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

Dispensationalism proposes:

(1) That, at a time that cannot be predicted, God will remove the church from the earth through an invisible and inaudible secret rapture.

(2) That the Bible predicts the time after the rapture precisely. Exactly seven years later, Christ will return visibly and in glory.

The purpose here is not to discuss the concept of the rapture in general, but specifically whether Revelation 16:15 supports this concept:

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).

CONTEXT OF REV 16:15

This verse is part of the seven last plagues. These plagues fall right at the end of the history of this world; after everybody has been marked for all eternity with either the mark of the beast or the seal of God.

Rev 16:15 is an interpolation. In the previous verse, demon spirits went out to “the kings of the whole world” to gather them for “the great day of God” (Rev 16:14). In verse 15, Christ warns His church not to be deceived by these demon spirits. The next verse continues to describe the work of these spirits, for it says WHERE the kings will be gathered, namely at Armageddon (Rev 16:16). Rev 16:15, therefore, is a warning to God’s people right in the midst of huge worldwide deception.

SUMMARY

For the following reasons, it is proposed that “coming like a thief” does not refer to a secret rapture but refers to Christ’s visible return to this earth::

(A) There are a number of passages in the Bible that mention Jesus coming like a THIEF, and it always means that nobody can predict WHEN Jesus will return (e.g., Rev 3:3).

(B) When Jesus comes like a thief, there will be “sudden destruction” (1 Thess 5:3). The “heavens will pass away with a roar” and “the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). These are not inaudible or invisible events.

(C) It is the “day of the Lord” that comes like a thief (1 Thess 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). That day “will come as destruction from the Almighty” (Isa 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15). Again, it will not be an invisible and inaudible secret rapture.

(D) Dispensationalism identifies Rev 4:1 as the rapture. However, Revelation 5 describes Christ’s enthronement in heaven after His death and resurrection. Rev 4:1, therefore, is not an end-time event.

(E) The context of the warning in verse 15 is Christ’s visible return. Firstly, the kings from the east (Rev 16:12) are Christ and His angels at His return. Secondly, the warning goes to God’s people while demon spirits … go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14), which is Judgment Day. In this context, Christ “coming” (Rev 16:15) is not a secret rapture.

(F) In Dispensationalism, the church is removed from the earth through a secret rapture, after which follow a great tribulation. However, in 16:15, after every person has been marked with either the seal of God or the mark of the beast, we find a warning that is very similar to the warning in the seven letters to the church (Rev 3:18; 16:15). This implies that the church is still on earth. 

– END OF SUMMARY – 

THE SECRET RAPTURE

IT IS JESUS SPEAKING.

It is Jesus speaking in Rev 16:15, for He says, “I am coming like a thief.” In Revelation, it is always Jesus who says, “I am coming” (Rev 2:5, 16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). It is a bit surprising to find Jesus speaking in this verse because we have not read about Him for a while, but it reminds us that Revelation is “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:2; 22:16).

(A) COMING LIKE A THIEF MEANS WE DO NOT KNOW WHEN CHRIST WILL COME.

The phrase, “I am coming like a thief” is sometimes associated with a 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:

I will come like a thief,
and you will not know at what hour I will come to you
(Rev 3:3).

Other examples are:

If the master of the house had known
what hour the THIEF would come,
he would have WATCHED …
Therefore, you also BE READY,
for THE SON OF MAN IS COMING
at an hour you do not expect.

(Matt 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.
(2 Peter 3:10; cf. Rev 3:3)

Coming like a thief,” therefore, means that we do not know WHEN Christ will return. For that reason, these verses advise Christians to stay awake (Rev 16:15), watch (Matt 24:43,44 & Luke 12:40) and not sleep (1 Thess 5:6).

(B) SUDDEN DESTRUCTION WHEN HE COMES LIKE A THIEF

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 5:3);
Heavens will pass away with a roar” and
The earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). 

(C) THE DAY OF THE LORD COMES LIKE A THIEF.

In two of the verses quoted, it is the “Day of the Lord” that comes like a thief. The “Day of the Lord” “will come as destruction from the Almighty,” “with fury and burning anger” (Isa 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15); “a day of darkness and gloom” (Joel 2:1-2). “The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood” (Joel 2:31). It is not an invisible and inaudible secret rapture.

(D) REVELATION 4:1

Dispensationalism regards Rev 4:1 to be the rapture. However, that cannot be. One reason is that Revelation 5 describes Christ’s death, resurrection, and enthronement. Rev 5:1-4 describes the time before Christ; when there was great sorrow in heaven (Rev 5:4) because nobody was able to open the sealed book (Rev 5:3). But, in Rev 5:5, the great sorrow turns into joy because Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book.” This verse, therefore, is dated to the Christ event. See the article on Revelation 5.

(E) THE CONTEXT IS CHRIST’S VISIBLE RETURN.

The sixth plague begins with the waters of the Euphrates drying up to prepare the way for the kings from the east (Rev 16:12). A previous article interpreted these kings as Christ and His angels at His return.

In the preceding verse, “demon spirits” go out to the “kings of the whole world” to gather them together for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14). The subsequent verse says where they are gathered, namely at Armageddon (Rev 16:16). Still another article identified Armageddon as Judgment Day, namely the visible and audible return of Christ as described in Rev 19:11 and following, when He will tread “the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev 19:15).

The context of the warning to the church in 16:15, therefore, is the return of Christ. Therefore Christ “coming” in that verse and not a secret rapture. 

(F) A MESSAGE TO THE CHURCH

In our verse, Jesus says:

Blessed is the one who … keeps his clothes,
so that he will not walk about naked
and men will not see his shame” (Rev 16:15).

CLOTHES SYMBOLIZE A PERSON’S SPIRITUAL CONDITION.

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

The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints
(Rev 19:7-8).

IT IS A WARNING TO THE CHURCH.

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

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).

This verse, similar to Rev 16:15, refers to clothes, nakedness, and shame. It portrays 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.

Rev 16:15, therefore, is a warning to the church. This means that the church is still on earth during the plagues. This is further evidence that Rev 4:1 cannot be the rapture.

IT IS NOT A CALL TO REPENTANCE.

But there is a difference between Rev 16:15 and the warning in the letters to churches. While the Laodiceans (Rev 3:18) are advised TO BUY white garments, in the sixth plague, God’s people are urged TO KEEP their clothes (16:15). This is consistent with the idea that, when the plagues fall, the time for repentance has passed (cf. Rev 16:9, 11). This is also consistent with the previous conclusion that the fifth plague refers to the loud cry of the angel of Revelation 18, which is not a call for repentance but a call to God’s people only (Rev 18:4).

Rev 16:15, therefore, is not a call to sinners for repentance but a call to God’s people only. This implies that the Church would still be on earth during the plagues.

CONCLUSION

In Dispensationalism, the church is removed from the earth through a secret rapture, after which follow a great tribulation. However, in 16:15, which is after the end-time persecution by the image of the beast, and after everybody has been marked with either the seal of God or the mark of the beast, we find a warning that is very similar to the warning in the seven letters to the church, which implies that the church is still on earth.

FINAL CONCLUSION

Christ’s “coming like a thief” refers to Hiss second coming IN GLORY and means that the time of His coming cannot be predicted.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

Introduction – Revelation 15

The first four plagues
Must not be interpreted individually
Target the earth, sea, waters, and sun, but the people do not repent..

The Fifth Plague
The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.
The Light of the Mighty Angel of Rev 18 causes the darkness.
The Roman Empire gave to the Church is throne and power.

The Sixth Plague
The Great River, the Euphrates, dries up.
The Kings from the East are Christ and His angels.
Armageddon is not a literal place but Judgment Day.
Does “coming like a thief” (Rev 16:15) support a secret rapture?
Why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings
Summary of these articles & conclusions

The Seventh Plague culminates in the return of Christ.

Purpose of the Plagues
To show that God judges perfectly
Why is it necessary to show that God judges perfectly?

The Kings from the East (Rev 16:12) are Christ and His angels.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl
on the great river, the Euphrates;
and its water was dried up,
so that the way would be prepared
for the kings from the east

(Revelation 16:12).

The purpose of the current article is to identify the kings from the east. It proposes that they symbolize Christ and His angels at His return. This conclusion is justified as follows:

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

(1) SYMBOLIC

Since the previous plagues are symbolic, and since everything else in Rev 16:12 is symbolic, the kings from the east are not literal kings but symbolic.

(2) TWO GROUPS OF KINGS

The sixth plague contrasts two groups of kings. Since “the kings of the whole world” (Rev 16:14) are from earth, it is implied that “the kings from the east” are not from earth. Since “the kings of the whole world” are gathered together by “spirits of demons” (Rev 16:14), the kings from the east represent God’s army.

(3) GOD COMES FROM THE EAST.

The kings from the east come from God because the Scriptures associate the east with God (Rev 7:2; Ezek 43:2; cf. Rev 22:16).

(4) GOD DELIVERS HIS PEOPLE FROM BABYLON.

The sixth plague borrows language from God’s deliverance of His people from literal Babylon through Cyrus, whom God calls His “anointed one” (Isa 45:1) and “My shepherd” (Isa 44:28). These most honorable titles (Isa 45:4) were later reserved for Jesus.

Since the seven last plagues fall at the very end of time, the use of Old Testament language of God’s deliverance of His people from literal Babylon implies that this plague points to God’s deliverance of His people from end-time spiritual Babylon, which God will do through the return of Christ.

(5) THE SIXTH PLAGUE CULMINATES IN CHRIST’S RETURN.

HIGH-LEVEL VIEW OF REVELATION 16 TO 19

The sixth plague does not describe “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14). It only describes the preparation for it. If the sixth plague is the preparation, then the seventh plague must be the war. The seventh plague is described at the end of Rev 16, is interrupted by Revelation 17 and 18, and then continues in Rev 19, culminating in the return of Christ.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE SIXTH PLAGUE AND HIS RETURN

The following parallels between the sixth plague and His return confirm that His return is the conclusion of the sixth plague:

      • In the sixth plague, demon spirits gather the kings of the whole world (Rev 16:14) and, when Christ’s returns, they are seen gathered (Rev 19:19).
      • The sixth plague mentions “the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14) but does not describe the war. That “great day” is Christ’s return (Rev 6:17; 12-15) when He will ”strike down the nations” (Rev 19:15).

PARALLELS THAT IDENTIFY THE KINGS FROM THE EAST

The following further parallels between the sixth plague and His return indicate that the “kings from the east” are Christ and those who are with Him at His return:

      • There are two groups of kings in the sixth plague and there are also two groups of kings at His return, for Jesus is the “KING OF KINGS” (Rev 19:16, 19).
      • The waters of the Euphrates dries up to prepare the way for the “kings from the east” (Rev 16:12) to move from the east towards the “kings of the whole world.” In Christ’s return, “the armies which are in HEAVEN” (Rev 19:13) move towards the earth.
      • Both the sixth plagues and His return mention the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and the “kings of the earth” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:2). Both also mention a fifth group, namely the “kings from the east” (Rev 16:12) and the “kings” that are with Christ (Rev 19:16).

– END OF SUMMARY –

THE KINGS FROM THE EAST

(1) THESE ARE SYMBOLIC DESCRIPTIONS.

Since the previous plagues are symbolic, and since the other elements in Rev 16:12 are also symbolic, the kings from the east are not literal kings but symbolic.

(2) THERE ARE TWO GROUPS OF KINGS.

