Meaning and Significance of Revelation 16:15
Rev. Charles Cooper
I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his
garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame." --Revelation
that this verse appears in a most unusual place in the sequence
of the book of Revelation. Because this verse occurs during the
sixth bowl and "promises" the imminent arrival of Jesus
Christ posttribulationalists determine that the rapture of the church
must occur near the end of the Seventieth Week of Daniel.
in his commentary, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (page 253-254),
epoch of this Bowl 6 is stated....If the coming of our Lord as
a thief is to take place at any time prior to the point now reached
in the End Day its mention here is beyond explanation; for their
reminder would seem wholly irrelevant, the warning pointless,
and the blessing beyond attainment. There can be no danger from
an event already past. If the thief has come and gone the peril
is already over and the loss sustained.
is that Rev. 16:15 concerns the rapture of the church by Jesus Christ
and that the Day of the Lord's wrath then follows. Lang bases his
conclusion on the "as a thief" simile which occurs in
Rev. 3:3. Lang's error stems from a poor understanding of the New
Testament use of figures of speech and a lack of appreciation for
the importance of context in the process of interpretation.
bowl judgment of God concerns the demonic spirits of Satan, Antichrist
and the false prophet gathering the nations to the battle of Armageddon.
This event transpires several weeks after the close of the Seventieth
Week of Daniel during the 30 day reclamation period. The sequence
goes something like this. First, the rapture occurs possibly a year
or more earlier than this event during which Jesus will be seen
coming on a cloud with angelic accompaniment. Secondly, the salvation
of Israel follows after the Seventieth Week of Daniel concludes.
Thirdly, Christ with the 144,000 (the first fruits of Israel) stands
on the Mt. of Olives to deliver the inhabitants of Jerusalem to
Azel before the bowl judgments of God begin. Beginning on or about
the sixth day after the Seventieth Week of Daniel concludes, the
first five bowls occur.
of this, in what sense can Christ come as a thief?
to understanding this important text begins with the figure of speech
as a thief. This simile occurs four times in the New Testament:
am coming as a thief" - Rev. 16:15;
will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I
will come upon you." - Rev. 3:3
the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," - 2
day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night," - 1 Thess.
of a Simile
nature of a simile is that of comparison. The comparison deals with
specific issues which are indicated in the context. Unlike a metaphor
which deals with more than one particular component, similes are
much more restrictive. An example of a metaphor would be "I
am the Door." There are many things that can be said about
a door. Without more information, the reader would have to assume
that the phrase means that the person has every attribute a door
on the other hand, provides more information. "The picture
hangs like a door," is a good example. Without any other information
one is able to discern that the way the picture hangs is compared
to the way a door hangs. Instead of a wire and nail, this pictures
hangs with hinges to one side the same way a door hangs. This is
the only attribute of a door intended in this particular sentence.
Operandi of a Thief
Testament presents two aspects of a thief's modus operandi: the
purpose of a thief and how a thief comes. The first question we
must answer is "how does a thief come?" Matthew (24:43)
and Luke (12:39) record the saying of Jesus, "But know this,
that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would
come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken
into." The point seems to be that a thief comes at an unknown
hour. This is one aspect of a thief's modus operandi: he comes at
an unknown hour. The Apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:2-4) adds one other
component--suddenness. The thief gives no warning or indication
of his presence until he suddenly appears.
of a thief's unknown and sudden coming is explained in John 10:10.
There Jesus says, "The thief does not come except to steal,
and to kill and to destroy. The three characteristics or purposes
of a thief are (1) to steal, i.e. to take what is not his; (2) to
kill, i.e. to kill as one slaughters an animal; and (3) to destroy,
i.e. to destroy in the sense of ruin. The thief comes to take your
things, violently murder you or to destroy your things. Because
of what a thief comes to do, he comes at an unannounced time and
his presence is suddenly revealed. All of this information is necessary
to understand Revelation 16:15.
instances where the Day of the Lord is used with this simile
(2 Peter 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:2), the context is very important. 1 Thess.
5:1-11 gives the best help. Paul writing to the Thessalonians, reminds
them that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief. It could
be argued that the Day of the Lord will come suddenly and at an
unknown time. God will then steal away the righteous, kill and destroy
the wicked. The prewrath position is based on these conclusions.
