Not Like a Thief!
Jesus said that no one knows the day and hour of His return.
How do we reconcile Jesus’ words about His return with the fact that Daniel and John give the exact day of the Second Coming? Bible prophecy is like a puzzle. First, we will lay out all the pieces. Next, we will see what may or may not fit together. And, finally, as pieces begin to fit, the picture will emerge.
Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only… 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. Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:36, 42-44).”
Most people think that since no one can know when the Lord will return that we are better off not even thinking about it. That is called a false equivalence, and it is the opposite of what Jesus taught. Just because we cannot know the day and hour of our Lord’s return does not mean that we should ignore eschatology, the study of the things of the last days. Look at Matthew 24! Jesus is giving us signs of the end-times for a reason. In fact, He says, “Watch therefore, for (because) you do not know what hour your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:42).” We are to watch. And we are to study the Bible. In the same chapter, Jesus points us to the prophet Daniel, who He encourages us to read regarding matters of “the end of the age.”
In Matthew 24:15, Jesus mentions “the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet.”
That is interesting to consider in light of what we read in Daniel about the ‘abomination of desolation,’ and specifically the seven-year tribulation. The consummation is the end of the seven-year period of God’s judgment of the world and when the Second Coming of Christ occurs.
“Then he [the Antichrist] shall confirm a covenant with the many [Israel] for one week [7 years]; But in the middle of the week [3 ½ years] he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate (Daniel 9:27).”
“And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he who waits and comes to the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days (Daniel 12:11-12).”
Regarding the ‘abomination of desolation,’ here is what the Apostle Paul said,
“[the Antichrist] opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thessalonians 2:4).”
Validated by Jesus Himself, we do know from Daniel 9:24-27 that the tribulation period is the 70th week of Daniel, a week of seven years. And we do know from Daniel, as confirmed by Jesus, that 3 ½ years into that seven-year period the Antichrist commits the ‘abomination of desolation.’ Jesus points us to these passages in Daniel as if they were to be considered in the literal sense and would give us a fuller understanding of what He is speaking of in Matthew 24 & 25. With a little further investigation, one finds the passages are indeed straight forward and that the first 69 weeks of years were fulfilled literally, and to the day, during the final days of Christ’s earthly ministry. The fulfillment of this Messianic prophecy has been well documented and is verifiable by simply counting forward from the time the decree was given in Nehemiah to the days just before the death and resurrection of Jesus. I would encourage everyone to study the “70 weeks of Daniel” in detail, as it contains some of the most incredible prophecies in the Bible! In this article, we are focusing on the 70th week.
In agreement with Daniel, the Apostle John says of the Antichrist,
“And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven (Revelation 13:5-6).”
John speaks of periods of 1,260 days and periods of 42 months in the book of Revelation. On the Jewish calendar one year is 360 days, so 1,260 days, like 42 months, is 3 ½ years. The Second Coming of Christ is 3 ½ years after the ‘abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:24-27).’ According to Daniel, who Jesus Himself points us to, the exact day of the Second Coming will be known once the covenant is confirmed between Israel and the Antichrist, when the tribulation period starts. And, according to the prophet Daniel and the Apostle John, the exact day of the Second Coming will be known once the ‘abomination of desolation’ takes place. Daniel then mentions the 1,290th day and the 1,335th day after the ‘abomination of desolation’ as milestones, creating an additional 75 day period after Christ’s return, likely being the time of the establishment of His Kingdom on earth (Daniel 7:22) and the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46).
Why don’t we know when the Lord will return?
So why did Jesus say, “of that day and hour no one knows” even though He knew exactly what Daniel had written? There are two primary reasons why we do not presently know when the tribulation will begin, and therefore when the Second Coming of Christ will occur. One, we do not know the day that the seven-year agreement will be signed by the Antichrist and Israel, initiating the 70th week of Daniel. Two, according to the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2, God is restraining the Antichrist from being revealed. Shortly after he is no longer constrained by the Holy Spirit working through the church, then the Antichrist will burst onto the scene and make the seven-year covenant with the nation of Israel a reality. That covenant is what starts the seven-year countdown to the return of Jesus to rule and reign on earth.
