4. The Church in Heaven

(Revelation 4 and 5)

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 after the consummation of the dispensation of the church. Two parallel series of events are described in Revelation, i.e. events around the throne in heaven where the glorified church finds itself (Rev. 4 and 5), and the awful events on earth during the seven years of the tribulation period (Rev. 6 to 19).

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 will hear a voice similar to this when Christ comes 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).

The catching away or rapture will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). The rapture is the way in which the church will be transformed and transferred from its earthly existence in Revelation 2 and 3 to its glorified position around the throne in Revelation 4 and 5.

The promise of escape from the disaster area

The promise of the rapture is of critical importance for a correct understanding of Revelation. This subject has become so controversial because of the modern theological decline that we need to make clear what the Bible teaches about it. The word caught up in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (harpazo in Greek) means to be snatched away quickly.

The allegation by certain theologians that the word rapture doesn’t occur in the Bible is very ill-conceived and misleading. The word harpazo can be translated as rapture, catch away, or snatch away. This term is also used in Revelation 12:5 in which the woman refers to Israel and her male Child to Christ: "And she [the woman] 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).

Apart from the glorious destination to which the bridal congregation will be taken by way of the rapture, this promise must also be related to our escape from the judgements of the tribulation period:

“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 In: 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."

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 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. 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.

In its blind, headlong pursuit of pleasure, self-glorification, and wealth the end-time world population does not recognise the signs of the fast approaching end. They are also deceived by the expectation of a new world order of peace and safety. But Christians who watch and pray can see that real danger is imminent. They prepare themselves spiritually to be worthy to escape the coming tribulation period and to stand before the Son of man. “I tell you, on that night two people will be on one bed; one will be taken and the other one left. Two women will be grinding corn together; one will be taken and the other one left” (Lk. 17: 34-35).

The withholder

The Bible clearly indicates that the Antichrist can not be revealed until he who withholds him has been taken out of the way:

“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 did not 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.

A repetition of the time of Noah and Lot

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 upon 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 (Gen. 7:13-23).

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. 19:12-25).

The Lord Jesus Himself said that there is a clear correlation between these events of Old Testament history and God's end-time dealings 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, 7 and 19).

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

·      In the time of Noah and Lot anarchy prevailed as people in these lawless and promiscuous societies did just as they pleased. 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 reasonable 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 over 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 later in the time of Lot an awful disaster struck this world 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 did not realise how many privileges and blessings they enjoyed because of the presence of a few believers in their midst. God was prepared to pardon a whole 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 by describing Noah's efforts as ridiculous: "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).

The first resurrection

A concept which is closely related to the rapture, is that of the first resurrection. At this event, the Lord Jesus will come to raise only born-again believers; this is why Paul says that “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thes. 4:16).

Nothing whatsoever is said here about the resurrection of the unbelieving, unjust dead. Since a first resurrection also implies a second, and since we know that the just as well as the unjust will be raised (Acts 24:15), it follows that the unjust dead will be raised at a later resurrection.

Revelation 20 says that at least a thousand years will separate the two resurrections. John refers to the Christian martyrs who will be raised in the first resurrection to reign as kings with Christ during the millennium:

“…and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6 KJV).

Those who share in the first resurrection are declared blessed; therefore, to be declared part of this resurrection signifies a very privileged status.

Various other Scripture references offer irrefutable evidence that the born-again believers will be resurrected first. Paul refers to a strictly chronological order of resurrections:

“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who slept. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (1 Cor. 15:20-24 KJV).

Between the resurrection of Christ as firstfruits and the resurrection of the born-again just at His coming (the first resurrection), the entire dispensation of the church, presently approaching two millennia, will elapse. It is clear from Revelation 20 that the further one thousand years of Christ’s reign will elapse between the resurrection of the just and the end of this present earth, when the unjust dead will be raised (the second resurrection) to face the final judgement at the great white throne.

The following are expressions which refer to the first resurrection only: The first resurrection (Rev. 20:6), the resurrection of the children of God (Lk. 20:36), the resurrection of those who died in Christ (1 Thes. 4:16), the resurrection of the just, (Lk. 14:13-14), a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35), the resurrection to life (Jn. 5:29), and the resurrection from the dead through Jesus (Acts 4:2).

When the resurrection from the dead of either Christ or of Christians is referred to in Scripture, the Greek expression ek nekroon is used. It means from among the dead and is only used when other dead are not raised at the same time, but are left behind in their graves. This expression, which is used 49 times in the New Testament – 34 of which refer to the resurrection of Christ Himself – is not used even once when the second resurrection is referred to. Instead, when the latter resurrection is referred to the expression toon nekroon, meaning of the dead, is used.

At the rapture, the just will be raised from among the unjust dead and, together with the living just, who will be instantly changed, both will rise in glorified bodies to meet Christ in the air. The unjust (unsaved) dead will remain in their graves, since they did not “die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13).


Immediately after the first resurrection and the rapture have taken place, panic-stricken people will desperately attempt to explain the mystery of the sudden disappearance of millions of people from planet earth. The enigma will be even more confusing when it becomes evident that large numbers of nominal (so-called) Christians, including eminent pastors and theologians, are among those 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 false prince of peace with world-reforming abilities will appear on the scene. He will capture the imagination of the distressed masses and gain their full support.

The heavenly vision

John was instantly in heaven, in the Spirit, the moment 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 the promise of eternal life that we have in the Lord Jesus. The never-ending circle points to 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.

The year of release

After having saved the true church from the hour of tribulation, the Lord will pour out His divine wrath on a wicked world to punish those who rejected Him and to ultimately liberate the world from domination by the Antichrist and his 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 any earthly 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 in 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. During the years they were away the accumulated burden of debt incurred 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 elected to accompany 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 the name of the family would have been wiped out.

Jesus Christ is the One who stepped in and redeemed us. He took the burden of our debt of sin 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 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 due to Satan's deception of humanity and their failure to fulfil the divinely appointed role for which they were created (Rev. 4:11).

When the seals are opened one after the other, the most violent judgements of all times will be poured out upon the earth. 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 the tribe 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, Satan, the devil, will be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years.

The first appointment for the church after the rapture is their appearance before the judgement seat of Christ, "for the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17).