The sixth plague contrasts two groups of kings, namely “the kings from the east” and “the kings of the whole world” (Rev 16:14). In the context of Revelation, which is a symbolic description of the age-old cosmic war between God and Satan, these two groups of kings oppose each other:

    • Since “the kings of the whole world” (Rev 16:14) are from earth, it is implied that “the kings from the east” are not from earth.
    • Since “the kings of the whole world” are gathered together by “spirits of demons” (Rev 16:14) and, therefore, oppose God, the kings from the east represent God’s army.

(3) GOD COMES FROM THE EAST.

The kings come from the east and the Scriptures associated the east with God. For example, the angel brings the seal of the living God from the east (Rev 7:2; cf. Ezek 43:2). (The term in Greek for the east is the rising of the sun.) Consistent with the principle that the east refers to God, Jesus is called “the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16). (The morning star rises in the east.)

(4) GOD DELIVERS HIS PEOPLE FROM BABYLON.

The waters of the Euphrates were literally dried up, hundreds of years before Christ, by the kings of the Medes and Persians with Cyrus as the king of kings. By diverting the river, they took the ancient city of Babylon, which lead to the liberation of Israel from that Babylonian captivity. (See Euphrates.)

The Bible describes that event as God’s deliverance of His people. For example, through Cyrus and his kings, God delivered Israel from their oppressors and brought them back to their homeland (Jer 50:33-34). God said of Cyrus, “He will build My city and let My people go free” (Isa 45:13; cf. 44:28). For that reason, God calls Cyrus His “anointed one” (Isa 45:1) and “My shepherd” (Isa 44:28). These most honorable titles (Isa 45:4) were later reserved for Jesus.

The sixth plague borrows language from this event.

The seven last plagues fall at the very end of time; after all people have received either the mark of the beast or the seal of God. (See Introduction to the Plagues.) In this end-time context, the use of Old Testament language of God’s deliverance of His people from literal Babylon through Cyrus implies that this plague describes God’s deliverance of His people from end-time spiritual Babylon. However, in the end-time, God will deliver His people through the return of Christ.

The sixth plague, therefore, describes the preparation for Christ’s return. This implies that the kings from the east, for whom “the way” is prepared, are Christ and His angels:

The Son of Man is going to COME
in the glory of His Father WITH HIS ANGELS

(Matt 16:27; cf. Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10; 19:11-16).

(5) THE SIXTH PLAGUE CULMINATES IN CHRIST’S RETURN.

This fifth justification is quite long; more than 50% of the entire article. By providing a high-level view of Revelation 16 to 19, it attempts to show that the sixth plague in Rev 16 is the preparation for the return of Christ in Rev 19. For that reason, and because of the parallels between the kings from the east and Christ at His return, the “kings from the east” are Christ and His angels. The argument is as follows:

(5a) THE SIXTH PLAGUE IS THE PREPARATION FOR THE WAR.

The sixth plague does not describe “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14); only the preparation for it. For example, it says that the way is prepared for the kings from the east (Rev 16:12) and that “the kings of the whole world” are gathered by “spirits of demons” “to the place … called Har-Magedon” (Rev 16:14, 16).

(5b) THE SEVENTH PLAGUE IS CHRIST’S RETURN.

If the sixth plague is the preparation for the war, then the seventh plague is the war. The seventh plague causes massive catastrophes (Rev 16:18, 20) and God gives Babylon “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19). Since Babylon was not mentioned earlier in Revelation, except very briefly by the three angels (Rev 14:8), Revelation 17 and 18 interrupt the seventh plague to explain who she is and how she will come to her end. For example, Revelation 18 jumps back to the time of the warning to God’s people to “come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Rev 18:4). (The sixth and seventh plagues are explicitly “her plagues.“)

The important point is that the seventh plague continues in Revelation 19, for a great multitude rejoices that “He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality” (Rev 19:2; cf. 16:19). The “great multitude” (Rev 19:1, 6) continues to praise God for “the marriage of the Lamb has come” (Rev 19:7), which refers to Christ’s return. This is followed by the description of His Return (Rev 19:11-).

In conclusion, Revelation 17 and 18 are an interruption and the seventh plague continues in Rev 19 and includes or culminates in the Return of Christ.

