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Why Is the Lord Compared to ‘A Thief in the Night’?

The day Jesus returns will be the Day of the Lord and on this day, He will return as a thief in the night. Just like a thief unexpectedly comes in the night, so Jesus will return unexpectedly upon the world.

  • Vivian Bricker Contributing Writer
  • 2021 30 Jun
A thief robbing a house

1 Thessalonians 5:2 states, “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” In this passage of the Bible, Jesus is compared to a thief in the night.

1 Thessalonians 5:2 is referring to Jesus’ Second Coming, which is a future event. At Jesus’ Second Coming, He will come like a thief in the night, ready to judge the nations.

What Does 'Like a Thief in the Night' in the Bible Mean?

Jesus tells us a little bit about His Second Coming during His earthly life on earth. Jesus tells us that His Second Coming will happen after the end of the seven-year Tribulation.

The end of the seven-year Tribulation is known as the “Day of the Lord” and it is referred to in several other Old Testament passages (Zephaniah 1:14-18; Joel 3:12-14; Isaiah 2:12).

The Day of the Lord will come quickly and unexpectedly just as a thief comes in the night. Jesus Himself is the Lord who will come unexpectedly in the night.

During the Tribulation, people will remain in rebellion against God until the very end of these dark seven years. However, there will be many who become followers of Jesus during this time, and they will yearn for the Day of the Lord.

Jesus is referred to as a “thief” because He will come unexpectedly upon the people of this time. The inhabitants of the tribulation will continue to be given in marriage and live their daily lives when all of a sudden Jesus will return (Matthew 24:38-41).

For the people who accept Jesus during the tribulation, the event of Jesus’ Second Coming will be a wonderful surprise; however, for those who refuse to accept Jesus, it will be a horrible surprise.

The concept of Jesus being a “thief in the night” is comparing the return of Christ with a thief robbing a home at night. Nobody knows when a thief is going to rob them in the night. If a person knew when a thief was coming, they would lock their doors properly.

Likewise, nobody will know when Jesus will unexpectedly return to the earth. Jesus warns all people about His return in Matthew 24:42-44,

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 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. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

The day of Jesus’ return will be a dark day filled with vengeance and judgment on the nations. All people need to be aware that Jesus’ Second Coming will not be like His first coming. Jesus’ Second Coming will be marked with war, fury, and vengeance.

How Can We Prepare for 'Like a Thief in the Night' in the Bible?

Present-day believers will be spared from the Day of the Lord as God has not destined believers to undergo His wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Unbelievers will be the people who are surprised by Jesus’ Second Coming. Believers do not have to be afraid of Jesus’ Coming as believers will not be condemned with the world.

All unbelievers need to take special warning of Jesus’ words because He will literally come like a thief in the night. The best way to be ready for Jesus’ Second Coming is to accept Him as your Savior and Lord. If you are a believer, you do not have to be afraid of Jesus coming unexpectedly.

If you want to be ready, you need to accept Jesus and place faith in Him. You can place faith in Jesus by believing that He died for your sins, was buried, and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

The only condition of salvation is placing faith in Jesus. Once you place faith in Jesus, you are spared from the Day of the Lord as well as you are given forgiveness of sins, a restored relationship with God, and eternal life (John 3:16-17).

In addition to accepting Jesus, believers are to be prepared for Jesus by living their lives for Him. We should not live for selfish, sinful human desires. Rather, we should live for God. Part of living for God includes to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Paul also tells believers we need to help other people prepare for the return of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We can help other people prepare by sharing the gospel and encouraging each other. Times will get hard; however, believers need to be focused on serving God and helping others.

None of us want to be found “naked” before the Lord. Neither do any of us want to be found to be unfaithful servants (Matthew 24:45-50). All believers should strive to be the “faithful and wise servant” Jesus talks about in Matthew 24. Faithful and wise servants will not be caught off guard at all by Jesus’ Second Coming. They have been faithful to accept, trust, and follow Jesus throughout their lives.

What Should We Know about 'Like a Thief in the Night' in the Bible?

Jesus is compared to “a thief in the night” because He will literally return as a thief in the night. The Bible tells us Jesus will return after the end of the seven-year tribulation for His Second Coming.

The day He returns will be the Day of the Lord and on this day, Jesus will return as a thief in the night. Just like a thief unexpectedly comes in the night, so Jesus will return unexpectedly upon the world.

The best way for all people to prepare for Jesus’ Coming and not be caught off guard by Him is to place faith in His death, burial, and resurrection as well as to live faithfully as His servants. Jesus will come as a thief of the night, but He will not surprise those who are ready and waiting for His return.

Important End Times Passages to Know about 'Like a Thief in the Night'

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord."

Revelation 1:7: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen."

Luke 21:34-36: "“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

For further reading:

What Is Revelation All About? Bible Meaning for Today

Should We Always Be Watchful for Jesus’ Return?

Why Were Christians Afraid of Dying before Jesus Returned?

What Is the Rapture?

What Are the Different End Times Opinions Amongst Denominations?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/LuckyBusiness


Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Ministry and is currently working toward her Master’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is probably embarking on an adventure.