Red Moon Rising—The Rapture and the Timeline of the Apocalypse
The Red Moon Rapture
“The Rapture” is the term used to describe the moment when Jesus Christ will return to the atmosphere above the earth to snatch his believers off of the face of the earth and take them to heaven. Jesus promised that he would one day do this and his promise was recorded in the Gospel of John,
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3 KJV)
God the Father lives in heaven and Jesus said that he would go there to prepare a place for us, after which he would come back and take us to live with him there. The Apostle Paul wrote that when Jesus comes back for the living believers he would also gather all of the dead believers and that this resurrection would immediately precede the rapture:
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
The Greek word for “caught up” is the word harpazo, which is translated as rapturo in the Latin Vulgate Bible, which is how the “catching up” of living believers into heaven has come to be known as “The Rapture.” In a letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote that the change to both dead and living believers at the time of the rapture will be completed in a split-second,
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)
The reference to the “last trumpet” in this passage should not be confused with the seventh Trumpet of Revelation, which is a mistake made by some Bible scholars. By referring to the “last trumpet” Paul was simply implying that the rapture would be the prophetic fulfillment of the Jewish holy day of Rosh Hoshanah, which involves the use of such a “last trumpet.” A similar idea is expressed when the death of Jesus is said to fulfill the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 2:17 and Hebrews 9.
The “coming” of Jesus Christ into the earth’s atmosphere to rapture and resurrect the saints is a separate event from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to the earth at the end of the tribulation period. When Jesus “comes” to gather and take the saints to heaven he will remain invisible to human eyes and his feet will not touch the ground. On the other hand, at the Second Coming every eye will see Jesus coming on the clouds (Matthew 24:30, Revelation 1:7), and then his feet will touch the ground just as it clearly states in Zechariah 14:4, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives...”
After the rapture and resurrection believers will live in heaven with Jesus and God the Father for a period of time (a minimum of seven years) until the Second Coming takes place. Jesus will then return to the earth with the saints and the Messianic Kingdom will be established. Israel will be regathered and restored a final time, and then the earth will experience peace for a thousand years, with Jesus reigning as king from the holy city of Jerusalem.
The “coming” of Jesus for the purpose of taking his believers to heaven will occur at an unknown day, while the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth to set up the Messianic Kingdom will occur at a known day, precisely at the end of the seventieth week of Daniel. The rapture will occur when life is going on as normal and the world is unsuspecting, while the return of Jesus to the earth will occur after the most terrible time of tribulation the world has ever seen. The “coming” of Jesus to rapture and resurrect the saints will precede the Day of the Lord, which will come upon the wicked “like a thief in the night,” whereas the actual Second Coming of Jesus to the earth will be anticipated and challenged by the armies of all the nations of the world that will gather at Armageddon.
There are many passages that connect the rapture of living believers on this “unknown day” with the beginning of the Day of the Lord. In the last chapter we mentioned two specific passages in which Peter and Paul state that the Day of the Lord would come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 2 Peter 3:10). This metaphor was well-known to the Apostles and to the early Church because it was first used by Jesus during his end-times talk on the Mount of Olives. In his Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, after describing the specific events that would occur before and during the Day of the Lord, Jesus referred to the “unknown day” of the rapture,
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.
That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:36-44)
Peter and Paul both connected the “day” in which the “Lord will come” that Jesus referred to, with the Day of the Lord, using the same “thief in the night” metaphor. Paul says not to worry about “times and dates” when it comes to this unknown day, and Peter tells believers not to be discouraged if it seems that the Lord is slow in keeping his promise to come back for us,
Paul: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
Peter: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” (2 Peter 3:9-10)
In the Olivet Discourse Jesus predicted that the situation on the earth prior to the Day of the Lord would be similar to the peaceful situation prior to Noah’s flood. This is echoed by Paul’s description of “peace and safety” prior to the Day of the Lord that he gives in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. The Day of the Lord will then intrude on this relative “peacefulness” with a suddenness and intensity almost equaling that of the flood and according to Jesus on that day “one will be taken and the other left.”
