Part Three — God Rescues His Bride
 

"Be always on the watch,
and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen,
and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:36)
 

Introduction

In the first two parts of this series we discovered that the Day of the Lord begins within the sixth Seal but prior to the seven years of the 70th Week of Daniel, taking the form of the shaking of the entire earth for the ultimate purpose of protecting Israel. In this final article of our series we will examine how the rapture and resurrection of the Church is related to this great 'Day.'
 

The 24 Elders: A Closer Look

The predominant Pre-Trib chronology places both the beginning of the 70th Week and the beginning of the Day of the Lord at the opening of the first Seal of Revelation. It is clear from Scripture that the Church is not destined to experience the Day of the Lord, and this has led to the Pre-Trib conclusion that the Twenty-Four Elders in heaven, who are introduced before the Seals are opened, must be representative of the raptured and resurrected Church, the Bride of Christ. When it comes to identifying the Church in Revelation this would be a possible answer, except for one major problem: Where is Jesus?

The Apostle Paul is clear that Jesus will play the leading role in the events surrounding the resurrection and rapture of the Church, and he emphasizes that role in his letter to the Thessalonians:

"We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17)

Paul teaches that according to the Lord's own word Jesus will "come down from heaven," give a "loud command" to raise the dead, and then gather the living up to meet "with them in the clouds." This is when we will also "meet the Lord in the air," after which we will "be with the Lord forever." Another text that physically describes Jesus and the rapture is in Luke's portion of the Olivet Discourse:

"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36)

From the Lord's own word we know that those who watch and pray and escape the dangers of the unexpected day will "stand before the Son of Man." Yet when we turn to the Twenty-Four Elders they are not standing, but sitting (Revelation 4:4), and more importantly, Jesus is nowhere to be found!

The heavenly scene described in Revelation 4 at the beginning of John's vision includes God the Father, the Twenty-Four Elders, the Seven Spirits of God, and the Four Living Creatures, but there is no Jesus. In fact, John's vision lasts for an indeterminate length of time during which the whole universe is searched for someone who is worthy to open the seven-sealed Scroll, but "no one was found" (Revelation 5:4).

This is odd because as early as Acts 7:55 we have testimony that Jesus occupies a position "at the right hand of God" in heaven. This fact is also mentioned by Paul in Romans 8:34 and Colossians 3:1, as well as by Peter in 1 Peter 3:22 and in Hebrews 10:12. With all of this testimony that Jesus stands right now at the right hand of God in heaven, then how can the missing Jesus be accounted for, if the Twenty-Four Elders represent the resurrected and raptured Church? Does it make any sense that Jesus would descend from heaven, gather the Church, return to heaven with the Church, and then disappear to an unsearchable place outside of the universe for a period of time prior to returning to heaven and taking the seven-sealed Scroll? Doesn't Paul forbid this nonsensical hypothetical scenario when he says that after the rapture the Church "will be with the Lord forever"?

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Revelation 4-5 describes the heavenly scene leading up to and just after the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1:9. Jesus became worthy to take the Scroll when He was slain for the sins of the world, which is explained within the song that is sung by the inhabitants of heaven:

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God..." (Revelation 5:9)

If this is true then the search for someone worthy to open the scroll in Revelation 5:3-4 must have taken place before the crucifixion. Then in verse five we are told that Jesus has triumphed; in verse six we see that Jesus has ascended to heaven; and then in verse seven His first act is to approach the right hand of God the Father and take the Scroll. Jesus has been at the Father's right hand for almost two thousand years now, and Jesus will be there after He briefly descends to rescue His Bride from the Day of the Lord. Jesus will not be inexplicably missing for any period of time while His Bride is a guest in His Father's house, and therefore the Twenty-Four Elders cannot be representative of the Church.
 

The Great Multitude: A Second Look

This study has endeavored to develop a new timeline of events for the early stages of the Apocalypse. In the first article it was argued that the Day of the Lord begins within the sixth Seal, rather than at the first Seal. The second article then connected the "sudden destruction" of the sixth Seal with the Magog invasion of Ezekiel 38-39, leading to the conclusion that the 70th Week can only begin sometime after the first Trumpet judgment. With this perspective in mind we can now look with fresh eyes at the events surrounding the sixth Seal for evidence of the Pre-Trib resurrection and rapture of the Church.

The evidence is obvious: the resurrected and raptured Church is the Great Multitude of Revelation 7:9-17. If we take the two rapture texts that did not fit the Twenty-Four Elders (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and Luke 21:34-36) and compare them with the Great Multitude, we find a perfect fit. Paul teaches that Jesus will be responsible for the resurrection and rapture of the Church, and in Revelation we see that Jesus, alongside God the Father, is at the center of the Great Multitude's attention. As Jesus Himself predicted, this is the group that watched and prayed, and was able to escape the terrible events of the Day of the Lord to "stand before the Son of Man."

"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:9-10)
 

"Out of the Great Tribulation"

There is much more evidence for identifying the Great Multitude as the Church, but first we must address a counter-argument. The primary reason why the Great Multitude is eliminated from consideration when it comes to identifying the Church in a Pre-Trib context is the fact that they are described in 7:14 as "they who have come out of the great tribulation." From this text, and from the Pre-Trib assumption that the first Seal marks the beginning of the seven-year tribulation, it is believed that this group has experienced at least a portion of the great tribulation, and therefore cannot be the Church.

The Bible contains only three references to "great tribulation" in a prophetic context: Matthew 24:21, Revelation 2:22, and Revelation 7:14. The first refers to the second half of the 70th Week, but with an explanation that this period is actually the time of "greatest tribulation"; the second contains a threat against the wicked ("Repent, or you will be cast into great tribulation!") which also implies a promise to those who do "repent." Such a promise is given explicitly in Revelation 3:10,

"Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."

The wicked are warned to repent or they will be "cast into great tribulation," while the faithful are promised that they will be "kept from" (tereo ek) the world's "hour of trial." Revelation 7:14 is the third reference to "great tribulation" and from it we see that the Great Multitude fulfills the implied promise of Revelation 2:22 and the explicit promise of 3:10. They are the group that has "come away from" (erxomenoi ek) the great tribulation. The Greek word ek (Strong's Concordance: "out of," "from," "by," or "away from") does not demand that the Great Multitude experienced the great tribulation. A similar use of the word ek appears in the Greek Septuagint translation of Genesis 19:29, translated here in English:

"So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of (ek) the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot lived."

Lot escaped "out of" the catastrophe that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but he did not experience the burning sulfur that rained down from heaven. (The death of Lot's wife was a separate judgment from God). Just as Lot was warned and escaped from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, so will the Church be rescued "away from" or "out of" the "great tribulation." The rapture of the Church is a "rescue" (Luke 21:36) and an "escape" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). The Great Multitude of Revelation 7:9-17 is a picture of the Church that has "come out of the great tribulation" right as it begins, in the nick of time!
 

Salvation or Wrath?

The question of whether or not the Great Multitude has experienced the "great tribulation" is actually a distraction. With only three references in the Bible it is hard to come to a concrete definition of the term anyway. On the other hand, there are literally scores of references to the "Day of the Lord" in the Bible, and so the key question should really be whether or not the Great Multitude has experienced any of the Day of the Lord. To answer this question let's return to Paul's definitive passage on that subject:

"Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9)

The final verse of this passage says it all: believers are promised salvation from God's wrath, while unbelievers can expect to face God's wrath. After the sixth Seal is opened, and after the Day of the Lord begins with the great shaking of the earth, John reports an audible response from two different groups. One group has been rescued to heaven, while the other is left behind on earth; one has received salvation and rejoices, while the other suffers wrath and cries out in fear and terror:

Salvation for the Bride of Christ: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count... And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" (7:9-10)

 

Wrath for everyone else: "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (6:15-17)
 

The Firstfruits of Israel

The beginning of the Day of the Lord is also the end of the Church Age, after which God will turn His attention to Israel. It is no coincidence that the third group mentioned after the opening of the sixth Seal, in addition to the Church and the mass of unbelievers on earth, is in fact Israel. The sealing of the 144,000 will be the first act of grace that God bestows upon Israel after the end of the Church Age, and in Revelation 14:4 it is said of them that "They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb."

Describing the 144,000 as "firstfruits" makes sense once it is understood that the 144,000 will be the very first human beings to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ after the rapture of the Church, at a time when the earth is briefly populated entirely with unbelievers. The salvation of these Jews will be similar to the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, but 144,000 times over. Together with the Two Witnesses they will be the "teachers" mentioned by the prophet Isaiah in connection with the coming of the Day of the Lord:

"Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:20-21)
 

The Great Earthquake Resurrection

And now this brings us to one of the most fascinating elements of the sixth Seal rapture of the Church. Recall that Paul is clear that the rapture of the living will first be preceded by the resurrection of the "dead in Christ." Millions and even billions of Christian souls from throughout the world and from throughout the Church Age will receive new immortal bodies and be united with Christ and the Church in the sky above the earth.

One of the most important books ever written on the subject of the resurrection of the Church appeared in 2005. Written by Bible scholar David Lowe, it is entitled Earthquake Resurrection - Supernatural Catalyst for the Coming Global Catastrophe. Lowe's in-depth study has led him to the same conclusions regarding the prophetic timeline that are put forth in this study. (His book also taught me about the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God in Revelation 4-5 that was mentioned earlier in this article). Lowe points out that there are twelve Biblical accounts of resurrections from the dead. Of these twelve, nine of them are simply resurrections back into mortal bodies, while three of these accounts describe resurrections into immortal bodies. In each of these cases of resurrection to immortality the resurrection is accompanied by an earthquake. This happens at the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28:2-7); at the resurrection of the "many saints" that appeared after Jesus' resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53); and at the resurrection of the Two Witnesses of Revelation (11:11-13). If earthquakes are indeed somehow directly and supernaturally connected to the phenomenon of resurrection to immortality, then what does that mean for this world when the dead in Christ from throughout the world and from throughout time are raised to immortal bodies at that profound moment prior to the onset of the Day of the Lord? David Lowe comments on this possibility:

"If the resurrection power to raise Jesus Christ, the "many saints", and the two witnesses caused the earthquakes that were associated with each of their resurrections, then what about the future resurrection of the dead in Christ? Consider the explosive magnitude of an exponentially larger resurrection of the dead in Christ in the future. Many millions of those who have died in covenant with Jesus Christ throughout history will be instantaneously and simultaneously resurrected from the dead and transformed to immortality with the same dynamic power... With all this supernatural activity happening in a moment's time, might it be possible that severe geological activity will result, causing a magnetic disturbance and changes to the structure of earth's surface? If this magnitude of energy is unleashed worldwide at the resurrection event, when the Lord's shout of command and the trumpet sound of God's voice awakens the dead in Christ, then a global shaking would certainly result." (p.99)

David Lowe has continued his investigation of this great shaking of the earth at the beginning of the Day of the Lord in his second book, THEN HIS VOICE SHOOK THE EARTH... Mount Sinai, the Trumpet of God, and the Resurrection of the Dead in Christ, which has just been published and is available for the first time here in Dallas. It focuses on the mystery of the "last trumpet" of 1 Corinthians 15:52, and shows how the "trumpet call of God" relates directly to the sixth Seal resurrection and rapture of the Church, and subsequent shaking of the earth.
 

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Back in 1995 Pastor John Abent of Berlin, Maryland, published a book on Bible prophecy called Signs in the Heavens: Biblical Prophecy and Astronomy. To my knowledge he is the first Bible scholar to put forth a comprehensive prophetic timeline that involves a Pre-Trib sixth Seal rapture of the Church. In a conversation that I had with him he commented on the duration of the Day of the Lord in Revelation, saying that the sixth Seal and seventh Bowl (vial) judgments "form a giant inclusio in the Greek. With the sixth seal open we are told that the great Day of God's/the Lamb's wrath 'has come' and with the seventh vial we are told 'it is done.' These stand out like two grammatical parentheses. Thus the judgments of the Day of the Lord begin with the sixth seal and end with the seventh vial judgment."

If this timeline is correct and the Day of the Lord begins within the sixth Seal, with the 70th Week coming after that, then what does that mean for our understanding of the infamous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? If the first Seal does not represent the Antichrist, then who or what can it represent? The answers to these questions have yet to be conclusively solved, although several good theories exist.

