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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age > Rapture Question > Book of Revelation    



Patmos, a very small island off the western coast of Asia Minor, was used by the Romans as a penal colony. John the Apostle was exiled there toward the end of the first century “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9). While a prisoner “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 1) was given to him by an angel sent from God. John was told to “write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (v. 19). A three-fold command was given, and in this command is provided an outline for the Book of Revelation which many interpreters have recognized. John was told to write of the past (“the things you have seen”), the present (“the things which are”), and the future (“the things which will take place after this”). Revelation can be divided according to this threefold instruction:

THE PAST - Ch. 1
“the things which you have seen”
(The Glorified Son of Man)

THE PRESENT - Chs. 2-3
“the things which are”
(The Seven Churches)

THE FUTURE - Chs. 4-22
“the things which will take place after this”
(The End-Time)

In Chapter 1 we read that John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (v. 10) and was given a marvelous vision of the Son of Man holding “seven stars” (v. 16) in His right hand while standing in the midst of “seven lampstands” (v. 13).  The visions of the Apocalypse hearken back to the imagery of Daniel and Ezekiel. But the application is clearly New Testament. Risen, glorified, and triumphant the Lord is the Lord of the churches (“lampstands”) and holds the pastors (“stars”) of the churches in His right hand. In Chapter 1 we have “the things which you have seen,” THE PAST.

Chapters 2-3 contain the message the Lord gave to seven churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. To each church the Lord says, “I know” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). As deserved and needed by the individual congregations, He offered commendation, criticism, instruction, and promises. Each church is challenged with the statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). In Chapters 2-3 we have “the things which are,” THE PRESENT.

Various aspects of the end-time are dealt with in Chapters 4-22, topics such as the Great Tribulation, Antichrist, the Second Coming of Christ, the Battle of Armageddon, the Millennium, the Great White Throne Judgment, and the New Jerusalem and the Eternal State. All of these events take place at the end of the present age. When they are completed, God’s plan of redemption will have been accomplishment. In Chapters 4-22 we have “the things which will take place after this,” THE FUTURE.

Even a casual reading reveals the sequence in Revelation. The movement is through the Great Tribulation (Chs. 6-18) culminating with the return of Christ (Ch. 19) just before the Millennium (Ch. 20), and finally the new heaven and the new earth (Chs. 21-22). In the following verses this movement is traced:

Rev. 6:17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?

Rev. 7:14 And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “there are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Rev. 15:1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.

Rev. 16:15 Behold I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.

Rev. 16:16 And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.

Rev. 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.

Rev. 19:11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.

Rev. 20:4 And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Rev. 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.

Rev. 21:1 I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away.

These verses accurately reveal the movement in Revelation from Chapter 6 through chapter 22; there is the trouble of the Great Tribulation, followed by the Second Coming of Christ, which initiates the Millennial Reign, culminating with eternity. This sequence or movement is the same as that presented in the Olivet Discourse by Jesus and in II Thessalonians 2 by Paul. In a number of ways the movement in all three is similar. Consider the timing of the Great Tribulation in relation to the Second Coming; consider the appearance of the Antichrist during the Tribulation before the Lord returns; consider the similarities in the description of the Second Coming; consider the horrors that precede the Second Coming.

Revelation deals with the Great Tribulation (Chs. 6-18) and is addressed to the Church, seven churches in particular and the larger Church in general. So the Tribulation must be relevant to the Church. It is a future period that the Church today needs to be informed of in order that when that time arrives the Church will be prepared for the predicted persecution and suffering, and even death for many believers. Therefore, the Lord of the Church sent to the beloved apostle the Revelation in order that the churches might receive His message. Therefore, the book of Revelation is for the Church, and much of Revelation deals with the Tribulation. And the Tribulation is before the Return of Christ as is seen in the sequence revealed in the above verses.

