In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his followers: It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
The ‘thief in the night’ imagery is so well known that its imagery is used elsewhere in Scripture. Saint Peter uses it in his letter 10But 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)
John uses it twice in Revelation: Remember, 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. (Rev. 3:3). Also in Revelation 16: 15″Behold, I 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).
The imagery offered is that Christ’s return will be sudden. Think about ‘the thief in the night.’ Suddenly in the middle of the night a burglar breaks in. But a burglar who breaks in is unexpected. Its sudden and its unexpected.
How can we be prepared for such an event? Many have tried to solve their problem by predicting a future date—in order to know when Christ would return. But all through Scripture we are reminded that this is no solution because no one knows the time or date—not even the Son of God Himself.
What to do? Because if Christ is going to come suddenly and unexpectedly and its unavoidable, how do we get ready? And this is a question that has vexed man – for over 2,000 years.
Thankfully Jesus doesn’t leave us without an answer. He says earlier in Luke 11: Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning. (Luke 11:35). In other words, there is no need for us to be alarmed by the prospect of the Lord’s coming because there is no need for it to take us by surprise. Go back to the imagery of a thief who breaks in. What are the two reasons why people are taken by surprise when a thief breaks in?
1. Thieves come at night
You see the trouble with burglars is that they do not tell us when they are coming. They make no advance announcement of their arrival. It is not in their habit to send a warning postcard that they are on their way.
2. Household is asleep
Last summer we were robbed twice when someone broke into our garage and took our lawn equipment. The primary reason was that the thief came at night. Why? Because he (or she!) reasoned that the household would be asleep. He was right—twice!
Now there is nothing at all we can do about the first reason. We cannot predict when the thief will come. But there is something we can do about the second—we can stay awake.
The same is true with Christ’s coming. Christ’s coming is definitely going to be unexpected. But the solution to our problem lies not in knowing when he’ll arrive but the solution is staying awake and being alert. That way, when he arrives, we won’t be surprised. We’ll be ready for him. It’s the difference between being a ‘nighttime’ person and a ‘daytime’ person. What does that mean?
Dr. N.T. Wright gives an excellent example on explaining the difference. He writes, ‘Imagine that you and your family are enjoying your spring break and one evening after the sun goes down you draw the curtains and everyone goes to bed. You sleep well too because the following day you are expecting a visit from your grandmother. But because you are tired you oversleep. In the morning the sun rises as usual but you know nothing about it because you are still fast asleep and the curtains are still drawn. Only one member of the family wakes early, your daughter. She gets up and flings back the curtains of her room so that the sun streams in. Suddenly there is aloud knock on the front door and your grandmother is standing outside. Your daughter is the only one who is not taken by surprise. She is awake, alert and in the light. But the rest of the family is still asleep and still in darkness.’
So the question which Jesus’ teaching presses upon is this: Which are you? Are you dressed ready for service or asleep in the dark? Are the curtains of our lives drawn open and has the light of Jesus come in? As new creatures in Christ, we are and should always be—daytime people.
Nighttime behavior involves sleep and yawning our way through life; living life for my own comfort and ease. But daytime behavior is much different. What do we do during the day? We go to work? We serve! We are alert to all that needs to be done. If that is true in our work economy, how true is this in God’s economy? A daytime person is one who lives a life marked by serving others. A nighttime person is one who lives life marked by serving himself. It’s worth repeating, as new creatures in Christ, we are and should always be—daytime people.