AN ADDITION TO
THE ARTICLE ON
I THESSALONIANS 4:13-18
I omitted one key point in my discussion of I Thessalonians 4:13-18. That point is the word “meet” in verse 17: “Then we who are alive, who are left, 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.” The word is “apantesis.” It also has a verb form. (The infinitive is used in translation to translate “for the purpose of meeting.”) The following are uses of these words in the New Testament:
· Matthew 25:6: “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”
· Matthew 27:32: “As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.”
· Mark 14:13 (verb): “And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him…”
· Luke 17:12 (verb): “And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance…”
· Acts 28:15: “And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.”
· I Thessalonians 4:17: (Present passage) “Then we who are alive, who are left, 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.”
Note that in each of these passages except one, the sense of the word “meet” (translated “found” in one place) is “to meet up with one who is approaching.” The bridegroom is approaching and the virgins are ordered to go out to meet him. Which direction Simon was going is not clear, so that verse does not help us. The two disciples are going into the city and a man meets up with them as they approach. Jesus is approaching a village and meets 10 lepers. The brothers in Christ come out to meet Paul as he approaches Rome. Thus, it is not unreasonable to understand that, in I Thessalonians 4:17, the idea is that those who are resurrected and those who are raptured will meet the Lord as He descends to earth at the Second Coming.
I THESSALONIANS 5:1-11
TRANSLATION OF THE PASSAGE (My own from Aland, et al The Greek New Testament):
1. But, concerning the exact date of this event or what the times will be like when this takes place, brothers, you do not have a need for [me] to write to you.
2. For you yourselves know with certainty that the Day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night.
3. Whenever they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction comes to them just as birth pangs to the one who is pregnant, and they shall surely not escape.
4. But you, brothers, are not in darkness, so that the Day should come upon you like a thief.
5. You are all sons of the light and sons of the Day. We are not of the night or of darkness.
6. Therefore, let us not sleep as the others, but let us be alert and self-controlled (sober).
7. For the ones who sleep, sleep at night, and the ones who get drunk, drink at night.
8. But let us who are of the Day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation.
9. Because God has not destined us for wrath (unto wrath) but for possession of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…
10. …Who died for us in order that, whether we are awake or asleep, we shall live together with Him.
11. Therefore, comfort one another and build one another up, as you are doing.
WHAT IS THE SUBJECT MATTER OF I THESSALONIANS 5:1-11?
It seems reasonable to suppose that this passage is a commentary on the Resurrection/Rapture that has just been described in the previous verses. I say “commentary” because it does not give a chronological description of events in the way the previous passage has laid out the events of the Resurrection/Rapture. It does mention the coming of the Day of the Lord, but the manner of that mentioning is more in the way of commentary than description.
However, Pentecost and other scholars to whom he refers believe that this passage concerns the Tribulation period, which they believe will follow the events of 4:13-18. They believe that the “Day of the Lord” does not include the Resurrection/Rapture of the church, but begins immediately after that with the Tribulation period. They believe the Day then stretches from the beginning of the Tribulation period, through the Millennium, and through the destruction of heaven and earth by fire, which is mentioned in II Peter 3:10 (Pentecost, 229-230).
They also take verse 1, which mentions “times and seasons” (as translated by ESV, I give a paraphrase in my translation), to refer to Jewish affairs (and hence to the Tribulation period). This conclusion seems to rest on only one other use of the expression “times and seasons,” in Acts 1:7. In that passage, Jesus is answering a question about whether He would restore the Kingdom to Israel at that time. I would certainly agree that the reference in that verse is to Jewish affairs, but it seems to me a stretch to interpret the single other occurrence of the expression “times and seasons” as referring to Jewish affairs. This ignores the context of verse 5:1, which immediately follows the Resurrection/Rapture. Note also that there is no other mention of a subject that could relate to Jewish affairs except the expression “Day of the Lord.” The Dispensationalists have their reasons for deciding what constitutes the “Day of the Lord.”
However, on the basis of this passage, I think one must be cautious in imposing a preconceived notion of what Paul means.
WHAT IS THE MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE “THIEF IN THE NIGHT” EXPRESSION?
Sorting out exactly what is the meaning of verses 2 and 3 is difficult because of the expression “thief in the night,” which has captured the imaginations of many Christians. Long before the Left Behind novels were published, a film was made with the title A Thief in the Night (Wikipedia). According to Wikipedia, 300 million people have seen the film since 1972. It has essentially the same message as the Left Behind novels: Millions mysteriously disappear when the Rapture comes to snatch them away. Those who are left behind must deal with the Antichrist government. It is, then, a common notion that the Rapture will come as a “thief in the night” to remove the Christians from the earth before the Tribulation begins.
However, a study of the use of the expression “a thief in the night” does not point directly to the Rapture. The following are the occurrences of the expression or a similar one:
· Matthew 24:43 and Luke 12:39: In these passages, Jesus is warning His disciples to be ready, just as a home owner would set a watch if he knew at what time a thief was coming. In the Matthew passage, Dispensationalists believe this is discussing the Second Coming of Christ and not the Rapture, which they believe occurs seven years before. The entire context of Matthew 24 is certainly about the Second Coming, with or without the Rapture, depending on one’s point of view. The Luke passage contains much of the same wording as the passage in Matthew and appears to be referring to the same event. So, most interpreters would agree that this “thief” reference is about the Second Coming of Christ. It is not about a secret Rapture that suddenly occurs before the Tribulation period.
· II Peter 3:10: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” This is part of a passage in which Peter warns of scoffers who will come and make fun of the “‘coming’ [Parousia] he promised…” Peter warns that God will keep His promises, including the destruction of the earth. Peter’s brief account of last things is not easy to fit into schemes of eschatology. However, the point is that the coming of the Day of the Lord “like a thief” is referring to a Day of judgment and destruction and not to a secret Rapture.
· Revelation 3:3: “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” This is from the letter to the church at Sardis, one of the seven churches that Jesus writes to in Revelation. It is a church that is characterized as being “dead.” It is warned to wake up and repent. Jesus warns that, if they do not wake up, He is going to come like a thief. It is evident from the context of the entire letter that Jesus will come in judgment for that church. So, His coming is not to carry out a secret Rapture, but to judge the disobedient members of the church that had apostasized.
· Revelation 16:14-16: “For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (‘Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!’) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (English Standard Version) This passage (Revelation 16:12-16) describes the preparation for the Battle of Armageddon, what many believe will be the last great battle that takes place as Jesus returns to the earth and destroys all who are aligned with the Antichrist. Right in the middle of that description, there is an interjection. In “red letter” Bibles it is more dramatic than the parentheses used in the ESV. It is obvious that Jesus is speaking. He is telling people to be ready when He comes like a thief. When will that be? One could rationalize an interpretation that would understand a reference to a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. However, the context is obviously discussing the Battle of Armageddon. It seems more likely that Jesus is referring to His Second Coming at the Battle of Armageddon and not to a secret Rapture.
In all of these instances of a “thief” expression, the context points more to judgment than to Rapture. It does not mean that Rapture will not be a part of the coming thief. But it seems that the persons who are surprised by the thief are the ones who are not ready. If one follows through the warnings and admonitions in Matthew 24, Jesus is saying that people who are engaged in faithful service will not be surprised by the thief in the night. Those who are oblivious, as in the days of Noah, those who are wicked and cruel to their fellow servants, those who have not prepared themselves spiritually, like the foolish virgins—these are the ones who are not prepared for the sudden arrival of the Lord.
So, the world may be lulled into false security in the days before the Second Coming. “Peace and safety” will be the watchword. Then, suddenly, destruction comes upon them. Pentecost has some very confusing thoughts about this particular verse (209-210). His conclusion is that an “announcement” of “peace and safety” will lull some in the church into lethargy before the Rapture. I think it is odd that he considers this verse to refer to a literal “announcement” of “peace and safety.” In fact the sentence uses a vague “they” (that is, a third person plural verb with no express subject), which implies to me that this is simply characterizing the times. Second, I think it is odd that he considers that it is an announcement to the church. There is no warrant for that conclusion. It appears more likely to refer to the world at large. It also creates a bit of a contradiction for his theology of the Rapture. For he believes the Rapture will occur suddenly, at any time, without warning. This “announcement” would be a “sign” that could be interpreted by some and thus be a precursor to the Rapture. Moreover, because he applies this to the church, he is saying that some in the church will experience “sudden destruction.” I would have to assume his time line would be as follows:
1. Announcement of “peace and safety” lulls some in the church into lethargy
3. Sudden destruction of those in the church who are in lethargy
The Tribulation period is seven years with many different developments (for example, the rise of the Antichrist/Beast). From the descriptions in Revelation, it does not appear that the Tribulation disasters will come so fast that they are characterized as a “thief in the night.” If there were a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, then, I would concede that, if some in the church are left behind due to their lethargy, then they would have a sense of crisis. Whether this would be “sudden destruction” is not clear.
My interpretation of these verses is that in the last days before the Second Coming, there will be a general spiritual malaise among all people, as Jesus said it was in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37). There will be no concern and many will be either reassuring one another that there is, or soon will be, “peace and safety.” Just as this becomes the watchword of the world, suddenly the Lord will return in judgment. This spiritual condition would not necessarily apply to all, however, for many will know the Lord and will be ready for His return.
WHAT DOES THE DESCRIPTION OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS, DAY AND NIGHT, SAY ABOUT THE TRIBULATION, RAPTURE/RESURRECTION, AND THE SECOND COMING?
“But you, brothers, are not in darkness, so that the Day should come upon you like a thief.” With verse 4, Paul begins a series of comparisons between the people of God and the world at large. The people of God are “sons of the light and sons of the Day.” Paul has already referred to the “Day of the Lord.” One would assume that for the people to be “sons of the Day,” they would have within them the characteristics of the Day of the Lord. In Romans 8:18-25, Paul writes of the conditions of the creation at this time. That condition he characterizes as “futility” (ESV, NIV uses “frustration”). But this futility is mixed with hope, so that all creation groans as it awaits the glory of freedom from corruption. We also groan within us, waiting for our own release from the corruption of our bodies through the resurrection. Also, the Holy Spirit Himself groans within us. Our environment in the present order of existence is one of futility and bondage to decay. But we are Sons of the Day, or, as Paul puts it in the Romans passage, have the firstfruits of the resurrection within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Our longing is for the Day.
We are also Sons of the Light—the Light of God’s purity and God’s revelation knowledge. So, though the world is in darkness, we are not in darkness. Pentecost, as he interprets this passage, makes a contrast of periods of time: “The contrast…is between light
and darkness, between wrath and salvation from that wrath. I Thessalonians 5:2 indicates that this wrath and darkness is that of the Day of the Lord…Paul clearly teaches in [5:9] that our expectation and appointment is not to wrath and darkness, but rather to salvation, and [5:10] indicates the method of that salvation, namely, to ‘live together with him.’” (Pentecost, 217)
However, note carefully the logic of the passage:
1. You Christians know that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.
2. Just when people feel secure, sudden destruction will come upon them.
3. But you are not in a state of darkness so that the Day will come upon you like a thief.
Suppose we understand the Day of the Lord to be the Tribulation period. Then we have the following chronology:
1. Present condition of things
3. Day of the Lord/Tribulation period
If we assume that the Rapture/Resurrection event is more or less instantaneous, then we have number 1 and number 3 back to back. Those who are feeling secure will be surprised by a thief in the night/darkness. That means that the present condition of things is characterized by darkness/night. This is certainly Biblical. For example “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (I John 5:19b, ESV) However, this scenario does not accord with Pentecost’s characterization of the passage. He is saying that the Day of the Lord is the darkness (see quote above). Moreover, he is saying (anticipating verse 10) that salvation is salvation from that period of darkness. My point is not that the Tribulation period will be absent of darkness. My point is that the logic of I Thessalonians 5:1-4 would force us to admit that darkness is present in the present condition of things. We Christians live as Sons of the Light and Sons of Day in an environment where most people are groping in darkness. That is certainly standard evangelical understanding.
If we were to change the chronology somewhat, we might ask how it would fit the logic of the passage.
