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Thief in the Night 

No scriptural proof-text in God’s Word more clearly points to the first of the two phases of Jesus Christ’s Second Coming than does the following: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). We who hold to the pre-Trib Rapture viewpoint are often accused of being deceivers. We are condemned by our detractors as leading astray Christians alive now–if they live to see it–who will be required to endure the tribulation, thus to wash their robes clean in preparation for inheriting God’s Kingdom.

We are castigated for foisting upon innocent, gullible believers a “secret rapture” that will somehow lead these Christians to take the mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:16-18).

I’m not precisely sure of their “reasoning,” but I think they claim this because they are convinced that the ones who fall for the Rapture viewpoint won’t be able to recognize Antichrist when he comes to power. We who teach the pre-Trib rapture, so the accusation goes, would have falsely led these people to think the Church would not be here when Antichrist is on the world scene.

Almost all who are antagonistic to the pre-Trib Rapture doctrine teach that the “elect” will have to endure part or all of the seven-year tribulation era. Those who hold to a post-Tribulation Rapture, or a no-Rapture position, believe that Christ will come back at the end of the Tribulation, at Armageddon. They hold to the notion that that is His only return in the Second Coming. Other views have Christ returning when the earth is perfected and made ready, but we won’t go there in this essay.

Let us look at only the pre-Trib Rapture and the post-Trib Rapture positions for the purpose of exploring what is meant by the “thief in the night” references in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 2 Peter 3:10.

These two viewpoints–the pre-Trib, and the post-Trib–offer the greatest contrast to examine in consideration of the second advent of Jesus Christ, within the overall belief that Rapture will, according to Bible prophecy, happen before Christ’s foot actually touches down on Planet Earth.

The pre-Trib view of Rapture says that Christ’s Second Coming is in two phases, separated by at least seven years. The post-Trib rapture view says that the Rapture and Christ’s coming back to the Mount of Olives will occur almost simultaneously–certainly with no more than a matter of days separating the two events. The post-Trib position says there is no “secret” Rapture. Christ’s coming again will be fully seen in the heavens by all, including Christians who will be watching for Him to break through the darkness of that hour.

We agree that the Rapture of the Church (all born-again believers in Jesus Christ for salvation since the Church Age began at Pentecost) will be anything but a “secret.” The world will instantly go into cataclysmic chaos at the moment that stunning event takes place. The imagination is hard-pressed to fathom the ramifications of what will happen when millions suddenly vanish. Every child below the age of accountability will be gone in that mind-boggling instant of time. I am convinced that all babies (including those in the wombs of their mothers) will be instantly in the presence of Christ in the clouds of glory.

Every corpse of every dead Christian will be raised to join with his or her soul to meet Christ in the air in that atomos of time. The Rapture will be mystifying, and to some an inexplicable phenomenon, but it will not be a secret. It will happen before the eyes of a stupefied planet of left-behind earth-dwellers. This declaration that Jesus will call His Church to be with Him seems audacious to many. But, it didn’t seem so to the Apostle Paul. He was quite confident–even adamant—in his prophecy concerning the “mystery” he had been given by the Holy Spirit to instruct all believers down through the Age of Grace (Church Age).

Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

He explains what will take place next, in that stupendous fraction of a second:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

Jesus Himself told of this “mystery” Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15:51. The Lord explains what happens after believers–both the bodies of the dead and those who are living–are caught up in the air to be with Him:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 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 14:1-3)

So, the Rapture will take place. Believers and the bodies of those who died during the Church Age will be “caught up” in one single moment of time. “ALL,” not “some,” will go instantly to be with Jesus, who will then take them into heaven, where He has been preparing their dwelling places since He ascended from the Mount of Olives.

Again, the pre-Trib position on this joyous event is that it is imminent (could happen at any moment), and will happen before the Tribulation Period begins. The post-Trib position says that it happens at the end of the most terrible time in human history, just as Jesus Christ is returning from heaven at Armageddon.

The pre-Trib view holds that it will occur at an unknown time. It will be a stunning, sudden, and unannounced-to-the-world-at-large break-in upon business as usual on Planet Earth. The post-Trib proclaims that it will occur following all of the horrors of the judgments outlined in Revelation.

The pre-Trib view says that the world at large (left-behind earth-dwellers) won’t see it coming. The Rapture will cause all left on earth to wonder what has happened. The post-Trib view says that all eyes will behold Christ’s coming again to a hellish planet, and the living and dead saints will then be gathered to Christ.

The defining thing to consider in thinking on the two diametrically different views of the Rapture and Second Coming is wrapped up in the term “thief in the night.” The Apostle Peter again uses this mysterious term, first used by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:2:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peters 3:10)

Peter is saying here that the day of the Lord–that time when God and His Christ, His Son, takes over this fallen planet—will begin like a thief in the night. It will be a sudden, catastrophic break-in upon a world doing business as usual. (Read Luke 17:26-29 to understand how things will be going along as usual when Christ comes back.)

This description hardly fits the post-Trib view, or any other view that says Christ will Rapture His Church during a time of unprecedented trouble (Jeremiah 30:7; Matthew 24:21). This indicates that it will be a total surprise, because a thief in the night doesn’t announce his coming with great, cataclysmic fanfare. The break-in is swift, stealthy–a totally unexpected event.

Peter foretells in these passages that the “day of the Lord” will then run its course, until the remaking of the heavens and the earth. The Rapture will begin this “day of the Lord,” which will then run at least 1,007 years.

This is the first phase of Christ’s Second Coming. The Rapture occurs like a “thief in the night.” The second advent, when Jesus’ foot touches down on the Mount of Olives, is the second phase.

There are those who say with vehemence that it is blasphemous to equate Christ’s coming again as being like the break-in of a thief in the night. How dare we liken their Lord to a “thief”!

Really? Here’s what Jesus, the Creator of all things, said about this matter:

But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 24:43-44)

Looks like a pretty good case for the Lord’s sudden intervention into the nefarious affairs of this increasingly wicked world, does it not? That thief-in-the-night moment could happen, literally, at any moment. Certainly, signals of the Tribulation are beginning to come to pass.

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28)


17 Comments

  1. Ed Wood says:

    Jesus said the End Times will be like the “days of Noe (Noah)” – Matthew 24:38-39. Certainly the description of the kind of world that existed before the Flood in Genesis points to it being totally corrupt and we can certainly see it headed that way again at warp-speed today.

    I think that the suddenness of the arrival of the Flood sometimes is overlooked but it is a perfect parallel to how the Rapture will also come, only difference is that no one outside the Ark survived in Noah’s time while there will be plenty of those who left behind very much alive after the Rapture.

    Another thing we should consider is the level of hostility of the anti-Rapture crowd toward those of us who believe in it – especially from those who consider themselves Christians. Satan hates the truth and will do anything he can to dispute it. After seeing the path much of “organized religion” has taken in the past few decades, it appears to me that he’s made some serious inroads into planting and defending all manner of false doctrine – pretty much a walk in the park for him considering how scripturally ignorant all too many church-goers are today.

    To be sure, when the Rapture does happen, it will come as a big surprise to those who are left and it is quite likely most will be equally clueless as to explain it even though the evidence will still be there for all to see in the Bible.

    Yet we also know some people will wise up and discover the truth – and also make them targets for the Antichrist regime that will soon follow.

    I’d say it’s time for people to start doing their homework right now, while there is still time to avoid all that.

    • I will mention only one thing. The scripture does not say Christ will come as a thief in the night to believers,, but only to unbelievers. It specifically states that believers will not be in the dark. in other words they will know not the day and hour but the season or time it will happen. Look only at Matt 24:29 and 31. Then you will know. It states definitely post Tribulation rapture.

      • I should note one more thing and that is The Lord will protect His people during this period supernaturally. With the mark of the beast during this period believers will be fed and taken care of as were His people who came out of Egypt. Jesus will not be without a witness during this period.

      • Ed Wood says:

        Well, there are many reasons that I believe that the Pre-Trib Rapture scenario is right. These passages appear to indicate two distinct sets of believers, the first existing in Pre-Trib times, which is now:

        Matthew {16:18} And I* say also unto thee, That thou art
        Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the
        gates of hell shall not prevail against it. *Jesus.

        The second being composed of those who become believers after the Rapture:

        Revelation {13:7} And it was given unto him* to make war with the **saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. *The Beast **Post -Trib church.

        Furthermore, Revelation tells us that those who refuse the mark will be decapitated, losing their lives on Earth but attaining eternal life in heaven, again, this would be Post Trib believers. (Rev. 20:4)

        As we can see, there is a church that is not overcome by the devil and one that is. Clearly both conditions require two different entities at two different times.

        Now “supernatural protection” you mention in your second comment, I believe refers to Israel, being given sanctuary at Petra (Sela). (Isaiah 16:1-4; Rev. 12:1-6) That this is likely to be truth is the reference in Revelation here mirrors what we read in Genesis 37:9.

        I believe Pre-Trib Rapture answers what would otherwise be paradoxes.

