A Biblical Survey of the Rapture
(Predicting the Vanishing of Millions)
Richie Cooley (2016)
Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International
Unless otherwise stated, Old Testament Scripture is taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Unless otherwise stated, New Testament Scripture is taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Third Edition. Copyright © 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry. Previously copyrighted © 1999, 2001, 2005 by Gary Zeolla.
Some quotes are from the Lexham English Bible. Copyright 2012, Logos Bible Software. Lexham is a registered trademark of Logos Bible Software.
The apocryphal quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Before getting started, let’s review a few notes that will help make sense of this writing…
*This booklet mostly uses British spelling, except for the quoted material, which often uses U.S. spelling.
*The terms LORD or GOD are ways to describe the personal name of God, often rendered as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.”
*The Old Testament quotes are from the NASB and the New Testament quotes are from the ALT3, unless otherwise indicated.
The ALT3 distinguishes between singular and plural second person pronouns by means of an asterisk ().
*Divine pronouns are normally not capitalized, unless they appear that way in Bible versions or other quotes.
*Words that appear in brackets within quotes are not found in the original texts, and were added by the translators or are my personal comments, etc.
Tim LaHaye passed away on July 25, 2016, at the age of 90. He was one of the most influential teachers of Bible prophecy in modern times. Above everything else he’ll likely be remembered as a champion of the doctrine of the Rapture.
A couple of decades ago Bible prophecy was a very important part of the evangelical Christian landscape; that’s not really the case anymore. The resurgence of “reformed theology” with its historic ties to amillennialism has meant that apocalyptic eschatology is now often branded as either an embarrassment or a waste of time.
The Christian leaders of yesterday who fervently believed in the Rapture are getting older and perishing, and their numbers aren’t being replaced proportionately. It is up to those of us who care about Bible prophecy to try and carry the torch as best we can. It’s with this thought in mind that I decided to write another booklet about the Rapture. I wrote a very short one a few years ago, but I’d like to supplant it by expanding the content a bit. I know by now that I am not a great writer, but I do try hard, so please grade this on a generous curve.
I’m going to start with the book of Genesis and end with the book of Revelation. Doubtless there will be selections that some would question and spurn. If you reject my assertions do not worry, modern Christianity certainly is on your side.
Anyway, let’s begin with the list, and may God bless you through his Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for your time.
Some Christians who do enjoy eschatology still reject the idea that the Rapture is featured in the Old Testament. I’m not really sure why this notion has been regularly purported. Normally people who hold this view say that since Paul called the Rapture a “mystery” that this somehow precludes the idea that it was spoken of in ancient times.
Let me just say two quick things about this. First, the Bible was written by God. Even if no one in ancient times knew about a future event of a mass-vanishing, God could still have guided the pen of a poet or prophet to mention it.
Second of all, building on what I just said, Paul didn’t mean that a mystery was something completely without Biblical support before the advent of the New Covenant. In Romans, Paul uses the word “mystery” to refer to the hardening of Israel (11:25). In Ephesians 3:3-9 Paul refers to a mystery again when speaking of the gentiles being brought into God’s kingdom through the Gospel. Both of these events can be seen in the prophecies of Isaiah (see chapters 6 and 42 for examples).
Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 Paul ties in a “mystery” with the Gospel itself, saying that if people had this wisdom then they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord. Obviously the future epic of the Messiah wasn’t universal knowledge in ancient Israel, but there were a multitude of passages which predicted a slew of details.
As for the more obscure gentile mystery, when the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss non-Jewish conversion they were able to base their opinion on Biblical evidence…
Now after they became silent, James answered, saying, “Men, brothers, listen to me. Simon [i.e., Peter] explained how God first visited [them] to take out of [the] Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it has been written: After these [things] I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David, the one having fallen down, and the [things] having been torn down from it I will rebuild, and I will restore it, in order that the remaining peoples [i.e., non-Jews] shall diligently seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles on whom My name has been called on them, says the LORD, the One doing all these things. [Amos 9:11, 12, LXX] -- Acts 15:13-17
So in summation, such things as the crucifixion of the Messiah and the salvation of gentiles wasn’t ultra-common knowledge in ancient Israel, yet they could still be seen in the Scriptures. The Rapture likewise can be seen throughout the Old Testament via both symbolism and direct statements…
1. Enoch (Genesis 5:24)
Throughout this booklet I plan to focus more on direct statements as opposed to symbolism, but there are a couple of major metaphoric allusions that I’d like to include. The first is the short biography of the prophet Enoch.
Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had [other] sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. -- Genesis 5:21-24
Enoch is an amazing foreshadowing of the millions who will be taken by God before the period of global tribulation which precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ.
After Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, men and women began to increase in numbers and in corruption. This dilapidation was seemingly sped up with the coming of the “sons of God,” fallen angels who encouraged the godlessness (see Genesis 6). This sinfulness was at its zenith when Noah constructed an ark. Enoch lived just a couple of generations before Noah and testified prophetically against all the gross and impious villainy (cf. Jude 1:14-15).
Ancient man must have had some sort of notion that the flood was coming many years in advance. This can be surmised via two tidbits found in chapter 5 of Genesis.
First, Enoch named his son Methuselah. This name is very odd. It really seems to be composed of the Hebrew words for death (“moot”) and sent (“shalach”). Many older commentators concurred, as they were often much more at home with the spiritual as opposed to modern exegetes. For example, John Gill said concerning Methuselah…
…And Enoch being a prophet gave him this name under a spirit of prophecy, foretelling by it when the flood should be; for his name, according to Bochar, signifies, “when he dies there shall be an emission”, or sending forth of waters upon the earth, to destroy it…
One of the greatest works of all time written on Biblical names was penned by Alfred Jones. This man knew classical languages in a way that would put modern experts to shame. Quoting from a 1990 reprint published by Kregel, Methuselah’s name means “when he is dead it shall be sent.”
It’s also common knowledge that Methuselah is depicted as dying at the time of Noah’s flood. Artscroll’s Sapirstein Edition of Rashi’s Torah commentary gives the following succinct footnote…
Methuselah was 187 when he begot Lamech (5:25). Lamech was 182 when he begot Noah (5:28). Thus, Methuselah was 369 at Noah’s birth. The Flood began when Noah was 600 (v. 6 [of chapter 7 ]), at which time Methuselah was 969. And that is the age at which Methuselah died (5:27). -- [Volume 1; pg. 73]
The other clue that ancient man was expecting a flood is seen with the naming of Noah…
Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands [arising] from the ground which the LORD has cursed.” -- 5:28-29
Life was hard, murder was rampant, and man needed relief. So shall it be in the end days. The coming of the Lord will bring judgment upon the world while also bringing relief for the saints.