1. Conditions of the Tribulation period
2. Second Coming of Christ resulting in
a. Rapture/Resurrection of the righteous
b. Destruction of the Antichrist and all who follow him
If we consider that most people will be in darkness/night during event 1, then event 2 will mean sudden destruction coming upon them like a thief in the night. Christians, however, would be children of the light/Day and that day would not shock and surprise them. They may not know the exact day or hour, but they would have a good idea of what is going on. They would not be spiritually oblivious, as the people of Noah’s day. They would be doing faithfully their duties and treating their fellow servants right and be caught so doing. They would have the spiritual oil in their lamps, ready for the coming of the bridegroom. (See Matthew 24:36-25:13.)
Note that this discussion has not eliminated a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. It has demonstrated that the present passage does not teach salvation from the Tribulation period. It, rather, teaches that Christians are different from their environment. They have a down-payment on the Resurrection within them in the Person of the Holy Spirit. They anticipate that day when all creation will be released from the present bondage of decay. They are Sons of the Light and of the Day in the midst of the darkness and the night. So that Day will not come in surprise and sudden destruction.
ADMONITIONS TO SOBER LIVING:It is often the case that the Bible puts “being” and “doing” together. So, Paul, having described the people of God as children of the Day, now admonishes them to act like it. They
should keep awake—or alert and sober. Extending his figure of speech, he reminds them that people sleep or get drunk at night, but they are of the day and so should live like Monday morning, not like Saturday night.
THE CHRISTIAN ARMOR:
Paul, in Ephesians, uses the metaphor of Christian armor in spiritual warfare. Though warfare is not the subject in I Thessalonians 5, the idea of conflict is inevitable when people of light are living in an environment of darkness. In contrast to the extended metaphor in Ephesians 6, Paul mentions only two pieces of armor—the breastplate of faith and hope and the helmet of the hope of salvation. These three qualities—faith, hope, and love—are brought together in I Corinthians 13:13 as the qualities that “abide.” Paul calls the Thessalonians to soberness as he reminds them of their armor. Christians can live with eyes wide open, aware of their environment, but also assured of their protection from God.
WHAT DOES “WRATH” IN 5:9 REFER TO?
Paul is continuing his thought about the Christian armor, especially the helmet of the hope of salvation. I believe that I am accurate in interpreting Paul’s use of “hope” to be the future component of faith. (See Romans 8:18-25.) So we should not think of “hope” as a kind of wishful thinking. Just as faith is a deeply held conviction of spiritual realities, so hope is deeply held conviction that God has a great future for us. Paul then defines that great future briefly in verses 9-11: “For God has not destined us for 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.” (ESV) This appears to me to be a brief statement of the gospel, a restatement of John 3:16. At the same time, in verses 10-11, Paul ties together the thoughts of the immediate context and the thoughts of 4:13-18. He has been contrasting “awake” and “asleep” in 5:6-8 as a contrast in the spiritual conditions of the people of God and of the people of the world. Now, he changes that metaphor and reminds us of his previous discussion of those who “dead in Christ,” who have “fallen asleep,” and those who remain until the coming of the Lord. Notice that he contrasts “wrath” with our salvation through the death of Jesus. Because of that salvation we will live with Jesus. In 4:17 he says we will “always be with the Lord.” Note that the salvation that he is writing about is a salvation for both the living and the dead. That observation, I believe is significant in the discussion that follows.
The Dispensationalists, as they are represented by Pentecost, have a very different take on these verses. Pentecost characterizes the Tribulation period as a time of wrath (194-195). He gives a number of references to justify this. Among his citations are I Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 5:9. Note that 1:9-10 gives no hint that the Tribulation period is in view. His justification for including 5:9 is the reference to the “Day of the Lord” in 5:2 (See Pentecost, 217, where he is more explicit than in 194-195). So, as I have already indicated, he considers all of 5:1-11 to refer to the Tribulation period and the rescue of Christians from that period by the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. He quotes (195) Norman Harrison, who expands verse 5:9: “Wrath for others, but salvation for us at the rapture, ‘whether we wake or sleep.’” This ignores the fact that the dead will not need to be saved from the Tribulation period.
