Q: 1 Thess. 5:3 says that whenever they are saying peace and security then sudden destruction will come instantly upon them. What I want to know first of all is, are we to expect some notable proclamation of peace and security before Armageddon; and from where does it come, from the world or the Watchtower Society? Are there other scriptures that shed light on this subject?

A:  According to the New World Translation, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 reads: "Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, YOU need nothing to be written to YOU. For YOU yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever [όταν] it is that they are saying: 'Peace and security!' then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape. But YOU, brothers, YOU are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake YOU as it would thieves, for YOU are all sons of light and sons of day. We belong neither to night nor to darkness."

Note that the NWT has Paul referring to "Jehovah's day" as "coming exactly as a thief in the night," whereas in the Greek manuscripts it is "the day of the Lord." What is the "day of the Lord"? Is it Jehovah's day at Armageddon? (Zeph. 1:14; Rev. 16:14, 16) In the same letter, Paul earlier mentions "the presence of our Lord Jesus." (1 Thess. 3:13; 4:15) And in his second letter to the Thessalonian congregation, Paul continues to explain developments in connection with the presence or "revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength, at the time he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones and to be regarded in that day with wonder in connection with all those who exercised faith, because the witness we gave met with faith among YOU." (2 Thess. 1:7-10; NWT)

Paul is talking about the time of Jesus' return, when "he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones," while bringing everlasting destruction upon those "who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus." It seems that the brothers in Thessalonica were discussing, probably speculating, and perhaps even arguing, about the timing of Jesus' return and being united with him, for Paul goes on to explain: "However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we request of YOU not to be quickly shaken from YOUR reason nor to be excited either through an inspired expression or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here." (2 Thess. 2:1,2; NWT)

Again, what the NWT calls "the day of Jehovah," is in the Greek manuscripts called "the day of the Lord," this clearly referring to the presence and revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why does the Watchtower Society's New World Translation make a distinction between "the day of Jehovah" and "the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ"? Because, according to the Society, Jesus is already ruling in his heavenly kingdom and has been present for the past one hundred years―since 1914; and yet, the things that Paul foretold in connection with Christ's presence have not as yet come true. Therefore, the Society looks to the still future "day of Jehovah" as fulfilling the missing events. To be sure, the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven will be at Armageddon, as described by the apostle John in the book of Revelation; at which time Paul's prophecy will find its fulfillment. (Rev. 19:11-21)

The Greek word translated as "whenever," in the New World Translation at 1 Thessalonians 5:3, is όταν [otan], which is rendered as "when" at Matthew 25:31: "When the Son of man arrives in his glory." (Compare Mark 2:20). Most other translations read when or while at 1 Thess. 5:3. Thus, the English Standard Version reads: "For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'There is peace and security,' then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." Translating όταν as "Whenever it is that they are saying: 'Peace and security," makes it appear that there will be a notable proclamation or announcement of "peace and security" just prior to the sudden destruction of the wicked. But is that the thought Paul is conveying?

Paul is not suggesting that there will be some major development that results in a proclamation of peace and security, as has been the case many times since the close of the first World War. Paul is simply repeating what Jesus himself told his disciples, namely, that "your Lord," "the Son of man," is coming "at an hour that you do not think to be it." He will come as a thief, unannounced and unexpected. (Matt. 24:42-44; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4) When WWI broke out in 1914, Charles Taze Russell, the founder and first president of the Watchtower Society, believed that the "gentile times" had ended, and that this Great War was going to turn into God's war of Armageddon. (Luke 21:24)

Many people are inclined to believe that when there are wars, or major disasters and terrifying catastrophes, the end of the world must be close at hand. Paul is simply stating that this is not going to be the case. The end will come upon this wicked world at the most unlikely time, when people are feeling at ease, and are unconcerned, enjoying peace and safety. We should not expect any significant proclamation of peace and security as a sign that the end is immediately ahead of us.

Take for example the illustration that Paul uses of a pregnant woman. She is fully aware that she is expecting to deliver her child, but does not know the day or the hour. It could catch her unprepared, even by surprise. That is why some never make it to the hospital on time. Likewise, we know that the time of Jesus' return must be near at hand because of the many signs Jesus gave as evidence; but there is no way of knowing or calculating the day or the hour. No prior announcement! (Luke 21:28; Acts 1:7) Our Lord Jesus will return at a time when we may least expect it. Terrible conditions on earth, or within God's household, will not in itself be the indicator of its immediate nearness; although these things are part of the sign Jesus gave. (Matt. 24:32-34)

Jesus himself compared the time of his return to the days of Noah. Although the earth was "filled with violence," and "came to be ruined in the sight of the true God," yet Jesus says that the people were "eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away." (Gen. 6:3-7, 11-12; Matt. 24:36-39)

Since we are not in darkness, but are sons of light, we will not be overtaken by surprise
no, not because of any prior warning such as a cry of peace and security, but rather because we kept awake. "Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man." (Luke 21:36; Daniel 12:3, 10; Matt. 13:43)