Between Revelation 3 and 4: The Timing of the Rapture

Various individuals will state categorically that there is no mention of the rapture in the Bible. Since we are at the Revelation 2-3 / Revelation 4 juncture where I believe the rapture is timed in the book of Revelation, I thought this would be a good time to address this topic before moving into the rest of Revelation. We'll cover the rapture first, and then move into the rest of Chapter 4. A certain amount of this information is taken from previous articles I've written on the subject.

What is the Rapture?

What permanent outcomes do we have to look forward to as Christians? There are two outcomes that will occur, depending on whether we have died or are still living when Christ returns. In the first scenario, we die before Christ returns. Our body decays to dust to await the resurrection of the body at the rapture, and our soul/spirit is taken to Heaven. If we are alive when He returns, we will be reunited with Christ in the air as he raptures His church and takes all who are ready to heaven.

For all the times the word rapture is used by Christians today, the word itself does not appear in most Bible translations I have. However, the process that is meant when Christians speak of the rapture is clearly prophesied in the Bible. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks of being caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

4:18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

There will be no signs to look for concerning the rapture. When it occurs, there will be a mighty shout, there will be a trumpet blast when the dead in Christ rise and when those who are alive are caught up in the air, but it will be too fast for anyone to change their heart and get right with God. It will simply happen and be done.

1 Corinthians 15:51-58:

15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

15:55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

15:57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Those who have died, will be joined to their resurrected bodies and those bodies, along with those of Christians who are alive and ready for His coming will be changed to an incorruptible state which will be ready to live forever with Christ in heaven.

Titus 2:11-13:

2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

2:12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;

2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ;

This must indeed be the hope for every Christian in this and every future age if God tarries.

Christians, don't let down your guard and miss the time of His appearing. For those of you who haven't yet made a decision to follow Christ, don't delay. It is truly going to be very hard to become a Christian once the church is raptured. If you were playing around with Christianity before but hadn't made a decision, it is going to be very hard to go back.

Its Timing

When will these things come about? Every generation (including Paul's) expected that the time could be immediate. Paul certainly expected that it could be in his generation, and spread that word to all the churches he founded. Yet when he reached the end of his time on earth, he had just as much faith in Jesus and the gospel message as he had after Jesus first confronted him on the road to Damascus. He was trying to live each day as Christ wanted him to live, regardless of the surroundings and circumstances. He lived each day as if it was his last, doing God's will to the best of his ability. It would be great if all churches today and all in this body - myself included - were doing as good a job as Paul was, knowing that the rapture of the church could still occur at any time.

There are many interpretations of prophecy in Daniel and Revelation which try to pin down a better time as to when the rapture must occur. Many radical splinter groups have made horrible names for themselves and hurt the work of Christ in picking dates that later proved wrong.

About the only thing that can be done is to place the time in the context of other Biblical events which prophecy says must occur. In mainstream Christianity, there are three general schools of thought. Listing them in order of time, the first is that the rapture will come before the time of tribulation, the second that it will come at the midpoint in the tribulation, and the third and least popular view is that it will be at the end of the tribulation. The exact view depends at least in part in the view of the rest of the prophecies and their order.

I don't believe there will be 3 1/2 years or 7 years of fulfilled scriptural prophecy which will lead up to the rapture. I happen to believe that scripture indicates the time of the rapture of the Church will be sometime before the tribulation begins. For those here who are of the mid-persuasion, I will give my scriptures to back up my point of view. Any scriptures you would like to present for an alternate view would be welcome.

I know that if you hold an opinion on the subject, that opinion is probably held firmly if you have studied it at all. It is one of those basic gut opinions which is hard to change once set. Little that people say seems able to change a mind. I count myself among that group. For those of you who don't agree I only ask that you write down the scriptures and study them yourselves. Try to listen with an open heart to the message and to what God says to you. Ask for God's illumination. I may not change any minds, but it is something I feel strongly about, and something that I feel can be a dangerous thing to believe incorrectly - especially if the rapture actually occurs before you believe and teach that it will.

I am going to present some of my thoughts and interpretations along with those of others. Most of the scripture references and some of the commentary comes from abridged comments from Dake. Other occasional thoughts and scriptures comes from a book called Bible Doctrines by P.C. Nelson.

About the only thing that I will say with absolute certainty is that it will happen. In my pre-tribulation view, the people remaining on earth after the rapture will have the best sign of all to mark the beginning of the end of this age of those mentioned in Matthew 24 where Christ gives the great Olivet prophecy.

Its Timing According to 2 Thessalonians 2

2 Thessalonians 2:1-9

2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

2:2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

2:4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

2:5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

2:6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

2:7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

2:8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

2:9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

2:10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

Dissecting this passage gives clear insight into the timing of the rapture of the church, the revelation of the anti-Christ, and the day of the Lord. I believe that this section of scripture is primarily written as a warning to those who miss the rapture as follows:

  1. In the first verse, Paul specifically refers to the time when we are to be gathered together with Christ. As with the other passages we read above, it is clear that this signifies the meeting when Christ comes in the air for the resurrection of the bodies of the dead believers and the rapture of the church. This event will be the most significant sign to anyone looking that the times - they are a changing. But not all will be ready.
  2. Paul continues his message to those who are left behind. He warns that they not be shaken in mind or troubled by any spirit, word, or any letter that appears to come from those in spiritual authority saying that the day of Christ - the second advent is at hand.
  3. Verse 3 continues with a warning about what will happen before the second advent - specifically, in the time period between the rapture and the second advent. Many will fall away. Without a Christian influence, most will fall away into the clutches of Satan. There will be supposed Christians who may see what has happened and truly get right with God. Remember that the Holy Spirit is not removed, and the Word of God certainly will not be removed at the time of the rapture. However, the destruction that pulling Christians from the world will cause, in and of itself, will create a dedicated hatred against Christianity like the world has never seen. At that point, verse 3 reveals that the son of perdition - the Antichrist - will be revealed.
  4. Verse 4 describes the Antichrist in more detail and tells of some of the things he will do. If you remember our discussions on Daniel, this New Testament description matches prophecy after prophecy about the last pre-Millennial world ruler.
  5. In verse 5, Paul reminds the church that when he was present with them, he explained all of this to them.
  6. In verse 6 he expresses confidence that now they understand what must occur before the Antichrist is revealed and the day of the Lord (the second advent) comes.
  7. In verse 7 he states that the spirit of the Antichrist - a mystery of iniquity - was even at work in Paul's day - and that God will continue to allow the spirit to work in a limited form until some point in time. At that point, when 'he' - the withholder of verse 6 - is taken out of the way, the Antichrist will be revealed.

    There are only three things which hinder lawlessness today:

    The first two of these will remain after the rapture and during the tribulation, although the government in many parts of the world will be changed. The only one which can be removed is the church - the true body of Christ, and by scripture that is by the rapture. Since this scripture indicates that the Antichrist will rise after the hinderer is removed, and other scriptures point out that the Antichrist rises at the start of the tribulation (the rider of the white horse), this pushes the time of the rapture to before his rise to power or pre-tribulation.

  8. The remaining scriptures describe some more of the Antichrist, his power, and his destruction at the second advent - the day of the Lord.

For me, this is probably the hardest scripture make fit any other time than pre-tribulation.

Its Timing According to 1 Thessalonians 5

The second passage I want to refer to is found in 1 Thessalonians, right after the discussion we read above about the rapture itself:

1 Thessalonians 5:1-10:

5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.

5:2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.

5:3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

5:4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

5:5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

5:7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.

5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.

5:11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

This whole passage is speaking of the day of the Lord, and the travails which precede it. Paul says clearly in verse 9 that God has not appointed Christians to wrath but to obtain salvation by Christ. In verse 11, he says this should be a comfort to us. After pointing out the travails which occur in the tribulation time before the day of the Lord at the end of this age and the start of the Millennium, this reference to Christ being our salvation and God not appointing Christians to this wrath also points to a rapture before the tribulation.

Its Timing According to Revelation

The last section of scripture is in the book of Revelation itself. First, I would like to review a bit about its basic structure starting with what John is commanded by Jesus to write since we have been in Daniel for some weeks.

Revelation 1:18-20:

1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

1:19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;

1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

In this passage, Christ commands that John write the things which he has seen - the vision in verses 12 through 20, the things which are, chapter 2:1 through 3:22, and the things which shall be hereafter, comprising the rest of Revelation. The revelation of the character of Christ in chapter 1 is part of the things which John has seen:

Revelation 1:8

1:8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation describe the church and form the body of the things which are. They give direct challenges of God to the church to get in line with what God desires, clean up their faults, and do Christ's work. How many times does Jesus say?

Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee.

Then, Christ or His agents begin describing the things which are to come. This occurs in the first verse of chapter 4. The word hereafter in 4:1 is from the Greek meta tauta - meaning after these things. What can it be after except the church age?

Revelation 4:1-4:

4:1 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.

4:2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

4:3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

4:4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

Dake comments that these elders are the leaders of those who have been raptured. There are 24, signifying either the order of the old priesthood which had 24 elders or the 12 tribes and 12 apostles. He comments that the clothing in white in heaven is reserved for Christ and the saints. Likewise, the crowns of gold and thrones are promised to believers and those who overcome. These are present in heaven directly after the closing of the church age, and before any of the main prophetical events of the rest of Revelation have occurred. Clearly, there are Old Testament and New Testament saints who have already died and who are in heaven now which he could have seen.

However, it is significant to me that the church is mentioned 19 times in chapters 1 through 3 of Revelation as the seven churches' works are examined. The word church is very popular. Once chapter 3 closes, the church is not mentioned again until the conclusion in Revelation 22:6-21. For me, this is just as significant as that of 2 Thessalonians 2. If the church isn't raptured between the end of chapter 3 and the start of chapter 4, then when?

There is the rapture of the 144,000 sealed man-child, the resurrection of the tribulation saints, and the resurrection of the two witnesses, but no mention of the rapture of the church. The man-child and witnesses have particular specific identities and functions. The tribulation saints are all martyred. Yet the earlier scriptures on the rapture of the church indicate a transformation of those who are living. None of these seem to fit with any of the resurrected or rapture groups here.

Although not a direct scriptural argument, the entire tone of the writing of the apostles seems to also point to a pre-tribulation rapture. I noted before that they expected to be raptured at any time. Some of these can be found in the following scriptures taken from the introductions to two of the Epistles.

1 Corinthians 1:7-10:

1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:

1:9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;

1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

Paul doesn't state that Jesus delivers the saints from a current wrath but from a future wrath. There is indeed a different level of tribulation which begins in the last 3 1/2 years of the total tribulation period. However, to imply that there is no wrath of God being poured out in the first 3 1/2 years is wrong. The wrath of God begins at the Sixth Seal, and there is a permissive aspect to God causing the first 5 seals to be opened which certainly are detrimental to the well-being of the inhabitants of the Earth with the rise of the Antichrist, wars, famine, and death and hell rampant because of them. As the remainder of the seals and the first six trumpet judgments occur before the midpoint of the tribulation marked by the 7th trumpet, there is certainly a lot of God's wrath being poured out. Yet 1 Thessalonians 1:10 says Christ comes to deliver the church from that wrath.

Mid and Post Tribulation Teachings

Further, if the rapture was to occur mid-tribulation or even post-tribulation, then the apostles would have been giving advice concerning definite tribulation signs to look for. Instead, they point to looking toward the sky for the coming of Christ in the air.

There will be no mistaking the tribulation on the earth for anyone who has studied Revelation. In my personal opinion, a teaching which says that the rapture is mid-tribulation or post-tribulation is dangerous for the following reasons. It will be hard to mistake the first five seals. Certainly by the sixth seal with the sun being made black and the moon as blood, with the accompanying great earthquake, it will be clear that Revelation is being fulfilled.

A pre-tribulation teaching means you must be ready at all times for the rapture to occur. A mid or post-tribulation teaching gives you many signs to look for to get ready. If the pre-tribulation teaching is an incorrect interpretation of scripture, no great loss. Those who believe as I do will see the signs in the first 3 1/2 years, conclude that we were wrong, and wait for the mid or post tribulation rapture.

On the other hand, those who believe in a mid or post tribulation rapture and who aren't living a life that is quite right with God may well be very surprised if we pre-tribulation people are correct instead. They would have little concern that they would miss the rapture, human nature being what it is, regardless of the type of life they are leading, It would always be clear that there was a definite time coming in which you had to get your life in order, and then you would be set. You would only have to live completely right for a short time.

I say this fully aware of the many who will die during the 3 1/2 years of the lesser tribulation. But realistically, even in trying times, the vast majority of non-suicidal and non-terminal humans don't wake up saying that today is the day I am going to die. A person lives out the day under the absolute certainty that they will be alive to go to sleep tonight. I suspect it will be no different during the tribulation.

Conclusions

This has gone into the start of chapter 4. We will pick up with the rest of chapter 4 and chapter 5 in the next lesson. This will take us from the view of heaven to the start of Daniel's 70th week which commences with chapter 6.

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Dake excerpts taken from Dake's Annotated Reference Bible, © 1961, 1963 by Finis Jennings Dake, and is reproduced on our web site with permission from representatives of Dake Publishing.