I Will Come Like a Thief

Once upon a time, in the iron-age kingdom of Lydia, there was a river of gold called the Pactolus River. Whoever controlled the river was rich, and this explains why Croesus was one of the richest kings who ever lived.

Croesus, who lived about 550 years before Christ, built a citadel called Sardis to protect his wealth. The citadel sat atop sheer cliffs and was impregnable – or so Croesus thought.

But one night while the guards were dozing, a Persian soldier scaled the cliffs, opened the gate, and Sardis fell. Thus ended the reign of King Croesus.

The fall of Sardis was a pivot point in history for it brought the fearsome Persians to Ionia and the shores of Greece.

One of the changes made by the Persians was they populated Sardis with Jews. The Jews in Sardis thrived which meant that whoever brought the gospel to Sardis had a ready audience in the synagogue.

Fast forward to the end of first century and we find that Sardis had a church – one of seven mentioned in the opening chapters of Revelation. Jesus sent this church a letter and in it he said this:

If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. (Rev. 3:3b)

Telling the Sardians that he would come like a thief was a clever nod to their history. “Remember how your city fell because you weren’t paying attention? That’s what will happen to you, if you don’t wake up.”

Slumbering Sardians

The amazing thing is that Sardis fell twice; first to the Persians in 546BC, then to Seleucid armies of Antiochus the Great in 213BC. On both occasions the city fell because a brave soldier scaled the cliffs like a thief. (You can read the full story in my book, Letters from Jesus.)

Just as the British are famous for their orderly queues and their love of tea, the Sardians were famous for not paying attention. They would have understood that when Jesus said, “I will come like a thief,” he meant that he would come unexpectedly:

Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake. (Rev. 16:15a)

What does it mean to say the Lord will come like a thief? It means his return will be sudden. People won’t expect it.

How then should we live? Those slumbering in the stupor of sin need to wake up.

Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. (Matt. 24:42-43)

No one knows when the Lord will return, but we can be ready. We “wake up” by turning to God in faith. We stay alert by having a hopeful and confident expectation of his return.

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief (1 Thess. 5:4)

The meaning is plain: be ready for the Master’s return. But you won’t be ready if you think Jesus is never coming or that he has already come.

The Lord’s return is future, not past.

Since I have written a book about the fall of Jerusalem, some people have concluded that I am a preterist. “Paul teaches that Jesus came in AD70.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know when Jesus is coming but I can assure you it wasn’t then.

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. (1 Thess. 5:2–3)

The Lord’s return will not happen during a time of war but in a time of peace and safety. No one was saying “peace and safety” before the siege of Jerusalem, and there was nothing unexpected or thief-like about the fall of Judea.

When is Jesus coming?

Not in AD70, 1000, 1984, 1988, 1999, 2012, 2017, 2020, or any year that has so far been claimed. No one knows the hour or day the Son is coming, not even him.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matt. 24:36)

We don’t know when, but we do know how: the Lord will return unexpectedly like a thief. But his return won’t be a secret event. Everyone will know about it.

There are more than 90 scriptures discussing the Lord’s return, and every one of them encourages us to look forward to that great and glorious day.

The takeaway: Don’t get caught napping like King Croesus and the slumbering Sardians, and don’t let the day of the Lord overtake you like a thief.

Get ready, live ready, and look forward to the glorious return of the King.


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16 Comments on I Will Come Like a Thief

  1. I’ve heard ministers insinuate that Christians who aren’t ready (eg. who aren’t living a godly life, praying, etc.) will not be raptured at Christ’s return (probably because of the parable of the 10 virgins). Can you give some insight into this? Thank you.

    • According to the Book of Opinions, if you’re not praying 30 minutes every day, going to church at least once a week, and tithing off the top, you’re toast!

  2. John K Cheeseman // July 29, 2021 at 3:17 am // Reply

    Years ago with predictions being made of Lord’s return like Wisenant predictions for 1988 Hal Lindsey predictions and others I have concluded that the people of God are gullible, some anyway. I half bought into it myself out of ignorance. What difference does it make when the Lord returns, though I think it should have happened already with all that has happened already. No, what’s important is how we live now, today, after all tomorrow has enough worries of it’s own. It is our today’s that will determine our tomorrow’s.
    I am so thankful for Paul and his words of encouragement and right believing that help all of us to see and live as we should in a world over run with distractions and deception.

  3. So what is it exactly, to get ready and be ready?

  4. timestatements // July 29, 2021 at 5:34 am // Reply

    So sorry to hear that you are not a Preterist. I had hoped that you were. I still love your ministry even if you don’t see the fulfilled message. We all need to love one another and fulfill God’s law.

