The First to the Thessalonians 5:1-28
times or seasons: Two aspects of time are mentioned here. The plural form of the Greek word khroʹnos, rendered times, may refer to an unspecified period of time, long or short. The Greek word kai·rosʹ (sometimes rendered “appointed time[s]”; the plural form is here rendered seasons) is often used with reference to future time periods within God’s arrangement or timetable, particularly in relation to Christ’s presence and his Kingdom.—Ac 3:19; 1Th 5:1; see study notes on Mr 1:15; Lu 21:24.
the times and the seasons: See study note on Ac 1:7.
Jehovah: In this quote from Joe 2:31, the divine name, represented by four Hebrew consonants (transliterated YHWH), occurs in the original Hebrew text.—See App. C.
Jehovah’s day: Throughout the Scriptures, the expression “Jehovah’s day” (or “the day of Jehovah”) refers to special times when Jehovah God executes judgment on his enemies and glorifies his great name. The expression has its background in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Some examples are found at Isa 13:6; Eze 7:19; Joe 1:15; Am 5:18; Ob 15; Zep 1:14; Zec 14:1; Mal 4:5.) The prophet Joel speaks about “the coming of the great and awe-inspiring day of Jehovah.” (Joe 2:31) This scripture is quoted by Peter at Pentecost 33 C.E., as recorded at Ac 2:20. (See study note on Ac 2:20.) In the first fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, that “day of Jehovah” came upon Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. Here at 1Th 5:2, Paul speaks of a future day of Jehovah that corresponds to the “great tribulation” that Jesus foretold at Mt 24:21.—For the use of the divine name in this verse, see App. C3 introduction; 1Th 5:2.
as a thief in the night: Thieves will typically strike at night, quickly and unexpectedly. (Job 24:14; Jer 49:9; Mt 24:43) Likewise, Jehovah’s day will strike suddenly, taking people by surprise. (2Pe 3:10; Re 16:15) Faithful Christians obey the counsel to live in expectation of that day. (Lu 12:39; Re 3:3) While they too may be surprised by the sudden start of that day (Mt 24:42-44; Lu 12:40), they will not be caught off guard when it arrives (1Th 5:4).
pangs of distress: The Greek word literally refers to the intense pain experienced during childbirth. While it is used here to refer to distress, pain, and suffering in a general sense, it may suggest that like birth pains the foretold troubles and suffering will increase in frequency, intensity, and duration in the time period before the great tribulation mentioned at Mt 24:21.
sudden destruction is to be instantly on them: Paul here indicates that there will be little or no time between the proclamation of “peace and security” and the destruction that will come upon those making that cry. It will be sudden and inescapable. The Greek phrase contains two terms (rendered “sudden” and “be instantly on”) to emphasize the striking suddenness with which the destruction will come. A similar combination of terms appears at Lu 21:34, where the coming of Jehovah’s day is described.
just like birth pains on a pregnant woman: Labor pains come suddenly; there is no way of foreknowing the exact day and hour. However, Paul’s metaphor stresses the suddenness and inevitability of the coming destruction. Once labor pains begin, a woman knows that an unstoppable process has begun.—Compare study note on Mt 24:8.
they will by no means escape: Paul here uses two negatives (lit., “not not escape”) to emphasize that it will be impossible for the wicked to escape the “sudden destruction” that will come “instantly on them.”
overtake you as it would thieves: Some Bible translations convey this idea: “overtake you as a thief would.” This rendering is based on a number of ancient Greek manuscripts that use the singular form “thief” as the subject of the clause. However, having “thieves” as the object of the clause also has good manuscript support. This rendering would fit the context, where Paul says that “you are not in darkness” but are “all sons of light and sons of day.” (1Th 5:5) In either case, the main idea is that Christians should not be taken by surprise by the coming of Jehovah’s day.
