After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. 2And immediately I was in the spirit. Rev. 4:1-2a
We “pretribulationists” have always been cautious of equating the rapture of the church with this experience of the apostle John. With other clearer descriptions of the removal of the church, the picture in Rev. 4:1 need not be pressed beyond what is written. But neither do pretribulationists need to abandon the teaching of the rapture from this passage! John Walvoord echoes this view:
The invitation to John to ‘come up hither’ is so similar to that which the church anticipates at the rapture that many have connected the two expressions. It is clear from the context that this is not an explicit reference to the rapture of the church, as John was not actually translated; in fact he was still in his natural body on the island of Patmos. He was translated into scenes of heaven only temporarily. Though there is no authority for connecting the rapture with this expression, there does seem to be a typical representation of the order of events, namely, the church age first, then the rapture, then the church in heaven.1
Many other pretribulational commentators also use words such as “typical” and “symbolic” to describe the relation of this verse and the rapture of the church. If the pretribulational rapture position is right (and I certainly believe it is) then the picture given to us in Rev. 4:1 is an encouragement to the church as well as an instructive passage that coincides with other explicit teachings of the rapture. If it were the only teaching on the rapture perhaps we could not be so confident, but as an additional picture of the rapture, it radiates with multiple prophetic colors.
Here are ten clear similarities between John’s translation to heaven and the rapture of the church.
The same time. The translation of John from earth to heaven, though temporary, takes place before he sees the tribulation on earth. This is fitting because, as Paul writes in this context, God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 5:9). John is told that he will see things which must be hereafter, not before. The church is not appointed by God to enter the time of wrath. Paul Feinberg writes, “Pretribulationists agree among themselves on two points relating to the question of wrath, First, it is their contention that the whole, not just a part, of the seventieth week is a time of divine wrath. Second, the means of protection for the church is removal from this period by the Rapture.”2
The same direction. God invited John to come up hither. Luke records of Jesus’ ascension, while they beheld, he was taken up . . . they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up (Ac. 1:9-10). Jesus had told the disciples that He would come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (Jn. 14:3). Paul was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) as well. Pentecost lists 17 distinctions between the Rapture and the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the second being that: “The translation sees the saints caught up into the air, and in the second advent He returns to the earth.”3 Deliverance for the believer is away from the confines of this earth and into the presence of God.
The same speed. We could also add “the same compulsion,” for without ability to resist John says, and immediately I was in the Spirit. Lehman Strauss wrote, “The translation of John from earth to Heaven was ‘immediately’ (at once). Even so will the rapture of the Church take place at once, ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye’ (1 Corinthians 15:52).”4 As we will be translated in a moment (atomw, the smallest amount), in the twinkling (riph, a rapid movement), so John was translated immediately (euqews, instantly; at once). This is the same speed at which Jesus healed e.g. and immediately his leprosy was cleansed (Mt. 8:3).
The same people. The first thing John sees around the throne in heaven is a group of 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones. One of the most common arguments for the pretribulational rapture is the presence of these elders in heaven during the tribulation, and the absence of any mention of the church on earth during the same time. H.A. Ironside wrote, “From the close of chapter 3, we never see the church on earth again through all the rest of this solemn book. We read of ‘saints,’ but they are distinct altogether from the church of the present dispensation.”5 These 24 elders have “crowns” (stefanous, victor’s crowns) on their heads, which they cast only once (in 4:10) before the throne. This is the church’s unselfish response to their bema seat rewards.
The same place. Though this is similar to direction, the difference here is the emphasis on the final place of abode, not simply the way to get there. Pache wrote, “Finally, it is in the heavens, not here below, that God has reserved for us a heritage which cannot be corrupted, or soiled, or withered (1 Peter 1:4). It is, therefore, natural that our divine Spouse should come to take away His Church from this earth, where she is a stranger and traveler, in order to bring her into His presence forever.”6 Paul concluded, and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thes. 4:17).
