Rapture in Revelation?

SYNOPSIS:  The doctrine of the “rapture” is not found in the book of Revelation and must be imported into it - Revelation 4:1-2

Clouds Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
By the term “rapture” is meant the interpretation that Jesus will rescue his church from tribulation by removing it from the earth and transporting it to heaven. “Without benefit of science, space suits, or interplanetary rockets, there will be those transported into a glorious place more beautiful, more awesome, than we can possibly comprehend” (Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970], p. 126).

A key problem with this proposition is that the New Testament never uses the term “rapture.” Instead, the doctrine relies on passages where the idea is implicit, at best.

For example, in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation, John is summoned to ascend to heaven by a voice “like a trumpet,” the same voice he heard in his first vision where he, likewise, “came to be in spirit.” Proponents of the “rapture” claim this passage is a picture of the rapture; at least, a symbolical representation (Revelation 1:12-20, 4:1-2).

But only John heard and responded to the voice. After doing so, he found himself in proximity to the Throne at the center of the Cosmos. There, he received further insight. The claim that this represents the “rapture” of the church does not do justice to the passage or its context.

John “came to be in spirit.” This is the same clause found in Revelation 1:10 where John “came to be in spirit” and saw a vision of the heavenly Son of Man. This clause occurs four times in the book to mark its major literary divisions. Note well the highlighted verbal and conceptual parallels:
  • (Revelation 1:10-12) - “I was in the isle called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I CAME TO BE IN THE SPIRIT on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What you see, write in a book…And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me; And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the lampstands one like unto a son of man…And he had in his right hand seven stars…saying, I am the first and the last; and he who is living, and I became dead, and, lo, I am living unto the ages of the ages…Write, therefore, the things that you saw, what they are, and the things which shall come to pass after these.”
  • (Revelation 4:1-2, 8-9, 5:6) - “After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up here, and I will show you the things which must come to pass after these. Straightway I CAME TO BE IN THE SPIRIT: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne…and the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come…the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sits on the throne, to him who is living unto the ages of the ages… And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.”
In his first vision, John “came to be in spirit” while on Patmos where he heard a Trumpet-like voice, then he turned to see a vision of Jesus pictured as the “Son of Man” standing in the midst of “seven lampstands.” This glorious figure then dictated letters to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1:10-3:22. Compare Daniel 7:13).

In his next vision, John was summoned to ascend to the Divine throne where he saw Jesus portrayed as the slain Lamb standing before the throne. A mighty chorus of voices proclaimed the Lamb “worthy” to receive all power because by his shed blood he “purchased men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” This heavenly scene was followed by a series of visions about events viewed from the perspective of the Divine throne. In the process, the cosmic enemies of the Lamb were introduced to the reader - The Dragon, the Beast from the Sea, the Beast from the Earth, and Babylon (Revelation 4:1-16:21).

The remainder of the book is divided into two major sections. As with the first two literary units, each section is marked off when John “came to be in spirit” where he receives a vision, except in the last two sections he is “carried away in spirit,” each time by one of the seven angels that had the Seven Bowls of Wrath. In the final two literary units, John sees contrasting visions of two cities - Babylon and New Jerusalem.

As with the first two literary sections, there are distinct verbal clues that link the last two literary units (e.g., “carried away in spirit”). Note well the highlighted verbal and conceptual parallels:
  • (Revelation 17:1-5, 21:1-8) – “And there came one of the seven angels, who were having the seven bowls, and he spoke with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore, who is sitting upon the many waters, with whom the kings of the earth did commit whoredom; and made drunk from the wine of her whoredom were those inhabiting the earth; and HE CARRIED ME AWAY IN THE SPIRIT to a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of evil-speaking, having seven heads and ten horns, and the woman was arrayed with purple and scarlet-color, and gilded with gold, and precious stone, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and uncleanness of her whoredom, and upon her forehead was a name written: ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the Whores, and the Abominations of the earth…And I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And he that sits on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for THESE WORDS ARE FAITHFUL AND TRUE. And he said unto me, They are come to passI am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcomes shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”
  • (Revelation 21:9-12, 22:1-15) – “And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spoke with me, saying, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And HE CARRIED ME AWAY IN THE SPIRIT to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal: having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates…And he showed me a river of water of life…And he said unto me, THESE WORDS ARE FAITHFUL AND TRUE: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angels to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass…And behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he that keeps the words of the prophecy of this bookI am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and everyone that loves and makes a lie.”
In the third literary unit, John is “carried away in spirit to the wilderness” by one of the seven angels that had the bowls of wrath. There he sees an unholy city, the Great Whore, Babylon. This scene begins a process, the judgment and the destruction of the cosmic enemies of the Lamb, only, in reverse order from their earlier introduction - Babylon, the Beast from the Earth, the Beast from the Sea, and the Dragon. The third literary division ends with a glimpse of the New Creation, promises to overcomers, and dire warnings of doom to the unrighteousespecially to liars (Revelation 17:1-21:8).

In the fourth literary division, John is “carried away in spirit to a great and high mountain” by one of the same seven angels to see the holy city, New Jerusalem, and a glimpse into its glories. This section ends with promises to overcomers, and dire warnings of doom to the unrighteousespecially to liars (Revelation 21:9-22:15).

If the vision of Revelations 4:1-2 represents the “rapture,” it can be argued there are four distinct rapture events in the book of Revelation. But the four instances in which John finds himself “in spirit” mark the four major literary divisions of the book.
The passage from the fourth chapter says nothing about the escape of the church from tribulation or its transportation to heaven. In his vision, John sees the Divine Throne sitting at the very center of the Cosmos, not in a timeless and immaterial realm separate and distinct from the created order. The four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, and the multitude of angels John saw were created beings.
At the very center of the vision is the slain Lamb who, by his sacrificial death, redeemed humanity and, therefore, possesses all the authority to reign over the creation and history. The vision is not about flight but redemption. In it, John looks at what the Lamb has achieved and set into motion by his past death and resurrection.

In the remainder of the book, John receives glimpses into HOW the Lamb will consummate his past victory by defeating all his cosmic foes so that, in the end, his people stand victorious before the Lamb and the throne in the New Creation.

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