as it would thieves: At 1Th 5:2, Paul likens Jehovah’s day to a thief who comes suddenly, without warning. Here, though, Paul apparently shifts the picture, comparing Jehovah’s day to the dawn. That dawn brings light that exposes the activity of thieves, such as house burglars, who steal under the cloak of darkness. (Job 24:14; Joh 3:20) However, the morning light might “overtake” thieves who become so absorbed in stealing that the dawn surprises them. Unlike thieves, true Christians are to be “sons of light,” who belong neither to the night nor to the darkness. (1Th 5:5) The comparisons that Paul uses, both the one in verse 2 and the one in verse 4, emphasize that Christians need to remain spiritually vigilant.
sleep on: In the Bible, the Greek word here rendered “sleep on” was often used to refer to literal sleep. (Mt 8:24; Mr 4:38; 1Th 5:7) However, it could also be used as a metaphor for one who is apathetic, or indifferent, and fails to remain alert. When a person is sleeping, he generally does not know what is going on around him and is unaware of the passing of time. Likewise, one who is spiritually asleep fails to discern important developments related to Jehovah’s purpose and the swift approach of His day. Here Paul warns Christians to avoid sleeping on “as the rest do,” imagining God’s day of judgment to be far off.—2Pe 3:10-12.
keep our senses: Lit., “may we be sober.” The Greek word used here also appears at 1Th 5:8; 2Ti 4:5; 1Pe 1:13; 4:7 (“be vigilant”); 5:8.
your faithful work, your loving labor, and your endurance because of your hope: Paul links the qualities of faith, love, and hope with the activity of the Thessalonian Christians. In Greek, the words here rendered “faithful,” “loving,” and “hope” are actually nouns. So this passage could also be translated “your work based on faith, your earnest effort out of love, and your endurance based on hope.” These qualities stimulated the Thessalonian Christians to work hard and to persevere in God’s service. The Bible repeatedly connects zeal in God’s service with the qualities of faith, love, and hope.—1Co 13:13; Ga 5:5, 6; Col 1:4, 5; 1Th 5:8; Heb 6:10-12; 10:22-24; 1Pe 1:21, 22.
the helmet of salvation: A Roman soldier’s helmet protected his head, face, and neck. Paul uses the helmet to symbolize a Christian’s hope for salvation by God. (1Th 5:8) As a helmet protects the head, so the Christian’s hope of salvation protects his mind, his thinking faculties. Satan subtly promotes such poisonous influences as selfishness, hatred, and disloyalty. By focusing on the Christian hope—figuratively wearing hope like a helmet—the Christian rejects any negative influence on his thinking. (Mr 7:20-22; 2Co 4:4; Re 12:9) Satan also promotes direct persecution, but the hope of salvation helps a Christian maintain his joy even under dire circumstances. (Isa 12:2; Mt 5:11, 12) In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jehovah is said to wear salvation, or victory, as a figurative helmet. (Isa 59:17; ftn.) God keeps ever in mind his intent to save his people and to gain victory.—Jer 29:11.
the breastplate of faith and love: In this verse, Paul uses two pieces of armor to illustrate three important Christian qualities—faith, love, and hope. (See study note on the hope of salvation as a helmet in this verse and study note on 1Th 1:3.) Just as a breastplate protects a soldier’s heart, so faith and love protect a Christian’s figurative heart. In order to emphasize that such qualities are vital to a Christian’s life, Paul likens them to the equipment worn by a warrior whose life is endangered on the battlefield. At Eph 6:14, Paul uses the breastplate to represent the quality of “righteousness.”
the hope of salvation as a helmet: Just as a helmet protects a soldier’s head, so the hope of salvation protects a Christian’s mind. Paul mentions this figurative helmet, as well as “the breastplate of faith and love,” when he discusses the importance of staying awake spiritually. (1Th 5:6, 7) A Christian who has this helmet on his head looks “intently toward the payment of the reward,” as Moses did. (Heb 11:26) If he keeps his hope of salvation strong, he will stay awake spiritually.—See study note on Eph 6:17.
