Today our family completed its study of Revelation 4:1-6a in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The passage describes John’s being ushered into the throne room in heaven. Yesterday we read Connelly’s exposition of it and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it, and today we considered Connelly’s look at alternative views as to when the Rapture will occur.
1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)
This is the beginning of the prophetic section of Revelation. Connelly says that John’s seeing a door into heaven standing open and his being invited to come up hints at the Rapture, Jesus’ return in the air to catch away believers. “From this point on, John sees events on the earth from the perspective of heaven—just like the church will see the events of the Tribulation unfold. The church does not appear again on earth until Jesus’ return is told about in Revelation 19. Believers or saints are mentioned in the intervening chapters, but these are references to people who believe in Jesus during the Tribulation. The church-age believers are taken to heaven in the rapture before the Tribulation begins.” (Douglas Connelly, The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007, pages 60-61) Not all scholars agree with Connelly that the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation. Connelly summarizes in a break-out section the main alternative views of when the Rapture occurs, which we discussed this morning and which I’ll comment on below after the Serendipity Bible questions.
On being caught up into heaven by the Spirit, John sees a throne with someone with a glorious appearance sitting on it whom Revelation 4:8 identifies as the Lord God Almighty. Around the throne are twenty-four other thrones with twenty-four elders sitting on them. Different suggestions have been made as to who the elders are–an order of angels, the saints of all ages, the church. Connelly argues that John’s calling them elders indicates that they are humans and not angels and that their being dressed in white and having crowns of gold on their heads, things which Jesus had promised to overcomers in his letters to the seven churches, suggests that they are leaders or representatives of the church. All church-age believers have been raptured, clothed in garments of purity, and given crowns of reward, and they are now seated around God’s throne to see and participate in what happens next.
Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
These questions are the DIG questions asked about the passage from the questions on Revelation 4 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups with a fourth question added to the three questions asked in DIG, 2. The answers are what I remember of how we answered them.
DIG, 1. Where does this scene actually take place: In the afterlife? In some perfect order of things after this world has passed away? Or on the level of spiritual reality here and now (as in (Eph 2:6), where good and evil are unmasked to be seen for what they really like?
After initial disagreement, we agreed that the scene actually takes place in the afterlife.]
DIG, 2. Who is the figure on the throne? What is he like? What are the 24 elders like? (Note: 24 seems to represent all of God’s people, coming from the 12 tribes before Christ and the 12 apostles after Christ; see 21:12-14.) [Connelly says, “I think the best view of who these elders are is that they are leaders or representatives of the entire church.” Who do you think that the 24 elders are?]
The figure on the throne is God the Father. He is glorious. We didn’t discuss what the 24 elders looked like. We thought that they are either the church or all of God’s people.
Of the four scholars whose commentaries I’ve been consulting regularly in our study, Craig S. Keener thinks that they are God’s people as a whole, Robert H. Mounce thinks that they are an order of angels, John F. Walvoord thinks that they represent the church, and Warren W. Wiersbe thinks that they symbolize the people of God in heaven.
Views of When the Rapture Will Occur
Connelly’s view of when the Tribulation occurred is called the pre-Tribulation rapture view. In a break-out section he describes three other views: the post-Tribulation rapture view, the mid-Tribulation rapture view, and the partial rapture view. According to the post-Tribulation rapture view, at the end of the Tribulation Christians are raptured and glorified and immediately return with Jesus. According to the mid-Tribulation rapture view, about the middle of the Tribulation before the most severe judgment occurs Christians are raptured. According to the partial rapture view, before the Tribulation prepared Christians are raptured but unprepared Christians are left behind to go through the Tribulation.
In our group study we considered just the two most popular views, the pre-Tribulation and the post-Tribulation rapture views. What we did was to read the arguments for each presented by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), a book recommended by Connelly for use in studying the book of Revelation despite Grudem’s favouring the post-Tribulation rapture view. Below are brief statements of the arguments. For a fuller account of them, see https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/the-time-of-the-tribulation/.
Arguments for the pre-Tribulation rapture view:
“1. The entire period of the tribulation will be a time of the outpouring of God’s wrath on all the earth. Therefore it would not be appropriate for Christians to be on earth at that time.
“2. Jesus promises in Revelation 3:10, ‘I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.’ This passage indicates that the church will be taken out of the world before that hour of trial comes.
“3. If Christ returns after the tribulation and defeats all his enemies, then where will the unbelievers come from who are necessary to populate the millennial kingdom? The pretribulation position, however, envisions thousands of Jewish believers who have become Christians during the tribulation and who will go into the millennial kingdom in nonglorified bodies.
“4. This view makes it possible to believe that Christ could come at any moment (his coming before the tribulation) and yet that many signs must be fulfilled before he comes (his coming after the tribulation, when the signs will be fulfilled.” (Grudem, page 1132; Grudem gives responses to these arguments on pages 1132-33.)
An argument made by those holding the pre-Tribulation rapture view not noted by Grudem is that an interval is needed between Christ’s taking away the church before the tribulation and his coming to the earth with it after the tribulation. Henry Clarence Thissen observes: “It [the Scriptures] reveals that there are two things at least that must take place between these two events: the judgment of the believers and the marriage supper of the Lamb…. In addition to these events in heaven, there are also developments on earth in preparation for the kingdom. God will be preparing a company of redeemed to enter into the millennial kingdom. This will include believing Jew and Gentile alike.” (Henry Clarence Thissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1979, page 375).
Arguments for the post-Tribulation rapture view:
“1. The New Testament nowhere clearly says that the church will be taken out of the world before the tribulation.… Moreover, it is very difficult to understand 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the only passage that explicitly speaks od the fact that the church will be ‘caught up’ (or ‘raptured’), to speak of the idea of a secret coming.
“2. The tribulation is quite clearly linked with the Lord’s return in some passages [such as Matthew 24:29-31].
“3. The idea of two separate returns of Christ (once for his church before the tribulation and then seven years later with his church to bring judgment on unbelievers) [is nowhere] explicitly taught in any passage, but it is simply an inference drawn from differences between various passages that describe Christ’s return from different perspectives. But ut is not at all difficult to see these passages as referring to a single event occurring at one time.” (Grudem, pages 1134-35)
The denomination to which my family belongs, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador, favours the pre-Tribulation rapture view, saying this in its General Constitution and By-Laws (1998, page 8): “The Rapture according to the Scriptures, takes place before what is known as the Great Tribulation. Thus, the saints, who are raptured at Christ’s coming, do not go through the Great Tribulation.”
However a leading scholar in a sister denomination, the Assemblies of God, gives this advice: “Let us not allow differences of opinions with respect to the time of the Rapture separate believers…. A ‘crown of righteousness’ is not limited to those who have right ideas about the Rapture, but is promised ‘to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Tim. 4:8). The commendation that we all want to hear is ‘well done, good and faithful servant!’ So let us all be about the Lord’s business and, at the same time, keep that longing for, that expectation of Christ’s coming, which might take place at any moment.” (Stanley M. Horton, Our Destiny, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1996, pages 133-34)