So in summation, Enoch was a believer who was “raptured” out of a hard and wicked culture shortly before the flood of God’s wrath.
The Lord Jesus Christ occasionally referenced Noah and Lot while referring to the end times. The expression “as in the days of Noah” has become very popular in prophetic circles. This catchphrase has been cited by many to predict scourges from Nephilim and giants, as well as the usage of genetic engineering. I think such ideas are very interesting, but these topics are not what the Lord was denotatively referring to. This is what he fully said…
But just as [in] the days of Noah, in this way also will be the Arrival of the Son of Humanity. For just as they were in the days before the flood, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until which day Noah entered into the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept all away, in this way also will be the Arrival of the Son of Humanity. [see Gen 6:5-8, 7:1-24] -- Matthew 24:37-39
The same words were also spoken concerning Lot…
Likewise also, as it happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, [and] they were building; but [on the] day which Lot went out from Sodom, He rained fire and sulfur [or, brimstone] from heaven and destroyed [them] all. [see Gen 19:1-38] -- Luke 17:28-29
Noah was rescued before the wrath of the flood, just as Lot was rescued before the destruction of Sodom. People were going about their business and not expecting disaster. Disaster came however, while Noah and Lot were spared.
The book of Revelation contains a very vivid description of the 7 year period of tribulation (Daniel 9:27 predicts the time frame will be 7 years and Revelation also speaks of a couple of 3.5 year periods; keep in mind there will probably be an interval between the Rapture and the beginning of the tribulation period). Towards the end of this time period most unregenerate people will be dead, and those who are left will be in pains or will be marching toward Jerusalem in an attempt to conquer Israel and her Messiah (cf. Zechariah 14; Revelation 16, 19). Thus, they will not be marrying and buying and selling in a carefree way. The unexpected destruction that the Lord speaks of is therefore reasonable proof that there will be the Rapture and then his wrath begins shortly thereafter.
[O[_ n a footnote, I do not see much of a difference between pre- and mid- tribulation ideas; and so although I fully embrace the “pre-” viewpoint, since the mid- is not an inimical theory, I will not be arguing against it. _]]
Also, there is an interesting anomaly in the story of Noah. He is said to have entered the ark 7 days before the flood in one place (7:4) and then at the exact time of the flood in another (7:7). Perhaps the first entry before the final week is a minor allusion to the raptured saints being safe in heaven before God’s wrath is revealed in the tribulation period, while the last entry prefigures Israel fleeing to her Messiah from the flood of Armageddon.
In summation, Noah and Lot were saved in a time of relative peace before the deluge of vengeance, as shall happen at the Rapture.
I’m attempting to go through the Bible in loose canonical order, thus there won’t be any direct statement regarding the Rapture until the prophecies and poetry begin. Yet there are still a couple of allegorical hues from the legal/historical sections of the Old Testament that I’d like to relate before going there. The first is God’s visiting the nation of Israel upon Mt. Sinai at the time of the exodus from Egypt.
God had remembered his people in Egypt and brought them out to worship him at Mt. Sinai. He met with Moses first in order for him to command the people to get ready. He gave Moses instructions on what would happen whenever he would descend upon the mount…
And thou hast made a border [for] the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, going up into the mount, or coming against its extremity; whoever is coming against the mount is certainly put to death; a hand cometh not against him, for he is certainly stoned or shot through, whether beast or man it liveth not; in the drawing out of the jubilee cornet they go up into the mount. -- Exodus 19:12-13 [ Young’s Literal Translation]
Young rightly interprets yovayl to mean “jubilee cornet” and not “ram’s horn” as in so many translations. If “ram’s horn” can be gotten from yovayl then it can only be that the term means a “ram,” and not a horn; for the word is sometimes coupled with another Hebrew word for horn. Whatever the term means etymologically may be mysterious or foreign, but either way it became the technical term for the Jubilee. Here is Holladay’s entry for the term yovayl [anglicized as “yobel” with vowel markings; I’m not going to attempt to recreate all the special markings used in the book…] in his famous A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Eerdmans)…
1. ram: qeren yobel ram’s horn (as wind instrument) Jos 65, so soferot hayyobelim 64 ; -- 2. senat hayyobel year of release, jubilee year, inaugurated by blowing the ram’s horn Lv 2513; hayyobel alone Lv 2515; yobel alone LV 25~10-12~.
Note that he annotates places where yobel/yovayl is used alone to signify the year of release/Jubilee. Thus it’s very clear that the term doesn’t mean a “horn.” He also notes its use in the book of Joshua. That’s where we’re heading next…
And Jehovah saith unto Joshua, “See, I have given into thy hand Jericho and its king -- mighty ones of valour, and ye have compassed the city -- all the men of battle -- going round the city once; thus thou dost six days; and seven priests do bear seven trumpets of the jubilee before the ark, and on the seventh day ye compass the city seven times, and the priests blow with the trumpets, and it hath been, in the prolongation of the horn of the jubilee, in your hearing the voice of the trumpet, all the people shout -- a great shout, and the wall of the city hath fallen under it, and the people have gone up, each over-against him.” -- Joshua 6:2-5 [ Young’s Literal Translation]
Again, this same odd term yovayl is used in reference to the horns. God told Moses when it sounded that the people could go up to the mountain to commune with him. He told Joshua that when it sounded the people of Israel could ascend, victors over their enemies. It’s fascinating to consider these facts and then see their counterpart in perhaps the most famous passage about the Rapture in the New Testament…
Because the Lord Himself with a shout of command, with a voice of an archangel [or, a chief messenger [of the Lord]] and with [the] trumpet of God, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first, then we, the ones living, the ones being left, will be caught up together with them in [the] clouds to a meeting of the Lord in [the] air, and so we will always be with [the] Lord! -- 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
A trumpet sound called the people to ascend to Sinai. A trumpet and a shout called the people to ascend the city of Jericho. A trumpet and a shout will call the saints to commune with God in heaven. At about the same time, new Christians will begin to conquer with the Gospel, as we shall see later.
The Jubilee was the holiday associated with the Day of Atonement, when Israel’s sins were ceremonially dealt with. Debts were cancelled on this day and people could return to their native soil. Just so, one day the trumpet will sound and Christians will inherit their heavenly home because of the Lord Jesus, the true atonement of God.
