"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

In the previous context, we found the golden-belted angels issuing forth from the Temple with their bowls or vials full of the wrath of God. They are completing their mission of vengeance. The great Day of Judgment—the time of the end—the consummation of all things—is gradually drawing near. In the immediately preceding verse there is described a mustering of the forces of evil at the instigation of three unclean spirits. These, in language of strong metaphor, are represented as "going forth to the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." At this announcement of Satan's final gigantic effort for mastery—the last conflict of great principles—when a bold and defiant skepticism is rampant, and ungodliness is abounding—the faith of the Church may be ready to fail, and her courage to falter. But a Divine voice, alike of comfort and of warning, breaks in parenthetically.

John, up to this point, has been the faithful recorder of the visions which were passing before him. Once more it is THE COMING ONE whose utterances are interjected in the midst of the dreadful and dreaded figures. It is the old key-note of the Book—the leading "Memory of Patmos," which is again sounded. We had almost forgotten it amid the rapid rush and succession of apocalyptic symbols—amid the thunderings, and lightnings, and tempest. But the trumpet-tones once more rise clear and distinct above the clang of battle. He of whom in the first chapter it was announced, "Behold, HE COMES with clouds"—He who, in the closing chapter of all, announces Himself, "Surely I AM COMING QUICKLY"—makes the intermediate proclamation, "Behold, I COME AS A THIEF! Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments with him."

We have in these words a Monition (a warning) and a Benediction. Let us briefly ponder them in their order.

I. The MONITION, "Behold, I come as a thief." The second coming of Christ is to be sudden and unexpected. It was not so with His first coming. Independent altogether of Hebrew prophecy, that advent had its dim and shadowy premonitions in the Gentile world. It was amid the hush of general expectation—when "all men were musing"—when, in the words of the great poet, "Birds of calm sat brooding on the charmed wave"—when the sword was sheathed, the temple of Janus was shut, and palm branches of peace strewed the pathway of the expected King—that the Child of Bethlehem was born.

"No war or battle's sound,
Was heard the world around;
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spoke not to the armed throng;
And kings sat still, with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their Sovereign Lord was by."

So also is it with the spiritual Advent of the Redeemer to the souls of His people. That, too, unless in rare and exceptional cases, is a gradual 'coming.' "His going forth is prepared as the morning." His approach is not like the abrupt and sweeping water-flood, but rather like the silent dew as it distills imperceptibly on blade and flower.

Different will it be, however, at His second Advent. With the speed of the lightning flash—with the suddenness of the entrapping snare, or the assault and surprise of the midnight robber; when men are asleep—when every bolt and fastening seem protection against the prowling invader, then the cry shall be heard, "Behold, the Judge is at the door!" Our Lord Himself, in His own memorable discourse, gives a vivid picture of the state of the world at His final appearing. It shall be "as in the days of NOAH." The ante-diluvians were pursuing their guilty revelries—listening with mocking incredulity to Noah's strange parable of predicted wrath—seeing in the clear sky overhead no symptoms of coming disaster—then "the flood came and destroyed them all."

Or it shall be "as in the days of LOT." The same tale of terror seemed contradicted by the smiling plains beneath and the bright skies above; for "the sun," we read, "had risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar." In other words, when he reached his shelter, and the hour of doom had arrived, there was nothing seen but the play of sunbeams, "sowing the earth with orient pearl." No black omen was visible; the dwellers in Sodom woke up, heedless of fears, to a new day of godless riot; when suddenly the windows of heaven were opened, and bolts of living fire descended on the doomed cities!

So shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. "Behold, I come as a thief!" The world will have rocked itself asleep on the subject of its Lord's appearing. That appearing will be among the obsolete dogmas of its creed; denounced and discarded as a myth of prating fanatics and enthusiasts. It is so in large measure already. Outer nature, in its unvarying and apparently stereotyped laws, gives no indication of any such arrest on its appointed sequences; day follows night; summer treads on the heels of winter; autumn repays with interest the sower's springtime toil. There is no wrinkle on earth's brow—no symptom of decrepitude. It may be rather augured from the progress of science—the gigantic strides of discovery—that the earth is like the eagle, molting her feathers for a renewal of her youth. Nothing is there in the canopy above, nor in the garnered treasures hidden beneath her surface, to countersign and ratify the incredible warning of this Seer of Patmos.

The lovers of pleasure—those who desire to have no higher portion than this life—are only too ready to accept these theories of a godless and skeptic philosophy—to pursue with undisturbed greed the paths of sin and the race for riches. Secure against invasion, avarice heaps up its treasure, and shouts its defiant boast, "Tomorrow shall be as today, and much more abundant." "No," says Christ, as He awakes the dormant peal of the Advent-bell, "do not believe the world's lie; for it is just when that lie has won for itself a fatal acceptance—when mankind have sunk into this state of guilty, bold, defiant indifference—that My footfall shall be heard—Behold, I come as a thief!"

Just when the scoffer is uttering his arrogant challenge, "Where is the promise of His coming?"—when all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of the creation—when the husbandman is pursuing his peaceful labors—when the groves are vocal with song, or the valleys shouting with summer joy—when the marts of commerce are crowded, and the wheels of industry are revolving—when the ring of hammers is heard in workshop, when white-winged commerce is tracking as aforetime the highway of the nations, when the student is poring over his books, or the astronomer is registering the time of the next eclipse, or the politician is casting up the possibilities of peace and war—when the oblivious world, little dreaming of change, is immersed in her own gigantic selfishness and ambition—then, yes then, "Behold! I come as a thief!"

The figure here used by the Lord, and spoken by Him from a state of glory, is the very same He employed in His magnificent prophetic utterance on the Mount of Olives in the days of His humiliation. "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. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him!"