Jesus gave a much clearer promise that believers will be raptured immediately prior to the Day of the Lord in a portion of the Olivet Discourse that was recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In this passage he again explains that the world will be existing in a relatively peaceful atmosphere, in which the biggest temptations to believers will be parties, overindulgence in food and drink, and the everyday problems of life,
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)
In this text Jesus clearly predicts that believers will be able to “escape” the terrible devastation of the Day of the Lord and “all that is about to happen,” and that the destination of their escape will be heaven where they will “stand before the Son of Man.” On the other hand, unbelievers will not be spiritually prepared and Paul says “they will not escape” in his important passage in 1 Thessalonians,
“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)
Again Paul echoes the words of Jesus, who warned of the temptations of drunkenness and overindulgence, by admonishing his readers to “be alert and self-controlled” and to focus instead on faith, love and hope. In the end faithful believers can be assured that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation.” This is not the broader “salvation” that believers gain through faith in Christ, but a very specific “salvation” from the wrath of the Day of the Lord. Paul echoes this promise in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 when he writes of “Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
When we examine the words of Paul along with the words of Jesus we learn that prior to the Day of the Lord unbelievers will be unworried and saying “peace and safety” but faithful believers will be watching and praying and will therefore be spiritually prepared for the coming of the Day of the Lord. This preparedness will be rewarded at the rapture when all true believers will be “rescued” from the earth just before God’s wrath begins with the Day of the Lord. Because of their faithfulness believers will “escape all that is about to happen,” but for the unbelievers who say “peace and safety” and scoff at the possibility of Christ’s return, and for professing believers who do not spiritually prepare themselves, the Day of the Lord will begin suddenly and “unexpectedly like a trap” and “they will not escape.”
The rapture and resurrection of believers that is predicted by Jesus in the Gospels and by Paul in his Letters is fulfilled in the book of Revelation in the description of events from the opening of the fifth seal up until the opening of the seventh seal.
The Rapture and Resurrection in the Book of Revelation
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel...
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’
Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from? I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 6:9 to 7:17)
According to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 the “dead in Christ,” meaning the many Christian believers who have died since Jesus was crucified, will be resurrected immediately before the living believers are raptured from the earth to heaven. Preparation for this resurrection is hinted at within the fifth Seal, which can be broken down into the following outline:
I. A Picture of the Martyrs- “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.”
II. The Question- “They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”
III. The Gift- “Then each of them was given a white robe...”
IV. The Answer- “…and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”
The altar is a special place in heaven where the souls of the saints who have been slain for spreading the Gospel are kept. At the opening of the fifth Seal these souls cry out impatiently asking when the final judgment of the earth is to take place, so that their deaths might be avenged.
In the previous chapter we concluded that the seventieth week will not begin until sometime after the first Trumpet judgment. The Question that the martyrs ask is further evidence that our conclusion is correct, because if the seventieth week had already begun then the martyrs would have known that the judgment was, at most, seven years away. The Question that the martyrs ask, as well as the vague Answer they get, is further evidence that the seventieth week must begin sometime after the fifth Seal is opened.
Some scholars mistake the Question that the martyrs ask to be “When will we be resurrected?” The answer to the Question is then read to mean that the souls of the martyrs must wait until the final judgment to be resurrected. To avoid this mistake we must be clear that the question is not “When will we be resurrected?” but “When will the earth be judged?” The martyrs are told they must wait until the end for the final judgment, but they are told this after they receive their special Gift of white robes.
John, who witnessed these events, may have only witnessed the souls of the martyrs receiving white robes, but this does not mean that only the martyrs received white robes. The souls of believers who died of natural causes might in fact be held in a location other than under the altar, and they may have received the Gift as well.
In any case the evidence supports the conclusion that this Gift either represents, or is in preparation for, the Resurrection. It is part of a profound change that takes place to believers in heaven during the time before the fifth Seal is opened to the time after the sixth Seal. First the souls that John sees exist under the altar without white robes, and then after the sixth Seal events have concluded we see a scene of a great multitude of believers standing in front of the throne and in front of Jesus, and all of them are wearing white robes.
