Many people characterize the Day of the Lord’s coming as a “thief in the night” by citing the following Bible verses:
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” (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.” (2Peter 3:10)
The common interpretation of the statement that the Day of the Lord will come as a “thief in the night” is that the Day of the Lord will come when everyone is not expecting it to arrive. Some people take the interpretation further by stating that the Day of the Lord can occur at anytime because it sneaks up on us like a thief. I will share with you my interpretation of what the term “a thief in the night” means when it is used to characterize the Day of the Lord in this article.
This may come as a surprise to many people, but the Bible indicates that the Day of the Lord may not come as a “thief in the night” to everyone (it’ll just come as a “thief in the night to the wicked). For instance, Paul implied in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 that those “in darkness” (the wicked) will be overtaken by the Day of the Lord as it will come as a “thief in the night” to them (verse 3):
“(2) For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (3) For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (4) But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)
If you are not “in darkness” the Day of the Lord shall not overtake you as a thief according to verse 4.
The idea that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night to the wicked is further implied in Revelation 3. Christ told the church in Sardis that He will come as a thief to them if they do not watch (verse 3):
“(1) And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. (2) Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. (3) Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” (Revelation 3:1-3)
Conversely, Christ won’t come as a thief to the church in Sardis if they keep watch, receive, hear, hold fast, and repent (verse 3).
Paul disproved the notion that the Day of the Lord, which comes as a “thief in the night”, can come at any time in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. Paul stated that the Day of Christ (a term synonymous with the Day of the Lord) 1 cannot come until at least after the Antichrist is revealed and is proclaiming himself as God (something that will not happen until the midpoint of the seventieth week of Daniel when he establishes the abomination that causes desolation in the temple in Jerusalem).
“(1) Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2) That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (3) Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (4) Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)
Therefore, there are events that must take place before the Day of the Lord can come as a thief in the night to the wicked.
The expression “a thief in the night” suggests that something is coming at a time when a majority of people are not expecting it. A thief usually prefers to infiltrate a place at night because it is a time when people are generally not keeping watch over their property. However, some people are not completely caught off guard when a thief decides to come because they remain vigilant at night.
The Bible provides information about what signs people need to watch for to know when the Day of the Lord is approaching. People who heed these signs will not be caught off guard. The wicked are unlikely going to even be aware of these signs because they are not grounded in God’s Word. The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night to the wicked because they are unaware that it is arriving until it is already too late.
- I believe the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord represent the same event but from different perspectives. The Day of Christ is associated with the righteous perspective as the righteous will become blameless and will be rewarded at that time (Philemon 1:6, 10, Philippians 2:14-17, 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14) while the Day of the Lord is more associated with the punishment of the wicked (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). ↩