone. It is at that point and from that point that one can truly see spiritually.
Second, Paul is teaching us here that day people shouldn’t act like night people. He wrote, “let us not sleep, as do others.” The implied reason for this instruction is that day people, or believers, can still act like night people. It’s possible for believers to have some night life in them. The difference, however, between the believer and the unbeliever is to be like night and day. This is true in our spiritual position of being in Christ and unbelievers being without Christ, but it is also to be true in our practice.
We are taught by God that our conduct should coincide with our position in Christ. God wants our state to move toward our standing. In Christ we are light, we belong to the day, and “therefore,” let us not sleep as others do, or as non-believers who have their spiritual eyes closed, are indifferent to spiritual things, are negligent about eternity, and are unaware of what is coming. We need to conduct ourselves as day people because we do know what is coming. We understand the wrath to come and what awaits those who do not believe.
The relief and joy of our deliverance from God’s wrath in the Day of the Lord comes with responsibility. Believers are to live in the light of truth. We see spiritually now. Therefore, we should live as the children of light that we are in Christ, warning people around us about judgment to come, and sharing the light and truth of God’s Word. God uses rescued people to rescue people. That is our calling as believers.
“A West Virginia state trooper, stopped a woman for going 15 miles over the speed limit. After he handed her a ticket, she asked him, ‘Don’t you give out warnings?’ ‘Yes, ma’am,’ he replied. ‘They’re all up and down the road. They say, ‘Speed Limit 55.’”2 The Church is to be God’s warning signs up and down the road of life for unbelievers, warning them about the judgment that is coming to those who do not obey the gospel (2 Thes. 1:8).
In God’s plans and purposes, it is daytime, the day of salvation, but night is coming, the night of the Tribulation. Paul’s analogy here is that, because it is daytime and not the night of the Tribulation yet, we shouldn’t be spiritually asleep during the day! Instead we should be spiritually awake and aware of what’s going on around us. This world is speeding toward the night of God’s wrath, and we are surrounded by those who are in danger of being left behind and need to be delivered from the darkness of the Tribulation.
Sleep is natural to night people, but not to day people. Going through life sleeping should not characterize believers who are day people, but it can. Thus, Paul teaches the Church that we need to make a determined effort to stay awake. We are not to be spiritual Rip Van Winkles. We should not be spiritually insensitive or negligent; instead we should be full of care toward the plight of unbelievers and their need of the Lord.
It’s easy to sleep through life. It’s like the guy who said, “I’m so good at sleeping, I could do it with my eyes closed.” God doesn’t want His Church to be good at slumbering spiritually. As believers in Christ, we’re taught to be awake and to live with our spiritual eyes open.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Let us watch.” “Watch” refers to being alert, awake. We’re to watch against laziness, distraction, and complacency in our spiritual lives. We’re to watch for the Savior’s return and those around us who need Christ.
“Watch and be sober” (1 Thes. 5:6) is in direct contrast to the “sleep” and being “drunken” of verse 7. Sleep and drunkenness are two ways to characterize insensitivity, while being watchful and sober are two ways to characterize sensitivity to spiritual realities.
In this context, “be sober” refers to restraint, discipline, focus, being filled with spiritual and moral seriousness, and zealous for what is true and right according to God’s Word. To be sober is not to be indifferent but is to have a clear mind, being balanced, consistent, and steady spiritually.
Bible Commentator William Hendriksen (1900-1982) wrote, “The sober person lives deeply. His pleasures are not primarily those of the senses…but those of the soul. He is by no means a Stoic. On the contrary, with a full measure of joyful anticipation he looks forward to the return of the Lord. But he does not run away from his task!…The apostle’s exhortation, then, amounts to this: ‘Let us not be lax and unprepared, but let us be prepared, being spiritually alert, firm in the faith, courageous, strong, calmly but with glad anticipation looking forward to the future day. Let us, moreover, do all this because we belong to the day and not to the night.’ ”3
Put on Faith, Love, and Hope
“But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thes. 5:8).
Notice that Paul does not exhort us to “Please be day people.” Rather he tells the Church, “You are day people.” We are day people in Christ. And as people of the day, we are to be sober and wear the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. In other words, the armor is faith, love, and hope. These three are presented as armor to protect us in this world, as well as for how we are to reach out to
As Paul thought about a person who was watchful and sober, his mind went to one who was the most alert and disciplined: a soldier on duty. In Paul’s day, a Roman soldier wore protective armor.
The breastplate and helmet were two essential pieces of equipment to protect a Roman soldier. Those are two vital areas of the body. Of course, the breastplate covered all the vital organs, and the helmet covered the head.
A Roman breastplate covered a soldier from his neck to his waist and could be made out of chain mail, heavy cloth, brass, iron, or leather. It could be likened to a bulletproof vest. We could compare the Roman helmet to something like a football or motorcycle helmet that can protect against crushing blows to the skull.
Paul wrote that the believer’s spiritual breastplate consists of faith and love, and the helmet consists of the hope of salvation. It’s the breastplate of faith toward God, and the breastplate of God’s love through us toward others.
Considering these pieces of armor in their context, the breastplate of faith is faith in the always-imminent pre-Tribulation Rapture and the judgment of the Day of the Lord that follows it. We believe and know these are true because God says they’re true. It is faith resulting in action on our part.
In the context, it’s the breastplate of love for others, not wanting them to face the judgment to come in the Tribulation, wanting them to have the glorious hope of the Rapture as we do. It is love resulting in action on our part.
Wearing a breastplate of faith and love will cause us to live alert and steadfast for the Lord, and to stand ready at all times as children of light in Him. By faith in God and love toward others, God equips us to live as children of light and “not sleep, as do others.” This armor equips us to stand at the ready at all times as children of the day.
“The hope of salvation,” in this context, is the Rapture of the Church. The hope of salvation is the certainty that if we die before Christ returns, then to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8) in soul and spirit. Then, at the Rapture, the Lord will bring us with Him (1 Thes. 4:14) in soul and spirit. At that time, we will receive glorified bodies, and our bodies will be raised first (vv. 15-16), to be united to our soul and spirit forever. The hope of salvation is also the certainty that if we are alive when He returns, we will receive glorified bodies and be caught away off this earth to meet the Lord in the air forever to be with Him (v. 17).
The helmet of the hope of salvation is what guards our heads from attacks on our thinking. And there are, in the spiritual battle, attacks against the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13), our “hope of salvation” and deliverance from the Tribulation period. The helmet of salvation is about being grounded in the truth of God’s Word, so we might be delivered from error and defend the truth of the pre-Tribulation Rapture.
The helmet is also about having the hope of salvation always on our minds, so we realize the need of others who have “no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13). This helmet is about thinking of others, resulting in action on our part: sharing our hope with the unbelieving, so they might trust the reality of hope in Christ.
The exhortation to put on the breastplate and the helmet is in the form of a participle: “putting on” must be repeated every time as if it were the first time. We live in a world of spiritual darkness that is hostile to spiritual truth. It is an ongoing fight. There is a battle raging all around us for the hearts and minds of people, and every believer is a soldier in that battle. Therefore, we must keep “putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” May we care for those who could be left behind, and do so with faith, hope, and love.
1. “Harry R. Truman,” Wikipedia, accessed August 4, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_R._Truman.
2. “Speed Warnings,” AJokeADay, accessed August 4, 2020, https://www.ajokeaday.com/jokes/police-jokes/speeding-1mb2m5bira.
3. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, Timothy, and Titus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), pp. 125-126.