Finally, before the Lord Jesus Christ returns to vanquish his foes at Armageddon there will be “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (see Revelation 19). How can the Lord commune with his saints in the true Sinai above before his second coming if they are not raptured and judged first?
Elijah is a favourite protagonist for prophecy fans. He of course was also famously “raptured” in the presence of Elisha when his ministry had been completed and the ministry of Elisha was about to begin. This account is relayed in 2 Kings 2. The circumstances of the event and what preceded and succeeded it are very instructive whilst considering the Rapture.
First, on the day that Elijah was to be raptured he was followed by his faithful servant Elisha. Elijah stopped at three different locations before crossing the Jordan to be taken to heaven. Each time he would try to dissuade Elisha from following him, yet each time Elisha persisted. This is reminiscent of Peter after the ministry of Jesus Christ had ended. Peter was asked by the Lord three times if he loved him, and Peter persisted in his avowed affections.
Next, Elijah is about to be taken up and asks Elisha if he would like anything in particular. Elisha asks for a double portion of his spirit. Elijah says that if Elisha sees him being raptured then he will have his request. Elisha indeed saw it and he did go on and serve as a prophet with tremendous power and effectiveness. Just so, the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven before the eyes of Peter and the apostles, and shortly thereafter they received the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1) and became mighty witnesses throughout the known world (see the rest of the book of Acts).
I believe that all of this also foreshadows the future vanishings. As will be mentioned again later, Joel describes a great spiritual outpouring in the end times, and Ezekiel also speaks of this outpouring as occurring after the War of Gog/Magog (39:29).
It makes good chronological sense for the Rapture to happen around the time of the War of Gog/Magog. As I related in my last booklet, excellent prophecy teachers like Tim LaHaye and Ron Rhodes have had the same opinion. At the time of the War of Gog/Magog (which transpires around the environs of Israel) it is written that “every wall will fall to the ground” (Ezekiel 38:20). So the Rapture happens, akin to the ascension of Elijah and of the Lord Jesus. Then a spiritual outpouring will come to pass, similar to Elisha’s blessing and to Pentecost. Then soon thereafter the 144,000 will conquer the world with the Gospel, just as Elisha’s successful ministry and the witness of the apostles.
Do not long for the night, when people vanish in their place. Be careful, do not turn to evil, for you have preferred this to affliction. -- Job 36:20-21
Job was an upright man who was vilified by his friends while undergoing severe plagues at the hand of the Lord. The above verses came in the midst of a speech targeting Job. He is told not to desire the night when people vanish. He is then further impugned for looking forward to this as opposed to seeking to set his heart on the affliction that was all around him. This particular insult has been going on for a long time when it comes to people of faith. John Lennon famously sang, “Imagine all the people living for today…” Yeah, I can imagine it, and wow, it’s not pretty. It basically consists of vodka and seas of blood.
Moreover, even fellow evangelical Christians attack those of us who are very interested in prophecy. The basic sentiment is: “You crazy dreamers are an embarrassment! Why aren’t you more concerned with politics or social justice?” In particular there seems to be a growing split among Charismatic/Pentecostal Christians. Bible prophecy was a pretty big deal in their circles a short while ago, but more and more there is an emphasis to speak out against it for the sake of political involvement (cf. Michael L. Brown’s constant contemning of prophecy).
As for the first half of the verse, it very much seems to speak of something very Rapture-like. We have no idea what ancient man did or did not know theologically. It’s possible something Rapture-like was a hope of ancient believers. We simply have no clue either way. The verse itself is very compelling though, just as the whole of the book is filled with intriguing tidbits of forgotten gems.
The language of the passage speaks of rising in a way that mirrors the ascension mentioned at Sinai and the warriors ascending the fallen walls of Jericho. The Hebrew says that people go up from the place where they are. Here is a strict rendering of the passage as found in Young’s Literal Translation…
Desire not the night, for the going up of peoples in their stead. Take heed -- do not turn unto iniquity, for on this thou hast fixed rather than [on] affliction.
We’ve now arrived at the prophets and poets. I’m not going to go in strict canonical order, but will rather choose the outline that I think is most helpful.
Whenever I wrote the booklet, The Day They Disappear, I included Isaiah 57:1, but I didn’t do it any justice at all. I think one of the reasons I was a bit hesitant was because of the Hebrew word avad. Since most translations render the term as “perished” my thunder was stolen. I pointed out at the time though that the noun form of this word very often means something that is lost, and not something that is destroyed.
Anyway, I purchased Holladay’s lexicon recently and the first word I looked up was avad. I was very pleased how he translated the verb. His first entry is “become lost.” His second entry is to “go astray,” speaking of cattle for example. It’s not until his third entry that he renders the verb as “perish.” Hence, it is very clear that the verb can mean to become lost. With that in mind let’s look at Isaiah 57:1-4…
The righteous [one] perishes [or as I said, “has become lost,” “has gone missing”], and there is no one who takes [it] to heart. And men of faithfulness [are] gathered, while there is no one who understands, for the righteous is gathered from the presence of wickedness. He enters [into] peace; they will rest on their beds, walking straight ahead of him. But you, come near here, you children of a soothsayer, offspring [of] an adulterer and she [who] commits fornication. At whom do you make fun? At whom do you open [your] mouth [and] stick out [your] tongue? [Are] you not children of transgression, offspring of deception… -- [ Lexham English Bible]
After studying this passage more intensely than before, here is the way I would interpret it. The Messiah is the righteous one (remember, this passage comes only four chapters after Isaiah 53). He is no more. He has ascended up to heaven. His followers are also gathered and taken up to heaven to avoid the coming wrath. The Messiah enters into the peace of his heavenly home. His followers also rest on couches above, having followed in his upright path. Ah, but the false Christianity that is left, the beastly system of Revelation 17, is comprised of carnal scorners whom God rejects. I believe this gem from Isaiah is one of the most marvellous passages in the entire eschatological gamut.
What else could it mean for saints to be gathered? Note how this even mirrors Paul’s language of being gathered unto the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:1).
And why does no one know what has happened to them? I have often thought that if millions would go missing tomorrow, at first they would blame Muslims, then scientists, and ultimately, fictitious space aliens. Even when the Lord told them where he was going they still did not understand…
Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. -- John 8:21-23 [KJV]
As for carnal scorners, remember that the children in the days of Elisha scorned him. They were probably making fun of him and saying, “Ha! If you think we believe Elijah ascended then you’re crazy. You’re a fool. If he ascended as you say, then you ascend!”…
Then he [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. -- 2 Kings 2:23-24
42 months is a specific time period cited in Revelation 11:2 and 13:5. The last citation is especially applicable…
And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue [doing ] forty and two months. -- Revelation 13:5 [KJV]
I wanted to relate Isaiah 57 first because the next two selections from the prophets/poets greatly mirror the language employed. First is Psalm 12…
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things; who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.” The words of the LORD are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them; You will preserve him [or, “us”] from this generation forever. The wicked strut about on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.
This certainly seems to picture the end times. The villainy through speech will be tremendous during the tribulation period, as we saw above (see also Daniel 7). Yet the Antichrist will not only be belligerent, but also beguiling. The world is already out of control with lying politicians and wicked media outlets that intentionally ignore the horrendous flaws of their friends and enlarge to gargantuan proportions the crumbs on the chins of their enemies. The information age has become the age of disinformation, lies, and propaganda.
One of the historical periods that foreshadowed the apocalypse was the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. He too usurped the Jews through deceitful speech. First he convinced the Jews that he was the right man for them…
From them [Grecian rulers] came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying , “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. -- 1 Maccabees 1:10-15 [ New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Catholic Edition); this is a non-canonical book]
Then he ransacked the Jews, again employing deceitful speech…
…The king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them , and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. -- 1 Maccabees 1:29-31 [ New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Catholic Edition); this is a non-canonical book]
Oh Israel, be wary of your friends!
The last verse of the Psalm has great future application regarding the state of an antichristian world. Barnes provides good commentary on what is meant by the passage…
A state of things exists in which, from the prevalence of iniquity, the wicked seem to go unrestrained; in which no regard is paid to truth; in which falsehood and flattery abound; and it is as if honor were done to the worst forms of sin, and the most abandoned seem to be the most exalted. This appears to be the reason in the mind of the psalmist why the divine interposition is necessary; with this idea the psalm commences, and with this it appropriately closes. There was a state of widespread depravity and successful iniquity, as if all honor were conferred on wicked and abandoned men, while the virtuous were oppressed and degraded.
But obviously it is the first verse of the Psalm that really speaks of the Rapture…
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
And then verse 7 seems to speak of this group again…
You, O LORD, will keep them; You will preserve him [or, “us”] from this generation forever.
This is the essence of the Rapture; i.e., God preserving the righteous from the budding sinfulness of man and from the outflowing of his wrath. God arises because the world is so sinful and the church is stuck in the midst of it…
… He did not spare the ancient world, but kept Noah, [the] eighth person [fig., with seven others], a preacher of righteousness, having brought a Flood upon the world of the ungodly, [see Gen 6:5-8; 7:11-23] and having reduced [the] cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, He condemned [them] to destruction, having set [them as] an example to [the ones] being about to be acting in an impious way, [see Gen 19:24, 25] and rescued righteous Lot, [who was] being distressed by the conduct in flagrant sexual immorality of the lawless [ones] [see Gen 19:29] (for by seeing and hearing, that righteous [man] living among them, day by day [his] righteous soul was being tormented with [their] unlawful works), [the] Lord knows [how] to be rescuing [the] godly out of temptation, but to be keeping [the] unrighteous being punished for [the] day of judgment… -- 2 Peter 2:5-9
Woe is me! For I am like the fruit pickers, like the grape gatherers. There is not a cluster of grapes to eat, [or] a first-ripe fig [which] I crave. The godly person has perished [this is also “avad,” so could mean simply that he is lost] from the land, and there is no upright [person] among men. All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; each of them hunts the other with a net. Concerning evil, both hands do it well. The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe, and a great man speaks the desire of his soul; so they weave it together. The best of them is like a briar, the most upright like a thorn hedge. The day when you post your watchmen, your punishment will come. Then their confusion will occur. Do not trust in a neighbor; do not have confidence in a friend. From her who lies in your bosom guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.
Being as this is from the last chapter of a prophetic book, it stands to reason that the end days could be in view. This presumption is confirmed by the fact that the situation that is described seems to mirror what we know the tribulation period will be like. The greatest proof that this passage has a futuristic application however is because the Lord Jesus Christ quoted it when speaking of the troubles to come…
For nation will be raised up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be earthquakes in [various] places, and there will be famines and disturbances [fig., uprisings]. These [are the] beginnings of birth pains [fig., great sufferings]…But brother will betray brother to death, and a father [his] child; and children will rebel against parents and will put them to death. -- Mark 13:8, 12
Persecution against Christians is a telling phenomenon. It is sometimes remarked that the West is turning viciously against Christianity because it has grown sated and rebellious, and is simply wishing to reject its ancestral heritage. Of course there is a lot of truth to that, but still I think there’s more. I think Christianity itself scares people. Most religions and philosophies seem either weak, silly, or inclusive. Christianity has a truth claim that rings truer than most, and it is very exclusive. I think people who fight against Christians are doing more than just fighting the past. I think deep down they know that if there is a God then they are willingly fighting against him too.
Psalm 12 and Micah 7 appear to go together. They both seem to be cut out of the same cloth. They seem to be depicting the apocalypse, and they both begin with the righteous having gone missing.
Moreover, the godly being spared awful seasons is depicted a few other times in the Bible.
For the Lord said to King Josiah…
Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants… -- 2 Chronicles 34:28
And again he said to the wife of King Jeroboam concerning their son …
Now you, arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. All Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s [family] will come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. -- 1 Kings 14:12-13
A great slaughter was to befall his household and none of the royal seed would die in honour. The son was spared the engulfing shame by dying. Micah and the Psalmist could be speaking of a similar situation, but on a grander, more meaningful scale. The world is in carnal chaos, but the righteous has been spared from it. They have been taken to heaven to rest on their couches, safe in the Saviour’s ark.
Your dead shall live; their corpses [Literally “my corpse”] shall rise…Go, my people, enter into your chambers and shut your doors behind you; hide for a very little while, until [the] wrath has passed over. For look! Yahweh [is] about to come out from his place to punish the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth against him, and the earth will disclose her blood and will no longer cover her slain. -- [ Lexham English Bible]
Chapter 24 of Isaiah speaks of the destruction of the world. The following few chapters flow from this apocalypse. Such is the context for the above verses.
