The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The coming scene in Heaven
We have here a change of guard. Whatever we may say about our text we are sure of this one thing: we have left the subject of the things that are in this present dispensation and we have entered into a new dispensation of time. As it says here in this first verse: “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” We have then entered into prophecy proper. Christ has declared to John that all things that we will now see in this book belong to the future. They are things that shall be hereafter. We have thus far in this book seen the things that John originally saw, Christ high and lifted up. We then saw the things that are. These are the things that define the present evil world. The defining point of the present age is the church waiting for the promise of the coming Christ. Now we see the coming of Christ. This begins in heaven. This will end in eternity.
Before we begin we must try to answer the question which our generation has often raised. When does this thing that is popularly called the rapture occur? First of all let us ask this question: is there even such a thing as the rapture? The word rapture refers to a quick removal. The word rapture does not appear anywhere in our English Bible but it has in the last thirty or forty years in Christian circles, and in non Christian circles, it has become the buzz word to describe the most popular doctrine of Christian theology. Even the secular world talks about the idea of rapture. There are, as we have said before three predominant views of prophecy. The question we must ask prophetically is this: Is Jesus Christ literally going to rule and reign on this earth? The three different views of prophecy split on this question. The pre-millennial position is the position that we hold and it is the only position that says that Christ is indeed going to return to this earth and rule and reign upon it. It says that all of the Old and New Testament that concern The Messiah ruling over this earth are to be taken literally. If the prophecies of the coming and ruling Christ are taken literally (barring whatever figurative language may be used to describe it) and that would include the theme of the second coming found in this book. Christ will rule the nations with a rod of iron. He will take the throne of David and rule for a thousand years. The Prince of Peace will come and that coming will be glorious. This is according to Paul the blessed hope of the Christian. It is only in this pre-millennial view that such an idea of the rapture is even possible. It is only in this view that prophecies are taken literally. Therefore, when it says that the trumpet shall sound (much like the trumpet in our text) and the dead in Christ shall rise and those [Christians] that are alive and remain on the earth shall be “caught up” to be with Christ in the air, the idea of the rapture is taken as a serious event of prophecy to come.
The other views answer the question of whether Christ is coming to reign differently. The a-millennial view says that all prophecy of the future is either to be taken as metaphors for what is going on presently or for things that have already occurred. The a-millennial view has no use prophecy future. They look for a coming Christ but not a Christ that is coming to rule and reign on this earth as promised. They would say that those promises of the Old Testament have been abolished (if they have not already allegorized them) and the New Testament prophecies do not really mean what they say. There is a disconnect with a-millennialism is that they will say that they believe that all the prophecies that looked forward to the first coming of Christ were literal but all those that speak of the second coming are allegorical. They believe that that Christ will come and judge all men in a general judgment and then off to eternity. There are no hard and fast hermeneutic rules for Bible study when they hold the a-millennial position. In this view there is no room for the idea of rapture as a separate prophetic event in time.
The third prophetic view is the post-millennial view. This view says that it is not Christ that rules and reigns on this earth but the “church” (that is not the local visible church of the New Testament but some universal invisible entity that they confuse with the Kingdom of God). This is a popular view with many television evangelists and evangelical organizations in our modern day. The theology that accompanies this view is known by many names: dominionism, Kingdom now, etc. It is originally a Roman Catholic idea that has now been vehemently adopted by so called evangelicals. In this view the church is to gain rule over the earth and reign over it. This too allegorizes all prophecy concerning the second coming of Christ and His reign on this earth as actually meaning that His church and not Him. So when it says that we are looking for the blessed hope they would say that we are actually looking for is the day which the “church” gains full control over this earth “in the stead of Christ.” Now the church is indeed the body of Christ it represents the coming Christ but we do not do so in the spirit of dominion but in the spirit of reconciliation. We plead with men “in the stead” of Christ to be saved and to be reconciled to God (II Cor. 5:18-21). We do not seek to conquer men we seek to convince them to receive Christ freely. Once again we see the folly in this reasoning. The prophecies of the first coming of Christ must be taken literally as meaning Christ Himself but the post-millennial view switches mid stream and says that the prophecies of the second coming of Christ (which is often found in the very same text with prophecies of the first coming) are not speaking of Christ literally but of the “church” figuratively. No, the blessed hope is the literal coming of Christ. There is little room in such a theology for rapture; as well, there is little room for the glory of Christ. This theology is all about glorifying man and not Christ.
The pre-millennial view is the only view that is both honoring to Christ and honoring to the Bible. In the pre-millennial view there is a demand for what we call rapture. The question is when the rapture or the gathering will occur. The obvious answer is that it will occur sometime before Christ returns to this earth. When Christ comes all believers will forever be with the Lord. The dead in Christ will rise. We sorrow for now but when the blessed hope comes all shall be made well. So the rapture will be before or at the coming of Christ. There is one specific period of time popularly known as the tribulation period that comes into play with this discussion. Daniel foretold of 70 weeks of time (or seventy sets of seven) that would occur before the Messiah would rule and reign upon this earth. This seventy weeks as we shall see later in our book concerns specifically God’s dealing with the nation of Israel. The first seven sets of seven years (49 years) were marked by the finishing of the temple. Between that event and the crucifixion there was another 62 sets of seven years (434 years). Seven years remain in the prophecy in which God will again deal with Israel and will set up His everlasting Kingdom (Dan. 9). We live in the age where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. We live in that parenthesis between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel. There is an amazing and undeniable correlation between the 70th week of Daniel, the 24th chapter of Matthew, and the book of Revelation. We will examine those correlations as we study the rest of this book. The 70th week of Daniel will mark the last seven years of time before the Christ steps foot on this earth. So what does this have to do with the rapture? The rapture is indelibly connected with the coming of Christ and will of necessity have to occur somewhere in relation to that last seven years of time. All theories of the rapture will fall into one of three categories (the term tribulation being synonymous with the coming 70th week: pre-tribulation rapture (any theory that has the rapture occurring at or near the beginning of the 70th week), mid tribulation rapture (any theory which has the rapture occurring during the 70th week), or post-tribulation rapture (any theory that has the rapture occurring at or near the end of the 70th week). Let us examine each one by one.
The post-tribulation view may take several forms. One form is to say that the second coming of Christ and the rapture are synonymous events. For instance, they would say that Jesus was describing the rapture and the coming of Christ as one event in the 24th chapter of Matthew: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt 24:30, 31). In this view they would say that the book of Revelation does not pinpoint a time for the rapture for the second coming is the rapture. A related view that falls into the post-millennial view concerns the last trump. This view says that “last trump” that Paul described in Corinthians corresponds to the last of the seven trumpets described in the book of revelation. They would say that the mystery of our translation corresponds to the mystery that is completed when the seventh trumpet sounds (I Cor. 15:51, 52, Rev. 10:7). The last trumpet they say is to occur within weeks of second coming just prior to God pouring His bowels of wrath upon this earth. If you are waiting for me to tell you what is wrong with this view I am afraid you will be somewhat disappointed in me. While I do not personally agree with this view I cannot argue with the validity of its reasoning. Just because you and I are saved does not mean that we will never experience tribulation. In fact we are promised tribulation. Those who use the pre-tribulation view as a false hope that we will not have to suffer in this life such views are sobering.
The mid-tribulation view is equally sobering to the escapist mindset. This also takes two popular forms among other. One is the view that the rapture of necessity occurs at the exact midpoint of the 70th week. The antichrist comes in peace for the first part of the coming week (i.e seven years). At the middle week he will be revealed as the antichrist when the abomination of desolation is set up. Paul seems to intimate that the Holy Spirit (which is in the believer) will hinder the revelation of that wicked one and it is not until the abomination of desolation that the Holy Spirit is removed and that wicked one sits in the temple of God proclaiming that he is God (II Thess. 2:2-10). Another view that falls into the mid-tribulation view is what has become popularly known as the pre-wrath rapture. We will discuss the idea of wrath shortly but it does bolster this view tremendously. It has been said by many that they the view one has of the rapture is the same as their definition of wrath. This view has the rapture taking place when the sixth seal is broken in the book of Revelation. It is there as we shall see that men will run to the hills realizing that the wrath of the Lamb has come. They would then argue that multitudes are seen in heaven being described as those that have come out of great tribulation. I have deep respect for this view even though I have come to disagree with it. I am sure of one thing; the events of surrounding the rapture will not occur as the fantasy peddlers of Hollywood have portrayed it.
Then comes to the pre-tribulation view: This is the view that I am presenting to you as we go through this book. I am presenting to you the view because it is what I believe best fits the major themes of prophecy concerning the second coming. It has been said that Christ has come to His own, He is coming for His own, and He will come again with His own. Surely the Lord will come with ten thousand of His saints as Enoch taught before the flood (according to Jude) and in this very book when Christ comes He is coming with an army of which I in faith believe that I will be with that number (as the famous song says). I do not believe in the pre-tribulation rapture because of this text before us tonight; although there are some interesting points. John saw a door opened in heaven. One day the doors of heaven will swing open wide and a call will go out for the believers to join their God there. John not only saw an open door but he heard a trumpet speaking with him. It was saying to John to come up to where God was. It could be that this was just talking about John as the Revelation unfolds or it could be a correlation to the trumpet that shall sound, the last trumpet, that will gather the people of God as the second trumpet sounded in the Old Testament to signaled the people of God to move. At the end of the day, though, these correlations are only conjecture. The only thing I can say for sure about this text is that it separates us from the discussion of the things that are and enters us into a discussion of the things that shall be. It really is not this particular verse that convinces me that the rapture has occurred but the things that follow in the fourth and fifth chapter. I will have to deal with those as we get to them. Before we get to those glorious points let me share with you some points that have convinced me of that the pre-tribulation view is the nearest to the truth. Not one of these points settles the matter or fully refutes the other points but they have been good enough to convince me.
First, consider the simple doctrine of the imminent return of Christ (John 14:2-3; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 4:16-17; 5:5-9). We are presently looking for Christ to come. We are not looking for events to happen (although events may occur that heighten our longing for Christ) we are looking for Christ to call us home. He will quickly and he will come as a thief in the night when the world is going about their daily business; as it was in the days of Noah. Two people will be walking down the road, or lying in a bed, or working in a field and one will be taken and the other left. It will happen in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye. This indeed is a blessed hope. Secondly, consider the doctrine of wrath. Paul when he was speaking of the second coming said that we (who are saved) are not appointed to wrath but to obtain salvation. What is God’s wrath which we are promised to escape as Noah escaped the flood or as Lot escaped the destruction of Sodom? Is the wrath of God the whole 70th week? Is it the last part of the week or the last half? I will let you answer that for yourself. In the last two chapters that dealt with the local churches of our dispensation we have seen promises that some would be cast into the bed of tribulation and promises to others that they will escape the hour (i.e. the space of time) that is coming to try the world. I do not think it a stretch to believe that now that we are dealing with the things that shall be hereafter that we are dealing with those specific times; especially when we consider the glorious scenes of the next two chapters which I have great hope that I will be a part of. Lastly, consider the doctrine of Israel. The 70th week of Daniel is something that concerns Israel. It is a different dispensation altogether. It is according to Jeremiah the time of Jacob’s trouble. Many have raised the question: what happen to the churches. After the third chapter it seems as if they were forgotten. I do not believe it was an oversight. God in this time is ceasing to deal with churches where there is neither Jew nor Greek and is now dealing with the Jew. This will become apparent especially when we deal the twelfth chapter. God has determined seven more years of time to deal with and draw the His chosen nation to a place of full repentance that will end when they see the one whom they pierced at His coming. As I said, these are not conclusive in proving the pre-tribulation view but they are convincing to me and I commend them to you. I commend to you the blessed hope that Christ will is coming for His own and it could be today. I believe with all my heart that we should be ready for rapture or for tribulation; while we hope and long for rapture we exercise ourselves to stand in the evil day.
I would like to see in the next two chapters the following glorious points of which I hope to share: the glory of God seen, the saints gathered around, the Spirit brooding, the angels worshipping, the saints joining the worship, the book becoming the focal point, a weakness revealed, a Victor proclaimed, a victor’s song sung, the angels in wonderment, all of creation singing, and the saints finding their grand purpose. Let us together look at these points.