Paul did not detail the “times and seasons” since the Thessalonians understood that the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3.
Paul continued his discussion about the “coming” of Jesus by addressing its timing and how it will impact believers and nonbelievers. But rather than provide any chronological information, he reminded the Thessalonians that the “Day of the Lord” will come just like “a thief in the night,” as they already knew. No one except God knows the timing of that day.
In this passage, the Apostle discusses different aspects of the same “arrival” of Jesus that he just described in the preceding paragraph. What Paul does not do is provide a list of definitive “signs” that will mark that day’s imminence or chronological keys by which the Thessalonians can know the “times and seasons.” His emphasis is on its unexpectedness – its timing is not known by anyone except God – and that is why it will overtake the unprepared with sudden destruction.
- (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) – “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need for anything to be written to you, for you yourselves know perfectly well that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night. As soon as they begin to say: Peace and safety! then, suddenly, destruction comes upon them just as the birth-throes to her that is with child, and in no say will they escape.”
“Now concerning” (de…peri). This phrase marks the beginning of the section but does not mean its subject matter is unrelated to what has preceded it. Paul has just dealt with anxieties about the participation of dead Christians in the “coming” or parousia of Jesus. Now, he continues with additional but related information.
Verse 2 begins with the conjunction “for” or gar, which links it logically to the preceding verse. Paul has no need to write about the “times and seasons” BECAUSE the Thessalonians “themselves know accurately” that the “Day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night,” and not because they understand all the signs that will mark its approach.
Here, Paul uses the emphatic pronoun, “you yourselves,” which stresses that his readers already know this information. Moreover, he describes their knowledge as “accurate” (akribōs). What they understand is not detailed information about the “signs of the times,” but the fact that Jesus will come “like a thief in the night.”
The point of the simile is that he will arrive unexpectedly, at a time the householder cannot know. And Paul’s words echo the saying of Jesus:
- (Matthew 24:42-45) – “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason, you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you think not” – (Compare – Luke 12:39-40).
Both “times” and “seasons” are plural, and combined, they cover any possible delimitation of time. The answer to the question of “when” he will come is the same as the answer provided by Jesus – “No one knows except his Father.” And Paul’s words may very well allude to the warning of Jesus to his disciples prior to his ascension: “It is not for you to know times and seasons” – (Acts 1:7-9).
The comparison stresses that the timing of that day is unknowable. And the conclusion Paul draws is the need for believers to be prepared always for its sudden arrival.
In the preceding paragraph, Paul used the term ‘parousia’ or “arrival.” Now, he uses the clause the “Day of the Lord” for the same event. When Jesus gave the analogy of a “thief in the night,” he applied it to the “coming of the Son of Man.” Now, the Apostle applies it to the “Day of the Lord.” This demonstrates that the “coming” of Jesus coincides with the “Day of the Lord.” Paul also echoes another saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke:
- “Be on guard that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you unexpectedly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” – (Luke 21:34-36).
And in Luke, the reference to “that day” has the “Day of the Lord” in view. In Luke, disciples are summoned to pray “to escape all these things,” while in Paul’s sentence, the unprepared will “certainly not escape.” And the same Greek verb is used in both verses for “escape,” which links them (ekphugein).
According to Jesus, that day will come unexpectedly “like a trap.” But according to Paul, it will arrive “like birth pains.” Undoubtedly, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which has a word that can be translated as either “trap” or “birth-pangs” (hebel), and it is quite possible that Luke translated it “trap,” but Paul as “birth pains.”
Paul uses a second analogy, the image of a pregnant woman in labor. No one is surprised when a pregnant woman goes into labor, and no one doubts the eventual outcome. Labor pains point to the inevitable, in the present passage, to the destruction of the unprepared. The picture of the thief emphasizes the unexpectedness of the day. The woman in labor points to the inevitability of destruction for those who are unprepared.
“Unexpected destruction” will overtake the unprepared, the very ones who at present are proclaiming “peace and security.” The phrase reflects the propaganda line of the Roman Empire, “Peace and security,” (pax et securitas), and Paul may have it in mind. However, more likely, he is describing the typical human attitude of complacency. This is borne out by the conjunction hotan (“whenever”) used with the present tense of legô – (“whenever they are saying”). Humanity prefers to live as if all things will continue as they always have despite the testimony of history with its multiple examples of human and natural catastrophes.
A man can prepare for the eventuality of a home invasion by a thief, but he cannot predict when it will occur. For the unprepared, it will be an unexpected event that results in dire consequences. Likewise, disciples of Jesus must always be prepared for the sudden arrival of Jesus from heaven precisely because they do not and cannot know the timing of that day.