For (This little Greek word indicates the reason for verse
2. Paul will now give the explanation concerning why the Day of
the Lord will come as a thief.) when they (Unbelievers, the
opposite of the brethren who have been taught by Paul as to what
to expect and when.) say, "Peace and safety!" (This
is the slogan of the wicked men days before the sign of the sun,
moon and stars and is given to indicate the beginning of the Day
of the Lord's wrath. Jesus indicated in Matthew 24:38 that wicked
men will be eating, drinking, marrying and given in marriage up
to the very day His parousia starts. After two and a half years
of killing, enslaving and driving God's people to live in the wilderness,
the wicked men of the earth will feel that Antichrist's program
has worked. They will not have experienced any of God's wrath.)
then sudden destruction comes upon them (Irreversible ruin
is sudden. This is the way in which the Day of the Lord's wrath
comes as a thief. One of the reasons a thief comes is to destroy.
It is done suddenly without and notification.) as (Indicates
another simile.) labor pains upon a pregnant woman. (Again,
the emphasis is on suddenness, the sudden onset of delivery. The
women is expecting the baby, but the time of delivery comes suddenly.)
And they shall not escape. (Because they will not have time
the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord will come suddenly upon
unbelievers and the result will be destruction.
the exact same thing in 2 Peter 3:10. The Day of the Lord will come
suddenly for the "scoffers" who will experience total
destruction. Peter explains in greater detail the destruction associated
with the Day of the Lord.
3:3, Jesus states that He will come "as a thief."
We learned earlier that a thief comes at an unknown hour and suddenly
and that a thief comes to steal, kill and/or destroy. The reason
Christ will come at an unknown hour for the Sardis church is because
they would not repent of their sins nor engage in righteous deeds
in anticipation of Christ's coming. Matthew 24:10-13 relates the
fact that many believers will severely compromise their faith during
the persecution of Antichrist. So much so that at Christ's coming
they will be ashamed before Him rather than having confidence at
His appearance, (1 John 2:28).
16:15 is the last occurrence of the "as a thief" simile
in the N.T. Christ states, "Behold, I am coming as a thief."
Given that the Day of the Lord (Rev. 6:12-17) has been going on
for at least five months (Rev. 9:5), and the wrath of God has fallen
in the form of seven trumpets and five bowls, we can rule out "unknownness,"
in a general sense. Christ's coming at Armageddon, however, will
be sudden. The second sentence in Rev. 16:15 is helpful: "Blessed
is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and
they see his shame." It supports the conclusion that the simile
refers to "suddenness." Those who are watchful would know
that the event is coming and would prepare for its any moment arrival.
"Suddenness" is no disadvantage for those who are watching.
of the event will prevent anyone from making arrangements. It will
be too late to get ready once the armies of Christ appear. To
walk naked and they see his shame is a figure of speech. The
image is of a person who undresses for the night and goes to bed
only to be suddenly awaken and taken away without being allowed
to dress. The point of the verse is that only the prepared will
escape the sudden coming of Christ.
question concerning Revelation 16:15 is the audience, that is, who
is the intended audience? The hasty decision to associate this promise
with the Church has lead some to argue for a traditional posttribulational
rapture. Pretribulationalists argue that the verse applies to believers
living on earth prior to Christ's coming at Armageddon. I personally
have a hard time believing that any believer will be unfaithful
to God once the bowl judgments start. This verse is not a promise,
but a warning. A warning to the unbelieving world concerning the
battle of Armageddon.
with which Christ will come will leave no room for escape. Verse
15 focuses on suddenness and destruction. Rev. 16:15 begins with
a Greek interjection which is a command. It is usually translated
behold. It literally means "look!" It is primarily
used in the N.T. to enliven a narrative by arousing the listener's
attention or introducing something new. Sometimes the point is to
call the reader to a closer consideration or contemplation of a
matter. In Rev. 16:14, we are told that the whole world (many nations)
are "gathered to the battle of that great day of God Almighty."
The idea of the verb "to gather" is one of a building
up. In other words, the nations do not all arrive at the same time,
but slowly build up the numbers as the days pass. Some nations will
arrive in a couple of days and some in a week, but some nations
will take even longer to arrive. But the coming of Christ will be
like a thief. It will be sudden. Jesus will not build up his forces.
He will appear suddenly. Rev. 19:14 indicates that the armies of
heaven follow Christ from heaven on white horses. The verb "to
follow" means "to accompany someone who takes the lead
in determining direction and route of movement." Jesus Christ
sets the direction and movement of this great army. Unlike, the
Day of the Lord which is introduced with the sign in the sun, moon,
and stars, the battle of Armageddon will have no such introduction.
Christ will suddenly come. His coming will be one of judgment. The
unprepared will be put to shame.
Revelation 16:15 is located in the right place. It is a warning
concerning the coming of Christ at Armageddon. It will be sudden
and the destruction will be sure. Only those who recognize the situation
and does the right thing will escape. The right thing in this case
would be to stay away from this battle. It will be too late to decide
to leave once Christ appears.