“As a Thief in the Night” by Samuel P. Tregelles (1813-1875)
It is a well known (and well worn) belief that Jesus will some day come back to earth “like a thief in the night”, catching many by surprise! Planes will suddenly fall out of the skies, school buses loaded with children will run off the road, etc. “Just like a thief would who is robbing your house”– He will come back again. That is pretty much the standard interpretation coming from the Evangelical church world-wide. His Second Coming is imminent. Or so the saying goes.
But upon further inquiry people are asking themselves if what they got taught in Sunday School still rings true today. Here is a time-tested look questioning that belief from one of Europe’s most prominent Bible scholars in the 1800s, Dr. Samuel P. Tregelles. Yours, Jeff Gilbertson
It may be well to point out the force of the passages which speak of the Lord’s coming “as a thief in the night”, which, we are constantly told, prove that the Lord intends His true saints to regard His advent as momentarily imminent. Such passages occur at Mtt 24:43; Lk 12:39, 40; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10; and, Rev 16:15.
With regard to them all, it may be remarked that the emblem of “a thief” is obviously used to indicate not merely the unexpectedness of the coming, but its unwelcomeness! Further, this emblem implies the advent of one who comes to take away, not to give something to those whom he visits, for “the thief cometh not but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy.”
These considerations are surely sufficient by themselves to show at the first glance that it is not the Lord’s coming in its relation to the true believer, to him who “loves His appearing,” and to whom “grace shall be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” that is indicated, but its relation to the false professor of the Name of Jesus, the “evil servant,” whose words in the parable, “My lord delayeth his coming,” show that he neither expected his lord’s return nor desired it.
But the point is not one of inference, however clear: the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 says with the utmost plainness that the coming of the Lord “as a thief” does not bear this character to His people, but to those who are “in darkness;” for when they shall say Peace and safety,” etc. “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.”
The passage in Luke 12:35-48 deserves special study:
35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 “Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 “But if that slave says in his heart, `My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
The Lord speaks first of the watchfulness of His true people (Luke 12:35-38). Next we find a hint that there will be some to whom His return will be unwelcome (Luke 12:39, 40). With an immediate apprehension of the fact that two differing classes of persons must be under mention, Peter puts the inquiry of verse 41. The answer makes it clear that two classes were intended; the “wise steward” (Luke 12:42-44) and “that (other) servant” (Luke 12:45-48), the representative of the false professing Church. There is a clear connection between the words “when ye think not” (Luke 12:40) and “when he looketh not for him” (Luke 12:46). The Lord does not place before His true, loving, faithful servants His advent as an event to occur at an hour when they think not: these words of caution, though spoken to all, are intended only for the “tares” that Satan has mingled with the “wheat.” It is the rule in Scripture, in dealing with mixed bodies, to address words of warning to all, which are only meant to apply to some of those addressed, it being left to the individual conscience to make the application (Compare Heb. 6:4-9).