The Apocalypse Of John And
The Rapture Of The Church:
Michael J. Svigel*
*Michael J. Svigel (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) begins doctoral study this Fall. He is currently employed as a legal assistant in Dallas.
Before beginning a study of the Apocalypse of John and the Rapture of the church, a few presuppositions must be acknowledged. First, this article assumes the conservative evangelical view of the complete inerrancy of Scripture. That is, the words of the original manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments are regarded as inspired by God and are therefore without error in all they assert. Second, this article assumes a historical-grammatical-literary hermeneutic. Such a hermeneutic acknowledges intended figures, symbols, and rhetorical devices in Scripture, but does not seek out a deeper meaning in a text that was not intended by the divine/human authors and is not obtainable through a normal exegetical method. Finally, this article approaches the interpretation of the Apocalypse of John from a premillennial and futurist perspective. However, this article does not necessarily presuppose dispensationalist distinctives.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 24
B. Problem And Purpose
For all of the attention given to the Rapture of the Church by students and teachers of eschatology, one wonders why the doctrine of the catching up of the saints described by Paul in 1 Thess 4:17 is not more clearly mentioned in John’s Apocalypse! This is especially problematic when Jesus says that he gave the revelation to his servants to show them "what must happen very soon" (Rev 1:1).
Various commentators and Bible teachers have presented a number of options for the description of the Rapture in the book of Revelation. However, none of these have been universally satisfying, nor do any of them seem to do justice to the profundity of the doctrine of the Rapture and its Pauline association with the resurrection and ultimate expression of our salvation.
This article will consist of two sections. First, it will examine some of the problems that have been associated with placing the Rapture of the Church in particular passages of the Apocalypse. Second, it will present an alternative position for the Rapture in Revelation, which is consistent with all interpretive considerations: lexical, contextual, theological, and literary.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 25
II. The Many "Raptures" Of Revelation
Robert Mounce suggests that "the very discussion of a ‘Rapture of the church’ lies outside John’s frame of reference." However, commentators of Revelation offer a multitude of often-contradictory passages to fill the void. This section will explore the most prominent and viable options, critically evaluating the arguments for each.
A. Rev 3:10
The promise of protection in Rev 3:10 is considered by many commentators to be the best exegetical proof of a pretribulational Rapture of the Church. Lewis Sperry Chafer has called Rev 3:10–11 the "determining passage" with regard to the timing of the Rapture. Many other pretribulationists concur.11
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 26
1. Arguments For The Rapture In Rev 3:10
The promise in Rev 3:10–11 is thus: "Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth" (NET). Although the promise is given specifically to the Philadelphian church (Rev 3:7), the promise is applicable to all believers (Rev 3:13).
Those who see the Rapture in this verse argue primarily on the basis of the phrase τηρήσω ἐκ τῆς ὥρας "I will keep you from the hour." It is suggested that τηρήσω means to "preserve" or "protect," while the preposition ἐκ means "out from within." It is emphasized that the believers are not merely promised protection from the trial, but protection from the entire hour of trial, necessitating a removal from earth to heaven.
Although some have argued that ἐκ indicates "emergence from" the hour of trial, thus guaranteeing protection through it, this particular affected meaning of ἐκ depends greatly on the type of verb to which it is related. Daniel Wallace suggests a general principle of transitive prepositions like ἐκ when used with stative verbs such as τηρέω:
Stative verbs override the transitive force of preposition. Almost always, when a stative verb is used with a transitive preposition, the preposition’s natural force is neutralized; all that remains is a stative idea.
Therefore, it is argued from syntactical reasons that the meaning of the passage is preservation away from the hour of trial, not preservation through it.
2. Problems With The Rapture In Rev 3:10
Although this present writer finds the grammatical arguments in favor of understanding τηρήσω ἐκ as "preserving from" to be rather compelling, there are reasons for questioning this passage’s role as the "determining passage" on the Rapture.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 27
In spite of the grammatical considerations, comments such as that of Mounce are common among competent exegetes:
The hour of trial is directed toward the entire non-Christian world, but the believer will be kept from it, not by some previous appearance of Christ to remove the church bodily from the world, but by the spiritual protection he provides against the forces of evil.
Similar views seem to represent a weakening of the force of the language, so that "from the hour" is comprehended in a more general or figurative way; that is, believers are thought of as being "kept from the trial" in the sense of participating in the judgments, but not being "kept from the hour of trial" in a temporal or spatial sense. Certainly, such an imprecise understanding of the idiom is within the range of possibility. On the other hand, Beale argues that the keeping from the hour of trial refers not to protection from a future tribulation, but the harm of "falling away from the faith, that is, protection from trials that induce unbelief."
Another problem is the choice of the verb, τηρέω. While the Rapture in 1 Thess 4:17 is one of either sudden or forceful motion, τηρέω is stative. If this passage tells the reader anything about the Rapture, it merely describes the results of that event, not the event itself. Even advocates of the pretribulational Rapture view admit this. Thomas writes:
The statement does not refer directly to the Rapture. What it guarantees is protection away from the scene of the "hour of trial" while that hour is in progress. This effect of placing the faithful in Philadelphia (and hence, the faithful in all the churches; cf. 3:13) in a position of safety presupposes that they will have been removed to another location (i.e., heaven) at the period’s beginning.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 28
A further problem with identifying τηρέω ἐκ as physical removal from the Tribulation period is the usage of the same construction in John 17:15: "in order that you may keep them out of the evil." Ladd argues:
In our Lord’s prayer, there is no idea of bodily removal of the disciples from the evil world but of preservation from the power of evil even when they are in its very presence…. In the same way, the promise of Revelation 3:10 of being kept ek the hour of trial need not be a promise of a removal from the very physical presence of the tribulation.
Other commentators have set forth this same objection. While scholars have presented enough rebuttal arguments to at least preserve the viability of the view that the Rapture is suggested in Rev 3:10, the debate is far from settled and dogmatic assertions on either side must be regarded with caution.
In conclusion, it can be said that a Rapture could be implied by the verse if the stative verb with a transitive preposition indicates "protection away from" and if the phrase "hour of trial" literally means the period of time, necessitating a translation from this present world. Yet even given these conditions, the key element missing from Rev 3:10 is the Rapture itself. The systematic theologian must read the event of 1 Thess 1:17 into the promise and see Rev 3:10 as the result. These debatable variables effectively relegate Rev 3:10 to a position of secondary significance or corroborative evidence with regard to the Rapture of the Church in the Apocalypse of John.
B. Rev 4:1–2
It has been argued by pretribulationists innumerable that the experience described by John in Rev 4:1–2 is a symbol of the Rapture of the Church.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 29
1. Arguments For The Rapture In Rev 4:1–2
The passage itself reads,
After these things I looked and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: "Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things." Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it!
On this passage Seiss writes,
That door opened in heaven is the door of the ascension of the saints. That trumpet voice is the same which Paul describes as recalling the sleepers in Jesus, and to which the Saviour refers as the signal by which His elect are gathered from the four winds, but which we have no reason to suppose shall be heard or understood except by those whom it is meant to summon to the skies. And that "COME UP HITHER" is for every one in John’s estate, even the gracious and mighty word of the returning Lord himself, by virtue of which they that wait for Him shall renew their strength, and mount up with wings as eagles (Is. 40: 31).
The mention of the trumpet, the voice, heaven, and the Spirit, as well as the implied action of John’s "Rapture" into heaven thus lend themselves to this symbolic interpretation.
A further argument in support of the assertion that the Rapture occurs at 4:1–2 (or at least is unmentioned, but implied, between chaps. 3 and 4) is the interpretation that the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα "after these things" of v. 1 marks a major section break in the Apocalypse. Chapters 1–3 are called ταῦτα "these things" (cf. 1:19), that is, the present Church age, while everything from chap. 4 onward represents events that take place after the present Church age. Contributing to this argument, some advocate an interpretation that the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor outline the flow of church history in prophetic form, as well as the interpretation that the twenty-four elders first seen in Rev 4:4 are either a symbol for, or representatives of, the raptured, glorified saints.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 30
2. Problems With The Rapture In Rev 4:1–2
While some of the images appear to be similar, the interpretation of the Rapture in Rev 4:1–2 has significant problems. The passage actually appears to be describing in normal language the actual experience of John in receiving his prophetic vision rather than pointing to a future event. One dispensationalist writer, Robert Thomas, admits this difficulty and concludes, "This summons is best understood as an invitation for John to assume a new vantage point for the sake of the revelation he was about to receive."
Second, regarding the meaning of μετὰ ταῦτα, it must be noted that the phrase occurs throughout Revelation (4:1; 7:1; 7:9; 15:5; 18:1); in these instances it denotes a sudden change in the content of John’s vision, not a change in ages, epochs, or dispensations. Regarding whether or not a chronological sequence is implied with regard to the events prophesied, Smith writes,
This phrase denotes sequence or a passing from what was mentioned to what follows in order of time. However, when the phrase modifies "I saw," as it does eleven times in the book, the reference may be to the order of vision merely and not necessarily (though usually) to the chronological sequence of events. For instance, as far as the language employed is concerned, the seer may refer merely to his having had a new vision and not necessarily to the fact that the things he is about to mention succeed those already mentioned in order of time.
In conclusion, it seems that unless one is specifically seeking the Rapture of the Church before the Great Tribulation, Rev 4:1–2 does not naturally lend itself to such an interpretation. In this context, it is best to interpret the passage as the sole experience of John in the ecstatic spiritual state in which he received his visions.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 31
C. Rev 4:4 And 5:9–10
1. Arguments For The Rapture In Rev 4:4 And 5:9–10
It has often been asserted that the twenty-four elders in heaven, who first appear in Rev 4:4, are either symbols or living representatives of the raptured, glorified Church. Walvoord writes,
One of the reasons the twenty-four elders are considered to be men redeemed and rewarded is that they are pictured as having golden crowns and clothed in white clothing (Rev. 4:4). This would imply that they have already been judged and rewarded, as would be the case if there had been a pretribulational Rapture and a judgment seat of Christ following in heaven.
In a similar vein, Thiessen writes:
We conclude, then, that the scene in Rev. 4, 5 is the direct outcome of the Rapture. The Lord has descended from heaven, the dead in Christ, of both Old and New Testament times, have been raised, and the believers remaining until the Lord’s return have been caught up together with the others to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). These "elders" represent these two companies before the throne. From this it follows that the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation, for the "elders" are arrayed, crowned, and enthroned before the first judgment is sent upon the earth.
Earlier expositors have relied heavily on the Textus Receptus reading of Rev 5:9–10 in support of their interpretation that the twenty-four elders must represent the glorified Church. The passage describes the twenty-four elders singing about redemption in the first person plural: ἠγόρασας τῷ θεῷ ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἅιματί σου. .. καὶ ἐποίησας ἡμᾶς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν βασιλεῖς καὶ ἱερεῖς, καὶ βασιλεύσομεν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς "you redeemed us to God by your blood … and made us kings and priests to our God, and we will reign upon the earth." It is then argued that since the Church is seen in heaven as already glorified before the Tribulation events unfold, they have therefore been resurrected/raptured prior to this point.
2. Problems With The Rapture In Rev 4:4 And 5:9–10
The first problem with this approach is the identification of the twenty-four elders with the Church, a view that is far from conclusive. For this argument to carry convincing weight, one must
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 32
first establish that the Church is symbolized or represented by the twenty-four elders.
Second, even an identification of the twenty-four elders with the Church does not say anything concerning the Rapture itself. If the company of twenty-four elders is determined to represent the Church, nothing is mentioned concerning the means by which they arrived there. Again, the Rapture/resurrection itself is missing.
Third, the interpreter must first demonstrate conclusively that the visions of Revelation 4 and 5 are portrayals of the future and not the heavenly situation at the time of John’s vision. If the throne room scene within which all of the subsequent visions occur is determined to be a description of the present heavenly situation, the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 33
identification of the twenty-four elders with the post-Rapture company is debunked.
Fourth, while the twenty-four elders singing in the first person plural would, in fact, argue strongly for an identification with glorified humanity, the textual evidence for the these readings is unremarkable. It is highly improbable that the twenty-four elders were singing the song in the plural first person. This does not rule out the possibility that they were singing about themselves (and all redeemed humanity) in the third person. It does mean that such an interpretation is not a necessary conclusion.
In sum, the inability to identify conclusively the twenty-four elders with the Church, the omission of any Rapture/resurrection event, and the uncertainty as to the chronological nature of the heavenly throne room vision, all leave the Rapture prior to Rev 4:4 and 5:9–10 as a possible, yet unverifiable, hypothesis.
D. Rev 4–18
Another common argument for the Rapture in Revelation for some pretribulationists is the assertion that the Church is not mentioned on earth anywhere between Revelation chaps. 4 through 18.
Besides being an argument from silence, the position can also turn into circular reasoning. For example, in response to the assertion that the term "saints" in Revelation implies the presence of the Church on earth (cf. Rev 12:17, etc.), Renald Showers demonstrates the possibility of making a distinction between Tribulation saints and Church saints. While the possibility for this distinction certainly exists, the only proof of this distinction would be a pretribulation Rapture. But if the pretribulation Rapture is not proved first, the interpreter has no choice but to categorize the faithful saints of the coming Tribulation as members of the Church. Without first proving the pretribulation Rapture, pretribulationists can not legitimately appeal to the absence of the Church in Revelation 4-18 as implying the Rapture.
Another problem with this evidence is that it assumes a strict chronological structure to the book of Revelation, an assumption that is neither universally held nor supported by the evidence. For the absence of the Church from Revelation 4–18 to be significant, it
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 34
must first be proved that those chapters describe events limited only to the future seventieth week of Daniel.
Therefore, the argument based on the absence of the word "church" in Revelation 4–18 still leaves the event of the Rapture/resurrection of the Church unmentioned.
E. Rev 7:9–17
Some students of Scripture have seen the presence of the great multitude from "every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" in Rev 7:9–17 as indicative of the raptured/resurrected glorified saints.
1. Arguments For The Rapture In Rev 7:9–17
One proponent of this view, Robert Van Kampen, strongly asserts that "there is one inescapable proof that this multitude must be the Raptured church, not martyrs who have died during the Great Tribulation by Antichrist." Although Van Kampen’s work is done at a more popular level, any suggestion of an "inescapable proof" warrants some attention, especially since books with popular appeal tend to exercise greater influence on the popular theology of the Church as a whole.
Van Kampen writes,
As noted in several other places in this book, the fifth-seal martyred saints pictured under the altar in heaven (Rev. 6:9) are described as "souls" who do not yet have their resurrected bodies. As explained in Revelation 20, these martyred saints will not be given their resurrection bodies until the Millennium begins.
He goes on to contrast the souls of the saints in Rev 6:9 with the great multitude in Rev 7:9ff.:
The saints depicted in Revelation 7:9, on the other hand, are standing before the throne, clothed in white robes, holding palm branches in their hands—indicating conclusively that they already possess resurrected bodies. This great multitude then can only be the resurrected saints who have been Raptured out of the great
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 35
tribulation of Antichrist—and it must be exactly the same heavenly group (who also have bodies) referred to in Revelation 16:2 as "those who had come off victorious from the beast … standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God" (emphasis added).
2. Problems With The Rapture In Rev 7:9–17
Van Kampen’s "conclusive" proof that the great multitude is the raptured Church fails on several fronts. First, it is assumed that non-resurrected souls are unable to be portrayed as "standing," "clothed," or "holding." It is uncertain where this conviction comes from, but no biblical support is supplied for the presupposition that disembodied souls can do nothing but flitter about amorphously.
Second, the "souls" of Rev 6:9 are each given white robes. Van Kampen indicates that being clothed in white robes proves the great multitude of Rev 5:9 are resurrected. Does this not prove the same thing for Rev 6:9? Or were the white robes given to the souls, but since they had no resurrected bodies, they could not put them on? The arguments set forth appear to be self-defeating.
Third, although angels are incorporeal beings (they are spirits), they are able to interact with both the physical and material world. On what basis are incorporeal human souls denied this, especially when they are limited to the realm of heaven?
Fourth, the precise nature of the vision is unquestioned. It is simply assumed that everything in the vision is literal, that John is seeing first hand future events as they will actually transpire. However, it is possible, and well within a literal approach to the apocalyptic genre, to take the vision as a symbol of a future event. That is, it may well be a general picture relaying the message that those suffering martyrdom in the Tribulation will be gathered in heaven and rewarded, celebrating their victory.
So, while Van Kampen’s "conclusive" proof is anything but conclusive, a number of additional problems with identifying this great multitude with the resurrected saints arise.
First, if the great multitude is the raptured Church, who are the 144,000 of Rev 7:1–8 and why are they not raptured? This is especially perplexing when one sees the description of them in Rev 14:4–5:
These are the ones who have not been defiled by women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb, and no lie was found on their lips; they are blameless.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 36
Surely, such a stellar crowd would be involved in the Rapture, had it occurred somewhere in Revelation 7!
Second, the crowd described in Rev 7:9–17 actually appears to be the martyred saints who suffered persecution under the beast and are shown to be ultimately victorious in heaven. Therefore, this writer understands the scene to be proleptic, not chronologically sequential; it looks at the Tribulation as a whole and shows the victory of the martyrs.
F. Rev 11:11–19
The surface parallels between 1 Thess 4:17 and Rev 11:11–12 are often appealed to in order to identify the Rapture at this point in the Apocalypse. Sometimes the sounding of the seventh trumpet in 11:15 is added as a parallel to 1 Cor 15:52 and the songs of the voices and twenty-four elders are further interpreted in this light.
1. Arguments For The Two Witnesses As The Rapture
James Buswell, a proponent of this view, argues as follows:
It is my opinion that in the coming to life and Rapture of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:11ff.) we have an exact synchronization of events. The two witnesses are caught up into heaven "in the cloud" at the same moment that the elect of God are caught up together in the clouds to the meeting of the Lord in the air (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).
Of course, Buswell is not alone in his identification of the Rapture at Rev 11:11–19. Others suggest that the two witnesses are not actual individuals, but are representatives of the Church as a whole, either symbolically or as two individual members of that
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 37
Church. The parallels in language do, in fact, seem to indicate the resurrection and Rapture to heaven. The following chart illustrates these parallels between Rev 11:11–12 and the key Rapture passage, 1 Thess 4:16–17.
2. Problems With The Two Witnesses As The Rapture
Those who conclude, as Mounce does, that the two witnesses are not individuals but are "a symbol of the witnessing church in the last tumultuous days before the end of the age" seem to have the preponderance of evidence against them. First, if the two witnesses are a symbol of the witnessing Church, their death at the hand of the beast (Rev 11:7) after the 1260 days of testimony would indicate that the whole Church was destroyed by the beast. Second, if the two witnesses themselves are symbols, it seems rather strange to describe the symbols in terms of symbols with the analogy of the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 38
"two olive trees and the two lampstands" (Rev 11:4). The imagery of the olive trees and lampstands is borrowed from Zechariah 4, where the referents are two actual individuals, Zerubbabel and Joshua. Third, the activities and experiences of the two witnesses make the symbolic interpretation difficult to maintain. They are said to call down all sorts of plagues at will (Rev 11:6), an ability that has always been reserved for specially-anointed prophets, never the whole Church at large. After they are killed, their corpses are said to lie in the streets of Jerusalem (11:8), a rather preposterous event if the two witnesses represent the entire witnessing Church; why would the symbol limit their corpses to Jerusalem, or to any single city, for that matter? Fourth, the whole tenor of the passage from 11:3–13 is one of straightforward description of future events. Although certain images and symbols are clearly present (11:4, 5, 7, 8), the referents of these symbols are evident in the context. Therefore, the burden of proof appears to be on the side of those who interpret the two witnesses as symbols, for they must address the symbolic significance of the various details which seem to be pointing to a straightforward description of the experience of two eschatological individuals.
Nevertheless, the greatest problem with identifying the elements of Rev 11:11–12 with 1 Thess 4:16–17 is that the two only appear to correspond on the surface. A closer examination reveals a difficulty in correlating the order of events. In Rev 11:11–12, the order of events is: 1) resurrection; 2) loud voice; 3) ascension. In 1 Thess 4:16–17, the order is: 1) simultaneous shout, voice, trumpet, descent, and resurrection; 2) snatching up. This is particularly problematic considering the command of the loud voice in Revelation 11 is specifically directed toward the two witnesses (λεγούσης αὐτοῖς) and is commanding them to come up into heaven (ἀνάβατε ὧδε). In stark contrast, the shout, voice, and trumpet of 1 Thess 4:16–17 (as well as the trumpet in 1 Cor 15:51–52) announces generally the descent of the Lord and the resurrection of dead saints and transformation of living saints. The catching up of that glorified throng takes place afterwards. Thus, in Rev 11:12, the voice calls the witnesses into heaven; it does not announce their resurrection.
