16:15 COMING AS A THIEF
In the midst of the descriptions of the plagues, the suffering of the wicked and the deceptive activity of the unholy trinity, a sober warning to God’s people is interjected. “Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).
This warning echos Jesus’ admonition in Luke 12, “You yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding… Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching… and if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:35-40).
Jesus cautions His servants that there will be an apparent delay. It seems that they were watching faithfully through the first “watch.” But as the second, and perhaps even the third watch of the night passes, there may be a tendency to feel, “My master is delaying His coming,” and to fall into sin, “to beat the male and female servants and to eat and drink and be drunk” (v. 45). This is such a dangerous possibility that the apostles Peter, Paul and John all mention the need to be watchful so that the end would not come “like a thief”.
The message to the Laodiceans shows that before the time of trouble the church is sleepy and indifferent, “neither cold nor hot” (Revelation 3:15). The Lord councils them,“buy from me white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed” (v. 18). White garments represent the righteousness of Christ which is imputed and imparted to them (See 3:18 Buy from Me Gold), the “garments” that Jesus councils His children to “keep.”
The events leading up to the time of trouble will bring the sleepy Laodiceans to attention. Some will become a part of the 144,000 who give the final invitation, others will become a part of the great multitude that will be called out of Babylon, and unfortunately, many will choose to remain in Babylon. All will be deeply affected by the experience of living through the “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world” (Matthew 24:21). But the time of trouble will not be over in a few days. Just one of the trumpet plagues (the fifth) continues for five months, and there are six other trumpets and seven last plagues. The stress will be unbelievable, and hopes will be raised and dashed with reports, “Look, here is the Christ…Look, He is in the desert…Look, He is in the inner rooms…False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:23-26).
At that time God’s people will need to “keep their garments.” All that they are and all that they have attained is a gift of God’s grace made possible through the perfect life, sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, which has been given to them freely as a robe to “wear.” “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). To lose their garments and become naked is a symbol of spiritual defeat. The ultimate humiliation, reserved for defeated soldiers, was to be paraded naked before the populace of their conquerors.
God’s people are not automatically immune from defeat, even (or perhaps especially) during the time of trouble. Only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and deep dependence on God’s word can Christians “Keep [their] garments” amid the overwhelming delusions of the time of trouble. Without this, Jesus will come “as a thief,” revealing the nakedness and shame of their empty and meaningless profession. This is why one of the key messages to God’s people is, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).