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Prophecy

Like a thief in the night

Jesus told the spiritually sleeping church of Sardis to wake up and be watchful. Otherwise, He’ll come like a thief when they would be unaware of His coming.

Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
Revelation 3:3 (ESV)

The apostle Paul wrote “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 ESV).

The phrase “like a thief in the night” may seem like an odd statement to us, but it’s actually an ancient Jewish idiom that refers to the captain of the temple guard. Some have documented that “the thief in the night” referred to the high priest of Israel.

The use of this phrase in scripture is meant as a stern warning for those of us who are living in the last days. But we can only fully understand the meaning of this warning if we know the history behind it. You see, the Jewish temple would be guarded at night by priests. To ensure that the guards were alert and stayed awake throughout the night, the temple guard (otherwise known as the “thief in the night”) would sneak around, checking on those who were guarding the temple. If he caught one sleeping, he would use his torch to singe the guard’s clothing.

In chapter 7 of his book, “The Temple”, Alfred Edersheim wrote:

During the night, the ‘captain of the Temple’ made his rounds. On his approach, the guards had to rise and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard found asleep when on duty was beaten, or his garments were set on fire–punishment, as we know, actually awarded. Hence the admonition to us who, as it were, are here on Temple guard. ‘Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments (Revelation 16:15).

I always wondered what Jesus meant by “blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments” but now it makes perfect sense. I think Jesus was telling us to stay spiritually awake and to continually watch for the signs of His return, so we don’t find ourselves left behind, facing the horrors of the tribulation. It’s a warning to always be ready at any time for the King of Kings to return for His church.

Those who are spiritually awake when the Lord returns, will be blessed. Only those who are indifferent or spiritually asleep will be caught by surprise when the thief in the night appears.

Recommended reading: Luke 12:37-46

References

I first professed my belief in Jesus as the Son of God and accepted Him as my Savior more than 40 years ago. Since that day, I’ve never doubted that Jesus is who He claims to be. However, that belief didn’t keep me from living my life on my own terms for several years, which resulted in repeating the same sins over and over. In 2013, I became determined to make Jesus the Lord of my life. It was then that the Holy Spirit gave me an insatiable appetite for God’s word. As I turned more and more of my life over to Jesus and cooperated with the Holy Spirit, He has helped me break free of the sins that once enslaved me. Since then, I’ve been strongly compelled to share God’s word and to warn others that we need to get ready because Jesus is coming soon.

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