I my previous article entitled, Rapture, Second Chances and the End of the World, we talked about the concept of second chances and whether it was biblical. Much more could be said on that topic but in this article we’ll examine the concept of Jesus coming like a thief as it relates to the Rapture and specifically the idea of a secret rapture.
In my previous article I listed five references to Jesus’ second coming that are being compared to a thief. (Rev. 16:15;Matt. 24:43;1 Thes. 5:2,4;2 Peter 3:10).
Let’s consider 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 in context.
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.
2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.
6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Those who teach the rapture doctrine believe in the separation of the second coming of Christ and the ‘day of the Lord’. People like Tim LaHaye of Left Behind fame teach that there are two distinct events described by the bible writers. According to this view, the second coming is when the saints are secretly raptured up to be with Christ in heaven and the day of the Lord is at the end of a seven year period where God will then punish the wicked. There are certainly two distinct comings mentioned by scripture. The first one is one in which every eye will see him. That coming spells the end of life on earth except for Satan and presumably his demons. The final or third coming of Christ is with all his saints and it is a coming of judgement. For the sake of keeping things in manageable chunks, we will only deal with his second coming here. Is his second coming secret? Why does Jesus use the imagery of a thief? Does this imagery in fact point to a secret disappearance of the saints?
Consider the passage we just read in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
The first thing you should notice is that the ‘day of the Lord’ is said to ‘come like a thief in the night.’ So here the apostle Paul associates the concept of Jesus coming as a ‘thief’ with the ‘day of the Lord’ and not the second coming as one who believes in the rapture would expect. In verse 3 Paul tells us that in general, people will be deceived about his coming. In verse 4 Paul let’s Christians know that the day of the Lord should not be a surprise for them. Why? Because the bible has left us ample prophecies and clues to help us identify the nearness of Christ’s coming.
In verse 6 Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to stay awake in keeping with what Jesus taught about staying awake and keeping watch for his coming (Matt. 24). In verse 9 Paul makes it clear that we are not destined for wrath as non-believers are. The Bible teaches that the whole world is naturally under God’s wrath or judgment. We get this condemnation by virtue of our ancestor Adam and because we are also sinners. The good news of the kingdom is that Jesus came to save us from that condemnation. (Rom. 8:1; John 3:17-18)
This passage clearly links the day of the Lord with an event that will catch the whole world by surprise except God’s true children. It also points to their destruction at his appearing with the mention of God’s wrath in verse 9. Over and over again Jesus warned the disciples to stay awake. He told a number of parables meant to help them understand that if they weren’t careful, his second coming would take them by surprise. Just one example is the parable of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13. It details how all ten virgins are waiting for the coming bridegroom but ultimately only five of them have properly prepared themselves for a long wait. Jesus ends the parable by warning the disciples to ‘watch’ in verse 13, ‘you know neither the day nor the hour.’
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” – Matthew 24:43-44.
Is this language suggestive of only a select group being taken? Is Jesus trying to say that he is coming in secret? Not at all! He uses the analogy of the thief to say that he is coming unexpectantly. For the wicked, Jesus’ second coming is very bad news exactly like a thief’s appearance. No one wants to be stolen from.
Years ago I ran a second hand computer business. My wife and I struggled hand to mouth to make a living from it and we had only limited means to run it and therefore limited inventory. One night a couple of young guys came into the store to ask some questions. They didn’t buy anything but asked about what services / parts I could help them with. The next morning I came to the store and found the back door wide open and much of our stock gone along with customer property. Not a good feeling to be sure. Very discouraging to say the least. Now tell me, if I had known that I was going to get broken into that night do you think I would have gone home? Of course not. After that event I had installed an alarm system and steel bars and it did help against another attempted break in but it didn’t help me recover what was stolen.
Each of us must make a decision. Will we follow Jesus? Will we choose to obey him no matter what? Will we be ready?