EXCERPT:In Pre-Wrath Dispensationalism, the church will NOT be removed before the last 7 years but will suffer tribulation during the second half of the last seven years. God will gather (rapture) them just before the end of the last 7 years of Daniel 9. Then all those left on earth will have the mark of the beast and, on the Day of the Lord, God will pour his wrath on them.
Some (maybe most) Dispensationalists believe that the church will be removed before the last 7 years. However, this view contradicts many Bible passages and it should be rejected.
But there is a group among the dispensationalists who believe in a more attractive interpretation: The Pre-Wrath view. To the benefit of your readers, here is a brief summary of what Pre-wrath means:
The last 7 years are divided into two parts.
FIRST 3.5 YEARS
In the first part (3.5 years) a ‘beast’ will become prominent in the middle east. In that time, he will sign a 7-year covenant with Israel, allowing them to build the temple and to sacrifice.
He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ (Dan 9:27)
MIDDLE OF THAT SEVEN
But in the middle point of those 7 years, he will commit an abomination:
In the middle of that ‘seven’, he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation.” (Dan 9:27)
The abomination referred to here could be that the beast will pretend to be God himself (thus eliminating the need to sacrifice in the Temple). By doing that, the beast will seduce millions of people:
“He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. … 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Rev 13:7-8)
SECOND 3.5 YEARS
In the second half of the last seven years, the beast will put a mark on the people to separate those who believe in him from those who perceive that he is false. This will be the beginning of a period of wrath against true Christians (the great tribulation), i.e. persecution (against those who don’t have the mark of the beast) that will be so intense that many ‘true’ Christians will die.
“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” (Matt 24:22 – NIV)
DAY OF THE LORD
Toward the end of that period of tribulation (near the end of the last seven years of Daniel), God will intervene (day of the Lord). The Day of the Lord is the wrath against those who have the mark of the Beast.
Note the difference between this view and the traditional view:
Those who don’t have the mark of the beast – the true Christians – will suffer tribulation from the beast.
Those who dohave the mark of the beast will suffer God’s wrath on the Day of the Lord.
SIGNS IN THE SKY
The Day of the Lord will start with signs in the sky
“Immediately after the distress [i.e. tribulation] of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” (Matt 24:29-30; cf. Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20; Rev 6:12).
Then God will gather his elect – the rapture: just before the end of the last 7 years of Daniel 9. It won’t be a secret event. The pre-wrath view stands on the position that the rapture will happen just before God starts pouring out the bowls of his wrath.
“But at that time your people … will be delivered” (Dan 12:1).
“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:31).
“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” (1 Thess 4:16).
“Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe” (Rev 14:15). [That is, brings the dead in Yeshua and those alive who don’t wear the mark of the beast.]
Then God will pour his wrath on the inhabitant of the earth (i.e. all those left on earth because they wear the mark of the beast):
“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth‘” (Rev 16:1).
(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.
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”
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 LORDwill 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 dayof 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”
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.
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.
Christ’s “coming like a thief” refers to Hiss second coming IN GLORY and means that the time of His coming cannot be predicted.