  2. mary says:

    All I can tell you is this is a great teaching. You have done a marvelous job, and I can say without a doubt I agree with all said and the scripture used to back it up! I have seen this same analogy used by many other preachers. What we believe is the truth! This word is Truth, God’s word is truth,and just keep preaching it pastor, and we will keep looking up for the blessed hope the coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ! I can’t wait!!! My whole inside bursts when I think about the Beautiful Jesus coming in the clouds and calling us up to meet him in the Air! Wow!!! That is going to be the best day of my Life! I so look forward to seeing his face! So beautiful, so lovely and so glorious!! Praise his name!!!

  3. Leisel says:

    This is all very exciting! Although “sudden” and “unannounced”, yet foretold, and warned! Noah heeded God’s warning and spent 120-some years preparing – waiting – in spite of the taunts of his neighbors. Those of us that take Him at His word – also put up with ridicule. Watching and listening for His beckon to me, keeps me on my toes continually . . . not worthy, but sanctified and ready! Even so, Come Lord Jesus!!!

    • Ed Wood says:

      Say, your point about Moses enduring ridicule and comparing it to that to which Rapture believers (and Bible believers in general) are seeing now makes yet another parallel to these times reflecting the “days of Noe.” Great insight!

      I learned something new today – thanks for that.

      Ed W.

  4. Kim says:

    I’ve been looking for the Lord’s return since I got saved 40 years ago. Just a thought here – do you think there are enough Christians now living in this present time that if the rapture was to take place today, in the next few days, months, or years, that people will notice (save maybe our loved ones) us being gone? Do you think it would have such an impact on the world’s economy? As the number of Christians are getting fewer and fewer as new generations come up, do you think it will really have a financial impact?

    • Leisel says:

      In 1 Kings 19, Elijah imagined that he was the only one left – until the Lord revealed to him that He had reserved thousands more. I think there are more true believers out there than we can even imagine.

    • Terry James says:

      Jesus prophesied that when He is next revealed (the Rapture) and, like Lot, believers are removed from this earthly scene, Judgment will begin falling that very day. (Read Matt 24: 36-42 and Luke 17: 26-30.)

      Yes. I believe Christians leaving this world –taking the Holy Spirit’s Influence as Restrainer removing with them, will cause tremendous impact upon rebellious earth-dwellers, as the Bible terms them.

  5. Brother James,

    I don’t believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture but in a simpler view of the End Times that Jesus Himself set forth plainly for us, that is, that there are two ages, “this age” and “the age to come.” I don’t believe that most believers in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture are deceivers at all! I love them.

    Please take a look – you misquoted this Scripture, leaving out a phrase:

    For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ [missing part] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

    It should read:

    15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

    This is not meant as rebuke. Knowing the Word as you do, it must be an oversight.

    However, from examining this passage it is clear that the Rapture is announced or broadcast loudly by: the Lord’s descent from Heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God. Everyone will know exactly what happened. This should be plain to us. Aren’t dispensational futurists determined to be literal?

    Our blessed hope is the glorious appearing of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Rapture happens then. The Church made up by God’s good pleasure of Jew and Greek (Gentile) – as one new man – was always God’s plan. The Church does not live in a parenthesis in which millions were martyred by Antichrist, popes, and millions were slain in the Holocaust, and millions died in one outbreak of bubonic plague alone. Please take a simpler view than the seven years of Tribulation. The Seventieth Week was fulfilled at Christ’s First Appearing. He is enthroned in Heaven now, waiting until the Father has made His enemies a footstool for His feet.

    It isn’t that Pre-Tribulationists are deceivers – though there are deceivers who hold all the views of the End Times – but that they fail to rightly divide God’s Word.

    For many years, my husband and I were taught and studied the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, two Second Comings, and the Millennium. It isn’t that we’re ignorant of those things at all but were taught them from the time we were saved.

    God bless you, dear brother! I won’t come back to bother you again but the truth must be made known, even by the least of them.

    • Terry James says:

      The scriptural oversight is unintentional, as you mention.

      Yours is the type comment I’ve gotten most often over many decades in dismissal of the Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine. Always I’m told that they were once believers in pre-Trib but now see the light and I should agree with what they believe now, rather than with what I know God’s Word tells me.

      I’ve long ago stopped debating, because I’ve found it leads only to long, drawn-out back and forths, for which I haven’t time these days. We just put forth what we know to be truth from God’s Word and are content to see who is right and who is not right when we stand before our Lord one day to give accounting for the way we handle His Word –hopefully soon.

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