Where is the Rapture in Revelation?



John Hoole – February 5 – 19, 2012





There is an almost universal, subconscious feeling that something catastrophic is looming in our planet’s immediate future, even though nobody can quite put a finger on it.  It is an uneasy sense that all things are not quite as they should be.  The world is going through some kind of transformation, towards something yet undefined.


And yet, if we look closely at what is happening, we see things happening that the Bible said would happen in the last days.  That means that all that is happening is carefully under control by God.


In our lesson today, we are going to look at a future period of time, a time, on earth, when, according to the Book of Revelation, everything seems out of control, but, from God’s view is perfectly in control.  I say that because when this so-called “out-of-control” time comes to this earth, I don’t expect believers to be here to experience it.  We are “under control” in Heaven with our Lord.


One reason I love the Book of Revelation is that it keeps our time and purpose here on earth in clear perspective.  Reading the Book of Revelation is a powerful reminder that this world is passing away.  It sets our focus on the world that is to come, instead of on Wall Street.


Today, I am going to review a few short segments mentioned in earlier lessons.  They will serve as a basis or launch pad for today’s lesson.


Most books in the Bible have key verses that give a synopsis of what the Book addresses.  It encapsulates the book into a very short synopsis of the whole.


For instance, in the Book of Hebrews, that key verse or verses are the first two of the book.


Hebrews 1:1-2  (NIV)


1       In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,

2       but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.


The discourse throughout the book of Hebrews is a series of presentations of contrasts, between the Old and the New.  It is a contrast between revelation, as it came through the prophets concerning the Messiah, and Christ Himself, the Messiah.


For the Book of Revelation, it is Chapter 1, Verse 19.


Revelation 1:19 NKJV


19        Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.


This key verse gives us an outline for the entire Book of Revelation.  It divides the book into three parts.


                   •  The things John had seen - that’s past tense, and represents chapter 1.


                   •  The things which are - this is speaking of the 7 churches – chapters 2 & 3


                   •  The things which will take place after this - this speaks of chapters 4 – 22.


Let’s go to the beginning of the third section – Chapter 4.


Revelation 4:1-2 NIV


1          After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

2          At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.


Twice in verse one, John gives us a time reference.   This event, with the open door, the trumpet like voice, and his immediate entrance into heaven is said to "take place after this" - that is, after the events recorded in chapters 1-3.  Also notice that the last four words of verse one is the same at the last four of Rev. 1:19.


So there should be no doubt that the third section mentioned in Revelation 1:19 begins with Chapter 4.  We are not told how long after the vision of the seven churches that this vision occurs.


From the beginning of chapter 4, the book of Revelation's primary objective is to portray the events leading up to and climaxing in the second coming of Christ, and the prophetic kingdom and the eternal state that follows.


In a lesson titled, “The Throne Room of God,” we looked at Revelation 4.  I want to start there today.


There have been some godly theologians in the past, and maybe still today, who claim that what is described in Revelation 4:1 clearly indicates the completion of the Rapture (Old Scofield Bible - P. 1334).  Others see the experience of the apostle John here as symbolic representation of the translation of the Church (New Scofield Bible, p. 1356).  ( have also heard or read the opinion of some who take the words, "come up here," as indicating the call of the Church up to Heaven.


The late Dr. John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, makes this comment in his commentary of the book of Revelation:


"The invitation of John to "come up here" is so similar to that which the church anticipates  at the rapture that many have connected the two expressions."


He continues: "It is clear from the context that this is not an explicit reference to the rapture of the church, as John was not actually translated; in fact he was still in his natural body on the Island of Patmos."


The preeminent passage giving the sequence of activity during the Rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, which reads:


15     For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.

16     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.

17     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.

18     Therefore comfort one another with these words.


There are some similarities when comparing Paul's writings to the church in Thessalonica, and what John writes in Revelation 4:1.  In John's account, we read of the voice and the trumpet.  There are, however, significant differences in the two accounts. 


Dr. Robert Gromacki (professor emeritus at Cedarville University), in an article titled "Where is the Church in Revelation 4-19?" writes:


"At the rapture, the believers will hear the voice of an archangel, whereas John directly heard the voice of Christ (4:1 cf, 1:10).  There is no mention of Christ's descent from heaven when John went into heaven.  There is no mention of a meeting in the air at a point between heaven and earth.  There was no permanent change in the body of John."


There really is no rationale or authority for connecting the rapture of the Church with the phrase, "Come up here!" that is spoken to John.  There, likewise, is no indication that John's rise into heaven is representative of the Church.


I believe it is safe to say that nothing in the Book of Revelation describes the activities or sequence of events of the Rapture found in 1 Thessalonians 4.  To say it another ways, the Rapture is NOT mentioned among all the events of Revelation.  While we cannot use this verse as a primary Rapture teaching, it is interesting that John, a member of the church, is called up into heaven immediately prior to the teaching of the Tribulation.


But, does that mean the book of Revelation does not indicate the timing of when the Rapture might have occurred?  Is there any place in the text of Revelation that would indicate the Rapture has taken place, even without actually describing the event?  And, if so, is there any indication of its timing as it relates to the Tribulation?  Where and how is the church mentioned in the book of Revelation?


One line of reasoning is to examine how the common New Testament Greek term for church is used.  That common Greek word is EKKLESIA.  The term "church" (ekklesia) literally means "a called out group."  It has two main usages in the New Testament.  It can be used of the entire body of Christ, which He is building on earth in this age.  It is composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles made one in Christ (Eph. 2:15-16).  The term, "church," can also be used of a local congregation of believers (Acts 14:27; Gal. 1:2).  It is used in this second sense in the book of Revelation.


This most common word for the church - ekklesia - is found in the book of Revelation 20 times.  It is used 19 times in the first three chapters of the book, which deals with the historical churches of the first century.  Ekklesia is used once more at the very end of the book, in chapter 22, verse 16, and in this verse John is once more addressing the first-century church congregations.


It is most interesting that in all the detailed description of the events of the Tribulation (Ch. 6-18), this word to denote the church is not found at all.  John shifts from his detailed instructions for the first-century churches in chapters 1 - 3, to an absolute silence about the church for many chapters following.


I can imagine Post-Tribulationists say, "Hold on, not so fast."  Those holding a post-tribulation view might counter the above argument by mentioning that while the word "ekklesia" is not mentioned in chapters 4-18, it does mention "saints" (holy ones) on a number of occasions.  These references, they insist, must refer to the presence of the church during the Tribulation.  The word "saints" is not used at all in the first three chapters of the book, but it is found 11 times between chapters 4 and 18, and once each in chapters 19 & 20.


The problems with such an argument as this is that there were saints in the Old Testament, there are saints today in the New Testament church, and there will be saints in the future Tribulation period.  The use of the word saints to describe believers on earth during the Tribulation period tells us that there will be believers on earth during that period.  But it does not prove that they are church-age believers.  The saints mentioned in the book of Revelation are really best described as Tribulation saints. who will be saved during the seven-year period after the Rapture has occurred.


There is another phrase that is used repeatedly in the first three chapters that needs attention.  The instruction to the seven churches in chapters two and three each end with the phrase, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  The fact that the last word, churches, is plural indicates that all seven churches were to read the instruction to all the churches.


Each individual person in each individual local congregation was to hear and apply the truth that Christ gave to all of the local churches.  For example, a believer in the church at Ephesus could profit spiritually from what the Savior said to the churches at Pergamum or Smyrna.  From this, I believe the admonition to the 7 churches is given also to all "who has an ear to hear" today, in our time.


The first part of this seven-times-repeated phrase to the churches appears once more in Revelation.  Revelation 13:1-10 describe the future antichrist.  John writes that this "beast" has "great power and makes war with the saints" (verse 7)Now, let's read the next two verses.


Revelation 13:8-9 NIV


8       All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

9       He who has an ear, let him hear.


Here, John records the warning: "He who has an ear, let him hear," - end of sentence!  The phrase, "what the Spirit says to the churches" is not included.


Dr. John Walvoord, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, writes:  "The familiar phrase "what the Spirit saith unto the church" found in 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 is significantly absent in 13:9"  There is no mention of the remainder of the phrase said 7 times in Chapters two and three.


A dear friend of mine, a retired university professor and a biblical scholar and expositor in his own right, wrote me an e-mail recently.  In it he indicated he had been reading my articles on the Rapture found on our web site.


He makes a comment, and presents a question, as it relates to my statement in a couple of the articles, where I state, "The Church is not found in Revelation from chapter 4 through chapter 18.  He then asks, isn't that an argument from silence?"


I agree with him.  An argument from silence is not always conclusive.  While I do think that it is a significant change from mentioning the EKKLESIA 19 times in the first three chapters, and not at all in the next 15 chapters, it is, none-the-less, still an argument from silence.


So, how do we answer the several questions that have been raised.  Does the book of Revelation indicate when a rapture of the church might occur?  There are probably two ways I could have made a more accurate statement.  Instead of writing how the church is not mentioned in chapters 4 - 18, I could have said the word "Ekklesia" (the church) is not found in those chapters.  But I think there is an even better way to say it - by adding two words to my original statement.  "The church is not mentioned [on earth] in chapters 4 - 18."


Of course, someone will ask, "If they are not on earth, where are they?"  The Post-Tribulationist will ask, "What evidence is there in Revelation that the church is in heaven during the Tribulation?"


Even though the rapture, as an event, is not mentioned at all in the book of Revelation, and, although we cannot equate the words spoken to John to "Come up here!" with the Rapture, I still think we can show that the Rapture must have happened between chapters 3 and 4.  In his "Lectures on the Revelation," Dr. Harry Ironside writes:  “We must understand the rapture, of 1 Thess. 4:16-17, as transpiring between chapter 3 and chapter 4" (page 80).


Returning once again to a segment in our lesson on the “Throne Room of God,” let's read the description John gives.  Now, let’s go through the open door and observe the throne room of God.


Revelation 4 NKJV

1     After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."

2     Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.

3      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.

4      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.

5      And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

6      Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.

7      The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.

8      The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, holy,  Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!"


These verses are organized around four prepositional phrases concerning the throne of God.


         1.      "on the throne" (vs. 2)

         2.      "around the throne" (vv. 3, 4, 6)

         3.      "from the throne"  (vs. 5)

         4.      "before the throne" (vv 5 & 6)


Who is ON the throne?  The One on the throne is the "Lord God Almighty" (v. 8), the Lord who "created all things" (v.11).




         Several things are depicted "around the throne:" a rainbow, 24 elders and four living creatures, lamps of fire.






                   WHY 24?


Revelation 4:4 is the first of twelve times the elders are mentioned in the book of Revelation.  And each time they are mention, we find them n heaven.


There is no doubt that the issue of the 24 elders is critical to the whole argument of Pre-Tribulationism.  George Eldon Ladd, a Post-tribulationist, admits that very fact in his commentary on Revelation.


Here is what we are told about the 24 elders.


•  They are sitting on thrones around the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 4:4a).


•  They are clothed in white raiment (Rev. 4:4b).


•  They have crowns of gold on their heads (Rev. 4:4c).


•  They are pictured as ones who fall down before God and worship Him, casting their crowns at His feet (Rev. 4:10-11;  5:14).


•  They are said to have harps and bowls of incense representing the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8).


•  They sing a new song about the worthiness of the Lamb (Rev. 9:9-10).


•  They rejoice over the judgment of the great harlot, Babylon (Rev. 19:4).


Who are these elders?  The apostle John does not specifically identify who the 24 elders represent.  Do they represent angels or men?  If human, do they symbolize Old Testament believers, New Testament believers, or both?  Or are they representative of those who become believers during the Tribulation and are martyred?


Down through Church history, some have argued for each of these positions.  Before examining what we are told about the 24 elders, let's see if we can come to an understanding of "why 24?"


In an earlier lesson, titled "Prophecy 101", I made the comment that every symbol mentioned in the book of Revelation is found elsewhere in the Bible.  This should help us to understand what is being pictured by the apostle John.  I believe we will find that the 24 elders are not an entire entity, but are representative of a much larger entity.  Does the number 24 appear elsewhere?


The numerical adjective "twenty-four" is indeed significant.  King David divided the Levitical priests into 24 orders/divisions of priests.  There were actually thousands of priests in Israel's day under David and Solomon.  But they could not all minister at the same time.  Accordingly, they divided the priests into smaller groups, called "orders" or "courses."


In 1 Chronicles 24, we find a listing of the divisions of priests who come from the line of Aaron.  His son Eleazar had sixteen "heads" of priestly families under his leadership, and his son Ithamar had eight.


         In 1 Chronicles 24:7-18, we are given the names of each "order," and are told they were to serve in the Temple according to this order or listing.


Did the Jews maintain this practice until New Testament times?


The answer is YES.  We find the arrangement of dividing the priests into 24 groups still in effect in the New Testament.


Luke 1:5 NKJV


5       There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.


                   In 1 Chronicles 24, Abijah was the eighth in the 24 orders of priests.


When these heads of priests met together, the 24 would represent the whole priesthood, and at the same time represent all of the nation of Israel.  "In a similar way, the 24 elders in Revelation may be regarded as a representative body" (John Walvoord; The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p106).


         Dr. Robert Gromacki agrees, by writing, "The twenty-four elders is a phrase which denotes more than two dozen specific person; rather, the elders stand in for an entire group of personal beings, either angels or humans."


But who do they represent?  Earlier, I mentioned the possible answers to this question.  They are either angels or human.  If human, do they symbolize Old Testament believers, New Testament believers, or both?  Or are they representative of those who become believers during the Tribulation and are martyred?  Let's see if we can narrow the possibilities.


Tribulation Saints


In Revelation 7:13, we have one of the 24 elders who inquires as to the identity of the great multitude who come out of the tribulation.  Obviously, the great multitude of believers in the tribulation period are not to be identified with the 24 elders.




Twice in the book of Revelation, the elders are mentioned in contrast to angels.


Revelation 5:11 NKJV


11     Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,


In Revelation 7:11, (NIV) angels are mentioned in contrast to elders.


11     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,


One possible argument could be raised at this juncture.  Who are the “four living creatures?”  Earlier in our lesson, when reading the first several verses of Revelation 4, we were told some of what were the characteristics of these four creatures.  Among the description was the fact they each had six wings.  This is very much like the seraphim – an order of angels, mentioned in Isaiah 6:2.  Because of that, most theologians believe these four creatures are angels.  The question that could be raise here is this:  If these creatures are angels, separate from the other angels around the throne, why can’t the 24 elders also be descriptive of another order of angels?  I believe that what we are told about the 24 elders will answer that question.


Several things can be noted here.  In Revelation 4, the elders are seated - angels are never recorded as sitting.  It says the 24 elders are sitting, not standing, flying, or hovering.


Dr. Robert Gromacki writes, "Have angels ever sat in the presence of God?  No Scripture verse says that they have ever done so.  However, Jesus promised every believer in the church age: 'To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne' (Rev. 3:21)."


Dr. Dean Alford writes in "Alford's Greek Testament":


"These 24 elders are not angels, as maintained by Rinck and Hofmann (Weiss u. Erfull. p. 325 f.), as is shown by their white robes and crowns, the rewards of endurance, ch. 3:5; 2:10, but representative of the Church, as generally understood."


Henry Theissen makes a similar statement in "Lectures in Systematic Theology" p. 481 (This was the textbook for the course in Systematic Theology at Northwest University).  "They are not angels, for angels do not sit upon thrones, neither have they crowns on their heads."


Of all the beings mentioned in Revelation 4 that surround the throne of God, the elders are the only ones seated and crowned and clothed in white.  So let’s investigate this a little further.  In both Jewish and Christian history, elders refer to the key leadership of the congregation.  To a great extent, they are decision makers, and are looked to as having some authority.  They are to represent the people before God and are to carry out the Lord’s will among His people.


The term "elder" [Gk. Presbuteros] is never used elsewhere to refer to angels.  The word, Presbuteros, denotes maturity and growth.  The word, elder, is contrasted with "younger" (1 Timothy 5:1-2).  My question is this: How could angels be designated as elders when all of the holy angles were created at the same time.  That means that none are “elder” with regard to their age.  Neither are we told a seraph or cherub can grow to be promoted to, let’s say, be an archangel.


Old Testament Saints


Dr. David Hocking writes: "The use of the number '24' is also very instructive.  There have been many attempts by Bible teachers to divide this number into the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Church.  But, there is no biblical warrant for that kind of exegesis."


Again, note how the "elders" are described in Revelation 4.


1.      They are seen sitting on lesser thrones around the throne of God.


I believe this and following descriptions point back to the promises given in the letters to the seven churches found in chapter 2 & 3.  As mentioned above, Revelation 3:21 says:


21     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.


In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that God has positionally made every believer to "sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6).  Dr. Gromacki writes: "The 'sitting' feature of the elders better suits men than angels."


So, the first indicator that the 24 elders are human is that they sit on throne as promised to members of the Church.


2.      They are clothed in white raiment.


Second, the elders were "clothed in white robes" (himatiois leukois).  These words were previously used of believers within the church (Revelation 3:5, 18).


Revelation 3:5 NKJV


5       He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.


So we have the elders sitting, and wearing white garments – like that said of the followers of Christ.


3.      They have crowns of Gold on their heads.


Third, the elders had "crowns of gold" (stephanos) on their heads.  There are two kinds of crowns in the book of Revelation, involving two different Greek words.  One is the crown of a ruler or a sovereign (Gr., diadem), which is the crown of governmental authority.  The other is the crown of a victor (Gr., stephanos), such as awarded a victor in the Greek Olympic games.


The word used of the elders is STEPHANOS.  The elders already have their crowns – that indicates they have already won the victory.  They are gold crowns indicating these elders have been judged and rewarded for being victorious.  In the epistles, believers in the church age are promised crowns for specific accomplishments.  And in the letter to the church at Smyrna, the believer was promised a crown (stephanos). to those who remain faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10).  The church at Philadelphia was instructed not to let anyone take their crown (Revelation 3:11).  Again, the Greek word used here is stephanos.


In the epistles, believers in this church age are promised crowns for specific accomplishments:


         •  The crown of rejoicing for impacting lives to receive Jesus Christ as Savior (1 Thess. 2:19).


         •  The incorruptible crown for living a spiritually disciplines life (1 Cor. 9:25).


         •  The crown of righteousness for loving the appearing of Christ (2 Timothy 4:8).


         •  The crown of life for loving Christ in the endurance of trials (James 1:12).


         •  The crown of glory for faithful pastors (1 Peter 5:4).


Holy angels do not wear crowns, but believers can and will wear them.


The fact that these elders have been judged and rewarded is also a reason they cannot be Old Testament saints.  Israel's final judgment does not occur until the end of the Tribulation, not before.  The only body that could be raptured prior to Revelation 4 is the church believers.  They are the only body that could have already been raptured and judged before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  But Israel is mentioned often in Revelation still on earth during the Tribulation.  And Daniel 12:1-2 tells us their resurrection occurs following the Tribulation.


Therefore, I draw the conclusion that the twenty-four elders represent the completed body of Christ, the Church, including all believers both Jewish and Gentile, from the Day of Pentecost (Acts2) until the rapture of the Church, symbolized in Revelation 4:4 as being in heaven prior to the beginning of the Tribulation in Revelation 6.


Dr. Charles Ryrie writes: "The 24 elders of Revelation 4:1-5:14 are best understood as representatives of the church."  If the 24 elders represent church-age believers, and if the number of them represents the completed body of Christ in Heaven, then church-age believers will not go through the Tribulation on earth but will be in heaven during that time.