“Peace and Security!”

When they are saying, “Peace and security!” then destruction overtakes them suddenly…

This article is a continuation of the previous two that were centered on 1Th 4:13­‑18 (Rapture Ready? and Escorting the King of Kings?). The beginning of the very next chapter in Paul’s first Thessalonian epistle (5:1-11) should be understood as further explanation of the Christian resurrection hope, which is to occur at the Parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 But the focus is on how the Christians at Thessalonica are to abide in the interim:2

5:1 Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers (and sisters), you have no need to be written to you. 2 For you certainly know that the Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. 3 When they are saying, “Peace and security!”3 then destruction overtakes [ephistēmi] them suddenly [aiphnidios], as in the pain during birth pangs, and they will not escape [ekpheugō].

4 But you, brothers (and sisters), are not in darkness, that the Day might surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all sons (and daughters) of light and sons (and daughters) of the D/day. We are neither of the night nor of darkness. 6 Thus, therefore, let’s not sleep as the rest, but rather let’s stay awake and remain sober. 7 For those who sleep, at night they sleep, and those who get drunk, at night they get drunk.

8 But we, being of the day, let’s remain sober, wearing faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet, 9 because God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us, so that whether awake or asleep we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore, encourage each other, and edify one another, as you are already doing.

The Apostle Paul contrasts “they”/”them” (v. 3) with his Thessalonian “brothers (and sisters)”. One group is “of darkness” and “of the night”; the other is “of light” and “of the D/day”. And while “they” are ‘sleeping’ and ‘getting drunk’, the “brothers (and sisters)” making up the ekklēsia4 of Thessalonica are encouraged to “stay awake” and “remain sober” instead.

Most likely, “they”/”them” is the same group as “those who have no hope” in 4:13. Support for this is found in Paul’s use of “the rest” (hoi loipoi) in both 4:13 (“so that you will not grieve as the restthose who have no hope”) and 5:6 (“let’s not sleep as the rest“). This is another way Paul linguistically ties 5:1–11 to 4:13–18.5

Note that, in a sense, the Apostle mixes metaphors here. He refers to those in spiritual darkness (“they”/”them”) as “those who sleep” in 5:6–7. Yet in 5:10 he returns to the meaning of “asleep” from 4:14–17, which is as a euphemism for those who died in Christ. This is yet another way to linguistically link the two passages.

In 5:1, “the times and the seasons”6 refers back to the Parousia of 4:15­‑17 in a general sense (cf. Matt 24:33). And “the Day of the Lord” in verse 2 is clearly a way of rephrasing Jesus’ Parousia. In other words, the two refer to the same event—more accurately, the same series of events. That “Day”, the day of Jesus’ return (Parousia), will come as a complete surprise to “they”/”them”. In contrast, the discerning Christian will know when that time is near.

No Surprise for the Wise

After detailing a series of events to precede His Parousia (Luke 21:7–28; cf. Matt 24:3–31), Jesus provides the example of a budding fig tree as a metaphor for discerning the nearness of His return (Luke 21:29–36; cf. Matt 24:32–51). So, to witness these events unfold is to know Jesus’ return is growing near. In the selection from Luke’s Gospel below, note the three words in brackets, which are the same Greek terms identified in 1Th 5:3 above:7

Luke 21:29 He told them a parable: “Observe the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they bud, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 Likewise also you, as you observe these things occurring, recognize that the Kingdom of God is near . . . 34 But watch yourselves lest your hearts be heavy with intoxication and drunkenness, as well as life’s worries, and that Day overtake [ephistēmi] you suddenly [aiphnidios] 35 like a trap. For it will spring upon all those dwelling on the face of the entire earth. 36 But stay watchful in every season, praying that you may have the strength to escape [ekpheugō] all these things that are going to occur, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Notice how the three bracketed terms in Luke’s context differ with their usage in 1Th 5:3. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is making a blanket appeal to His entire audience to guard against becoming heavy-hearted with worldly distractions to the extent of being unprepared when He returns (see Parable of the Ten Virgins). Such unpreparedness may result in not having the strength to stand before the Son of Man.

Comparatively, Paul is being more pastoral. He assures his Thessalonian ekklēsia that they will not be ‘overtaken’ “suddenly”—unable to “escape”—as “the rest” will be.  Using the emphatic you (and we in v. 8) to press his point, he reassures his “brothers (and sisters)” that they will remain “awake” and “sober” instead. The Apostle encourages them to encourage each other in this regard (5:11).

To be clear, Paul is not countering or amending Jesus’ words here. He accepts them as they are. Yet, for his brothers’ and sisters’ sake, he assures them that they have the capacity to hold fast to their faith and hope. And, carrying this forward to today, we are to do the same.

In 1Th 5:9 (God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtaining salvation . . .), Paul returns to a statement near the opening of his epistle (1Th 1:10): . . . to wait for God’s Son Whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, Who will deliver us from the wrath to come. This agrees with the thrust of Jesus’ statement in the verse directly preceding the above passage in Luke (21:28): But when these things begin to occur, stand and lift up your head, for your redemption is drawing near.

To borrow the pithy words of Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

The Pax Romana

What did Paul mean by, “Peace and security!”? Most likely the Apostle was referring to the ‘peace and security’ provided by the Roman Empire.8

Roman poet Ovid refers to the “peace of Augustus” (Ex Ponto 2.5.18), while Tacitus (Annals 12.29) and Martial (7.80.1) speak of the Pax Romana, the “Roman Peace”.9

The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was a period of relative peace and stability across the Roman Empire which lasted for over 200 years, beginning with the reign of Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). The aim of Augustus and his successors was to guarantee law, order, and security within the empire even if this meant separating it from the rest of the world and defending, or even expanding, its borders through military intervention and conquest.10

The city of Thessalonica, as part of the larger Macedonia, actively sought the favor of Rome.11 This afforded the city relative freedom, including a bit of self-government, compared to mainland Greece.12 The peace and security (pax et securitas) provided by Augustus’ reign was greatly appreciated.13 From their god-like worship of the Emperor arose the Imperial Cult—emperor worship.14 Undoubtedly, Paul saw the temple for and the statue of Augustus during his trip to the city.15

Understanding this background, the Apostle apparently used “peace and security” to reference this Pax Romana. The Thessalonian congregation would surely understand Paul’s meaning. As former pagans (1Th 1:9), the “brothers (and sisters)” almost assuredly had formerly engaged in the Imperial Cult—in effect, worshiping the Empire through the Emperor. This is in addition to the former worship of other pagan ‘deities’.16 But now the Thessalonian ekklēsia worshiped the One True God, which put them at odds with “the rest”.17

In their conquest for “peace”, the Roman army had a reputation for insatiable ruthlessness. Calgacus, a Caledonian (Briton) chieftain, described the devastation behind Roman conquest in a pre-battle speech:

. . . and the more menacing Romans, from whose oppression one vainly seeks to escape through compliance and submission. Bandits of the globe, after laying the land bare by their universal plundering, they ransack the sea. If foreigners have riches, they are greedy; if poor, dominating. Neither east nor west has been able to satisfy. Unique among all, the wealthy and the impoverished they equally desire to rob, massacre, and plunder in the supposed name of the Empire. And where they create desolation, they call it “peace”.18

What Now?

As regards futuristic prophecy, what conclusions may be drawn from this background information? Without speculating too much here, a specific current event commands our attention. Apparently, on November 9, 2021, the statue pictured below was unveiled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.


On this website is the following caption, which was also placed on a UN tweet:

A guardian for international peace and security sits on the Visitors Plaza outside UN Headquarters. The guardian is a fusion of jaguar and eagle and donated by the Government of Oaxaca, Mexico. Artists Jacobo and Maria Angeles created it. November 09, 2021. The United States of America. New York. UN Photo/Manuel Elías.

The jaguar has been an enduring symbol in Mexican lore. And, of course, the eagle is an American symbol, representing freedom. So, this statue appears to be a composite of Mexican and American symbolism. But why was it given to the UN as a “guardian for international peace and security”?

Others have been quick to point out its similarity to the beast depicted in Revelation 13:2:

The beast which I saw was similar to a leopard, yet its feet were like a bear, and its mouth like a lion

But this description does not include anything about an eagle. Of course, Daniel 7:4 speaks of a beast like a lion with eagle’s wings. But the statue above is part jaguar, not leopard or lion. However, note this from Louw and Nida’s excellent Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.), referring to the Greek word for “leopard” (bold added):

πάρδαλις [pardalis] . . . ‘a beast whose appearance was like a leopard’ Rev 13:2. As in the case of the term for ‘bear’ (ἄρκος [arkos]), this reference to a leopard occurs in the NT only in Rev 13:2 and is likewise used as a means of describing the apocalyptic beast. A term referring to a local type of leopard or jaguar would be perfectly appropriate, and in some languages a term referring to a mountain lion has been employed. In other instances the equivalent expression is based upon a phrase meaning ‘fierce, large, a cat-like animal.’ A borrowed term may also be employed with a descriptive classifier, for example, ‘an animal called leopard.’19

Now, do note that the feet of the above pictured statue are not quite cat-like. But do they resemble bear’s feet (Rev 13:2)?

