A City Set On a Hill
Surviving the Seventieth Week by Reforming Fundamentalism and Establishing Cities of Refuge
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The Emphasis of the Apocalypse Points to a Post-Trib Rapture
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv

The structure of the Apocalypse plays a key role in the presentation of its message. It is composed of three progressively longer sections. The first section is a vision by the human author, John, of the divine author, the glorified Christ; the second section contains seven short epistles addressed to the church as it is about to enter the seventieth week; and the third section describes the events of the seventieth week. The third section, the prophetic part of the book serves to drive home and energize the message of the seven epistles to the seven churches. Each of these epistles ends with a promise and a warning. Many of these are associated with events in the seventieth week. If the church is not to pass through the seventieth week, then the prophetic section loses most of its importance for the church. Furthermore, it loses most of its importance to mankind in general because no one other than the church will have the time and the motivation to study this book.

First of all, it is important to point out that in the book of Revelation the pre-trib rapture is conspicuous by its absence. I heard a well known pastor of a large fundamentalist Baptist church who was preaching a detailed series on the book of Revelation explain to his congregation that an important event was missing between chapters 3 and 4. He even asked his congregation what this event might be. He then explained that in order to properly understand the book it was important to keep in mind that the rapture of the church takes place between those two chapters. It seems to me that if it was so important to keep in mind the occurrence of this event between those two chapters, that the Lord would have included a mention of this event. It seems to me that either the event does not occur at that point or it is not of great importance, otherwise it would have been included. Paul had already written about the rapture so it was no longer a hidden mystery.

The closest thing to the rapture in chapter 4 is the command given to John by Jesus to ascend up into heaven. However, even though there are some superficial similarities to the rapture, such as the fact that it is a command to enter heaven and that the voice sounds like a trumpet, there are also many differences. For example, the voice sounds like a trumpet but no trumpet as such is sounded, there is no voice of an archangel, the Lord speaks to John, but he does not descend to meet John in the air accompanied with all the saints who are waiting to be resurrected, and the call is given to only one individual man, not to all believers. All of these are associated with the rapture according to Paul. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). There is also no multitude in heaven, as a result of this call, such as is described elsewhere in the book of Revelation.

Even many Bible scholars who believe in the pre-tribulational rapture do not consider this event to symbolize the rapture. The only way to do so is to depart from a literal interpretation of the words of the book and stretch the symbolism to the breaking point. If God wanted to emphasize to John that the things he was about to witness were to occur in heaven, there is no other better way that God could have indicated this than to call John up to heaven in a vision. Therefore, the simplest way to interpret this passage is simply that God calls John up to heaven in order to emphasize the fact that the subsequent events take place in heaven. If this command to John does not represent the rapture, then, those who support the pre-tribulational rapture must explain why the rapture is absent between chapter 2 which describes conditions before the rapture, and chapter 5, which describes events of the seventieth week.

Since the bulk of the book consists of detailed prophecies about the seventieth week, it seems reasonable to conclude that the principal recipients of its message are those who will live through those events. In other words, Jesus is addressing, primarily, those who will live through these events. Pretribulationalists might counter that the purpose of the book is to warn unbelievers of what awaits them if they are not converted. If the purpose was to serve as a mere warning to unbelievers, that is, to encourage them to be saved and avoid that period of time by participating in the rapture, a one or two chapter description would have sufficed. In fact, if an unbeliever is not persuaded to salvation by the threat of hell, the horrors of the seventieth week are a picnic by comparison. It is interesting that those descriptions of hell which the Bible does contain are very short and undetailed, albeit quite colorful. All we need to know is that it involves horrible physical and psychological pain and suffering similar to that associated with burning in a dark fire, and that the suffering will last for ever. That is enough to horrify most people to point that some reject this doctrine because they think it is too horrible and inconsistent with the Love of God. On the other hand, the detailed nature and symbolic quality of the prophecies contained in the Apocalypse suggests only two reasonable purposes. One is that they are intended to help the readers prepare for this calamity, and the other is that they are intended to help guide those who find themselves in its midst.

If the church is raptured before the seventieth week, the only ones left to be guided by the book are those who are converted during the seventieth week. However, the book's message is primarily one of warning, it is a call to prepare, and its style is one which uses much symbol and allegory, which is difficult to master in a short time. It is doubtful that immature believers who are converted after the rapture and who are running for their lives can in seven short years master its contents. Furthermore, the book makes it clear that the events which are foretold in the book will occur quickly " Behold, I come quickly: blessed [is] he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (Revelation 22:7), and "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass;"(Revelation 1:1). The word s‘shortly' and ‘quickly' are both used to translate the same Greek word ‘takei' which means ‘quickly'. Consequently, those who are not prepared at the beginning of the seventieth week will not be able to prepare during that time. Therefore, a belief in a pre-seventieth week rapture robs the book of revelation of most of its importance.

