But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:4
The words, “But you,” are given as a contrast to what has just been said in the previous verse. The world will say, “Peace and safety!” when there is actually only sudden destruction coming upon it. For them, there will be no escape. This is because, as he has already said, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. This then sets up the contrast. The night implies darkness; but for believers, they are “not in darkness.”
The night and the darkness are words which are not literally speaking of night, but of the spiritual pall of immorality, ungodliness, false religion, etc. Believers have been converted by Christ, and this is no longer their state. Because of this, Paul continues that for believers this Day should not “overtake you as a thief.” The word “Day” is speaking of the Day of the Lord of verse 2. It is the tribulation period. He then returns to the simile of the thief. As noted in a previous verse, Paul specifically states that the antichrist will not be revealed until the Restrainer is taken out of the way.
As the antichrist is the one to bring in the 7-year peace deal with Israel, then it is plainly obvious that the church will experience a pre- (not mid- or post-) tribulation rapture. To state otherwise, sets up several open contradictions in Paul’s eschatological timeline. Further, it then logically contradicts what is known from the book of Revelation.
The greater part of the tribulation saints will certainly, and logically, come from the first half of tribulation period. Maybe they will be converted and believe because of the rapture, or maybe because of the 144,000 who are sealed and who testify to what will happen. For whatever reason, they will refuse the mark of the beast.
It would make no sense to have to face the choice of taking the mark when one is already saved, which would be the case if a mid- or post-tribulation rapture were true. It would be like saying, “You now have to work to be saved.” That isn’t grace at all. The world will already be set up where nobody is able to buy or sell. Only in the second half will the truly greater part of the devastation take place. In the first half of the tribulation, the peace deal has been made; the second half is where things devolve.
If one thinks it through logically, it is not at the second half of the tribulation, but during the first half that the tribulation saints will refuse to join in the world system which has been realized. The words of Revelation state that there is a “great multitude” who will come out of the “great tribulation.” Those who endure the events of the second half of the tribulation period will, for the most part, be those who have taken the mark of the beast. Some who have not done so will survive through the entire period and enter the millennium, but logically they will be in the minority.
Finally, Paul’s words of this verse that we are “not of darkness” cannot be used to justify that we are able to pinpoint the day of the rapture. This is not saying that we are going to be enlightened to these things. Rather, it is speaking of our spiritual state, not an ability to divine what the Lord has already told us is something we are not to know.
Life application: Believers have a surety which is wonderful. The world is going to go through seven years of immense suffering, all of which will come about after the signing of a peace deal between Israel and her enemies. But this will not occur until after the rapture of the church. To go through half, or all, of that time of suffering would mean that we would have to earn our salvation. Something which no other generation of believers has had to do. It would negate the grace which we have been bestowed. Hold fast to the surety that we are not destined for wrath, but for salvation from this terrible time which lies ahead.
Lord God, how grateful we are that You have promised to keep those who have believed in Christ from the terrible events which lie ahead for the world which has rejected You. Once the world was destroyed by flood; again it will be destroyed, but this time by fire. But Your people have an Ark of safety in Jesus Christ. Thank You that we possess this wonderful assurance. Amen.