Post-Tribbers have loved Revelation 16:15 for quite some time. To them, this is positive proof in the chronological narrative that Jesus has not yet returned by the sixth bowl. Chronology in the book of Revelation can sometimes be difficult. It requires checking and double checking to see if we are in a new vision with a new set of circumstances, or if the narrative is continuing where it left off. Sometimes the beginning of a new vision is directly related to the last vision, but sometimes it is not.
In the book of Revelation, there are several admonitions as found in Revelation 16:15. The statement there is quite brief. “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” Back in Revelation 2-3 in the seven letters to the churches, there were several reminders that Jesus would come, or that He would come quickly, and even one that He would come as a thief, Revelation 3:3. This reminder that Christ is coming has nothing to do with the timing of His coming. It reminds the church as they read the letter that He is indeed coming. There is no need to study Revelation 3:3 to try to determine when He will return (in relation to Daniel’s 70th week). Toward the end of Revelation, there are three other reminders that Christ is coming quickly. These three reminders are not time markers in any way. They are positioned after the description of the New Jerusalem descending to earth, but this does not mean that Christ has not yet returned. We already saw Him at Armageddon which is a physical place here on earth. There is no need to study Revelation 22:7, 12, 20 in order to try to find out when Christ will return (in relation to the millennium). These references are to remind those that are reading the prophecy that Christ is returning.
When we come to Revelation 16:15, post-tribbers would have us believe that this is a time marker meant to show the timing of Christ’s return, or better yet, His non-return since they insist it means He hasn’t returned. The others are not time markers but this one must be according to them. This would run contrary to the entire theme of the book of Revelation. The other reminders were not time markers so this one should fall into the same category as the others. But post-tribbers, instead of building an entire chronology and showing Christ’s return at the end of Daniel’s 70th week, will pick out one verse and try to take a stand on it. Upon examining the entire chronological narrative, Revelation 16:15 cannot be a time marker for Christ’s return since this conflicts with the other evidence which favors a pre-wrath rapture.
Beginning with Revelation 12, we are at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week whereby the believing Israelite remnant flees into the wilderness at the abomination of desolation. They will be in the wilderness for 1260 days which is 3 ½ years, Revelation 12:6. It is during this time that the beast from the sea will arise and have authority for 42 months which is also 3 ½ years, Revelation 13:5. The beast, the false prophet, and the supernatural deception involved are described in Revelation 13 which reveals the details of the great tribulation. With Revelation 14, we have another vision, but not completely unrelated to the previous vision. There are 144,000 which follow Christ in Revelation 14:1-5. This reminds us of the 144,000 in the previous chronological vision of Revelation 6-11. There they were sealed just before the pre-wrath rapture of the church at the sixth seal.
In Revelation 14:6-12 there are three angelic messages designed to be warnings for mankind. In the first, the gospel is being preached throughout the whole earth in the midst of the great tribulation. A good cross-reference here is Mark 13:10. In the midst of tribulation and persecution, Jesus tells us that the gospel must be preached throughout the entire world before the end (of the age) comes. The first angel lines up with that theme and warns that God’s judgment is about to come. The tribulation will be over as we move into a judgment period. The second warning is directed toward Babylon, more specifically those who “live” in Babylon. Later we will get a more detailed description of Babylon and her burning with fire that occurs at this time in Revelation 17-18. There we will hear a warning to “come out of her my people”, Revelation 18:4. The third warning is directed toward those that might take the mark of the beast and worship him. They will experience the indignation of the LORD for all eternity. This also is a warning directed toward those going through the great tribulation.
In Revelation 14:13, John hears a voice from heaven commanding him to write the words, “Blessed are the dead which die in the LORD from henceforth.” Immediately after this the Spirit affirms, “Yes, that they may rest from their labors.” At this point, we can take the view that John is just seeing random visions cobbled together without a whole lot of rhyme of reason; or we could take the view that Revelation was carefully crafted and laid out with these visions being related to each other. The overall theme is that the great tribulation has been transpiring. God has been warning but working through the preaching of the gospel. Now those that are dead are promised to enter into that blessed rest. Immediately after this, there appears the vision of the Son of Man upon a cloud. At the beginning of the Revelation it was stated that He (meaning Jesus) comes with clouds, Revelation 1:7. Now here is the Son of Man coming on a cloud. This should be a direct reference to the coming of Christ since the language reflects that of Daniel 7 where the Son of Man came with clouds in order to judge the ten horned beast. The picture could not be more obvious. The ten horned beast is advancing his agenda against the saints. It is promised that the dead will be blessed as they enter into that rest. Then appears the Son of Man in order to judge the ten horned beast. This judgment will be poured out shortly in the form of seven bowls.
With the coming of Christ pictured in Revelation 14:14 it is no wonder that in the sequence that follows, we have a direct reference to the end of the age. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus had explained that the harvest (therismos) is the end of the age. This is the time when the wheat is gathered into the barn. In Revelation 14:14-16, we have language that reflects a grain harvest and uses the word therismos when describing the action of the Son of Man as He reaps the earth. Then after this, we have a reaping for the sole purpose of demonstrating God’s wrath, Revelation 14:17-20. The clusters of grapes are gathered and thrown into a winepress which is to express God’s wrath against the ten horned beast. It should be remembered that the beast primarily refers to a ten nation empire. So while this empire will be headed up by one man, the entire kingdom is viewed in reference to the beast. The wrath as pictured in the great winepress of God’s wrath will be explained more specifically in the seven bowls which will shortly be poured out.
