Thief In The Night (Part One)

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 (NIV)

The return of Christ Jesus will be like a thief in the night. This idea echoes throughout the New Testament writings (Matthew 24:43; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3, 16:15). “Thief in the night” is indicative of the element of surprise. Christ’s return will be sudden. It will catch the world by surprise.

Nobody knows when a thief would break into a house to steal. In the same way, no one knows the day and time of Christ’s return. However, in the next breath, the apostle, Paul, remarks that we should not be taken by surprise. This suggests that Christians are not supposed to be in the dark concerning this critical event in God redemptive timetable. We should be in the know.

So, what is Paul really saying?

Jesus also teaches that His return will be like a thief in the night in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:43). In fact, He is the first person to broach this idea. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Jesus said to His disciples (Matthew 24:36). This is a very interesting statement. Jesus, Himself, the second Person of the Trinity, does not know the exact time of His impending return.

Jesus goes on to give three examples.

Like Noah’s Time

He cites the Flood as His first example (Matthew 24:37-39). The people in Noah’s time had no idea that a devastating flood was imminent. They were going about their normal activities when the deluge suddenly hit. They were caught by surprise.

However, they should not be surprised. Surely Noah had warned them of the impending judgement because he was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). During the antediluvian period, the climatic condition was vastly different from the present time. The earth was enveloped in a thick layer of moisture. There was no rainfall. It was not needed. People who questioned Noah’s wisdom in building the ark would be met with a warning of judgement due to the gross immorality and corrupt culture.

They had plenty of time to consider and repent from their wicked ways. However, they did not believe Noah’s warning. It sounded incredulous. So, they conveniently ignored him. They probably mocked and ridiculed him.

Jesus concludes this example saying His return will be like Noah’s time. People will be caught unaware and unprepared (Matthew 24:39).

The Rapture

The second and third examples link Jesus’ return to the rapture. The rapture is a different event from His Second Coming when Jesus will come with His mighty angelic army to judge the nations and fight against the enemies of God (Revelation19:11-21). The rapture will take place before the Second Coming. The purpose is to rescue the church from God’s wrath, which will be poured upon the inhabitants of the earth (1 Thessalonians 5:9). All the true believers of Christ will be caught up in mid-air to meet with Christ, who will then take us with Him to heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:40-41). This is a vivid description of the rapture.

The Signs

The rapture will take place suddenly, and people will be caught by surprise just like the Flood during Noah’s time.

However, Christians should not be taken by surprise. We should be anticipating this momentous event as it draws near. While no one knows the exact day and hour of Christ’s return, Christians should know the season in which the rapture will take place. When that time draws near, we ought to know.

How will we know?

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus tells us to watch out for signs. There will be many different kinds of signs – unusual cosmic activities involving the sun, moon and stars; increased frequency and intensity of earthquake and climatic upheaval resulting in storms and floods; multiplied warfare between countries and nations; famines; widespread persecution against Christians; apostasy where many Christians will fall away from the faith; an increase in lawlessness and immorality. When we see all these things happening at the same time and at an unprecedented scale, we know that the time of Christ’s return is very near.

Perhaps the mother of all signs is the blossoming of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-35). The fig tree is often used in the bible as a symbol of the nation of Israel. A few days before His crucifixion, Jesus cursed a fig tree, and it withered and died immediately. This is a sign indicating the demise of the nation of Israel. Barely a few decades later, the Jews were forcefully driven out of their homeland. They did not return until the year 1948, which is an amazing fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy of the blossoming of the fig tree. Jesus categorically says that when this happens, not one generation will pass, and He will return.

Currently, we are seeing all these signs happening right before our eyes.

This is the time window when Jesus will return anytime. However, we do not know the day and hour. We know the season but not the exact time. Like a pregnant woman, she knows roughly the time of the delivery but not the exact day and hour. This explains the seeming contradiction in the 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 passage.

Be Alert

Jesus is coming back soon. We are at that time window. Therefore, stay awake, keep watch and be ready. Do not be caught off-guard. There are dire consequences.

Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua