Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 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. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).
The designation here of Christ’s coming is “day of the Lord.” And since this passage follows immediately after the previous rapture passage (1 Thess. 4:16-18), one might think that Paul is still talking about the day of rapture; however, if you look carefully at the context, it is quite different. In the rapture passage the theme was joy and comfort. But here, the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night to bring destruction.
Also, if you examine all the passages in the bible with the exact title “day of the Lord,” you will find 19 uses in the Old Testament and 4 uses in the New Testament, all of which, in the context, describe God’s terrifying judgments. Hence, this term “day of the Lord” is an exclusive term used for God’s wrath.
Here are some of the descriptions of God’s judgment found in these day of the Lord passages: “destruction from the almighty”; “I will punish the world”; “His burning anger”; “day of trouble and distress”; “day of destruction and desolation”; “day of darkness and gloom”; “a day of clouds and thick darkness”; “the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
Some of the Old Testament passages which use this title are in reference to near historical judgments (Is. 13:6-22; Ezek. 30:2-19; Joel 1:15; 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:14-18), and some are in reference to far future judgments (Joel 2:30-32; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:1, 5). Three New Testament references (Acts 2:20; 1 Thess. 5:2; and 2 Thess. 2:2) are in reference to the day of the Lord at the second phase of His coming at Armageddon. But the day of the Lord in 2 Peter 3:10 is speaking about the Day of Judgment at the end of the millennium. Thus the day of the Lord is in two phases: at the end of the tribulation (Rev. 19:11-21), and at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:7-15).
Now concerning the text: Paul was telling the Thessalonian church that they already knew about the day of the Lord. They were not aware of the rapture, which he had just told them about (in 1 Thess. 4), but they did know about the day of the Lord as being a time of God’s wrath and destruction, and a day that will come “like a thief in the night”; a day of sudden “destruction” that will come “like birth pangs upon a woman with child.” This day—let us be clear—is God’s judgment at Armageddon, immediately after the Tribulation; but for those judged, the wrath of God also extends into eternity, into the eternal lake of fire.
So here Paul reminds them of this imminent day of the Lord. Though others (unbelievers) will speak of “peace and safety,” God’s wrath will surely come suddenly, without warning—just as the labor pains of a pregnant woman.
But then Paul tells them plainly that since they are not unbelievers who live in darkness, that terrible day will not overtake them. “Why?
Well, we have to go on to verses 9 and 10 for the answer. It is because they, and all of us who are believers, are not destined for wrath. In Paul’s words, “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.
In other word, Paul is telling them (and God is telling us through Paul) that they will escape God’s wrath when He comes to rapture them! Yes, whether they are awake (alive) or asleep (dead), He will come to get them, save them, and bring them together to live with Him (1Thess. 4:16-17).