As a Thief

Years ago thieves broke into our home.   I shudder whenever I think about it.  The thieves strangled one of our dogs and drugged the other.  We felt so violated but thanked God that I wasn’t at home on that particular day.  Usually my father dropped me home and I was alone for a few hours until the rest of my family came in.

Jesus told His disciples that if the owner of the house had known when the thief would break in he would have stayed home and prevented his house from being broken into (Luke 12:39).  Jesus was basically explaining to them that He would be coming at time they don’t expect. This is what coming as a thief means–unexpected.  Not in secret as some people believe.  He warns us, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).

People believe that Jesus is referring to the rapture when He said, ” Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (verses 40-42).   However, before this He mentioned what happened in the days of Noah.   “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be”  (Verses 37-39).

Even though Noah warned the people about the flood, they made fun of him, perhaps calling him crazy.  They continued living as they were and then when the flood came, they were unprepared.  Likewise people will be caught unawares when Jesus comes even though they were warned to be watchful.  The people taken represent those who were ready and the faithful and wise servant mentioned in Matthew 24:45-47).

There is no secret rapture and Jesus won’t be coming in secret.  Paul makes this clear when he wrote,  “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).  He gives this warning, “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.   Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (verses 4-6).  He is reminding us that we know the manner in which Jesus will come–not in secret but unexpectedly as a thief.  He warns us to be prepared.  We must not slumber like the ten virgins but be watchful and sober.

The day of the Lord is anything but secret according to Peter.   “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 Peter 3:10).


The Great Tribulation

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  When I read these words of Jesus’ intercessory prayer to the Father, I thought that although He was praying for the disciples, these words could apply to us today.  I also thought of the rapture and how many Christians believe that the Lord is going to rapture the church before the great tribulation.  This is a very comforting but very dangerous doctrine.

I thought of Noah and his family.  They were here on earth when the great flood came.  God kept them safely in the ark.   The Israelites were in Egypt when God sent the plagues.  When the plague of death claimed all the first born of Egypt, the first born of the Israelites were protected once they had the blood of the lamb smeared on the doorposts.  It is important to point out that the Israelites did not leave Egypt until after the plagues.  Other examples are Joseph whom God helped through his trials; Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego who came through the fiery furnace, after they had made up their minds that even if God decided not to save them, they would not commit idolatry; Daniel in the den of lions.  All these people were not saved from their tribulations but God saw them through them.

Jesus warned the disciples that they would suffer for His name sake.  He warned them, “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute [you], delivering [you] up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:12).  Peter and John were arrested, beaten for preaching that Jesus rose from the dead; James was killed by Herod who wanted to score points with the Jews.  Paul and Silas were arrested.  Stephen was stoned to death.  The church was relentlessly persecuted by Saul who was a Pharisee in the strictest sense. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, persecuted and died a martyr.  John was exiled to the isle of Patmos.

For 1,260 years, God’s people faced terrible persecution during the Dark Ages.  We learn about this in Revelation 12:6, 13:  “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and threescore days.” “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman.” The woman here is the church.  Many believers had to flee into the mountains for refuge.  On a Great Controversy tour, a group of us went into one of the caves in the village of Torre Pellice where the Waldensian families worshipped.  It was dark, cold and damp.  As we stood there, our thoughts drifted back to the many people, including children and very old people who chose to die rather than give up their faith in Jesus and in His Word.  We sang “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”.  It was a very emotional experience.  I prayed that if I lived to face persecution in the last days, that I would remain steadfast in my faith as those brave Christians.

Jesus told the disciples, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.  And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).  Notice Jesus said, that the person who endures to the end shall be saved.  This doesn’t sound like this person will be plucked from the fiery trials but will be saved if he holds on to his faith which will enable him to come through those trials.  God is calling on a people with the faith of Jesus who will endure whatever the enemy throws their way and overcome.

John saw people dressed in white robes and learned that they “are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).  These may be the elect whom Jesus spoke of when He said, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” Matthew 24:22, NKJV.

It is believed that the great tribulation corresponds with the time during which the seven last plagues of Revelation chapter 16 will fall.  In the preceding chapter, we read, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.” Revelation 15:1.  Paul reveals to us whom God’s wrath is directed at in Romans 1:18:   “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”  These people are guilty of breaking God’s law, distorting His truth and oppressing His people.

The great tribulation also coincides with the Battle of Armageddon. Both take place immediately before Christ’s second coming. “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done” (Amazing Facts).

So it is clear that while God’s people will be present here on earth during this time, they will endure because the days will be shortened. So it is clear in the Bible that there were two great tribulations–the one during the Dark Ages when the Roman Church persecuted believers–accusing them of heresy and the one to come just before Jesus returns.  And again God’s people will be persecuted for their faith.  And those who refuse to forsake their faith and God’s truth will be killed (Revelation 13:15).

In Revelation 3, Jesus gives a low down of what will become of those who overcome to the end.  “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (verse 5).  “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And [I will write on him] My new name” (verse 12).  “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (verse 21).  In Revelation 21:7 “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

Jesus encouraged His disciples with these words, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of goodcheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Jesus didn’t spare them the hardships they would endure but offered them words of encouragement.  He didn’t ask His Father to remove them from the world but to keep them–to watch over them–to protect them from the enemy.  It is the same thing for us.  Jesus wouldn’t ask the Father to remove us from the world so that we would not face the great tribulation.  Instead, He would ask the Father to preserve us–to bring us through the tribulation.  We have to hang on to our faith and press on.

We must not lose heart and believe that we will be spared the great tribulation.  Christianity is not about comfort.  The way is narrow and we will encounter hardships.  Many will lose their lives for their faith but don’t be discouraged.  Let these words of Jesus to the Smyrna church who suffered a 10-year period of tribulation from 303-313 , give you courage:  “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw [some] of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Let us press on in the race so that we like, Paul can declare, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).  Remember, God does not always provide us a way out of tribulation but He carries us through.  He gives us the power and strength we need to endure.  Those who are going to live during the last great tribulation can cling to the promises of Psalm 91:  You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, [Nor] of the arrow [that] flies by day, [Nor] of the pestilence [that] walks in darkness, [Nor] of the destruction [that] lays waste at noonday.  A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; [But] it shall not come near you.  Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.  Because you have made the LORD, [who is] my refuge, [Even] the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Psalm 91:5-10).  The wrath of God will not touch His people.  It is reserved for the wicked and so are the plagues.

God does not want you to live in fear.  Just continue to live in faith.  Jesus will be there with you during the great tribulation just as He was with the disciples when they were caught in the storm at sea or the three Hebrew friends who were in the furnace that was heated seven times over.  “Remember His promise,  I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Jesus has promised, “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).  Hold fast until the day comes when Jesus returns to take us to the place He has prepared for us.  During those dark hours, turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Jesus’ Prayer For Us

I was reading Jesus’ prayer for believers the other day.  Imagine Jesus praying for us!  What a wonderful thing.  The prayer went like this, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

His desire is that we all be one just as He and the Father are One.  He wants there to be unity among those who become believers through the words and witness of the disciples.  When I think of how much disunity there is among believers I cannot help but shake my head.  It was happening in the early church.  Some believers in Galatia were perverting the Gospel by intimating that faith in Christ alone was not enough.  Paul addressed this in his letter to them.  “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-10).

The false teachers in Galatia were also trying to undermine Paul’s ministry by calling into question his apostleship and gospel message.  “They declared that he had not been a disciple of Jesus, and had received no commission from him; yet he had presumed to teach doctrines directly opposed to those held by Peter, James, and the other apostles…Pau’s soul was stirred as he saw the evils that threatened speedily to destroy these churches.  He immediately wrote to the Galatians, exposing their false theories, and with great severity rebuking those who had departed from the faith” (Ellen G. White, Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 188, 189).

Paul may not have been one of the originally called disciples but he was commissioned by Jesus Himself to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.  As he pointed out in Galatians 2:7, “the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter.”  He was carrying out the work Jesus had called him to do–bearing His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15).  

Today, Christians are turning away from the faith to heed false teachings as they did in Paul’s day.  Some misinterpret Paul’s writings and end up believing that the righteous dead go straight to Heaven; that the people in Heaven will come with Jesus when He returns; that the moral law was nailed to the cross.  And there are some Christians who share the sentiments of the false teachers who questioned Paul’s authority.  There are Christians who don’t like Paul because they thing he’s sexist.  Others accuse him of teachings that are contrary to Jesus’ teachings.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Paul is so strongly opposed to teaching any other Gospel truth that he calls a curse upon anyone, including himself who dares to do such a thing.  He was a faithful follower of Christ.  His words and actions demonstrated his passion for the same cause he once worked to destroy.  Christ forgave him and chose to make him one of His servants.  Paul testified, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  Since Christ lived in him, he could not help but teach the things of Christ.  Paul lived and breathed the Gospel.  He boldly preached it in faith and with the knowledge that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). 

As followers of Christ, we ought love one another as Christ loves us.  We may have our differences but we should not challenge the authority of Scripture.  The Bible teaches that Paul was chosen by Jesus to be a light to the Gentiles.  Paul was preaching the Gospel of Christ.  He did not teach anything that was contrary to the Word of God.  We must not tear each other down but build each other up.  We are to encourage each other.   Jesus’ prayer is that we work together to bring the Gospel to the world.  We must be the light of the world.  The world must not see division among us but unity. 

Let us purpose in our hearts to work as one body to preach one Gospel.  As the psalmist points out, “Behold, how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

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