It is also interesting to note that the two witnesses are commanded, "Come up here!" (ἀνάβατε ὧδε); then they
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 39
immediately obey the command (ἀνέβησαν). The verb ἀνέβησαν, being in the active voice, indicates that they participated in the action, they were not "taken up" or "snatched up" as is indicated by the verb ἁρπάζω in the passive voice in 1 Thess 4:17. While the witnesses are actively involved in a gradual ascent, the Church is portrayed as passive partakers of an instant removal.
These problems, of course, are not entirely insurmountable. It could be argued that the narrative in Revelation is merely focusing on the unique experience of the two witnesses and leaving out all of the details of the resurrection/Rapture proper. Yet this is virtually the same as admitting that the Rapture is not really found in the two witnesses passage.
3. Arguments For The Seventh Trumpet As The Rapture
It is also often asserted that the blowing of the seventh trumpet in Rev 11:15 heralds the Rapture of the Church. Since this is the "last trumpet" in the series of seven in the book of Revelation, it is sometimes equated with the "last trumpet" announcing the resurrection/Rapture of the saints described in 1 Cor 15:52. Caird writes,
We know from the New Testament that the last trumpet had already in Christian usage become the conventional signal for the Parousia of Christ (Matt. xxiv. 31; 1 Cor. xv. 52; 1 Thess. iv. 16), and this is beyond question the meaning of John’s seventh trumpet.
4. Problems With The Seventh Trumpet As The Rapture
First, it cannot be automatically assumed that the sounding of the trumpet of Rev 11:15 will be an actual future event as opposed to a symbolic sounding in John’s vision which simply announces the visions of future events. That is, are the trumpets in Revelation signs of things to come, or are they themselves the things to come? Schilling represents those who propose that the seventh trumpet will actually sound in the future. He writes:
That the seventh trumpet of Revelation is a literal trumpet which will sound in the future is indicated by the fact that the mystery of God will be finished in the days of the seventh trumpet as God has promised His servants the prophets (Rev. 10:7). Since the mystery of God was not finished at the revelation of the events of the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 40
seventh trumpet in Revelation, this indicates that the seventh trumpet will actually sound in the future.
However, this interpretation demands the genitive of the phraseἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ ἑβδόμου ἀγγέλου "in the days of the sound of the seventh angel" to be understood as "in the days during which the seventh trumpet sounds." Yet this is not the only way to take the genitive here. It could just as well mean "the days characterized by the sound of the seventh angel." This does not necessitate an actual sounding of the trumpet in the future when the events occur. It could mean that the sounding of the seventh angel points to the days in the future when the "the mystery of God is completed." Had John wanted to more clearly indicate that the events would occur during the actual sounding of the trumpet, he could have used ἐν plus the dative, as Paul does in 1 Cor 15:52 without ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις. Thus, Schiller’s interpretation that the seven trumpets must sound during the Tribulation is not demanded by Rev 10:7.
Second, even if we suppose the sounding of the seventh trumpet to be a literal future event and not limited strictly to John’s vision, this still does not imply that the "last trumpet" of 1 Cor 15:52 is equal to the seventh trumpet of Rev 11:15. In fact, there are several considerations weighing against this interpretation. The syllogism that some adopt appears to run as follows: argue
Premise 1: The Rapture = last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52)
Premise 2: Last trumpet = seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15)
Conclusion: The Rapture = seventh trumpet.
However, unless one first demonstrates Premise 2 conclusively, this syllogism may be a classic case of equivocation. Regarding this assumption, 1 Cor 15:52 does not tell us of which series this particular trumpet is the "last." Paul does not say, "The last trumpet which will ever sound in the history of the universe." Nor does he say it is the final trumpet in a particular eschatological sequence. He simply takes it for granted that his readers will understand something that is obscure to us. The term "last trumpet" in 1 Cor
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 41
15:52 has not been shown to be equal to the "last trumpet" of Rev 11:15.
There are, in fact, several considerations militating against equating the "last trumpet" of 1 Cor 15:52 and the "seventh trumpet" of Rev 11:15. First, it must be noted that only at 1 Cor 15:52 is the eschatological trumpet designated the "last" trumpet (ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι). In the two other places in the NT where a trumpet is associated with the return of Christ or the resurrection of the dead, it is called σάλπιγγος μεγάλης "a loud trumpet blast" (Matt 24:31) and σάλπιγγι θεοῦ "trumpet of God" (1 Thess 4:16). The first occurrence likely depends on the Septuagint of Isa 27:12–13 and the loud trumpet blast heralding the ingathering of the dispersed sons of Israel. If we are correct in linking the events of 1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thess 4:16–17, then the sounding of the trumpet described by Paul in both contexts is probably a reference to the same eschatological event. Thus, the "last trumpet" of 1 Cor 15:52 is "the trumpet of God." Can we then equate the trumpet of Paul to the seventh trumpet of Revelation?
If the last trumpet of 1 Cor 15:52 and the seventh trumpet of Rev 11:15 refer to the same trumpet, then Paul’s phrase,ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ σάλπγγι would mean "last in a series." But what series is he referring to? Those who equate the two trumpets would say ἔσχατος refers to the "seventh" trumpet in the series. But even if we were to accept the Neronic dating of Revelation (c. A.D. 68), then 1 Corinthians, written c. A.D. 55,60 is still thirteen years too early to draw on the imagery from Revelation. The second alternative is that the author of Revelation drew on the epistle of Paul, specifically 1 Corinthians, and composed the Apocalypse so that the seventh trumpet would correspond with Paul’s mysterious "last trumpet." However, this is highly suspect, for had the author of Revelation been dependent on Paul’s solitary reference to the trumpet as the "last," it seems probable that he would have designated the seventh trumpet with that technical term in order to make the allusion more obvious. Also, since the "last trumpet" in Paul is associated specifically and exclusively with the resurrection (not the second coming of Christ), and since Rev 11:15 is completely silent with regard to the resurrection, the theory of dependence is further weakened. The final alternative is that by divine inspiration, the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 42
Holy Spirit had Paul write "last" with no real referent in his own mind, but God’s referent was actually the seventh trumpet of Rev 11:15, which was not to be written for at least another thirteen years. Thus, the term "last" would have been meaningless to Paul’s initial readers in Corinth. This is, perhaps, the most unlikely hypothesis, since such ecstatic writing of cryptic Scripture is simply not expected in epistolary literature.
In light of the above considerations, it seems somewhat artificial and forced to equate the "last trumpet" of 1 Cor 15:52 announcing the resurrection and the seventh trumpet of Rev 11:15. While a satisfactory explanation for Paul’s use ofἔσχατος in 1 Cor 15:52 is yet to be found, the notion that it means "last in a series of the Apocalypse’s seven" appears to this writer to be the least likely option.
5. Arguments For The Songs Of Victory Announcing The Rapture
Since the problems associated with equating the "last trumpet" of 1 Cor 15:52 and the sounding of the seventh angel of Rev 11:15 have been discussed in the previous section, all that remains is the assertion that the song of the loud voices from heaven and of the twenty-four elders in Rev 11:15–18 implies the Rapture of the Church.
One proponent of this view, James Oliver Buswell, presents a five-point argument for the Rapture of the Church at Rev 11:15–18. His argument does not depend on the identification of Paul’s "last trumpet" and the seventh trumpet of Revelation. Thus, it will be presented in virtually his own words:
1) The seventh trumpet announces the time of rewards for the righteous dead (Rev 11:18).
2) The time of rewards for the righteous dead is "at the resurrection of the righteous." See Luke 14:14. In this passage Christ declared, "He will reward thee at the resurrection of the righteous."
3) The resurrection of the righteous takes place at the same moment, "twinkling of an eye," at which the saints who are alive when Christ comes again will be changed and made immortal (1 Cor 15:52).
4) This same moment is predicted as occurring "at the last trumpet" (1 Cor 15:52).
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 43
5) The moment of the resurrection of the righteous, of rewards for the righteous dead, of the change to immortality of the living saints, of the last trumpet is the moment of the Rapture of the saints who will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:13–18).
Buswell thus concludes:
It does seem to me that the correlation of data centering around the seventh trumpet as the trumpet of the Rapture is so complete, so precise, and so unequivocable that more attention ought to be devoted to a study of the seventh trumpet and its relationship to other Scriptures than has ever been so devoted thus far in the history of the church.
6. Problems With The Songs Of Victory Announcing The Rapture
Buswell’s five-point argument will be addressed below point by point.
Buswell’s first premise asserts that Rev 11:18 announces the time of the rewards for the righteous dead. As has been emphasized in this article, it is doubtful whether John is seeing events of the future, that is, whether the sounding of the seventh angel is an event that will take place in the future and announce the time of rewarding the righteous, or if the sounding is an event in John’s vision which symbolizes future events. If one determines that John is, in fact, seeing the future unfold and the blowing of the seventh trumpet will literally occur, then we must determine what is meant byκαὶ δοῦναι τὸν μισθὸν τοῖς δούλοις σου τοῖς προφήταις ("and to give the rewards to your servants the prophets"). It is possible that the song of the seventh trumpet does not, in fact, refer to the rewards that the resurrected saints receive for their good deeds (cf. 2 Cor 5:10) but that it is announcing the divine wrath upon the beast in vengeance on behalf of the saints and martyrs who gave their lives in the Tribulation. It is then the answer to the fifth seal of Rev 6:9–11 and a "reward" in the sense of vengeance on the saints’ persecutors.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 44
Concerning Buswell’s second premise, that Luke 14:14 indicates the rewarding of the righteous will take place at the resurrection, this view does not consider that the statement of Jesus in Luke 14:14 seems to be a simple summary of rewards coming in the life hereafter rather than in the earthly life. The emphasis is not on the timing of the rewards but on temporality versus eternality.
Buswell’s third premise appears to be sound, except that it is possible that the resurrection of the righteous occurs in stages rather than all at once.
The fourth premise regarding the equating of the last trumpet with the seventh trumpet has been sufficiently dealt with in the previous section.