has not died but is sleeping: In the Bible, death is often likened to sleep. (Ps 13:3; Joh 11:11-14; Ac 7:60; 1Co 7:39; 15:51; 1Th 4:13) Jesus was going to bring the girl back to life, so he may have said this because he would demonstrate that just as people can be awakened from a deep sleep, they can be brought back from death. Jesus’ power to resurrect the girl came from his Father, “who makes the dead alive and calls the things that are not as though they are.”—Ro 4:17.
asleep: Or “asleep in death.” The Greek word rendered “are asleep” is used in connection with being dead. (Mt 9:24; Mr 5:39 and study note; Lu 8:52) Here at 1Th 5:10, Paul apparently speaks of being awake or asleep in the sense of being alive or dead.
encourages: Or “exhorts.” The Greek word pa·ra·ka·leʹo literally means “to call to one’s side.” It is broad in meaning and may convey the idea “to encourage” (Ac 11:23; 14:22; 15:32; 1Th 5:11; Heb 10:25); “to comfort” (2Co 1:4; 2:7; 7:6; 2Th 2:17); and in some contexts “to urge strongly; to exhort” (Ac 2:40; Ro 15:30; 1Co 1:10; Php 4:2; 1Th 5:14; 2Ti 4:2; Tit 1:9, ftn.). The close relationship between exhortation, comfort, and encouragement would indicate that a Christian should never exhort someone in a harsh or unkind way.
keep encouraging: Or “keep comforting,” as the same Greek word is rendered at 1Th 4:18.—See study note on Ro 12:8.
presiding over you: Or “directing you; taking the lead among you.” The Greek word pro·iʹste·mi literally means “to stand before (in front of)” and may include the ideas of leading, conducting, directing, showing an interest in, and caring for others.
admonishing: The Greek word used here (nou·the·teʹo) combines the words for “mind” (nous) and “to put” (tiʹthe·mi). It could literally be rendered “to put mind in.” In some contexts, it could convey the idea of “to warn,” as at 1Th 5:14.
give them extraordinary consideration: This expression emphasizes the affection and high esteem that Christians should have for those who are “working hard” among them. (1Th 5:12) The Greek word translated “extraordinary” is a strong expression combining Greek terms meaning “beyond,” “exceeding,” and “abundantly.”
admonishing: The Greek word used here (nou·the·teʹo) combines the words for “mind” (nous) and “to put” (tiʹthe·mi). It could literally be rendered “to put mind in.” In some contexts, it could convey the idea of “to warn,” as at 1Th 5:14.
encourages and consoles: The Greek words pa·raʹkle·sis (translated “encourages”) and pa·ra·my·thiʹa (translated “consoles”) both convey the idea of “encouragement,” but the word pa·ra·my·thiʹa denotes an even greater degree of tenderness and comfort. The related verb pa·ra·my·theʹo·mai is used at Joh 11:19, 31 regarding the Jews who went to console Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus.—See also 1Th 5:14, where the verb is rendered “speak consolingly.”
patience: Or “long-suffering.” The Greek word could literally be rendered “longness of spirit” (Kingdom Interlinear) and denotes calm endurance, forbearance, and slowness to anger. Jehovah God is the supreme example of patience. (Ro 2:4; 9:22; 1Ti 1:16; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9, 15) Paul mentions patience as an essential aspect of Christian love.—1Co 13:4; see App. A2.
warn: Or “admonish.”—See study note on 1Th 5:12.
the disorderly: The Greek word for “disorderly” was often used regarding soldiers who broke ranks or who were undisciplined. First-century historian Josephus used the term to describe troops that “advanced in disorder.” In colloquial Greek, the word could describe an idle, lazy person, but more often it referred to someone who did not submit to accepted norms. Paul here uses the term in a broad sense to describe those in the Christian congregation who were unruly, disobedient, and guilty of significantly deviating from Christian standards.—1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:6.
speak consolingly: The Greek verb for “speak consolingly” (pa·ra·my·theʹo·mai) is also used at Joh 11:19, 31 regarding the Jews who went to console Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. It denotes a great degree of tenderness and comfort.—See study note on 1Co 14:3, where the related noun is rendered “consoles.”