  5. This is gonna sound terrible coming from a confirmed Bible-believing Christian. But honestly…I don’t know if I want Jesus to come back. Or at least not too soon.

    While every other Christian is looking forward to eternal life and happiness, I’m honestly dreading it. As much as this fallen world may suck sometimes, it’s the only one I’ve known. A fish can’t comprehend living in a world without water.

    It’s a problem I’ve had for years. When I was 8-9 years old and first grasped what eternity and living forever meant, I was terrified. Just recently I had a dream where the stars were falling and the sky went white, and I was so scared out of my mind that I had to tell myself I was dreaming.

    I don’t know what to do about it and I’m tired of being made to feel bad about it.

    • Hi Rachel, I appreciate your honesty. If you are dreading the return of the Lord and the end of all sorrow and death, can I suggest you have a flawed expectation of what’s going to happen? I have written about some of the things that will happen when the Lord returns here. I hope it helps.

      • It’s not that I like sorrow and death. It’s just that all the bad stuff about this world makes me appreciate the good stuff all the more. Humans are not static creatures. We were meant to grow and change. And more often than not, we grow and change because of adversity. What’s the point of having goals to accomplish if you literally have all the time in the universe? Would we really cherish our loved ones if we didn’t have limited time with them? And when you really think about it, in a perfect world, virtues like courage, kindness, mercy, etc. are pretty much rendered meaningless because there are no circumstances which would call for such.

      • Besides, I already know every single thing you listed is going to happen. I was taught the Bible since I was born and have personally known God for ten years. The problem is if I can’t imagine a future life no matter how great it might be, I can’t look forward to it. I’ve been told it’s probably in part because I’m still young. But it just makes me feel mad and left out for thinking the way I do.

      • You make me think of Tolkien’s ageless elves who marveled at mortal men. I hear where you are coming from, and I recognize the fundamental need for challenges and obstacles. But who’s to say there won’t be any? There will be much explore and discover.

        All of the good things you treasure are merely advertisements for the greater things our Creator has in store for us. We may be handicapped by a failure of imagination to see what is coming, but we can have confidence that God’s got this figured out.

      • It’s not that I like sorrow and death. It’s just that the bad stuff about this world makes me appreciate the good stuff all the more. Humans are not static creatures. We were meant to grow and change. And more often than not, we grow and change because of adversity. What’s the point of accomplishing any goals if we literally have all the time in the universe? Would we really cherish our loved ones if we didn’t have limited time with them? And when you think about it, in a perfect world, virtues like courage, kindness, mercy, etc. are rendered meaningless ’cause there would be no circumstances that would call for such.

        Besides, I already know every single thing you listed is going to happen. I was taught the Bible since I was born and have personally known God for ten years. The problem is if I can’t imagine a future life no matter how great it might be, I can’t look forward to it. I’ve been told it’s probably in part because I’m still young. But it just makes me feel mad and left out for thinking the way I do.

  6. But challenges and obstacles are defined by risks and stakes, which, again, in a perfect world, there are none.

    To clear things up, I’m on the spectrum. I think very black and white and spiritual things have always been hard for me to grasp. I’ve always had this sense of not belonging and being different. I’m used to it though. I’m glad I became a Christian. But I sometimes wish I wasn’t if it meant not living with near-constant dread and paranoia.

  7. Brian Jones // July 30, 2021 at 2:02 pm // Reply

    1 John 2:18 says it was..then…the Last Hour of time. Covenant wise a change was coming. That’s what was at it’s end the Old Covenant not the planet. Jesus is NOT the Great Pumpkin who never shows up but our Good Shepherd who never will leave us or forsake us.

    • Hmm… definitely something to chew on there, Brian. Over the last year or so, I’ve been struck with the conclusion that Jesus’ “return” or “second coming” isn’t going to match any of our current eschatological teaching. Jesus will not be moving from absence to presence, but rather from presence to our realization of his presence – the very work and joyous mission of the Holy Spirit. I know that is very challenging to a lot of how we frame things in scripture (and I admit I’m no expert on the subject), but however it plays out, I’m sure there will be an unexpected twist that we didn’t see coming and that we will appreciate.

  8. People link major world events to prophecies. For instance, after the Crimean War many predicted that Armageddon would be the Tsar of Russia invading Palestine. In the 1950s, after WWII, it was when the communist Russians invaded. Pick any crisis, get the end of the world predicted.

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