In part three of this series, we looked at Jesus’ messages to the ‘seven churches of
Asia:’ a collection of churches with traits (good or bad) that Christ revealed to the apostle John. John could then speak for Him in order to help the churches strengthen their positive Jesus-centered behavior and to eliminate those behaviors that were not. Jesus conveyed these seven messages to have them used as instructional tools for His church in all ages so that they might be the most effective agents for the growth of the kingdom of God.
In the throne room of God Himself:
Immediately after John receives the seven instructions, Jesus calls him up to God’s throne room in heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice which I had heard addressing me like [the calling of] a war trumpet said, Come up here, and I will show you what must take place in the future. Rev. 4:1 AMP
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. Rev. 4:2 NKJV
We see then that Revelation is now shifting its perspective both heavenward and toward future events.
[This is one of the major scriptures cited as being a symbol for the 'rapture' of the church at the time of the tribulations (i.e. God's judgments of wrath) that lie in store for those who reject Him.
The word 'rapture' is not found anywhere in the Bible. An evangelist named John Nelson Darby first preached the concept in the early 1800s. 'Rapture' (as it used in various biblical interpretations) means to be 'caught up' or to be 'taken away;' and it is used to refer to when it is believed that Jesus will return and take God's children out of harm's way during the tribulations. How and when this rapture occurs (or not) depends upon who is doing the interpreting. This concept of 'rapture' is formulated from various scriptures. One of these is from Jesus Himself:
"…watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." Luke 21:34 - 36. ESV
Jesus is telling us to stay in right standing with God, and to remain on spiritual alert for Christ's return, so that we, as God's children, can escape the fate reserved for the rebellious. That escape path looks like this:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. 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 we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16, 17. NKJV
Jesus comes and gathers all of God's children (both dead and alive) and swoops them up to heaven. Why?
For God has not appointed us to [incur His] wrath [He did not select us to condemn us], but [that we might] obtain [His] salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… 1 Thess. 5:9 AMP
Take notice! I tell you a mystery (a secret truth, an event decreed by the hidden purpose or counsel of God). We shall not all fall asleep [in death], but we shall all be changed (transformed)… 1 Cor. 15:51 AMP
Jesus has His faithful followers covered, (as we saw in part 3 of this series):
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Rev. 3:10 NKJV
I understand this to mean that we won’t suffer the trials, because we won’t be living on the earth.
Let’s recap the sequence of events so far: John was called up to heaven immediately after he received the church messages regarding how to remain a steadfast follower of Christ – how to conduct oneself in the ‘church age.’
John then receives an overview of how God’s wrath will manifest. (Some interpret the ‘risen John’ as a symbol of the raptured church. As such, they see the church caught up to heaven before the tribulations occur.) Those who ascribe to this interpretation believe that the rapture will be a hidden event that is separate from Jesus’ globally public ‘second coming.’
Other interpreters refer back to the Old Testament book of Daniel (7:25) and see that scripture as a prophetic vision that indicates that the saints will have to suffer through the first half of a seven-year tribulation period before they are ‘raptured.’
Finally, there are other interpreters who look to what Jesus sequenced in Matt. 24:29 – 31: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven and the power of the heavens will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all of the tribes of the earth will mourn, and see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet. and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one heaven to the other. (NKJV)
Thus, these interpreters believe that the ‘rapture’ will occur after the tribulations.
The important thing to understand is that these are the best interpretations that man has to offer. What we can know with certainty is that God will indeed rescue His children, through Christ, at some specific point in time, and separate them from the stiff-necked unbelievers whose outcome is mercifully not ours…]
Back to the throne room: John is seeing the Creator of the universe. We know that at this point, a major shift has taken place in the relationship between God and Man, because heretofore, no one was allowed to look upon the face of God except His Son. (See Ex. 33:20; John 6:46)
However, the glory of God’s countenance is so overwhelmingly magnificent that John cannot describe it in a corporeal fashion. Instead, John describes what he perceives as a stunning rainbow with an accompanying radiance given off by incomparable jewels – all the while joined by flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder. (See Rev. 4:3 & 5.)
John also sees others near the throne:
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns on their heads. Rev. 4:4 NKJV
These ‘elders’ consist of representatives of the church – a unification of the twelve tribes of Israel along with the twelve apostles. John sees the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves before Christ in worship, as they also bring forth the prayers of the saints for His consideration. (See Rev. 5:9)
John also sees the ‘seven Spirits of God’ that represent the Holy Spirit in His complete fullness. Some interpreters view this as the completed fullness of the Holy Spirit within the saints.
Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would be with the saints forever. (See John 14:16) So they take this coming together of John with the unified Holy Spirit to indicate that the saints are ‘raptured’ into God’s presence at this time, i.e. before the tribulations, because they cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit once that unification has taken place.
The apostle then describes a ‘sea of glass’ before the throne. (See Rev. 4:6) Some interpreters claim that when the word ‘sea’ is not used in the Bible as a specific body of water, it is used to describe a vast throng of people. They see this sea of glass as a symbol representing the redeemed saints. (Personally, I think that is a bit of a stretch of the imagination.)
Finally, John describes four ‘living creatures’ around the throne [similar to the angelic cherubim and seraphim that populated the visions of the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel (ch. 1) and Isaiah (ch.6)], whom, along with the twenty-four elders, are worshiping God.
The stage is set. The action begins…next time
Good night and God bless.