The Olivet Discourse– The Coming as a Thief and Revelation 3
Be sure to read the previous installment about the coming of the thief, in order to catch the full force of this installment. Also, be sure to get a copy of my book, He Came As A Thief,  for a more detailed examination of the entire issue of Christ’s coming “as a thief.” Whereas this concept is often presented as a definitive refutation of Covenant Eschatology, the actual truth is that it can be, even as this brief discussion shows, proven beyond doubt that Christ did come as a thief in AD 70. And Revelation 3 serves as powerful testimony of that.
In calling the church at Sardis to repentance Jesus warned them: “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon you” Rev. 3:3.
It is widely admitted that we have here a prediction of something that was to occur within the lifetime of the Sardisians. (Terry Varner, Studies in Revelation, Third Annual Denton Lectures, 1984, Valid Publications, 312 Pearl St. Denton, Tx., 76201, p. 518).
Notice several facts.
First, Jesus called the predicted judgment on Sardis his coming. Second, the Sardisians knew it was something to occur in their lifetime for sure. Third, they were told to watch. Fourth, the coming would be as a thief. Fifth, they could not know the “day or hour” of Christ’s coming.
The similarity between Matthew 24:34ff should be apparent to any student. In Matthew Jesus said his coming was positively to occur in that generation, vs. 29-34. The coming would be as a thief, 43. They were told to watch, 42. They could not know the day or hour, 36.
What is the evidence for delineating between the “thief coming” of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse? How does one determine that in Matthew the thief coming must be a literal coming of Jesus at a supposed end of time while that in Revelation was an “in-time” spiritual coming?
Any distinction cannot be based upon the claim that in Matthew there are no signs given–no signs are listed in Revelation 3. It cannot be said that in Revelation the coming is spiritual because it was addressed specifically to the church at Sardis; the warnings in Matthew were addressed directly to the apostles.
Revelation 3 reveals that Jesus could definitely predict his coming as a thief while at the same time that coming would positively be in the first century. It cannot be argued therefore that in Matthew 24, because he said his coming would be as a thief, that it must be extrapolated into the far distant future.
AS A THIEF UPON WHOM?
The traditional argument about the thief coming is that it would be unannounced and therefore it would/will be impossible for anyone to know anything about that day. In other words, the argument is that the Day of the Lord will be as a thief on both believers and unbelievers alike since it will be unannounced and sudden. But Thessalonians destroys that argument.
In chapter 5:1f the apostle says “concerning the times and the seasons you have no need that I should write to you for you know perfectly that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night.” A relevant and contextual question to ask at this point is “upon whom would the coming of the Lord be as a thief? Would the coming of the Lord be as a thief upon the Thessalonians?” Paul gives an emphatic answer to both questions:
“When they shall say peace and safety then sudden destruction comes on them. But you brethren, are not in darkness that that Day should overtake you as a thief.”
Please note the distinction between “them” and “you.” The “them” are those who did not “know”; they were in darkness. They were going about their business oblivious to the impending parousia. Their cry of “peace and safety” echoes Matthew 24:36ff where Jesus said his coming would be like it was in the days of Noah. Unbelievers were “eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” Those unbelievers “knew not, until the flood came and took them all away.”
In contrast to the unbelievers the Thessalonians were not in darkness; they were not in ignorance. The Lord’s coming would not be “as a thief” upon the Thessalonians! Why?
The Thessalonians were not in ignorance about the Day of the Lord. But if the traditional view of the coming as a thief is true then believer and unbeliever are alike in ignorance about the Day. Believer and unbeliever will both be overtaken by that Day. This is what Paul patently says was not true of the Thessalonians versus the unbelievers.
If one insists on maintaining the view that the “thief coming” of Jesus in Matthew 24 would be unexpected and sudden, without warning signs, upon believer and unbeliever alike, then surely the “thief coming” of Thessalonians must be delineated from Matthew 24. Paul positively states that the Thessalonians did possess knowledge about the Lord’s coming so that it would not come as a thief upon them. It would only come as a thief upon the unbeliever.
This article has demonstrated several key facts:
1. Jesus was positively coming as a thief in the first century;
2. The coming as a thief can be clearly shown to be associated with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
3. That there were to be signs of his coming as a thief.
4. The coming as a thief was to be upon the unbelievers who refused to believe in and watch for the signs, not believers. it is untenable to suggest therefore as do most futurists that Matthew 24 must be divided because Jesus told two different parables.
It was the believers that could tell by the signs when the Lord’s parousia was at hand (Matthew 24:32f). But the unbelievers would continue in their ways oblivious to the signs everywhere around them. As a result that Day would come on them as a thief. There were not to be two different comings. There was one coming viewed from two different perspectives and illustrated by two different parables. The Olivet Discourse does not predict two comings of the Lord!