These words from Isaiah are very similar to the passages concerning the death of Josiah and that of Jeroboam’s son. A great question is however, why would the prophets see death as an escape from wrath? It’s somewhat understandable in the case of the kings above, for in their early death they would at least have an honourable burial and be lamented, etc. But can this theme really be sensibly extended to include the proletariat? Does it really make sense for God to say, “I have pity on you all, O my people, so I’ll put you all to death?” It seems like the allusion to escaping wrath in this passage makes much more sense if it’s the Rapture that’s really in view.
And again, Isaiah 57:1-2 is also helpful to consider here. That portion of Scripture is generally taken by translators to mean that the righteous perish and rest in the grave. But given the overall context of verse 1, that idea doesn’t explain much. The verse calls for the righteous to be gathered by God and everyone to be clueless as to what happened. The Rapture explains that concept better than simply dying or being killed via persecution.
The same thing can be said for Isaiah 26. It is more fitting and sensible to think the saints have escaped wrath via the Rapture, and not that they escape wrath via the ravages of being sawn in two or boiled in oil. Moreover, the words about entering and shutting the door behind are reminiscent of Noah, who also was alive and safe when the floodwaters of vengeance were sent.
One of the greatest proofs of the necessity of the Rapture is the reality that there will be two groups of Christians called to evangelize the world…
“ Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will fish for them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and from the clefts of the rocks.” -- Jeremiah 16:16
Hundreds of years before the Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven and was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Jeremiah spoke of the restoration of Israel. He said this would take place with the sending out of “fishers” and “hunters” as workmen. Now when Jesus Christ was gathering his disciples in order to train and send them, they were found among the fishing boats of Galilee…
...Walking about by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother, [that is] Simon’s [brother], casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you* to become fishers of people.” -- Mark 1:16-17
Right, so the fishers are accounted for; yet who are the hunters?
Concerning the end times, a common theme among the prophetic statements is the fact that many people will head to the hills to seek protection from the cataclysms; for example…
And the kings of the earth and the nobles and the commanding officers [or, Chiliarchs; i.e., military officers in charge of 600 to 1000 soldiers] and the rich and the strong and every slave and free person hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains. And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from [the] face of the One sitting on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” -- Revelation 6:15-16
In the very next chapter of the book of Revelation a large group of special Christians are described [the 144,000], who will be responsible to go out and bring in a great harvest from the earth. This second sending isn’t just found in Revelation, but also in the book of Isaiah…
“I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put [literally, Pul], Lud, Meshech [lit, those who draw the bow], Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the LORD, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. I will also take some of them for priests [and] for Levites,” says the LORD. -- 66:19-21
Obviously this hasn’t happened yet, for never before have evangelists brought back people to Jerusalem as priests and Levites.
Right; so the Rapture occurs as the people given the Holy Spirit are taken to heaven. Shortly afterwards there is another group that is filled and equipped for ministry and sent forth to evangelize before the physical second coming of Jesus Christ to reign and rule from Jerusalem. This takes us to the prophet Joel…
So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the LORD your God; for He has given you the early rain for [your] vindication [or, teacher for righteousness]. And He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before [lit, in the first/primary ]. -- 2:23
In the land of Israel there were two major rainy seasons that were important for their harvesting: the early and latter rains. Israel’s calendar was heavily dependent on the harvest cycle. They even had two major times of holidays as such; the first took place in the beginning of their harvest, around springtime (with Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost, etc.); the second [I use the terms “first/second/early/latter” loosely, for Israel’s calendar can be ordered in different ways ] took place in the fall (with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Feast of Ingathering, etc.). Christian commentators have long pointed to the fact that while the spring festivals have had poignant fulfilments -- in that Christ was killed on Passover and poured down the Holy Spirit on Pentecost -- the fall festivals have not. They deal with the apocalypse.
Therefore when Joel comments on the end times a few verses later and speaks of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit alongside massive cataclysms, he doubtless had the second outpouring in mind…
It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls. -- Joel 2:28-32
Nevertheless, even though he is focused on the end, Peter saw in this prophecy an allusion to his own days (the season of the spring rain/festivals) when he quoted this passage from Joel at the time of the first outpouring on Pentecost (see Acts chapter 2).
Thus Joel helps us to see that there will be a second outpouring, just as Isaiah in his 66th chapter and Jeremiah in his 16th chapter, and just as there were two loaves lifted up at Pentecost (Leviticus 23:17). But if there is a second outpouring, what happened to the people who received the first outpouring? As Paul related in 2 Thessalonians, they were taken out of the way when the Holy Spirit was removed (we shall review this Pauline quote soon).
We saw in the Old Testament some allegories, some direct prophecies, and the reoccurring theme of God’s people escaping wrath. Now let’s move on to the second section of our survey. The picture that the New Testament brings helps to clear up any ambiguities, generally being more vibrant and direct.
The Lord Jesus Christ was a travelling preacher; therefore, he often repeated himself while speaking at different times and locations. This is true with the prophecies he spoke about the tribulation period as well. Some of the things he taught he repeated in a different context. The end result is that it’s nearly impossible to work out a tight chronology from the individual eschatological statements given by the God-man. These often must be taken rather as collections of statements revolving around certain themes. With that said, let’s now look at one of the most amazing passages concerning the Rapture. The Lord had just talked about how the end will be like the days of Noah; he then says…
...Two [people] will be in the field, one is taken, and one is left behind. Two women [will be] grinding in the mill, one is taken, and one is left behind. Therefore, keep watching! Because you* do not know in what hour your* Lord is coming. -- Matthew 24:40-42
The Lord also said similar words in Luke 17:34-36 within a slightly more complex context…
I tell you, in that night there shall be two [men (or more probably, “people”)] in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two [women] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two [men] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. [KJV; I am a big fan of Maurice Robinson’s Greek text, but I think the verses that are missing from the Textus Receptus should be included at least in brackets, such as verse 36]
He still probably is referring to the Rapture in Luke, but it is given within a list of commands which includes fleeing to the hills. He is speaking about preservation in the end times in general, and thus mentions the Rapture and the fleeing after the abomination of desolation in quick succession, making the picture a bit convoluted. However, the passage in Luke does end tellingly. The disciples ask a poignant question, obviously wanting to know what he meant by the odd prediction of some people being taken away and some people left…
And answering, they say to Him, “Where, Lord?” Then He said to them, “Where the body [is], there will the vultures be gathered together.” -- Luke 17:37
The Lord Jesus Christ has just said that people will be separated, even while standing or lying next to each other. It seems very hard to understand what he could be referring to other than the Rapture. The disciples, wanting to know more about this weird event being described, asks where the people are taken. The Lord then answers in a very proverbial manner. He says that where the body is, vultures will be gathered together. In other words, he seems to be saying that the people left behind will be subject to all the unclean, demonic forces of the coming antichristian system. The bodies -- i.e. people -- that are left will be subject to attacks of wickedness. This then implies that those who were taken, whose bodies are no longer anywhere to be found, are safe from everything unclean and demonic.
[+ 2. The Great Quotes -- A (1 Corinthians 15:50-53) +]
Paul, in coming towards the end of his long letter to the wily believers at Corinth, taught them of an amazing future occurrence…
Now this I say, brothers [and sisters], that flesh and blood is not able to inherit [the] kingdom of God, nor does the corruption [or, perishable] inherit the incorruption [or, imperishable]. Listen! I tell you* a secret [or, mystery]. We indeed will not all sleep [fig., die], but we will all be changed [or, be transformed], in a moment, in a blinking of an eye, in the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible [or, imperishable], and we will be changed [or, transformed]! For it is necessary [for] this corruptible to put on incorruption, and this mortal to put on immortality. -- 1 Corinthians 15:50-53
Obviously this speaks of the Rapture of the Church, but the question is when does it occur? There’s little in the text to indicate when, although a couple of minor points can be made.
First is that Paul stresses how quickly this will occur. According to Abbott-Smith’s lexicon (sorry; I can’t afford BDAG yet) the word blinking means “any rapid movement such as the throw or flight of a javelin, the rush of wind or flame, the flapping of wings, the twinkling of lights,” thus, “the twinkling of an eye” here. Why does Paul stress this point? Could it be because he knows some will disappear before the eyes of others? That certainly would better fit into a pre-tribulation Rapture scenario. How could Isaiah 57 be true? How could Christians be gathered by God and yet no one lay it to their heart? Because it will happen in “a blinking of an eye.”
The next minor point is the general tenor of Paul’s words. The New Testament teaches in many places that believers will be resurrected, so why is Paul making a big deal about it here if that’s all he’s saying? Doesn’t it seem like he’s giving more secretive information? I know that’s a very subjective statement, but I thought it was still worth noting.
The point that I think has the most substantial objectivity to it is the term “last trumpet.” What does he mean by this? A lot of things has been suggested from Jewish tradition, but it’s always better to keep it Biblical. Thinking in terms of the Bible there are only a handful of times when horns of any sort are spoken of in sequential order. One such occurrence is Numbers 10, where trumpets were blown in certain ways to signal the moving of camps. Yet nowhere in the chapter is there a last trumpet that has any sort of signification that could apply to our situation.
The only other candidate I can think of is Joshua at Jericho [I know there are the trumpet judgements of Revelation, but Paul wrote this letter many decades before that book was penned]. We have already seen that comparing Exodus 19 with Joshua 6 gives an interesting picture, one that Paul perhaps considered, given 1 Thessalonians 4.
Now if Paul was referring to Joshua, it is worth pointing out that the Jericho event happened at the beginning of the campaign to conquer Canaan. In the book of Revelation, the apocalypse is described in tremendous detail in chapters 4-19. The prelude to all the coming judgments is related in chapters 4 and 5. In these chapters the Lamb is presented and a scroll is given to him. The unfolding of this scroll signifies that he is being formally given the kingdom and beginning to reign. By the end of the program in chapter 19 the world has been conquered by Christ; first the Gospel goes forth spiritually, and then he comes to the earth to fight the rebels who have been gathered together to oppose him. All this begins with a trumpet blast…
After these things I saw, and look!, a door having been opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard [was] like a trumpet-blast speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show to you what must occur after these [things].” -- Revelation 4:1
This fact is a bit more poignant than at might first be realized. There is an outline given to the book of Revelation in 1:19…
Therefore, write what [things] you saw, and what [things] are, and what [things] are about to be coming after these [things].
Chapter 1 deals with what John was seeing, chapters 2-3 are instructions to local churches, and then from chapter 4 onward are the things to take place “after these things.”
So although 1 Corinthians 15 cannot be said authoritatively to speak of a pre-tribulation Rapture, given the tenor of Paul’s “mystery” coupled with his emphasis on the “blinking of an eye” and the tie-in with Joshua’s trumpet and conquest (and there are tons of meaningful similarities between Revelation and Joshua), I still think it gives good support. There is one more consideration that strengthens this view as well…
Since there clearly will be a 1,000 year reign of Christ where the world population will prosper and grow to great proportions (cf. Ezekiel 40-48; Isaiah 11, 60:22; Revelation 20; etc.), who will be the citizens? If all the believers are changed when Christ returns, there will be no one left to procreate. Those who have heavenly bodies will not marry and have children.
[+ 3. The Great Quotes -- B (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18) +]
For this we say to you* by [the] word of [the] Lord, that we, the ones living, the ones being left to the Arrival of the Lord, by no means shall precede the ones having fallen asleep [fig., who have died]. Because the Lord Himself with a shout of command, with a voice of an archangel [or, a chief messenger [of the Lord]] and with [the] trumpet of God, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first, then we, the ones living, the ones being left, will be caught up together with them in [the] clouds to a meeting of the Lord in [the] air, and so we will always be with [the] Lord! Therefore, be comforting one another with these words.
We’re left with the same dilemma for this passage as the one encountered while reviewing 1 Corinthians 15. The Rapture is clearly being related, but there’s nothing to indicate when it happens. The only thing I think that can be urged is the word “comfort.”
The apostle here was talking about those who had loved ones who died. Christianity was supposed to be about life from the dead, so how were believers to view the passing of their loved ones? Paul said they should be comforted, for the Lord will bring them with him. Yet if this bringing occurs at the end of the tribulation period there isn’t much comfort in that. Think about it. Imagine your loved one just got in a bad car crash, and a preacher says to take comfort, for you yourself will about to go through a horrific car crash. Um, that’s not exactly great news.
Many prophecy teachers have argued for a pre-tribulation Rapture on the basis that the coming of the Lord is said to be something imminent and something to look forward to…
For the saving grace of God was revealed to all people, teaching us that having denied impiety [or, ungodliness] and worldly desires, we shall live soberly [or, sensibly] and righteously and in a godly manner in the present age, waiting for the blessed hope [or, confident expectation] and appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ… -- Titus 2:11-13
Moreover, going back to 1 Thessalonians, immediately after speaking about the Rapture, Paul carries on this theme of Christ’s coming being something to look forward to…
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers [and sisters], you* have no need [of] my writing to you*. [cp. Acts 1:7] For you* yourselves accurately know that the Day of [the] Lord comes in this manner: as a thief in [the] night. [cp. Matt 24:40-44; 2 Peter 3:10] For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then destruction comes upon them suddenly, even as the birth-pains [come upon] the one having in [the] womb [fig., who is pregnant], and by no means shall they escape. But you*, brothers [and sisters], are not in darkness, so that the Day should overtake you* as a thief… Because God did not appoint us to wrath , but to [the] obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… -- 5:1-4, 9
Paul says that the Lord’s coming is a blessed hope and an escaping of wrath. Paul was very knowledgeable of eschatology and taught it to the churches. Why does he never say, “Brace yourself for the Antichrist and for the coming plagues?” He says rather to take comfort.
Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [will do so] until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming … -- 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 [NASB]
Paul was assuring believers that the Day of the Lord (meaning, ‘the end of the age’) had not come. Before the Day of the Lord comes the Antichrist will have his reign of terror. This passage has application to the Rapture because of what it says restrains the evil from blossoming. The man of lawlessness will come when the world is holding down the clutch as it shifts into the highest gear of sin. It is the Holy Spirit that restrains society from becoming too chaotic, but he will not always continue performing this gracious operation.
Therefore, according to this text of Scripture there is a particular sequence to unfold:
1) There will be a falling away from the faith. The Holy Spirit will be taken out of the midst, and so will cease to restrain lawlessness.
2) The man of lawlessness rises to quick dominance.
It is in the global group of believers that the Holy Spirit is very active and evident. In order for the Holy Spirit to be taken out of the midst, the church itself also must be taken out of the midst. I can’t help but think that Paul was influenced by passages like Psalm 12, Micah 7, and Isaiah 57. Let’s revisit the opening and closing verses of Psalm 12, seeing the semblance to what is described above by Paul. This time I’m going to provide commentary from one of the greatest of all prophecy teachers, John Phillips. Concerning the first verse he says…
“Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” The word for “help” is simply “save” and the word for “ceaseth” can be translated “is no more.” Save, Lord! For the godly man is no more. So said the prophet Isaiah in his day:
“The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (Isaiah 57:1).
This whole psalm can be viewed prophetically as referring to the coming Antichrist. Before he can come, however, as we learn from 2 Thessalonians 2, the godly must be taken from the earth in what we call the rapture. There is a hint of this great event here…The deceptions of the last days cannot come to fruition until the godly are removed from the earth. [pg. 93; Exploring the Psalms; Loizeaux Brothers, 1988]
And concerning the last verse of the Psalm he has an interesting insight…
“The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.” This is an observable fact in our day and age. We are entering a phase of life where a Sodomite society is emerging and where vile men are achieving public office; as a result, vile men everywhere are encouraged and emboldened.
This closing verse of the psalm cannot be exhausted by reference to either David’s day or to ours. It looks ahead to the coming of the lawless one, the man of guile. Scholars tell us that the Hebrew of this verse is full of interest. The word translated “vilest” is really a feminine plural and comes from a root meaning “to shake” or to “be loosed”; that is, loosed or loose in morals. But why the use of the feminine plural to describe the vile men who will take over the earth in the days of the beast? Who can they be but Sodomites?
David sees a coming world culture akin to that of Sodom… [pg. 97; Exploring the Psalms; Loizeaux Brothers, 1988]
John Phillips penned these words decades ago and obviously they’ve turned out to be pretty prophetic in their own right.
[+ 5. The Great Quotes -- C (Revelation3:10) +]
Revelation 3:10 is probably the most direct statement of a pre-wrath Rapture of the church.
The Lord Jesus Christ is giving a tremendous promise to faithful believers located in the ancient city of Philadelphia…
Because you kept the word of My patient endurance, I also will keep you from the hour of the trial, the one about to be coming upon the whole inhabited earth, to test the ones dwelling on the earth.
John Walvoord says in his commentary on Revelation…
One of the outstanding compliments given to the Philadelphian church is contained in verse 10. Because of their faithfulness the Christians in Philadelphia are promised that they will be kept from the hour of trial which will come upon the earth as a divine judgment. It should be noted that this deliverance is not only from the trial but from a period of time in which the trial exists, “the hour of temptation.” If the expression had been simply deliverance from trial, conceivably it could have meant only partial deliverance. The expression seems to have been made as strong as possible that the Philadelphian church would be delivered from this period. [pg. 86; Moody, 1966]
The fact that the Lord says that he will deliver the believers from the very season of the testing surely points to an early Rapture. This promise is even more poignant given that the entire sequence of judgments is about to be unfolded in graphic detail throughout the rest of the book. Dwight Pentecost in his classic work, Things to Come [Zondervan, 1964], has some unique insights on this verse…
The purpose of the seventieth week…
The first purpose is stated in Revelation 3:10, “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Apart from the question involved as to who will be in this time of testing there are several other important considerations in this verse. (1) First of all we see that this period has in view “them that dwell on the earth” and not the church. This same expression occurs in Revelation 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6 and 17:8…In its usage it is not giving us a geographical description but rather a moral classification. Thiessen writes:
Now the word “dwell” used here (katoikeo) is a strong word. It is used to describe the fulness of the Godhead that dwelt in Christ (Col. 2:9); it is used of Christ’s taking up a permanent abode in the believer’s heart (Eph. 3:17), and of demons returning to take absolute possession of a man (Matt. 12:45; Luke 11:26). It is to be distinguished from the word oikeo, which is the general term for “dwell,” and paroikeo, which has the idea of transitoriness, “to sojourn.” Thayer remarks that the term katoikeo has the idea of permanence in it. Thus the judgment referred to in Rev. 3:10 is directed against the earth-dwellers of that day, against those who have settled down in the earth as their real home, who have identified themselves with the earth’s commerce and religion.
