What is That verse doing There?
by Sandy Simpson, 1/12/18
I want to preface this article by saying that there are elements of eschatology that are debatable among true believers, in particular the Rapture. The debate among Premillennial Rapturists (Preterists, Amillennialists and Postmillenialists are in grave error) has long been a topic of conversation. I am not stating that my view is the only one among true Christians. What I am saying is that the presence of the following verse in the narrative of Revelation is curious and needs careful consideration.
Revelation 16:15 (“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.”)
(1) Why does this verse seem to be out of context to the narrative in Revelation 16? (2) Why do many translations put it in parentheses? (3) Is it possible this verse was added later by copyists? (4) If it is in context, what does it mean?
My quick answers: (1) I believe it seems out of context because it is a statement of when the Rapture will occur in the middle of a description of what happens just prior to and into Armageddon. (2) Pretrib Rapturists try to make it look like it is referring to the Second Coming. But there are no parentheses in the manuscripts as far as I know. They were likely inserted because this sentence is attributed directly to Jesus Christ as an alleged warning that He will be coming in His Second coming soon. But, again, His second coming is not like a thief (the Day of the Lord is but that is the general time of the Tribulation culminating in His Second Coming, which will be apparent to all (Rev. 1:7) (3) I believe that, at least, the paranthases were added later as they are not in the earliest manuscripts. (4) Following is what I think this verse means. This has been hotly debated by many and there is room for a polemic debate among believers on the timing of the Rapture (even though Postribulationsts do not believe that the Rapture and the Second Coming are two separate events). Nonetheless there are proof texts for most Premillennial Rapture positions.
These are all questions many have asked before. I remember running into this verse many years ago in my study of Revelation and in search of proofs for various versions of the “Rapture”. It stuck out like a sore thumb to me and seemed to contradict many Rapture teachings. But let’s look at the context first.
Revelation 16:12-17 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. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“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.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.”
The context of this verse occurs between the sixth and seventh bowls and the gathering for Armageddon. So what does a verse that is very likely about the Rapture have to do with this end of the bowls and the full wrath of God being poured out? A loud voice from the temple throne comes out and says “It is done” marking the culmination of the wrath of God and His soon Second Coming. The narrative of Revelation 16 is uninterrupted until his verse basically comes out of nowhere, obviously spoken by Jesus.
Some commentators ignore the questions above with observations as follows:
This is designed evidently to admonish men to watch, or to be in readiness for his coming—since, whenever it would occur, it would be at a time when men were not expecting him. (Barnes New Testament Notes)
As a thief; suddenly, unexpectedly. A solemn intimation that the day here spoken of will come suddenly and unexpectedly, and find multitudes unprepared for its approach. Watcheth, and keepeth his garments; is awake and active in duty. Lest he walk naked; as a man would whose garments, through his carelessness, had been stolen. (Family New Testament Notes)
Behold, I come as a thief. This is interposed in order to give a place for exhortation to be always ready. The Lamb comes when men do not see him. (Peoples New Testament Notes)
Those subscribing to this interpretation are concerned with the issue of “immanency”, mainly Pretribbers who think they have a corner on that market. But every group, except Postribbers, are also concerned that we be prepared at all times for the Rapture. Again, Jesus will not come in the Second Coming like a thief, except that He will come unexpectantly for unbelievers. But Revelation is primarily written to Christians to prepare them both to be ready for the Rapture anytime and to be ready to stand up to persecution and trials. This is the way I believe the concept of the Rapture and Tribulation should be taught no matter your take on when the Rapture will occur.
Some say Jesus is speaking of the Day of the Lord in general:
Between the notation of the time (v. 14) and place (v. 16) of the battle, John's prophetic voice suddenly gives way to the voice of Jesus himself (v. 15). It is the first time Jesus has spoken directly since dictating the seven messages of chapters 2 and 3, and his words sound very much like words from those messages: Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and shamefully exposed (v. 15; compare 3:2-4, 18). This word of warning to the book's readers comes very abruptly in its context. Probably the reference to the great day of God Almighty (v. 14) suggested the image of "the day of the Lord," which in early Christian instruction was said to come "like a thief in the night," a tradition known to both Paul and his readers in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (compare also Mt 24:43 and Lk 12:39). For John's readers the words represent a hopeful time shift from that near future day, when, too late for repentance, the world moves inexorably to its doom, back to a present in which there is still time to "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die," so as to walk with Jesus "dressed in white" (3:2, 5). When Armageddon comes, the day of grace will be over. Either we are on God's side—the victorious side—or we perish with those who are deceived by the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
Again, the Day of the Lord is not a specific day but rather the time period of the end until the Second Coming. Some say it is pointing to the return of Christ, not the Rapture:
15. The gathering of the world kings with the beast against the Lamb is the signal for Christ’s coming; therefore He here gives the charge to be watching for His coming and clothed in the garments of justification and sanctification, so as to be accepted. (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary)
Ver. 15. Behold I come as a thief, &c.] These are the words of Christ, inserted in a parenthesis in this account, before it is concluded, to acquaint his people with his near and sudden approach, and to give them a word of caution and exhortation in these times of difficulty; for he is the Lord God Almighty, who sent forth these angels to pour out their vials, and whose judgments are applauded as righteous, # Re 16:1,5,7,14 and who so often in # Re 22:7,12,20 says "I come quickly"; and which is to be understood not of his spiritual coming, which will be already at this time, but of his personal coming: and which will be "as a thief": as it is often expressed, # 1Th 5:2 _ 2Pe 3:10 Re 3:3 not in the bad sense, to steal and kill, and to destroy, though Christ’s coming will issue in the everlasting destruction of the wicked; but the phrase is designed to express the suddenness of his coming, and the surprise of it: (John Gill Expositor)
These will be times of great temptation; therefore Christ, by his apostle, calls on his professed servants to expect his sudden coming, and to watch that they might not be put to shame, as apostates or hypocrites. However Christians differ, as to their views of the times and seasons of events yet to be brought to pass, on this one point all are agreed, Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, will suddenly come again to judge the world. To those living near to Christ, it is an object of joyful hope and expectation, and delay is not desired by them. (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary)
Ver. 15. I come as a thief; that is, I come suddenly and unexpectedly: see #Mt 24:43,44 Lu 12:39 1Th 5:2 Re 3:3. It may be understood either of Christ’s coming to the last judgment, or of his coming in his vindicative providence to be revenged on his enemies. (Matthew NT Poole’s Commentary)
The problem with this verse being about the “Second Coming” is that it says He is coming like a “thief”. That phrase is used in conjunction with the Rapture at the beginning of the Revelation.
Revelation 3:3 So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore 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.
To be sure the Day of the Lord comes like a “thief” to those who do not recognize the signs of the times and are not children of God. But the Bible also talks about the day and the hour when Christ will come as a “thief” to take away believers. Believers are to be prepared for the Rapture and not asleep at the wheel (Mark 13:36, 1 Thes. 5:6, Rev. 3:3). Revelation 3:3 is talking to believers specifically, not about everyone in the world being surprised by the second Coming.
What has been taught about this in history?
Some have thought that Irenaeus (c. 180) could have been a Pre-tribber since he actually speaks of the Rapture: the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this [the tribulation], as noted below:
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be. For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption. (Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to a.d. 325 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), 558.)
However, the very next statement speaks of believers in the tribulation. When taken within the context of all of Irenaeus writings on these subjects, it appears that he was not teaching Pretribulationism.
