During Messiah’s ministry on earth, there were times when He taught in Jewish traditions and terminology to the disciples, who would have understood the reference of the tradition. One of the traditions that is recorded in the Gospels, and also in Paul’s writings is the phrase, “a thief in the night.” Unfortunately, some teachers and believers have taken this terminology out of its original context, assuming that the Day of the Lord will come as “a thief in the night” to all of mankind, including believers.
In this article, we will explore the Jewish tradition of “a thief in the night,” the correct context of the phrase, and how it relates to you and me. So, the question is, “Who does the Lord come upon as “a thief in the night?
In Jewish tradition, the high priest was known as “a thief in the night.” Why? During the night watch of the temple, the high priest would check on the temple guards to see if they were asleep while they were on duty. If they were, as punishment, the high priest would get coals from the alter and light the temple guard’s clothes on fire. When the guards realized their clothes were on fire, they would shed their clothes and run naked through the temple courts to get more clothes. As a result, the high priest became known as a “thief in the night to those who were sleeping.” Now, with this armor of knowledge, let us explore the Scriptures to discover the correct context of “a thief in the night.”
In the book of Revelation, Messiah prophesies to the seven churches in Asia (modern day Turkey); Ephesus (loveless), Smyrna (persecuted), Pergamos (compromising), Thyatira (corrupt), Sardis (dead), Philadelphia (faithful), and Laodicea (lukewarm). We will explore the church at Sardis and Laodicea, which are the dead and lukewarm churches.
Revelations 3:1-3, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write (dead church), ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 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."
Messiah is warning the dead church, as they “are not watching” for Messiah’s Second Coming. He states, “if you (dead church) will not watch, I will come upon you (dead church) as a thief in the night, and you (dead church) will not know what hour I will come upon you (dead church).” Clearly, Messiah is warning the “dead church,” the ones who are not watching, that He will come upon them as “a thief in the night.”
What about the lukewarm church (Laodicea)? Before we explore the tradition as it correlates to the lukewarm church, it is imperative to understand what Messiah proclaims about this church.
Revelation 3:16, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Revelation 3:17-18, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing‘–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
Messiah proclaims that the wealthy lukewarm church, which is neither hot nor cold, is truly “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (tradition from above).” He continues to prophesy that if the lukewarm church becomes faithful (buy His gold refined in the fire), they will become rich (saved) and receive “white garments,” so that they are clothed and the shame of their nakedness (tradition above) will not be revealed. When Messiah speaks of “white garments,” He is referencing Revelation 19:11-16, as the faithful believers will be cleansed and clothed with “white garments” at the time of His Second Coming. Certainly, Messiah will also come as a thief in the night to the lukewarm church, which is a prosperity-loving church that is really wretched, miserable, blind, poor, and naked!
Revelation 16:15, “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."
Revelation 3:16, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."
In the Gospels, Messiah also gives us great insight into the mystery of “a thief in the night,” as He explains a parable concerning His Second Coming.
Luke 12:35-40, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 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. Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Messiah is clearly proclaiming that the believers who are faithful and watchful will be blessed! He continues to proclaim, (I am paraphrasing), “if the lukewarm and dead churches would have been faithful and watchful (if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come), they would have understood the season of Messiah’s Second Coming (he would have watched and not allowed the thief to break into his home). As we continue with the parable, Peter asks Messiah a profound question, "Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?”
Luke 12:42-46, And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward (believer), whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant (believer) whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. BUT if that servant (believer) says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant (believer) will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”
Messiah’s parable is prophesying about the believers who are faithful and watchful, and also about the believers who are not faithful and watching for His Second Coming, which are the evil servants (lukewarm and dead churches). This is the reason Peter asked Him who this parable was for. Messiah commands all believers to watch and not be like the master who let his home be broken into, or like the master who beat his servants and got drunk, because He will come upon those people as “a thief in the night.” Messiah will also “will cut that master in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”The apostle Paul also gives us wisdom and knowledge concerning the mystery of “a thief in the night,” as well.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”
Paul begins by speaking of the “times and the seasons” to the Thessalonians, which refers us to Genesis 1:14.
Genesis 1:14,16, “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day (sun), and the lesser light to rule the night (moon)."
