3. Caught Up!

The trumpet shall sound

The next scene described in Revelation is in heaven, around the throne of God. The introductory phrase After this appears often in Revelation and is a definite indication that the information is presented in a chronological order. When John in Revelation 4:1 says: “After these things....” (in Greek meta tauta) it is to convey that what he is about to describe, follows on the previous scenario of the Church on earth. From chapter 4 onwards we are, therefore, dealing with future events since we are at present still within the dispensation of the Church.

To obtain a glimpse of the glorious destination of the Church, John was called to heaven in his vision. He had heard a voice like the sound of a trumpet, that said: “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1). Soon the faithful are to hear a voice similar to this when Christ shall come to take them away:

“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 will 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 Thes. 4:16-17; emphasis added).

In a study of biblical prophecy it is important that the doctrine of the rapture should be clearly understood. The key-word in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is caught up (Greek: harpazo). In his internationally acclaimed Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (p. 68-69) K.S. Wuest explains this word as follows:

“HARPAZO.  This is a Greek word which has various meanings. It is not translated by one uniform English word. The meanings are as follows: To seize, to carry off by force, to claim for one's self eagerly, to snatch out or away. It was used proverbially in the sense of to rescue from the danger of destruction. It was used also of divine power transferring a person marvellously and swiftly from one place to another. The word is used in Mt. 11:12, 13:19; John 6:15, 10:12, 28-29; Acts 8:39, 23:10; 2 Cor. 12:2, 4; 1 Thes. 4:17, Jude v. 23; and Rev. 12:15. The procedure in Greek exegesis when a word has a number of meanings, is to use only those meanings which are in accord with the context... Study these places where the word occurs... Pay special attention to 1 Thes. 4:17, and see how much new truth you obtain regarding the Rapture of the Church.”

The following are a few examples of ways in which the word harpazo has been translated in the Bible:

·       Snatch away (Mt. 13:19)

·       Take by force (Jn. 6:15)

·       Take by force from among (Acts 23:10)

·       Caught away (Acts 8:39)

·       Caught up (2 Cor. 12:2; 1 Thes. 4:17; Rev. 12:5)

The word caught up or caught away occurs in the verses quoted below, and leaves no doubt about its meaning:

·       Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more (Acts 8:39).

·       I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2 NIV).

·       And the Lord Himself will descend from heaven... And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive... shall be caught up together with them... to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thes. 4:16-17).

·       And she bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne (Rev. 12:5 KJV).

Escape from the wrath of God

A very clear promise that the rapture will occur before the tribulation period, is found in Luke 21. This promise is given after a short review of the dark days of the great tribulation:

“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk. 21:36).

According to W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian Literature, p. 246) the word escape (Greek: ekfeugo), as used in Luke 21:36, means to escape tribulations. The chronological nature of Revelation clearly indicate the glorification of the Church before the first seal of the tribulation period is broken.

From the viewpoint of circumstances on earth, the rapture will constitute an escape for Christians from the tribulations that are to follow. The period immediately preceding the rapture will be a particularly dark time of spiritual deception during which the evangelical Christians will be despised and ridiculed. They will be branded as prophets of doom when they warn people against the impending judgements that will occur during the reign of the Antichrist. They will also be regarded as rebels because of their refusal to co-operate with the ecumenical unification of all faiths under the banner of a United Religions Organisation. If they remain faithful and true to the end, the Lord will take them away just before the revelation of the Antichrist and the beginning of the tribulation period. This promise was given to the Church in Thessalonika:

“And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming” (2 Thes. 2:6-8 NIV).

Those who subscribe to the false, humanistic peace plans of the New Age Movement which is paving the way for a unified New World Order under the reign of the Antichrist, will not escape the great tribulation:

“For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thes. 5:3; emphasis added).

From the above verses it is evident that there will be a group of people who will escape the tribulation, while the others who didn’t turn to God will suddenly and unexpectedly be overcome by it.

All these promises are in full agreement with the basic assurance given in John 5:24 that those who believe in the Lord Jesus do not come into judgement, but have passed from death into life.

Although the rapture is a unique occurrence, there are examples in the Bible of times when God poured out His wrath, but provided an escape route for the true believers as they were not the objects of His wrath. In the time of Noah, God announced His judgements over a wicked and perverted generation: “And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark...” (Gen. 6:13-14).

Shortly before the commencement of the judgements the eight believers escaped the disaster area by entering the ark. God Himself closed the door behind them before He judged the wicked people (Gen. 6:16-23).

In the time of Lot the believers were also rescued. The night before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah they were ordered to evacuate the city and flee to the mountains. The angels emphasised that they could do nothing as long as Lot and his family were still among the wicked. Fire and brimstone rained down from the heavens shortly after their departure. The cities with all their inhabitants were destroyed (Gen. 19:13-25).