Paul uses the same significant simile, "for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape!"

And to the same effect, Peter remembers the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, "But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and everything in them will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be exposed to judgment."

It is at night—midnight—the robber's hour—when darkness has drawn its sable curtains around a silent world—that the cry shall be heard, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes! Go out to meet Him!"

II. We have spoken of the Monition. Let us now glance at the appended BENEDICTION, "Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." The reference here may be the simple and ordinary one, of a man, heedless of all danger, lying down to sleep with his garments cast carelessly aside; the thief suddenly enters his chamber, takes forcible possession of his clothing, and leaves him naked and defenseless. Or more probably, according to the great commentator Lightfoot, the allusion may be to a Jewish custom in the service of the Temple of Jerusalem. Twenty-four wards or companies were appointed night by night to guard the various entrances to the sacred courts. One individual was appointed as captain over the others, called the "Man of the Mountain of the House of God." His duty was to go round the various gates during the night to see that his subordinates were faithful at their posts. Preceded himself, by men bearing torches, it was expected that each wakeful sentinel should hail his appearance with the password, "O man of the mountain of the house, peace be unto you!" If, through unwatchfulness and slumber, this were neglected, the offender was beaten with the staff—his garments were burnt—he was branded with shame for failure of duty, by being left in a state of nakedness.

It was in contrast with these slumbering Levites, that Jesus may be supposed to pronounce a blessing on His true people, who watch and keep their garments ready, and are saved from the reproach of spiritual nakedness. Their attitude is that of wakeful sentinels, who, anticipating their Lord's coming, are ever standing on their watchtower, pacing their rounds, having on the whole armor of God, "the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left;" so that, "being clothed, they may not be found naked."

And yet, be it ever remembered, that, knowing the possibility even of His own faithful disciples being involved in this state of drowsy unwakefulness, it is to them He addresses, as the great Captain and Overseer of His spiritual Temple, the solemn words, "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn."

Are we in the expectant attitude of those who are described as those who "love His appearing?" Who are waiting for "the promise of His coming?" That second coming of Christ ought, with all of us, to be regarded by its apostolic name as "The Blessed Hope"—the polar star in the sky of the future. It is true, indeed, that in one sense, to the believer, death is equivalent to the coming of his Lord, as being the hour which will usher him into His immediate presence. But death is never spoken of in Scripture as a blessed hope. Even the Christian holds his breath as the King of Terrors passes by. He may be ready to slip the cable whenever his Lord gives the word—he may be ready to enter the dark valley, and, under the guidance and grace of the Shepherd-Leader, he may fear no evil—but it is a dark valley notwithstanding: the tear, and the weeping cypress, and the sable mourning, have ever formed the associations and accompaniments of the final hour and scene.

Not so is it, however, with Christ's Advent. It is a jubilant anticipation. The believer can long for it—can pray for it, "Even so, COME Lord Jesus;" "Make no tarrying, O my God;" "Make haste, my Beloved! be like a roe or a young deer on the mountains of spices."

How often does Samuel Rutherford break forth into some such impassioned words as these, "All is night that is here: therefore sigh and long for the dawning of that morning. Persuade yourself that the King is coming. Wait with the wearied night-watchers for the breaking of the eastern sky."

Nor let us for a moment suppose that this watching is some foolish, transcendental frame of mind which divorces the Christian from daily work and duty. These vigils may be best kept, not in cloistered seclusion. He watches most nobly and truly, who does so, not by abstracting himself from life's rough drudgery and needful calls, but who, in the midst of the ordinary avocations of the world—amid the fever and turmoil of busy existence—can catch up the jubilant chimes wafted to the ear of faith from the bells of glory.

Let these inspired utterances be ever ringing their varying magnificent melodies in our ears, "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." "I will come again, and receive you unto myself." "A little while, and you shall not see Me; and again a little while, and you shall see Me." "The end of all things is at hand; be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." "Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed!"

Be it ours to keep this sentinel-guard over the garments of a holy character and spotless life; jealous of the invasion of sin; realizing from day to day and from hour to hour the solemn thought, "In this dress—in these garments, I must one day appear before my great Lord!" dreading the possibility, through unwatchfulness, of being deprived of any part of them, and thus of being "ashamed before Him at His coming."

If we expected a long-absent brother or friend from a distant land, how careful should we be in our preparations to give him welcome! How house and hall would be decorated and adorned! How would ingenuity be taxed to deck out his chamber with every tribute which fond affection could devise! How careful to efface every association or memory of sadness, and prevent the occurrence of one note of discord or disharmony that would mar the joy of that glad return!

How should it be with us, in the prospect of welcoming the Brother of brothers, the Friend of friends? How should the home of every heart be "swept and garnished," decked in best holiday attire, to give to the long-absent Lord, love's most loyal welcome! Every day is bringing that Advent nearer—lessening the span of that rainbow of promise. The "little while, and you shall not see Me," is widening; the "little while, and you shall see Me," is diminishing.

The Church is like the sailors in the book of Acts, who "as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near." Is this true in a nobler sense of "the Better country?" Are we thus on the outlook to "see the King in His beauty, and the land that is very far off?" Others may be voyaging on in guilty unpreparedness, having nothing but the prospect of being stranded in a night of darkness and despair. "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." Let the Blessed Hope impart new animation and intensity to your every Christian grace, strengthening your faith, calming your fears, quickening your zeal, disarming affliction of its sting, and death itself of its brief triumph. Let each Sabbath, each providential dispensation, add new power to the summons, "Awake, awake! put on your beautiful garments!" "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" So that when that glorious second Advent shall be consummated—when the Lord shall come and all His saints with Him—we may be able rejoicingly to exclaim, "Lo! this is our God! We have waited for Him, and He will save us! This is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation."

"Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when HE COMES, shall find watching!"