Certainly the change from existing under the altar to standing in front of the throne, and from at first not possessing white robes to finally wearing white robes, is evidence of a profound transition to believers in heaven, a transition that is marked by the Gift and a transition that, once completed, can only be explained by the rapture and resurrection.
The fifth Seal concludes with the Gift of white robes to the souls in heaven, after which Jesus will open the sixth Seal and then enter the earth’s atmosphere to resurrect the bodies of dead believers and rapture the living believers off of the earth into the sky. Living believers will then meet the newly resurrected dead believers “in the air” as Paul predicts in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and then the entrance of this “great multitude” into heaven is pictured in Revelation 7:9-17.
The resurrection and rapture will happen “in the twinkling of an eye” at the same time or immediately prior to the initial sixth Seal events take place on the earth, which explains the title of this chapter and of the chronological model of prophetic events presented in this book: “The Red Moon Rapture.”
The Signs of a Resurrection
The resurrection that occurs prior to the beginning of the Day of the Lord within the sixth Seal is not the first mass resurrection of souls. The first group resurrection occurred almost 2000 years ago at the moment Jesus died upon the cross,
“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ...And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27:45-53)
The two signs that occurred at the resurrection of this select group of Old Testament saints at the moment of the death of Jesus were: 1) a darkening of the sun, 2) an earthquake. These signs are also the first two signs that will be seen after the opening of the sixth Seal,
“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair...”
This is further evidence that the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” occurs right after the opening of the sixth Seal.
Only Unbelievers Remain
The wrath of the Day of the Lord begins with the shaking of the entire earth, and the people on the earth respond to it in fear and terror by crying out to the rocks on the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
This suicidal cry is made by “the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man.” Since every man is either a slave or a free man it is clear that Revelation is telling us that every person on the face of the earth will respond in this manner, and that at this point in time there will be no believers present upon the earth. The rapture will take every true believer to heaven, leaving only false believers and unbelievers to cry out in fear when the Day of the Lord begins on the earth.
The Firstfruits from an Unbelieving World
After the earth is shaken and every human being is made to tremble at the power and majesty of God the next event is the sealing of the 144,000,
“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” (Revelation 7:1-4)
The 144,000 will be a specific group of Jewish men who God will reach out to and supernaturally convert, perhaps in a way similar to Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. They will then be sealed with the seal of God which will give them protection from the effects of the fifth Trumpet judgment (Revelation 9:4). They are described further in Revelation 14:4-5,
“These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.”
The designation of the 144,000 as the “firstfruits” offered to God and the Lamb only makes sense if it is understood that they will be the very first human beings converted to faith in Jesus Christ once the earth is left with only unbelievers after the rapture. They will be the first to believe and be saved out of a world temporarily empty of true believers.
The Appearance of the Great Multitude
The resurrection and rapture of dead and living believers from the earth will take place immediately after the opening of the sixth Seal. After John views the opening of the sixth Seal in heaven his attention becomes focused on the earth and he views the effects of the five events. After watching mankind’s reaction to the beginning of the Day of the Lord, and after watching the sealing of the 144,000 on the earth, John’s attention is shifted once more to his surroundings in heaven. This is when he sees the results of the resurrection and rapture:
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
The resurrection and rapture is the only event that will result in the appearance of such an innumerable multitude in heaven. At all other times the souls of deceased believers stream into heaven one by one or in groups, but at the resurrection and rapture the entire body of believers will be entering heaven at the same time.
Earlier, during the events that preceded the opening of the seals in heaven, John was able to hear the twenty-four elders explain what the death of Jesus Christ accomplished for humanity,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
The great multitude is described using the exact same language. They were purchased and saved by the death of Jesus whom they praise, and they come “from every nation, tribe, people and language.”
The great multitude is made up completely of living believers. They wear white robes, they hold palm branches, and they stand before the throne of God and serve Him in the heavenly Temple. Nowhere is the great multitude described as being made up of the souls of dead believers. The souls of dead believers are kept in temporary holding areas, such as under the altar, and John easily recognized such souls at the opening of the fifth Seal, but when asked who the great multitude is John is unsure and refuses to reply.