(5c) PARALLELS BETWEEN THE SIXTH PLAGUE AND HIS RETURN

The following parallels between the sixth plague and His return confirm that His return is the conclusion of the sixth plague:

THE KINGS OF THE WHOLE WORLD

In the sixth plague, demon spirits gather the kings of the whole world (Rev 16:14) at Armageddon (Rev 16:16) “for the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14). At Christ’s return in Revelation 19, we see “the kings of the earth and their armies assembled” (Rev 19:19). The NASB uses the word “assembled,” but, in the Greek, it is exactly the same word (συνάγω – sunagó) for “gathered” as in Rev 16:14 and 16:16. 

THE WAR OF THE GREAT DAY

The sixth plague mentions “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14) but does not describe the war. The term “great day” also appears in the sixth seal where it is the “great day” of the wrath of God and the Lamb (Rev 6:17). The sixth seal has the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-15). Therefore, the “great day” refers to Christ’s return as described in Revelation 19, when He will ”strike down the nations” (Rev 19:15). “The rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse” (Rev 19:21).

(5d) PARALLELS THAT IDENTIFY THE KINGS FROM THE EAST

The following further parallels between the sixth plague and His return indicate that the “kings from the east” are Christ and those who are with Him at His return:

TWO GROUPS OF KINGS

There are two groups of kings in the sixth plague and there are also two groups of kings in His return, for the kings of the earth are gathered “to make war against” the “KING OF KINGS” (Rev 19:16, 19). The “King of kingsis identified as “the Word of God” (Rev 19:13), which is Christ. As the “King of kings,” He leads many other kings.

THE KINGS FROM THE EAST MOVE TOWARDS THE EARTH.

The sixth plague dries up the waters of the Euphrates to prepare the way for the “kings from the east.” This means that these kings will MOVE from the east to another place. Arguably, they will move towards the “kings of the whole world” to engage them in battle.

The sixth plague does not describe their arrival but at Christ’s return the kings of the east move towards the kings of the whole world:

“The armies which are in HEAVEN …
were following Him on white horses”
(Rev 19:13).

FIVE CATEGORIES OF ACTORS

Another indication that the “kings from the east” refer to Christ at His return is that the sixth plague and Christ’s return both mention five categories of actors: On Satan’s side, both mention the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:2) and the “kings of the earth.” It follows, therefore, that the fifth category in both must also be the same, namely that the “kings from the east” (Rev 16:12) are the “kings” that are with Christ (Rev 19:16).

 

CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE SIXTH PLAGUE AND CHRIST’S RETURN

Consequently, the following connections between the sixth plague and the Return of Christ (Rev 19) have been identified:

      • Both have two groups of kings.
      • In both the one group is called “the kings of the earth” (Rev 19:19; cf. 16:14), and in both, they are gathered.
      • In both, the other group of kings is God’s kings and they move towardsthe kings of the earth.”
      • The five categories mentioned above.

CONCLUSION

The Kings from the East are Christ and His angels, and the sixth plague angel dries up the river to prepare for Christ’s return.

The previous article concluded that the drying up means that false Christianity loses its influence over the people of the world. The question remains, why would it be necessary for that to happen before Christ may return?  That critical question is discussed in a further article.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

Introduction – Revelation 15

The first four plagues
Must not be interpreted individually
Target the earth, sea, waters and sun, but the people do not repent.

The Fifth Plague
The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.

The Light of the Mighty Angel of Rev 18 causes the darkness.
The Roman Empire gave to the Church is throne and power.

The Sixth Plague
The Great River, the Euphrates, dries up.
The Kings from the East are Christ and His angels.

Armageddon is not a literal place but Judgment Day.
Does “coming like a thief” (Rev 16:15) support a secret rapture?
Why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings
Summary of these articles & conclusions

The Seventh Plague culminates in the return of Christ.

Purpose of the Plagues
To show that God judges perfectly

Why is it necessary to show that God judges perfectly?