By Nathaniel K. Haney
After the last letter is given to the last church in Revelation 3, chapter four opens with a call from heaven. John heard the voice of a trumpet. This corresponds with Paul’s record of the Rapture in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, which says, “voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” The call “come up hither” found in Revelation 4:1 is a Rapture call. Revelation 11:11-12 proves this where the two witnesses are raptured to heaven.
First, John saw “a door opened” and, secondly, he heard a voice saying, “Come up hither.” Bear in mind that in Revelation 3:8 the Philadelphia church was promised an open door that no man could shut. A door means an entrance to another room. The church that is on Earth will be looking for a door which leads into heaven. The time will soon come when a voice will say, “Come up hither.” One moment the church will be on Earth; the next moment the church will be in heaven.
The next portion of Revelation 4:1 says, “I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” After the church has been raptured, then her eyes will see Jesus Christ. It is here that the Antichrist can be revealed and enter a covenant with Israel that will begin the Great Tribulation. It is noteworthy that “The focus of Christ’s activity changes from chapters 1-3 to chapters 4-19. In the first three chapters His ministry was in the midst of the seven churches on Earth. He is commending, criticizing, and correcting them. In chapters 4-19, however, His activity occurs in heaven. He is occupied with the seven-sealed scroll and the judgments that proceed from it.” ii
The word hereafter makes it very clear that the recorded events in the following chapters do not take place until after the church has been removed from the Earth. Right after the Rapture of the church, John looks at the area around the throne and sees the twenty-four elders. The identity of these elders further substantiates that the church is removed from the Earth before the Great Tribulation.
“And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold ”
The significance of the number twenty-four can be found in the Book of I Chronicles in chapter 24. King David of Israel had divided the entire Levitical priesthood into twenty-four orders. Their job was to perform priestly functions at the Temple for a period of eight days, which lasted from Sabbath to Sabbath. Each order of the twenty-four would handle a portion of the work per year. At the end of the year, the entire priesthood, as well as all of Israel, had been represented before God. So the number twenty-four represented a much larger group. It was not just twenty-four small groups of people, but it actually represented several million people who made up the nation of Israel. Thus, the twenty-four elders represent a much larger group of people than just two dozen elders found in heaven. The word elders is taken from the Greek word Presbytress, used in the New Testament some fifty times, meaning a ruling person in the church. Why twenty-four?
Because they are a priestly order.
Revelation 5:10: “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests. . .”
I Peter 2:5, 9: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, . . . But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, . . .”
Just as the whole priesthood after the Davidic order was represented by twenty-four elders ministering at one time who were descendants from Aaron and hisons, sons, Jesus, our Father and Priest, is after the order of Melchizedek the king and priest of Salem the city of peace. Jesus was out of the tribe of Judah, the kingly tribe. Therefore, we, by our Father and High Priest, are joint heirs with Christ. Looking back to Revelation 4:4, there are several descriptive features of the twenty-four elders that further identify them.
Three features about their description are striking. First, they are “sitting” on thrones. They are not standing, flying, or hovering. 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” (Revelation 3:21 NKJH). God positionally has made every believer to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). The “sitting” feature of the elders better suits men than angels. Second, the elders were “clothed in white robes” (himatiois leukois). These words were previously used of believers within the churches (3:5,18).
Third, the elders had “crowns” (stephanous) on their heads. These are crowns gained by achievement and victory. Again, believers in the churches were promised crowns (2:10; 3:11; same word). In the epistles, believers in this church age are promised crowns for specific accomplishments: the incorruptible crown for living a spiritually disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25); the crown of rejoicing for impacting lives to receive Jesus Christ as Savior (I Thessalonians 2:19); 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; cf Revelation 2:10: the crown of life given to the believer-overcomer at Smyrna for being faithful unto death); and the crown of glory for faithful pastors (I Peter 5:4). Holy angels do not wear crowns, but believers can and will wear them.
Thus, it is clear that the identity of these twenty-four elders are a redeemed people who represent a much larger body than just a numerical number of twenty-four. They represent the entirety of all the redeemed from the day of Pentecost to the time in which Christ calls His church to join Him around the throne throughout eternity. One of the great blessings of being in the church is the fact that the saints of the living God will escape the Wrath that is to come.
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:9).
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (I Thessalonians 1:9-10).
As a reminder, see the following Scripture, which has already been quoted earlier:
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18).
God, through the writing of the Scriptures, has told us to receive comfort from these words of hope and faith in the blessed hope of the First Resurrection, the Rapture of the church. It is impossible to point a person toward the Antichrist and the coming Wrath of God and tell them falsely that God has predestinated them to go through this horrible period, the likes of which the Earth has never experienced before and will never experience again, and expect them to have joy. No one who truly understands the horrors of the coming Wrath can have a vibrant and joyous salvation without the hope and assurance that they, as God’s child, will escape all these things to come. There have always been the prophets of doom and gloom, who, by their false teachings, will try to imprison God’s people and steal their God-given joy and hope. But thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ, He has given a sure word of truth that the church will leave this old world behind when He carries us away.
The church has been promised it will escape all of these things that are found outlined in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Revelation 6-19, which will happen during the Great Tribulation:
- Religious persecution
- Signs and wonders in the heaven
- Hail, fire, and blood
- Seas and rivers turned to blood
- Falling stars
- Sun, moon, and stars darkened
- Demons loosed upon the earth
- Scorching sun
- Dense darkness
- Demons working miracles
- Satanic deception
Some folks have assumed that the Tribulation consists of three and one-half years of good times and three and one-half years of bad times. They point to the fact that Israel will enjoy three and one-half years of good, which is a false peace in their land. But what they fail to realize is that, as soon as the covenant between the Antichrist and Israel is signed, God’s judgment will begin to fall upon the Gentile world, for in the first 31/2 years of Tribulation the seven seals and seven trumpets of judgment and wrath are opened. Neither do people realize several things about the Antichrist and his reign.
