Reprinted from the Loveland PRC newsletter.
If the “rapture” is not secret, why do we read of Christ’s coming as sudden and unexpected (I Thess.5:1-9)? He comes, Scripture says, as a thief in the night (Matt. 24:34; II Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15). What could be more secret or unexpected than that?
The truth is that Christ comes as a unexpected thief only in relation to the ungodly and unbelieving. I Thessalonians 5:1-9 makes this abundantly clear. There Paul speaks of “them,” the ungodly, in distinction from “you,” that is, the saints. He tells us that inescapable destruction shall come upon them (vs. 3), “but ye, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you as a thief” (vs. 4).
The wicked are not expecting the final judgment and the coming of Christ. Though many of them have heard that He is coming and know that God will judge the world, they hold this truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:16). They are the scoffers of whom Peter speaks (II Pet. 3:1-8). Because God does not pour out His wrath on them immediately they conclude He will not judge them at all. Nor do they recognize the judgments He does send on them now as judgments (AIDS, earthquakes, famines, wars).
Such people are also found in the church. There they are represented by the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25 (vss. 1-13). When Christ does come they are sound asleep, and without oil, and are excluded from the wedding feast as a result. They belong to the church and have the name of believers (virgins), but are in fact hypocrites and unbelievers.
God’s people are not taken completely unawares (further proof that the “rapture” is not secret), and are in fact, though always imperfectly, watching and waiting for the coming of Christ, believing that He shall certainly come as He has promised. They are not in the darkness of unbelief and sin, as I Thessalonians 5:4 reminds us.
Nevertheless, even they do not know the day or hour of Christ’s coming (Matt. 24:36, 42; 25:13; Mk. 13:32). To them also Christ says, “In such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh” (Matt. 24:44).
For this reason we have the urgent calling to watch and wait and pray. Matthew 25:13 speaks of that calling. So does I Thessalonians 5: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober…. Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (vs. 6, 8).
This warning is needed! The five “wise” virgins are also sleeping when the bridegroom comes (Matt. 25:5). They have oil in their lamps (the biblical symbol of the Spirit of God), but they themselves are slumbering. It is with this in mind that Jesus says in another place, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:8) and that in connection with a call to fervent, frequent prayer.
That we need this warning should be evident in the fact that we are often careless, and live as though Christ will never come. Indeed, the thought of His coming right now, more often than not would fill us with dismay. Let us then watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation.