For over a year now, on Sunday evenings, I have been preaching through the book of Revelation. It has always been my desire and my aim, regardless as to which book of the Bible I am preaching through, to communicate God’s divine truth as accurately and as clearly as I am able. While some portions of Scripture are relatively easy to understand and explain, others require a greater degree of attention and care to faithfully articulate what God’s Word communicates. The book of Revelation is one that falls into that category which requires a significant amount of time and careful study to bring clarity where there has been much confusion. In all reality, there is perhaps no book of the Bible that has been harder for Christians to understand and, as a result, produced more strange and outlandish theology than the book of Revelation. Today, in light of all that is going on in the world (COVID-19, racial division, looting and rioting, government overreach, etc.) many (both Christians and non-Christians) have been drawn to the book of Revelation with the assumption that what we are presently experiencing is the end of the world.
In recent times we have witnessed droughts, fires, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, wars, and rumors of wars. So, is this what the book of Revelation is describing will come to pass? The book of Revelation, particularly in chapters 6 through 19, covers the time and events leading up to that which is referred to as “the Day of the Lord.” The phrase “the Day of the Lord” is used frequently in the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; Ezekiel 13:5, 30:3; Joel 1:15, 2:1,11,31; 3:14; Amos 5:18,20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7,14; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi. 4:5) and numerous times in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). This period is a time of great devastation as God’s righteous wrath is poured out upon the wicked and unrepentant world. In chapter four of Revelation, we witness Christ, the Lamb that was slain, receive a scroll, of which only He is capable of opening. This scroll is a legal document. More specifically, it is the title deed to the cosmos of which mankind handed over to Satan at the fall. This title deed, however, now rightfully belongs to Christ, for He has purchased it with His blood (Revelation 6:9-10). The scroll is sealed with seven seals, all of which must be broken for it to be unrolled and read. Each of the seven seals signifies the necessary judgments which will finish God’s decreed discipline of Israel and finalize His judgment of unbelieving sinners. These judgments span a seven-year period which ultimately serves to purify the creation and satisfy God’s wrath towards the wicked and unrepentant world. Within the seventh and final seal, there are two more sets of seven (seven trumpet judgments and seven bowl judgments). Without diving too far into all of that, the important thing to note is that each of these telescoping sevens is contained within the seventh seal and thus are the detailed specifics of the seventh seal judgment.
Now to back up just a bit, the book of Revelation is divided into three sections. The three sections are very clearly defined in the first chapter of the book. In Revelation 1:19 Jesus tells the apostle John, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” These then become the three major headings of the book: 1. The Things That You Have Seen, 2. Those That Are, & 3. Those That are to Take Place After This. Chapter 1 entails the initial visions that John had seen. Chapters two and three covers “the things that are” which refer to the present church age in which we are currently living. Chapters 4 and onward deal with “those that are to take place after this,” in other words, those things which are future as they follow the current age. As I have recently stated, many today are assuming that what we are now experiencing is, in a sense, the judgments described in the third division of the book of Revelation, those things which “are to take place after this.” Before assuming that we have transitioned from the church age into the time of the tribulation, it would do us well to ask the question, “what is it that must occur to transition the world from the former dispensation into the latter?” In other words, what is it that moves history into the time of the tribulation described in Revelation 6-19? The simple and short answer to that question is the rapture of the church. Sadly, the doctrine of the rapture is one that is most ignored and maligned in modern-day evangelicalism. Lifeway Research conducted a poll in 2016 which revealed that a growing number of professed evangelical Christians (25%) do not believe in a literal rapture of the church. Of those polled, only 36% professed to believe in the pretribulation rapture, which is to say Christ’s coming to receive His bride before His wrath being poured out on the earth. This certainly is a sad (though not startling) statistic as more and more are focused on earthly gain and comfort rather than storing up our treasure in heaven. On two separate occasions, the Apostle Paul addressed the church in Thessalonica regarding both the rapture of the church and the day of the Lord. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul speaks of the coming rapture of the church’s being “caught up together to meet the Lord in the air.” The text states:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Here the apostle Paul instructs Christians, desiring that they are informed, that the church will be raptured; those that have already passed away, and those that will be alive at the time of Christ’s coming. He states plainly that we will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” This is the blessed hope which is also referred to in Titus 2:11-14 which states, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The apostle Paul then transitions in his first letter to the Thessalonians to speak concerning the day of the Lord. He states:
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
Paul speaks of the coming judgment, the time of the tribulation, upon unbelievers those who are not of the light but of the darkness. In other words, as Christians, we are not to be lulled into a stupor like the rest of the world that are not expecting the return of Christ. We are anxiously awaiting the return of our Lord to remove us from the earth prior to His judgments befalling it. Paul declares that “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” In other words, the coming of Christ begins first with His rapturing the church to be with Him, and then His subsequent judgments will be poured out on the ungodly. The apostle Paul gives further instruction to the Thessalonians in his second letter to them where he states:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (2 Thess. 2:1-8).
It would appear as though the Christians of Thessalonica were being deceived by some letter claiming to have apostolic authority and declaring that they were currently in the day of the Lord. Such alarming statements would have the Thessalonians concerned for sure, for they were not anticipating judgment, but being caught up to heaven in the rapture of the church. It is for this reason that Paul then reassures that the day of the Lord had not come, and thus they did not miss the rapture, for the judgment of the Day of the Lord cannot come until “the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” In other words, Paul is reassuring that they were not living in the dispensation of God’s wrath, for the clear signs that signify such had not come. Furthermore, Paul states that the man of lawlessness, the antichrist who will rule during the time of the tribulation, will not be permitted to come forth until the restrainer is removed. The restrainer, quite plainly, is the Holy Spirit within the church. Until Christ has raptured His church and the Spirit no longer indwells it upon the earth, the day of the Lord cannot begin. In other words, the event which transitions the world from the church age into the time of the tribulation is the rapture of the Church. So perhaps now you are wondering, how can we be sure that the Holy Spirit within the Church is the restrainer that is presently restraining the coming of the antichrist? Before the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the church, the Spirit of God was already present upon the earth for He is the only means by which anyone may, by faith, seek and follow God. When Jesus spoke to His disciples in the upper room He stated in John 14:17,
“…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit was already with them, but on the day of Pentecost, He would be in them. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the church is to bring to light all that Christ has taught so that we might know Him and obey Him; in short, that we might be the salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt is, and has been, a highly valuable commodity for centuries for its ability to preserve. As the Spirit-filled church, we are called to preserve truth and goodness in this world, while being the light that calls sinners to repentance. This is the duty of the church until the time of the rapture, where God returns for His bride which has been sanctified throughout the church age. At the rapture of the church, God then shifts His focus on earth to the remnant of Israel which will have its present hardening removed. In Romans 11:25, the apostle Paul declares to the church, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” In other words, in Israel’s rejection of the Messiah at His first advent, a judicial hardening has come upon them until the time of the tribulation wherein God will remove that hardening as the church is raptured aka, “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” I mentioned earlier that the tribulation period described in Revelation is largely about an event known as the Day of the Lord, but other names for such events are the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy and the time of Jacob’s trouble. Both of these titles demonstrate that the Tribulation period is focused on the nation of Israel and not the church. In Daniel 9:24 the Word of the Lord declares to Daniel, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city.” Who are Daniel’s people? The nation of Israel. Daniel 12:1-2 states, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” God is going to preserve a sealed remnant of Israel through the Tribulation period much like Noah was preserved through the flood. While on the other hand, the church will be removed before the tribulation, much in the way that Enoch was removed before the flood.
The thing which often trips Christians up in regards to the placement of the rapture is that the book of Revelation nowhere plainly describes the rapture taking place. Some have assumed that verse one of Chapter four is in reference to the rapture which states, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” While I suppose it may be possible that this verse could potentially be alluding to the rapture, as it is the very next event following the church age, I wouldn’t hold too dogmatically to that as it cannot be fully substantiated within the context of the passage. However, this is not to say that the book of Revelation does not teach that the rapture is pre-tribulation, it most certainly does. In chapters 2-3 we witness specific instructions to the church while on earth during the church age, and nowhere is the church mentioned on earth again in the chapters which deal with the tribulation period. Furthermore, the raptured church is pictured as being in heaven before the start of the tribulation as the 24 elders clothed in white robes, wearing crowns, and singing a song of praise to the risen King for His work in redeeming them by His blood. Perhaps you are now asking, how can you know that the 24 elders represent the raptured church in heaven? Who else could they be? First, the book of Revelation is filled with numbers and symbols that are elsewhere in Scripture defined for us. So the next logical question becomes, “What is the significance of the number 24 in Scripture?” The number 24 is associated with the worship of the priesthood. It was King David who divided those responsible for the music in temple services, those who served as priests, and the Levites who aided the priests, into 24 courses (1 Chronicles 23 - 24). These courses rotated to divide the work amongst them. The order which the 24 courses of priests served in the temple are: 1) Jehoiarib; 2) Jedaiah; 3) Harim; 4) Seorim; 5) Malchijah; 6) Mijamin; 7) Hakkoz; 8) Abijah; 9) Jeshua; 10) Shecaniah; 11) Eliashib; 12) Jakim; 13) Huppah; 14) Jeshebeab; 15) Bilgah; 16) Immer; 17) Hezir; 18) Happizzez; 19) Pethahiah; 20) Jehezkel; 21) Jachin; 22) Gamul; 23) Delaiah; 24) Maaziah (1Chronicles 24). Thus, the number 24 symbolizes both worship and the totality of the priesthood. Perhaps you are now asking, “How does this help support the belief that the 24 elders are the church?” Excellent question, of which I will respond to with another question. Who are the New Covenant priests purchased by the blood of the Lamb? In short, the church. The apostle Peter declares to the church in 1 Peter 2:5-10,
“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Not to mention that the elders themselves declare in a song to our Lord in Revelation 5:9-10,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
At this point, I have rambled on enough in what was meant to be a brief post. I hope that you have been able to track with me. So going back to where we began, the daunting debaucherous events of which we have been experiencing in the world as of late, though a clear indication that the end is near, they are not the events which are mentioned in the book of Revelation in chapters 6 and following. Therefore, I don’t at all believe that COVID-19 is the pestilence described in Revelation 6:8 nor do I believe that masks are the mark of the beast, though they clearly are a dry run, or preparatory rehearsal for the mark to eventually be implemented.
These certainly are dark days and require biblical discernment. Therefore, as an encouraging word to the church, I would like to close out this post by reiterating the words of Paul, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” May we continue in faithful obedience to Christ in bringing glory to our Holy God, to making disciples of Christ Jesus, and to strengthening and edifying the saints of our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Justin Myers is an avid student of God's Holy Word and received his M.Div. in biblical studies from Liberty University School of Divinity. Pastor Justin considers himself a family man who loves his wife and children dearly. He has been married for over nine years and has four children.