Buswell’s conclusion, then, does not appear to be based on solid or incontrovertible premises. Other passages which demand a more complex approach to the subject than a mere identification of similar elements appear to be neglected.
7. Conclusion Regarding The Songs Of Victory Announcing The Rapture
It has been shown above that there is really no compelling reason for seeing the Rapture in the songs of Rev 11:15–18, unless
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 45
one correlates the "last trumpet" of Paul with the seventh trumpet of Rev 11:15 or if the rewarding of the servants, the prophets, in Rev 11:18 is proved to be a rewarding after the resurrection. I have demonstrated that both of these assertions are at least suspect.
G. Rev 14:14–20
Another place where the Rapture/resurrection is positioned in Revelation is the time of the reapings in Rev 14:14–20. The question really boils down to the imagery used. Is it one of judgment, salvation, or both? If the image portrays the gathering of the elect followed by the gathering of the nations for judgment, is the gathering of the elect to be equated with the Rapture or with some other event?
1. Arguments For The Rapture In Rev 14:14–20
David V. Schilling, in his Th.M. thesis entitled "The Rapture According to the Book of Revelation," argues that the first reaping of Rev 14:14–20 portrays the Rapture of the Church immediately preceding God’s final outpouring of wrath at the close of the Tribulation. In summarizing his arguments, he writes:
In summary of the foregoing discussion, several things can be said. (1) In the harvest of Rev. 14:14–16, Jesus is seated on a cloud and He seems to remain seated on the cloud until the earth is reaped because the sitting one … "swung" … "His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped" …. This is consistent with the expectation of the Church to meet the Lord in the clouds when He comes for the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:17). (2) The loud voice of the angel before the reaping (Rev. 14:15) may fulfill the expectation of the voice of the archangel which precedes the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:16). (3) If it is correct that the harvest takes place in the time period inaugurated by the seventh trumpet at the end of the tribulation period, then this may fulfill the expectation of the Church to be Raptured at the last trumpet (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52). (4) While the Rapture passages do not mention the use of angels in the event of the Rapture, angels are used in the gathering of the children of the kingdom (Matt. 13:30), and in the gathering of the elect (Matt. 24:31), and this may explain how Christians are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17).
Thus, the correlations between the cloud, the loud voice, the seventh trumpet, and the gathering of the elect mentioned in Matt 13:30 and 24:31 are considered to be strong indicators of a conceptual link.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 46
Another argument is the image of "reaping." To many scholars, there appear to be two distinct, though related, harvests in Rev 14:14–20. The first is the grain harvest, the second the harvest of grapes. The first is often considered to be a harvest of the righteous. Caird’s lexical arguments here are typical of this viewpoint:
The noun therismos (harvest) and the verb therizo, though they could perfectly well have been used of the mowing down of enemies, are never so used in the Septuagint, even in the passages where judgment is likened to a reaping; and in the New Testament they are used of the ingathering of men into the kingdom of God (Matt. ix. 37f.; Mark iv. 29; Luke x. 2; John iv. 35–38).
Although Caird links the two harvests and applies both to the righteous, other commentators apply the harvest of the Son of Man in Rev 14:14–16 to the righteous, that is, the Rapture; the second harvest in Rev 14:17–20 is the harvest of the wicked unto judgment. For some the first harvest is of the righteous, though not necessarily those raptured to heaven, while the second is a reference to judgment.
2. Problems With The Rapture In Rev 14:14–20
First, many commentators point out that the images in all of Rev 14:14–20 are of judgment, not salvation of the righteous. Passages such as Jer 51:33 and Joel 3:11–16 are cited as the sources of these images. Seiss writes concerning Joel 3:11–16,
Here is both a harvest and a vintage; the one like and part of the other, and both exclusively applicable to the destruction of the wicked. This harvest and this vintage are unquestionably the same described in the text [of Revelation 14].
The arguments for both images referring to judgment will be further developed below.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 47
Second, contra Caird,θερίζω "to harvest" occurs twenty-seven times in the LXX, mostly in reference to a literal reaping of grain. It occurs in prophetic literature only in Jer 9:21 and 12:13, both contexts of judgment. Although Caird is right that the verb is not used directly as a term for judgment, it is also not used for the gathering of the elect. Furthermore, the noun form θερισμόν appears thirty-four times in the LXX and is never used for either judgment or gathering of the elect. In the NT, the verb θερίζω is used twenty-one times. Only three of these are in an apocalyptic context, Rev. 14:15–16. The noun form is used thirteen times. Of these, three occurrences (Matt 13:30, 39; Mark 4:29) seem to be referring to the end of the age. All of the rest refer either to a literal harvest (John 4:35a) or to the "harvest" done in evangelism and in bringing unbelievers into the kingdom in this present age (Luke 10:2; John 4:35b; etc.). Therefore, if Rev 14:14–15 refers to a harvest of the NT, its parallel must be found in either Mark 4:29 or Matt 13:30, 39.
In Mark 4:26–29 there is nothing said of either judgment or gathering for blessing. Given the non-eschatological contexts of all of the other parables in Mark 4 (the four soils in Mark 4:3–20, the lamp in 4:21–25, and the mustard seed in 4:30–32) it is quite likely that this parable has no eschatological scope, but rather focuses on the sowing of the Word of God in this present age. Thus, the "harvest" would refer to evangelism, an analogy entirely consistent with the NT’s use of the harvest language and imagery (Matt 9:37, 38; Luke 10:2; John 4:35, 38).
If we seek a NT parallel, a more likely candidate for the Rev 14:15–16 referent would be Matt 13:24–30 with its explanation in 13:36–43. The context is the growing together of the wheat and the tares, the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one (13:38). In the parable, the sower tells his servants,
θερισμός]. At harvest time [θερισμός] I will tell the reapers, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn." (NET)
Let both grow together until the harvest [
The order of harvest is first the gathering of the weeds to be burned (judgment), then the gathering of the wheat into the barn (the kingdom?).
In Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, he explains that the sower is the Son of Man (13:37), the field is the world (κόσμος), the good seed is the sons of the kingdom, and the weeds are the sons of the evil one (13:38). The enemy who sows the weeds is the devil and the harvest Jesus describes as "the end of the age" while the reapers are
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 48
"angels" (13:39). Having interpreted the symbols, Jesus then presents a straightforward description of the end of the age. He says:
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
However, the scene described in Rev 14:14–16 is remarkably different. First appears the "Son of Man" sitting on a white cloud. The allusion is undoubtedly to Dan 7:13. He is holding a sharp sickle in his hand (Rev 14:14). An angel comes out of the temple and instructs the Son of Man to begin to reap (14:15). The Son of Man responds by swinging the sickle over the earth (γῆ) and reaping the earth. The scene suddenly shifts to another angel executing the reaping of grapes, which is certainly an allusion to judgment (cf. Rev 14:19–20).
Matthew 13:41–43 says the Son of Man will send forth the angels to reap; Rev 14:14–16 has an angel instructing the Son of Man to reap. In Matt 13:41–43, the wicked are reaped out from among the righteous, who are then gathered into the kingdom. In Rev 14:14–20, if the first reaping is of the righteous, this order is reversed. Considering that Jesus’ words in Matt 13:41–43 are a straightforward interpretation, the symbols of Rev 14:14–20 do not seem to adequately portray the event described by the Lord.
There are perhaps two better explanations that allow for the first reaping to refer to the righteous while the second refers to judgment. First, Rev 14:14–16 could represent in a summary fashion the entire ingathering of the righteous throughout the Tribulation period. That is, the "harvest" image may very well be one more related to evangelism rather than the consummation (cf. John 4:35). A second possibility is that the gathering described in Rev 14:14–16 is the gathering of the remnant of Israel, the 144,000 described earlier in 14:1–15. They are seen as gathered together in one place (Mount Zion, 14:1), they were redeemed from the earth (γῆ, 14:3; cf. 14:15–16), and they are described as "firstfruits to God and to the Lamb" (14:4), a possible allusion to the gathering of the firstfruits of the harvest in passages such as Exod 23:16 and 34:22. This ingathering, then, would be either similar or equivalent to the gathering of the elect in Matt 24:31 (cf. Isa 27:12–13). In either of these two views, the image is not a Rapture of the Church of God but the gathering of the righteous into the kingdom either throughout the Tribulation (first
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 49
view) or of the elect ones of Israel at the end of the Tribulation (second view).
However, I believe the best explanation for the images of the harvests is that both refer to judgment and are an expansion of the two-fold harvest in Joel 3:13 (4:13 LXX, MT). Joel 3:12–16 (English) reads as follows:
Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down, O Lord, Thy mighty ones. Let the nations be aroused and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars lose their brightness. And the Lord roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth tremble. But the Lord is a refuge for His people and a stronghold to the sons of Israel.
The commands to send forth the sickle are so similar in Rev 14:15 and Joel 3:13 that we can hardly take them as anything less than parallel. Moreover, in both Joel 3:13 and Revelation 14 the harvesting of wheat is followed by a harvest of grapes. It is my assertion that these parallels argue strongly for a judgment theme for all of Rev 14:14–20.
Another consideration is the fact that the book of Revelation as a whole overwhelmingly depends on imagery from the OT rather than NT writings. This is true to such a degree that some critical scholars have suggested that Revelation was first a Jewish writing that was adopted by Christian redactors. This does not rule out the possibility of allusion to some NT passage such as Matthew 13, but it does suggest that the interpreter ought to first see if there is a more clear OT allusion before resorting to a NT passage. This OT allusion appears to be Joel 3:13–16 and the final judgment on the Day of the Lord.
In sum, it seems that a casual equating of the reaping in Rev 14:14–16 to the Rapture of the Church described in 1 Thess 4:17 is highly problematic. The images seem to better match the ingathering of the elect into the millennial kingdom at the close of the Tribulation or to the "weeding out" of the wicked at the end of the Tribulation for judgment. Although it must be admitted that the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 50
Rapture may actually be here in a highly cryptic fashion, there is nothing in the text that demands this, nor does it seem that the passage easily lends itself to such an interpretation.
H. Rev 19:11–20:6
Since posttribulationists see the Rapture of the Church after the Tribulation and at the second coming of Christ, the chain of events in Rev 19:11–20:6 is an obvious point of investigation. This is especially important to consider since Rev 20:4–6 describes an actual resurrection, an event closely associated with the Rapture of the Church in 1 Thess 4:17.
1. Arguments For The Rapture In Rev 19:11–20:6
I am aware of no debate among premillennialists regarding the vision of Rev 19:11–16; it is unanimously held that this passage describes in vivid figures the second coming of Christ to execute final judgment on the enemies of God and establish his earthly reign. Therefore, if one were to demand a synchronizing of the Rapture/resurrection and second coming proper, this is the most obvious section in which to place the Rapture of the Church.
It can also be argued that the resurrection described in Rev 20:4–6 is the very same resurrection described in 1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thess 4:17 at Christ’s coming. Thus, by analogy of Scripture, the Rapture of the Church must by necessity take place at this moment.
There are, however, great problems with this view.
2. Problems With The Rapture In Rev 19:11–20:6
First, and probably most incidental, the Rapture is not mentioned in Rev 19:11–20:6. To be sure, a resurrection is described in some detail in 20:4–6, but a catching up of the saints is not found here. However, this is an argument from silence. It is indeed possible that the Rapture takes place here in the fulfillment of the prophecy, but is just not mentioned in the text.
A greater problem with the Rapture of the Church in the context of this passage is the apparent sequence of events from Rev 19:11–20:6. There certainly appears to be a sequential progression here rather than a string of independent visions. If this understanding is legitimate, then the alleged Rapture/resurrection does not occur at the moment of the descent of Christ from heaven, but some time after the second coming and destruction of the enemies of God. Contrary to this, 1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thess 4:16–17 make the descent of Christ, the trumpet, and the resurrection/Rapture all simultaneous
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 51
events. We would not, therefore, expect to see the resurrection of the Church occur after the second coming, but simultaneous to it.
Another reason why the resurrection/Rapture of the Church and the resurrection of the souls in Rev 20:4 should not be viewed as parallel events is the identification of the armies of heaven accompanying Christ at his second coming (Rev 19:14) and their distinction from those resurrected in 20:4. Although some have argued that the armies accompanying Christ in 19:14 are an angelic host, there is much evidence against this. First, the armies are described as wearing "white, clean, fine linen." This image is identical to the "white linen" of the Bride of Christ, the Church, described in Rev 19:8 asτὰ δικαιώματα τῶν ἁγίων ἐστίν ("the righteous deeds of the saints"). Second, the armies accompanying Christ at his return are explicitly interpreted in a proleptic fashion in Rev 17:14. The angel describes the final battle of Armageddon, saying,
They [the armies of the beast] will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen and faithful.
The description of those accompanying Christ at his coming to destroy the armies of the beast isκλητοὶ καὶ ἐκλεκτοὶ καὶ πιστοί. It is significant that the terms κλητός and ἐκλεκτός are used only here in Revelation. Elsewhere in the NT they refer most commonly to believers. The term πιστός is used eight times in Revelation. Three times it describes Christ (Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11); twice it describes Christians (Rev 2:10, 13); and twice it refers to the truthfulness of the words of the prophecy of the Revelation itself (Rev 21:5; 22:6). The other occurrence is here in Rev 17:14. Given the lexical evidence, it seems rather clear that redeemed saints are in view in Rev 17:14 accompanying Christ at his coming. Thus, the host of riders in Rev 19:11 would be resurrected and glorified saints.
What does this tell us about those resurrected in Rev 20:4? Since the vision from 19:11 through 20:10 appears to be in sequence, and since the armies accompanying Christ are the resurrected, glorified Church, it seems best to understand the unmentioned subject of the third person plural verb in Rev 20:4 as referring to Christ and the armies of heaven accompanying him. The passage begins:Καὶ εἶδον θρόνους καὶ ἐκάθισαν ἐπ αὐτοὺς καὶ κρίμα ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς. Some translations have recognized the problem of the lack of the subject
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 52
here and have adjusted their translations accordingly. However, if one reads the entire passage from 19:11 through 20:10 as one vision described by John, one realizes that immediately before 20:4 the only persons remaining in John’s vision are Christ and his armies descending upon the earth. Thus, those who sit upon the thrones and those to whom judgment is given are those accompanying Christ on white horses. If this is the case, the ones resurrected in Rev 20:4–6 would be limited to the saints martyred during the Tribulation.
That the resurrection of Rev 20:4–6 seems to be limited to those of the Tribulation only is validated by their description in 4:4b: "These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand." The description appears to apply to all the souls who are resurrected. Ladd writes:
The language suggests two different groups: one group to whom judgment was given, and a smaller group who are the martyrs of the great tribulation. In Greek, the language is quite ungrammatical, which leads Charles to treat the first phrase as a gloss. However, it may well be that John actually envisaged two groups: a larger group of all the saints and then a smaller group—the martyrs—whom he singles out for special attention.
Certainly, one cannot be dogmatic here. To the present writer the evidence best supports a distinction between those sitting on the throne as the glorified saints accompanying Christ at his coming and
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 53
those who are resurrected in Rev 20:4. The other alternative which would equate the two does not seem to take into consideration the identification of Rev 17:14, the apparent progression of the vision from Rev 19:11 through 20:10, the unspecified subject of the verbἐκάθισαν in Rev 20:4 as a reference to the armies of heaven which have just descended to the earth and destroyed the enemies of God’s people, and the description of those resurrected in Rev 20:4–6 as those who were martyred under the reign of the beast (Rev 20:4). With these considerations, it seems highly improbable that the resurrection mentioned in Rev 20:4–6 is best equated with the resurrection/Rapture of the Church described in 1 Cor 15:51–52 and 1 Thess 4:17.
Of the passages above, none completely satisfies as an explicit reference to the Rapture of the Church in the book of Revelation. Some may imply a Rapture/resurrection while missing the event itself (e.g. Rev 3:10). Others may relate certain similar elements on the surface but lack genuine concord upon closer examination (Rev 4:1–2; 11:11–19; 19:11–20:6). After examination of the positive and negative evidences, we are still left with the impression of Mounce that "the very discussion of a ‘Rapture of the church’ lies outside John’s frame of reference." From this point in the reevaluation of the Apocalypse of John and the Rapture of the Church, we move to one final place in the Revelation which has been an occasional candidate for the Rapture: Rev 12:5.
III. The Rapture In Rev 12:5
The previous section surveyed the many places in the Apocalypse where commentators, exegetes, and theologians have identified the Rapture of the Church. This section will examine one final placement of the Rapture in the book of Revelation, one that has been either overlooked by commentators in spite of its merits or rejected for what I hope to demonstrate are weak objections. In this section I will show that a formidable argument from genre, context, and lexical analysis can be presented for identifying the Rapture of the Church with the catching up of the male child of Rev 12:5.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 54
A. Genre Considerations
Most scholars agree that the Revelation of John is, for the most part, an example of NT apocalyptic literature. However, this writer feels there is enough incongruence between the normal apocalyptic genre and the book of Revelation to modify the genre as "apocalyptic/prophetic." By applying the category of "apocalyptic/prophetic" to Revelation, the present writer wishes to emphasize the use of revelatory images, not the conformity of the author to apocalyptic literature of the intertestamental period. While the latter entertains considerable debate and discussion in NT studies, the former is fairly well-established in evangelical circles.
The hermeneutical approach to this type of literature is both qualitatively and quantitatively different than the approach to non-apocalyptic/prophetic literature. Qualitatively, the certainty of conclusions is by the very nature of the genre lessened to a greater degree than conclusions from epistolary or narrative literature. Quantitatively, exegesis of apocalyptic literature requires additional work as images are compared, referents are identified, possible sources or allusions are examined, and decisions are made between whether the vision is emphasizing the details or the Gestalt.
With regard to Revelation 12, we begin with a brief introductory examination of the type of literature, the perspective of the passage, the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 55
structure of the passage, and the function and meaning of the symbols in the overarching context of apocalyptic literature.
A brief statement regarding the type of literature is called for. While many passages of Revelation approximate other types of genre (i.e., Revelation 2–3 as epistolary), Revelation 12 falls under this article’s broad definition of apocalyptic/prophetic in that it describes a symbolic revelation from heaven. The vision opens withκαὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὦφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ "and a great sign appeared in heaven … ." The combination of the symbol (σημεῖον) as well as the heavenly origin of the symbol (ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ) makes this identification clear.
Second, the perspective of the passage is fairly clear, even if on the surface the symbols are not. There is pain and anguish of the woman (12:2) and the threat of imminent danger from the dragon toward the child about to be born (12:4). The growing tension is eased when the child is snatched away from the looming danger while the frustration of the dragon increases (12:5). He turns his attention to the woman, who is rescued from his presence (12:6, 14). Finally, he moves from frustration to wrath when he is cast from heaven in a great battle and begins waging war against the "rest of her offspring," a war which he appears to be winning (Revelation 13). So, the general themes of deliverance from the enemy for certain of God’s people and the repeated foiling and defeat of the dragon and his armies contribute to the perspective of the passage. Such a perspective is surely a tremendous encouragement to the saints of every age suffering persecution, either physical or spiritual, who are looking for that way of escape and deliverance from the pain of thisκόσμος. Although some are destined to suffer death (Rev 12:17; 13:7, 10), their end will still be perfect paradise and bliss (Rev 14:1–5; 20:4–6), while the end of their enemies will be eternal torment (Rev 19:19–21). The vision of Revelation 12 focuses primarily on those who will be miraculously delivered from the wrath of the dragon, both the male child and the woman.
Third, the structure of the passage is difficult to ascertain. Within the larger unit, it appears that Revelation 12 lies in the center of a chiastic structure in which the two witnesses’ triumphant authority for 1260 days in chap. 11 mirrors the two beasts’ totalitarian authority for forty-two months in chap. 13. Whereas the testimony of the two witnesses ends in death and resurrection, the career of the two beasts begins with the death and resurrection of the first beast (Rev 1:3). While the two witnesses are hated by all nations (11:10), the two beasts are worshiped (13:3–4). Whether this chiastic structure extends outwards toward both ends of the Revelation is debatable;
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 56
but it does appear that the centrality of the twelfth chapter within the unit of Revelation 11–13 is a safe assertion. As will be mentioned later, there are further considerations why the birth and catching up of the male child lie at the focal point not only of this section, but also of Revelation’s predominant theme of the defeat of God’s enemies and the return of Christ.