Beginning with the opening of the seals in Chapter 6, the Tribulation unfolds through the next twelve chapters. Supernatural visitations are portrayed by seals being broken, trumpets being blown, thunders being heard, and bowls being poured out. With the breaking of the seals God’s wrath is initiated. At the end of the sixth seal the wicked cry out: “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (6:17). Great calamities will come upon the earth during this awful time, and each of these calamities constitutes God’s judgment upon a sinful and an unrepentant earth. After the seals, the trumpets, and the thunders, there are the seven bowls and “in them the wrath of God is complete” (15:1). While God’s wrath is being poured out on a guilty humanity, the unbelievers will say to the mountains, and rocks: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (6:16). After the Tribulation, which is described in Chapters 6-18, the Lord returns in Chapter 19.

Jesus in Matthew and John in Revelation are in agreement concerning the dreadful and unparallel time that is ahead for mankind. Christ tells the apostles: “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall ever be” (Matt. 24:21). Unless this time is shortened, the Lord says: “No flesh would be saved” (Matt. 24:22). After these verses (vs. 15-28), which speak of the Tribulation on the earth, the Lord returns to the earth in Matthew 24:30 to gather to Himself His elect.

Jesus and John both state that before the Lord’s return there will be unprecedented trouble and upheaval. In the Olivet Discourse and in the book of Revelation, the Tribulation, that time of unimaginable trouble, precedes the Lord’s return.

Consider also the appearance of the Antichrist in relationship to the Second Coming. “A beast rising out of the sea” (13:1) is how John describes the Antichrist. Therefore, Chapter 13 of Revelation is additional commentary on “the man of sin” of II Thessalonians 2:1-12. The “beast” of Revelation is the “man of sin” of II Thessalonians; references to a diabolical person who appears at the end of time. According to Revelation, a one-world government, a one-world economy, and a one-world religious system characterize his dominion. It is this “man of sin” that Paul teaches must appear before the Lord comes back to this earth. And in Revelation John presents the Antichrist in Chapter 13, which is before the Lord’s return that is depicted in Revelation 19. In both books there is the Antichrist (“beast” or “man of sin”) who appears and does his wicked work, whose work is terminated by the Lord who returns and destroys him and his kingdom (Rev. 19:11-21). Revelation agrees with the sequence in II Thessalonians 2. Before the Second Coming there must be the Antichrist. For Jesus, Paul, and John the Antichrist always appears before the return of Christ (see: Two Events before the Lord Returns).

Also during the Great Tribulation, believers will suffer and be martyred. This suffering is before the return of the Lord. The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) reveals “the soul of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” They cry out for God to avenge their blood. But they were told that “they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was complete.” Revelation 7:9 makes reference to “a great multitude” that will be killed during the Great Tribulation, and verse 14 states that the multitude is composed of believers who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They are saved; they are the people of God; they belong to Christ; they are part of the bride; they have been added to the Church. Chapter 14:13 says: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” Those who die are “blessed” because they are “in the Lord.” And in 14:12 the believers who face the end-time are called “saints,” the same term used by Paul in his greetings to a number of the churches. Revelation 17:6 makes references to “the martyrs of Jesus.” This suffering is the experience of believers before the Lord returns. In Chapters 6-18, the suffering is described, while the Lord’s return is depicted in Chapter 20.

Gundry in his book, The Church and the Tribulation, has the following comment on the phrase, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev. 14:13):

Of special interest is the reference to those who “die in the Lord” (14:13). The term “Lord” refers to Christ, as it usually does in the NT after the gospels (see especially Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:9-11). Hence, to “die in the Lord” is equivalent to dying in Christ. Yet “the dead in Christ” shall rise at the rapture of the Church (I Thess. 4:16-18). Walvoord even writes that the phrase “the dead in Christ” is a technical term for deceased members of the Church. The resemblance between “the dead in Christ” and the dead who die in the Lord” strikingly points toward the conclusion that those who “die in the Lord” during the tribulation are among the “dead in Christ who will rise at the rapture (cf. also I Cor. 15:18). If so, the rapture must follow the tribulation, during which those saints “die in the Lord.”