The great multitude is also shown at the end of the book of Revelation at the moment when Christ is ready to make His triumphant return,
“After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments...’ Then a voice came from the throne, saying: ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!’ Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (Revelation 19:1-8)
There is no question that the great multitude at the end of the book of Revelation is the great multitude of raptured and resurrected saints, known also simply as “The Church.” It is the same “great multitude” that is shown wearing white robes in heaven after the sixth Seal, and they shout the same message. After the sixth Seal they shout, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne...” and after the seventh Bowl they shout, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God...”
The reference to the great multitude as God’s “bride” is a clear reference to God’s true Church, which is an allegory Paul used in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:25-27. If the great multitude at the end of Revelation is the same as the great multitude in heaven at the beginning of the Day of the Lord, then we can be sure that the sixth Seal marks the point when the Bride, God’s true Church, is taken up into heaven.
A Place Prepared...
The Gospel of John records the promise that Jesus made to come back and take those who believe in him to his Father’s house in heaven. This promise is fulfilled when the great multitude appears in heaven. The elder explains to John that they “...are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.” The King James translation simply says, “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.”
In the promise that Jesus made he said that his return would be for the purpose of taking believers to heaven so that they might live with Him and the Father in his Father’s house. If the souls of dead believers were meant as the benefactors of this promise, then Jesus would have simply said “When you die you will come to heaven to live with me in my Father’s house.” This is clearly not the case. Jesus connects “living” or “dwelling” with the Father in heaven to the rapture and His coming for His believers. Only after the rapture/resurrection will believers be living or dwelling in heaven with Jesus and the Father. Therefore the fact that the great multitude dwells with and serves God the Father in heaven is evidence that they are the Church that was raptured and resurrected prior to the Day of the Lord.
Salvation or Wrath?
In the beginning portion of the book of Revelation John wrote down seven messages that Jesus wanted John to give to seven churches in Asia Minor. They are messages to the actual first century churches of John’s day, yet they can also be read as chronologically accurate descriptions of the Visible Church as a whole as it has grown and evolved over the centuries. These messages are also applicable to the problems and challenges faced by the many types of churches that exist today, and they contain many allusions to the situation that will confront the Visible Church as a whole just prior to the Day of the Lord.
Within these messages there are encouraging words for faithful believers and also accusations and warnings against false believers. The message that appears to be aimed at the Church that predominates today, at least here in the West, is the message to the seventh and final church:
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14-22)
Throughout the messages Jesus is clear that faithful believers will be rewarded and false believers will be punished. To the church of Thyatira Jesus speaks of a woman named “Jezebel” who leads many of the believers astray with her false teachings. Jesus says that those who follow her wicked ways will be thrown “with her into great tribulation” (Revelation 2:22 NASB).
On the other hand, to faithful believers within the church in Philadelphia Jesus says,
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)
A similar message is given to the church at Sardis, and the message contains many allusions to the themes that we have covered so far in our study of the rapture,
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:1-5)
The point of the messages from Jesus is clear: True believers who persevere, obey the commands of Jesus, and remain awake and focused on the hope of his return will be “kept from the hour of trial” and have the privilege of being “dressed in white,” while falsely professing believers will suffer the same fate as unbelievers and be “cast into great tribulation” and forced to endure the “hour of trial.”
The fate of true believers is declared by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, and it also implies the fate that can be expected for unbelievers as well as falsely professing believers,
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This statement can also be read as a prophecy that is fulfilled by the events of the sixth Seal:
Salvation for true believers: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count... And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (7:9-10)
Wrath for everyone else: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (6:15-17)
Out of Great Tribulation
After the great multitude appears in heaven one of the twenty-four elders approaches John and asks him who they are and where they came from. John is not sure and so he encourages the elder to tell him the answer. The elder responds saying,
“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb...” (Revelation 7:14)
The term “great tribulation” is simply another name for the “Day of the Lord.” The adjective “great” is necessary to create a distinction between the end-times “great tribulation” and the “tribulation” that began for the Church the moment that it was formed in the first century AD. That the Church was promised “tribulation,” and has endured “tribulation” from the very beginning, is proven in a number of texts (all from the KJV):
Acts 14:22 – “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Romans 5:1-3 – “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience...”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
1 Thessalonians 3:4 – “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.”
2 Thessalonians 1:4 – “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure.”
Revelation 1:9 – “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Believers must understand that they will continually face “tribulation” for maintaining and proclaiming their faith. However, the Bible offers no evidence whatsoever that believers must be prepared to enter into the end-times “great tribulation.” In fact, the opposite is true.
