Text: Rev 16:15
Parallel Text: Matthew 24:36-44 ("like a thief in the night")
Featured Verse: Rev 16:15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)
Main Idea: The uncertainty of the timing for the return of Jesus is meant to instill vigilance in his followers.
Our entire reading for today is from one verse in the book of Revelation, which is set apart as a parenthetical statement. It links strongly to a story told by Jesus concerning his return at the end of the world.
The parenthetical note in Rev 16:15 seems clearly to be drawn from a statement that Jesus made to his disciples about the end of the age.* In his comments (Mt 24:36-44) Jesus emphasizes the uncertain timing for his return at the end of the age. The principle is illustrated with a saying about a thief who plunders a home at night.
"But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Mt 24:43-44)
We see the exact same connection in Revelation 16:15.** Jesus urges the listeners to stay awake, because of the uncertainty of his return. To illustrate this principle another way:
- If you knew when you were going to get in a car wreck, you would only have to put your seatbelt on before car wrecks. But you don't know, therefore, you should be prepared and always wear your seatbelt.
- If you knew when your house was going to catch on fire, you would not need a smoke detector. Because you don't know, you should update the batteries in your smoke detector and have plenty of fire extinguishers on hand.
Conclusion and Application
There are two main points we can draw from this.
(i.) Revelation is not a book that is intended to give us secret information about how to date the end of the world. Not only do we have clear instruction from Jesus on that point (Mt 24:36-44), but that point is explicitly referenced here in this parenthetical comment. Admittedly, the book of Revelation has some imagery that can be confusing and sometimes we need a healthy does of humble uncertainty as we deal with it. But we can clearly rule out this intention for the book: Revelation is not an instruction manual for how to date the end of the world.
(ii.) On the other hand, the uncertainty of the return of Jesus is meant to have a stimulating effect on our thinking. Because the return of Jesus will be like a thief, we should remain spiritually vigilant and "stay awake." This is a call to review our spiritual health and to be on guard against complacency.
In what ways do you find yourself sliding into spiritual "sleepiness"?
What actions can you take to better stay awake?
* Matthew 24-25 is one long discussion in which Jesus answered two questions from the disciples. Because Jesus addressed these questions sitting on the Mount of Olives - which was across a small valley and had a view of Jerusalem - this is often referred to as the Olivet Discourse. The topic of conversation had been the majesty of the temple, when Jesus predicted the coming destruction of the temple. (Mt 24:1-2) After retreating outside the city, the disciples asked Jesus two questions. "Tells us, when will these things be (the destruction of the temple) and when will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age." (Mt 24:3) Jesus then proceeds to give two very different answers to these two events. (The disciples may have assumed that the destruction of the temple was the same as the end of the age.) Jesus told them that there would be clear signs which predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, and that when his followers saw those signs - the armies gathering to surround the city - they should flee from Jerusalem. (Mt 24:15-16) They were to "flee to the mountains" and not waste time packing their suitcases. We know from history that after the people of Jerusalem rebelled, Rome besieged the city and eventually destroyed it in 70 AD. By contrast, Jesus warns that there are no signs to predict the end of the age. "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows." (Mt 24:36) He highlights this point by talking about the uncertainty of the flood of Noah (Mt 24:37-42) and then tells a story about how a thief always arrives unexpectedly. (Mt 24:43-44) Some casual readers of the Bible miss the huge distinction between these two events and the fact that one is predicted (destruction of the temple in 70 AD.) and one arrives at a time that CANNOT be predicted (the end of the age.)
** Incidentally, this is another reason to recognize that the battle of Armageddon and probably the entire series of seven bowls of wrath is pointing to the end of the age. If that is the original context for the saying of Jesus, this reference would surely have a similar context.