Patristic scholar Larry Crutchfield argues that the early church fathers believed in what he calls imminent Intratribulationism. He summaries the views of Pretribulational scholars on this issue as follows:
`In sum, with few exceptions, the premillennial fathers of the early church believed that they were living in the last times. Thus they looked daily for the Lord’s return. Even most of those who looked for Antichrist’s appearance prior to the second advent, saw that event as occurring suddenly and just as suddenly being followed by the rescue and rapture of the saints by Christ. . . . This belief in the imminent return of Christ within the context of ongoing persecution has prompted us to broadly label the views of the earliest fathers, imminent intratribulationism. . . . It should be noted that dispensationalists have neither said that the early church was clearly pretribulational nor that there are even clear individual statements of pretribulationism in the fathers. As Walvoord says, the historical fact is that the early church fathers view on prophecy did not correspond to what is advanced by pretribulationists today except for the one important point that both subscribe to the imminency of the rapture. This view of the fathers on imminency and in some the references to escaping the time of the tribulation constitute what may be termed, to borrow a phrase from Erickson, seeds from which the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture could be developed . . . Had it not been for the drought brought by Alexandrian allegorism and later by Augustine, one wonders what kind of crop those seeds might have yielded—before Darby and the nineteenth century. (Crutchfield, Early Church Fathers—Part VI, 195–6. Crutchfield adds: Some of the fathers like Hippolytus, Tertullian, Lactantius, and others, clearly had posttribulational elements in their views concerning the end times. But we have been unable to find an instance of the unequivocal classic posttribulationism taught today. Walvoord’s assessment of the fathers views on the tribulation is essentially correct. He says, “The preponderance of evidence seems to support the concept that the early church did not clearly hold to a rapture as preceding the end time tribulation period. Most of the early church fathers who wrote on the subject at all considered themselves already in the great tribulation. Accordingly Payne, as well as most other posttribulationists, takes the position that it is self-evident that pretribulationism as it is taught today was unheard of in the early centuries of the church. Consequently the viewpoint of the early church fathers is regarded by practically all posttribulationists, whether adherents of the classic view or not, as a major argument in favor of posttribulationism. However, the fact that most posttribulationists today do not accept the doctrine of imminency as the early church held it diminishes the force of their argument against pretribulationism [see John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 24. (p. 196)
There is an interesting verse in Job that seems to possibly also be a prophecy of the future.
“From six troubles He will deliver you, Even in seven evil will not touch you.” – Job 5:19
Could this be referring not just to Job but also to the seven seals/bowls prophecy of Revelation? If so then Christians can expect to be “delivered” from (kept from/protected through) the six troubles and “not even touched” by the seventh. To not be touched by the seventh bowl ending the wrath of God believers would have to be taken out of the world. This seem to be consistent with the notion that the Rapture occurs between the six and seventh bowls.
James Jacob Prasch explains the meaning of Revelation 16:15 in his book Harpazo:
“The cardinal tenet of understanding the Resurrection and Harpazo of the Church is the Body of Christ and that what happened to Him will happen to us as His Body.”
The events which will follow concerning Israel and concerning the reaction of the world to the Harpazo are well-addressed in this book. Our focus, however, is with the Harpazo itself and what precedes it. This concern is not rooted in mere intellectual curiosity. Although our motives must indeed be supremely devotional, it is the Lord’s purpose that this day not overtake us like a thief. It is His preference that as the apocalyptic curtain goes up we will see clearer just as the world and the harlot church will have their vision become progressively dimmed to the point of blindness.
“In Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den, the Aramaic term “netzel” is used for rescue three times. This Aramaic term has its Hebrew equivalent in the term “natzel”. The pronunciation is almost identical and they mean the precise, same thing. Remarkably, “natzel” means “to rescue by snatching away” or “to be snatched out in order to be saved or delivered”, matching the definition of the Greek term “harpazo”. The term is also used in the rescue of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in Daniel 3:29. There is no other God who is able to “natzel”—that is, “rescue by snatching away”.”
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were tossed into the furnace of affliction clothed and bound, but they emerged free and the stench of the fire was not on their garments. Persecution at the end will unchain the true Church and will not singe what Isaiah called the “garments of salvation” (Is. 61:10)—that is, the robes of righteousness, calling them “bigda yesha”—the “clothes of salvation” and the “mahil tsdaka”, “the robes of righteousness”. Such clothing is given by God to His saints and cannot be damaged or invaded by anything the enemy can do.”
Thus “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble” will not come suddenly but will arrive as evening turns to dark. While the Lord comes as a thief in the night to execute the Harpazo, there is no rapture for unbelieving Israel who face the darkest hour of their history as did their father Jacob.
There are many pictures of what will happen prior to, during and after the Rapture in the Old Testament, just as there are pictures of other events, especially of the Messiah, through the narratives of the history of Israel.
For a thorough study of Intra-Tribulational Rapture, you will want to read the book by James Jacob Prasch called “Harpazo”. It is available on Amazon here.