As I have already indicated Pentecost (217) maintains that the language of “darkness” and “night” and of the “Day of the Lord” is sufficient evidence that this passage is about the Tribulation. Then, verse 9 is a statement of salvation from the “wrath” of the Tribulation. I have already argued that Paul’s statement of salvation in 5:9-10 is consistent with other statements of salvation. We do not understand these statements of salvation as escaping the Tribulation:
· John 3:16: Though some strict Dispensationalists might want only to apply this to the Jews, it a statement of God’s love for the whole world, of His giving His Son, that whoever believes will “not perish but have eternal life.” This “eternal life” is literally “life of the ages.” That is, it is the life that has both the duration and the quality of ages to come.
· Acts 4:12: Although this was spoken to a Jewish audience, it does not appear to refer to escape from the Tribulation.
· Acts 13:26-49: Paul preached the message of salvation, especially forgiveness and justification to both Jews and Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch.
· Romans 1:16-17: The gospel is the power of God for salvation—for both Jews and Gentiles and brings about justification by faith.
· Romans 5:9: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” The Tribulation is nowhere in view in this passage. The “wrath” that is referred to is surely the eternal punishment reserved for sinners.
· Hebrews 5:9: “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” Note that it is an eternal salvation, not a temporary rescue from a seven-year period.
I have certainly not exhausted all the various statements of salvation in the New Testament. Nor can I say that I have made a thorough study of this issue. But it appears to me that elsewhere in Scripture, “salvation” refers to our justification, reconciliation, adoption, and regeneration now and our future resurrection and eternal inheritance as co-heirs with Jesus to live and reign with Him forever. I think some doubt is shed on Pentecost’s and others’ interpretation of 5:9 to refer to our escaping the Tribulation.
I want to turn attention now to the subject of wrath. Pentecost emphasizes that the Tribulation period is a period of wrath. I shall not argue that point from the perspective of analyzing the Tribulation, for that is a major subject. Instead I want to examine the uses of “wrath” in the New Testament. There are two Greek words that are translated “wrath”—orge and thumos. The following uses of these words are found in the New Testament:
1. Human anger: Mk. 3:5, Eph. 4:31, Col. 3:8, I Tim. 2:8, James 1:19 and 20, Lu. 4:28, Acts 19:28, II Cor. 12:20, Gal. 5:20, Heb. 11:27
2. The “here-and-now” punishment from God: Ro. 12:19, Ro. 13:4, Ro. 13:5, I Th. 2:16, Heb. 3:11, 4:3
3. Anger of God in the present and poured out in eternal punishment: Jo 3:36, Ro 1:18, Ro 2:5, Ro 2:8, Ro 3:5, Ro 4:15, Ro 5:9, Ro 9:22, Eph 2:3, Eph 5:6, Col 3:6, Rev. 11:18, Rev. 14:9-10
4. Outpouring of God’s wrath during the Tribulation period: Rev. 15:1, 15:7, 16:1, 16:19
5. Outpouring of God’s wrath at the return of Christ: Rev. 14:19-20 and 19:15
6. Ambiguous use: Mt. 3:7, Lu. 3:7, 21:23, I Th. 1:10, 5:9, Rev. 6:16-17
Numbers 1-3. I shall not discuss the first two in this list. I shall not consider the individual Scriptures in number 3, but I do point the utter importance of this concept. It is against this backdrop of the wrath of God that salvation is given to us. Notice that two of these Scriptures are in the book of Revelation. They are within chapters that some might identify as describing the Tribulation period. However, in each case, the description is unambiguously referring to eternal punishment of sinners.
Number 4. Chapters 15 and 16 of Revelation describe seven angels holding bowls who pour out the wrath of God upon the earth. This is unambiguously a description of God’s wrath being expressed during the Tribulation period. Pentecost (363) believes these events will take place toward the end of the Tribulation period.
Number 5. I have listed two texts in Revelation to represent an outpouring of God’s wrath at the return of Christ—Revelation 14:19-20 and 19:15. The first describes an angel harvesting grapes that are then thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath. When these grapes were trampled, blood flowed about five feet high for 180 miles. This would appear to refer to a terrible battle. In the following chapters the only clear reference to battle is Armageddon, which is “interrupted” by the Second Coming of Christ. This is why I have attributed this text to an outpouring of wrath at the Second Coming. The second text is in the very passage that describes the Second Coming of Christ. It also refers to the winepress of God’s wrath, so the two texts seem to be referring to the same thing.
