Paul warns us that Christ will return as a thief in the night:
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–3)
That’s some scary stuff. Jesus’ return is the culmination of history: you want to be ready when it happens. If it takes you by surprise, you’re in trouble.
But not to worry. Paul explains that we don’t have to be surprised by the Lord’s Second Coming:
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief” (v. 4)
Here’s the question, though. What comes to your mind when you think about being ready for Jesus’ return? Is it identifying key events that will tell us the end is at hand? Paul tells us to be ready, but current events aren’t what he has in mind:
“For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (vv. 5–8)
Be a child of the light, Paul says. A child of the day. Keep awake and sober. Put on faith, love, and the hope of salvation.
Sometimes we try to prep for the end times by scouring the news for the fulfillment of prophecy. We play eschatology bingo. Another earthquake? Check the box. Another candidate for the antichrist? Check the box. A red heifer? Check the box.
But Paul points us in a different direction in 1 Thessalonians. It’s not that the prophecies and events don’t matter. But for Paul in this letter, readiness is all about our Christian character. Don’t let the Day of the Lord surprise you like a thief. Be ready when it comes. Be sober. Live as a child of the light. Exude faith, love, and the hope of salvation.
You’re not going to be ready for a thief by watching the news. “Hey, look! Sales of knitted facemasks are on the rise. We’d better get ready for a burglar!” I don’t think so. You’re ready for a thief when you’re awake and alert.
So it is with Christ’s return. If you are waiting for world events to align before you prepare to meet the Lord, you’re not going to be ready. But if you’re living now in light of his return, then you’ll meet Jesus with joy and hope, rather than surprise.