The idea that this book is directed to tribulation believers is counter to the clear emphasis of the book itself. Pretribulationalists believe that those who are converted during the seventieth week are not part of the church. Dispensationalism, the theological theory which produced the Pretribulational Rapture view, divides mankind into four large groups or categories. These four groups are as follows: (1) unbelievers of all ages, (2) church age believers, (3) Jewish believers who lived before or after the church age, and (4) gentile believers who will be alive after the church age. According to dispensationalism, believers of the seventieth week would fall into the later two categories.

However, the Apocalypse is a book which addresses the church directly. In fact, it is the only book where Jesus Christ directly addresses the church. The preface of the book does not read "Paul the apostle a servant of Jesus Christ," as do many books of the New Testament, but "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. . . What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamus, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea," (1:11). It ends in a similar fashion "I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches" (22:16.) Furthermore, the epistles contained in chapters 2 and 3 were dictated directly by Jesus Christ. Most of scripture was inspired by a method whereby the Spirit of God moves the human author to write in such a way that the product is truly the word of God, but also the words of the human author. It reflects that human author's personality and life experiences. However, a few key passages in the Bible were dictated by God directly. On example is the ten commandments. These two chapters are another such passage. Why would Jesus Christ address the church so directly and emphatically if the contents of the book had nothing to do with the church? In the book of the Revelation, the Lord gives His church very special instructions in the form of dictated personal letters to prepare it for the "the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Revelation 3:10.) The Lord placed great emphasis on the importance of this message by making a special promise to those who read and follow it "Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand" (1:3) and by pronouncing a special curse on those who tamper with its contents "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: "And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book." (22:18-19.)

The fact that the term church is not used between chapters three and twenty two of the book of Revelation is used by pretribulationalists to prove that the church is not present during the tribulation period. The truth is that the church is not mentioned directly anywhere in that book except in the first three chapters and in the postscript (22:16.) If the absence of direct mention of the church signifies its absence, then the church is not present in heaven or after the tribulation either. Most of the future history of the church is a mystery which is not revealed in either the Old or the New Testaments. A few key events of the church are exempted from this silence, such as the rapture, the judgment of believers by Jesus Christ for the determination of rewards (called by Paul "the judgment seat of Christ" (II Corinthians 5:10,)) and the reign of believers with Christ during the millennium. Unlike the detailed description of the future history of the gentiles and Israel (in Daniel and the other prophets,) there is no direct mention of the activities of the church anywhere in prophecy. For example, there are no predictions of the reformation, one of the most important events in post apostolic church history.

In order to understand prophecy it is important to understand how God works in history. Sometimes He works subjectively, through, or in conjunction with man's will. At other times He works objectively, in a manner external to or even against man's will. For example when God thought to preserve mankind in the days of Noah he gave Noah an objective, external, command to build the ark. From a human perspective it is clear that God took the initiative. However, when He desired to build the temple in Jerusalem He moved David's heart in a subjective, internal way to cause him to desire to build it. Therefore, when seen from a purely human perspective this decision seemed to initiate from David's own free will. It seems that prophecy concerns itself with God's 'objective' will, as in the example of Noah, rather than with God's 'subjective' will. The coming of the Antichrist, the fall of Babylon, the persecution of the Jews and Christians, the mark of the beast are subject to God's objective will, while the role of the church throughout history is subject to God's subjective will, with few exceptions.

This concept is difficult to understand and explain because it centers on an infinite duality, that is, on a paradox. This paradox is the relationship between God's foreknowledge and God's free will. Prophecy is in some ways similar to a covenant. When God reveals His objective will He is, in a way, binding and limiting Himself. In so doing He also binds the other party and limits that party's freedom. The omission of the church after the third chapter of Revelation is an indication of the relative freedom of the church which belong to her because of the intimate relationship between the church and Christ. More importantly, it is also an indication of the freedom which God has reserved to Himself in this relationship. A covenant places limits on both parties. However, God did not obligate himself in any aspect of church history. The church, unlike unbelievers and Old Testament believers, is under the direct guidance of Jesus Christ by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are partakers of Christ's flesh and blood and share His life giving Spirit. The Spirit leads Godly individuals to do his will.

When Peter asked Christ whether He would at that time restore the kingdom Christ answered "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:7-8.) Christ was saying that the activities of the church will not be prophetically predetermined, it is not for us to know the times and the seasons. Instead, the church will be guided directly by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit and we need to allow ourselves to be sensitive to His guidance. This principle is clearly illustrated in the case of Paul when the Holy Spirit guided him to take the gospel to Europe instead of Asia and thereby changed the course of world history (Acts 16:6-10.)

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