The Bible says that there is a clear correlation between these historic events and God’s end-time dealing with believers and unbelievers:

“And as it was in the days of Noah, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30. Also read Genesis 6 and 19).

The following comparison can be made between the ancient and end-time situations:

·       In the time of Noah and Lot anarchy prevailed as people in these lawless and promiscuous societies did just what they wanted. Force was the most common means to resolve conflicts. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot widespread spiritual and moral decline occurred. People became so corrupt that they were ‘wicked in every intent of their thoughts’. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot people were excessively materialistic and adopted permissive life-styles that led to all sorts of licentiousness, including sodomy (derived from Sodom). So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot people scoffed at the men of God and took no heed of the prophetic warnings of forthcoming judgements. They regarded it as far-fetched speculation and continued with their reckless lives. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot God gave the degenerate sinners enough time to repent from their evil ways. They refused to repent and thereby sealed their own fate. They had only themselves to blame for their downfall and affliction. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot God offered a way of escape to the believers at the critical moment before He turned in wrath to the wicked. The order of events was: First the prophetic warnings about the impending judgements, then the safeguarding of the believers who took heed of the appeal to repent, and ultimately the outpouring of wrath upon the wicked. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot there was no security for nominal believers whose hearts were still devoted to the things of this world. Lot's wife was a type of those believers who only have an outward form of godliness, but are still spiritually dead. This false pretence cost her her life at the last moment. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot an awful disaster struck the wicked people soon after the evacuation of the believers. Death and destruction occurred as never before in history. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah and Lot the wicked didn't realise how many privileges and blessings they enjoyed because of the presence of a few believers in their midst. God was prepared to pardon an entire city if there were only ten believers. When these people, who shone like lights in a wicked and perverted generation, were taken out of the way, complete spiritual darkness befell the godless and provoked the anger of God. So will it be again...

·       In the time of Noah people scoffed at the builders of the ark: “and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:39 NIV).

Deception

Immediately after the rapture, panic-stricken people will desperately attempt to explain the mystery of the sudden disappearance of millions of people from planet earth. The enigma will even be more confusing when it becomes evident that large numbers of nominal (so-called) Christians, including eminent pastors and theologians, are among those who have been left behind.

The intensity and persuasive power of the spiritual deception that will be unleashed during this troubled time, will be unequalled in the entire history of mankind. A prince of peace with world-reforming abilities will appear on the scene. He will capture the imagination of the distressed masses and soon gain their full support.

The heavenly vision

John was in heaven, in the Spirit, the moment when he heard the voice like a trumpet:

“Immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 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 of gold on their heads” (Rev. 4:2-4).

The glory that John beheld was unspeakable. The closest he could get to a description of the Lord’s excellence and brightness was to liken it to the most effulgent precious stones. His appearance was like a jasper and a sardius stone. The description of jasper in Revelation 21:11 as a crystal clear stone, agrees more with that of a diamond. The spotless sanctity of God is expressed in this way. Sardius has a deep red shade and symbolises the precious blood of the Lamb. The green rainbow around the throne indicates eternal life that we have in the Lord Jesus. The never-ending circle points at eternity, while green is the colour of life.

The 24 elders with crowns on their heads, represent the glorified Church of Christ. They identify themselves beyond any doubt when they fall down before the Lamb in worship: “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). They are the blood-bought Christians from all the nations, and will receive glorified bodies through the resurrection of the righteous. All the members of the body of Christ will gather around the throne to participate in the Lord’s judgement over the world during the tribulation period (1 Cor. 6:2).

The symbol employed here to portray the true Church of Christ, is perfectly clear. Elder is a New Testament office and indicates a person who has been saved by Jesus Christ and who has committed himself to serve the Lord. The number 24 has special significance. In 1 Chronicles 24, king David appointed 24 families to the priestly ministry in the temple. Every group would serve in the sanctuary for two weeks each year according to a fixed schedule. In 1 Peter 2:9 every believer in the New Testament is called to a “royal priesthood.... that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light”. To be an elder implies obedience to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

Have you accepted your Christian calling, whether in a full-time or part-time capacity, as well as the spiritual equipment to fulfil it? The 24 elders all have golden crowns upon their heads, and this is proof of their Christian ministry that has been crowned by Jesus (Rev. 22:12). To appear before Him empty-handed is tantamount to hiding your talent in the ground and then to stand shamefaced on the day when Christ comes again (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Cor 5:10; Gal. 6:9; 1 Jn. 2:28; Rev. 22:12). Eldership is akin to discipleship, as in both cases faith and works go together. These must, however, not be the works of the flesh that find their origin in human skill and insight, but those things accomplished in response to and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Care must be taken not to confuse works with salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith... not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). However, after salvation we are called to a life of dedication and works of faith: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). It is for these works that the elders will receive crowns. The Bible mentions the following five crowns that believers can aspire to: The crown of rejoicing for soul-winners (1 Thes. 2:19, Phil. 4:1), the crown of life for Christian martyrs (Jas. 1:12, Rev. 2:10), the crown of glory for faithful shepherds (1 Pet. 5:4), the incorruptible crown for a holy, dedicated life (1 Cor. 9:25), and the crown of righteousness for those who love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).

The year of release

After having saved the true Church from the hour of tribulation, the Lord will pour out divine wrath upon a wicked world with a view to punishing those who rejected Him and to ultimately liberate the world from domination by the evil forces of darkness. Revelation 5:1-5 is a prelude to a dramatic process of redemption that will occur during the seven years of the coming tribulation. It is discussed in terms of Israel’s traditional law of redemption, of which an example is recorded in the book of Ruth. A comparison between the circumstances in which Ruth found herself, and those prevailing in the end-time, will throw a great deal of light on the scene in Revelation 5:

Naomi, her husband and their two sons moved away from Bethlehem during a great drought and famine, to stay in Moab as strangers. In a similar manner, humanity as a whole found itself in a spiritual drought after the Fall, by which the rights to our property were forfeited. Even to this day we are still strangers and sojourners in an evil world in which we have to wrestle against the powers and rulers of the darkness of this age (Eph. 6:10-13).

During their exile, three of Naomi’s family members died and another one decided to remain behind. Eventually, only  two of them found grace in the eyes of God and were restored to their property. By way of comparison we can say that most people die during their wanderings as sinners, but that those who put their trust in the Lord to be saved, are spiritually revived and restored.

Back in Bethlehem, Naomi and her daughter-in-law faced an enormous problem. The accumulated burden of debt incurred during the years on the family property was more than they could afford to pay. They had to find a rich relative who could, in his capacity as kinsman, redeem the land and restore it to its destitute owners. This kinsman would also have to take Ruth as his wife to perpetuate the family. Such a redeemer was found in the person of Boaz. He exercised the law of redemption and paid all the debt. He took Ruth, the Moabitess, as his wife since she had accompanied her mother-in-law to the land where the God of Israel ruled. Ruth and Naomi were overjoyed and greatly thankful for what Boaz had done. If he had not come to their rescue, their property would have fallen into the hands of strangers and caused their family name to be obliterated.

Jesus Christ is the One who stepped in and redeemed us. He took the burden of our debt upon Himself and paid the full price for it. Because of this act of love, we have become co-heirs with Him and will reign with Him over our restored inheritance. In addition He took us who, like Ruth, were born into a heathen world, as His bride because we have taken refuge with Him for shelter. What a tremendous joy for us to have found a kinsman who took pity on us, paid our debt and made us sons and daughters of the heavenly Father to enjoy everlasting life in His presence!

The joy of the elders knew no bounds when they realised that their Saviour, Jesus Christ, their Kinsman and Redeemer, had not only paid the price for their sins, but would free the entire world from the power of the Evil One. In this way they will soon, on the strength of Genesis 1:28, repossess their heritage on this earth and rule with Jesus as kings over it. Then the situation caused by the Fall, as the result of which “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn. 5:19) will no longer exist.

It was the custom in Israel to record inheritance, or bonds on a property, on a scroll. On each occasion when certain entries were made, that part of the scroll was sealed. The will of our right of inheritance and ownership of the whole earth has been sealed with seven seals. Only Christ is worthy to break the seals and open the book. Not only is He the legal owner of the world, but He also paid all the accumulated debt that was incurred by Satan’s deception of humanity and the estranging of their God-given appointment.

When the seals are opened one after the other, the most violent judgements of all times will be poured out upon the earth.  Many of the prophets in the Old Testament referred to these terrible judgements:

“For see, the day of the Lord is coming, the terrible day of His wrath and fierce anger. The land shall be destroyed, and all the sinners with it. The heavens will be black above them. No light will shine from stars or sun or moon. And I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sin; I will crush the arrogance of the proud man and the haughtiness of the rich. Few will live when I have finished up my work” (Is. 13:9-11 LB).

“The great day of the Lord is near... That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers. I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath” (Zeph. 2:14-18).

The evil works of man will be destroyed and the power of Satan’s kingdom will systematically be disintegrated until all its strongholds have fallen. When the Lion of Judah appears victoriously on the battle-field at the end of the great tribulation, the Antichrist and the false prophet will be captured and cast alive into the lake of fire. At the same time, the Devil will be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years.

With all these awesome future events in mind, the elders wait in suspense for the first seal to be opened....