Arrival of the Lord:
Redemption from the Inside Out
Rev. 3:3 So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Then if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. …. 16:15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes,so that he will not walk about naked and people will not see his shame.”)
Mt. 24:42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. …Mk. 13: 35 Therefore, stay alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 so that he does not come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all: ‘Stay alert!’”
I Th. 5:2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night. … 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you like a thief; …6 so then, let’s not sleep as others do, but let’s be alert and sober…. II Th. 2:1 Now we ask you… 2 that you not be …disturbed either by a spirit… to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 … For it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, …4 …so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
II Pt. 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be discovered.
The concept of the Lord’s return as a thief is a key anchoring tenet in God’s mind for preparing the church for that return. But it is greatly confused and obscured in the mind of most believers, effectively disabling them from truly preparing as intended. This article’s purpose is to bring the idea of the “thief” into context of the larger surrounding realities at play so as to dispel much of the present misbelief.
Two broad dimensions of understanding are at issue behind the thiefly meaning of Christ’s return. The first pertains to the meaning of the day of the Lord. The second pertains to the actual nature of the return. We will look at these in that order.
The Day of the Lord
The idea of Christ’s coming as a thief is embedded into the larger reality of the day of the Lord. This is shown by Paul where he says that “the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night.” Confusion arises however because, in so many other passages, the day of the Lord is described as a bombastic event of earth shaking magnitude affecting all people on the surface of life. We see this for instance just where Peter says, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat…” That day also appears this way in the Old Testament prophets.
So which is it? Does He come as an undetectable thief, or as a bombastic crusading warrior? Can it be both? But if so, how?
Merely lumping Christ’s return as a “thief” together with the blazing descriptions of that day leads to the confused conclusion that the only real meaning of Christ’s “thiefly-ness” is that He will arrive suddenly (but not secretly). However this is erroneous, because throughout His exhortations on readiness, Jesus makes it clear that only those who are ready, watchful and alert will have the perception that He has arrived as that thief. As He writes to Sardis, “if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”
Yet when the day of the Lord’s return appears in blazing glory as seen in Revelation 19, everyone will know it. As John puts it, “every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7). That glorious firepower may still come as a surprise, yes. But all will still see it. This is contrary to what He said to Sardis wherein coming to them as a thief, they would not know it. Thus there is a phase differential between Christ’s return as a thief and His return in glorious destructive power. That differential is as stark as the contrast between night and day. A thief only comes at night, yet most of what occurs as the day of the Lord occurs as a universally perceivable broad daylight event.
Put all together, this shows us that the “day of the Lord” is an epoch that includes a full spectrum of night and day, not just a daytime phase. Further, the order in which these phases occur is the same as that of an earthly day. All the exhortations by Jesus and Paul to watchful readiness for the “thief in the night” are front end expectations pertaining to the day of the Lord. An earthly day begins at dark, not at daylight. It begins at sundown (or midnight), not at dawn or noon. Thus Paul says that the day of the Lord “comes” (that is, arrives, but not concludes) as a thief in the night. And when we look at Peter’s description, we are thus seeing the totality of the phases, first night and then day, condensed into one sentence!
Paul goes on to say that only those living out of hearts of “daylight” will perceive that Christ’s day has come, even though it comes “at night.” They will not be surprised, but fully expecting and thus aware of that arrival. In so saying, he describes what the “darkness” of the night is all about, which is the sinful debauchery of the world (gluttony and drunkenness on the things of this life). Jesus Himself describes likewise: “But if that evil slave … eats and drinks with those habitually drunk; then the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect, and at an hour that he does not know…” (Mt. 24:48-50). The arrival of Christ’s day as a thiefly appearing “at night” is about the worldwide conditions of utter spiritual darkness that must prevail at the time of that appearing. Such are the times we now inhabit as the sun of God’s restraining moral goodness is setting on global civilization.
So we have now clarified that the return of the Lord as a thief is a distinctly separate front-end phase of His overall “day” which otherwise concludes in His glorious destructive revelation upon the systems of this world. The urgent concept of watchful readiness associated with this phase also shows that our participation in Christ’s arrival at night is entirely conditional. It is not guaranteed. Moreover, the idea that the “thief” breaks into a house to “steal” its contents shows that Christ’s first phase arrival is about coming to His own house to “steal” away those who are in fact ready to perceive that sacred hidden appearing. These are the key factors that put our grasp of the Lord’s thiefly coming relative to the day of the Lord into proper order.
An “Inside” Job: The Nature of the Lord’s Initial Phase Return
The second dimension we must apprehend about the thiefly aspect of the Lord’s early return is the actual nature of that appearance. Throughout their discussions on the end, Jesus and Paul reference various signs that will indicate the nearness of Christ’s return. All of these signs are visible to the naked eye and ear—earthquakes, pestilences, wars, rumors of war, etc. Revelation adds in many other signs including a worldwide closed commercial system, an associated harlot religious system seated in Rome, and even “scorpions” with power to “jab” men with “stingers” for a period of time (Selah!).
Most interestingly, both Jesus and Paul reference one particular sign that must occur before Christ’s secret appearing. It is the counterfeit man of sin displaying himself as god in the temple, demanding worldwide worship. That sign also marks the beginning of the dreadful 42 month period of Great Tribulation. (Paul tells us this sign must occur before Christ’s thiefly day comes while Jesus tells us this same “abomination of desolation” signifies the beginning of the final tribulation.)
The difficulty with all this, however, is that the plethora of external signs together with confusion over the phases of the Lord’s coming have misled believers into a false basis of expectation and readiness regarding His covert appearing. Contrary to the nature of all the signs and Christ’s final appearance, the Lord’s arrival as a thief cannot be engaged by the carnal senses nor prepared for by “watching” for such.
