Today's Eschatological issue I want to address is Jesus' "coming like a thief in the night". This phrase and the verses that use it is popularly used by Pre-Tribs to teach that Christ's coming (ie the Rapture) could be at any moment. Thus it is used by them to try and disprove the Post-Trib theory, since that view teaches that Christ won't return until the end of the Tribulation.
But a plain reading of those verses by any well-meaning laymen, who read them objectively, can see that it does not have to be the case as some Pre-Tribulationalist like to claim. In my research, this analogy of Jesus "coming like a thief" in the last days appears about 6 times in an Eschatological context. I will address each one for today's short blog post.
(I am using the English Standard Version (ESV), but any decent translation (KJV, NIV, etc..) works just as well to make the case. Also, I have highlighted certain words in the passage to make the point.)
1.) 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6
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. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
Paul is making a clear distinction in this passage that for those walking in darkness (unbelievers) the Lord's coming will be a great surprise, but those who are walking in light (believers) it is not a surprise. Those who were prepared and read the Scriptures about the coming of Christ were not caught off guard because they were not, metaphorically speaking, asleep about such matters.
However those who were not prepared and were spreading their own ideas preaching "peace and safety" were caught off guard at his coming. They were asleep in their darkness. Thus, to the unbelieving world, Christ's coming will be unexpected and without warning; like the thief in the night.
2.) 2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Dispensationalist love to quote the first part of this verse about the thief coming suddenly, but they tend to ignore the rest. The common Pre-Trib view is that: Christ returns secretly for his bride (the rapture), but life continues on Earth for another 7 years while God judges the unbelievers, and then Jesus returns for a 2nd second time (Yes, i call that a 3rd time as well). After that then the old world will die as the new Heavens and Earth are ushered by Jesus, who will be ruling and reigning over them personally.
While I agree with some things in that interpretation, I just don't get a few things from this verse. How can the Lord return and there still be life on earth as we know it now? Following the Lord's return it will not be business as normal until the 7 seal, bowel and vial judgments mentioned in Revelation start up. To me, the language used in this verse is clear following Christ return, Life as we now understand it is over with. The heavens (sun, moon, stars) as well as the Earth, itself, will loudly and fiercely pass away, burn up, and dissolve after the coming of our Lord. There is no indication of an intermediate gap (seven year period) in this passage between the two events. The Post-Trib view makes more sense in light of this passage. Seven years of tribulation, next Jesus' single 2nd coming, and then the old world is destroyed and replaced by the new heaven and earth. No gaps or two different Second Comings.
3.) Matthew 24:42-44
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Again, we see Jesus, himself, using this analogy of coming unexpectedly like a thief in the night, for the purpose of telling his followers they need to stay awake, alert, and prepared. If we had known the He was coming, to carry on the metaphor, we would have not let the thief break in. In other words, Jesus is warning us to be awake and prepared, and if we are so, his coming won't take us by surprise.
4.) Revelation 3:3
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
Once more, Jesus is telling believers to be awake and alert or for them his coming will be like a thief in the night. Jesus is talking to the Church in this passage, specifically the church of Sardis, and is telling them they have heard and received the truth about him, and they need to keep it and repent. Recalling back to what Paul said in 2 Thess 5 there is no reason why we as believers walking in the light should be taken a back with unexpected surprise when the Lord comes. He has given us the signs and prophecies in his Word. If we're reading it and growing in the knowledge and understanding of it, there is no reason, why we should be caught off guard, like the unbelieving darkened world will be.
5.) Revelation 16:15
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
Shall I continue to beat this same drum? Jesus again and again warns, and even says we're blessed if we stay awake. The thief can't rob your of your clothes if you were awake and prepared for his coming. Likewise, are you ready for Jesus' second coming? Do you know the signs that will proceed his coming? Or will you be found naked and wanting on the Great and Terrible Day of the LORD?
6.) Luke 12: 35-40
Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
In this final passage, we see it stated once again that we who are walking in light, and they are dressed for action, their lamps stayed burning, and they were awake and ready for when the master returns. Moreover, he tells us, we will be blessed by the Master, himself, because his arrival didn't take us by surprise like the thief in the night.
When one looks closely and clearly at these 6 passages all together in this context, where it talks about the Lord's coming like a thief in the night, it becomes clear the analogy that the New Testament authors were trying to convey has less to do with the sudden and imminent return of Christ, but more so to do with the fact, that we as believers should NOT be taken off guard at his Second Coming. The word that used in every one of these passage is "awake". Are you awake? We are not in darkness, we are in light as the followers of Christ. We need to prepare ourselves for his coming by digging deep into his word and learn what the Scripture truly does teach about what the world will be like in the last days, what will be the signs of his coming, and what events must take place before he returns for his own.
The greater context is clear I think, the primary point here is that we need to be awake, alert, and ready for his coming so that it doesn't take us by surprise as a thief breaking into a home in the middle of the night. It is not a verse that proves Jesus will come back at any sudden moment, only that his return should not catch us off guard suddenly. It will be only the foolish and unbelievers who should feel that his arrival was out of the blue.
Indeed, I am sorry my Pre-trib brothers and sisters this phase about "coming like a thief" does not disprove the Post-Tribulation belief because it 'proves' Jesus can return at moment. No, if anything it most likely strengthens the belief in the Post-Tribulation, as I hope I demonstrated above. Look, there will be certain prophetic signs and events that must occur before Jesus' next and final coming. I'll go into some of those signs and events in a future blog, but for now let us agree that we need to be reading and growing in the Word. Thus, preparing ourselves as we wait eagerly for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.