Pastor Abent takes the historicist approach and believes that the first Seal represents the Holy Spirit. In the description of the first Seal the mounted figure is said to ride out "as a conqueror bent on conquest." The Greek word translated as "conquer" is nikao. This exact same word is translated as "overcome" exactly seven other times in Revelation, once within each letter to the seven Churches. Clearly the Church will "overcome" or "conquer" with the power of the Holy Spirit, which was sent to believers forty days after Christ's ascension to heaven.

The historicist approach is also taken by Saint Victorinus (d.304 AD) who wrote the earliest full commentary on the book of Revelation that is still in existence today (Commentarius In Apocalypsin). He equates the first Seal with the Holy Spirit and he also states that the sixth Seal marks the beginning of "the final persecution."

David Lowe favors the historicist approach as well, but he views all of the first four Horsemen as negative judgments. Within his well thought out presentation the first Seal represents the "spirit of the Antichrist," which the Apostle John said "is already in the world" (1 John 4:3).

On the other hand, Doug Berner does not find the historicist approach convincing, and within his entirely futurist perspective he views all of the Seals as being opened one after the other in only a matter of moments. He believes that Revelation 5 does not describe the ascension of Christ but rather the scene in heaven "when God the Father has made God's enemies Christ's footstool, thus granting Christ the authority to render judgment upon them." In this way the "powers" or "judgments" associated with the early Seals apply to the entire Day of the Lord. However, as far as the earth is concerned, Berner's belief is that God's silence is broken after the opening of the sixth Seal.

In addition to the "historicist" and "futurist" perspective of the early Seals there is also the "birthpangs" perspective. Many scholars have commented on the similarities and parallels between the first four Seals and the "birthpangs" mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:4-8. In the past Victorinus commented on it and connected it with his historicist interpretation of the early Seals. Recently Pre-Wrath scholars Marvin Rosenthal and Robert Van Kampen utilized these parallels in presenting their futurist interpretation, and Dr. Thomas Ice does the same thing in presenting his futurist Pre-Trib interpretation.  

The problem that I see with combining the "birthpangs" with a futurist interpretation of the early Seals, is that these "birthpangs" are then viewed as being fulfilled within the 70th Week of Daniel. For instance, Ice believes that the 70th Week starts with Matthew 24:4. I respectfully disagree. I think the "birthpangs" were mentioned by Jesus as a metaphor for the end-times spiritual rebirth of Israel, yet they are signs that will warn the Church of the approaching Day of the Lord within which this rebirth will take place. If there are no "birthpangs" for the Church to identify, then why does Jesus continually exhort his listeners to "keep watch" in the Olivet Discourse? Many scholars argue that the Olivet Discourse was not given to the Church, but if this is true then why did Paul borrow so heavily from the Olivet Discourse in his message to the Church in 1 Thessalonians 5? Also, why does Jesus give the following warning to the Church at Sardis that includes allusions to both the Olivet Discourse and 1 Thessalonians 5?

"But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." (Revelation 3:3)

What happens to this Church if they do wake up? Obviously, they will not be surprised by the "coming" of Jesus, and they will know the time. They will not know the exact day or hour, but they will not be surprised. It is in pondering these questions that I have concluded that the "birthpangs" are indeed directly related to the early Seals, and both the "birthpangs" of Matthew 24:4-8 and the first five Seals of Revelation most likely refer to events that take place before the rapture of the Church and before the 70th Week of Daniel. As far as the Church is concerned they are the "birthpangs" that warn of the approach of the Day of the Lord.
 

Conclusion

This completes our study that has attempted to answer the questions of "When, How and Why?" concerning the great and terrible Day of the Lord. In the first two articles we provided evidence that this Day begins with the shaking of the earth after the sixth Seal is opened, which is a judgment from God for the ultimate purpose of saving Israel and making Himself known to Israel and the nations of the world. By connecting this Day with the events portrayed in Ezekiel 38-39 we also provided evidence that the beginning of the Day of the Lord precedes the 70th Week. In this final article we addressed the subject of the rapture and resurrection of the Church, finding evidence for that event right where it was to be expected, in connection with the sixth Seal of Revelation and the shaking of the earth that marks the beginning of the great and terrible Day of the Lord. May God continue to give us wisdom and understanding to prepare for our Savior's soon return. For His is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Peter D. Goodgame
Kailua, Hawaii

Editor — www.redmoonrising.com
Author — Red Moon Rising: The Rapture and the Timeline of the Apocalypse

 

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