A Thief in the Night :: By Daniel Payne

A thief in the night is not usually associated with making a delivery. Rather, a thief is usually associated with committing a theft—i.e., taking something away.

The Rapture of the Church is often thought of as the Lord Jesus suddenly appearing like a thief in the night to “steal” or “take” His bride home to be with Him in heaven.

He will catch the world completely off guard when He suddenly returns over earth to seize everyone—who truly believes in, repents, and accepts His sacrifice for their sins—up from the ground and into heaven.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).

Although the Lord Jesus made reference to it in the verse above, the event known as the Rapture of the Church was revealed as a “mystery” solved by the Apostle Paul in his letters written to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica:

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51-52).

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Based on the verses just written in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul was most likely continuing with the theme of the Rapture of the Church still in view where 1 Thessalonians chapter five begins:

“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” (I Thessalonians 5:1-2).

Although Paul begins a new subject—the Day of the Lord—he was likely illustrating to the Thessalonians what to watch for concerning their meeting with the Lord in the air at the Rapture.

Notice that Paul did not educate the Thessalonians on what to watch for during or at the end of the Tribulation—i.e., for the seven plus years after the beginning of the Day of the Lord.

Instead, Paul instructed the Thessalonians on what to watch for before the Day of the Lord begins.

Essentially, Paul told the Thessalonians that they had no need to be further educated about the times and seasons. At the time Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, presentations of the many signs that will precipitate the Day of the Lord were—and still are—found in the Old Testament as well as the teachings of Christ, etc..

In addition, the Church will not be affected by the times and the seasons that will take place during the Tribulation as she will be taken to heaven at the Rapture just before the Day of the Lord begins.

According to Paul, the Thessalonians already knew about the Day of the Lord. They knew that the exact beginning was unknown and that it would catch the world at large completely by surprise.

The Thessalonian believers also had “no need” to be concerned about “the times and seasons” that take place during the Day of the Lord because they would not be present on earth when they take place.

However, they were told to watch—more on that later.

As Paul describes in his second letter to the Thessalonians, without a single member of the true Church left on earth after the Rapture, the greatest apostasy the world has ever committed will take place. At that time, the Antichrist will also be revealed.

The apostasy also means the “departure”—as apostasia is translated in the first seven English Bible translations—and may be a reference to the Rapture of the Church, as the context of “our gathering together unto Him” seems to indicate:

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

At that time, the Lord Jesus will most assuredly oversee the “delivery” of His Tribulation judgment—likely known to the Thessalonians as the time of Jacob’s trouble and Daniel’s 70th week—after He “takes” His bride home to heaven:

hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:16b-17).

“For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (I Thessalonians 5:3).

Sudden destruction will come upon them—the children of darkness—when the Day of the Lord overtakes them like a thief in the night. The Day of the Lord will not overtake believers at all because we are not in darkness; we are sons and daughters of the light:

“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (I Thessalonians 5:4-5).

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

As true believers, we have already accepted the Lord’s gift of salvation, and therefore we will not experience the Day of His wrath. God’s Word could not be more clear on this point:

“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (I Thessalonians 1:10).

“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:9).

“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Paul exhorted the Thessalonians not to focus on looking for the judgment of the Tribulation but instead to focus on being ready for the Rapture.

The only negative for members of the Church corresponding to the return of Jesus is shame associated with not having confidence in living a life fully abiding in Him at the moment He returns:

“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (I John 2:28).

That is how we “purify” ourselves with the hope of His return:

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John 3:2-3).

Imagine miraculously surviving the horrors of the Tribulation, and achieving victory through the power of Christ by not worshiping the beast or his image, and by not receiving the mark of the beast (Revelation 20:4), and yet being ashamed at His return—does that make any sense?

We—the Church—are told to “watch” for His coming by interpreting the many signs of the upcoming season that is surely about to begin:

“Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near’” (Luke 21:29-31).

“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

“Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (I Thessalonians 5:6).

For a Thief in the night…