Does “coming like a thief” in Revelation 16:15, support a secret rapture?

This article discusses the rapture-like language in Revelation 16:15.  It is not intended to discuss the rapture in general, but only whether this verse, in particular, supports the rapture concept.

In the middle of the sixth plague, immediately after God’s enemies have received renewed power from demon spirits to enable them to gather together the kings of the world for the battle of Armageddon, Jesus warns:

“Behold, I am coming like a thief.
Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes,
so that he will not walk about naked
and men will not see his shame.” (Rev. 16:15)

SUMMARY

Dispensationalism proposes that, seven years before Christ’s visible return, there will be an invisible and inaudible secret rapture that will remove the church from the earth. 

The phrase, “coming like a thief,” in the sixth plague, is sometimes interpreted to refer to this secret rapture.  There are, however, a number of passages in the Bible that mention Jesus coming like a THIEF, and it nowhere means that the relevant event will be inaudible or invisible. It always means that nobody can predict WHEN Jesus will return. 

Jesus comes like a thief on THE DAY OF THE LORD, which, in the sixth plague, refers to as THE WAR OF THE GREAT DAY OF GOD, the Almighty.  On that day there will be sudden destruction.  The heavens will pass away with a roar and the earth and its works will be burned up.  It does not like a secret event. 

The same warning which Jesus gave in 16:15, namely that His people must keep their clothes, He gave to the seven churches.  This implies that the church is still on earth during the plagues. 

But there is a difference.  The sixth plague urges God’s people TO KEEP their clothes while the Laodiceans are advised TO BUY white garments.  Jesus’s warning is, therefore, only intended for God’s people; not for the world in general.  This firstly confirms, as discussed in the Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation, that when the plagues fall, the time for repentance has passed.  

These concepts will now be discussed in more detail.

RAPTURE

Dispensationalism assumes that, seven years before Christ’s visible return, there will be an invisible and inaudible secret rapture that will remove the church from the earth.  This rapture will come at an hour that the world does not expect, but the timing of the events after the rapture—often referred to as the Tribulation—is certain.  According to Dispensationalism, numerous time-indicators in the Bible give an exact number of days between the secret rapture and Christ’s visible return. 

Revelation 16:15 will now be compared to this view.

CLOTHES

In Revelation, generally, clothes symbolize a person’s spiritual condition.  “Defiled garments” (3:4), nakedness (3:17-18) or “clothed in purple and scarlet” (17:4; cf. 18:16) symbolize sin, while “white” or “clean” garments (3:4-5; 6:11; 19:8) symbolize the spiritual condition of the people who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).  For example:

The marriage of the Lamb has come
and His bride has made herself ready.
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean;
for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints
” (19:7-8).

COMING LIKE A THIEF

The phrase, “coming like a thief,” in the sixth plague, as quoted above, is sometimes used in connection with the secret rapture.  However, “coming like a thief”-passages are found in various places in the New Testament, and nowhere does it mean that the event will be inaudible or invisible.  Rather, it consistently means that nobody knows WHEN Jesus will return.  For example, Jesus said to Revelation’s churches:

If you do not wake up,
I will come like a thief,
and you will not know at what hour I will come to you
(Revelation 3:3). 

The other such thief-passages in the New Testament are:

… 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.  Therefore, you also BE READY, for THE SON OF MAN IS COMING at an hour you do not expect. (Mt. 24:42-44; cf. Luke 12:35-40).

… The DAY OF THE LORD so comes as a THIEF in the night.  For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then SUDDEN DESTRUCTION comes upon them … But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that THIS DAY should overtake you as a THIEF.  … Therefore let us NOT SLEEP, as others do, but let us WATCH and be sober.  (1 Thess. 5:1-6)

But the DAY OF THE LORD will come like a THIEF, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (2 Peter 3:10; cf. Rev 3:3)

In these quotes, the word “thief” and references to unexpectedness are in bold.  The “coming like a thief“-passages therefore always mean that we do not know WHEN Christ will return.  For that reason, these verses advise Christians to stay awake (Rev. 16:15), watch (Mt. 24 & Luke 12) and not sleep (1 Thess. 5).

The description of what will happen when Jesus comes like a thief confirms that “coming like a thief” does not refer to something inaudible or invisible:

Sudden destruction” (1 Thess. 5);
Heavens will pass away with a roar” and
The earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3). 

DAY OF THE LORD

In two of the verses quoted, it is the “day of the Lord” that will come like a thief.  In the context of the sixth plague, this is “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14), and not a secret rapture. 

The “coming like a thief” passages therefore always refer to Christ’s second coming IN GLORY, indicating that the time of His coming cannot be predicted.  This is inconsistent with the view in Dispensationalism that Christ’s return can be predicted, once the rapture has taken place.

WARNING TO THE CHURCH

Jesus’ warning in Revelation 16:15 is very similar to His advice earlier in Revelation to the churches in Revelation 1-3:

I will come like a thief,
and you will NOT KNOW AT WHAT HOUR
I will come to you (Rev 3:3).

I advise you to buy from Me …
white garments so that you may clothe yourself,
and that the shame of your nakedness
will not be revealed …  (Rev 3:18)

These verses, like 16:15, refer to clothes, nakedness, and shameThey portray the image of a person who has disrobed and has fallen asleep, to be surprised by the coming of a thief, and forced to run around naked.

That Revelation 16:15 is similar to the warning given to the church implies that 16:15 is a warning to the church, which supports the view that the church is still on earth during the plagues. 

In Dispensationalism, the rapture occurs in Revelation 4:1, while the plagues are poured out later.  This is inconsistent with the conclusion that Revelation 16:15, which is in the middle of the sixth plague, warns God’s people to keep their clothes.  For that reason, Dispensationalism proposes that 16:15 refers to events prior to 4:1

However, to pull 16:15 out of the plagues and to apply it to a period before the plagues, is not sound exegesis.  Revelation 16:15 fits the immediate context perfectly, for Jesus gives this warning immediately after the enemies of God have received renewed power in the form of demon spirits.  Revelation 16:15, therefore, does imply that the Church would still be on earth during the plagues.

NO REPENTANCE

But there is a difference between 16:15 and the warning in the churches.  In the sixth plague, God’s people are urged TO KEEP their clothes (16:15) while the Laodiceans (3:18) are advised TO BUY white garments.  Consistent with the idea that, when the plagues fall, the time for repentance has passed, Revelation 16:15 is a call only to God’s people; not to sinners for repentance.  This is consistent with the proposal that the church is still on earth.

It was similarly argued previously that The message of Revelation 18 causes the darkness of the fifth plague. That message also is only a call to God’s people (18:4).

ARTICLES ON THE PLAGUES RPA

Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation
First four plagues:
     The First Four Plagues are non-specific.
     Overview
Fifth Plague:
     The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.
     The mighty angel of Revelation 18 causes the darkness.
     Conclusions 
Sixth Plague:
     The great river, the Euphrates, dries up
     Kings from the East
     Armageddon
     Revelation 16:15 and the Rapture (Current article)
     Why must the river dry up to prepare the way? (Next article)
Seventh Plague
Purpose of the Plagues.

 

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