The Rapture initiates Jesus second coming, not to earth, but to receive the risen saints in the air and to take them to heaven. The same day that the rapture occurs will be the same day that The Day of the Lord’s Wrath will begin.
The apostle Paul links the return of Christ with The Day of the Lord’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:9). Paul teaches that when Christ returns to pour out His wrath upon the wicked, His return will be like a thief, and it will occur suddenly like a woman in labour pangs:
“For you know quite well that The Day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction comes on them, like labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2–3
Before the battle of Armageddon occurs, the world will have been devastatingly pummelled by The Day of the Lord trumpets and bowls judgements. The wicked will clearly know that the judgements are from God (see Revelation 6:14–17; 9:20–21; 11:3–19; 14:6–11; 16:9–11, 21; 17:14 cf. Luke 21:25–28). By the time the divine trumpets and bowls have been poured out, the battle of Armageddon will not be a surprise! It climaxes the period of God’s wrath, not initiates it. Paul clearly teaches that the wrath of God will not begin until the second coming of Christ at the Rapture, which will catch the wicked off guard as a thief with sudden destruction as a woman in hard labour. Therefore, Armageddon cannot be considered the beginning of the second coming.
Jesus taught the exact same point that sudden destruction will occur when the second coming begins, using five parables/illustrations: 1. Noah and the flood, one taken and one left, 2. the thief in the night, 3. the master of the household, 4. the ten virgins, and 5. the talents (Matthew 24:37–25:30; cf. Luke 17:28–30).
Peter also draws the “thief” motif from Jesus’s Olivet Discourse illustrating the sudden destruction when the parousia begins (2 Peter 3:10–12).
Jesus, Paul, and Peter are consistent in their message that the second coming of Christ at The Rapture will begin like a thief catching the wicked off guard in their oblivious state.
Since the battle of Armageddon occurs at the end of God’s wrath, the second coming does not begin with Armageddon, because that would remove the surprise element—the whole point of invoking the thief metaphor!
The resurrection and rapture, followed by the trumpets and bowls judgements, will occur at a much earlier point than the climax of God’s wrath at the battle of Armageddon and Jesus second coming to earth to rescue Israel.
The following explanation of the parenthetical exhortation that seems arbitrarily placed in Revelation 16:14-16 is extracted and abbreviated from Alan Kurschner’s post “The Day of the Lord’s Wrath Begins before Armageddon” Eschatos Ministries.
Revelation 16:14–16 begins at the 6th Bowl judgement just before the 7th and last Bowl judgement which precedes the Battle of Armageddon
“For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful. (Look ! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.) Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.” Revelation 16:14–16
This parenthetical exhortation in Revelation 16:15 is not intended to give a temporal indicator to when the Lord will return, as is often interpreted. It does not mean that his parousia has not occurred up to this point with the church still on earth. Nor does it mean that his parousia will begin at Armageddon. it makes no sense to say that Jesus is coming back as a “thief” after the world just experienced his previous earth-destroying judgements.
So then how should we understand this parenthetical statement that seems to be arbitrarily placed at this point. As it is placed at the culmination of God’s wrath, the likely meaning is that the warning represents the unified complex-whole of the day of the Lord’s wrath. And what are the implications of this statement? There are basically three interpretations but the one I believe it means is; the one who does not stay alert is a false believer (the many nominal Christians in our churches today), who will be left on earth and on the receiving end of God’s wrath.