Note the descriptions in Revelation of the believers on earth during the Great Tribulation, many of which are killed for their faith:

the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God (6:9);

the servants of our God (7:3);

the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7:14);

the saints ( 8:3; also 13:10; 14:12; 17:6);

my two witnesses (11:3);

the dead who die in the Lord (14:13);

the martyrs of Jesus (17:6);

come out of her, my people (18:4);

His servants (19:2, 5);

His wife (19:7);

those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9).

These fifteen passages describe the people of God in different ways, and they all refer to one people, the same people. The people are referred to as “saints,” those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood on the Lamb”; some have “been slain for the word of God” and have died “in the Lord.” Others are “the martyrs of Jesus.” The Lord refers to them as “My people” and they are said to be “His wife.” Such is the description in Revelation of God’s people on the earth during the Great Tribulation; all of them are uniquely related to Christ. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus simply referred to them as “the elect” (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31). It is the elect that suffer tremendously before the Lord’s final deliverance.

Designations in Revelation of God’s people are simply synonymous for the one word “elect” used by Jesus. Whatever the designation, they all belong to Christ who saved them. In spite of their plight during the time of great trouble while Antichrist is railing against God, there will be those who are true to the Lord who purchased them; but many of them will pay the ultimate price for their faith by experiencing martyrdom. All of these designations by John and the one by Jesus (“elect”) refer to the saved that suffer during the Tribulation. It is these, as well as all other believers that the Lord comes to take to Himself at the end of the Great Tribulation (see: The “Elect” in the Olivet Discourse).

The important point is that the deliverance of the people of God comes after the Tribulation, not before the Great Tribulation. In Revelation their deliverance is in Chapter 19, whereas Chs. 6-18 describe the period of the Great Tribulation. The sequence is definite. And this sequence is in agreement with both the Olivet Discourse and Paul’s teaching in II Thessalonians 2.

Toward the end of the Tribulation Jesus affirms: “Behold, I am coming as a thief” (Rev. 16:15). The obvious conclusion is that His coming (erchomai; the same word used in Jo. 14:3) has not taken place; it is still future at this point in the book of Revelation. And these words are spoken during the judgment of the bowls that are poured out on the earth. Not only does He affirm that He is coming; He states that He is coming “as a thief”—the very concept that Dispensationalists attach to the Rapture. They constantly make the point that the Rapture will be unexpected—“one will be taken and the other left”—and could happen at any moment. The Lord will, “as a thief,” come and take His Church to heaven. But in the book of Revelation, during the Great Tribulation, the Lord announces that He is “coming as a thief.”

But He is coming as a thief to the unsuspecting world. Believers are “sons of light and sons of the day” and are not part of “the night nor of darkness” (I Thess. 5:5). Paul plainly affirms that the Second coming will not “overtake” the believer as a “thief” (I Thess. 5:4), for the believer will be expecting the Lord. He will be aware that the Great Tribulation is covering the earth, and the believer will know that the end is near. Jesus speaks of this time: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Lu. 21:28).

For believers who have suffered for the faith throughout history and who will suffer during the Great Tribulation the coming (parousia) of the Lord is the “blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13). Revelation 19:11-16 describes this future event:

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Earlier in the book John states: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall see Him” (1:7). Revelation 19:11-16 reveals what those eyes will see. It will be a cosmic spectacle. In all of His majesty the Lord will descend, followed by the armies of heaven. What an unbelievable scene!

In the Revelation this glorious return is after the Great Tribulation. In fact it brings an end to that dreadful time. For when He comes the beast (political leader) and the false prophet (religious leader) will be cast alive into the lake of fire (19:20), and those who followed them will be killed by the sword of the KING OF KINGS (v. 21), providing for the vultures of the air a great feast (vs. 17-18). Thus, the sequence of events in the Revelation places the return of Christ at the end of the Great Tribulation. At that time the dead will be raised first; in other words, there will be a resurrection. Revelation 20:6 states: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death will have no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”

After the Tribulation, the Lord will return; and the dead will be raised. This is similar to I Thessalonians where Paul states that “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). And it reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 about the angels gathering together “His elect” (v. 31). Matthew, Thessalonians, and Revelation all agree on the order of end-time events: first, the Tribulation, and second, the return of Christ, accompanied by a resurrection.

Note the word “first” in Revelation 20:6. What does “first” mean? “First” means “first.” This is the “first resurrection,” and it takes place at the end of the Great Tribulation and before the Millennium. How can this resurrection be called the “first” if one took place seven years earlier before the Great Tribulation, as claimed by the Dispensationalists? They affirm that the Rapture of I Thessalonians 4:11-18 takes place at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. The dead in Christ are raised (a resurrection) and the living in Christ are changed; they (the Church) then rise to meet the Lord in the air, returning with Him to heaven for the duration of the Tribulation. But John calls the resurrection at the end of the Great Tribulation the “first resurrection.” If the Dispensationalists are right, how can this resurrection in Revelation 20:6 be called the “first” when one occurred seven years earlier? “First” means “first.” This simple word undermines the total system of Dispensationalism.

There is no problem if one equates I Thessalonians 4:11-18 with Revelation 20:6. John speaks of a “first resurrection,” while Paul in Thessalonians is describing in more detail John’s “first resurrection.” I Thessalonians 4:11-18 is commentary on “the first resurrection” of Revelation 20:6. God’s Word is to be unified not compartmentalized.

It should be noted before moving on that Revelation speaks of a “first resurrection” (20:5-6) and states that “the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (v. 5). Obviously, there will be two resurrections separated by 1,000 years. On this the Scriptures are plain. It would seem that if the Lord is coming before the Great Tribulation and then again after the Tribulation, the Scriptures would be as plain on that topic as they are with regard to the resurrection of the dead. Very plainly, it seems, they would state that the Second Coming is in two stages. But the Scriptures do not. It is best to accept the simply statement rather than forcing the statement to conform to an assumption.

Dispensationalists affirm that at the Rapture only those believers who comprise the Church will be gathered to the Lord and that during the time of the Tribulation the Church will be in heaven with the Lord, enjoying the marriage supper of the Lamb. But this scenario is inconsistent with the sequence of events in Revelation. In Chapter 19, at the end of the Tribulation, the following announcement is made: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (v. 7). It is an announcement that the time “has come,” not that it has already happened. The wife has made herself ready and is awaiting the Groom. And the time is after the Tribulation.

In verse 9 John is told: “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” Both of these verses in their natural reading indicate that it is time for the supper and that it is about to happen. They do not convey the idea that the supper has been taking place during the previous seven years. In spite of their plight during the time of great trouble and while Antichrist is railing against God, there will be those who are true to the Lord who purchased them. They anticipate what is going to happen not what has been taking place the previous seven years. The union with Christ and the marriage supper with Him is still ahead, but the time is close. Then in verses 11-16 is the description of the coming “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Christ is coming to defeat His enemies and to be joined to His people. After the “first resurrection” is “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And both are after the Great Tribulation. The sequence of events in the book of Revelation places the Second coming of Christ at the end of the Great Tribulation.

The teaching that a resurrection of saints
takes place at the beginning of the Tribulation
is an assumption utterly unsupported
by the Scriptures that teach resurrection
and it is contradicted by Revelation 20.
George Ladd

Since the Church does have tribulation now,
the tribulational character of the seventieth week
does not militate against the presence of the Church.

The blessedness of the blessed hope
does not consist in exemption from persecution and trial,
but in seeing the Savior face to face.
Robert H. Gundry

A bold reading of Revelation will burrow a recurring impression
that most of the book is about the tribulation.
And it is addressed to the Church!
Arthur Katterjohn

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