Keep On Truckin’
My son David and I were on a mission of mercy, and he had taken the day off work so we could head north to Detroit last Friday morning. I was driving a Ford F350 and pulling a Pace tandem-axle covered cargo trailer.
It was a long drive, but the weather was agreeable, and 800 miles later we pulled into a refurbished motel in the town of Taylor, Michigan. It was just about 11 o’clock. To my pleasant surprise, we were given the last room available and, at less than $60 for the night, it made glad my Scottish heart. We parked the vehicles at the back of the property, furthest from the road, locked up, and headed for a much-appreciated rest.
It wasn’t long until we were both “sawing logs.” Neither of us stirred until daybreak. We had a big day ahead of us—moving a houseful of furniture—and were glad to get right on the road.
As we stepped out of our room and looked north to the spot where we had parked our truck and trailer, we immediately noticed something was strangely missing. Yup. Our vehicles were gone. Gone without a trace. No broken glass. Nothing but memories, and regrets that we had left some valuables in the cab. The police came, took a statement, shrugged, and left. It seemed they were treating it like unwelcome paperwork, as if another sighting of the truck and trailer was considerably less likely than a sighting of Elvis. And that in spite of the fact that gospel graphics were emblazoned on both sides of our trailer.
One Time You DON’T Want to be Popular
We had become a statistic. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, 28,680 full-size Ford pickups were stolen last year in the U.S., placing them as the Number 3 most popular vehicle to be stolen. White, our truck’s color, is second in popularity to black. How the truck was taken is speculation: a Slim Jim, a hotwiring job, and a quick exit. Why the truck was taken the Lord has yet to reveal.
But it certainly got me to thinking. Did you know there are six passages in the New Testament that speak about the Lord coming as thief in the night? They are found in Mt 24:43; Lk 12:39; 1 Thess 5:2, 4; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3; and Rev 16:15.
The first two are records of the Lord’s own words of warning: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.” But to what “coming” is He referring?
One-Stage or Two-Stage Coming?
Of course, it is increasingly popular to reject the idea of the Rapture and believe in only one event in which the Lord “comes,” a coming to earth when He will defeat the Antichrist, rescue His people, and establish His kingdom on earth. But think for a moment about His first coming. He came to Bethlehem, quietly and largely unnoticed. But Zechariah explains that, 33 years later, He also came to Jerusalem (9:9), this time to be seen by all. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Is it not possible, indeed likely, that His second coming will also be in two stages, first as the Morning Star, seen only by those who look for Him, and then as the Sun of Righteousness when “every eye will see Him” (Rev 1:7)?
A vital diagnostic question to ask in this regard is this: who are these men to whom Jesus is speaking? As we move through the Gospels and into Acts 1, there are two very different options. Sometimes (as I believe is the case in Mt 24) the answer is that these men are representatives of the nation of Israel. Jews by birth, the Lord said a few chapters earlier that they would some day “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28). But at other times (as in the Upper Room) they are the foundational apostles of the Church (Eph 2:20).
I believe you look in vain to see the Church in Matthew 24. Notice He addresses those living in Judea (Mt 24:16), and those anticipating the coming of Messiah (v 5). As well, you see a warning by the Lord that includes the following to law-keeping Jews: “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (Mt 24:20).
Rapture IS a Bible Word!
The situation is similar in Paul’s address to the Thessalonians. He is eager to clarify some misconceptions the new believers at Thessalonica have regarding future events. In the last six verses of the previous chapter, he describes the Rapture, where he uses the Greek word harpazo, translated “caught up,” which is translated in the Latin by rapturo, from which we receive the word “rapture.” But, at the beginning of chapter 5, he changes the subject.
The section on the Rapture begins with “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren” (4:13). The idea of the secret removal of the Church from the world was a new idea because the mystery of the Church itself was a new idea. But the section discussing the day of the Lord begins with “you yourselves know perfectly” because the day of the Lord is discussed at great length in the Old Testament (see Isa 2:12; 13:6, 9; Ezek 13:5, 30:3; Joel 1:15, 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7, 14; Zech 14:1; Mal 4:5).
Paul uses the description, “the times and the seasons,” at this point. The Jameison, Faucett and Brown commentary distinguish the words this way: “‘times’—the general and indefinite term for chronological periods; ‘seasons’—the opportune times. Time denotes quantity; season, quality. Seasons are parts of times.” Daniel uses the two words when he writes, “As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time” (7:12). And our Lord used the same two words when the disciples asked Him regarding the restoration of the kingdom to Israel: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Ac 1:7). All of these have to do with the Last Great Battle for planet earth.
The Day of the Lord is On its Way
So Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers regarding the Lord’s return, not to the air for His own, but to the earth for His final triumph: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night…But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thess 5:2, 4). This, says the apostle, should not be in question because it has been explained in detail by many prophetic passages. Christ will take the world by surprise, but we know His agenda and should not be confused by this.
Peter adds his voice to the matter when he writes: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:10). Clearly the “thief in the night” imagery is again in reference to the Lord pouring out His judgment on the earth, not with reference to His coming for us.
The Lord adds one final word on the subject, and again He is referring to His return to earth to judge His enemies. “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Rev 16:15). How do I know it regards the day of His wrath? Because I read the next verse: “And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.” This is a warning to the faithful remnant of Israel, those who await and welcome His vengance in “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7) when “he [that is, Jacob, who once again becomes Israel through his wrestling with God] shall be saved out of it.” These are the ones of whom the Lord refers in Matthew 24, “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (v 13).
The Lord Comes Like a Thief to Us?
Therefore all of these passages are dealing with the return of the Lord to earth at His revelation. But there is one exception and it is powerful for that reason. In His epistles to the seven churches, the Lord addresses this warning to Sardis: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Rev 3:2-3). It is a warning for the Church age, and we do well to apply to ourselves.
When I saw my truck gone, almost immediately the Lord’s words came to me: “If the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.” That’s the point, isn’t it? To adapt a well-known saying, Eternal vigilance is the price of safety. The JFB commentary paraphrases the verse this way, “in special judgment on thee as a Church, with the same stealthiness and as unexpectedly as shall be My visible second coming.” Or as Peter puts it, “The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet 4:17).
Transfer Your Treasures
The thief, scoundrel that he is, has done me a favor. The time I had to use the truck for God’s glory is gone, and it was a shorter time than I thought. One day, all my earthly stewardships will be taken away—or I will be taken away from them. Like a thief in the night—unexpected, unannounced—I will have to assess what has been lost, or what, wisely, his been invested in safekeeping. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” encouraged the world’s Number One Financial Advisor, “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:20).