First, he is God’s wrath and judgment to humanity that has rejected Jesus Christ. Second, the acceptance of the Antichrist by the world opens the door for further judgment of God’s Wrath upon humanity. The second seal in Revelation 6:3-4 is a clear picture of God’s Wrath upon man. Jesus Christ opens this seal. The opening of the seal does not just happen on its own; it is poured upon the Earth by Jesus. After the Rapture of the church, there will be a continual pounding of God’s Wrath upon humanity because of the rejection of His Son Jesus Christ and the acceptance of Satan as the Man of Sin. The sinners’ cry will be so great that they will say, “His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” All this is the first 31/2 years, not the last 31/2 years (Revelation 6:17, “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? “).
But thanks be to God, those who have been redeemed will not stand in the judgment of the sinner, nor in the congregation of the unrighteous, but we will stand in that beautiful city where no pain, sickness, disease, sorrow, heartache, or trouble will ever be.
Verse 1: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Verse 2: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Verse 3: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper”
Verse 4: “The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.”
Verse 5: “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”
Verse 6: “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
THE CHURCH MUST BE REMOVED
Looking at 2 Thessalonians the second chapter, we can see that the New Testament church in Thessalonica was quite disturbed by a letter and the teaching contained therein that was being circulated among the believers. Someone had forged Paul’s signature and sent the believers a letter telling them that they were entering into the Tribulation. This was no small thing, for Paul had taught them that they would escape the Wrath to Come. It is upon these premises that Paul quelled their fears and reassured them that what he had taught them was still of the same time period. See Paul’s response below in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5:
Verse 1: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,”
Verse 2: “That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand”
Verse 3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; ”
Verse 4: “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”
Verse 5: “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?”
Sometimes Christians have very short memories. Paul had so clearly taught them about the Rapture: when it would happen and how it was to comfort the believer. Obviously, whoever had written this letter, forging Paul’s name, was a liar and a deceiver. They presumably had claimed a special relation with Paul to support this letter that was being circulated among the Christians. In II Thessalonians 2:3 Paul instructed them saying, “Let no man deceive you by any means.” In other words, “I don’t care what word of the Lord or what revelation they claim to have received, there are certain events that must transpire before the Day of the Lord. The first is, there must be a falling away, and the second is that the Antichrist would be revealed.” So if the Day of the Lord were at hand, there would have been a great falling away and the revealing of the Antichrist, which would have meant that these believers of Thessalonica had missed the Rapture and now were under the rule of the Antichrist. One can see why they were greatly disturbed—to have missed the blessed hope.
FALLING AWAY OR DEPARTURE?
In verse three, Paul says there must first come a falling away. This is a very interesting term. Falling away comes from the Greek word apostasia. It has a variety of meanings, which include rebellion, revolt, and falling away, but it does not stop there. It also means “departure” or “disappearance.” The following information taken from the book “When the Trumpet Sounds” demonstrates how apostasia was used in the various verses of the Bible:
The translation of apostasia varies little for the first 15 centuries of translation. The Vulgate uses the Latin word discessio, meaning “departure” . . . This fourth- century Latin translation by Jerome presented the standard understanding until Beza, a member of the
Geneva Bible Translation Committee, departed from the traditional translation of “departure” and instead transliterated the Greek term as apostasia. In view of this history, prior to Beza, the earliest English versions used the neutral term of “departure” in translating apostasia, either translating the term with a verb or a noun and not indicating what was intended by the term, whether departure from the faith or departure in a spatial sense. Note the seven translations and their dates:
Apostasia as departure or departing
1384 Wycliffe Bible Departynge first
1526 Tyndale Bible Departnyge first
1535 Coverdale Bible Departynge first
1539 Cranmer Bible Departynge first
1576 Breeches Bible Departing first
1583 Beza Bible Departing first
1608 Geneva Bible Departing first
It is uncertain why Beza decided to depart from Jerome’s translation and transliterate the Greek term rather than translating it. Possibly this was due to the fact that Jerome was a Roman Catholic, and Beza, Calvin’s disciple, was Protestant . . . Whatever the reason may be, the word “departure” as the translation of apostasia ceases after Beza and the new translation, the 1611 King James Version. To my knowledge the KJV is the first English translation to introduce an alternative translation, rather than Beza’s transliteration, that of “falling away:” “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition . . .” (KJV). Modern translations since the King James Version have followed its practice in not using “departure.” These translations of apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 generally have settled on the translations of”rebellion” or “falling away.”
When looking at the context in which the Scripture says falling away, it would be more in line to use the neutral term departure instead of falling away. Verse 1 clearly indicates the departure of the saints from Earth to heaven, which is the Rapture. Notice—”coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our gathering together unto him” (II Thessalonians 2:1). Then Paul went on to say, “Don’t be troubled by teachings that are contrary to what I taught you. Do not be deceived, for the Day of the Lord cannot come until first there is a falling away.”
Now in context with verse 1, and as we shall see in verses 67, the word departure would be more in line with this passage meaning that the saints would first have to depart before the Day of the Lord could come. He went on to say that the Man of Sin also had to be revealed before the Day of the Lord. There is no secret to the reason why the Antichrist has to be revealed before the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord represents, in general, the Tribulation (but in a strict sense the return of Christ to Earth), which is specifically the final judgment of God upon the Earth. This time cannot begin until the 70th Week begins.
The above article, “The Blessed Hope” is written by Nathaniel K. Haney. The article was excerpted from the third chapter of Haney’s book The Rapture of the Church.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.