©Douglas Beyer 2000


Revelation 16:15
A disaster.

What's this world coming to? Air hijackings, hostages, terrorist demands, bombings, slaughter of innocent victims by angry religious idealists, treats of war and global annihilation. What's this world coming to? Famine in northern Africa, depletion of non-renewable energy resources, chemical poisoning of our ground water supply, nuclear waste disposal, acid rain. What's this world coming to? Escalating abortion rates, child pornography, sodomy, and prostitution.

Sure we have always had problems… ever since Eve said to Adam, "I'm hungry. Let's go out to eat." But now the problems seem so much more complicated and insoluble.

When times got bad for the early Christians they didn't say, "Look what this world is coming to," but "Look who is coming to this world!" Instead of looking outward and being depressed, they looked forward and were at rest. They knew Jesus was the Lord of history and that he would return at the end of time to put things right. I think it is time we took a second look at the Second Coming.

JesusAlexander Maclaren said, "The primitive church thought more about the second coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. The early Christians were looking not for a cleft in the ground called a grave, but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory. They were watching not for the 'undertaker' but for the 'Uppertaker.'"

In the middle of a vivid description of preparations for the war of Armageddon the writer of Revelation interjects this word from our Lord: "Behold I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame" (Revelation 16:15). In this short statement we may see a predictable certainty, a precautionary command and embarrassing consequences.


"Behold I am coming like a thief."

The Bible sometimes uses shocking similes comparing God to unsavory characters. (In Luke 18:1-8, for instance Jesus uses the example of a crooked judge who gives justice to a persistent widow as an illustration of God's dependability to answer prayer.) That Christ is coming like a thief is affirmed not only here but also by Jesus in the book of Matthew (Matthew 24:42,43) and by Peter (II Peter 3:10), and Paul (I Thessalonians 5:2,3) in their epistles. In such cases the people compared are unalike in every way except for one outstanding feature. Jesus comes like a thief in the night not because he comes to steal, nor because he comes secretly, but because he comes unexpectedly.

Nobody knows what that will be. Self-proclaimed Bible teachers who dabble in dates for Christ's second coming presume to know more than even Jesus himself knew. He said, "No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come — neither the angels in heaven nor the son; the Father alone knows" (Matthew 24:36-44). They are false prophets to be avoided like the plague they are. Just as in Noah's day people became preoccupied with daily routine until the flood swept them away, so people will we caught unprepared when Christ returns. Those who don't know Biblical history are condemned to repeat it. To be ready for Christ's return is a necessity; to deny his coming is heresy; to fix a date for his coming is lunacy.

Jesus did tell us, however, when he will come. He said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come" (Matthew. 24:14). No date is set, mind you, but it is clear that when the church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Jesus will come. Why did he not come in 90 A.D. as the apostles hoped? Because the church had not finished its task of evangelizing the world. Why did he not come in the sixteenth century as the Zwickau prophets foretold? Because the church had not finished its task of evangelizing the world. Why did he not come this morning? Because the church has not finished its job of evangelizing the world.

That doesn't mean, by the way, that the whole world will become Christian. It does mean that there will be a "witness to all nations." Every missionary we send to bear the good news to foreign lands brings us closer to that time. Every Sunday School lesson that is taught and every sermon that is preached and every personal witness that is given brings us closer to that time.

Speaking of the Lord's coming and the end of the world, Peter says "Do not forget one thing, my dear friends! There is no difference in the Lord's sight between one day and a thousand years; to him the two are the same. The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sin" (II Peter 3: 8,9 TEV). When the Author steps on stage, the play is over. When Jesus steps back into history, the story is over. Its a drama which began at creation, progressed through a long involved plot through the ages, and will conclude with a glorious scene just before the final curtain: this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come.

There still remain an unknown number of evangelistic opportunities to be accomplished before Jesus comes back to resurrect the dead and reign supreme forever as King and Kings and Lord of Lords. That means that the final destiny of the earth's inhabitants rests in your hands as you fulfill the great commission (Matthew. 28:18-20). If you love the Lord's appearing (II Timothy 4:8), then get busy taking the gospel to all the world.


"Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments."

This is good news for a world that has heard too little it. We are long overdue for this reassuring beatitude. "Happy is the one who stays awake and guards his clothes" is Today's English Version. But our relief comes with some stated conditions.

The predictable certainty of the Lord's return like a thief in the night leads to a precautionary command: stay awake. It's too late to look the door after the house has been robbed. It's too late to study after the exam papers have been passed out. It's too late to prepare for Christ's coming after he has arrived. It is never too soon to get ready for his coming, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

One teacher gives "pop" tests. Another teacher gives tests only on an announced schedule. Which class do you think is most likely to do its daily homework? In the same way Jesus wants you to be vigilant, prepared for his coming at any moment.

Our preparation is not with nervous excitement but with calm expectancy. Like the 80 year old man who doesn't always talk about his approaching death, but simply takes it into account when making long range plans, so we take Christ's coming into account. What death is to a single individual, the second coming of Christ is to the whole world.

Jesus cautioned us to stay awake, but what's this command about guarding our garments? The Living Bible says "Blessed are all… who keep their robes in readiness." Perhaps what the author has in mind is that since the people of his day had no pajamas they should be sure that some kind of rap was ready if the Long Awaited Guest should come unexpectedly at night. In that case, guarding our clothes would be simply another way of keeping alert.

But on the other hand clothing is often used as a metaphor for good deeds. Isaiah said, "Jerusalem rejoice because of what the Lord has done. She is like a bride dressed for her wedding. God has clothed her with salvation and victory" (Isaiah 61: 10 TEV). And the writer of Revelation said, "The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:8). Guarding our clothes in that case would mean more than just staying alert; it would mean to take care that we have something to show for our Christian life of service.

Knowing that the Lord is returning soon, we do not put on white robes and go to the mountains to await his coming, but rather we put on aprons and overalls to serve Christ in the valleys of human need. The second coming of Jesus is not an escape from human misery, but a powerful motivation to alleviate it. After discussing the return of Christ and the resurrection of the saints, Paul's concluding word to the Thessalonians was "Be not weary in well doing" (II Thessalonians 3:13), and to the Corinthians, "Stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).


"Lest he walk about naked and men see his shame."

Those who are unprepared for Christ's return will be caught with their pants down. That's crude, but clear. Some sophisticated people dressed high fashion in this world will discover that they haven't a stitch to wear in the world to come.

If you are interested in the hereafter, just remember that the here determines the after. What you have coming then is what you have going now. What you weave in time you will wear in eternity.

"When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in him be found
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before his throne."
(Edward Mote, "The Solid Rock" Public Domain)


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