COMMENTARY: Is Jesus the Thief in the Night?

The one thing we know for sure about the Lord’s coming is we won’t know for sure when he is coming.

I remember years ago watching the popular 1970’s rapture movie, “Thief in the Night,” with my two oldest children. A week later they came home early from school and their mother and I were not there. They told us later how frightened they became thinking we’d been raptured and left them behind.

That’s when I realized something wasn’t kosher about a teaching that could create such fear in children. Especially when you add in all the chaos that would ensue when pilots and bus drivers suddenly disappear.

As most know, this Rapture teaching was popularized by John Nelson Darby in the early eighteen hundreds. To his credit he departed from Replacement Theology after seeing the prophets had promised a future restoration of Israel. But he stumbled in believing the Church and Israel would remain two separate people of God with different inheritances. He believed Christians would go to Heaven and the Jews would inherit the Promised Land.

To fulfill his understanding he taught Jesus would come secretly like a “thief in the night” to snatch away all Christians before the Tribulation, no matter how worldly, and bring us to Heaven. The Jews, after being brought to repentance as a result of the Tribulation, would set up their Davidic kingdom in Israel to rule the world for the Millennium.

But Darby’s theology was fundamentally flawed because it divided the body of Messiah in half based on ethnicity. For we know “there is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Gal 3:28). He did not see God had only one kingdom, one people, and that all who were chosen in Messiah will reign with him here on earth!

As for Yeshua coming suddenly upon us as a thief at night, that is the last thing a believer would want to experience. Paul’s warning couldn’t be clearer: “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night… but you brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief…so then, LET US NOT SLEEP AS THE OTHERS DO, but let us be alert and sober” (1Thess. 5:2-4,6).

It is the inattentive, unprepared believer deceived by a world system with its strong religious component, along with the unbelievers, who will be caught napping. Yeshua likened that believer to the head of the house, who, if he had stayed awake, “would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matt: 24:42-44). The same warning was given to the dozing saints at Sardis: “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Rev. 3:3-5).

The one thing we know for sure about the Lord’s coming is we won’t know for sure when he is coming. Even he didn’t know when he’d be back!Pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib? Who knows? Only the Father. That’s why we are “to be dressed in readiness and keeps our lamps lit” (Luke 12:35) – listening daily to His voice, and walking in love, faith and obedience.

Although we won’t know the day or hour, multiple signs will alert us “that he is near, even right at the door” (Matt 24:33).  Yes, the worldly ones will be taken by surprise “as in the days of Noah,” but Noah and his family were literally on board with it all before God shut the door. In the same way, Peter tells us to expect a salvation “ready to be revealed in the last time… and to fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:5,13).

Darby was right that the Lord will come for his own before he returns to visit fiery judgment upon the nations and sets up his kingdom. But this salvation will not beam us up to Heaven. Nor will it be for carnal Christians. Nor will it be in secret.  It will be for those who are ready, and will take place in front of the whole world as a witness to the truth about Yeshua. “The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10).

I believe it will be seen as nothing less than the long-awaited restoration of Ephraim with Judah in Messiah. “Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand, the remnant of His people who will remain” (Isa. 11:11)

But nobody is going anywhere until “the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:4).


Brian Hennessy is the author of Valley of the Steeples, available at: ketchpublishing/BrianHennessyBooks.htm

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