Welcome to the 8th week of a series that will take us right up to the very end of this world, but don’t worry we are at least a few months until I get to that part.
If you are just joining us, we just finished with the third chapter of Revelation and talking about the seven churches that King Jesus instructed the Apostle John to write to. And if you are anything like I used to be and think those letters are just the warm up to the juicy stuff in the rest of the book, think again and listen to or watch those talks. Just think about it, they are letters literally dictated by the risen King of Kings to us, his church, spelling out what he wants and does not want from us. I’d say that’s pretty important. So, please catch up on them if you haven’t already.
And I also must warn you that I have a lot of information to cover today, so try to keep up, and if I’m talking too fast you can always listen to it later in slow speed. And I always post my entire transcript on our website if you want to look up that thing I said halfway through the talk.
Do you see the connection? What this tells us is that all of the things that John wrote after chapter 1:19 are “the things that are” up until the point that John says “after these things” and Jesus even further clarifies that what John is about to see is what must take place “after these things.”
Most of this I will be covering next week, but I wanted to give you the larger context of what we’re talking about today. Today I want to focus on just a few details here that tell us about an event that is not specifically mentioned anywhere in this chapter or in this book. But based on these details and based on a plethora of other Scriptures from the rest of the bible, it must have taken place somewhere between the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4. And, of course, I’m talking about The Rapture of the Church.
We actually see quite a few references to this event in Paul’s letters. The Apostle Paul, in case you don’t know became a Christ Follower after the risen Jesus blinded him on the road to Damascus. After that, he got the Gospel and much more straight from the Jesus himself. He even was taken up to heaven in similar fashion to John at some point but was told not to write what he saw.
But I guess he was permitted to talk about some of it because it seems that especially for the Thessalonians and Corinthians, he had explained the whole thing to them in person and the letters were just to answer some questions or clear up some misunderstanding without spelling it out in detail again. And so, that is what we have to go on. But, based on the many side references to these events, we have come up with the picture I explained to you.
Most scholars and commentators agree on the details of the rapture that I have so far described. It’s hard not to because it’s spelled out pretty clearly. The place where people start disagreeing is on the question of WHEN this event happens.
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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; 39 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. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
What we call the tribulation (and it actually is called that in some places in Scripture) is the period of time that Jesus described this way:
Clearly such global great distress has not happened yet. Not that there hasn’t been ANY distress or localized tribulation. The Christian church has been persecuted at various levels since it began. In the early days, Nero used impaled Christians as tiki torches. There have been countless martyrs for the faith through the centuries, and even today we are seeing Christians being tortured and killed in the middle east and china and other places. But so far, we have yet to see the overwhelming and completely global, not just localized, wholesale persecution of the church AND major catastrophes on the earth as described in the next few chapters of Revelation.
So, although there IS already SOME tribulation, as in trouble, going on for Chrstians – it’s not THE Tribulation described by Jesus or what John sees in this book. So, the tribulation is still in our future, and the Rapture either happens before, during, or at the end of it.
What is Jesus telling us here with the examples of Noah and Lot? He’s telling us two things about when he comes back.
One: it will be a surprise to the point that everyone will be going about their normal lives completely unsuspecting when it suddenly comes upon them, and
Two: that the righteous will be saved from the coming destruction just like Noah and Lot.
We see this a lot in Scripture where events of the Old Testament foreshadow similar events in the future. And we see multiple times in the history of Israel where righteous people were taken out of a place before it is destroyed, which would seem to foreshadow, as Jesus here indicates, that the same thing will happen with the worst calamity to ever befall the earth. The righteous will be saved from it before it happens. And we know that the only righteous are those who have the righteousness of Christ due to their faith in Him. Otherwise known as Christians or Christ Followers.
No, he’s saying we won’t be surprised by the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is not the rapture. The Day of the Lord is when Jesus comes all the way back to the earth as a conquering king, defeating his enemies, and setting up his thousand year rule. Otherwise known as the Second Coming.
I could do a whole sermon on just this distinction as there are many Scriptures that make this abundantly clear, but I don’t think you want to sit here for three hours today…
We will talk about this scene in detail a bit later in the series, but what we should notice right now about this coming is that he has the armies of heaven with him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.
So, now back to the Thessalonians passage we were referring to. Paul is telling the believers they will not be surprised by this Day of the Lord, the Second Coming. That is true because once certain events take place the timing of this final event will be known from the prophecies we will cover in that Back to the Future miniseries, so that those saved during the tribulation can look forward to it ending.
It is also true because, if we are coming down from heaven with Jesus at that point, it means we were already up in heaven before this happens, and thus we will not be on earth to be surprised by it.
But that is not the only evidence either.
There is good evidence in Revelation chapter 4, which is where we started today, that in this part of John’s vision, the church is already in heaven.
The Greek word for elder is πρεσβύτερος – where we get our English word Presbyter. It means a mature man having seasoned judgment (experience); an elder. So, these are definitely human beings, and not angels.
So, who are they? Answer: We don’t know. And their specific identity must not be important because it wasn’t included in the description.
The more important question is, why 24?
One thing to note from this point forward: details matter. Specific details, and especially numbers are all included for a reason. If the number 24 wasn’t important, John would have just said several or many. We will see this a lot in Revelation.
As I’ve explained before, numbers are symbolic. To find the meaning of numbers in Scripture we look at how they are used in various contexts. The specific use of 24 other than in this scene goes all the way back to details of the Levitical priesthood.The details are recorded in the OT book of 1 Chronicles….24. That should be easy to remember.
In order to carry out the ceremonial duties of the tabernacle and temple, the priests were divided into 24 groups who would effectively take shifts in administering the Law and standing as representative of all the people of Israel before God. Similarly, the musicians who served in the same fashion with music were also divided into 24 sections in representative form as well. From this we gather that the number 24 is a number that indicates the representation of a whole group of people. And indeed, that seems to be the case here in Revelation with the 24 elders.
After Christ created his new church, elders replaced priests in a sense. There was no longer ceremonial duties, but they still acted as leadership for and representative of groups of Christians. And so, with 24 elders being present here in the throne room it is reasonable to believe that they represent the church, and the entirety of it.
Not only does 24 mean representative of a whole, the fact that there are exactly 24 thrones and each one is filled is also indicative of a completeness. It is not a stretch to think this picture symbolizes the whole church being in heaven at this point.
Well, actually it would seem they are not. Not all humans who make it to heaven are part of “the church” – all the heroes of the faith that died before Christ walked the earth are definitely going to be in heaven, but they are not part of “the church.” Likewise, those who are saved after the church is removed will still make it to heaven but will not be part of “the church.” I will get into this in more detail later in the series, but for now just understand that at the wedding of Christ the Groom and the Church the Bride – there are also invited wedding guests who get to enjoy the party. Some of these guests will be the Old Testament Saints, and some will be the Tribulation Saints. If this hurts your brain, don’t worry I’ll get to this again later in the series.
So, all that to say there is good evidence these 24 elders indicate the church is in heaven in totality.
There is one other thing here in chapter four that many think could also be symbolic of the rapture, and that’s the way John is told to “come up here” with a voice that sounds like a trumpet and is immediately swooped up into heaven. That sounds pretty similar to what we should expect when the rapture happens. And that’s not the only place this happens in Revelation.
Later when we get to the two witnesses. I won’t go into detail about them today, but basically they are from God and they cause lots of trouble for the antichrist until finally he is allowed to kill them. Their bodies lay in the street for three days and then this happens.
There are seven (surprise, surprise) feasts that God commanded the Israelites to observe on an annual basis after He brought them out of Egypt as part of the overall Law. It turns out they were more than just built-in holidays, they were prophetic. We know this because the first four have been fulfilled.
2) Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6) – Seven-day feast starting the day after Passover. Pointed to the Messiah’s sinless life (as leaven is a picture of sin in the Bible), making Him the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ body was in the grave during the first days of this feast.
7) Tabernacles or Booths (Leviticus 23:34) – A seven-day feast that begins on the 15th day of the 7th month. Many scholars believe that this feast points to the Lord’s promise that He will once again “tabernacle” with His people when He returns to reign over all the world (Micah 4:1-7).
Now, I just covered that very briefly. There is much more to this if you do some research. But pretty interesting, wouldn’t you say?
Anyway, these again are just clues that you can decide for yourself what you think they mean, if anything.
Now, I’m sure for some of you, you’re head is spinning. This is a lot of information and I’m going fast. My head is still spinning and I’ve been studying this for months! So, before we get to this next and final point I want to make sure you’re ready to hear it. So, everyone stand up. Stretch a little. Shake it out. Now sit back down and let me tell you the clue that finally convinced me.
Well, it turns out that is exactly what Jesus was alluding to, only it wasn’t a wedding ceremony like you and I would imagine – it was a wedding ceremony that was practiced in the culture he was living in – a Jewish wedding ceremony from the first century – which is NOT how modern American Jewish weddings work if you’ve ever been to one.
Depending on where we are in history, sometimes this was the point where the bride and groom consummate the marriage in a private room while the bridal party waits.
Are you seeing now what Jesus was alluding to that his disciples would have immediately picked up on? He’s telling them/us – his church – his bride – that if he goes to prepare a place for us, then he will surely come again to take us to be where he is – because we are his bride!
And if the example of the Jewish wedding is any indication, that will indeed be a fly-by where he comes, snatches us away for a period of time, and then we reemerge together to finish the celebrations.
And guess what we find in Revelation 19 at the end of the tribulation just before Jesus and his church come back to earth?
It turns out that the whole millennial kingdom is part of the wedding celebration with the final completion of the ceremony being in the new heaven and new earth. But we’ll be getting to that sometime in the Spring.
And if your mind is blown now, just wait until the next few weeks…
Now, I don’t know about you, but that cultural background sealed the deal for me. One thing you will find as you study Scripture and especially the things that Jesus talked about, is that he constantly used illustrations from the Jewish culture of his surroundings. One, because the people he was teaching would understand what he was saying, and two – if you really think about it – the Jews were God’s chosen people, through whom the world would be blessed. Don’t you think, like with the feasts, that God would use the Jews to show the world more about himself than what is in writing?
Could it be that most of their customs and cultures and practices are different than the rest of the world because they point to the attributes of God and His plan? It turns out that is just the case, and you will have your mind blown about it like I did in the coming weeks.
Anyway, all that to say, if you don’t understand the ancient Israelite culture you will totally miss so much of what the bible communicates. But as you start to learn the details of that culture, so much of God’s Word comes to life and make more sense – including this beloved passage about the father’s house that to me, points clearly to a rapture, a snatching away via fly by, of the bride/church before the bad stuff happens.
So, with all of that said, I have shown you at least part of why I believe that we will be raptured before the tribulation that comes on the whole world. I covered a lot of stuff, but I will have my notes posted online if you want to take a closer look. And I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusion.
But whatever you conclude, the good news about all of this is that whether the rapture is before or after or during, the promises of God still stand. We who believe in God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, as our Lord, King, and Savior – are not appointed to wrath and Jesus says that He will come to get us so we can be with Him forever.
I encourage you to come back next week as I cover the rest of chapter 4 and 5. Some interesting stuff in those chapters. You should read ahead.
As for today, I am out of time and I’m sure you are all ready for some chili, pie, and cornbread.
So, let’s pray.