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?

List of articles on the Seven Seals, with brief descriptions

This article lists and briefly describes the articles that discuss the second main section of Revelation, namely the seven seals in Revelation 4:1-8:1.

REVELATION 4

Revelation 4:1-8 – verse-by-verse
These verses provide a visual and timeless description of God’s throne room.

The 24 elders – Revelation 4:4
Based on descriptions elsewhere in Revelation, the 24 elders in God’s throne room are people; not angels. A review of the numbers in Revelation shows that 12 and 24 are associated with God’s people. Revelation merges God’s people from the Old and New Testaments into a single entity. The number 24, therefore, consists of 12 from Israel and 12 from the church age. 

Revelation 4:8-11 – verse-by-verse
These verses describe the worship in God’s presence. This article also discusses the worship in Revelation 5, after Jesus appears on the throne and receives glory equal with the Father. Does this mean that Jesus is God; equal with the Father?

REVELATION 5

Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement.
This chapter presents a specific event. Based on descriptions in the rest of the New Testament, Revelation 5 describes Christ’s enthronement after His ascension 2000 years ago.

The sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The sealed book symbolizes things that are not understood and the seven seals symbolize the things that prevent understanding. It is the book of God’s judgments as to who will inherit eternal life, also known as the book of life.

Christ resolves the crisis of the sealed book through demonstrations.
The book of Rev 5 is sealed because of a dispute between the angels of heaven over God’s judgments. Christ refutes Satan’s accusation through demonstrations of faithfulness: Firstly, during His own death, He overcame Satan’s ultimate temptation. Secondly, the deaths of God’s elect demonstrate their worthiness. God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments until all understand that His judgments are perfect.

Revelation 5 – verse by verse
This article is highly dependent on the other three articles on Revelation 5. The first four verses describe the time before Christ, verses 5-6 describe His death and the rest of the chapter describes what happens in heaven after His ascension.

REVELATION 6

The First Seal – the white horse
When the Lamb breaks the first seal, a white horse goes out conquering and to conquer. In the preterist view, this is the Parthians, who attacked the Roman Empire on white horses. Dispensationalists identify this as the antichrist. This article interprets it as the gospel.

Seals two to four
The four horsemen form a unit, which means that these seals stand is a cause-consequence relationship: The white horse is the gospel. The red horse is the persecution of God’s people when the gospel is rejected. The consequence is the black horse of famine (scarcity) of the Word of God, leading to the pale horse of spiritual death.

Fifth seal
Souls UNDER the altar cry out for revenge. The souls are not believers that went to heaven in a bodiless state at death but symbolize God’s slain people as sacrificed ON the altar. Their cry for revenge symbolizes God’s awareness of the suffering of His people and His desire to set things right. They receive white robes but they have washed their own robes (Rev 7:14). They are told to wait until their brethren have been made complete, which means spiritually mature.

The sixth seal
This seal is creation in reverse: Everything is destroyed but it is not yet the end, for the people still hide, while they will be killed when Christ returns. But it brings us to the brink of His return, as indicated by the multiple allusions to the Day of the Lord, the “great day,” the “great earthquake” which moves mountains, the signs in the sun, moon, and stars.

REVELATION 7

Sealed through persecution
God’s people will also be sealed DURING AND THROUGH the Revelation 13-crisis in which the image of the beast will force all people to accept the mark of the beast. The plagues will begin to fall when every person will either have the mark of the beast or the seal of God.

The Seal of the living God
People are sealed with the Holy Spirit when they become Christians but the seal in Revelation 7 is
something special that only end-time believers will receive to safeguard them during the final catastrophic events before Christ returns. God will make more of His grace and power available to the last-day church because she must accomplish more than the church in any age has yet accomplished.

The Time of the End
The seal of God comes down from heaven at a specific point in history. This article argues that the fifth seal, when the souls under the altar are told to rest for a little while longer, represents that point in time and that that is the beginning of “the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4) when Daniel’s prophecies will become understood and preached.

144000 are sealed from the tribes of Israel.
These 144000 Israelites cannot be interpreted literally because numbers, in Revelation, are symbolic and because Revelation and the entire New Testament merge the church into Israel. The number 144000 symbolizes that these people are spiritually mature and will not withdraw their testimony under persecution.

The Innumerable Multitude
Revelation 7:9-17; verse-by-verse – Is the Great Multitude the same as 144000? They seem like complete opposites. Are this multitude described before or after Christ’s return?

REVELATION 8

Seventh seal
This seal is very brief. In a single brief verse, it simply says that there will be silence in heaven for half an hour. On the basis of the context, this article interprets it as the sorrow in heaven when the lost are put to death at the return of Christ.

Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
T
he seventh seal DOES NOT include the seven trumpets. The seals describe the experience of God’s people but the last two seals show the destruction of the lost. The trumpets then jump back in time to explain what God did to turn the lost from their disastrous paths.

OVERVIEW

People’s deeds will refute Satan’s criticism of God’s judgments.
Previous articles concluded that the sealed book is the book of life and the seals are Satan’s accusations against the people listed in the book. Breaking the seals symbolizes that Satan’s accusations are refuted. From the description of the Last Judgment in Revelation 20, this article concludes that it is the deeds of people that refute Satan’s accusations. God’s people will choose death rather than going against God’s laws. Satan’s people will show that they are irreversibly committed to evil.

Verse-by-verse summary – Revelation 4:1-8:1.
Each of the articles above also has a summary.  The verse-by-verse summary is, essentially, a combination of these summaries.