The war in which we fight will end one day soon. It is important for us to understand that. The study of prophecy and future things is designed to give us hope for the future and perspective for the present. If we are confused about the plan of God and how it works its way out, and about His timetable for human history, then we will be disoriented in day-to-day life. We have to maintain balance, being careful not to be so focused on the future that we lose sight of today or so distracted by today that we forget why we are here and where we are going.
And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"' He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (ACT 2:6-8)
This exchange took place between the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. The imperfect tense in the phrase "they were asking Him," indicates that the disciples kept asking Jesus this same question over and over again.
"At this time" is literally "at this age." The word translated "age," chronos, from which we get "chronology," is one of four Greek words for time. The disciples understand something about dispensations, and they are thinking about the chronology of events. They see that the cross was followed by the burial and resurrection, and now Christ has been with them for almost 40 days, and what they are saying is this: "In light of the fact that You have gone to the cross, paid for our sins, and provided salvation, are You now—in light of that chronology—going to restore the kingdom to Israel?
"Restore" means "to return to a former state." The disciples are referring to the Old Testament promises declaring that Messiah will establish a kingdom that will never be shaken. They have in mind the Davidic Covenant of 2SA 7:10-16 where an eternal kingdom, an eternal throne, and an eternal posterity were promised to David. They are ready for Jesus—who they obviously know is the promised Messiah—to overthrow the Romans and set up that kingdom on earth now.
But there is a flaw in their thinking. The disciples have not picked up on the fact that for the last 40 days Jesus has been talking not about the "kingdom of Israel," but about the "kingdom of God" (ACT 1:3). The two are not the same.
The Son of David had come and offered Himself to the Jews as Messiah, as their king, but they had rejected Him (MAT 23:39). The establishment of the kingdom of Israel would now be postponed, as God initiated something totally unexpected. The prophecies of Daniel had implied that there would be some sort of break in the chronology of Israel's history, that there would be a period of time between a first and second coming of Messiah (DAN 9:2). That period of time is the Church Age, during which the kingdom of God is being established.
This kingdom, which Jesus had begun to introduce in the Upper Room Discourse, was what He had been trying to tell the disciples about since His resurrection. It is a spiritual kingdom, one that we enter the instant we place faith in Jesus Christ—as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God" (JOH 1:12). "Therefore," Paul would later explain, "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come" (2CO 5:17).
In response to the disciples' questions about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, Jesus uses the emphatic negative to tell them that it is absolutely not for them to know "the times and the epochs which the Father has fixed." The word translated "fixed," tithemi, refers to something that has been set down in concrete. God has set down in concrete the plan of human history; He has fixed it by His own authority.
God has a blueprint for history, but Jesus tells His men that they do not need to concern themselves about that right now. What they need to focus on is the fact that they will soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit. From Acts 2, we know that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended and took up residence in every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. A new age had begun.
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief, for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.
But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1TH 5:1-11)
In ACT 1:7, Jesus told the disciples that it was emphatically not for them to know the times and epochs that God had fixed. Twenty years later Paul, writing about the same times and epochs—the chronos and kairos, the chronology and the fixed seasons—indicates that the Thessalonian believers "know full well." The Greek aida is the word for "complete, full, mature knowledge." Akribos means "with accuracy, precisely."
Why did the disciples in Acts 1 not know and the people in Thessalonica know full well? Because in the intervening years, the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostle Paul the outline of God's plan for history. To Paul alone was given the full revelation of the "mystery" of the Church Age—the uniqueness of its place in the dispensations of God and the uniqueness of the divine provisions given to all Church-Age believers.
Paul is not saying that these people know exactly when the Lord is going to return—no one knows or can know the date and time. But he is reminding them that they do know the order of things.
Notice the distinction he draws in this passage between "them" and "us." Paul draws two important distinctions in 1 Thessalonians. One is between two very different kinds of people, "them" and "us." The other is between two very different days, "the day of Christ" and "the day of the Lord."
"The day of Christ," described in 1TH 4:13-18, is the Rapture of the Church. It will happen in a split-second, in the "twinkling of an eye" (1CO 15:51), and will be a day of blessing for all who believe. "The day of the Lord," described in 1CO 1:10 and 1CO 5:1-11 is the Tribulation. It will last seven years and will be a horrible time of wrath and judgment for those who do not believe.
It is in his discussion of the day of the Lord that Paul draws the distinctions between "them" and "us." "They" will be saying, "peace and safety," and will be caught unaware by the sudden destruction that "will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs."
Jesus described these "birth pangs" in Matthew 24 and 25. The Lord told His disciples that while they would not know the day and the hour of the things that were about to happen, they would be able to recognize the season, and were to look up and take notice when it approached. Like birth pangs, He said, the signs would increase in intensity. Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes in many places—all these things would start out small and far apart and would get more and more intense and come closer and closer together.
The "birth" is the deliverance of the children of God. Jesus will come and call His family out of this world at the Rapture. That act, on the day of Christ, will initiate the day of the Lord. That is why Paul can say that what happens to them is not going to happen to us. Sudden destruction is coming on them, and they will not escape, but it will not overtake us. We do not have to worry about it because we are not of the darkness, but of the light.
