Session 5

Revelation Study –Session 5


Some people see in Revelation 4:1 a reference to what is often referred to as “the rapture” of the church from the world.  Because this is such a popular concept among contemporary Christians, this is a good point in our study to explore it.  Actually, the word “rapture” does not occur in the NT.  Our word rapture comes from the Latin word “rapio” which means to seize, snatch, or carry off.  It is the Latin word used to translate the Greek word “harpazo” which essentially has the same meaning.  This is the word Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 in his teachings to the Christians in Thessalonica about the Lord’s return.  He wrote, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus shall we ever be with the Lord.”  It is primarily from that verse that the word “rapture” has come to be associated with the Lord’s return.


Because Revelation 4:1 is such a significant verse for those who do believe in a separate rapture of the church, I think that this point in our study is a good time to overview the primary New Testament verses used to support the idea of a rapture of the church from the world prior to the Lord’s Second Coming and at least offer some alternate ways to view those verses.


The most common view of the sequence of events related to the Lord’s return, popularized first by Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and later by the Left Behind book series, has as one of its core beliefs a secret return of Christ to remove His church suddenly from the world.  The Left Behind series gets its title from the idea that believers will be snatched from the world and others will be left behind to go on with life.  According to this view, following this secret removal of the true church, a period of intense tribulation will occur on earth.  Most of those who subscribe to this view say that Revelation 6-18 deals with the seven year tribulation period.  Most say the tribulation will last seven literal years divided into 2 periods.  The first period will be marked by chaos and the second period by relative peace as people submit to the anti-Christ.  During the tribulation period, people still can be saved and many, especially Jews, will be.  At the end of the seven year tribulation, the Second Coming of Jesus (actually in this view it would be a third coming!) occurs and the final battle between good and evil takes place.  There are a number of variations of that view, but I think that is a fair summary of it.


As I pointed out in our first session, this view of end-time events is a relatively new view is the scope of church history.  It didn’t burst on the scene until about 150 years ago.  John N. Darby, the founder of the Plymouth Brethren, is credited with being one of the key developers of this view.  C. I. Scofield, in the popular Scofield Reference Bible, brought this view into the mainstream of Christian theology.  This is probably the view most of you hold because it is the one most often taught today.  I was taught this view in the church in which I grew up and until I attended seminary I just assumed that was what all Christians believed and had always believed about end-time events.  But I want you to be aware that it is not the dominant view in the history of the church.  The early church fathers, the great reformers, the theologians of the Renaissance, and many other great Christian thinkers knew nothing of this particular point of view.  That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong or right.  I just want you to know that it is possible to be faithful to God’s Word and not buy into that particular view of eschatology.


Since a belief in a separate rapture of the church from the world is a key lynch-pin in this view and since Revelation 4:1 is one of the key verses upon which the belief of the rapture of the church is based, I thought it would be appropriate to explain why many Christians do not view what is referred to as the rapture of the church and the Second Coming of Christ as two separate events, but more like two sides of the same coin.  Basically, there are four NT passages on which those who believe in a rapture of the church prior to the second coming base their belief.  We’ll briefly look at each of them.


Revelation 4:1 – Among others, Dr. W. A. Criswell, in his Expository Sermons on Revelation makes this case.  The idea is that John’s being caught up to heaven is a preview of the rapture of the church from the world.  Basically, the argument is based on two things:

  • In I Thessalonians 4 where the word “harpazo” is used in conjunction with the Lord’s return, the Scripture speaks of “a voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God...”  Those who see the rapture in Revelation 4:1 point to the parallels with the phrase “...the first voice ... like the sound of a trumpet...”   While there are some obvious parallels between the two passages, if the Thessalonians passage does not teach a separate rapture of the church, that would render the parallels irrelevant.  That is only a secondary argument for this verse referring to a separate rapture.
  • The primary argument put forth, the one championed by Dr. Criswell, is that from this verse until near the end of the book, the word “church” which was used so frequently in chapters 2 & 3 does not appear in Revelation.  From this they conclude that the church has been extracted from the world.  Those who don’t hold this view counter this argument in two ways:
    • They point out the word “church” is never used in Revelation to refer to the people of God as a whole, but only to local congregations.  The fact that the word does not appear after chapter 3 has no bearing on the whereabouts of the people of God.
    • They point out that throughout Revelation there are references to the “saints” which is a common NT way of referring to Christians, and these saints are obviously still in the world.  For example, look at Revelation 13:7-10.  (read)


I Thessalonians 4:13-5:3 – The question is, “Do these verses refer to an event other than the Second Coming of Jesus which is clearly taught in Scripture?  Is it sound biblical exegesis to find in these verses references to a secret, silent rapture of Christians from the world?”  I think a careful study of the text reveals the answer to both of those questions is “No!.”  I want to point out just a couple of things from this passage and perhaps wet your appetite to do some more study of it on your own.

  • Notice that v.15 sets the context of the events described in this passage as the time of “the coming of the Lord.”  Paul uses a specific Greek word for “coming” in that verse, the word “parousia.”  This word is used elsewhere in the NT, as we shall see in a moment, in relation to the Lord’s coming at the end of the world. 
  • There is nothing secret or silent about the event being described in this passage.  Verse 16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout (literally ‘cry of command’) with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God...”  That verse has been called by some people the noisiest verse in the Bible!
  • In 5:2 Paul refers to this event with the phrase “the day of the Lord.”  This phrase is used extensively in Scripture to depict the time when God will judge the world.  In 2 Peter 3:10 the Bible says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”  That phrase does not refer to a secret event but to a cataclysmic event.
  • The reference in 5:2 about the “day of the Lord” coming “just like a thief in the night” does not mean that it will come in secret.  It means the day will come unannounced.  Peter’s use of that same phrase in relation to the earth being destroyed makes that clear.
  • In 2 Thessalonians, written as a follow-up to 1st Thessalonians, Paul says several interesting things which shed some light on these verses:
    • 1:7-10 – His coming will be a time of judgment on those who have rejected Him.  No indication that he is talking about a different coming than the one mentioned in the first letter.
    • 2:1-3 – Equates the coming of Jesus, the gathering of His people together with Him, and the day of the Lord.  Not separate events but the same event!  He writes to assure them that the event has not already happened and that when it did happen, they would certainly not miss it!
  • It seems to me that the weight of evidence suggests that the act of being “caught up” to which Paul refers in 1st Thessalonians 4:17 (which to my knowledge is only time that word is used in reference to the return of Christ) obviously takes place at the event we call the Second Coming.  It is that climactic event in which all history comes to an end.  After that moment in time, the eternal fate of all people is sealed.  There are no second chances, no further opportunities to be saved.


Matthew 24

  • Key to the chapter is in verses 1-3.  Jesus made a statement about the destruction of the Temple.  Disciples asked Him two questions:  When will that take place and what will be the sign of His coming (“parousia”) and the end of the age?  
  • At least four times in this chapter Jesus uses the word parousia (the same word Paul used in 1st Thessalonians) in relation to the event being described here.
    • He makes it clear it would not be a secret event (Matt.24:26-27, 30)
    • He makes it clear it would be a time of gathering His people (Matt.24:31)
  • The similarities between 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and the event described in Matthew 24 are apparent.  Each mentions clouds, noise, a trumpet, and a gathering of believers.  Obviously they are referring to the same event.
  • Verses 40-41 often are used by those who want to support a secret snatching away of Christians, leaving behind those who aren’t Christians to go on with their lives in this world.  This is probably the second most quoted passage in the Bible now being used to support the Left Behind idea of a silent Rapture prior to the Tribulation. Supposedly, when this verse is fulfilled, those who are “taken” will vanish without a trace and those left will have to endure the Tribulation in which it is still possible to find salvation.  But is this really what Jesus Christ is saying?  A closer look at the context of that statement reveals that is not at all the meaning.  Jesus basically said, “It will be just like Noah’s day” (verses 37—39). Now think about that. Did Noah and his families vanish before the flood? No, they walked visibly into the ark. And what about those who were left behind after the door of the ark was shut? Did they have a second chance? No again. How were they left? They were left for dead; they did not escape. After saying, “the flood came, and took them all away,” Jesus made His the point “so shall also the coming (“parousia”) of the Son of man be” (verse 39). And then, without a break, Christ said, “then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left” (verse 40).
  • Immediately after saying “One shall be taken and the other left...” Jesus compared His coming to the sudden arrival of a thief coming in the night just as Paul in Thessalonians and Peter in 2 Peter did.  And His point was the same one they made, “For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do no think He will.” 


1st Corinthians 15:51-52 - What about the Rapture taking place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”? This is probably the third most quoted passage in the Bible now being used to support the idea of vanishing Christians prior to the Tribulation. “Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed: (1 Corinthians 15:51 - 52). Is Paul saying that believers will mysteriously vanish from the earth prior to the Tribulation, while their loved ones blink? Not at all! He is saying that the dead will be raised and our bodies will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” But when will this “moment” take place? Paul’s answer is clear.  It will occur at the last trumpet,” when “the trumpet shall sound,” that is, at the end of the world. This is that very same “great sound of a trumpet” Jesus said would be heard at His Second Coming (Matthew 24:31) and the one to which Paul referred in 1st Thessalonians 4:16.


From my perspective there is not enough biblical evidence to accept the view that the church is taken from the world before the Second Coming of Jesus.  To believe that means that whenever you come across a reference to the Lord’s return in the New Testament (and there are many of them), you must make a judgment as to which return is being referenced.  Is the text referring to the secret coming or the public coming?  In most references it is not clear. 


However, I would quickly add that one’s belief about such matters should not be a test of fellowship.  As I stated in our very first session, very committed and capable Christians have differed on such matters.  While the Bible clearly teaches the Lord is going to return (and belief in that is basic, fundamental to biblical theology), the Bible  is not nearly so clear on the details surrounding the return.