There are only three instances of the term “great tribulation” found in the Bible. Studied together these passages make it clear that the “great tribulation” applies to the entire Day of the Lord and that believers are promised to be kept from it.
The first passage is Matthew 24:15-21 (KJV),
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains... For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
Some prophecy scholars conclude that Jesus meant that the term “great tribulation” should be reserved to apply only to the second half of the seventieth week of Daniel. It is true that Jesus referred to this time period descriptively as a time of “great tribulation” but he immediately modified his description of that time to be the period of “greatest tribulation.” The entire Day of the Lord will be a period characterized by “great tribulation” but the second half of the seventieth week will be the time of “greatest tribulation.”
To summarize, the time of “tribulation” began with the creation of the Church in the first century; the time of “great tribulation” begins when the Day of the Lord begins after the sixth Seal is opened; and the time of “greatest tribulation” begins at the midpoint of the seventieth week when the abomination of desolation is set up in the Temple.
The second reference to “great tribulation” comes within the message to the church at Thyatira as a warning to professing believers,
“Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:20-22 KJV)
Now there are a few prophecy scholars who teach that the entire Church is destined to enter into the end-times “great tribulation” to suffer through it for at least a short period of time. But if this is the case, then the warning to the church at Thyatira makes absolutely no sense. Why would Jesus say “repent, or I will cast you into great tribulation” if believers are destined to enter into the “great tribulation” anyway? The passage above contradicts the theory that true believers will enter into the “great tribulation” and instead implies the very opposite.
The third reference to “great tribulation” comes within the explanation that John receives regarding the identity and origin of the “great multitude,”
“And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14 KJV)
The English translation of this text suggest to many scholars that the “great multitude” are a group of saints, whether the living Church or the souls of end-times martyrs, who have endured a portion of the “great tribulation” prior to being taken out of it.
In fairness to this argument I must explain from the beginning that as a scholar I am a novice when it comes to Biblical Greek and so I stand to be corrected from those who are experts. However, because even the experts can be counted on to disagree, this is how I see it:
The “great multitude” of Revelation 7 can only be the raptured/resurrected Invisible Church of true and genuine believers. Believers are promised to be rescued from the Day of the Lord’s wrath, and the Day of the Lord begins within the sixth Seal, therefore the “great multitude” must be taken off of the earth before the Day of the Lord begins, and they cannot have experienced any of the effects of the “great tribulation.”
Here are several different translations of the text in question:
NIV - These are they who have come out of the great tribulation
KJV - These are they which came out of great tribulation
ASV - These are they that come of the great tribulation
NASB – These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation
There are two questions that must be answered. First, what is the proper tense in which the text should be translated, and second, what is the great multitude’s relationship to the great tribulation?
Regarding the first question, did the great multitude come out of the great tribulation (past tense) as recorded in the KJV and NIV? Or are they coming out of the great tribulation (present tense) as recorded in the ASV and NASB?
The problem revolves around the Greek word for “came/come” in this passage which is erxomenoi. Strong’s Concordance explains that in Revelation 7:14 it is written in the present tense, but offers a qualification,
“5774 Tense - Present
The present tense represents a simple statement of fact or reality viewed as occurring in actual time. In most cases this corresponds directly with the English present tense. Some phrases which might be rendered as past tense in English will often occur in the present tense in Greek. These are termed ‘historical presents,’ and such occurrences dramatize the event described as if the reader were there watching the event occur. Some English translations render such historical presents in the English past tense, while others permit the tense to remain in the present.”
The word erxomenoi is an example of the “historical present” tense, which explains why some versions interpret it in the present tense and others in the past tense.