In the beginning, God commanded His calendar, which is the Hebrew calendar, to be based off of the sun and the moon, as it would be used for signs and seasons, and days and years. The Hebrew word for “seasons” is Mo’ed, which is defined as a feast or a divine appointment (Strong’s #4150). So, 1 Thessalonians 5:1 and Genesis 1:14,16 directly correlates to Leviticus 23, which are the feasts of the Lord, as the same Hebrew word Mo’ed is used for all. Also, in Genesis 1:14, “days” refers to the holy feast days (Leviticus 23), and “years” refer to the Shemitah year, or every 7th year.* Please note, the Lord’s seven feasts are His feasts, not the Jewish people’s feasts, just as He proclaimed in Leviticus 23. So, if you are saved by Messiah, these are your feasts to proclaim, as well (Romans 11, Galatians 3:29)! Now, with this information, let us reread 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 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. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.”
Paul explains to the faithful and watchful Thessalonians that there is no need to write about the times and the seasons (feasts) to them, because (I am paraphrasing) “they are faithful and watchful and understand the feasts of the Lord and the Jewish tradition of a thief in the night.” Paul confirms this as he writes, “but you brethren, are not in darkness, so that the Day of the Lord should overtake you as a thief in the night.” The Thessalonians were faithful and watchful believers, as Paul called them the “sons of light and day, and not of night and darkness.”
Please note, this is not to set dates or prophesy in any way, however, the phrase “a thief in the night” is one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood phrases in the Holy Bible. Make no mistake, Messiah definitely wants us to watch and understand the “signs of the times” and the “time of our visitation.” In fact, at His First Coming, He scolded the hypocrites for not watching and understanding the “signs of the times.”
Matthew 16:1-3, “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.”
Additionally, before Messiah’s crucifixion and resurrection, He cried and wept over Jerusalem because the people did not understand the “time of their visitation.”
Luke 19:41-44, “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Messiah prophesied that Jerusalem, including the temple, would be destroyed, because the people did not understand the “time of their visitation.” This prophecy was fulfilled by the Roman Empire in 70AD by General Titus.
In conclusion, Messiah will only come as “a thief in the night” to the unbelievers and to the lukewarm and dead churches, which are the people who are not faithful and watching for Messiah’s Second Coming events. Make no mistake, the Lord does not want our heads to be “buried in the sand,” believing that we should not understand “the time of our visitation.” As we confirmed through the Scriptures, Messiah and Paul are very clear as to who Messiah comes to as “a thief in the night,” which again, are the unbelievers and the people who are not faithful and watchful (lukewarm and dead churches). As believers, we can have wisdom, knowledge, and comfort that the “faithful and watchful church is not in darkness, but in the light, and the Day of the Lord will not overtake us as a thief in the night!”
Now, you may be asking, “how can we understand the “time of our visitation?” Before I answer this imperative question, let me ask you the following:
Do you truly believe with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength that God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and that Messiah is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrew 13:8)? Do you truly believe it?
If God does not change, and if Messiah is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then just as Messiah fulfilled the first four spring feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23) to the exact day and hour and details of the ceremonies at His First Coming; Passover (crucified), Unleavened Bread (buried), FirstFruits (resurrected), Shavuot (Holy Spirit poured out), then He will fulfill the remaining three fall feasts to the exact day and details of the ceremonies at His Second Coming events!
In summary, here are the three fall feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23).
The Feast of Trumpets (Repentance)
These are idioms for the Feast of Trumpets that will occur on this day, but not necessary on the same year. For example, at the last seven years of the age, which is the seven-year tribulation, one idiom could be fulfilled each year or some idioms could be fulfilled on the same year.
- Day of the awakening blast (Rapture)
- The seven-year tribulation will begin
- The opening of the books and gates (judgment day)
- The hidden day
- The wedding of Messiah
- The coronation of Messiah as King.
The Feast of Yom Kippur (Israel’s national Redemption)-Second Coming (Rev. 19:11-16)
The Feast of Tabernacles (Rejoicing)-Begins the Millennial Reign on Earth (1,000- years) (Rev. 20:4-6)
The Feast of Tabernacles (The New Jerusalem) (Rev. 21) (After the Millennial Reign)
Matthew 5:17-19, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah (Leviticus 23-feasts) or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Torah (Leviticus 23-feasts) till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”