A Thief in the Night
By Bev Yellowley
I was terrified, paralyzed by fear, unlike anything I've ever known! I stood motionless willing myself to take another breath. I tried to cry out but was unable to speak. Even if I'd been able to communicate, there was no one to talk to; I was alone. I'd been by myself many times in my life, but I'd never experienced anything like this until now. It was isolation so extreme I didn't know if I could survive it.
In the dim light around me, I could see that I was standing on the side of a lonely road, feeling vulnerable and fragile as I waited there wondering what was going to happen. Suddenly, a car drove slowly past me. I turned to look and was horrified to see my parents and older brother and sister inside. They were leaving without me! I tried to scream, “Wait for me! Don't leave me behind!” but I heard the words only in my head. The car faded from view, and I knew I'd never see my family again. I hung my head, and as I looked down, I noticed a puddle near my feet. Gazing into the water, I saw in my reflection that I was just a boy. The light dissipated; I was in total darkness now. It was an inky blackness so intense it felt like an evil presence. My mind filled with dread, and I started to panic when I imagined what it would be like to be trapped here. I'd only been in this place a short time, but I didn't feel like I could stand it any longer.
I drew my hand over my eyes, and when I pulled it away, I was surprised to find it wet with tears. I began to stir and then glanced around feeling disoriented. My heart was pounding as I relived the events that had just occurred. They still seemed so real, so vivid in my mind. I realized now this had all been a terrible nightmare. I sighed, so relieved to wake up and find that I was at home lying in my bed. But, what could have happened to cause this dark dream? Was it because of the movie I'd seen at my friend Kerry's church last night? The message presented in the film was that Jesus would return someday for those who believe in Him and trust Him as their Savior. Then, He'll take them to Heaven to live with Him forever. I remember thinking afterward this sounds like something you'd read in a science fiction novel. But, my mind kept coming back to one very important thought; what if it's true? What if Jesus is going to return? Will I be going to Heaven or discover one day that my family and some of my friends have vanished, and I'm left here without them?
I could remember how terrifying the nightmare had been; the darkness, agony, and desolation were overwhelming. “Was that a glimpse of hell?” I wondered, “I couldn't imagine being in a place like that forever. I'd experienced just a few moments of horror there, and I felt like I'd go crazy. But, if I'm not going to Heaven, then according to Kerry's Youth Pastor, I'll be going to that terrible place of punishment called hell. After the movie, he gave a talk on how you can be sure you're going to Heaven. I listened to what he had to say but didn't take it seriously at the time.
I wanted to talk to someone about all that had been going on, so I went to visit Kerry. I'd known her for many years and had recently met her family when I started going to their church. I drove to her family's home, and when Kerry answered the door, she invited me to stay for lunch. I agreed and followed her to the dining room where everyone was already seated at the table. As we began to eat, I found Kerry's eyes watching me. She leaned over and whispered, “What's wrong Will? You're never this quiet!” At first, I was reluctant to open up about my haunting dream, but once I started talking the words came rushing out. As I began to explain the nightmare, all the emotions I'd suffered during that time came flooding back. I felt like a frightened, young child desperately wanting the chance to see my family again.
When I stopped speaking, the room was eerily quiet. “What do you think of the dream?” I said, trying to illicit a response from the family. “Wow, that was creepy,” her younger brother replied. “That must’ve been terrible!” her mother exclaimed. “I’ve never been so afraid in all my life,” I softly responded, “I can't stop thinking about what would happen to me if Jesus were to return.” I shrugged then added, “But, why should I care about the future? I'm a young guy with a lot of years ahead of me!”
Then, with concern in her voice, Kerry said, “God is the only one who knows how much time we have left and when Jesus will return for His followers. In Matthew 24:42-44 Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Jesus could return at any moment. Are you ready to go to Heaven, Will?” Everyone in the room grew silent. Suddenly, I didn't feel like I could sit there any longer and quickly got to my feet. I pushed back my chair and told them I needed to go for a walk. I hurried to the door and rushed outside wanting to be alone to think about what Kerry had said to me. In my dream was I seeing what it would be like to be in hell? I shuddered at the thought. Why would anyone want to be in a place of torment?
The Youth Leader had said we have a choice about where we'll spend eternity. We'll either be in Heaven or hell. “God doesn't want anyone to go to hell,” he'd said, “That's why He sent His precious Son to earth to die on the cross and raised Him from the dead to offer us eternal life. The Lord Jesus was taking the punishment for our sins on Himself as He hung there suffering for us. Romans 3:23 tells us, we've all sinned, and our sin separates us from a holy God. But if we put our faith in Him and turn from our sin we'll become a child of God, and can now go to Heaven when we die or when Jesus returns.”
“I definitely don't want to go to hell!” I thought. “But, if I want to go to Heaven I should trust in Jesus, ask Him to forgive my sins and give my life to Him.” Should I choose to take Jesus as my Lord and Savior or live life on my own terms not surrendering to anyone? I was wrestling with this decision. I had all the information I needed to make a choice but was still unsure of what I wanted to do.
The sky became dark and foreboding as I made my way back to the house. Lights started coming on in the neighborhood even though it was mid-afternoon. It was unusually quiet on the street, and I began to walk a little faster toward the house. I could feel a fear rising in me that I could not explain.
When I arrived at Kerry's house, I was about to walk up their sidewalk when the garage door suddenly opened, and I saw Kerry's Dad backing their car out of the driveway. As he slowly pulled out into the road, I could see Kerry and her family inside. I waved to them, but they didn't see me. They hadn't mentioned they were leaving, and I wondered if they'd come looking for me. As the car drove slowly down the street, I started running as fast as I could attempting to keep up with them. I was frantically waving my arms and shouting to try and get their attention, but I felt helpless to stop the accelerating vehicle.
Finally, Kerry looked out the back window and noticed me running behind them. She waved at me and our eyes locked for a moment. Then, suddenly everyone in the car was gone. The whole family instantly disappeared. I watched in disbelief as the speeding car left unattended continued on a short distance and crashed into a telephone pole on the side of the road. I rushed over to the crumpled vehicle and looked inside knowing what I'd find. There were no passengers. No one had escaped they'd just vanished! I stumbled in the grass and fell to my knees horrified at what I'd just witnessed. “Is this another dream?” I wondered. But, I knew with great certainty and deep regret that Jesus had just returned, and I'd been left behind!
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”