Further evidence that it should be rendered in the past tense comes from the previous verse (7:13) when the elder asked John “whence came they?” The question is in the aorist tense, which is almost always rendered in the past tense. John did not ask “where are they coming from?” but “where did they come from?”
Regarding Revelation 7:14, the highly respected Bible scholar Dr. Robert H. Mounce, in his exhaustive commentary and analysis The Book of Revelation (1977, p.173) writes,
“The participle should be understood in a general sense to mean ‘such as come’ or perhaps as a more vivid way of saying ‘they that have just come.’ The aorist [tense] of vs. 13 makes unlikely the idea that oi erxomenoi refers to some who are still arriving.”
We will allow Dr. Mounce to stand as our expert for our first question regarding the great multitude. The second question has to do with the “great tribulation.” Does the text demand that the great multitude experienced at least a portion of it, or did the great multitude escape its effects?
The question centers on the word for “out of” which is the Greek word ek from “These are they which came out of great tribulation.” According to Strong’s Concordance this little word is primarily interpreted as “out of,” “from,” “by,” or “away from,” when it is found in the New Testament. If we adopt the interpretation “away from” and link it with the good Dr. Mounce’s preferred interpretation for erxomenoi then 7:14 becomes,
“These are they that have just come away from the great tribulation.”
With the above interpretation it becomes much clearer how the great multitude is the group that has benefited from the promise found in Revelation 3:10 which is:
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
The words “keep from” are from the Greek words tereo ek. Believers are promised to be “kept from” (tereo ek) the hour of trial, and after the great multitude appears in heaven it is clear that they are those who have “come away from” (erxomenoi ek) the great tribulation. They are those who have been rescued at the last moment, who have escaped the Day of the Lord’s wrath. They did not experience any of it, but were taken away from it right as it began.
The scholars who will probably object to this interpretation the most vigorously are those who accept the common “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” model that holds that the Day of the Lord begins with the first Seal (rather than within the sixth) and that the raptured Church is represented in heaven prior to the opening of the first Seal as the twenty-four elders.
Before advocates of this view begin drawing up their rebuttals to the interpretation of Revelation 7:14 given above, I suggest that they consider two texts, one from Paul and one from Jesus, and then explain how they can be applied to the twenty-four elders rather than the great multitude:
“According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)
Paul explains that, according to the very words of Jesus, at the moment of the rapture and resurrection believers will be caught up into the air, and after that point we will be with our Lord Jesus forever.
According to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, if believers are faithful, and watch and pray, and avoid the temptations of life, they will escape the Day of the Lord, and stand before the Son of Man.
Promoters of the traditional “Pre-Trib Rapture” model are forced to defend the conclusion that these texts have to be fulfilled by the twenty-four elders, their “Church,” which is first shown in Revelation 4:4,
“Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.”
If the twenty-four elders “represent” the raptured and resurrected Church in heaven, then why are they sitting down and not standing before the Son of Man? But more importantly, where is Jesus if the Church is to be “with the Lord forever” after the rapture?
After John first sees the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4:4 he watches as the seven-sealed scroll is produced. Then a search is made throughout the universe, in heaven, hell and on earth, for someone who is worthy to take the scroll, but no one is found. Finally in Revelation 5:6, after much weeping, Jesus steps forward after having given himself as a sacrifice. This is evidence that the beginning of John’s vision was first a journey back in time, to a time prior to the crucifixion, before he was shown what would happen in the future. Of course if this is the case then the twenty-four elders can in no way “represent” the Church.
The situation is much different when it comes to the great multitude:
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
There is the Church, and there is our Savior, in perfect fulfillment of the words of Jesus and Paul.
This chapter has offered evidence that the rapture and resurrection of the Church should be placed right after the opening of the sixth Seal, prior to the beginning of the Day of the Lord that begins with the sixth Seal’s fifth event, which is the shaking of the earth.
The Church is then pictured in heaven as the diverse “great multitude” in the description given in Revelation 7:9-17, as well as in the description at the end of the great tribulation found in Revelation 19:1-9.
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