Like A Thief In The NightSeries: An Eschatological Mix
LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
Sermon By Terry Siverd / October 17, 2021 / Cortland Church of Christ - - www.cortlandcoc.org
Welcome to those who are joining us online - - we're grateful for your interest in the study of God's word.
I have titled our sermon for this morning is, Like A Thief In The Night. Not too long after my family moved to Ohio, I heard a sermon by this same title when I was about 13-14 years old. The Ashtabula church of Christ was hosting a week-long gospel meeting with a popular guest preacher. I remember the sermon. It was delivered with gusto and it stirred within me a measure of fear and trepidation. 1Thess.5:2 states, for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. This event predated my introduction to realized eschatology which would not arrive for another few years (late-60s). At that stage of my life I was unaware of any view of eschatology other than the traditional futuristic view.
The sermon you will hear this morning will not be anything like the sermon I heard when I was a young teen. It is not because the word of God has changed, but rather because my understanding of God's word has changed. The text that served as the springboard for that gospel meeting sermon is closely related to the text before us today.
Open your Bible to 2Peter 3:10 / The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. This passage (2Pet.3:10) is often used along with 1Thess.5:2 in teaching & preaching about a yet-future coming of Christ. This morning I want us to think together about this 2Pet.3:10 passage. Next Sunday or soon thereafter we will tackle the fuller text of 2Pet.3:10-18, which is often viewed as a bastion or stronghold and mainstay of futuristic eschatology.
When I was a Bible-major student at Harding (1972-76) many eschatological passages were open to interpretation. For example, professor P understood 1Pet.4:7 (the end of al things is at hand) to be yet future, while professor S saw it as a reference to AD 70. On the other hand, Professor S viewed Js.5:8 (the coming of the Lord is at hand) as a reference to something yet future, but professor P understood it to be pointing the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. These differing views were tolerated among the faculty - - they were free to come to their own conclusions. They were not required to walk in lock-step with one another, which was both noteworthy and admirable. What Bible professor would relish teaching in an environment where he was not free to think for himself? But there were a few passages that appeared to be immune to disputation. I'm not asserting that differing views were officially NOT PERMITTED - - it was just that no didactical disagreements were expressed publicly. From all appearances, 2Pet.3:10ff was one of those texts that just had to be yet future.
The view that 2Pet.3:10 has to be yet future has its roots in a faulty exposition of Mt.24:36f. Matthew 24, aka the Olivet discourse, records words spoken by Jesus to first-century Jews about the fall of Jerusalem. He told them: your house is being left to you desolate (Mt.23:38) …and not one shall be left upon another (Mt.24:2). Mt.24:3, notes that the Lord's disciples came to Him privately asking, Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of age/world? In the interest of clarity, it is helpful to read Mark's rendition of this same question (Mk.13:4) - - Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when ALL THESE THINGS are going to be accomplished. In the Olivet discourse Jesus answers His apostles' questions. Mt.24:34; Mk.13:30 & Lk.21:32 all record that Jesus made it very clear to His first-century audience - - this generation shall not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS take place. If you read carefully all three accounts of the Olivet discourse you will see: IT CANNOT BE DIVIDED. Yet many persist in trying to dichotomize Matthew 24 (to divide it into two distinctive parts). The first part of Mt.24 (so they claim) speaks about a coming of Christ in judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70, while the second part speaks about the second coming which (they contend) is a yet-future event. The verse that is used to “shift gears” or to draw this supposed dividing line is Mt.24:36 - - but of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Thus was born this basic contention (albeit a faulty argument) that the fall of Jerusalem came with “signs”, but the parousia or second coming of Christ will be unannounced and remains something yet future to us. When Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, He made one thing crystal clear (Mt.24:34): it would occur before the death of some of them standing there - - -affirming in that generation, but not specifying either the day or hour.
Commentators are to be commended for their analytical skills, but this is a case where their analytics have often failed. Ponder this thought with me! If no one except the Father (Mt.24:36) knew the day & hour of Jesus' second coming, then how could Jesus predict the fall of Jerusalem before some of them died? In order to do so, Jesus would have to have known one of two things. First, that His second coming would not precede the end of that generation or secondly, that His coming would occur in connection with the fall of Jerusalem and in conjunction with the end of the Jewish age.
For the balance of this lesson, I want to try to eradicate this mistaken notion that 2Pet.3:10ff has to be future because that event is plainly declared in Scripture to be unknown. Our dear niece Sydney Jeanne Wong (Mark's daughter), is going to have a baby. We know this for a fact - - a delivery is coming - - although we do not know either the day nor the hour. (I reference this illustration because of Paul's word in 1Thess.5:3, which we will read in just a moment.
Here is where I have to point out how painfully careless many have been in reading these thief-in-the-night texts. In Lk.21:34 Jesus warned His first-century listeners: Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap...but keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things which are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. cf. Mt.24:36-44
Now listen to Paul's exhortation once more from 1Thess.5:2-6. When you read this fuller text, you may like me wonder out loud why this sermon text (vs.2) is typically abbreviated. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying 'peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
John employs this same thief-in-the-night imagery in Rev.3:3 - - listen to this exhortation carefully - - Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. cf. Rev.16:15 / behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake...
In Rom.13:11-12, the language of Paul's admonition to the Romans sounds very much like these other texts - - And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is almost gone, the day is at hand.
In conclusion, when we return to 2Pet.3:10ff next Sunday, we'll now have a fuller grasp of this thief-in-the-night terminology - - IT DID NOT APPLY TO THE FAITHFUL, but it was a serious warning to those who would not hear. It was to those skeptics living in first-century that the apostles Peter, Paul and John issued that dire warning - - THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME LIKE A THIEF. This language about Jesus coming as a thief in the night was given in the first-century concerning the coming of Christ, which was predicted by Jesus Himself to occur in their lifetime (before some of them died). Among Jesus' followers there were many who would grow weary in waiting and turn back to Judaism. This was a warning by Jesus NOT to do so, but to stand with confidence, assured that the Lord was not slow and would not delay in fulfilling His promise.