A little while back, I had noticed the occurrence of the Greek words kairos and chronos in close proximity in both Acts 1:7 and Daniel 7:12. Typically, English translations have this as “times and seasons.” To the average reader, I suspect the phrase is taken as a simple poetic flourish of the pen. Nevertheless, I suspected a meaning that pointed towards the rise and fall of world empires.
A couple weeks ago, I was doing some study in 1 Thessalonians 4, which is always a dangerous business. Of course, one cannot adequately study chapter 4 without at least browsing chapter 5, now can one? And, lo and behold, 1 Thessalonians 5:1 reads, “Now concerning the times (chronos) and seasons (kairos), brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” (ESV).
So there they are again, chronos and kairos, back to back. The question then becomes whether a similar approach to “times and seasons” might fit the context of 1 Thessalonians. Could it be that Paul is writing the Thessalonian Christians regarding the rise and fall of kingdoms, as in Daniel 7?
I believe so.
First, consider that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Paul is concerned to encourage the believers because some of their brothers and sisters have died. What’s more, there is reason to believe they have died at the hands of persecutors. Paul had already mentioned in 1:6 that the church had come under “much affliction” as a result of receiving the gospel. There in Thessalonica were the people of God being oppressed by a dark empire, just as in Daniel 7:7, 19-21, 25.
Second, there is, of course, the presence of the clouds. In Paul’s expectation of Jesus’ return, he sees the Lord coming down from heaven in the clouds (1 Thess 4:16-17). This is a reversal of the chronology of Daniel’s vision, in which this one like a son of man was entering God’s presence in heaven with the clouds (Dan 7:13). It makes sense, though, that if Jesus were returning, he might do so in the opposite sequence.
Third, 1 Thessalonians 5 proclaims judgment on those who belong to the darkness. This is the message of all apocalyptic literature, after all. The oppressive kingdoms of the world, which all represent a common kingdom of the night, will all reap judgment in the end. That judgment against oppressive regimes serves as vindication and redemption for the faithful people of God. Such is the case in Daniel 7:23-27 as well.
Paul’s message to the Thessalonian believers is the same message faithful prophets of the Lord had been proclaiming for centuries. The severe oppression exerted on the people of God in the present will not last. The kingdom(s) of darkness will be overthrown by the Almighty and the faithful will be vindicated. Even their death will be undone. Why? Because a new kingdom is rising to power over the creation, a kingdom of light.