Since this period is related to “earth dwellers,” those that have settled down to permanent occupancy, it can have no reference to the church, which would be subjected to the same experiences if it were here. (2) The second consideration to be noted here is the use of the infinitive peirasai (to try) to express purpose. Thayer defines this word, when God is its subject, “to inflict evils upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith.” Since the Father never sees the church except in Christ, perfected in Him, this period can have no reference to the church, for the true church does not need to be tested to see if her faith is genuine. [from chapter 13]
There can be little doubt about what is meant by this awesome verse. Given the context and the language of Revelation, the Lord will separate his believers from the world, which shall indeed fall under judgment for its sin…
And for this reason God will send to them a supernatural working of deception, for them to believe the lie, so that they shall be judged, all the ones not having believed the truth, but the ones having delighted in unrighteousness. -- 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
Following John’s journey to heaven with the sound of a trumpet blast, he begins to relate what he sees…
And immediately I came to be in spirit [or, in [the] Spirit]. And look! A throne was standing in heaven (and [Someone was] sitting on the throne), similar in appearance to a jasper stone [i.e., a gem of varying colors] and to a sardius [or, carnelian; i.e., a red gem], and [there was] a rainbow around the throne, likewise [there was the] appearance of emeralds. And around the throne [were] twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones the twenty-four elders [were] sitting, having been clothed in white garments, and on their heads [were] golden victor’s wreaths. -- Revelation 4:2-4
The elders are wonderful evidence for a pre-tribulation Rapture. Remember, chapters 4 and 5 form a prelude. They introduce the judgments that comprise the time of trial. So obviously if these are believers then they have already been taken to heaven prior to the unfolding of the whole program. That they are redeemed human beings seems to be beyond dispute. Take into account the following considerations…
1) They are not identified to be anything else. John identifies many angels in many capacities throughout the book, yet these elders are never called angels. If they are in human form and are not angels, then they must be men.
2) When heaven is described later, 24 names are prominent in the city (21:12-14). These are the 12 names of the apostles (which make up the foundation of the wall) and the 12 names of the Israelite patriarchs (which are inscribed on the gates). This brings together the founding fathers of the Old Testament with the founding fathers of the New Testament. This group would therefore be 24 regal figures, which is precisely the way they’re described in Revelation 4.
3) They have been given thrones near the throne of God. Consider this promise…
The One overcoming, I [Jesus ] will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in His throne. -- Revelation 3:21
4) They have been clothed in white robes. Consider these passages…
And a long, white robe was given to each of them. And it was said to them that they should rest themselves yet a time [fig., a while longer], until which [time] also their fellow-slaves and their brothers [and sisters] and the ones being about to be killed even as they [had been] shall complete [their course; or, their number]. -- Revelation 6:11
After these [things] I saw, and look!, a large crowd, which no one was being able to number, out of every nation and from tribes and people and tongues, having stood before the throne and before the Lamb having been clothed in long, white robes and palm branches in their hands. -- Revelation 7:9
The first verse describes believers who are killed in the tribulation period. The second verse depicts tribulation-era believers who will be in the kingdom when it has ultimately arrived. Both groups are wearing white robes. Thus, it’s sensible to think that the elders in Revelation 4 are also human believers.
5) They have wreaths/crowns upon their heads. Consider two more verses…
Stop being afraid of what you are about to suffer. Listen indeed! The Devil is about to throw [some] of you* into prison, so that you* shall be tested, and you* will have affliction ten days. Continue being faithful until death, and I [ Jesus ] will give to you the victor’s wreath [or, crown, and throughout book] of life. -- Revelation 2:10
I [Jesus ] am coming quickly! Be holding fast what you have, so that no one shall receive your victor’s wreath. -- Revelation 3:11
Why would angels be wearing such?
6) They are called elders. This was a designation throughout the Bible for human beings who were in leadership positions. The exact same word used in the Greek is translated as “elder” about 60 times in the NASB, referring to humans.
Again, it seems beyond dispute that these are human beings. They are people who have been awarded crowns and robes and thrones by Jesus, so they must be resurrected believers who have been rewarded. They must be raptured saints. They made it to heaven however not because of their good works, but because of the Gospel. Thus so, the only way we will make it there with them is by admitting to God that we are sinners, and that Jesus Christ, the God-man, who became the sacrifice for our sins, is our only Saviour and hope.
I think the case is very strong for a pre-tribulation Rapture. But even if somehow I am mistaken, I know the final destination of all believers, because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. The exact when of redemption might be a mildly lingering question, but the how is not. Praise God for that.
Let’s finish by considering this redemption a bit further.
Jesus Christ gave an edifying word to John when he met the aged apostle on the island of Patmos…
…And He [Jesus] placed His right hand on me [John ], saying, “Stop being afraid! I am the First and the Last and the living One. And I became dead. And look! I am living into the ages of the ages [fig., forever and ever]. So be it! [or, Amen!] And I have the keys of death and of the realm of the dead [Gr., hades].” -- Revelation 1:17-18
Prophecy can be a scary subject. It’s much better and much safer to enter into the ark now and to be delivered from the flood altogether. But even for those who will not enter until after the proverbial waters begin to swell, Jesus Christ is still the only one who has the keys of death and Hades. Every philosophy must end at the grave, but Jesus Christ has the power to rescue us from its very shadow.
In Jesus we are always safe. We cannot normally avoid being swept away by the waters of death, but we can be sure of ultimately arriving at the shore…
“ And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” This is a detail that John did not record in his description, but Jesus stated that in His hand He held “the keys of death and Hades.” These keys were evidently purchased with His own blood, for according to Hebrews 2:14-15, “by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The Christian need not fear death or Hades. The unseen abode of the unbelieving dead currently is Hades, often called “hell.” After the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20, death and Hades will be “thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death” (20:14). Those outside of Jesus Christ have every reason to fear that event! The child of God, however, should never fear death, Hades, or the lake of fire. Why? Because Christ our Savior has the keys of death and Hades, and a key is a symbol of release.
Years ago I was taken to see a prisoner by the special representative of the warden’s office in the reformatory at St. Cloud, Minnesota. While there, I noted that new inmates obviously feared the institution and the long-anticipated confinement; however, I did not fear the institution. Why? Because the representative of the warden’s office held the keys to the institution for me, even though I passed through sixteen heavy steel doors all securely locked. In a similar manner, those who know Jesus Christ need never fear Hades and death, for He holds the key that unlocks the door to this dreaded place.
The big question is, Do you know Him? Is He your Savior? Though Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world, He has not saved all the people of the world...When the Philippian jailer asked the Apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” he received the emphatic reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16: 31). That is, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you trusted in Him? If not, I urge you to commit your soul, by faith, to Him today by asking Him to come into your heart, cleanse your sin, and save your soul. -- Tim LaHaye [pg. 39; Revelation Unveiled; Zondervan, 1999]