He will come like a thief in the night!
There is so much bewilderment about the “How and When” of the promised return of the Lord Jesus that I hardly know where to start. Many people that I talk with often say that they just can’t get “sidetracked” by the End Times since it is so muddled. As if studying the Second Coming is “off on a tangent“!
Nevertheless, I feel an urgency in my heart to keep “chipping away” at the faulty theology imbedded at large in the body of Christ on the Last Days. I want to examine with you one of the verses that I believe has been appallingly misunderstood in regards to the Second Coming:
“The day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”
1 Thess 5: 2
For decades the church has fed itself the continuous line that the “Day of the Lord” would come unexpectedly — like maybe even before I finish typing this sentence… AAAAHHHH!
This “sudden and sneaky” Rapture fever has served the church quite well in evangelism, I guess. Have you not seen the portrayals of lightening flashing in a crowded church service and then after the smoke clears a few are “left behind”, broken and repentant and start to REALLY seek the Lord, etc.?? You might have read the popular book series touching on these themes.
Well, it might make for good “YouTube” hits, but it is poor theology.
Yes, Jesus will come like a thief in the night… to those who are not watching!! To those who are asleep.
Read it for yourself:
I Thess 5:4-6 “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day [of the Lord] would overtake you like a thief; 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.”
Revelation 3:3 “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” — Jesus
Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.” — Jesus
Matt 24:33,36 “Even so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door… But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” — Jesus
Just to be clear on this last verse, which seems to be is the fountainhead of the confusion, we WILL NOT KNOW “that day and hour” — which is an oft repeated theme of the New Testament — BUT we are to know that “He is near”. Jesus went on to compare it to watching the trees budding in spring and showing a “hint of green” in their leaves and recognizing that summer is near! (Mtt 24: 32)
Thankfully, more and more believers are “waking up” to the truths of these and other scriptures. Believers are finally taking the time to seriously think through their faulty theology of a God who wants to “catch the world by surprise”. The following is a quote from one such believer:
“We all ‘know’ that when Jesus returns, it will be ‘as a thief in the night’, a totally unexpected surprise, about which He has given us no clues about what to watch for and expect. This is the ‘doctrine of imminence’, the foundation of the pre-tribulation rapture error. We have also repeatedly heard that God has no interest in, or intention of, revealing His timing to us, preferring, if you will, that He might catch us all by surprise. It has also been well ingrained into our minds that any form of ‘date setting’ is not only foolish, but forbidden. But are these commonly held beliefs necessarily valid? Or have we misapplied what Jesus was trying to convey to His disciples? Is He really trying to sneak up on everyone to catch them unaware?” ( For the entire article see: Ed Spurlin)
The dreaded problem of “Dual Application”
Before we can look deeply into the End Times we must all have a clear understanding that when the Scriptures speak of “the last days” there is often little or no more clue than just that: “In the last days” or “In that day” or “ A day of the Lord is coming. (see Isaiah 2: 2-4,11,17, 20; Micah 4:1-7; Zech. 14: 1-9)
Many times there is a dual application that is unspoken or hidden and we need to “search out the matter” to know if the writer is speaking of a day soon to come in his generation or if this was fulfilled in the cross or will be fulfilled in the Second Coming!
A well know example would be Isaiah 9:6-7
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
Certainly much of this was fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus but there is still “a day coming” when Jesus will rule the nations from David’s throne in Jerusalem with a rod of iron and the government of the whole world will rest on His shoulders. Hallelujah!!
As I now describe the coming birth pangs that Jesus gave us to “recognize the times“ we need a clear understanding that this passage may have a dual application to a time to come shortly in Israel ( 70 A.D.) and a second, broader application to come “at the end of the ages”. I always find that Jesus Himself is the key to unlocking the most difficult passages!! (e.g. Mtt 24: 15)
Here is a complete list of the “Birth Pangs” that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels. (Mtt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21)
1. wars and rumors of wars
2. nation will rise against nation / kingdom against kingdom
5. terrors (“fearful events” NIV)
6. great signs from heaven
8. they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you
9. you will be hated by all nations because of My name
10. many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another
11. many false prophets will arise and will mislead many
12. lawlessness is increased
13. most people’s love will grow cold
14. gospel must first be preached to all the nations
The whole point of Jesus telling us to “watch and pray” is that we would watch the obvious signs in the world and in the church and pray for His wisdom and guidance. In Mark, Jesus distinctly told His disciples to “Be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Mk 13: 23)
Dear Saints, Jesus wasn’t keeping them in the dark, like a “cloak-and-dagger” spy novel! That was not and is not the heart of God!! He let them know “IN ADVANCE”, step by step, point-by-point, what would take place.
As it was in the days of Noah
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. ” Mtt 24:37
In Matthew 24, we see that Jesus said that His second coming, His “parousia”, would be just like the days of Noah. Just days before the world-wide flood, the people of Noah’s time were carrying on with “business as usual”. We know that Noah built his ark for at least 100 years but he did not know when it was going to rain until God told him that it would come in just seven days.
The significance I want to draw out of the parallelism to Noah and the Second Coming is two-fold:
#1. We need to be like Noah “alert and sober” and careful to be walking in righteousness before our God.
Gen 7:1,4 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time…For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights.”
#2. The “sleepy” people of Noah’s day were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” right up until the very day Noah entered the ark, even though the “sign” of pending judgment grew daily right before their eyes! For them “that day” came like a thief in the night!
Mtt 24:39 “And they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
Finally, I want to close with one last encouragement from noted Bible teacher Rick Joyner who has summed up these thoughts very well about knowing the times you are living in:
“Even the best map is useless unless you know where you are. Every Christian should know where they are on the path of life, and they should also know the signs of the times in which they live.”
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,