Paul uses the concept of light and dark in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 to describe the difference between the church and the world. The Church, the Body of Christ, he says, is “in the light,” we are children of light. In contrast, the world is in the dark, unable to see what is really going on. What does Paul mean by “Walking in the Light”?
Paul is answering another question the Thessalonian church asked Timothy. The first question concerned the fate of those who had died in Christ: would they be left out of the Rapture? 1 Thessalonains 4:13-18 assured the church that the “dead in Christ” will rise first when Jesus returns for his church. Now Paul turns to a related subject, the timing of the Day of the Lord. This seems to be an issue for the church since Paul has already instructed them on the return of the Lord, and he must return the issue in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The church is likely asking, “When will the Lord return?” Or perhaps (like the disciples), “What will be the signs of his coming?” That Paul alludes to the teaching of Jesus in this paragraph is a hint that the question was not unlike that asked of Jesus in Matthew 24:3. But are these even the right questions to ask? Paul says you do not need to know the when or the signs of the end. Rather, Paul says that you are (as a believer) in the light, living in the daytime. So, act like it!
It may be that the Thessalonian church had been suffering persecution. Since they are suffering, there may have been a few in the church who thought this was the Great Tribulation. “But the divine wrath will not be poured out upon the church, which will instead be saved from that event (v. 9, Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 230).” The suffering you are facing right now, even if it is really bad, is not “The Great Tribulation.” The reason is simple: the church is simply not appointed to wrath.
When Paul says wrath, I think he means the “Great Day of God’s Wrath.” He cannot mean suffering since they are clearly suffering. All Christians should expect to suffer for their faith. In the context of their suffering and their questions about the “end times,” Paul is trying to comfort a congregation that thinks they may be enduring the wrath of God.
This is an important message for American Christians who think that the government is pushing us closer to the end times. It cannot. Those are appointed times, and it will not happen any faster if the “bad guys” are voted into office. The Anti-Christ is not running for office, even if politicians are against Christ. As Gene Green says, “Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective to hypothesize about the end nor to foster escapism” (230).
Paul wants to use the teaching of the Day of the Lord as an encouragement to live the Christian Life as fully and completely as possible. He says that his readers are “Sons of the Light and Sons of the Day,” and since they are in the Light, they need to realize that there are some responsibilities to living in the light. If you are a “child of the light,” you should act like it!