Within the smaller unit of chap. 12 itself, the woman and dragon are first introduced and the events of 12:1–6 appear to follow a general chronological order. The war in heaven of 12:7–12 appears to be an expansion of the fate of the dragon upon the catching up of the male child to heaven. Then, 12:3–18 recapitulates the events after the catching up of the male child, filling in details regarding the pursuit of the woman and the preservation initially described in 12:6.
Fourth, the function and meaning of the symbols will be discussed in more detail below. To preview, I will argue that the woman symbolizes the Israel of faith, or the true Israel according to election of both the Old and New Testaments (cf. Romans 9–11). The male child is a symbol for the whole people of God incorporate in Christ’s mystical body, the Church, beginning with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and consummating at the Rapture of the Church. The dragon symbolizes the world powers working in harmony against the people of God throughout history, as well as the power behind those empires, Satan himself.
B. The Symbols Of Revelation 12
There are primarily three symbolic personages in Rev 12:1–6—the woman, the dragon, and the male child. Each of these will be discussed in turn.
1. The Woman
The first sign is the woman, introduced in Rev 12:1. She is described as "clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). Such is her appearance. Her condition is as follows: "She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth" (12:2).
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 57
Some have identified this woman as the Church of both the Old and New Testaments. Others, especially dispensationalists who assert a strong distinction between Israel of the OT and the Church of the New, see the woman as representing national Israel alone. Still others lean towards the Israel view, but with a caveat: the woman is "ideal" Israel.
Recognizing that the woman is a symbol and not merely an historical individual, it seems most probable that the woman primarily represents the true, elect, and faithful remnant of Israel of both the Old and New Testaments. That is, she is the body of Israel incorporate, whose members are not merely the physical seed of Jacob, but that smaller, spiritual "Israel within Israel" which Paul calls the "remnant chosen by grace" (Rom 11:5). This does not preclude the possibility that the symbol includes a second referent with Mary as the mother of Jesus fulfilling historically some aspect of the vision. It does, however, suggest that the primary significance of the symbol is the Israelite community of faith.
This is substantiated by the description of the woman. When the Greek of Rev 12:1 and Gen 37:9 (LXX) is compared, we see a strong lexical correspondence. Rev 12:1 reads:Καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον, καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτης στέφανος ἀστέρων δώδεκα ("And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars"). The LXX of Gen 37:9 has: ὥσπερ ὁ ἥλιος, καὶ ἠ σελήνη, καὶ ἕνδεκα ἀστέρες προσεκύνουν με ("as it were the sun, and the moon, and the eleven stars did me reverence"). Both order and use of the symbols point to the conclusion that this woman represents Israel. The sun, moon, and stars correspond to the symbols in Joseph’s dream of Gen 37:9, where they represented the patriarch, matriarch, and the sons of Jacob, the father, mother, and twelve tribes of the nation of Israel respectively.
The symbol of a woman for the nation of Israel is found throughout the OT’s prophetic and apocalyptic literature. In fact,
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 58
the condition of "pains of childbirth" is also echoed in the OT. There is, however, one major grammatical consideration often overlooked by exegetes that helps in identifying both the woman and the male child born to her.
In Rev 12:5 the neuter adjectiveἄρσεν modifies the masculine υἱόν. This lack of concord, though strange for Greek, is not atypical in Revelation. Often, the harsh clash of grammar is used to point out to the reader that a particular passage from the OT is being alluded to. Such is the case in Rev 12:5. G. K. Beale argues that the passage being alluded to by ἄρσεν in Rev 12:5 is Isa 66:7. He concludes:
ἄρσεν (instead of the masculine) irregularly modify the masculine υἱόν. As observed above in the textual comparisons of Revelation 12 and Isaiah 66, the unusual grammar reflects the actual wording of the Isaiah text, where both the mention of "male" and the corporate plural of "son" (or "child") occur in synonymous phrases expressing Jerusalem bearing in travail. That John has not made a careless grammatical blunder is clear from 12.13, where the masculine τὸν ἄρσενα is correctly used.
John may intentionally have the neuter pronominal adjective
On the other hand, some do not see a grammatical incongruity in the use ofἄρσεν, but view it as a noun in apposition to "son," further describing it…. But this still leaves unanswered the question why the neuter occurs in 12.5 and the masculine in 12.13; in addition, the substantival use normally would be articular, as in 12.13.
Thus, John’s use of "bad grammar" in Rev 12:5 is intended to point the reader back to the images of Isa 66:7, which reads: "Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy." The next verse demonstrates that the woman and child are not intended to represent individuals, but rather assemblies: "Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons." The passage switches from the singular "son" to the plural "sons," and describes the birth of "a land" and "a nation."
Therefore, given the symbolic parallels between the description of the woman of Rev 12:1 and Israel of Gen 37:9, as well as the intentional verbal allusion to Isa 66:7, where the woman is clearly the nation of Israel, "Zion," the conclusion that best fits the evidence is that when the scene of Revelation 12 opens up, the woman
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 59
primarily represents Israel of the OT in travail. Yet it is entirely possible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also partially in view, but only secondarily.
2. The Dragon
Later, in Rev 12:9, the dragon is called "the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world." Although the dragon is identified as "Satan," he is much more than merely an individual. The symbolism of the seven heads and ten horns is not intended to identify him as the beast of Revelation 13 but as the nations throughout history who were opposed to God’s people. In fact, the seven heads and ten horns of the dragon in Revelation (and the beast in Revelation 13) are likely meant to correspond with the seven heads and ten horns of the four beasts of Dan 7:1–8. Thus, the dragon symbolizes both the world system as the great inimicus of God’s people throughout history and the secret ruler of that world system, Satan himself.
3. The Male Child
The crux of the argument of this paper lies with the identification of the male child born to the woman, Israel. The following section will examine this identification in greater depth. To preview, it will be argued that the male child born to the woman has, like the dragon—and possibly the woman—a double referent, one an individual, Jesus Christ, the other a corporate body, the Church. Five main arguments for this identification will be given: (1) the consistency in symbolism in Revelation 12; (2) the significance of the allusion to Isa 66:7–8; (3) the lexical issues involving the "snatching up" of the male child; (4) the identification of the male child as the one who will "rule over all the nations with an iron rod"; and (5) the absence of the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 60
C. The Identification Of The Male Child
Revelation 12:5 reads:καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱὸν ἄρσεν, ὃς μέλλει ποιμαίνειν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ. καὶ ἡρπάσθη τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ ("She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne" [NIV]). To be sure, many commentators identify the male child as the none other than Jesus Christ. Certainly, a first reading of the passage lends itself to this interpretation. However, the following considerations each lessen the likelihood that Jesus Christ alone is in view here while at the same time strengthening the notion that the child symbolizes the entire body of Christ, the NT Church.
1. Identifying The Male Child As The Body Of Christ Is More Consistent With The Symbolism Of Rev 12:1–6
As noted at the beginning of this section, Revelation 12 is a chapter of symbolic representations of reality, not a picture of the reality itself. The woman has been shown most probably to symbolize the faithful, spiritual remnant of Israel within the physical descendants of Jacob. Thus, the woman primarily represents a corporate body whose individual members change throughout history, though an application to Mary, the mother of Jesus is not negated by this identification. Likewise, the dragon, though symbolizing Satan, has been shown to also symbolize the nations or gentile powers of the world system who were adversaries of Israel and God’s people throughout history. Again, the dragon represents a corporate entity (the nations) as well as an individual (Satan).
To take the male child, then, as only an individual man, Jesus of Nazareth, would be to break consistency within the symbols of Rev 12:1–7. It is acknowledged that such an inconsistency is certainly the prerogative of the author, but it fails to come to grips with the fact that John is not composing the passage ex nihilo, but describing a vision we believe actually occurred. Thus, the elements of the vision could be mixed; that is, the woman and the dragon could symbolize corporate entities while the male child is an actual human being. However, an interpretation that understands the male child to be a corporate entity does not contradict the context of the passage; it does, in fact, better suit the context.
This interpretation does not deny the fact that the individual, Jesus Christ, is part of the vision. It does, however, suggest that Jesus
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 61
Christ is not alone in the vision, nor is he necessarily the primary identification. Rather, the Church, the body of Christ, which is in mystical, spiritual union with him by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13–14), is in view. It is undeniable that this unio mystica is one of the great and distinct doctrines of the NT. First Corinthians 12:27 says, "Now you are (plural) the body (singular) of Christ, and members individually." Rom 12:5 reads, "So we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another." Ephesians says that the goal of the ministry of the body is that we all attain to a "mature man" (Eph 4:13;ἄνδρα τέλειον); in the same context Paul uses the image of the body, Christ being the head (4:15–16). Likewise, the account in Acts 9:4 demonstrates that Christ is so intimately associated with his Church that the persecution of the Church equals the persecution of the ascended Christ!
Therefore, the identification of the male child in Rev 12:5 does not discount the notion that Christ is also in view. At the same time it is consistent with the visions of the corporate entities seen in the woman and the dragon. It is also consistent with the real and spiritual union enjoyed by believers as the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
2. Identifying The Male Child As The Body Of Christ Best Explains The Allusion To Isa 66:7
This issue was mentioned briefly under the discussion of the identification of the woman as Israel. There it was shown that the use of the neuter adjectiveἄρσεν as a modifier of the masculine υἱόν is an intentional device by the author to make an allusion to the LXX of Isa 66:7. The allusion is subtle and is not likely intended to make a wholesale transference of the meaning of Isa 66:7–8 to Rev 12:5. However, certain elements of Isa 66:7–8 suggest the identification of the male child with a corporate body, the Church.
In Isa 66:7–8 the child of the woman, who is certainly a personification of Israel or Jerusalem ("Zion," 66:8), is shown to be not a single individual, but himself a corporate body, for he is later calledτὰ παιδία "the children." This parallelism is seen in both the LXX and the MT. In the original context, God is promising Israel a miraculous restoration and renewal (Isa 66:10–24), as well as an ingathering of people from every nation to see the glory of the Lord (Isa 66:18–19). It is in this context that God makes "the new heavens and the new earth" (Isa 66:22). While this ultimate regeneration in the new heavens and new earth is portrayed in Revelation as yet future (cf. Rev 21:1–22:5), this is seen in the Church in embryonic form (Rom 8:20–22). If the male child of Rev 12:5 is understood as the
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 62
body of Christ, the point of the allusion is both the source of the Messianic community (the nation of Israel), as well as the relationship between the Messianic community and the eschatological regeneration.