Because of all that is about to happen, we are not to sleep, but to be alert and sober. When Paul talked in 1 Thessalonians 4 about those who "sleep," he used the word koimao, which means "to recline or to take rest," to refer to the death of believers. Here he uses katheudo, which means "to be unconscious, oblivious." To sleep in this sense is to not see, or to see and not understand, what is going on all around us. This is a picture of being out of fellowship, spiritually unconscious.
Paul does not want us to be unconscious; he wants us instead to be alert and unafraid. Knowing absolutely what is going to happen, but not knowing exactly when it will happen, should bring balance in our lives.
In 1TH 1:9-10, Paul describes this balance in terms of serving and waiting. We should serve as if we only have today and wait as if we have a thousand years. We should learn to live one day at a time, giving ourselves wholly to what we do, as if this were our last day. But we should also be patient, realizing that the Rapture could come today or next year or in a hundred years.
We are waiting for Jesus, who will deliver us from "the wrath to come." The definite article here clearly shows that Paul is talking about a particular wrath, the wrath that is described extensively in the Old Testament as the day of the Lord. This is the coming Tribulation. We do not have to fear it because we are not destined for the wrath, but for salvation (1TH 5:9).
Paul is talking about our ultimate salvation. We know that salvation takes place in three phases. The first, positional salvation, takes place at the instant we believe. We are saved from the penalty of sin and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. The second, practical salvation, is spiritual growth and takes place as we are daily saved from the power of sin. The third, ultimate salvation, takes place at death or the Rapture, when we are saved from the presence of sin forever.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (EPH 5:15-17)
To introduce this exhortation, Paul quotes what is probably a refrain from an ancient hymn: "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (EPH 5:14).
The present, active, imperative egeiro means "wake up and stay awake!" "Sleeper" is from the same word used in 1TH 5:6, katheudo, "unconsciousness, oblivion." Anistemi, "awake," means "Stand up!" Paul is urging these people to get up out of the operational death of apathy and to enter into the abundant life that Jesus intends every Christian to live (JOH 10:10).
As believers, we are on this earth to be light and salt, to reveal the grace and truth of God to a lost and dying world. We only have so much time to do that. Paul does not want us to waste a second.
The phrase "making the most of your time" is literally "redeeming the time," from exagorazo, which means "to ransom, to buy; by payment of a price to recover from the power of another." Agora was the ancient marketplace, the street market where anything could be bought and sold. It is an illustration of the cosmos, the devil's world. As Jesus redeemed us, now we are to redeem time. Why? For two reasons.
First "because the days are evil" (EPH 5:16). The prince of darkness is in control of this marketplace. When we fail to purchase a portion of the day, we let him win. Edmund Burke put it this way: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Every one of us has a responsibility to fight for right, for truth. When we purchase time, we slow the advance of evil. But there is only one way to buy time, and that is God's way. All the human political activity in the world cannot stop evil like one believer living a day at a time in the filling of the Holy Spirit. One Elijah praying alone, one David hiding in a cave praising God, one Paul in chains writing letters to young churches—this is all it takes to change history.
The second reason we are to redeem time is because the time is short; it is running out (1CO 7:29). Each of us has only a certain number of days to live. God has allotted to us exactly the number that we need to fulfill His plan and achieve spiritual greatness. God has so designed His plan that how much time we choose to redeem has a direct bearing on our lives in both time and eternity.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where you treasure is, there will your heart be also. (MAT 6:19-20)
We are commanded to lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven. In His last message to us, the Lord declared that He is coming quickly and that His reward is with Him, "to render to every man according to what he has done" (REV 22:12). Clearly the Lord wants us to earn rewards, to store up treasures. How do we do that? By redeeming time.
The Bible tells us that rewards are given for faithful production, as a by-product of spiritual growth and maturity (1CO 3:12-15, 1CO 9:16-27; 2CO 5:9-11; REV 3:11). We know that the only production that counts with God is what is produced by the Holy Spirit through us. All His production comes one way: by grace, and since only faith can lay hold of grace, our rewards in Heaven will be in direct proportion to our faith on Earth. Faith is trusting what God has said, believing His Word. So reward is based on our adjustment to God's truth, which is just what our blessing in time is based on.
We will receive our reward soon after the Rapture, at the Bema or Judgment Seat of Christ (2CO 5:9-11). We know, of course, that no sins will be an issue here because all sins were judged at the cross. What will be judged here is human good. Everything we have done as believers in our own strength will be consumed by fire—every thought, every word, every deed we did apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit.
All that will survive the fire will be what we allowed the Holy Spirit to do through us. All divine production in our lives—every thought, every word, every deed we did in the filling of the Holy Spirit—will be rewarded by Jesus Christ.
2PE 1:10-11 tells us that the abundance of our riches in Heaven will reflect our spiritual growth on earth. Our recompense at the Judgement Seat of Christ will be based on how much we let God do in our lives on Earth, how much we were willing to accept His grace and to pursue His plan. Those who let Him make them spiritually great in time will bear the mark of that greatness forever; they will shine forever as a reflection of the surpassing glory of the grace of God.
When we see all our years and days and hours and minutes pass through those flames, we will understand—with the perfect clarity that we could have today by faith—that the only greatness worth pursuing in life was the greatness of grace, that the only race worth running was the race of faith, that the only fight worth fighting was the good fight, and that when it was all over, the only words worth hearing were the words of approval from the Lord Jesus Christ, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (MAT 25:23 KJV).
So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. (PSA 90:12)