“And now you know what is restraining, that he (the Antichrist) may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).”
Obviously, only God can be the “He who now restrains.” But, how can God be taken out of the way? According to the New Testament, the church is the “body of Christ” and each believer the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” God only indwells those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. His power and presence in His church is what is now restraining the Antichrist. Any other reading of these verses fashion what is inevitably a weaker argument, reluctantly given to support an alternative notion of the timing of the rapture. What, or who else could possibly be restraining satanic, demonic forces from overtaking the world?
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”
Once the church is removed, God will then begin drawing those left behind to Himself. In that gap, the Antichrist (the “Beast” of Revelation) will be allowed by God to be revealed and to begin his rise to prominence.
There is a moment, that only God knows, when He will remove the faithful in Christ Jesus from the earth at was is known as “the rapture” of the church. Once the Holy Spirit operating in the church is removed, then the Antichrist will be revealed. Christians are not looking for the Antichrist to come into power, we are looking for the rapture of the church. Our minds are to be on things above, and our eyes looking to Jesus, which harmonizes with what He taught in Matthew 24. Jesus did not say, “no one knows the day and hour of the covenant.” He did not tell us to be watching for the deal between Antichrist and Israel. In Matthew 24, He said, “you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” He exhorts us to be watching and ready for His coming.
“The thief” and “the labor pains”
The Apostle Paul explained for us exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “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.” Paul said, “you, brothers and sisters [Christians], are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.” If the master of the house is watching and ready for the thief, that house will not be overtaken! According to Paul, the tribulation period outlined in the Olivet Discourse will not come as a thief in the night to Christians, and there is only one possible way: we will not be here for the seven-year tribulation. The Master of the house will not allow His house to be broken into!
“… you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5-7).’”
The Day of the Lord breaks in like a thief in the night on all unbelievers. Speaking of the time just before the tribulation begins, notice in the following passage, “sudden destruction comes upon them… and they shall not escape… but you brethren.”
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren [Christians], 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. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman (this is the beginning of the tribulation, the “beginning of labor pains” found in Matt. 24:8. See the NIV for the correct translation of the Greek word “ōdin”). And they shall not escape. 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… For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:1-5, 9).”
In that passage, clearly Paul is referring to the remarks of Jesus in Matthew 24. He mentions both “the thief” and “the labor pains” found in the Olivet Discourse. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2, Paul gives us a detail that Jesus chose not to expand on in Matthew 24, as His primary audience at that time was still first and foremost the Jewish nation of Israel. The Olivet Discourse took place before He had gone to the cross and before the church was born on the following Pentecost. The focus of Jesus in that discourse were the signs and events of the 70th week of Daniel, the abomination of desolation, and His Second Coming at which time He will inaugurate God’s Kingdom on earth. Approximately twenty years later, Paul exposited the passage for the church, clarifying that the Lord is referring to the entire tribulation period when He said, “that day and hour no one knows.”
Speaking of the “day and hour” and “the thief” of Matthew 24, the Apostle Paul said, “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2).”
Since Paul used the phrase “the Day of the Lord” to explain what Jesus was speaking of in Matthew 24, he sheds light on the Lord’s fuller meaning and its implication for the church. That phrase is used often in the Old Testament to describe the entire seven-year period of God’s judgment. While it does include the Second Coming as its consummation, “the Day of the Lord” encompasses the whole 70th week of Daniel. So, when does “the day of the Lord so come as a thief in the night?” At the beginning of the seven-year tribulation, of course. When else could it come but when it first arrives! It is not a single day, but as was revealed to Daniel and John, and as is obvious throughout the Olivet Discourse, the Day of the Lord happens within a set time frame, seven years, as has been abundantly documented. So, how is it that Christians will not be overtaken as a thief if that day comes as a thief?