those who are depressed: Or “those who are discouraged.” The Greek word used here (o·li·goʹpsy·khos) can literally be rendered “those of little soul.” Ancient Greek writers used a term with the opposite meaning, “those of great soul,” to refer to those who were self-confident and self-sufficient. So the term Paul here uses seems to include a lack of self-worth. The same Greek term was used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew equivalents rendered “anxious” and “grief-stricken.” (Isa 35:4; 54:6) Some of those Thessalonian Christians may have been discouraged because of persecution or because of grief over the death of fellow believers. (1Th 2:14; 4:13-18) Paul does not urge fellow Christians to admonish or warn the depressed. Rather, he asks that Christians comfort or console them.—See study note on speak consolingly in this verse.
be patient toward all: The Greek words referring to “patience” denote calm endurance and slowness to anger, qualities that Jehovah and Jesus constantly show in their dealings with humans. (Ro 2:4; 9:22; 1Ti 1:16; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9, 15; see study note on Ga 5:22.) As imitators of Jehovah and Jesus, Christians are to be patient. (1Co 11:1; Eph 5:1) The Greek verb for “to be patient” is used twice in Jesus’ illustration about two slaves, each of whom pleaded: “Be patient with me.” (Mt 18:26, 29) The unforgiving “wicked slave” refused to be patient and merciful, in contrast with the master, whom Jesus uses to picture his heavenly Father. (Mt 18:30-35) Jesus’ illustration and the use of the same verb at 2Pe 3:9 suggest that being patient with others includes being forgiving and merciful.
Pray constantly: Paul was not expecting the Thessalonians to pray at every moment. Rather, he was encouraging them to have a prayerful attitude, always looking to God for guidance, ever conscious of the need for dependence on him in all aspects of life. (Pr 3:6) In several of his other letters, Paul gave similar encouragement.—Ro 12:12; Eph 6:18; Php 4:6; Col 4:2.
Be aglow with the spirit: The Greek word rendered “aglow” literally means “to boil.” Here it is used metaphorically to convey the idea of one overflowing with or radiating zeal and enthusiasm as a result of the influence of God’s “spirit” (Greek, pneuʹma), or active force. This spirit can motivate and energize a person to do things in accord with Jehovah’s will. (See study note on Mr 1:12.) Being “aglow” with God’s holy spirit would also affect the impelling force that issues from a person’s figurative heart, filling him with zeal and enthusiasm for what is right. While some feel that this Greek expression is simply an idiom for great eagerness and enthusiasm, the rendering in the main text favors the idea that “the spirit” here is God’s holy spirit.—For a discussion of some principles of Bible translation exemplified by the rendering of the Greek phrase discussed here, see App. A1.
aglow with the spirit: Lit., “boiling to the spirit.” The Greek word rendered “aglow” literally means “to boil,” but here it is used metaphorically to convey the idea of overflowing with or radiating zeal and enthusiasm. In this expression, the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuʹma) apparently refers to God’s holy spirit, which can act as a driving force, moving and energizing a person to do things in accord with Jehovah’s will. (See study note on Mr 1:12.) However, the term “spirit” may also refer to the impelling force that issues from a person’s figurative heart and causes him to say and do things in a certain way. So this verse may express a combined idea of a person showing zeal and enthusiasm for what is right as he is guided by God’s spirit. However, some feel that in this context, this expression is simply an idiom for great eagerness and enthusiasm. If so, this may explain how Apollos could be “aglow with the spirit” even though he was unacquainted with baptism in the name of Jesus. In either case, Apollos’ spirit needed to be guided by God’s spirit in order for him to show enthusiasm for the right things and to be willing to accept teachings that were more accurate.—See Glossary, “Spirit.”
Do not put out the fire of the spirit: The expression “put out the fire” renders a single Greek verb that literally means “to extinguish; to quench.” At Mr 9:48 and Heb 11:34, it is used in connection with symbolic and literal fire. Here Paul uses it in a figurative sense about God’s “spirit,” or active force. This spirit can be like a fire within Christians, causing them to “be aglow” with that force, invigorating them to speak and act in harmony with Jehovah’s will. (See Ro 12:11 and study note; see study note on Ac 18:25.) A Christian whose thinking and actions are in harmony with the flesh would be disregarding God’s holy spirit, in effect, extinguishing it within his own heart.—Ga 5:17; 1Th 4:8.
prophecies: That is, messages from God. (See Glossary, “Prophecy.”) To treat divinely inspired messages with contempt means viewing them as of no value, ignoring them, and rejecting them disdainfully.
prove to yourselves: The Greek term used here, do·ki·maʹzo, carries the sense of “proving by testing,” often with a positive outcome. In fact, the term is rendered “approve” in some contexts. (Ro 2:18; 1Co 11:28) Some translations render it “verify; discern.” So Paul was not advising blind faith or skepticism. Rather, he was encouraging Christians to test, in a positive way, God’s requirements in order to understand them, to apply them, and to experience their goodness. The Christian thus proves to himself that doing the “will of God” is the good and perfect way.
Make sure of: The Greek word used by the apostle Paul for to “make sure of” could also be rendered to “test.” This Greek word means to examine and scrutinize something to see if it is genuine. It was used in connection with testing precious metals. Paul uses the same Greek word at Ro 12:2 (see study note) in the expression “prove to yourselves.”
Make sure of all things: This statement shows that Christians must make sure that “all things” they accept as their beliefs are in harmony with God’s will. (Compare Ac 17:11.) In this context, Paul specifically says in verse 20: “Do not treat prophecies with contempt.” This warning indicates that the Thessalonian Christians were to “make sure” that any prophecies they put faith in were truly from God. In the first century C.E., some of Christ’s followers had the gift of prophecy. (Ro 12:6; 1Co 14:1-3) Yet, Jesus foretold that false prophets would also appear. (Mt 24:11, 24; Mr 13:22) Christians should consider the sort of person delivering the prophecy (Mt 7:16-20) and note whether its content harmonized with the inspired Scriptures. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (c. 50 C.E.), Matthew’s Gospel was likely the only part of the Christian Greek Scriptures already written. So to determine whether a prophecy or a teaching was truly from God, they needed to rely heavily on a careful study of the Hebrew Scriptures.
hand such a man over to Satan: This was a command to expel, or disfellowship, a man from the congregation. (1Co 5:13; 1Ti 1:20) The man would then become part of the world over which Satan is the god and ruler. (1Jo 5:19) The person’s expulsion would result in the destruction of the flesh, or the removal of the corrupting element from the congregation. As a result, the congregation’s positive spirit, or dominant attitude, would be preserved.—2Ti 4:22.
with the spirit you show: Lit., “with your spirit.” The term “spirit” in this context refers to the impelling inner force or dominant mental inclination that causes a person to say or do things in a certain way. For example, the Scriptures speak of “the quiet and mild spirit” (1Pe 3:4) and “a spirit of mildness” (Ga 6:1). At 2Ti 1:7, Paul mentions a spirit “of power and of love and of soundness of mind” in contrast with “a spirit of cowardice.” He then concludes the letter to Timothy by saying: “The Lord be with the spirit you show.” (2Ti 4:22) Just as an individual can show a certain spirit, so can a group of people. Here in his concluding words to the Galatians, as well as in his letter to the Philippians, Paul uses the Greek plural pronoun (“you; your”) to express his desire that all in these congregations show a spirit that is in harmony with God’s will and the example set by Christ.—Php 4:23.
presence: This is the first of six times that Paul mentions Christ’s presence in his two letters to the Thessalonians. (See Glossary, “Presence”; see also “Introduction to 1 Thessalonians.”) Paul looks forward to the presence of the Lord Jesus, and he delights in the prospect that his dear fellow believers would be rewarded during that time. Later in the letter, he prays that they be found “blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”—1Th 3:13; see study note on 1Co 15:23.
