Several years ago Dr. Anne Davis introduced me to the notion that the New Testament is not a separate revelation but rather a commentary on the Old Testament. This idea has revolutionized my understanding of the Scriptures. I believe the N.T. cannot be understood apart from the context it derives from the Old Testament. Reading through the book of Daniel I noticed a phrase in Dan 6:10 that seems to be the context for 1 Thess 5:17. This study attempts to establish the O.T. context for 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing”.
An internet search for the phrase “pray without ceasing” gave me an idea of the prevailing thoughts regarding the meaning of this biblical instruction. I also wanted to see if the concept of the inseparability of the two testaments was making any headway into Christianity. Ten entries on the first page all said just about the same thing. To pray without ceasing does not mean you should stop your daily activities and responsibilities. It means you should develop a daily habit of prayer. It means you should have an attitude of prayerfulness throughout the day, that you should always be ready to pray, that this attitude will help you cultivate your relationship with God. These are all good suggestions. However, no article took into account the background and training of the person giving the instruction. Paul was an expert in Judaic law and history. It seems he had the Old Testament memorized because everything he wrote was generously sprinkled with direct quotes and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures. Here is the verse that triggered my memory.
“Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as (or because) he had been doing previously.” Daniel 6:10
The above verse caused me to remember “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) so I set out to see if Daniel 6:10 is the context for it. Every chapter in 1 Thessalonians mentions the return of our Messiah. Paul's letter is intended to encourage and comfort not only the Thessalonians but us as well. If the “day of the Lord” begins during our lifetimes, we will be prepared because we know about God's appointed times and seasons.
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 1 Thess (5:1-4)
Let us look at the context of Daniel Chapter 6. It is the famous story of Daniel in the lion's den! Daniel was a prisoner under a system he did not choose and he lived under a government with unrighteous laws (sound familiar?). Yet he purposed in his heart to serve his God regardless of the consequences. As a result of his convictions, God blessed him with great favor and honor. These blessings aroused the jealousy and anger of those around him so that they arranged to entrap him. Yet Daniel continued to “pray without ceasing”.
Comparing the larger context of the book of Daniel with the larger context of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, we see it concerns a future time, a time of tribulation. Look at the similarities between Daniel 12:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:10.
"Now at that time Michael, (the archangel) the great prince who stands (guard) over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace, everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." ( Daniel 12:1-3)
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. 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 labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;5 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 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, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing." (1 Thess 4:13-18; 5:1-11)
Context is a wonderful thing. Let us rejoice that the Lord explains His word!