To say that the chronology of the seven bowls breaks away at this point is to miss the relationship between the events that have been building in Revelation 12-15. The dragon, Satan, has been persecuting the woman. Then he transfers his power to the beast, the ten horned kingdom headed up by one man. After the description of the great tribulation in Revelation 13, God seals the 144,000 to follow Christ here on earth. The Son of Man descends, raptures the church, and then the angels will pour out the wrath of God upon the beast and his kingdom. We would not even know the recipients of this wrath in Revelation 16 had we not read the narrative in Revelation 12-15. Since we see the saints in Revelation 15:2, now safely out of the hands of the beast, we know that the gathering of the wheat into the barn has occurred. Beginning with Revelation 16, we now see the wrath of God, not just in picture form as in the great winepress of God’s wrath, but described literally and tangibly. So when we get to Revelation 16:15 and ask the question if Christ has returned yet, the answer should be “yes”, since the Son of Man already descended and performed the therismos harvest which is the end of the age.
When we turn over to the description of Armageddon in Revelation 19:19-21, we should note that this is a vision meant to be inserted back into the chronology of the seven bowls. When the seventh bowl was poured out, it caused the cities of the nations to fall and brought an ultimate end to Babylon, even subsequent to her burning with fire by the ten kings. The preparation for Armageddon is at the sixth bowl and we see that here during the seventh bowl is precisely when Armageddon will occur, but the detailed description will not be given until Revelation 19. We do not see Christ returning at Armageddon, as in, riding out of heaven. Christ is pictured seated on a horse. It’s a heavenly vision of Christ as a warrior at Armageddon. The beast and his armies are gathering together against an already returned Christ. The nations do not gather against Israel, they gather together against Jesus. How can they gather against Jesus Christ if He is not here on earth? So we see that Christ returns, then the beast gathers the nations together against Him after He returns.
So when we view the events of the sixth bowl, we see this is the chronological point in time when the beast gathers the nations. The great river Euphrates is dried up in preparation for the kings of the East, Revelation 16:12. The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet all have unclean spirits come forth from them which serve to deceive the nations into doing their bidding to gather against an already returned Jesus Christ, Revelation 16:13-14. We saw in Revelation 19:19-21 that the nations gather against Jesus Christ. Now here we should know by that reference and by the vision of the Son of Man appearing on the cloud that Christ has already returned. This supernatural summoning of the nations should be regarded as something to be avoided at all costs. It is obvious that those under the demonic deception are marching to their doom. Yet this is the power that Satan has over those that have refused the love of the truth. It was stated in II Thessalonians 2:9-12 that those which did not believe in Christ would be deceived by the devil and man of sin (antichrist) during this time. There would be such a strong delusion that they might be damned. It is no wonder that John writes the admonition at this point that Christ comes as a thief. It is paramount to be prepared and keep our garments lest we be taken unawares. Further, in I Thessalonians 5:4 it was stated that Christ would not come as a thief to believers. The command to watch is for all, but for the purpose of demonstrating who is truly a follower of Christ, see Mark 13:33-37 for this principle. The coming of Christ will overtake unbelievers like a thief, but not the believers since they are watching and are children of the light.
So this warning here in Revelation 16:15 is not that Christ will come as a thief to believers who are still on the earth. Instead, this warning is directed toward unbelievers who will not watch and be unprepared when the Day of the LORD comes upon them like a thief in the night. When post-tribbers try to make this verse be about warning believers to watch since he hasn’t come yet, it goes against this basic principle that Christ will not come as a thief to believers. Instead, this is to unbelievers that will find themselves within the Day of the LORD after Christ has returned. It is a stern warning that Christ could come to harvest the earth as the unbelievers will be left behind with hardened hearts and then be deceived into marching to the doom of Armageddon. As we examine the prophecy, we could think how stupid these people must be to march against God Himself, against the Son of God, only to be struck dead by the Word of God. Yet if it were not for the grace of God we would all be under the devil’s influence to do his bidding and the bidding of our sinful flesh.
To sum up, the chronological progression of Revelation 12-16 shows a pre-wrath rapture of the church in Revelation 14:14-16 which is when the Son of Man comes. Immediately before this is described the great tribulation. Immediately after this is described the wrath of God. The pre-wrath rapture stands squarely in between the two. When examining the bowl sequence, the coming of the Son of Man has already occurred prior to this. At Armageddon, Christ has already returned and is riding forth as a warrior. The nations are gathering together against the One who sits on the horse. Since this supernatural deception to gather against Christ is pictured at the sixth bowl, Christ has already returned before the sixth bowl since that is when the nations are prompted to gather together against Christ who is already here. Therefore, the warning that Christ comes as a thief is not meant to be a time marker, but is just like Revelation 1:7, 2:2, 2:16, 2:25, 3:3, 3:11, 22:7, 22:12, 22:20. They all serve as reminders to those reading Revelation that He is indeed coming but are not meant to determine exactly when in the chronology that He will appear.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman