In Matthew 24, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end of the age and uses the surprising metaphor of a thief to describe himself:
43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Apparently this image of the thief was a significant and impacting aspect of Jesus’ teaching. In the decades following the Resurrection, three men – John, Peter, and Paul – all made reference to it when they wrote letters that would become part of our Scriptures. When you have Jesus, John, Peter, and Paul all repeating an illustration, you know this is something you ought to be familiar with!
In Peter’s second letter he wrote:
3 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
As for John – he heard the thief message for the second time from Jesus himself!
2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Revelation 3).
Paul wrote this to the young church-plant in Thessalonica:
5 1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
“Like a thief in the night” is probably a phrase you are very familiar with. Given its significant usage in the Scriptures, we would do well to meditate upon what Jesus and the Apostles are still saying to us and allow it provoke us afresh. Will his coming be like a thief to us? Or will we be ready?
(this article is a paraphrase of a teaching given by Billy Humphrey at IHOP Atlanta in January 2015)