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 be shamefully exposed. Revelation 16.15.
This cry from heaven is both a warning and a beatitude, and it is breaks out through a description of the terrible events that will take place on “the great day of God Almighty” mentioned in the previous verse. It is, of course, an echo of a warning that Jesus often sounded in his parables when he walked the earth.
In Matthew’s gospel, we hear Jesus saying: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matthew 24.42-43); and Paul takes up that theme in his letter to the Thessalonians: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1Thessalonians 5.1-2).
The use of the “thief” simile in all three places carries one thought and one thought only and is the thought of the unexpectedness and speed with which that Day of the Lord will arrive and with which its events will unfold. There will be no time then to do what should be being done now.
When we move from the warning to the beatitude, the promise is that God will especially favour those who, on that Day, are not “caught napping” and “asleep on the job” but, on the contrary, are awake, dressed and watching.
But there may be another thought here too. In Matthew 22, Jesus tells the story of a king’s wedding but “when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.”Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ (Matthew 22.11-12). The man is speechless and is thrown out. The king’s wedding of Matthew becomes “the wedding supper of the Lamb” in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19.19) and perhaps the thought of Christians making sure they “keep their clothes with them” in readiness for that marriage feast, is an echo of that parable too. If so, what does it mean?
Jesus was particularly fond of Isaiah 61 and quotes from it many times in the gospels; and there seems little doubt that when he told the story of the man without a wedding garment, he had in mind Isaiah 61.10: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” It is the “robe” I talked about on Friday morning — see “The Dreamcoat”. It is the “white garment” that is spoken of again and again through the Book of Revelation. And the thought must be that Christians must be careful never to take off that robe of righteousness, those garments of salvation, which God has supplied. (In the middle east in those days, the groom provided his wedding guests with their wedding garments — they did not buy their own — which does, of course, make perfect sense of the parable.)
Lord Jesus, if you come today I pray that you will find me awake and watchful, and wearing the white robe of salvation you have given me. Amen.