Concerning the last days tribulation, most Christ-believers want to know when, as 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says, they will be raptured from earth “to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” It’s commonly believed that the rapture could happen any day now. But what does the Bible say?
I once compulsively studied through the Bible’s book of Revelation and parallel Scripture. Ironically, seven years passed before I felt released to move on. Now decades later I’m prayerfully reliving the journey and summarizing a segment at the request of my grown children and for this post.
The earliest mention in Revelation where a rapture could occur seems to be in Chapter 7, just after verse 9 when the writer, John, in heaven since Chapter 4, sees “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’.”
In verse 14, one of the twenty-four elders tells John, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The Greek word for “come” is from the rather ordinary erchomai, so common that it is used more than 600 times in the Bible’s New Testament. It can also mean “to appear,” “to be established” and “to go.” “Out of” is from the likewise common ek.
In Revelation 7’s following and final verses 15-17, the elder tells John more about the multitude:
they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.
This multitude’s troubles are over because they will forever be with the Lord.
Prior to the “come out of” in Revelation 7, 6 terrible events occur in Revelation 6 with the breaking of 6 seals (emphasis mine): conquest by a rider on a white horse with a bow and crown, men slaying each other after a rider on a red horse takes peace from the earth, famine by a rider on a black horse with scales, death by Death riding an ashen horse and Hades following him, who kill a fourth of the earth with sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts.
With the breaking of the 5th seal (verses 9-10 emphasis mine), John sees “underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth’?” They are each given a white robe and (verse 11) “told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.”
The Lamb breaks the 6th seal (Revelation 6: 12-17):
and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?”
Revelation 6 ends with this question.
In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples ask Him a private question (verse 3): “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Jesus answers (verses 4-14):
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”
Jesus warns that His believers must endure much before the gospel is preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, after which the end will come.
In Matthew 24:15-22, Jesus continues to answer His disciples’ question (emphasis not mine):
“Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath; for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.”
“Cut short” is from the Greek koloboo, used twice in this passage and twice in the parallel text of Mark 13:20. Of the mere 4 times koloboo appears, it means “to shorten, abridge, curtail.”
Jesus continues His answer in Matthew 24:29-31 (emphasis not mine):
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
The gathering of His elect occurs after the tribulation.
Referred to above in Matthew 24, the parallel book of Daniel prophesies in 12:1-4:
“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”
All “found written in the book, will be rescued.” From the Hebrew malat, “rescued” is passive and means to “be delivered.” By whom? The tense is perfect 3rd person masculine singular.
Daniel 12:6 asks, “How long will it be until the end of these wonders?” The answer closes the book of Daniel (12:7-12):
I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed. As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days! But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.”
Is time, times, and half a time (usually understood as 3 ½ years) into the tribulation when the rapture occurs? Or 45 days after the abomination of desolation is set up (the difference between the two numbers above)? Matthew 24:24 says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” And Matthew 24:42 cautions, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”
Revelation concludes with dire warnings of eternal judgment to anyone who adds or subtracts from its prophecy, which is one reason I’ve tried, within the confines of this post, to let Scripture speak for itself. But characteristic of the gracious God whose book it is, the Bible ends with a blessing (verses 20-21): “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly’. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://lockman.org
- Greek and Hebrew translations and lexicon from the KJV (King James Version) of http://blueletterbible.org