In conclusion, the allusion to Isa 66:7 indicated by the neuter adjectiveἄρσεν in Rev 12:5 is best explained if the male child represents a corporate entity, the Church, rather than an individual only, Jesus Christ.
3. Identifying The Male Child As The Body Of Christ Takes Seriously The Language Of Rev 12:5
The destiny of the male child is described by the following:καὶ ἡρπάσθη τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ "and he was snatched up to God and to his throne." If this passage is taken as referring to the ascension of Christ, as it so often is, the view creates a very troublesome lexical problem. Plainly stated, the verb ἁρπάζω seems to this writer to be utterly inappropriate for the ascension of Christ. This bold assertion can be explicated by the following considerations:
a. Inherent in the unaffected meaning ofἁρπάζω is the notion of "snatching," not merely relocating from one physical location to another
In every usage in the Septuagint (including Apocrypha), the NT, and Josephus’ writings,ἁρπάζω brings to the passage this connotation.
This notion of "snatching away" does not fit at all the descriptions of the ascension of Jesus to the Father.
b. For the ascension of Christ, the NT authors use terms such asἐπαίρω "to be lifted up" (Acts 1:9), ἀναβαίνω "to ascend" (John 20:17; Eph 4:8–10), and ἀναλαμβάνω "to receive up" (Mark 16:19; Luke 1:11)
These are more neutral terms of spatial relocation in an upward direction. Some of these terms are used with Jesus as the actor (John 20:17; Eph 4:8–10), not simply a passive object of the action. Jesus was actively involved in his own ascension, which is portrayed as a gradual upward action.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 64
John was well aware of these ascension terms. Besides using the wordἀναβαίνω for the ascension of Christ in John 20:17, John also uses the exact word some thirteen times in the book of Revelation itself. Especially noteworthy is that John used ἀναβαίνω just twelve verses earlier in describing the ascension of the two resurrected witnesses to heaven (Rev 11:12). With the ascension vocabulary fresh in his mind, John used instead ἁρπάζω in Rev 12:5. If the removal of the male child to heaven represents the ascension of Christ, it must be asked why John did not use the ascension term, especially since it would have made the most sense and identified most clearly that the male child was, in fact, Jesus Christ.
c. Another factor to be considered is the affected meaning ofἁρπάζω in the Old and New Testament as well as the context of Rev 12:5
As discussed in fn. 120 above,ἁρπάζω is used repeatedly in passages to connote violent attack, robbery, or rescue, besides its plain or normal usage, "to snatch away." None of the nuanced meanings are inherent in ἁρπάζω, but this pattern of usage does demonstrate the types of situations in which ἁρπάζω describes the action. We must ask whether Rev 12:5 fits one of these affected nuances of ἁρπάζω, and if so, does this aid in interpreting the figure of the male child?
Revelation 12:1–4 sets up a rather intense situation in which the dragon lies with "open jaws," waiting to devour the male child as soon as it is born. The vision clearly portrays imminent danger toward the male child from an intended attack by the dragon. Thus, the termἁρπάζω here seems to be used in a rescue context, a context that is appropriate for the term. (Acts 23:10; Jude 23). Such a rescue nuance is utterly incompatible with the NT portrayal of the ascension of Christ. Jesus Christ was not snatched away to God to escape any threat, either real or imagined, either from Satan or from any other. Ladd emphasizes this problem when he writes,
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 65
This can hardly be an allusion to the ascension of Christ, for his Rapture did not have the purpose of escaping Satan’s hostility. On the contrary, as the crucified and resurrected Christ he had already won his triumph over satanic power (Heb. 2:14; Col. 2:15).
In conclusion, the lexical problems associated with identifying the male child as Jesus Christ are considerable. At least, the interpretation that the male child represents only Jesus Christ is unsupported by the use ofἁρπάζω; at most, it is contradicted.
4. Identifying The Male Child As The Body Of Christ Best Harmonizes With The Quotation Of Ps 2:9 Found At The Beginning, Middle, And End Of Revelation
J. Dwight Pentecost argues that the quotation of Ps 2:9 offers undeniable proof that the male child is Jesus Christ. He writes:
Since this child is born "to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Rev. 12:5), it can only refer to Christ, the one whose right it is to rule. The Psalmist confirms this interpretation in Psalm 2:9, which is admittedly Messianic.
However, it is my contention that the quotation of Ps 2:9 actually strengthens the identification of the male child as the body of Christ rather than Jesus Christ alone. This is demonstrated by an examination of the other two occurrences of the quotation of Ps 2:9 in the book of Revelation.
Psalm 2:9 is first alluded to in Rev 2:26–28, where the promise of the psalm is extended by Jesus Christ to believers. Jesus says:
And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations: He will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces, just as I have received the right to rule from my Father, and I will give him the morning star. (NET)
At the return of Christ to earth recorded in Rev 19:14–15, the passage is referenced once again, this time applied to Christ:
The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God the All-Powerful. (NET)
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 66
This dual application of the promise of Ps 2:9 harmonizes perfectly with the identification of the male child with the body of Christ, for such an interpretation does not deny that something of Christ is in view, but contends that it is Christ in union with his spiritual body, the Church, that is being symbolized. This may place the catching up of the male child in the midst of a great inclusio (Rev 2:26–27; Rev 19:15), from which it could be argued that the event of Rev 12:5 is at least a significant if not central passage in the structure of the book.
5. Identifying The Male Child As The Body Of Christ Best Explains The Omission Of The Sine Qua Non Of The Gospel, That Is, The Death And Resurrection Of The Messiah
One of the difficulties commentators have with the male child as Jesus Christ is the omission of the death and resurrection in Rev 12:5. Often, the idea of foreshortening or telescoping is invoked. It is sometimes suggested that the author of Revelation incorporated an earlier source here that did not precisely fit its new meaning in the details. Others interpret the passage in a non-temporal, transcendental sense, thus relieving the obvious problem.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 67
However, it seems very strange indeed that the sine qua non of the Christian faith and message is deleted without even a hint in Rev 12:5. Although such an omission is certainly within the realm of possibility, the identification of the male child as the body of Christ completely relieves the problem.
Taken together, the five lines of argument presented above seem to tip the preponderance of evidence in favor of the interpretation that the male child represents not Christ alone, but the body of Christ, the Church. The "snatching up" of the male child, then, would be equated with the catching up of the Church described in 1 Thess 4:17.
D. Arguments Against Identifying The Male Child As The Church
In spite of the above considerations, a number of scholars have argued against the corporate body interpretation of the male child in favor of the view that Jesus Christ alone is represented.
1. Spiritualizing Out Of Time And Space
One argument against the interpretation presented here comes from a spiritualizing of the passage to such a point that it does not predict future events at all. As a representative of such a view, Ladd writes:
This is not a vision of an event which is to take place at the end; it is a vision in highly imaginative terms of the heavenly warfare between God and Satan, which has its counterpart in history in the conflict between the church and demonic evil. As such, the vision completely transcends the usual categories of time and space. It is not meant to be a foretelling of history but a representation of the struggle in the spiritual world which lies behind history…. This chapter, in other words, embodies a surrealistic word-picture which describes the spiritual struggle standing behind historical events.
Of course, this understanding borders on a denial of the futuristic approach to Revelation as a whole. Even so, there are indications in the passage itself that seem to anchor the vision to the "usual categories of time and space" without denying the symbolic and figurative guise in which the future events are portrayed. First, as described in some detail above, the symbols themselves are
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 68
rooted in OT passages which themselves have real, historical or historical-prophetic referents. For example, the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon of Rev 12:3 seems to be an amalgamation of the four beasts of Dan 7:4–7, which themselves symbolize successive world empires in actual history (Dan 7:17–20). Secondly, the chronological indicators in Rev 12:6 ("one thousand two hundred and sixty days") and 12:14 ("time, times, and half a time"), which are allusions to the same time elements in Dan 12:7 and likely 9:27, also serve to anchor the vision to time-space events of the future.
2. Over-Statements Of The "Obvious"
Often, interpreters will argue against the body of Christ interpretation not by presenting positive or rebuttal evidence but by simply over-stating the opposing view. Thus, Smith writes, "The reference here is unmistakably to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea. The Greek says, ‘She brought forth a son, a male.’" Regarding the allusion to Ps 2:9, he writes, "This second clause plainly alludes to Psalm 2:9…. and establishes the fact that the man-child is Christ." Heinz Giesen notes, "Der Sohn ist unzweideutig der Messias."135 Regarding the "snatching up" to God, Smith writes,
Clearly the reference is to the ascension of Christ. Objection has been taken to this view on the ground that the original word for caught up denotes a violent snatching away from danger. Cf. Jude 23; Acts 23:10. That the word is not restricted to such a usage is plain from its use in Acts 8:39, where the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and again in II Corinthians 12:2, 4, where Paul is said to have been caught up into Paradise. In fact, the word may have the direct opposite sense, as in the case where the sheep in a place of safety is caught by the world (John 10:12), and again in the same chapter in the declaration, "[No one is able to] pluck them out of my hand" (verse 28).
Since the lexical issues have been discussed at some length in the previous section and will be dealt with briefly below, suffice it to say that Smith’s evidences do not really render the conclusion "obvious." Nowhere does this paper argue that the unaffected meaning ofἁρπάζω is "to rescue," while it has been demonstrated that it does not mean merely "to ascend" without the connotation of a sudden snatching away.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 69
3. Mixing Metaphors
Another argument against the corporate body view is the suggestion that seeing the male child as the Church "mixes metaphors" for the Church. Smith writes, "The church cannot consistently be thought of as a bride and also as a son, a male." Walvoord writes:
If the identification of the twenty-four elders is properly to be regarded as the church in heaven, it would seem to mix metaphors to have the church represented as a male child, especially when the church is regarded in chapter 19 as the wife and bride. There is no good reason for not identifying the man-child as Christ and interpreting the drama of verse 5 as the panorama of His birth, life, and ascension.
First, it is not a mixing of metaphors if the symbols appear in two different visions, as these do. Second, Eph 4:13 envisions the Church as a "man" (ἄνδρα). If this does not constitute a contradiction to portraying the Church as the Bride, then neither does portraying the Church as a male child in Rev 12:5. Third, does not Walvoord’s own identification of the Church as both the twenty-four elders and the Bride mix metaphors by his own criteria?
