Like a Thief in the Night: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

When I was growing up my dad was a high school baseball coach. That meant he was away from home a lot during baseball season and would get home really late, especially when the team played out of town. I remember as a kid always asking, “When will Daddy be home? When will Daddy be home?” “Soon,” my mom would answer. On the weekends she would let me stay up late to wait for him. I would go play a game or with some toys and then come back and ask, “Is he back yet? Huh, is he back yet?” I’m sure it was very annoying! But I really wanted to know when my dad was coming back. Anytime astronomical phenomena occur, many charismatic (and other) Christians interpret these events as signs of the return of Jesus. Many in charismatic traditions have a seemingly insatiable desire to know exactly when Jesus is going to return. Many Christians sound like a rambunctious little child asking exactly when his daddy will be home. This seemed to be Paul’s experience with the Thessalonians. They were concerned about when Jesus would return.

The life of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels and Acts, consists of his birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent God the Son to earth. Jesus left the riches of his throne among angels in heaven to be born as a poor baby among farm animals on earth. Coming in full humility, Jesus revealed the Father to us in his life as he perfectly obeyed the command “Be holy as I am holy.” Jesus perfectly loved God with all his being and he perfectly loved his neighbor as himself. After living a sinless life, Jesus was convicted of crimes he didn’t commit and was crucified in the midst of criminals. While he was not a criminal, his criminal status was ascribed to him not only by Pilate, but by God himself. God treated Jesus as a criminal. Though he lived perfectly, he was treated as a sinner. Though he should have received reward, he received a curse–the curse of death on a tree. The one who gives life lost his own at the hands of his Father for the sake of his glory in his salvation of sinners. After giving up his spirit fully surrendering to the clutches of death, the King of glory was buried in a typical tomb. Dead. Gone. Done.

Or so they thought.

Three days later, Jesus arose from the dead. His Father accepted his sacrifice. He conquered sin and death by dying and rising in power over them. After Jesus died and rose again, he ascended in the presence of his disciples to the right hand of his Father. He reigns from his throne in heaven now.

One day Jesus is coming back again. He is coming back to bring his people home and judge his enemies forever. We can be certain that Jesus is coming back. He promised to return and we should pray for him to return (Rev. 22:20). But there is something we don’t know about Jesus’ return: we don’t know when it will happen. When will Jesus come back? We just don’t know.

The Thessalonians were worried about when Jesus was coming back. They wanted to know a date and time so they could be ready. There were many eschatological concerns in the Thessalonian church. But Paul said, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” (1 Thess. 5:1). Paul is basically saying, “You know better than to ask such a thing!” Paul doesn’t know when Jesus is coming back. For all the blood moon fanatics out there, this is a word you desperately need to hear. If the blood moon has raised concerns over end times questions, let Paul’s words to the Thessalonians settle your soul.

He says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). A thief doesn’t announce when he is coming to break in your house. He waits until everyone is either asleep or away from home. Thieves are sneaky. They always take us by surprise. We definitely don’t know when they are coming. In the same way, Jesus will return. He isn’t going to announce his return. He isn’t going to give us a certain date or time. He is going to return like a thief in the night.

This is a big deal for both Christians and non-Christians. For Christians, this means we must be ready at all times for Christ’s return. Not that we should always have our Bibles with us, but that we should strive to live out the gospel every day. The return of Christ for Christians will be a blessed day, for we were not destined for wrath, but to obtain salvation (1 Thess. 5:9). For non-Christians, the return of Christ will be sudden and they will be caught in the guilt of their sin. They will be caught off-guard, and like a family losing valuable things to a thief, non-believers will be shocked to discover that they have lost their lives at Christ’s return.

Non-Christians will be thinking, “There is peace and security” or “Oh, everything is fine” when in fact judgment is coming quick, like when a woman starts to have a baby (1 Thess. 5:3). The Day of the Lord will be a day when Jesus comes to earth. But unlike his first advent, this time around Jesus will come with a sword of judgment to wipe out all his enemies with one swift stroke. As we wait, we must cling to the gospel–the good news that Jesus is not only conquering Lion, but also a sacrificial Lamb. We must cling to and proclaim the truth that Jesus himself came under the stroke of that sword of judgment. He was judged in the place of all who trust in him. May this reality be power to live justly, humbly, and wisely as we wait for the second advent of Jesus. As Christians, we must not only be ready for Jesus’ return by walking in faith and love, but we must also share the gospel with non-Christians before it’s too late.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.


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