In 1 Thessalonians, what is Paul speaking of just before he exposited “the thief” and “the labor pains?” The rapture of the church!
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep (have already died in Christ). For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (“raptured” in the Latin Bible) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).”
What follows verse 18? 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Paul’s explanation is so clear, there is little room for debate.
“The day of the Lord” comes as a thief upon them, and they shall not escape. “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.” Paul even references the “labor pains” to set the time of “this Day” at the commencement of the tribulation period. The tribulation, “the day of the Lord,” follows the rapture of the church.
Correlating Matthew 24 with First Thessalonians 4:18-5:11 and Second Thessalonians 2, which are both parts of two letters consecutively sent to the same church in the Grecian town of Thessaloniki, Paul makes the pre-tribulation rapture of the church apparent to the Thessalonian believers. The rapture of the church takes place when the Lord gives the order and calls His church home!
The tribulation commences when the labor pains begin and the thief breaks in, catching the disobedient by surprise. The Antichrist will have been revealed. The covenant between Israel and the Antichrist will be signed in the following days and the 70th week of Daniel begins to unfold. Half-way through, the abomination of desolation will take place. As we have shown, these two events are markers during the 70th week of Daniel for the tribulation saints to calculate the exact, literal day of the return of Messiah.
Ready for the rapture by faith in Jesus Christ
We do not know at this time when the tribulation period will begin, or the day of the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth at Christ’s Second Coming, precisely because we do not know the day of the rapture of the church. But, like every writer of the New Testament, as Jesus commanded, we are watching and ready for the rapture of the church so that the Day of the Lord will not overtake us like a thief! We are ready because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith in Jesus. A new creation. Saved by grace, through faith. Born again. Seated in the heavenlies in Christ. Forgiven! God’s wrath is not upon us anymore.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Romans 5:8-9).”
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Colossians 1:21-22).”
“and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).”
“looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).”
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:2-3).”
The prophet Daniel and the Apostle John were given markers for the tribulation saints to calculate the day of the Second Coming, to the day. What day is Jesus speaking of when He says, “you do not know what hour your Lord is coming?” Paul has made that unequivocal: “the day of the Lord.” In the context of Matthew 24, the day and hour Jesus spoke of is the entire seven-year tribulation period, culminating in the Second Coming. Paul cleared it up for the church because there were some misunderstandings. When we recognize that we do not know the day and the hour of the tribulation or the Second Coming because we currently do not know the day and the hour of the rapture of the church, the Lord’s teaching becomes crystal clear. There is only one possible reason that we do not know the day and the hour of His Second Coming, just as we do not know the day and the hour that the covenant between Antichrist and Israel will be signed: the date of the rapture of the church is unknown. And since it is the event restraining the Antichrist from being revealed, and for several other reasons, it must take place before the tribulation period begins.
As further confirmation we can turn to every single writer of the books of the New Testament, who were all plainly looking for the Lord’s return at any moment. They considered the rapture imminent, free to occur at any time, not as constrained to a set day or time period already known to them. Neither could they have possibly believed the rapture would occur during the seven-year tribulation. If they believed that the rapture would happen during the tribulation period, they would not have written, every single one of them, encouraging the church to live in expectancy of and looking for the return of the Lord imminently!
The self-extinction of humanity cut-off by Jesus
Now, some say that the great tribulation is shortened. Speaking of the last 3 ½ years, commencing from the ‘abomination of desolation,’ Jesus said,
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened (Matthew 24:21-22).”
Jesus said, “unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved.” Here He is not predicting that the length of days will be shortened, rather what His return will be cutting short: the self-extinction of humanity. What is happening on earth just before the Second Coming of Christ, during the final portion of the last 1,260 days? Scripture tells us plainly: the nations of the world have gathered in the valley of Megiddo in northern Israel and are about to go to war for world domination (Revelation 16:14-16). The self-extinction of humanity would follow, according to Jesus, but is “shortened,” in the Greek kolobóō, literally “cut off” by the Lord’s return at that time (refer to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words and Strong’s Number: g2856). The quotation from Matthew 24:22 would be more obvious to us in English if it read, “unless those days were cut off, no flesh would be saved.” When we read verse 22 as “shortened or cut off” by the Lord’s return instead of a subtraction of actual days, the passage no longer negates the words of the Lord through Daniel and John.
Remember, the Apostle John confirmed Daniel’s timing when he said in the book of Revelation, 13:5-6, that from the time “he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme… His tabernacle,” the Antichrist “was given authority to continue for forty-two months.” That forty-two months is the same 3 ½ years revealed to Daniel. Jesus Himself referred us to Daniel in Matthew 24. John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of the first century, decades after the Olivet Discourse was given, and he did not subtract any days from the previously stated timeframe. And, as independently verified by Peter and recorded in the Gospel of Mark, John was one of only four in the inner circle who heard the Olivet Discourse that day.
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately… (Mark 13:3)”
Because we are given the exact day of His return in Daniel and Revelation, known to the tribulation saints once the rapture has occurred and the covenant between Antichrist and Israel is established, Jesus must be referring to the end of the seven-year period itself being the “cutting off” of humanity’s self-destruction. In other words, Jesus is speaking of God’s foreknowledge of the fact that if He did not return by the end of the 70th week of Daniel no person on the planet would survive. There is no other way to interpret this, otherwise Daniel’s words mean nothing. And, Jesus quotes Daniel in Matthew 24, pointing us to these very passages in Daniel that reference the final seven-year tribulation! The fact that Jesus quotes the passage from Daniel confirms that we should take Daniel’s “seventy weeks” of years literally and that the final seven years (the 70th week) of Daniel does indeed pertain to the last days before His return.
At the Lord’s appearance, 3 ½ years after the ‘abomination of desolation,’ the nations of the world are stopped from initiating what would become the global annihilation of humanity. Instead, they maliciously turn to fight Christ and His followers. Jesus destroys them with the breath of His mouth before they can fire one shot (Revelation 19:15, 19-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Isaiah 11:4). Jesus destroys those destroying armies because they were not only going to annihilate each other, but all of humanity. When the Lord returns at that time, according to Matthew 25:31-46, there will be a remnant of both Jewish and Gentile believers who will go into His Messianic Kingdom to follow. He will save those faithful ones by destroying the armies who would have ended all human life on earth, if allowed. God’s actions are always perfectly just, right and good.
I will keep you from the hour of trial
When we put these and other related passages together, like pieces of a complex puzzle, they synchronize the words of Jesus, Daniel, John, and Paul, and they confirm the fact of the pre-tribulation rapture.
The New Testament is clear: the rapture is imminent, it can happen at any time, and our hearts should be looking for it earnestly. It is the translation of the church into the glory of the Lord. And, if you are in Christ by faith, you are ready. That day will not overtake you as a thief because the church will be kept from that time of great tribulation, the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble.’
The day of the Second Coming will be known to the believers alive during the 70th week of Daniel, after the rapture and the covenant is signed, because God gave it to Daniel and John for them to know. They, like the church before them, will be ready by faith in Christ, awaiting His glorious return to establish God’s Kingdom.
Here is a simple fact: the pre-tribulation timing of the rapture has vastly more support in the Scripture than any of the alternative times. The mid-tribulation, the pre-wrath, and the post-tribulation rapture theories produce scant scriptural evidence comparatively. Those positions harmonize far less often with the whole of Scripture on the subject and contradict related Scripture far too often to be correct. Once all of the puzzle pieces of God’s Word are put together and this intricate subject is seen in full, harmonizing with the whole Bible, it is absolutely impossible that the rapture of the church, our glorious and blessed hope, can happen at any other time but before the tribulation period.
“Watch, therefore and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”
“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10).”
For more on the rapture, check out this author’s booklet titled, “The Timing & Significance of the Rapture.” The free PDF may be found here: