1. EVIDENCE IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
1.1 The Church is not mentioned
In Revelation 1:12-16 Jesus appears before John on the Isle of Patmos in the form of a Judge; his appearance is both terrifying and magnificent. Under the power and presence of a righteous Judge, John falls at His feet as through dead (Rev. 1:17). After reassuring John, Jesus instructs him to “write, therefore what you have seen, what is now and what takes place later” (1:19). This declaration by Jesus can be broken into three parts:
- “What you have seen,” refers to Jesus’ appearance to John.
- “What is now,” refers to the letters to the churches and the Church Age.
- “What takes place later,” refers to the time from John being lifted up to heaven to the end of the age.
From Revelation 1:1 to 4:2, which includes the “What is now,” the word church/es is used 19 times. Then from Revelation 4:2, which is the “What takes place later,” where John is called up to heaven and the events of the Tribulation are revealed to him, there is no mention of the word church (ekklesia) again until Revelation 22:16, which is the summation, where Jesus explains the testimony of Revelation is “for the churches”. The Greek word ekklesia in its original meaning made reference to the citizens in a city who made up the government. When used to describe Christians the word indicates that Jesus exercises His authority through the Church, which is His ekklesia. So, the redemptive acts of Jesus would be through the Church. Yet the scriptures in Revelation speak of 144 000 Jewish believers from the twelve tribes of Israel (7:4), saints (13:7) and souls (6:9; 20:4), but no mention of the word Church. The duties of the Church to witness to all the world is taken over by the 144 000 Jewish believers (Rev. 7:4-8), the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3) and an angel (Rev. 14:6-12). God’s salvation plan for the world at that time is directly through the work of the 144 000, the warnings of the two witnesses and three angels. In the time the Church (ekklesia) should be at its most active there is no record of its achievements – its redemptive work. This only makes sense if the Church is no longer a factor, with the rapture having removed the power of the Church from the equation.
Further evidence that the Church is not present during the Tribulation is the phrase Jesus uses when speaking to all seven churches in Asia Minor, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). However, in Revelation 13:9-10, which is a warning to believers of the persecution they will face during the Tribulation, He merely says “he who has an ear, let him hear”. There is no mention of the Church. The only explanation for this edit of a repeated phrase spoken to believers is that, although there will be believers during the Tribulation, the Church will not be present.
To counter the lack of the word “Church” between Revelation 4 and 22:15 some post-Tribulationists will argue that the apostle John refers to the Church as saints in the book of Revelation. So, for example, the scripture “[the Antichrist] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:7), is proof that the Church will be present during the Tribulation. They support their argument by stating that the word “saint” is used more than 50 times in the New Testament, and in every instance it refers to the Church. So, the use of the term “saint” in Revelation by John must point to the existence of the Church during the Tribulation. The problem with this logic is that believers in the Old Testament were also called saints. One need only open a concordance to see that there are 16 references to Old Testament saints in the Book of Psalms alone. So, both Old Testament and New Testament believers are called saints in scripture. It is therefore logical that believers during the Tribulation, in the absence of the Church, will be referred to as saints.
One must also ask why the book of Revelation makes a distinction between Jewish believers and Gentile believers? Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 that we are all sons of God through faith in our Lord Jesus and that there should not be a distinction between Jew and Gentile believers. The only reason John, in writing the book of Revelation would make this distinction, is if the Church is no longer present.
1.2 John is caught up to heaven
The description of John’s being taken up to heaven (Rev. 4:1-2), is the same as Paul’s description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Both have:
- The voice of an angel.
- The trump of God.
- Being caught up to heaven.
These scriptures underline the fact that John’s being taken up to heaven – is a prophetic pointer to the Church being raptured – and it is important to note that this takes place before the first seal is broken and the first horseman of the apocalypse, the Antichrist, is revealed.
1.3. Seven lamps
When he is in heaven John sees seven lamps blazing before the throne of God. Symbolism is consistent throughout scripture, and Revelation 1:20b tells us that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (emphasis added). These seven churches represent all the churches through the Church period. Therefore, when John writes of seeing the seven lamps blazing before the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 4:5b), he is implying that the Church is in heaven – and again this is before the first seal of the scroll is broken by Jesus. The first seal releases the first judgement on the earth – the rider on the white horse, the false messiah, who goes forth to conquer. So, the Church is in heaven before the rise of the Antichrist.
1.4. 24 Elders
In Revelation 4:4 we have a description of 24 elders seated before the throne of God. These 24 elders are not made up of Old Testament saints, as the dead saints raised at the rapture are referred to as “the dead in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The resurrection of Old Testament saints will take place at a later date, most likely just prior to the White Throne Judgement of Revelation 20:11-15. Daniel 12:2 speaks of a resurrection of shame and everlasting contempt with the resurrection of the righteous, so this cannot be referring to the rapture. Therefore, the 24 elders must be representatives of the Bride of Christ.
David Hocking in his book The Coming World Leader gives evidence that the 24 elders represent the presence of the Church in heaven. He states that the number 24, when used for priests and singers represents the whole nation of Israel in 1 Chronicles 24. King David instituted a cycle of weekly watches, where the priests and singers would be on duty at the Temple Mount. This cycle repeated itself roughly twice a year. The priests would maintain the schedule of sacrifices, and the singers would be responsible for the worship during those times. There were 24 divisions of priests and 24 divisions of singers, who took turns representing the nation in the Temple. He says “It is not speculation, therefore, to suggest that the 24 elders represent the complete body of people in heaven while the Tribulation is happening.”
There is also the fact that John describes the 24 elders as sitting on thrones, dressed in white and wearing crowns (Rev. 4:4). These are all rewards promised to believers in the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.
- Sitting on thrones (Rev. 3:21).
- Dressed in white robes (Rev. 3:5).
- Wearing crowns of gold (Rev. 2:10).
These rewards would have been given to the elders at the Bema Judgement. The Bema Judgement Seat is not punitive (judging believers for sins committed), but rather a judgement of the believer’s faithfulness to Christ. Believers are saved by grace not works, but they are judged on their dedication in service to the Lord (1 Cor. 3:11-15, 15:58; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; Rev. 3:11-12). Scripture clearly shows that in the order of events, the examination of the believers before the Bema judgement seat follows directly after the rapture, followed by the awarding of the rewards for dedication and service. This indicates that John’s description of the 24 elders seated on thrones, dressed in white and wearing crowns means that the rapture has taken place and John has arrived in heaven, and sees the 24 elders wearing the rewards they were given at the Bema judgement seat of Christ. As this occurs before the breaking of the first seal and the start of God’s judgements, the rapture must precede the Tribulation.
Note: There are five different crowns awarded to believers for work done above and beyond the call of duty:
- The crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
- The incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
- The martyr’s crown (Rev. 2:10).
- The crown of rejoicing (1 Thess. 2:19-20).
- The crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
The crowns are awarded at the judgement of believers for works (2 Cor. 5:10).
1.5. The Emerald Rainbow
“Immediately I was in the Spirit; And behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne 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” (Rev. 4:2-3).
On observing the throne of God, John sees an emerald green rainbow around the throne of God, which makes a complete circle, not an arc. This is an important detail, as the rainbow is a symbol of God’s covenant of mercy, and in heaven all things are complete. Just as Noah was saved out of the flood, so too has the Church been delivered from the Judgement of the Tribulation.
Green is not a prime colour, it is a secondary colour, a mixture of yellow and blue. Yellow in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word charuts, which refers to gold. Gold symbolises preciousness and purity, which is attained through the fiery furnace of purification. The symbolism of blue in the Old Testament may be seen in the design of the Tzitzit (prayer shawl), which had a blue thread made from a very expensive dye, and symbolised the membership of every Jew into God’s “royal priesthood” – one of the children of Abraham. So, green symbolises immortality, attained through the individual becoming a member of the royal priesthood through Jesus, and being purified through the trials of sanctification. Psalm 1 records that each believer who is planted by the waters of the Holy Spirit will become like a tree:
“… that yields its fruit in its season, and its (green) leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
Green is also symbolic of resurrection, with new life being evident in the greenness of Spring. Isaiah confirms the symbolism writing:
“The waters of Nimrim are dried up and the grass is withered; the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left” (Isaiah 15:6).
So, the emerald green rainbow represents the resurrection to eternal life, which fulfils the New Covenant. In this case the covenant rainbow is revealed before the judgement occurs, not after the judgement. God, as part of His covenant relationship with the Bride of Christ, promised to deliver her from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 3:10). Just as Noah and his family were delivered safely to the slopes of Mt Ararat, the Church is delivered safely to the Mount of God, His throne room in Heaven. In heaven we see the rainbow as the symbol of God’s provision for the sinner being fulfilled, which occurs before the breaking of the first seal of the scroll with seven seals.
1.6. Blaspheming “those that live in heaven”
Revelation 13:6 says the Antichrist blasphemes God and “those that live in heaven”. Why would the Antichrist blaspheme “those that live in heaven?” The possible reason is the Antichrist has to give a credible explanation for the millions of missing people who have been raptured and are living in heaven. The explanation he gives is seen by God as blasphemous.
There is also the picture of the Church already in heaven as the army of the Lord in Revelation 19:14, preparing to return with Jesus at His second coming. The armies of the Lord are not angels. Revelation 19:8 describes the Bride dressed in “fine linen, bright and clean,” which depicts the righteousness of the Saints. The logical progression, therefore, with the Church depicted in heaven before Jesus returns to earth as King, is that the rapture must have already occurred.
1.7. Kept from the hour of trial
The letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2:1-3:22) were written by John to seven churches that existed at that time. The messages they contain are for all believers during the entire Church age. There is also a prophetic application of these letters through time. In other words, the Church has moved through the seven stages within its history, from the original apostolic church of Ephesus to the modern lukewarm church of Laodicea. The type of all seven churches has existed through time, with one type of Church becoming more dominant in turn according to the prophetic sequence of Revelation 2 and 3. We must understand that the seven letters were written to seven assemblies existing at that time. So not all members of those churches would have been true believing Christians. In fact, the warning Jesus gives in the letter to the church of Sardis is very similar to the parable of the 10 virgins. The obvious conclusion is that when Jesus comes as a thief in the night (Rev. 3:3) only those that have accepted Jesus as Lord and saviour will be taken in the rapture, to meet the Lord in the air.
With the above information in mind, we are now able to look at the evidence of a pre-Tribulation rapture in the letter to the church of Philadelphia. In Revelation 3:10 Jesus tells the church that He will “keep [them] from the hour of trial”. This verse is wrongly interpreted by post-Tribulation rapture believers to mean, to keep through, or be protected through the Tribulation. The original Greek word for “keep” is ek tereo, which means “to keep from” not to “keep through”. And the original Greek word for “trial” means “to try, to make trial of, to put to test in order to discover or reveal what kind of person someone is” (1). Don Koenig in his article Proofs for Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theology gives a clear example of what this means: “If a student is excused from a test, he still may have to sit in the class while the others write the test. But if he is excused from the hour of testing, he can go home (2)”. The church of Philadelphia is representative of all true spirit-filled Christians, and the message is clear – they will be called home before the time of testing. Thus, the message Jesus is giving the prophetic future church of Philadelphia is that they will be raptured before the Tribulation and therefore kept from the trials which are to come upon the earth during the seven years of Tribulation. The population of the world will be tested. Satan’s counterfeit messiah, the Antichrist, is going to appear on the scene in power and authority as a counter to Jesus. The question put to the world by God will be “choose whom you will serve?” The Church already knows whom we serve. We do not need this last opportunity to decide, so we are exempt from the “hour of testing.”
There is one further point that needs to be discussed regarding the claim by post-Tribulationists. They believe that Revelation 3:10 is a promise from Jesus that the Church will be delivered “through” the Tribulation period, not “from” it. Yet this clearly cannot be the case, as both Revelation 6:9-11 and 7:9-17 record the mass martyrdom of the saints during the Tribulation. This is an obvious contradiction of the belief that the Church will undergo persecution, but will be divinely protected by the Lord. With Revelation 13:7 confirming that God allows the Antichrist to be “given power to make war against the saints,” which results in the mass martyrdom of the saints, the argument of the post-Tribulationists that the Church will be delivered through the Tribulation collapses.
(1) Wilbur Gingrich, Short Lexicon of Greek New Testament (The Chicago University press, 2009).
(2) Don Koenig Proofs for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theology. http://www.thepropheticyears.com/reasons/rapture.htm (17/11/11).
1.8. Those who dwell in heaven and those who dwell on earth
There is a special contrast in Revelation between two groups: those who dwell on the earth and those who dwell in heaven, which can be seen in Revelation 12:12:
“Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you that dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short”.
The scripture cannot be referring to angels when it calls on those who dwell in heaven to rejoice, for they have no reason to rejoice that Satan is dwelling on earth in a time of his rage. However, believers who have been raptured would certainly have reason to rejoice that they had been delivered from the time of great hardship and suffering on earth, by the grace of God.
The contrast made between those who dwell in heaven and those who dwell on earth would indicate that those dwelling in heaven are the believers, and the fact that they are in heaven when the devil is forced out of heaven to earth would indicate the rapture has happened. The devil, as the accuser of the saints, would not be welcome at “the marriage supper of the lamb” and certainly would not be on the list of wedding guests! So, he would be thrown out of heaven – his presence being a foul stain on the glorious ceremony. Satan’s exit from heaven and being cast down to earth is, therefore, further evidence of a pre-Tribulation rapture. The Antichrist is called the son of perdition (KJV) in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 which means that Satan, when he is cast down to earth, indwells the Antichrist and gives him his power and authority for the seven years of the Tribulation.
1.9. No rapture when the conquering King returns
Revelation 19:11-21 is a detailed description of the Lord preparing to return to earth with His army (the Church), yet there is no mention of the rapture. A major event such as the rapture, where multiple millions of believers are raised to meet Jesus, does not receive a mention! Zechariah 14:1-9 is an Old Testament description of Jesus returning to earth at the second coming, and no mention is made of a resurrection there either. The only reasonable explanation can be that the rapture does not happen at the second coming.
1.10. The cry for vengeance
Further evidence in Revelation that this time period relates to the Old Testament and that the Church has been raptured prior to the start of the Tribulation period, is the cry of the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:10. They cry out to God “how long… until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood”. This cannot be members of the Church, for scripture instructs the Church to pray for those who persecute them and show love to their enemies. Paul reminds the Church of this in Romans 12:19 when he says “do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge: I will repay,’ says the Lord”. Paul goes on to exhort believers to give food and drink to their enemies. The cry for vengeance by those under the altar is indicative of Old Testament believers who regularly prayed to God for His judgement to come down on the enemies of Israel. The imprecatory Psalms are an example of this, where the Psalmists call out for judgement to be brought against those they perceive to be enemies of God. In Psalm 69 David cries out to God, asking Him to “pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them” (Ps. 69:24). Another example would be Jeremiah, one of the great Old Testament prophets, who because of his persecution and suffering was led to desire vengeance against his enemies, “Oh Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them (those who were plotting against him) for to you I have committed my cause” (Jer. 11:20). The cry for vengeance in Revelation 6 can only be understood in the context of the Church period being completed with the rapture, and the period of grace on the earth ending. Thus, God’s focus is on the Jews, not the Church; hence another name for the Tribulation period is “the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble” (Jer. 30:7 [KJV]).