The most ominous picture the scriptures paint of Christ’s second coming is found in the Revelation to Saint John: “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” (Rev. 16:5).
It’s not a picture I’m fond of dwelling on: The Lord as home invader, coming unbidden in the quiet hours of the night, prowling about unseen in our private domain. The image is a disturbing one, playing on our deepest fears. For that reason, it’s highly effective.
It’s highly effective given the mission of the thief; namely, to take from his victims that which they treasure or value most. As human beings living in a fallen world what we value most is wealth and praise, pleasure and power. When the Lord returns— suddenly, like a thief in the night— he won’t rob us of such things. Rather, he will rob us of the illusion of their worth. For these things— sought after and coveted as they are in this present evil age— are useless in the eternal Kingdom of God.
When the Kingdom dawns, the A-list celebrity whose face and name was recognized by millions will find her star eclipsed by the nameless, uncanonized saint who toiled daily amidst the poor. (As C.S. Lewis once wrote in the Great Divorce, “fame in heaven and fame on Earth are two quite different things”). The billionaire investor whose wealth rivalled that of whole nation states will find, in the kingdom of God, that the wealth he succeeded in hoarding is now about as valuable as children’s play-money. Prized and coveted while the game was in play, it is— now that the board is folded up and the pieces put away— utterly useless to its owner. The pleasure seeker who, in this world, sought to meet every conceivable appetite will find that in doing so he has forfeited the greatest joy of all— the joy that comes when one lives one’s life, not for oneself, “but for him who died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).
When the Kingdom comes, the Lord will not steel away our wealth and status, our power and our pleasures. He is not literally a thief. The thief, after all, has a genuine desire for the things which he takes. The Lord, on the other hand, has no need for that which fallen humanity covets and hoards. Instead, he will usher in a kingdom— a new kind of reality— where such things are utterly useless. This is, from a certain point of view, a kind of robbery. More accurately, however, it is a stripping away.
The ultimate security, then, against such a stripping away is this: to devote our lives, here and now, to seeking that which is of eternal value: the free and joyful sharing of wealth with those who lack; the thankless, self-sacrificial service of other; the pursuit of right and truth. This is what Jesus called “storing up treasure in heaven.” This is true treasure— treasure that is secured in an eternal place where “neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Advent is a time when we are reminded that it would be prudent to begin storing up such true treasure, now.
What opportunities might there be around you to store up treasures in heaven?