the spirit and soul and body of you brothers: Paul’s intense concern for the spiritual welfare of the entire first-century Christian congregation is reflected in his prayerful, heartfelt petition (verses 23, 24) in behalf of the brothers in Thessalonica. In this context, the three terms apparently have the following meaning: spirit, that is, the dominant attitude of the congregation (see study notes on 1Co 5:5; Ga 6:18; and Glossary, “Spirit”); soul, that is, the life, or existence, of the congregation (see Glossary, “Soul”); body, that is, the composite group of anointed Christians who make up the congregation. (Compare 1Co 12:12, 13.) Paul’s intense concern for the congregation is evident in his asking that God sanctify them “completely” and that He preserve them “sound in every respect.”
at the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ: See study note on 1Th 2:19.
with a holy kiss: In four of his letters (here and at 1Co 16:20; 2Co 13:12; 1Th 5:26), Paul encourages his fellow Christians to greet one another “with a holy kiss.” The apostle Peter used a similar expression: “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (1Pe 5:14) In Bible times, people would give a kiss as a token of affection, respect, or peace. It was also common to kiss when greeting someone or saying goodbye. (Ru 1:14; Lu 7:45) This practice was customary between male and female relatives (Ge 29:11; 31:28), between male relatives, and between close friends (Ge 27:26, 27; 45:15; Ex 18:7; 1Sa 20:41, 42; 2Sa 14:33; 19:39; see study note on Ac 20:37). Among Christians, such expressions of affection reflected the brotherhood and spiritual oneness of those united by true worship. They were not given as a mere formalism or ritual nor with any romantic or erotic overtones.—Joh 13:34, 35.
with a holy kiss: See study note on Ro 16:16.
the Lord: In a context like this, “the Lord” could refer either to Jehovah God or to Jesus Christ. When the Hebrew Scripture background and the context provide no clear support for restoring the divine name, the New World Bible Translation Committee retained the rendering “Lord” so as not to overstep the bounds of a translator. (See App. C1.) While some translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew and other languages use the divine name here, in this context “Lord” could well refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.—1Th 5:28.
In the first century, Roman soldiers wore various types of breastplates to protect their chest and back. High-ranking officers wore a cuirass (1), a two-piece metallic breastplate that conformed to their body. The front was attached to the back by hinges on one side and buckles or laces on the other. Many soldiers wore a breastplate made of iron- or copper-alloy scales (2). The scales were attached to a backing made of leather or linen. Others wore mail armor over a leather jacket (3). The mail consisted of thousands of iron rings arranged in interconnecting rows. It provided strong protection and weighed less than the other breastplates. Paul used the breastplate to illustrate the protective qualities of righteousness, faith, and love.—Eph 6:14; 1Th 5:8.
This picture represents two of the types of helmets used by Roman soldiers in the first century. Such helmets were made of either bronze or iron. They were bowl-shaped and had a neck guard; hinged pieces covered the cheeks. Most helmets also had a brow guard to deflect blows directed toward the soldier’s face. All helmets included a lining and were usually padded to enable a soldier to wear them for long periods of time. Apparently, soldiers had to buy their own armor, including the helmet. Paul used a helmet to illustrate a vital source of protection. Just as a helmet protected a soldier’s head from life-threatening blows, “the hope of salvation” can protect a Christian’s thinking ability and future life prospects.—1Th 5:8, 9; Tit 1:2.
These artifacts show some of the writing materials available in the first century C.E. Writers may have used a pen that was cut from the type of reed that grew along the Nile River. They normally used inexpensive black ink that was held in an inkwell. They wrote on a variety of surfaces, such as wooden tablets, clay fragments, parchment, or papyrus. A writer could compose a long letter on a scroll of papyrus and trim off the extra length for later use. For a short letter, the writer could purchase one sheet, which the vendor would cut off a roll. Most letters were brief. For example, Paul’s letter to Philemon would be considered of average length. The majority of the books in the Christian Greek Scriptures are letters, written by Jesus’ disciples under inspiration.