Like a thief in the night.
Jesus first expressed this idea that He would return “like a thief in the night” in the Olivet Discourse. Four of His disciples came to Him on the Mount of Olives and asked, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). During His response Jesus described the signs that will take place before His return, providing a way for us to determine the general time of His return.
Repeatedly, Jesus told of the increasing deception that will come in the Last Days. He commanded us to watch and stay alert so we would not be deceived and get caught off guard.
Today many people are confused and deceived regarding the meaning of the expression “like a thief in the night.” They mistakenly believe that Jesus will come “like a thief in the night” to the Church. Meaning that the Church will not know the general time of Christ’s return. However, this is totally incorrect. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul clearly tell us that the Church will know the general time of Christ’s return. Jesus said,
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matthew 24:42-44).
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Luke 12:39-40).
Paul, wrote that, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” when reminding the Thessalonians of his previous instructions to them about the Second Coming. Here is what Paul wrote.
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. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:1-5).
When Paul says, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” notice that he is referring to “people,” “them,” and “they,” Paul is making a distinction between the believers and the unbelievers. Consider what Paul says to the believers in verse four - “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” He is telling them that the Day of the Lord will not surprise the believers, because they know what will happen first. On the other hand, Christ’s return on the Day of the Lord will surprise the unbelieving world.
Again, in Revelation, Jesus reminds and warns His followers that if they do not stay awake, His return will surprise them like a thief..
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Revelation 3:3).
"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed" (Revelation 16:15
Believers will be aware of the general time of Christ’s return but unbelievers will be caught off guard when Jesus Christ returns to earth “like a thief in the night.” Therefore, don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, many signs will occur before Jesus Christ returns to gather up His Church.
If the coming of the Lord catches you by surprise, you will be treated as an unbeliever.
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour (Matthew 25:13).
Richard H Perry