Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
And then the very next verse gives a particular reference to the Battle of Armageddon which is understood by all premillenialists as the battle that occurs at the end of the 7 years of tribulation. So it seems that it is very reasonable to conclude that references to Christ coming as a ‘thief in the night’ should be understood as the coming that occurs when He returns to destroy the enemies of God, to judge the wicked, and to establish his kingdom on this earth. The intentional placement of this warning from Christ that He is coming like a thief after the sixth bowl of God’s Wrath precludes any suggestion that references to Christ coming “as a thief” should be understood to occur before the tribulation. Some believe that Jesus coming as a thief is a surprise coming before the signs of the tribulation, but that does not fit with the context of the chapter or with the many ways in which ‘thief in the night’ is used. For example, in chapter 3 the church at Sardis is to repent—they are to wake up—so that the coming of Christ does not come upon them like a thief. And Paul seems to provide a similar idea where he states that the believers in Thessalonica are not in the darkness. Therefore, the day of the Lord will not surprise them like a thief. It is not good to be in the darkness. Christians are to be watching for the coming of Christ—they know the signs of His Coming, and they will not be shocked when He comes. Only those who are not watching or are in the darkness are surprised.
We must then conclude that references to Christ coming as a thief are not meant to be understood in a positive sense. The church at Sardis must wake up so Jesus doesn’t come upon them as a thief; the master of the house needs to be looking for Christ so that his house is not broken into; and all of us need to watch for Christ’s coming so we don’t get caught with our “pants down” and are ashamed at His Coming! Do you know what to be watching for? There must be signs to watch for or Christ would not have promised blessing to the one who stays awake, is alert and on guard and is looking for Christ’s return! In fact, this is the very question the Apostles ask in Matthew 24:3, “what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” When was the last time you read Jesus’ answer to their question so that you know the signs of His Coming? Study the words of Christ in detail and know what to look for so you are in the light and are not caught surprised by the thief!