4. "Caught Up To God And To His Throne" Is Not Applicable To The Church
Others suggest that the Church cannot be described as being "caught up to God and to his throne," that this destination is reserved for the Son of God only. Yet in other places in Revelation we see that the destination of the throne of God is not reserved strictly for the Son of God (Rev 4:4; 7:9); and it must be pointed out that Rev 12:5 does not say the male child sits on the throne, but that he is caught up "to God and to his throne," indicating the direction of the snatching away (πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ).
5.῍Αρπάζω Is VIrtually Identical To Ἀναλαμβάνω
When it comes to the lexical problems with the use ofἁρπάζω some commentators who hold that the male child refers to Christ alone simply weaken the force of the language by commentary. Swete writes thus:
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 70
Withἡρπάσθη (Vg. raptus est, A.V., R.V., "was caught up") compare Acts viii. 39 2 Cor. xii. 2, 4 1 Th. iv. 17 . Here, if our interpretation is correct, it answers to ἀνελήμφθη in 4 Regn. ii. 11, Acts i. 2, 11, 22, 1 Tim. iii. 16, representing the Ascension as a "Rapture"—a graphic and true, if not exhaustive description.
Likewise, Thomas argues in the following way:
῍Αρπάζω] need not carry the connotation of escape from immediate danger. It is simply another way of describing the action of ἀνελήμφθη … of Acts 1:2, 22; 1 Tim. 3:16 (Swete). The main purpose of His ascension was not to escape Satan’s hostility, but this was a by-product of it. Once the Messiah was in that heavenly presence, Satan had no further access to Him, so he had to redirect his animosity.
It best refers to Christ’s ascension to His Father’s throne after the resurrection (cf. Acts 2:33, 34; 5:31; 7:55, 56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). [
But such a glossing over of the meaning of the word simply ignores the solid evidence thatἁρπάζω always carries with it the notion of "snatching," that Christ is never portrayed as being "snatched up" in any of the ascension passages, and that the context of Rev 12:5 does, in fact, appear to be a rescue from the imminent threat from the dragon. Thomas’s discussion of the escape of the Messiah from hostility must also be dismissed in light of the fact that after Christ’s resurrection, he was under no threat from Satan whatsoever, either real or imagined.
5. Psalm 2:9 Proves That Christ Is In View, Not The Church
Pentecost writes, "Since this child is born ‘to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ (Rev. 12:5), it can only refer to Christ, the one whose right it is to rule" and later asserts that the allusion to Ps 2:9 "identifies the man child here as none other than Jesus Christ."
Robert Thomas relies heavily on the allusion to Ps 2:9 when he asserts:
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 71
Though some earlier interpreters tookυἱόν ἄρσεν to be Christ and the church or even the church alone, it is clearly a reference to Jesus Christ (Swete, Seiss). This finds verification in the relative clause ὅς μέλλει ποιμαίνειν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ ( … "who is about to destroy all nations with a rod of iron"). The words of the clause are from Ps. 2:9 and are applied to the overcomer in 2:27 as they are to the Warrior-King in 19:15 (Alford)…. In His triumphant return, Christ will destroy "all nations" … and then have dominion over new nations that will arise when He institutes His kingdom. This picture drawn from Psalm 2 requires that the birth pictured here be that of Jesus Christ (Alford).
Yet Thomas appears to be making an unwarranted associative jump, disregarding the other lines of evidence for the identification of the male child with the Church. Merely pointing out the allusion to Ps 2:9 and its applicability to Christ does not automatically rule out that the passage applies also to the Church (cf. Rev 2:26–28). In fact, as shown above, Rev 19:11–16 suggests that both Christ and the armies of heaven (the glorified saints) destroy the nations assembled against them. Thus, Thomas’s "verification" that Rev 12:5 is "clearly a reference to Jesus Christ" fails to overcome the obstacles of the evidence.
6. The Catching Up Of The Male Child Refers To The Death Or Resurrection As The Enthronement Rather Than The Ascension
This view is represented by scholars such as Caird and Beale. The major argument lies in the allusion to Ps 2:9, an enthronement psalm. It is then shown that in Christ’s death and resurrection he was "declared the Son of God with power" (Rom 1:4). Yet Thomas points out that "the kingly theme is not prominent enough in the present context to warrant seeing this as His assumption of the throne." However, there are greater concerns with this view. If the "snatching up" refers to either the death or resurrection as the enthronement, one must explain why the destination "to God and to his throne" is inserted at this point. Beale suggests that
allusion to resurrection from the dead may be implicit in the word ("catch up"), which is often used of taking something away forcefully. The idea may be that the devil momentarily devoured the Christ-child by putting him to death, only to have victory taken away at the resurrection.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 72
Yet, this explanation fails to take seriously the prepositional phraseπρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ τὸν θρόνον which indicates the destination of the motion in ἁρπάζω. For forty days after Christ’s resurrection, he appeared on earth to the disciples (John 20:17; Acts 1:3); only after this period did he ascend to heaven for enthronement (Acts 1:9; 2:34). Thus, it is with some difficulty that the "snatching away" is referred either to the death or resurrection as the enthronement, for Jesus was not immediately caught up to God (John 20:17); neither can it easily refer to the ascension of Christ, for although Christ ascended to God and to his throne, he was not "snatched away" (Acts 1:9). Although attractive on the surface, these solutions are not wholly satisfactory, although they must be commended for wrestling with the difficulty in describing the ascension itself with ἁρπάζω.
7. Schilling’s Four Arguments Against The Church As The Male Child In Rev 12:5
Schilling, whose Th.M. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School dealt with the Rapture of the Church in Revelation, answers the question, "[C]an the man-child’s being ‘caught up’ to God’s throne represent the Rapture of the Church, since the Church is clearly the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12)?" This is precisely the question this present paper has answered with "Yes." Schilling’s four arguments against this view, however, are quoted here in their entirety:
1. The representation of the man-child clearly fits Jesus Christ and no additional symbolic reference is necessary.
2. The man-child would represent the individual Christ at His birth and then be changed to represent the many individuals of the Church at the Rapture. Since there is no indication that a change has taken place, it seems best for the interpretation of the man-child to remain the same.
3. The symbol omits several key details of the Rapture event (i.e. the meeting with Christ in the clouds, etc.). If this passage were intended to represent the Rapture, it seems that there would be a representation of at least some details of the Rapture
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 73
(1 Thess. 4:16–17; 1 Cor. 15:52) which distinguish this event from the birth, ascension, and exaltation of Jesus Christ to the throne of God.
4. The "remnant of the seed" (Rev. 12:17) are clearly those who "bear testimony to Jesus" and "keep the commandments of God." They would be expected to be part of the Church and Raptured at this time, if this were the Rapture of the Church. Since they were not Raptured, this also indicates that the event was not the Rapture.
Schilling’s first argument is upset by the following, all of which have been discussed in some detail above: (1)ἁρπάζω is inappropriate for the ascension of Christ; (2) the symbols in Rev 12:1–4 are corporate entities, suggesting a similar dimension to the male child; (3) the male child appears to be "rescued" from the jowls of the dragon by the snatching away; not so with the ascension of Christ; (4) the death and resurrection are nowhere hinted at. Thus, Schilling’s suggestion that "the representation of the man-child clearly fits Jesus Christ" is overstated and inaccurate on several points.
His second argument ignores the allusion in Rev 12:5 to Zion’s birthing of a new nation in Isa 66:7–8, where the female corporate individual travails and gives birth to the male corporate individual, who is described as "a nation" and "sons" in the plural. Therefore, I do not see a substantial counter-argument in Schilling’s second point.
Schilling’s third argument appears to both ignore the genre and actually appears to be self-defeating. First, he forgets that the context is a symbolic vision of reality, not reality itself. While 1 Thess 1:4–17 describes the Rapture in normal, literal language, Rev 12:5 is a symbolic representation of the event. Secondly, Schilling points out the lack of certain Rapture details, but neglects to point out that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are entirely absent in his own interpretation.
Finally, Schilling’s assertion that the "rest of the seed" indicates a contradiction in identifying the male child as the Church misses the chronological indicators in the passage. It appears that the "rest of the seed" of the woman are on the earth in a period of time after the catching up of the male child. Including the "rest of the seed" in the Church simply betrays Schilling’s bias towards a post-tribulational Rapture position. It does not, however, disprove the identification of the male child as the Church.
TrinJ 22:1 (Spr 01) p. 74
In examining the arguments set forth by various commentators and scholars which oppose the view that the male child represents the body of Christ, the present writer has found the following: (1) there is no good reason to reject the view that the male child represents the Church; (2) the identification of the male child as Jesus Christ alone does not account for all of the evidence; and (3) the identification of the male child as the Church incorporates all of the evidence. Therefore, it seems to the present writer that the best explanation for the identification of the male child in Rev 12:5 is the body of Christ, the Church.
IV. Conclusion: The Apocalypse Of John And The Rapture Of The Church
If the male child represents not simply the individual, Jesus Christ, but also the unio mystica, the believers of every generation of the Church who areἐν Χριστῷ, then Rev 12:5 is the only explicit mention of the Rapture of the Church in the book of Revelation. While other passages may be construed as implying a Rapture (e.g., Rev 3:10), the event itself is not described. Revelation 12:5, which stands at the heart of the Apocalypse and which brings together the two allusions to Ps 2:9 found at the extremes of the book, may be a strategic structural placement of the Rapture of the Church in a book that was written to "show his servants what must happen very soon."
Of course, the answer sought by readers of this article is undoubtedly where this conclusion places the Rapture of the church in relation to the Seventieth Week of Daniel 9. While the controversy regarding the timing of the Rapture seems to have relaxed some in recent years, it still proves to be a persistent—if not divisive—issue in premillennial eschatological dialogue. However, it is not my intention to arbitrate in this debate at the present time. Rather, the question of the timing of the Rapture can only be asked after we have determined if the Rapture in Rev 12:5 is exegetically probable, a conclusion which I believe is supported by the evidence set forth herein. Only then can we arrive at a more exegetically based and less bias-driven formulation of the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church and its chronological relationship to the eschatological Tribulation period.
DIAGRAM 1: THE TWO WITNESSES AND THE TWO BEASTS
Return to Bible Study Materials
Return to Home Page 返回主頁