1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11 The day of the Lord
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
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Once again we have an expectation of the second coming of Jesus, bringing destruction and wrath.
“…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly … and they will not escape.”
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This brings me up against a hard question.
Do I believe that God will come in wrath and punish multitudes of human beings?
I don’t like this question. I wriggle and look for a way out. However, I have to say – and I could be completely wrong – that I don’t believe in a wrathful God.
Will there be an accounting? Yes, I guess so. I think I shall be required to examine and accept the consequences of how I have lived my life. When I see the effects of some of my sins, I imagine I shall be filled with deep contrition. When my errors of understanding are made plain to me – and everyone else – I expect I shall feel extremely foolish.
I shall be profoundly grateful for God’s grace to rescue me from being overwhelmed by guilt, shame and regret.
How do I account for the scriptural emphasis on the wrath of God?
I don’t believe in the literal truth of the bible. I think it shows the development of the human understanding of God, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a compilation from many sources and was agreed by the church in the late 4th century AD.
The human understanding of the nature of God depends on the understanding of those who recorded the workings of God in the world – those who wrote the scriptures that make up the bible.
At the time Paul was writing, the world was governed by autocrats with pretty much absolute power. This applied not just to the Roman emperor, but to local rulers like Herod, who had John the Baptist executed without charge or trial.
It was a society where punishment was extreme. For example, when God miraculously released Peter from prison, Herod had his guards executed. (Acts 12: 19) The Acts of the Apostles makes no comment on this, except to record that it happened.
Paul and the gospel writers would have expected an autocrat to use his power; they knew draconian punishments could be handed out arbitrarily. Slave owning was widespread, and a master could punish his slaves pretty much as he chose.
God is, of course, the ultimate autocrat. It is not surprising that Paul and the gospel writers should imagine him responding to wrongdoing, or shortcomings, with violence.
Not surprising – but not necessarily accurate.
If I have misunderstood your will in this matter, please do not let it lead others into error, and please correct me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.