To understand this, we must review what Jesus said to the Pharisees when they asked Him about the coming of His kingdom. Said He, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Lk. 17:20-21).
In other words, the visible “signs” that herald Christ’s kingly coming as described by the Lord and Paul are not of the same nature as the actual King in His coming! The one is external, the other internal. We see this differentiation in Jesus’ very ministry where His miraculous outward signs were always directed toward establishing an internal kingdom reality. Likewise His parables described His kingly advance as an operation beginning on the inside of man working outward.
This inside-out kingdom reality carries through to all aspects of salvation, which is a co-equal concept with the kingdom. (Jesus equates the concepts of entry into the kingdom, into salvation and into eternal life.) New birth is thus an operation beginning within a man. So also is the filling of the Holy Spirit with its work of sanctification. (Thus Paul refers to Christ being “formed in us,” and to “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”)
So too is it, therefore, with the thiefly arrival of the King to His ready watchers! The coming of the Lord to His people at the end of the age is to consummate their final stage of harvested salvation—a salvation begun on, and thus concluded from, the inside out. It is by this hidden internal arrival that Jesus Himself breaks forth, changing our bodies to His same glory, thus joining or “wedding” us to Him in completed salvation in the eternal dimension.
It is precisely this fact that explains the “thiefly” nature of the arrival. Not only does Christ arrive in the “midnight” of world conditions, but He arrives unperceivable to the human senses. He is imperceptible because He is not coming to steal us from the outside, but from “withinside” our own being as he has been forming within us all along! This theft is truly an “inside job.” It is much like when Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of His disciples in the upper room, or as the angel appeared to Peter inside the prison. They “broke in” without having any wall to break through! This is how Christ is to break “into” His house when He appears. It is from “within-to” that He breaks forth.
Margaret MacDonald’s trance-prophecy from the 1830 Scottish charismatic revival marvelously depicted this internal reality necessary to perceiving the Lord’s return:
Here I was made to stop and cry out, "O it is not known what the sign of the Son of man is; the people of God think they are waiting, but they know not what it is." I felt this needed to be revealed, and that there was great darkness and error about it; but suddenly what it was burst upon me with a glorious light. I saw it was just the Lord himself descending from Heaven with a shout, just the glorified man, even Jesus; but that all must, as Stephen was, be filled with the Holy Ghost, that they might look up and see the brightness of the Father's glory. I saw the error to be, that men think that it will be something seen by the natural eye; but 'tis spiritual discernment that is needed, the eye of God in His people….
I said, "Now shall the people of God have to do with realities... now shall the glorious mystery of God in our nature be known... now shall it be known what it is for man to be glorified." I felt that the revelation of Jesus Christ had yet to be opened up... it is not knowledge about God that it contains, but it is an entering into God... I saw that there was a glorious breaking in of God to be....
Are We Deceived Watchers?
All this has critical bearing on the meaning of “watching” and “readiness” for the return of the Lord. Two streams of consciousness compete for the believer’s attention in this life. The external stream with its propaganda “news” and “doctors’ reports” and media and events ad nauseum calls us every day to itself. This is the stream of darkness and of night, of “drunkenness” and “gluttony.”
But the internal stream of the Spirit of God through His Word by wisdom and revelation is also calling us every day. This is the stream of light and eternal life. It is the underground stream of the secret place of the Most High. And it is to and through this hidden stream alone that Jesus will appear to steal us out of the church and through the veil to Himself.
But all that depends on which stream we give ourselves to and to what degree on a daily basis! For in between these streams is the “christianesque” stream that has “the horns of a lamb but speaks like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11). We could call it “Christian dragonspeak.” That is, most of God’s people have stooped to trying to contend with the dark worldly stream of consciousness on its own media ground as well as to follow after all the perceptible signs of darkness Jesus and Paul predicted would precede His coming. Many believe that the more “news” they can consume and signs they can observe informing them of the latest evil plot to establish the throne of the beast somehow makes them “watchers” who are becoming “ready” for the Lord’s inner appearing.
It is not so! Rather, by going beyond taking notice of such noise to pursuing after it, God’s people are becoming increasingly ensnared by their own brand of dragonspeak—listening to and repeating the words of this world’s “frogs” on the world’s communications channels, dis-preparing themselves for the Lord, robbing themselves of the precious inner devotion required to truly hear and abide only in the voice of the longing Shepherd. We think we are “contending for the light” but are only feeding the dark consciousness of the world's issues. We think we are spiritually sober, but are really high functioning “alcoholics.” We think we are spiritually awake, but are only “sleepwalking.” As Margaret well said it, “‘the people of God think they are waiting, but they know not what it is.’ I felt this needed to be revealed, and that there was great darkness and error about it…”
This calls for critical discernment. We are indeed instructed to take note of the external signs that are developing toward the final man of sin, and to perceive the strategies of the enemy. But watching for the signs of the Lord’s return does not constitute watching for the Lord’s return! We are to thus avail ourselves of the signs only to reinvest our spirits the more deeply into the place of inner prayer, devotion and hearing of the Lord’s Spirit in every moment for each day. For therein alone is the true place of watchfulness and readiness to be swallowed up of the Lord’s Life from within. In the end, it will only be from that immortal position that we will have the power and authority to actually cast the dragon out of heaven and see to His trampling under our Lord’s feet after the wedding!
It is for this purpose then of dispelling delusion, misbelief and unbelief about the Lord’s thiefly appearing, and for perfecting our place of watching for His inward arrival amidst the increasing tide of beastly world pressure that I have written today. May none of us lose our peace or joy or faith or hope in the Lord amid the mounting presence of the dragon.
Let us hold fast to our inner pursuit of the Lord, for our time is near!
My soul followeth hard after Thee, Thy right hand upholdeth me.
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page created February 17, 2022