Coming like a thief (Matthew 24:42-47)

Burglars are as unpredictable as they are unwelcome. But a king’s arrival wouldn’t normally be compared to a burglar breaking in to rob the house. What’s going on?

How would you describe Jesus’ role in God’s household? Is he the master of the house, entrusted by the heavenly Father with restoring order to his earthly house? Or is he coming as a thief to take power from those who currently claim to run the world?

A wicked sense of humour probably isn’t the right descriptor for Jesus, but he certainly spun yarns and mixed metaphors in crazy-creative ways. You don’t expect the heaven-anointed king to come like a thief in the dark to rob the householder!

But before you can ask, “Say, what?” he flips the metaphor. Suddenly he’s running the household instead of robbing it:

Matthew 24:42-47 (my translation, compare NIV)
42 So, stay vigilant, because you don’t know which day your Lord comes. 43 You know that if the householder had known which night-watch the thief would come, he’d have stayed alert and not let his house be robbed. 44 Through what I’m telling you, become ready, since the son of man comes when you’re not expecting him.
45 Who could be the dependable and insightful servant whom the lord of the house appointed to provide food for them at the right time? 46 Blessed is the servant who is found doing that when his lord comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will appoint him over all his affairs.

Whether Jesus is burglar or boss depends on who owns the house. If you see yourself as the owner, watch out: Jesus is coming to rob you. But if you see God as the owner engaging us as his servants to care for everyone, Jesus is coming to restore the house and reward the faithful servants.

The unexpected humour rises from the king’s astounding empathy. He knows that his coming to power feels so different for those who claim to be running the world than it does for the servants of its true Owner.

Whose house is it?

Heaven is God’s home, but earth is his as well. He always intended to dwell among us. We were servants in the palace garden (Eden) until we took the fruit reserved for the king and were exiled from his presence. So, God planted a little garden (Israel) where he dwelt among the people who invited his reign over them by building him a little tent (tabernacle).

King David’s son built a more substantial house for God (temple), but it only lasted three centuries. The nations invaded, knocked down God’s house, and exiled his people. Some returned to build a second temple, but when the Son came he found God’s house occupied by robbers (21:13). God had vacated the house that rejected his son, so it would fall (23:32 – 24:2).

As distressful as this was (24:15-28), it wasn’t the end of God’s plans to dwell among his people. The superstars that elevated themselves to the heavens would fall, since God has entrusted the whole household to the son of man (24:29-35).

That’s why the stories that follow depict God as running the house. Not only does he reward those who work for him, but he takes the gold from those who don’t (25:28). The goats live for themselves, whereas the sheep treat each other as they’d treat the king (25:31-46).


Living as if we own God’s world is what’s wrong with the place. Living as if you’re entitled places you in conflict with God. Get ready to be robbed.

Living as servants of the true owner is what we were designed for. Living to distribute his resources so everyone gets their food at the right time is being genuinely human — reliable, perceptive servants of the one who owns our home. Get ready to be entrusted with more.

This is how Jesus’ kingship transforms the world.

Open Matthew 24:42-47.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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