There are two
popular phrases people use in connection with the End Times
to discourage speculation about just when the Rapture might
take place. One
is “like a thief in the night”, and the other is “no one
knows the day or the hour”.
suggested from time to time that I'm sometimes “overly
specific” in my teaching on the subject of End Times
prophecy (even though I've never proposed either a day or an
hour) so I've undertaken a study of these two phrases to see
if I'm guilty as charged.
Let me say
from the outset that I don't believe the day or hour of the
Rapture can be known in advance by anyone on Earth because I
don't believe it's set to happen on any specific day or at
any specific hour.
I believe it's set to happen when a specific number
of born again believers is reached, and I base that
conclusion on my understanding of Romans 11:25.
I do not
want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that
you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening
in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come
two Greek words in this verse that lend critical support to
a proper understanding. The first is translated "full
It's a nautical term that describes the
pre-determined number of sailors necessary to operate a
ship. Until the ship had its full number of crew members, it
could not sail. This is why ship captains sometimes got
unsuspecting men drunk and kidnapped them late at
night and then set sail immediately. And the second,
translated "come in" is also a nautical term that described
the ship's arrival at its intended destination.
these terms, Paul was saying that the hardening of Israel's
heart will not be fully removed until the Church reaches its
pre-determined number and has been taken to heaven. There's nothing
arbitrary about God's action here. He has already
determined the number and will take the Church to its
intended destination as soon as that number is reached. But as far as I can
tell no one on Earth knows either the full number or the
All we can know is that we'll be Raptured when the
full number of Gentiles has come in and it could
literally happen on any given day. Then we'll
disappear, the blinders will come off Israel and the
70th Week will commence.
Now, back to
the topic at hand.
What do these two phrases mean and are they intended
to discourage speculation about the timing of the
Like A Thief
appears 4 times in the New Testament. Let's look at each
one and see what it's telling us.
brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to
you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will
come like a thief in the night. While people are saying,
"Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly,
as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not
escape. But you, brothers, are not
in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a
thief. (1 Thes. 5:1-4)
Paul's only use of the phrase. It's clear He
was speaking of the day of the Lord, and that while it will
come as a surprise to unbelievers, events leading up to it
should not surprise us. He made no mention
of the Rapture here.
But the day
of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will
disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by
fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
(2 Peter 3:10)
Peter's only use of the phrase, and again the reference is
to the End Time Judgments, not to the Rapture.
therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and
repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief,
and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps
his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be
shamefully exposed." (Rev. 16:15)
John used the
phrase twice, both times quoting the Lord. In Rev. 3:3
He was criticizing the Church in Sardis, who in my opinion
represents the mainline Protestants of today. He was reminding
them that they've gotten away from His word and had better
wake up and get back into it. Otherwise they won't
know when He will come to them. Notice the
wording. In the
Rapture He comes for us, not to us, and we meet Him in the
air. The people
He's talking to will not go in the Rapture, and if they
don't wake up, even the 2nd Coming will take them
(In verse 4 we see that not everyone in Sardis is
are a few among them who will be ready for the Rapture and
will walk with Him in robes of white.)
16:15 the world is well into the Great Tribulation, so
the Lord's warning is for Tribulation believers who will be
responsible for keeping themselves saved during the most
terrifying and dangerous time the world has ever known. When
used symbolically, as it is here, clothing always stands for
righteousness, and tribulation believers will be responsible
for maintaining theirs.
look at that other popular phrase, “No one knows the day or
"No one knows
about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor
the Son, but only the Father. As it
was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the
Son of Man. (Matt. 24:36-37)
Great Tribulation ends (Matt. 24:29) there will be
various signs in the heavens. The sun and moon
will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. Then the sign of the
Son of Man will appear and all the nations will mourn. After
that they'll see Him coming in the clouds with power and
great glory, having gathered His elect from all over Heaven
to join Him (Matt. 24:30-31). This is
confirmed in both Rev. 18:14 and Rev. 19:
both the context and the passage itself it's clear that the
Lord was referring to the day and hour of the 2nd
Coming when He'll be coming with us not for us.
"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. (Matt. 24:42-44)
A few verses
later, the Lord repeated the same thought, again in the
context of the 2nd Coming.
The master of that servant will come
on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is
not aware of. He will cut him to
pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where
there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt.
few verses later.
There's no way this can refer to the Rapture because the things
He described will not be done to unbelievers at the
speaking of the judgments that follow the 2nd
keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
fourth time in
28 verses the Lord has said that believers on Earth
at the time of the 2nd Coming will not know the
day or hour of His return. This one is in the
context of the parable of the 10 bridesmaids.
studies I've shown that this parable can't be about the
church. The Church is the Bride, not a bridesmaid, there's
only one bride, not 10, and the banquet follows the wedding,
it doesn't precede it.
There's no way a newly married bride can be excluded
from her own wedding banquet by a husband who claims he
doesn't know her.
The parable is about tribulation survivors, 5 of whom are saved
and enter the Kingdom and 5 who are not and don't.
What's The Point?
Now there is in store for me the crown
of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will
award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all
who have longed for his appearing.(2 Tim. 4:8)
I've searched the
Scriptures in vain trying to find either phrase used in
connection with the Rapture. But no where can I find a
single verse prohibiting or even discouraging speculation
about its timing.
contrary, I find that the Lord rebuked the religious leaders
of His time for not expecting Him, and in doing so
encouraged us to be aware as well. For example,
commanded us to understand Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy
(Matt. 24:15), He criticized the Pharisees for not
being able to read the signs of the times (Matt.
16:2-4), and had Jerusalem destroyed for not recognizing
the clearly foretold time of His visitation (Luke
Paul warned us not to let events leading up to the
Day of the Lord take us by surprise (1 Thes. 5:4),
and as we see above promised that the Lord would award a
crown to those who longed for His appearing. How many more
reasons do we need?
So where did
this idea come from? It appears that some of it can be
blamed on theologians who misinterpreted the 2nd
Coming parables in Matt. 24 & 25. Apparently they
didn't realize that when the Lord coined the phrase, “No one
knows the day or hour”
He was talking about His 2nd Coming, not
But even then it's the disobedient who are caught by
surprise in these parables, not the faithful.
Some of it is
also due to the fact that for generations church leaders
have actively discouraged the study of prophecy for fear
that focusing on the Lord's return would make members less
enthusiastic about funding their buildings and other Earth
centered programs. They developed interpretations that
allegorized it all away, making it seem like a fairy tale
that no body really believes. I remember when I
began to take Bible prophecy seriously my pastors warned me,
“Don't become so heavenly minded that you're no earthly
good.” These are the scoffers Peter warned about, who say,
“Where's the Coming He promised?” (2 Peter 3:4)
Even among pre-trib believers, there is a fear of the
rapture because of false doctrines they've been exposed
“partial rapture” hypothesis holds that only the truly
worthy will be taken, while the rest of the Church will be
left behind to clean up their act during some or all of the
End times judgments. Others say
believers who are not also “overcomers” will be cast into
the Outer Darkness at the rapture and excluded from the
These opinions erode our assurance by concluding that
we won't know if we're good enough until it's too late, and
make us fearful that we won't qualify.
are the “secular Christians” who don't want their so-called
good life to end before they've had a chance to experience
it all. Yes,
they want the Lord to come, but not yet, not now.
there are those who know that if the Lord came for us today,
members of their family and circle of friends would be left
don't want the Lord to come until they know everyone they
love will be taken too.
For all these
reasons and more, being faced with the idea that the Rapture
could be very close is not a comforting idea for lots of
Suggesting time frames makes it all seem too real, so
they don't like it.
Be Quiet. You'll Scare Them
people incorrectly say that talking about the End Times
frightens new believers, so we shouldn't do it. What if we get them
all excited and then it doesn't happen? they ask. It's no secret
that the church is populated by a lot of folks who have zeal
without knowledge and are easily taken in by anything that
promises to either make their life easier (prosperity
gospel) or help them
escape it altogether (rapture mania). When I came to the
Lord in the mid 1980's
a book titled 88 Reasons Why The Rapture will take
place in 1988 triggered some rapture mania. A year ago the so
Moon Scenario” had folks looking for the rapture during the
fall feasts. And there have been several others in
every case a couple of hours of study proved the theories
the Bereans noble because they searched the Scriptures daily
to verify what he taught them (Acts 17:11) And that's the
Biblically correct response to these claims. It's not to take
other verses out of context in an effort to silence them.
That only introduces another false teaching. And worse, it
encourages the Church to go back to sleep.
When we hear
someone suggest or even insist on this time or that one, our
response should not be to automatically condemn the person
It should be to “search the Scriptures daily to see
if those things be true” before making a decision about it.
would much rather see the Church engaged in a lively
discussion about the nearness of end times events than to
see us trot out the old “No one knows the
day or hour” line while sticking our heads back in the
subject is a more important topic for discussion today? And think of all the
extra crowns the Lord would have to order. Besides, people
don't fall away when dates come and go because if they're
saved they can't fall away. If they fall away they weren't
saved to begin with.
The Lord doesn't miss opportunities to save people
because of mistakes men make. He knew those who
are His before He laid the Earth's foundations, and promised
not to lose even one of us.
So come on
get back to our job.
The Bible warns us that there'll be false teachers
and says they'll be held accountable. But it also
admonishes us to do our homework so we'll know one when we
see one. Selah