Number 6. Finally, I have listed texts which I label “ambiguous. By that I mean, depending on one’s understanding, some or all of these texts might be taken to refer to the Tribulation period or to the final outpouring of wrath at the final judgment. Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 quote John the Baptist’s reference to the “wrath to come.” One could understand that as the Tribulation, but I tend to believe it refers to the final judgment. Luke 21:23 is in the midst of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. Luke’s version of this appears to focus on the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. The “wrath against this people” seems to mean the havoc wreaked by the Romans as a judgment on the Jews for rejection of Christ. Some might interpret it as referring to the Tribulation period. I have already discussed I Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9. This leaves the one other reference in Revelation.
Revelation 6:16-17 is probably the most difficult to interpret. Because of its placement in the book, many would understand it to refer to the Tribulation period. I have reservations about that. First, it is part of the events of the sixth seal. A case could be made that each of the series of seven (seals, trumpets, and bowls) in Revelation end up at the same place—the end of the Tribulation. So this could be just before the return of Christ. Notice what the people say: “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” This is said after five seals have already been opened, so it does not appear to apply to the whole Tribulation period. Some people try to make a case that only the second half of the Tribulation is “wrath.” I shall not try to discuss that. It seems that the whole description of the sixth seal is preparatory to the Second Coming. For that reason, I tend to believe that this text is not in reference to the Tribulation as being a time of wrath.
In a very brief way, I shall make a statement on the Tribulation. I have already made a case, I believe, that we should generally think of the wrath of God as being expressed in the final judgment and everlasting punishment. This is certainly not always true. The Old Testament has examples of the outpouring of God’s wrath and there are New Testament instances, but, generally, the Bible depicts the “wrath to come” as the Lake of Fire. I believe that most of the details of the Tribulation period are found in the book of Revelation, along with some Old Testament texts. If we follow through the descriptions in Revelation, it is certainly true that a lot of people are dying and suffering. In most of these cases, the dying in suffering is under the permissive hand of God. To give one example (in Revelation 9), an angel is given a key to the Abyss. When he unlocks the door, it as if all hell breaks loose as demonic creatures come to torment people. These creatures appear to have been kept at bay until this appointed time. They are not angelic messengers of God; they are demonic, but God gives them a set time to do their horrific work (for five months). In II Thessalonians 2 (which I shall discuss in my next article) Paul discusses the “mystery of lawlessness.” He indicates there is a certain restraint on that lawlessness now, but in the time of the Antichrist the restraint will be removed. So, as God allows all sort of evil to flood the human race, all that can be shaken will be shaken (see Hebrews 12:26-29). So it is not that God is not going to have a hand in the events of the Tribulation, but, with some exceptions, the evil that is done will be the realization of potential evil that is being held back at this time. In all of this, God seems to hold out a hope that men will repent (see Revelation 9:20-21).
Finally, I return to the present passage. There are two issues.
1. Is I Thessalonians 5:1-11 dealing with the Tribulation period? The only solid evidence for this is the mention of the Day of the Lord in verse 2. I am not prepared to debate the meaning of the “Day of the Lord.” The discussion of light and darkness and day and night could easily apply to the present situation, as I have discussed.
2. Does 5:9-10 provide evidence that the church will not go through the Tribulation? I do not believe it does. The salvation from wrath is much more likely to refer to salvation from eternal punishment.
I Thessalonians 5:1-11 is a commentary growing out of the events described in 4:13-18. In it Paul says that those who dwell in darkness will be shocked by the Day of the Lord. But the people of God, who are children of the light and of the Day will not be surprised in that way. He admonishes his readers to behave in a way that is consistent with their true being—to live alert, awake, and sober. They do that armed with faith, love, and hope of salvation. That salvation assures them that they will not experience the wrath of God’s eternal punishment, but will live eternally with Jesus. Dispensationalist ideas were discussed: for example, that this passage is a characterization of the Tribulation and that 5:9 assures Christians that they will escape the Tribulation. The statement in 5:9 is much more likely to be a statement of salvation from eternal punishment. The whole passage is more likely to be commentary on how Christians now (and, likely, during the Tribulation) live as sons of light in a dark world.
Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce Metzer, editors. The Greek New Testament. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 2001.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publ. Co., 1958.