Whatever is to be made from all this, the statue as a “guardian for international peace and security” is quite curious.


1 In my opinion, the chapter break between chapters 4 and 5 in modern Bibles should have never been made. I infer that this is the view of some commentary writers, for not a few treat 4:13–5:11 as a unit. This chapter break is unfortunate, as this can lead some—and certainly has led some—to dubious exegesis. Some mistakenly separate Jesus’ Parousia in 4:13–18 from “the Day of the Lord” in 5:1–11, as if these are completely separate events.

2 The parenthetical “and sisters” and “and daughters” is to capture the inclusive intent of Paul’s masculine words here (in a strongly patriarchal culture). The italics indicate emphasis in the form of pronouns in the Greek text alongside the implied pronouns of their accompanying finite verbs (finite verbs encode person and number, and thus a separate pronoun is unnecessary, usually implying emphasis). The bold “not” in v. 3 indicates the emphasis of the Greek double negative. The first two of the three bracketed Greek (transliterated and in green) words in v. 3 are unique in Paul’s writings; and, when considered alongside the third bracketed word, may well indicate the Apostle has purposed these from Luke 21:34–36, in order  to evoke these words of Jesus (see below for further explanation). Cf. Charles A. Wannamaker, Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), p 180; Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), pp 232, 266 nt 160. Assuming so, this would seem to indicate a strong oral tradition preceding the scribal tradition of Luke’s Gospel. Cf. John H. Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

3 The exclamation is my interpretation. It may well be simply, “Peace and security” (or “Peace and safety”).

4 In the very first verse of this epistle (1:1) Paul specifically refers to the ekklēsia̢ Thessalonike̒ōn, the assembly of Thessalonians. I am opposed to the use of “church” because of the baggage it has accumulated over the years; see Re-Assembly Required.

5 See, e.g., Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974): “In 4:13, ‘the rest’ are non-Christians, those who have no hope. Here, they are described in terms of quality of life that is in contrast to the sober vigilance of those who do have hope in salvation” (p 295). See A Closer Look section of Escorting the King of Kings? for the other linguistic links.

6 This phrase “the times and the seasons”, opines Gordon D. Fee, “is almost certainly to be taken as a hendiadys, where, as this Greek term itself implies, the two words function to express a single idea” (The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009] p. 186; cf. 185–86). In the New Testament, this specific verbiage is found only here, though Acts 1:7 has it without the Greek articles (“times and seasons”); in the LXX, it is found in the singular and without the articles in Daniel 7:12 (“time and season”), while  Daniel 2:21 and Wisdom of Solomon 8:8 reverse the order (“season and time”).

7 See, e.g., Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, pp 232, 266 nt 160.

8 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), pp 146–148.

9 Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, p 266  nt 163.

10 Donald L. Wasson, “Pax Romana“, World History Encyclopedia, last modified December 08, 2015, https://www.worldhistory.org/Pax_Romana/, para 1; as accessed 10/24/2021. The inclusive dates in the parenthesis changed from the secularized “BCE” and “CE” in the original source to the Christianized “BC” and “AD” here.

11 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 1–7.

12 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 4–5.

13 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p 5; cf. Wasson, “Pax Romana”, para 4.

14 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 5–6; cf. Wasson, Pax Romana”, para 9.

15 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p 5.

16 According to Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, “What is sometimes overlooked is the emperor cult was syncretized with the local worship of the Cabiri, the mystic deities of Samothrace (a cult patronized by Philip and Alexander), and so here the emperor was deified as Kabeiros [‘the ancestral and most holy of all gods’], as coins show” (p 5).

17 See Larry W. Hurtado’s popular-level (non-academic) work Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016).

18 Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola [De Vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Julius Agricola)] 30.4–6. Translated from the Latin, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, beginning here, with help from English translations here and here. Agricola was Tacitus’ father-in-law.

19 “πάρδαλις”, Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4, p 39.

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