(KJV) 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4

1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

Initial Paul seems to be alluding to the Lord's day as coming like a thief for both the regenerate & unregenerate,but all of a sudden he seems to be saying that the regenerate should not be surprised by this day.

So does this day come like a thief for the unregenerate only?

  • 1
    To come and to overtake are two different verbs, wouldn't you agree ?
    – Lucian
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 4:44
  • First it must be established that "cometh as a thief in the night" is symbolic talk, meaning to come unexpected. It does not mean that it is OK for Christians to be a thief in the night, although we are encouraged to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. To be a thief in the night is immoral and illegal, and goes completely against one of the ten commandments, namely the one that says "you shall not steal" Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 4:12

3 Answers 3


No one knows the day or the hour except God. Not even the son of God knows:

NIV Matthew 24:6 "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

So the difference between the unfaithful and the faithful is that they will be prepared and thus suffer no loss:

NIV Luke 12:40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."


How can we understand 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4?

Answer: Here's how:

Suppose we consider a Christian man named Joe. Joe is very aged and on the brink of death in a hospital. Then, one day, Joe finally passes away "like a thief in the night." Now, if we could see through Joe's eyes, he has just crossed the threshold of this world into the eternity of God: He is standing in the immediate Presence of Christ.

But, as Joe looks around, he also sees all the faithful, right there, standing with him. He even sees Adam along with Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, you, and me -- all the faithful throughout history.

So, where is that? Answer: The "clouds of heaven", just as we read (1 Thess. 4:17, Acts 1:11). You will ask: "How can this be?" Well, Peter tells us:

2 Peter 3:8b: "[With] the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day."

Peter is metaphorically describing an eternal state where time (as we now experience it) does not elapse. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that 1 day in heaven exactly is equal to 1,000 years based precisely on Peter’s words. If that were literally true, then the following must also be true:

     1 heavenly minute = 2/3  Earth years;    1 heavenly hour = 42 Earth years; 
     1 heavenly day    = 1,000 Earth years;   1 heavenly week = 7,000 Earth years.

In this scenario, while those who died almost 50 years ago “wait,” only 1 hour has elapsed in heaven. Abraham, who died roughly 4,000 years ago will have experienced around 4 days in heaven.

But, we know that 1,000 years is merely symbolic. It is a metaphor for timelessness, the absence of time. Since we cannot grasp this concept, Peter speaks allegorically about it. Therefore, the amount of “time” that anyone has been in the Presence of God is merely an instant, a "twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52).

Just as with Joe, when any faithful person reaches their final destination in eternity (from their perspective), it happens to be the very same moment that everyone else arrives because time as we understand it (in eternity) no longer exists. (Note that I did not describe the lost in Hades this way.)

So, how does this relate to 1 Thessalonians 5? Just this: Our death occurs (to everyone) as a "thief in the night." As Paul writes, "we have no need of anything to be written to [us]." Yes, the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. Just when we think everything is peaceful and safe, we have a heart attack, or are killed in an auto accident, or shooting, or whatever else you might imagine. Incredibly, the faithful never need to worry over such eventualities (see Jn. 8:51, 11:26).

Unfortunately, the faithless are destined for "destruction [the flames of Hades] which will come upon them suddenly [as well]... and they will not escape."

On the other hand, the faithful "are not in darkness, that the day would overtake [us] like a thief." That (should) be because we understand that the faithful will at once step into the Presence of Christ -- not the other way around. Here are some passages you might wish to consider:

Approximately 150 Passages That Speak of Christ’s Return
1 Corinthians 1:7-8     1 Timothy 6:14        John 6:50-71      Matthew 24:14
1 Corinthians 4:5       2 Corinthians 5:8     John 14:1-3       Matthew 24:27
1 Corinthians 11:26     2 Corinthians 5:10    Jude 1:14         Matthew 24:30-31, 33
1 Corinthians 15:23     2 Peter 1:16          Jude 1:21         Matthew 24:36-40
1 Corinthians 15:52     2 Peter 3:4,10,12,14  Luke 9:26         Matthew 24:42-44, 50
1 John 2:28             2 Thessalonians 1:7   Luke 12:40        Matthew 25:13, 31
1 John 3:2              2 Thessalonians 2:1   Luke 17:26;18:8   Matthew 26:64
1 Peter 1:7             2 Thessalonians 2:8   Luke 21:27-28     Philippians 1:23
1 Peter 1:13            2 Timothy 4:1-2       Luke 21:34-36     Philippians 3:20-21
1 Peter 4:13            2 Timothy 4:8         Luke 23:43        Philippians 4:5
1 Peter 5:4             Acts 1:7, 9-11        Mark 8:38         Revelation 1:7-8
1 Thessalonians 1:10    Acts 17:31            Mark 9:1          Revelation 3:3, 10-11
1 Thessalonians 2:19    Colossians 3:4        Mark 13:26        Revelation 16:15
1 Thessalonians 3:13    Hebrews 9:28          Mark 13:32-35     Revelation 22:12
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 Hebrews 10:25,37      Mark 14:62        Revelation 22:20
1 Thessalonians 5:2-3   James 5:7-9           Matthew 7:21-23   Romans 2:5-16
1 Thessalonians 5:23    John 5:25; 6:39-40    Matthew 16:27-28  Titus 2:13

Ask yourself what event occurs in everyone's life as a "thief in the night," unexpectedly, and perhaps things will become clearer. You might also wonder how millions of faithful Christians have already departed: How would they ever witness Christ's return?

(Note: I've answered something like this here, along with illustrations to help.)


Matthew 24:43 states: But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. This is self-explanatory.

The Messiah expects you to be prepared for his coming. In fact, 2 Timothy 4:8 states you will be awarded a crown for being prepared: Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing.

I come from a Messianic Synagogue, so my understanding of this is from that viewpoint. "Like a thief in the night" is a Jewish idiom. It refers to the "Temple Guard" who was in charge of the security of the temple. The temple had guards stationed around the temple walls. At random intervals, the Temple Guard would make his rounds and see who was alert at his post. Any guard that was found asleep, or otherwise did not see the Temple Guard make his rounds had his garments torched. At that point they were unfit to serve. So, the saying was don't let the Temple Guard catch you like a thief in the night. (SOURCE) Jesus, being a Jewish, a Rabbi, and a future High Priest after the order of Melchizedek - surely knew of this idiom.

There's similar, yet related idiom. No Man Knows the Day or the Hour. The Feast of Trumpets requires a number of witnesses to see when the moon was at the correct stage to initiate the feast. The feast is celebrated over a 2 day span to be sure the moon was correct. Hence, it became known as the feast of which no man knows the day or hour.

The New Testament states that the Temple now resides in us, per 1 Corinthians 3:16 - Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? As such, you are to guard your Temple lest your garments get torched. Revelation 16:15 - Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!

This is not to say we can know exactly when he will come, only that we can understand that a thief in the night applies to those who weren't ready. It can't be just the unregenerate, as they wouldn't be reading God's word in the first place. More information can be found in the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25). All 10 were believers. All 10 were part of the bride of Christ. All 10 even fell asleep and weren't watching at that moment. However, there will come a point in which we need to be prepared. Even the math, 5 out of 10 - 50% of Christians - is concerning.

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