Understanding Jesus Coming as a Thief
Many believe that one day in the future, Jesus will come as a thief in the night. We’ve heard it in our hymns, classes, sermons and through traditions passed down to us. This teaching is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the church that many never question it.
The idea of Jesus coming as a thief means this will occur at the end of time. However, the Scriptures never speak of the end of time. They do however speak about the time of the end. In Luke 17:26-29, we have examples from Jesus’ teaching on how to apply the meaning of coming as a thief.
And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.
The Days of Noah
Observe that the flood judgment came in the days of Noah. This means these people were living in their last days. They continued with the normal affairs of life until the day came. That was the time of the end. It was the last day, the day of God’s judgment.
The Days of Lot
In a similar fashion, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah carried on with life as usual despite their sins against nature. Some were adamant adherents to the GBLT lifestyle. They ate, drank, bought, sold, planted and built. They were engaged in the routines of life and had no clue what was about to happen to them. Like the people of Pompeii, when Mt Vesuvius erupted and rained ash and fire upon them, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were showered with fire and brimstone.
It was difficult for them to see that they were in their last days. When that fatal last day came, it was too late. There was no place to run and no place to hide. They were incinerated like the people in the Dresden Apocalypse of 1945. These judgments did not occur at the end of time, but at the time of the end for Sodom and Gomorrah. It was a judgment within time.
As the Days of the Coming of the Lord
In Matthew 24, we learn additionally, that there was a surprise element in the narrative concerning the people in Noah’s generation.
And did not know until the flood came and took them all away so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:39)
Observe this element of surprise. This flood came upon the people by stealth. Life went on as usual until the very day Noah entered the ark. It was as though they watched him pack his last suit case and enter the ark. They did not have a clue what was about to happen. Within a few minutes or hours a raging Tsunami with waters rising above hills and mountains, left destruction in its wake.
It was not a judgment at the end of time, but a judgment in time.
Coming As A Thief in the Night
How does Christ apply the teaching above? He said his coming would be in similar manner. This means it would not be an end of time coming. It too would occur in time. He came as a thief upon the unsuspecting wicked. Note that it is the wicked who were uninformed. They were overtaken. The righteous were informed. Compare the teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pangs upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, also that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. (1-5)
Compare what is said here with 2 Peter 3:10, where the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. Also in Revelation 3:3, Christ told the saints in Sardis that he would come as a thief if they did not repent and watch. That means as long as they remained faithful his coming would not overtake them as a thief.
As in the days of Noah and Lot, the righteous were informed of impending judgment. They were not in darkness. In the final week before the flood God told Noah they had seven more days (Gen. 7:1-4). Jesus warned the people he would come within their generation. He gave the righteous signs so they would not be mislead or overtaken. They wicked were clueless. They sought safety within the locked gates of the city of Jerusalem. The moment they cried peace and safety, the Romans set siege upon the city them locking them in to their historic fate. Destruction came upon them as a thief.
The righteous had escaped the city just as did Noah and Lot in their day. They took heed to Jesus’ command to flee at the first sign of the Presence of the Roman armies, (Lk. 21:20-22). The judgment came in their lifetime, before their generation passed away. It was the last days of Judah and end of Israel’s covenant under Moses, Lk. 21:32.
- The judgments of Noah and Lot both occurred when the last days of each respective people reached their end.
- The last day was not the end of the time, but the time of the end for both Noah’s day and the days of Lot.
- In each case above Jesus came as a thief upon the wicked.
- Jesus coming as a thief would be just as it was in the two example above. His coming is not at the end of time but in the time of the end.
- Jesus came as a thief upon the Judeans who were trapped inside the city gates of Jerusalem by the Romans who burned the city to the ground.
Matthew 24:29; 2 Peter 3:10 and Revelation 3;3 all describe the Jesus coming as a thief in A.D. 70 to destroy the nation who rejected their Messiah. To the righteous he came as a Savior to bring salvation to those who believed in him.