The same instrument. As in chapter one, John hears a voice as it were of a trumpet talking with me. Paul, in the classic rapture passage writes, For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God (1 Thes. 4:16). Hoyt writes of Paul’s words, “This well-known trump of God (1 Thess. 4:16), the last trump (1 Cor. 15:52), will be the signal that God is finished with His work during the age of grace and is now ready to resume His work with the chosen nation Israel.”7 Pentecost (Things To Come, 190) lists 9 reasons why this is not the seventh trumpet of 11:15, and E. Schuyler English (Re-Thinking The Rapture, Ch 13) lists many reasons as well.
The same change. As soon as John was transported to heaven, he was in the Spirit. This is the heavenly dress code for the saints of God. When Paul was taken up to the third heaven, he wasn’t sure he was in the body or out of the body, but he definitely came to visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Cor. 12:1). At the rapture we will all be changed . . . for this corruptible must put on incorruption (1 Cor. 15:51, 53). Along with this change of our physical existence, there will of necessity be a change of the Holy Spirit’s operational location. He will be taken out of the way (2 Thes. 2:7) during the tribulation because the church will be removed. The bodies that only housed the Spiritual, will be in such likeness.
The same action. John’s translation to heaven has the same appearance as the rapture of the church to heaven. As Paul was caught up (2 Cor. 12:2) to the third heaven, and we shall be caught up together (1 Thes. 4:17), so John was commanded to come up hither. E. Schuyler English, along with describing the rapture as a “departure,” calls this action “the up-calling of living believers.”8 Coincidently, the two witnesses in 11:12 are also called to heaven with the same words, although their translation lacks the other characteristics of the rapture of the church.
The same order. John’s translation to heaven falls between the things which are and the things which shall be hereafter (Rev. 1:19). Chapters 2 and 3 describe the things of the church age, and chapters 4-19 describe the things of the tribulation. As the rapture is a promise for the church and the tribulation is a promise for Israel, it is fitting that the rapture take place between these two events and not after the tribulation. C.I. Scofield has written, “When the church period has been finished and God, according to the passages I have read, begins again to deal with Israel, namely at the beginning of the great tribulation, then the clock of prophecy begins to run again and the seventieth week has its fulfillment.”
The same access. John looked and saw a door opened in heaven. A door is a fitting picture for the time of the rapture because there is only one door that leads to heaven. Jesus said, I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved (Jn. 10:9) And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me (Jn. 14:4, 6). Of the many writers who noted this, Oliver B. Greene says it best:
‘After this (after the Church has run its course and all things concerning the Church have been fulfilled) I looked . . . and behold, a door was opened in heaven.’ John 10:9 tells us that Jesus is that door. After His resurrection He ascended to Heaven, and called John (in the spirit) up to where He is. He opened the door—and John stepped into Heaven to witness the events that were to follow. This is a true picture of the Rapture. John experienced in the spirit what we will literally experience when the Rapture takes place (1 Thess. 4:14-18).10
And so . . . .
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, our hearts do not have to be troubled. He has gone to prepare a place to which He will soon call us. We are not of the night but of the day, and will not be left in the dark when the great tribulation period comes upon the earth. As John, let us be in the Spirit, for every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 Jn. 3:3).Notes: 1. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974) 103. 2. Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case For The Pretribulation Rapture Position,” in The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational, Richard Rieter, ed. (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1984) 58. 3. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969) 206. 4. Lehman Strauss, The Book of Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1974) 129. 5. H.A. Ironside, Lectures On The Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1953) 80. 6. Rene Pache, The Return of Jesus Christ ( Chicago: Moody Press, 1955) 114. 7. Herman A. Hoyt, The End Times ( Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) 140. 8. E. Schuyler English, Re-Thinking The Rapture (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1978) 58. 9. C.I. Scofield, Addresses On Prophecy (Greenville, S.C.: The Gospel Hour, Inc., nd) 102. 10. Oliver B. Greene, The Revelation (Greenville, S.C.: The Gospel Hour, Inc., 1963) 154.