Christ's coming as a thief
The Day of the Lord and the return of Jesus, the Son of Man, are both described in the Bible as coming like a thief. This is not the kind of thief that lies in wait on the highway to plunder and rob the traveller. This is one who comes by stealth and takes any person by surprise who has not prepared against such an intrusion. This is made plain by the original Greek term used in these instances.
Another term, different in meaning is used to identify those who were crucified alongside of Jesus, and the robbers who waylaid the unfortunate traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho in the parable of the Good Samaritan. So the emphasis concerning the coming of the Son of Man needs to be placed on surprise, due to people being unprepared. This is certain, for He said, "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." (Rev. 3:3) So that is the sense Jesus himself conveyed.
HE COMES AS A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
The believers in Thessalonica knew that the day of the Lord was to come as a thief in the night. Paul said in 1Thessalonians 5:2 – 3 "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety’; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." Note the difference between those who knew that Jesus was to come as a thief in the night, and those who did not. Those to whom he is writing (the believers in Thessalonica) knew. But those who imagine all is well, and talk peace and safety will be ensnared in destruction. These are obviously either unbelievers, or unwary believers, perhaps even those who imagine they can fix the world’s ills themselves. One thing is certain; they are not the elect of God.
BELIEVERS WHO WATCH ARE SECURE FROM THEFT
So Paul continues, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." (1Thessalonians 5:4-6) The element of complete surprise is obvious here to the unprepared and those ignorant of God’s purpose to send Jesus. That day comes upon them unawares, just as a thief in the night would do. So if we do not want to be caught by surprise, special knowledge of God’s plan is essential, coupled with a constant daily alertness to the fact that CHRIST IS COMING. Not only does Paul emphasise the need to stay awake and watch, but he also warns against the intoxication of false teaching that can blur our vision. We must know The Truth.
THE THIEF TAKES THE UNWARY BY SURPRISE
It is amazing that in spite of over three hundred references to the coming again of Jesus in the New Testament, there are still those claiming to be Christian, who even scoff at the notion of the personal return of Jesus to this earth. Jesus knew this in advance for he gave the advice to "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. If the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up." (Matthew 24:42,43) One cannot really claim to be a follower of Christ unless he first reads the Lord’s message and then intelligently applies it to himself. Jesus will come whether we expect Him or not. So seeing the Saviour said that we "know not the day nor the hour wherein the son of man cometh," (Matthew 25:13) all who claim to be Christian should at be always on the alert for his coming.
If we are not, He will come upon us as a thief, and we
will suffer great loss, even entrance into the Kingdom
of God. Jesus repeats this parable in the twelfth
chapter of Luke. He likens His return to a thief that not only takes the unwary by surprise, but to a thief that digs through into his house to take away his goods. (Luke 12:39) The unwary will lose everything he once had.
BELIEVERS LOOKING FOR CHRIST ARE NOT SURPRISED
So if you do not want to lose everything you have lived for, be ready as Jesus says in the next verse, "Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." (Luke 12:40) The original word translated "think" here, has a special meaning. It applies to one who is making his own suggestions by supposing this and that. It doesn’t ignore the observance of the signs Jesus gave, but emphasises working for Him. The following clarification is given by the Lord Himself.
"42 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? 43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing."
BELIEVERS GIVING UP WATCHING LOSE EVERYTHING
So it is clear that to be ready is to be found busy doing His work. Then if we are busily and productively so occupied, we should also be consciously in that state of readiness. The Lord will then not surprise us in coming upon us as a thief, provided we do not fill the following description. "45 But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; 46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. In other words the Master will come to this unfaithful servant as a thief in the night, and cast him into outer darkness.
There are also those today who actually anticipate the coming of Jesus by their own crude reckoning, and sometimes in fanciful ways. Some even thought they would be taken away in a space ship, but committed suicide instead. Yet those people perished with no real hope. Their reckoning was not only untimely, but also inventive. They did not understand God’s plan for they thought they were embarking on a trip to heaven. But the Bible does not promise Heaven at all. It says, "The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." (Psalm 37:11 Matthew 5:5) "The righteous shall inherit the land (Hebrew ‘erets’ earth) and dwell therein for ever." (Psalm 37:29) The Hebrew word for "ever" here means just that.
THE RAPTURE THEORY EXPOSED
There are also those who mistakenly think that the Lord is coming to take his church up to Heaven. They say He will come for it in secret, and no one will see Him, that believers will suddenly and inexplicably disappear into the atmosphere. But the Bible says,
"He cometh with clouds and every eye shall see him." (Rev 1:3) Exponents of this rapture theory appeal to 1Thessalonians 4:16,17."For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Notice that there is only one mention of heaven in these verses. That is when Jesus leaves it to come down to earth. A literal translation of the original Greek text indicates that the faithful dead and living are together carried away in clouds for a meeting of the Lord in air. The text does not support a mass transportation to heaven. If it is to be taken literally, they are caught up for a grand meeting of the Lord in the very air enveloping this earth. The usual rapture theory goes too far, suggesting transportation beyond the arena mentioned in the text. So His coming as a thief is due to the element of surprise, and is not an unobserved secret event.
So keep watching for the Lord and be ready when He comes.