The Rapture in Revelation
There are several foreshadows of the rapture in the book of Revelation. To grasp the picture of the raptured church, we must understand the vision of John. We have already looked at the throne of God, but we will re-examine what is applicable here. Look at the first glimpse of Jesus’ throne found in Revelation 4:
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.
4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.
The first thing I want to examine is John’s description of Jesus on the throne. “He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance”. Now let’s go back to the Old Testament where the images of this passage are explained. Look at Exodus 28:
15 " You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it.
16 "It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width.
17 "And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row;
18 "the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond;
19 "the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst;
20 "and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings.
21 "And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes.
29 "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually.
30 "And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.
When God established the priesthood in Israel, He commanded that a breastplate of judgment be constructed. The priest would wear this breastplate when interceding for Israel. The priest of God wore this breastplate to symbolize the coming Messiah who would be the true High Priest and bear the judgment of God’s people. Also note that the first stone on the breastplate in Exodus was a sardius and the last stone was jasper. This is the title we saw that Jesus gave Himself repeatedly throughout the book of Revelation. He is the Beginning and the End – in Him all things are fulfilled and complete. The emerald colored rainbow symbolizes hope. After the flood, God placed a rainbow in the sky to remind mankind of the promise of God. The rainbow around the throne testifies that those around the throne are under the promise and not the wrath of God. All of the symbolic religious practices of the Old Testament point to the future promises to be fulfilled in Christ.
Next look at the 24 elders on thrones around the throne of Christ. We can clearly understand this description also by looking back to the Old Testament and examining it in light of 1 Chronicles 24. The tribe of Levi was set apart as priests of Israel for service in the temple of God. Once God had established Israel under the rule of Kind David, they were no longer a wandering nation. During Israel’s wandering years, the temple of God was in tents and the Levites broke down the temple and carried the temple items until God instructed the people set up camp again. The Levites would then set up the temple and prepare it for worship. Now that Israel was established and the population had grown so that the Levites were too great in number to all serve in the temple, David selected 24 priests to serve in the temple. The twenty-four priests were representatives of all the priests. The 24 elders of the priests served and attend the needs of the people for worship.
The twenty-four elders in Revelation 4 are selected representatives of the people of God. The scripture teaches that all believers are priests and kings. These twenty-four represent all believers. I believe that they are literal thrones and literal believers, but they are selected to represent all believers in Christ. According to Jesus, twelve of the thrones are for the twelve apostles (Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30). Jesus stated that these twelve thrones are to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. I believe that the remaining twelve thrones are for the Gentiles elders who will reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12).
When we look at Revelation 4 we see that all Twenty-four thrones have elders sitting on them. The reward of reigning with Christ has already been fulfilled even though the events of Revelation are yet to take place. The 24 elders on the thrones would indicate that the church age has passed. Jesus now fulfills all that was represented by breastplate of judgment in the Old Testament. We also see that the throne of hope is a place of judgment for the saints. The Bible teaches that all believers will be judged according to their works. This is not a judgment of salvation, but of reward. There are only two thrones of judgment mentioned in Revelation. The throne of hope (or the Bema seat of Christ) and the Great White Throne judgment found at the end of Revelation where hope is now gone and the unredeemed are judged out of God’s books. The saints will not be judged for their works until after Jesus has gathered the church.
Another key point to note is the description of the elders. The 24 elders all have crowns. Crowns are one of the rewards for the saints. The Bible tells us that the crown Jesus gives is delivered on the Day the Lord appears for the saints. Let me stop here for a moment and clarify that there is a difference between tribulation and the wrath of God. We will get more into this shortly, but the church is not guaranteed to be trial-free during the end times. The Day for the saints of God is hope; the Day of the Lord for the world is wrath. The saints have a Day of reckoning and the lost have a Day of reckoning. The saints Day is for merit based on faithfulness and obedience out of a love for God, but the lost is will be judged by their works. The Bible states repeatedly that the works of man is sin, but the works God produces through us is righteous. Look now at 2 Timothy 4:
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Notice when the crown is given – on that Day when we stand before Christ at His appearing. Compare this to Revelation 22:
12 " And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.
Now let’s try to get a broader view so we see the whole picture. Jesus stated that when He comes for the church, His reward will be with Him. The Bible also states that the crown of righteousness is given to all believers who rejoice at the appearance of Jesus Christ. The faithful servant who is watching and doing will rejoice to see his Master returning. He will be rewarded and will reign with Christ. The lazy servant who is not doing what he was set apart to do will not love his Lord’s return. In the vision of Revelation 4, John hears a trumpet calling him to come up into the suddenly opened window in heaven. John is caught up and immediately sees the throne of Jesus Christ and the hope of His promise around the throne. The 24 elders around the throne already have their crowns (which agrees with the promise that the reward is given at His coming). The elders are already in the positions God has promised to those who are faithful. In the first 3 chapters of Revelation, the focus is on the church on earth. After John is caught up in the spirit, the focus of the church is now around the throne of the Lamb. From this point on, the assemblies of God (or the church) is never again mentioned in Revelation. The Bible also states that there will never be a time when God will not have a light on the earth and the Gospel will be preached even during the Tribulation. We will examine this in-depth as we proceed through Revelation.
There are many alternate theories, but none agree with the plainly stated text of scripture. All other theories require rewording and reinterpretation of the scriptures. It should be scripture that instructs our doctrine, not our doctrine that interprets scripture. We don’t need theories. All we need is to examine the whole Bible and allow scripture to teach the meaning of scripture. I see no other way for the saints of God to have their reward without standing before the judgment seat of Christ because this is what the Bible teaches. The Bible provides no other judgment of merit for the church other than the mercy seat of Christ that occurs after Jesus comes for His church.
The timing of the rapture is debatable, but I don’t see how this event described in Revelation 4 can be argued away. The beauty of the book of Revelation is that we are not left to figure it out on our own. People misinterpret this prophecy because they set their own intellect or imagination as the key for interpretation. When we become the judges of truth, we will assuredly be wrong. God has not left us without a witness. We can clearly interpret the Bible based on the Bible itself. God provided scripture so we could have understanding. The Bible warns us “that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation”(2 Peter 1:20). Scripture is interpreted by the witness of scripture through the spiritual discernment of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God will never reveal anything that does not agree with scripture. As long as we allow the whole revelation of God to enlighten what is a mystery and to un-cloud what is clouded, we will be on a sure foundation.
The Rapture in light of what God has done in the past
One of the sure principles of scripture is that God never changes. What God has done in the past is the same as God will do in the future. As the book of Ecclesiastes states, “there is nothing new under the sun”. The scenery may change, but the work of God does not. If we want to see how God will deal with His people in the end times, we only need to examine how God dealt with His people in the Old Testament.
Judgment of Babylon
Before Babylon is judged and destroyed by God, He calls His people out. Look at Revelation 18:
4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.
5 "For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
6 "Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her.
7 "In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ’I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’
8 "Therefore her plagues will come in one day -- death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.
Even if this event is after the church has been called out, God will have many of His people throughout the world. As we will study later, the Great Tribulation will also be the greatest time of evangelism this world has yet to see. The point to be made here is that God always calls His people out before His judgment falls. The New Testament repeatedly promises that we who walk in faith in Christ will not experience the wrath of God. Look at the following passages:
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
1 Thessalonians 1:
9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:
9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Over and over, the Bible tells us that God’s wrath will be upon the children of disobedience, not on the children of God. We are saved from wrath through Christ and we are given confidence that Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come. We are not only delivered from the wrath at the judgment seat of the lost, but also from the wrath to come upon the whole world (Revelation 3:10).