SYNOPSIS – The doctrine of the “rapture” is not found in the book of Revelation and must be imported into it – Revelation 4:1-2.
The “rapture” refers to an interpretation in which Jesus rescues his church from tribulation by removing it from the earth and transporting it to heaven. A basic problem with this proposition is that the New Testament never uses the term “rapture” or explicitly describes a day when the Lord takes the saints off the earth to transfer them to “heaven.” The doctrine relies on passages where the idea is, at best, implicit.
For example, in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation, John suddnely “came to be in the spirit” where he was summoned to ascend to heaven by a voice “like a trumpet,” the same voice he heard previously in his first vision where, likewise, he “came to be in the spirit.” Some advocates of the doctrine of the “rapture” claim this passage represents the “rapture” of the church to “heaven” – (Revelation 1:12-20, 4:1-2).
But in the passage, John – And only John, responded to the summons. After doing so, he found himself before the “Throne” at the center of the Cosmos to receive further insight. Nothing in the passage even hints at such a broader application of the vision to the church in general or in the last days.
John “came to be in spirit.” The same clause occurs in the opening vision on Patmos where he first “came to be in the spirit” and saw the heavenly Son of Man. The clause occurs four times in Revelation and marks its four major literary divisions. Note well the highlighted verbal and conceptual parallels in the following two passages:
- (Revelation 1:10-12) – “I was in the isle called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I CAME TO BE IN THE SPIRIT on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What you see, write in a book…And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me; And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the lampstands one like unto a son of man…And he had in his right hand seven stars…saying, I am the first and the last; and he who is living, and I became dead, and, lo, I am living unto the ages of the ages…Write, therefore, the things that you saw, what they are, and the things which shall come to pass after these.”
- (Revelation 4:1-2, 8-9, 5:6) – “After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up here, and I will show you the things which must come to pass after these. Straightway I CAME TO BE IN THE SPIRIT: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne…and the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come…the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sits on the throne, to him who is living unto the ages of the ages… And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.”
In the first vision, John “came to be in spirit” and heard a trumpet-like voice behind him. When he turned, he saw a figure “like Son of Man” that was standing among “seven golden lampstands.” This figure proceeded to dictate the letters to the seven “churches of Asia” recorded in the next two chapters – (Revelation 1:10-3:22. Compare – Daniel 7:13).
In his next vision, John was summoned to ascend to the throne where he saw Jesus portrayed as the slain “Lamb” who was found “worthy” to receive all power because, by his shed blood, he “purchased men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” This scene was followed by a series of visions about events viewed from the perspective of the “Throne set in heaven.” In the process, the cosmic enemies of the “Lamb” were introduced – The “Dragon,” the “Beast from the Sea,” the “Beast from the Earth,” and “Babylon, the Great Whore” – (Revelation 4:1-16:21).
The remainder of the book is divided into two major sections. As with the first two literary units, each of the last two division begins with John finding himself “in spirit” to receiver further visions. The only difference is that in the last two sections he is “carried away in spirit,” each time by one of the seven angels that had the “bowls of fury.” In the final two division, John sees contrasting visions of two cities – “Babylon” and “New Jerusalem.”
As with the first two divisions, there are distinct verbal clues that link the last two divisions – (e.g., “carried away in spirit”). Note well the highlighted verbal and conceptual parallels:
- (Revelation 17:1-5, 21:1-8) – “And there came one of the seven angels, who were having the seven bowls, and he spoke with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore, who is sitting upon the many waters, with whom the kings of the earth did commit whoredom; and made drunk from the wine of her whoredom were those inhabiting the earth; and HE CARRIED ME AWAY IN THE SPIRIT to a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of evil-speaking, having seven heads and ten horns, and the woman was arrayed with purple and scarlet-color, and gilded with gold, and precious stone, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and uncleanness of her whoredom, and upon her forehead was a name written: ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the Whores, and the Abominations of the earth…And I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And he that sits on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for THESE WORDS ARE FAITHFUL AND TRUE. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcomes shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”
- (Revelation 21:9-12, 22:1-15) – “And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spoke with me, saying, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And HE CARRIED ME AWAY IN THE SPIRIT to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal: having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates…And he showed me a river of water of life…And he said unto me, THESE WORDS ARE FAITHFUL AND TRUE: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angels to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass…And behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he that keeps the words of the prophecy of this book…I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and everyone that loves and makes a lie.”
In the third of the four divisions, John is “carried away in spirit to the wilderness” by one of the seven angels to see “Babylon.” This scene begins the process of the destruction of the cosmic enemies of the “Lamb,” only in reverse order from their introduction in the second division – “Babylon,” the “Beast from the Earth,” the “Beast from the Sea,” and the “Dragon.”
This literary unit ends with a glimpse of New Jerusalem as it descends from “heaven.” The third division ends with promises to overcomers and dire warnings of doom to the unrighteous, especially to liars – (Revelation 17:1-21:8).
In the fourth division, John is “carried away in spirit to a great and high mountain” where he sees the holy city – “New Jerusalem” – And its glories. The fourth division, likewise, ends with promises to overcomers and dire warnings of doom to the unrighteous, especially to liars – (Revelation 21:9-22:15).
If the summoning of John to “ascend up here” in the fourth chapter represents the “rapture,” it can be argued that there are four distinct rapture events in the book of Revelation or, at least, four different views of the same event. However, the four instances in which John found himself “in the spirit” serve, instead, to mark the four major literary divisions of the book.
The passage from the fourth chapter says nothing about the escape of the church from the “great tribulation,” or its removal from the earth and transportation to heaven.
In his vision, John saw the Throne at the very center of the Cosmos, not in a timeless and immaterial realm separate from the creation. The key figure in that scenario was the “slain Lamb” who redeemed humanity, and therefore, he now possesses all the authority necessary to reign over the creation. The vision was not about flight but redemption.
In the rest of the book, John received glimpses into HOW the “Lamb” will consummate his past victory by defeating all his cosmic foes so that, in the end, his people stand victorious before him and the Throne in the New Creation.
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