For all of the attention given to the rapture of the Church2 by students and teachers of eschatology, one wonders why the doctrine of the catching up of the saints described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is not more clearly mentioned in John's Apocalypse!3 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).4
Various commentators and Bible teachers have presented a number of options for the description of the rapture in the Book of Revelation.5 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.6
This paper 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.
Robert Mounce, in his commentary on the Apocalypse, suggests that “the very discussion of a ‘rapture of the church’ lies outside John's frame of reference.”7 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.8
The promise of protection in Revelation 3:10 is considered by many commentators to be the best exegetical proof of a pre-tribulational rapture of the Church. Lewis Sperry Chafer has called Revelation 3:10-11 the “determining passage” with regard to the timing of the rapture.9 Many other pretribulationists concur.10
Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 3:10. The promise in Revelation 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 τηρησω 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.”11 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.12
Although some have argued that ἐκ indicates “emergence from” the hour of trial, thus guaranteeing protection through it,13 this particular affected meaning of ἐκ depends greatly on the type of verb to which it is related.14 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.”15 Therefore, it is argued from for syntactical reasons that the meaning of the passage is preservation away from the hour of trial, not preservation through it.
Problems with the rapture in Revelation 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.
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."16 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.”17
Another problem is the choice of the verb, τηρέω. While the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 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 to this shortfall. 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.18
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: ἵνα τηρήωῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ “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.19
Other commentators have set forth this same objection.20 While scholars have presented enough rebuttal arguments to at least preserve the viability of the view that the rapture is suggested in Revelation 3:10,21 the debate is far from settled and one must give pause with regard to dogmatic assertions on either side.
In conclusion, it can be safely said that a rapture could very well 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 Revelation 3:10 is the rapture itself. The systematic theologian must read the event of 1 Thessalonians 1:17 into the promise and see Revelation 3:10 as the result. These debatable variables must at least relegate Revelation 3:10 to a position of secondary significance or corroborative evidence with regard to the rapture of the Church in the Apocalypse of John.
Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 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)23
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 chapters 3 and 4) is the interpretation that the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα “after these things” of verse one marks a major section break in the Apocalypse. Chapters 1 through 3 are called ταῦτα “these things” (cf. 1:19), that is, the present Church age, while everything from chapter 4 onward represents events that take place after the present Church age.24 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,25 as well as the interpretation that the twenty-four elders first seen in Revelation 4:4 are either a symbol for, or representatives of, the raptured, glorified saints.26
Problems with the rapture in Revelation 4:1-2. While some of the images appear to be similar, the interpretation of the rapture in Revelation 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. 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.”27
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 prophecies, 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.28
In conclusion, it seems that unless one is specifically seeking the rapture of the Church before the Great Tribulation, Revelation 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 receives his visions.
Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10. It has often been asserted that the twenty-four elders in heaven, who first appear in Revelation 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.”29
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.30
Earlier expositors have relied heavily on the Textus Receptus reading of Revelation 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 αἵματί 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.” 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.31
Problems with the rapture in Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10. The first problem with this approach is that the identification of the twenty-four elders with the Church does not, in reality, 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 and resurrection itself is missing.
Second, 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.32 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 identification of the twenty-four elders with the post-rapture company is debunked.
Third, 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.33 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.34 It does mean that such an interpretation is not a necessary conclusion.
In sum, the inability to conclusively identify 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 Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10 as a possible yet unverifiable hypothesis.
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 chapter 4 through 18.35
Besides being an argument from silence, the position can also turn into circular reasoning. For example, in response to the assertion that “saints” in Revelation imply 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 pre-tribulation rapture. But if the pre-tribulation 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 pre-tribulation rapture, pretribulationists can not legitimately appeal to the absence of the Church in Revelation 4—18 as implying the rapture. This reasoning appears to be circular, for it assumes what it is attempting to prove.36
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 through 18 to be significant, it must first be proved that those chapters describe events limited only to the future seventieth week of Daniel.37
Therefore, the argument based on the absence of the word “church” in Revelation 4 through 18 still leaves the event of the rapture/resurrection of the Church unmentioned.
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 Revelation 7:9-17 as indicative of the raptured/resurrected and glorified saints.
Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 7:9-17. One proponent of this view, Robert Van Kampen, boldly 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.”38 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 theology of the Church as a whole.39
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.”40
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 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).41
Problems with the rapture in Revelation 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 Revelation 6:9 are each given white robes. Van Kampen indicates that being clothed in white robes proves the great multitude of Revelation 5:9 are resurrected. Does this not prove the same thing for Revelation 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?42
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 Revelation 7:1-8 and why are they not raptured? This is especially perplexing when one sees the description of them in Revelation 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.” Surely, such a stellar crowd would be involved in the rapture, had it occurred somewhere in Revelation 7!
Second, the crowd described in Revelation 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.43 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.
The surface parallels between 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 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 Corinthians 15:52 and the songs of the voices and twenty-four elders are further interpreted in this light.
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 11:11 ff.) 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).44
Of course, Buswell is not alone in his identification of the rapture at Revelation 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 Church.45 The parallels in language do, in fact, seem to indicate the resurrection and rapture to heaven. The following chart illustrates these parallels between Revelation 11:11-12 and the key rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them and they stood on their feet, and tremendous fear seized those who were watching them. (11:11)
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven … and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (4:16)
Then they heard a loud voice from heaven … (11:12a)
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, … (4:16)
… saying to them: “Come up here!” So the two prophets went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies stared at them. (11:12b)
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord always. (4:17)
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”46 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 1,260 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 “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.47 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 straight-forward 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.48 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 straight-forward description of the experience of two eschatological individuals.
Nevertheless, the greatest problem with identifying the elements of Revelation 11:11-12 with 1 Thessalonians 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 Revelation 11:11-12, the order of events is: 1) resurrection; 2) loud voice; 3) ascension. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the order is: 1) shout, voice, trumpet, decent, 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 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (as well as the trumpet in 1 Corinthians 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 body takes place afterwards. Thus, in Revelation 11:12, the voice calls the witnesses into heaven; it does not announce their resurrection.
It is also interesting, if not relevant, to note that the two witnesses are commanded, “Come up here!” (ἀνάβατε ὧδε); then they 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 Thessalonians 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.49 Yet this is virtually the same as saying the rapture is not really found in the “two witnesses” passage.
Arguments for the seventh trumpet as the rapture. It is also often asserted that the blowing of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 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 often equated with the “last trumpet” announcing the resurrection/rapture of the saints described in 1 Corinthians 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.”50
Problems with the seventh trumpet as the rapture. First, it can not be automatically assumed that the sounding of the trumpet of Revelation 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 seventh trumpet in Revelation, this indicates that the seventh trumpet will actually sound in the future.51
However, this interpretation demands the genitive of the phrase ἐν 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 [or associated with] 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 without ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:52. Thus, Schilling’s interpretation that the seven trumpets must sound during the tribulation is not demanded by the grammar in Revelation 10:7.52
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 Corinthians 15:52 is equal to the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. The syllogism that some adopt appears to run as follows:
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 Corinthians 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 or vision. He simply takes it for granted that his readers will understand something that is obscure to us. The term “last trumpet” in 1 Corinthians 15:52 has not been shown to be equal to the “seventh trumpet” of Revelation 11:15.
There are, in fact, several considerations militating against equating the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the “seventh trumpet” of Revelation 11:15. First, it must be noted that only at 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the eschatological trumpet designated the “last” trumpet (ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι). In the two other places in the New Testament 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 Thes 4:16). The first occurrence likely depends on the Septuagint of Isaiah 27:12-13 and the loud trumpet blast heralding the in-gathering of the dispersed sons of Israel.53 If we are correct in linking the events of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 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 Corinthians 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 Corinthians 15:52 and the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 refer to the same trumpet, then Paul’s phrase, ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι, 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),54 then 1 Corinthians, written circa A.D. 5555 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 Revelation 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 Holy Spirit had Paul write “last” with no real referent in his own mind, but God’s referent was actually the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15, which was not to be written for at least another thirteen years. Thus, the term “last” would have been meaningless both to Paul and to his initial readers in Corinth. This is, perhaps, the most unlikely hypothesis, since such ecstatic writing of cryptic Scripture is simply not to be expected in epistolary literature.
In light of the above considerations, it seems somewhat artificial and forced to equate the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 announcing the resurrection and the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. While a satisfactory explanation for Paul’s use of ἔσχατος in 1 Corinthians 15:52 is yet to be found, the notion that it means “last in a series of seven” appears to this writer to be the least likely option.
Arguments for the songs of victory announcing the rapture. Since the problems associated with equating the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the sounding of the seventh angel of Revelation 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 Revelation 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 Revelation 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:56
1. The seventh trumpet announces the time of rewards for the righteous dead
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 Corinthians 15:52).
4. This same moment is predicted as occurring “at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:52).
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 Thessalonians 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.”57
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 Revelation 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 by καὶ δοῦναι τὸν μισθὸν τοῖς δούλοις σου τοῖς προφήταις “and to give the rewards to your servants the prophets.” It is probable 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 against the saints and martyrs who gave their lives in the tribulation. It is, then, the answer to the fifth seal of Revelation 6:9-11.58
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 Scriptures, which demand a more complex approach to the subject than a mere identification of similar elements, appear to be neglected.
Conclusion regarding the songs of victory announcing the rapture. It has been shown above that there is really no good reason for seeing the rapture in the songs of Revelation 11:15-18, unless one correlates the “last trumpet” of Paul with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 or if the rewarding of the servants, the prophets, in Revelation 11:18 is proved to be a rewarding after the resurrection. I have attempted to demonstrate that both of these assertions are suspect.
Another place where the rapture/resurrection is positioned in Revelation is the time of the reapings in Revelation 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 gathering of the nations of judgment, is the gathering of the elect to be equated with the rapture or with some other event?
Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 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 Revelation 14:14-20 portrays the rapture of the Church immediately preceding God’s final out-pouring 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).59
Thus, the correlations between the cloud, the loud voice, the seventh trumpet, and the gathering of the elect mentioned in Matthew 13:30 and 24:31 are considered to be strong indicators of a conceptual link.
Another argument is the image of “reaping.” To many scholars, there appear to be two distinct, though related, harvests in Revelation 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).60
Although Caird links the two harvests and applies both to the righteous,61 other commentators apply the harvest of the Son of Man in Revelation 14:14-16 to the righteous, that is, the rapture; the second harvest in Revelation 14:17-20 is the harvest of the wicked unto judgment.62 For some the first harvest is of the righteous, though not necessarily those raptured to heaven, while the second is a reference to judgment.63
Problems with the rapture in Revelation 14:14-20. First, many commentators point out that the images in all of Revelation 14:14-20 are of judgment, not salvation of the righteous.64 Passages such as Jeremiah 51:33 and Joel 3:11-16 are cited as the sources of these images.65 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].”66 The arguments for both images referring to judgment will be further developed below.
Second, contra Caird, θερίζω “to harvest” only occurs twelve times in the LXX, and never in apocalyptic literature. Six of those are substantival participles referring to those doing the work of reaping.67 One phrase is καὶ ἦν ὁ τρυγητὸς ἕτοιμος τοῦ θερίζειν “and time of gathering was approaching to harvest” (1 Kings 13:21). Thus, although Caird is right in that the verb is not used in judging enemies, it is also not used in gathering the elect. The noun form, θερισμός, only appears fourteen times; it, too, is never used in apocalyptic texts, either for judgment or gathering of the elect. In the New Testament, the verb θερίζω is used twenty-one times. Only three of these are in apocalyptic contexts: all in Revelation 14:15-16. The noun form is used thirteen times. Of these, three occurrences in Matthew 13:30, 39; and one in 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 bringing unbelievers into the kingdom in this present age (Luke 10:2; John 4:35b, etc.). Therefore, if Revelation 14:14-15 refers to a harvest of the New Testament, its parallel must be found in either Mark 4:29 or Matthew 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 is rather focusing on the sowing of the Word of God in this present age. Thus, the “harvest” would refer to evangelism, an analogy that is entirely consistent with the New Testament’s use of the harvest language and imagery (Matt 9:37, 38; Luke 10:2; John 4:35, 38).
A more likely candidate for the Revelation 14:15-16 referent is Matthew 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, “Let both grow together until the harvest (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). 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 “angels” (13:39). Having interpreted the symbols, Jesus then presents a straight-forward 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.68
However, the scene described in Revelation 14:14-16 is remarkably different. First appears the “Son of Man” sitting on a white cloud. The allusion is undoubtedly to Daniel 7:13. He is holding a sharp sickle in his hand (Rev 14:14). An angel comes out 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).69
Matthew 13:41-43 says the Son of Man will send forth the angels to reap; Revelation 14:14-16 has an angel instructing the Son of Man to reap. In Matthew 13:41-43, the wicked are reaped out from among the righteous, who are then gathered into the kingdom. In Revelation 14:14-20, if the first reaping is of the righteous, this order is reversed. Considering that Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:41-43 are a straight-forward interpretation, the symbols of Revelation 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, Revelation 14:14-16 could represent in a summary fashion the entire in-gathering of the righteous throughout the Tribulation period. That is, the “harvest” image may very well be one related to evangelism rather than the consummation (cf. John 4:35). A second possibility is that the gathering described in Revelation 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 Exodus 23:16 and 34:22. This in-gathering, then, would be either similar or equivalent to the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:31 (cf. Isa 27:12-13).70 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 view) or of the elect ones of Israel at the end of the Tribulation (second view).
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 Revelation 14:15 and Joel 3:13 that we can hardly take them as anything less than parallel: ἐξαποστείλατε δρέπανα ὅτι παρέστηκεν τρύγητος εἰσπορεύσθε “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe” and πέμψον τὸ δρέπανόν σου καὶ θέρισον, ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ὅρα θερίσαι, ὅτι ἐξηράνθη ὁ θερισμὸς τῆς γῆς “Put in your sickle and reap, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 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 strongly argue for a judgment theme for all of Revelation 14:14-20.
Another consideration is the fact that the Book of Revelation as a whole leans more heavily on imagery from the Old Testament rather than New Testament 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.71 This does not rule out the possibility of allusion to some New Testament passage such as Matthew 13, but it does suggest that the interpreter ought to first see if there is a more clear Old Testament allusion before resorting to a New Testament passage. This Old Testament 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 Revelation 14:14-16 to the rapture of the Church described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is highly problematic. The images seem to better match the in-gathering 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 rapture may actually be here in a highly cryptic fashion, there is nothing in the text that demands this, nor does it seem to me that the passage easily lends itself to such an interpretation.
Since post-tribulationists see the rapture of the Church after the tribulation and at the second coming of Christ, the chain of events in Revelation 19:11—20:6 is an obvious point of investigation. This is especially important to consider since Revelation 20:4-6 describes an actual resurrection, an event closely associated with the rapture of the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 19:11—20:6. I am aware of no debate among premillennialists regarding the vision of Revelation 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 on synchronizing 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 Revelation 20:4-6 is the very same resurrection described in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 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.
Problems with the rapture in Revelation 19:11—20:6. First, and probably most incidental, the rapture is not mentioned in Revelation 19:11—20:6.72 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 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 Revelation 19:11—20:6. There certainly appears to be a sequential progression here rather than a string of independent visions. If this interpretation 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 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 make the descent of Christ, the trumpet, and the resurrection/rapture all simultaneous events.73 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 Revelation 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,74 there is much evidence militating 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 Revelation 19:8 as τὰ δικαιώματα τῶν ἁγίων ἐστίν “the righteous deeds of the saints.” Second, the armies accompanying Christ at his return are explicitly interpreted proleptically in Revelation 17:14. The angel describes the final battle of Armageddon and says, “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.” This description of those accompanying Christ at his coming to destroy the armies of the beast are κλητοὶ καὶ ἐκλεκτοὶ καὶ πιστοί. It is significant that the terms κλητός and εκλεκτός are used only here in Revelation. Elsewhere in the New Testament they refer most commonly to believers.75 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 trustworthiness of the words of the prophecy of the Revelation itself (Rev 21:5; 22:6). The other occurrence is here in Revelation 17:14. Given the lexical evidence, it seems rather clear that redeemed saints are in view in Revelation 17:14 accompanying Christ at his coming. Thus, the host of riders in Revelation 19:11 would be resurrected and glorified saints.
What does this tell us about those resurrected in Revelation 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 Revelation 20:4 to be referring to Christ and the armies of heaven accompanying Him. The passages begins: Καὶ εἶδον θρόνους καὶ ἐκάθισαν ἐπ ᾿ αὐτοὺς καὶ κρίμα ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς. Some translations have recognized the problem of the lack of the subject here and have adjusted their translations accordingly.76 However, if one reads the entire passage from 19:11 through 20:10 as one long vision described by John, one realizes that immediately before 20:4 the only persons present in the 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 Revelation 20:4-6 would be limited to the saints martyred during the Tribulation.
That the resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 seems to be limited only to those of the Tribulation is further 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.77
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 those who are resurrected in Revelation 20:4. The other alternative which would equate the two does not seem to take into consideration the identification of Revelation 17:14, the apparent progression of the vision from Revelation 19:11 through 20:10, the unspecified subject of the verb ἐκάθισαν in Revelation 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 Revelation 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 Revelation 20:4-6 is best equated with the resurrection/rapture of the Church described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Of the passages above, none completely satisfy 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 brief 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.”78 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 of the Church: Revelation 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 over-looked by commentators in spite of its merits79 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 Revelation 12:5.
Most evangelical scholars concur that the Revelation of John is, for the most part, an example of New Testament apocalyptic/prophetic literature.80 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.81 While the latter entertains considerable debate and discussion in New Testament studies,82 the former is fairly well-established in Evangelical circles.83
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.84 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 pointing to the details or to the big picture.85
With regard to Revelation 12, we begin with a brief introductory examination of the type of literature, the perspective of the passage, the structure of the passage, and the function and meaning of the symbols in the over-arching context of apocalyptic literature.86
A brief statement regarding the type of literature is called for. While many passages of Revelation approximate other types of genre (i.e. Rev 2-3 as epistolary), Revelation 12 falls under this article’s broad definition of apocalypse in that it uses symbols to describe a revelation from heaven. The vision opens with καὶ 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 herself 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 (Rev 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 this κοσμός. 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). So, 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 1,260 days in chapter 11 mirrors the two beasts’ totalitarian authority for 42 months in chapter 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).87 Whether this chiastic structure extends outwards towards both ends of the Revelation is debatable;88 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 chapter 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. In 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. Rom 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.
There are primarily three symbolic personages in Revelation 12:1-6—the woman, the dragon, and the male child. Each of these will be discussed in turn.
The woman. The first sign is the woman, introduced in Revelation 1:1. 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).
Some have identified this woman as the Church of both the Old and New Testaments.89 Others, especially dispensationalists who assert a strong distinction between Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New, see the woman as representing national Israel alone.90 Still others lean towards the Israel view, but with a caveat: the woman is “ideal” Israel.91
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.92 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 Revelation 12:1 and Genesis 37:9 (LXX) is compared, we see a strong lexical correspondence. Revelation 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 αὐτῆς 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 Genesis 37:9 has: ὥσπερ ὁ ἥλιος, καὶ ἡ 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 Genesis 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.93
The symbol of a woman for the nation of Israel is found throughout the Old Testament's prophetic and apocalyptic literature.94 In fact, the condition of “pains of childbirth” is also echoed in the Old Testament.95 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 Revelation 12:5 the neuter adjective ἄρσεν modifies the masculine υἱόν. This lack of concord, though strange for Greek, is not atypical in Revelation.96 Often, the harsh clash of grammar is used to point out to the reader that a particular passage from the Old Testament is being alluded to. Such is the case in Revelation 12:5. G. K. Beale argues that the passage being alluded to by ἄρσεν in Revelation 12:5 is Isaiah 66:7. He concludes:
John may intentionally have the neuter pronominal adjective ἄρσεν (instead of the masculine) irregularly modify the masculine υἱὸν. 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.
On the other hand, some do not see a grammatical incongruity in the use of ἄρσεν, 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 12.13.97
Thus, John’s use of “poor grammar” in Revelation 12:5 is intended to point the reader back to the images of Isaiah 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 Revelation 12:1 and Israel of Genesis 37:9 as well as the intentional verbal allusion to Isaiah 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 primarily represents Israel of the Old Testament in travail.98 Yet it is entirely possible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also partially in view, but only secondarily.
The Dragon. Later, in Revelation 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 Daniel 7:1-8.99 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.
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. In 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 Isaiah 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 argues for the identification of the male child with the Church.
Revelation 12:5 reads: καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱὸν ἄρσεν, ὅς 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.100 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 New Testament Church.
Identifying the male child as the body of Christ is more consistent with the symbolism of Revelation 12:1-6.101 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 to most probably 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 Revelation 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 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.102 It is undeniable that this unio mystica is one of the great and distinct doctrines of the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are (plural) the body (singular) of Christ, and members individually.” Romans 12:5 reads, “So we who are many are one body in Christ, an 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” (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 himself 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 Revelation 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.103 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.
Identifying the male child as the body of Christ best explains the allusion to Isaiah 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 adjective ἄρσεν as a modifier of the masculine υἱόν is an intentional device by the author to make an allusion to the LXX of Isaiah 66:7.104 The allusion is subtle and is not likely intended to make a wholesale transference of the meaning of Isaiah 66:7-8 to Revelation 12:5. However, certain elements of Isaiah 66:7-8 suggest the identification of the male child with a corporate body, the Church.
In Isaiah 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 called τὰ παιδία “the children.” This parallelism is seen in both the LXX and the MT.105 In the original context, God is promising Israel a miraculous restoration and renewal (Isa 66:10-24), as well as an in-gathering 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 regeneration is seen in the Church in embryonic form (Rom 8:20-22). If the male child of Revelation 12:5 is understood as the 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 Isaiah 66:7 indicated by the neuter adjective ἄρσεν in Revelation 12:5 is best explained if the male child represents a corporate entity, the Church, rather than an individual only, Jesus Christ.
Identifying the male child as the body of Christ takes seriously the language of Revelation 12:5.106 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. Boldly stated, the verb ἁρπάζω seems to this writer to be utterly inappropriate for the ascension of Christ. This bold assertion can be demonstrated by the following considerations:
1. Inherent in the unaffected meaning of ἁρπάζω is the notion of “snatching,” not merely relocating from one physical location to another.107 In every usage in both the Septuagint (including Apocrypha) and the New Testament, ἁρπάζω brings to the passage this connotation (see chart in Diagram 2). This notion of “snatching away” does not fit at all the descriptions of the ascension of Jesus to the Father.108
2. For the ascension of Christ, the New Testament authors use terms such as ἐπαίρω “to be lifted up” (Acts 1:9), ἀναβαίνω “to ascend” (John 20:17; Eph 4:8-10), and ἀναλαμβάνω “to received 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.109
John was well aware of these ascension terms. Besides using the word ἀναβαίνω for the ascension of Christ in John 20:17, John also uses the exact word some twelve 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 Revelation 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.110
3. Another factor to be considered is the affected meaning of ἁρπάζω in the Old and New Testament as well as the context of Revelation 12:5. As shown in the chart in Diagram 2, 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. The question we must ask, then, is this: does Revelation 12:5 fit 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 towards the male child from an intended attack by the dragon. Thus, the term ἁρπάζω here seems to be used in a rescue context, a context which is appropriate for the term. (Acts 23:10; Jude 23). Such a rescue nuance is utterly incompatible with the New Testament 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.111 Ladd emphasizes this problem when he writes, “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).”112
In conclusion, the lexical problems associated with identifying the male child as Jesus Christ appear to be considerable. At least the interpretation that the male child represents only Jesus Christ is unsupported by the use of ἁρπαζω; at most, it is contradicted.
Identifying the male child as the body of Christ best harmonizes with the quotation of Psalm 2:9 found at the beginning, middle, and end of Revelation.113 J. Dwight Pentecost argues that the quotation of Psalm 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 interpretations in Psalm 2:9, which is admittedly Messianic.”114 Such a bold statement requires a substantial response.
It is my assertion that the quotation of Psalm 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 Psalm 2:9 in the Book of Revelation.
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 Revelation 19:14-15, the passage is quoted 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)
This dual application of the promise of Psalm 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.115 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 Revelation 12:5 is at least a significant, if not central passage in the structure of the book.
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 that commentators have with the male child as Jesus Christ is the omission of the death and resurrection in Revelation 12:5.116 Often, the idea of foreshortening is invoked. However, it seems very strange indeed that the sine qua non of the Christian faith and message is deleted without even a hint in Revelation 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.
Conclusion. 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 Thessalonians 4:17.
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.
Spiritualizing out of time and space.117 One argument against the interpretation presented here comes from a spiritualizing of the passage to a point at which it does not predict future events at all. In support 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.118
Of course, this understanding borders a denial of the futuristic approach to Revelation as a whole. Even so, there are indications in the passage itself which seem to anchor the vision down 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 rooted in Old Testament passages which themselves have real, historical or historical-prophetic referents. For example, the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon of Revelation 12:3 seems to be an amalgamation of the four beasts of Daniel 7:4-7, which themselves symbolize successive world empires in actual history (Dan 7:17-20). Secondly, the chronological indicators in Revelation 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 Daniel 12:7 and likely 9:27, also serve to anchor the vision to time-space events of the future.
Overstatements 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.’”119 Regarding the allusion to Psalm 2:9, he writes, “This second clause plainly alludes to Psalm 2:9. . . . and establishes the fact that the man-child is Christ.”120 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).121
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 of ἁρπάζω is “to rescue,” while it has been demonstrated that it does not mean merely “to ascend” without the connotation of a violent snatching away.122
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.”123 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.124
First, it is not a mixing of metaphors if the symbols appear in two different visions, as these do. Second, Ephesians 4:13 envision 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 Revelation 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?
“Caught up to God and to his throne” is not applicable to the Church. Others suggest that the Church could not be described as being “caught up to God and to His throne,” that this destination is reserved for the Son of God only.125 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 Revelation 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).
῾αρπάζω is virtually identical to ἀναλαμβάνω. When it comes to the lexical problems with the use of ἁρπάζω, some commentators who hold that the male child refers to Christ alone simply weaken the force of the language by commentary. Swete writes thus:
With ἡρπάσθη (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:
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). Harpazo 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.126
But such a glossing over of the word simply ignores the solid evidence that ἁρπάζω 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 Revelation 12:5 does, in fact, appear to be a rescue from the imminent threat from the dragon. Thomas’ 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.127
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”128 and later asserts that the allusion to Psalm 2:9 “identifies the man child here as none other than Jesus Christ.”129
Robert Thomas relies heavily on the allusion to Psalm 2:9 when he asserts:
Though some earlier interpreters took υἱόν ἄρσεν to be Christ and the church or even the church alone, it is clearly a reference to Jesus Christ (Swete, Seiss).130 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).131
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 Psalm 2:9 and its applicability to Christ does not automatically rule out that the passage applies also the Church (cf. Rev 2:26-28). In fact, as shown above, Revelation 19:11-16 suggests that both Christ and the armies of heaven (the glorified saints) destroy the nations assembled against them.132 Thus, Thomas’ “verification” that Revelation 12:5 is “clearly a reference to Jesus Christ” fails to overcome the obstacles of the evidence.
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.133 The major argument lies in the allusion to Psalm 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.”134 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 “[a]llusion to resurrection from the dead may be implicit in the word ἁρπάζω (‘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.” Yet, this explanation fails to take seriously the prepositional phrase πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ τὸν θρόνον, which indicates the destination of the motion in ἁρπάζω.135 For forty days after Christ’s resurrection, he appeared on earth to the disciples (Acts 1:3); only after this period did he ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9). Thus, the “snatching away” can not refer to either 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).136 Although attractive on the surface, the suggestions of Caird and Beale are both unsatisfactory; yet they must be commended for wrestling with the difficulty in describing the ascension itself with ἁρπάζω.
Schilling’s four arguments against the Church as the male child in Revelation 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)?”137 This is precisely the question this present paper has answered with “Yes.” Schilling’s four best 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 (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 Revelation 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 Revelation 12:5 to the birthing of the new nation to Zion in Isaiah 66:7-8, where the corporate individual, Zion, travails and gives birth to the corporate individual, her “child,” the male, who is described as “a nation” and “sons” in the plural. The present writer does not see a substantial counter-argument in Schilling’s second point.
Schilling’s third argument appears to both ignore the genre and also appears to actually be self-defeating. First, he forgets that the context is a symbolic vision of reality, not reality itself. While 1 Thessalonians 1:4-17 describes the rapture in normal, literal language, Revelation 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.
Conclusion. 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 Revelation 12:5 is the body of Christ, the Church.
If the male child represents not simply the individual, Jesus Christ, but the unio mystica, the believers of every generation of the Church who are ἐν Χριστῷ, then Revelation 12:5 is the only explicit mention of the rapture of the Church in the Book of Revelation. While other passages may, in fact, imply a rapture (i.e. 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 Psalm 2:9 found at the extremes of the Book, seems an appropriate place for the rapture of the Church in a book that was written to “show his servants what must happen very soon.”
Diagram 1: “The Two Witnesses and the Two Beasts”
Diagram 2: “ ᾿Αρπάζω in the LXX, Apocrypha, and NT”
1 A version of this paper was first presented at the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Friday, April 7, 2000. Michael J. Svigel can be contacted with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 Except in direct quotations from other writers, this paper will employ the upper-case “Church” throughout to identify both living and dead believers in Christ of the New Covenant community. This is to be distinguished from the visible church or local churches, wherein may be found both believers and unbelievers.
3 One writer expresses the matter this way: “[T]he main problem with the Book of Revelation is that there is no clear mention of the rapture of the church from Revelation 4 through Revelation 18. Here again, the massive fact that a book presenting great detail concerning the events leading up to the second coming of Christ should omit completely any hope of the rapture of the church for the tribulation saints must be faced” (John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. and exp. ed. [Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1979], 260).
4 New English Translation (NET).
5 Some of the most common and enduring proposals have been Revelation 3:10; 4:1-2; 7:9-17; 11:11-19; 14:14-16; and 19:11-20:6. It often appears that exegetes drift towards portions of Revelation that correspond to their pre-established rapture views. Those who hold to a pre-tribulation rapture position most naturally gravitate towards the opening chapters of Revelation to find the rapture, all but ignoring other parts of the book. Mid-tribulationists and pre-wrath advocates will find the rapture somewhere in the heart of the book or near the end before the bowls of wrath in chapter 16. Certainly, post-tribulationists will find the rapture in a latter passage such as Revelation 20:4-6. However, most scholars would concur that this approach, whether intentionally or unconsciously employed, is inverted. To afford myself a play-on-words, one must allow the rapture to rise up out of the text. The rules of genre-sensitive interpretation must not be stretched. One must ask where the rapture is found in the Revelation before one asks the question of when the rapture is said to take place, if, indeed, the timing of the event is even asserted by the context.
7 Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 119. This brings up the question of whether we should even expect to find the doctrine of the rapture in the Book of Revelation. Since it appears that the doctrine was uniquely Pauline and given to him through special revelation by the Lord (1 Cor 15:51, 1 Thes 4:15), it seems likely that the rapture/resurrection event was either unexpressed or veiled in the teachings of Christ. Thus, Matthew 24:30-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 17:22-37; and John 14:1-4, etc. would not be references to the rapture of the Church or, in the alternative, the rapture is veiled, leaving the possibility for further clear revelation. By the time 1 Corinthians was composed, the doctrine was clearly held and taught by Paul. Is it, then, necessary that the rapture should even appear in the book of Revelation? If we approach the Apocalypse as a strictly (or even primarily) human composition (that is, if we understand it to be composed by and large from the author’s own imagination) one might very well expect the rapture to be portrayed in the book, providing the author was aware of the Pauline doctrine. Yet if John were unaware of Paul’s doctrine of the rapture, he would have no reason to include it. However, if we comprehend the book as being John’s accurate reporting of revelatory visions from heaven, the issue of whether John was aware of the doctrine of the rapture or not is insignificant. While acknowledging the divine prerogative to the contrary, one cannot help but expect God to reveal something of the rapture in his last great apocalyptic message to the Church. In sum, one cannot excuse the rapture from the Apocalypse simply because it is a Pauline and not a Johannine doctrine if the book is a presentation of revelatory visions from heaven. The issue then is not whether it is Pauline or Johannine, but whether it is true.
8 Although examples of supporters of each option could easily be multiplied, for the purposes of this present work only a few major commentators will be cited as support.
9 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 4 (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 369-371.
10 See, for example, Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture Position,” in Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996); Charles C. Ryrie, The Final Countdown, rev. and exp., (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1982), 87; Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949), 478-79. J. Ramsey Michaels presents an interesting argument that the promise of Revelation 3:10 answers to the promise of the open door in 3:8, which is understood not as an open door to the gospel but to entrance into heaven, as in Revelation 4:1 (J. Ramsey Michaels, Revelation, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Grand Osborne, ed. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997], 83-85).
11 Feinberg, “Pretribulation Rapture,” 63.
12 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7, An Exegetical Commentary, Kenneth Barker, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 283-290. See normative arguments in Thomas R. Edgar, “An Exegesis of Rapture Passages,” in Issues in Dispensationalism, Charles C. Ryrie, John R. Master, and Wesley R. Willis, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 211-217; Feinberg, “Pretribulation Rapture,” 63-72.
13 Cf. Robert Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 54-61.
14 Much of the debate over Revelation 3:10 revolves not around the phrase as a whole, but around that poor little preposition, ἐκ. Probably no two-letter word has taken more of a beating in theological debate.
15 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 359.
16 Mounce, Revelation, 103. Similarly, Ladd writes, “Although the church will be on earth in these final terrible days and will suffer fierce persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the beast, she will be kept from the hour of trial which is coming upon the pagan world. God’s wrath, poured out on the kingdom of Antichrist, will not affect his people” (George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Book of the Revelation of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 62).
17 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 291. However, I do not share Beale’s semi-futurist (“eclectic” or “modified idealist,” ibid., 48-49) approach to Revelation and thus I see the “hour of trial” as referring not merely to a promise to the Philadelphian church, nor to the Church throughout the present age, but also to the Church of the consummation.
19 George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 85-86.
20 Beale, Revelation, 290-292; Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 58-59; William R. Kimball, The Rapture: A Question of Timing (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 83-85.
21 See, for examples, Thomas R. Edgar, “Robert H. Gundry and Revelation 3:10,” Grace Theological Journal 3 (Spring 1982): 19-49; David G. Winfrey, “The Great Tribulation: Kept ‘Out Of’ or ‘Through’?” Grace Theological Journal 3: (Spring, 1982): 3-18; Jeffrey L. Townsend, “The Rapture in Revelation 3:10,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980): 252-266.
22 Allen Beechick, The Pre-Tribulation Rapture (Denver: Accent Books, 1980), 173; H. A. Ironside, Revelation, Ironside Commentaries, rev. ed. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1996), 61; William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter-by-Chapter (Chicago: Grace Publications, 1935; rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications: 1994), 90-91; C. I. Scofield, The New Scofield Study Bible: NASB (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 1776; J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: A Series of Special Lecture on the Revelation of Jesus Christ with Revised Text, 14th ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Approved-Books Store, 1900), 1: 229; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 103.
23 Seiss, Apocalypse, I: 229.
24 See Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1995), 74, for a contemporary representative of this view.
26 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 207-209.
28 Jacob B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, ed. J. Otis Toder (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1961), 101. Note also Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 333, where he writes, “The former occurrence of the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα . . . in v. 1 denotes the sequence in John's receipt of the revelation. It marks the beginning of a new vision as it does a number of times in the book. . . . It is true that the sequence of visions given to John may coincide with the sequence of events they predict . . . , but whenever meta tauta is followed by εἶδον . . . John's primary reference is to the beginning of a new vision.”
29 Walvoord, Rapture Question, 259.
30 Thiessen, Theology, 482.
31 Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:371-372. Also see Seiss, Apocalypse, I: 250.
32 This question lies at the heart of interpretational approaches to the Book of Revelation generally (cf. the fine discussion on the interpretation of symbols in Beale, Revelation, 50-69). Although a detailed survey of this issue is out of the scope of this paper, the issue as it pertains to the twenty-four elders may be worth a brief excursus. Identifying the twenty-four elders as representing (either symbolically or federally) the Church rather than actual heavenly beings at the time of John's vision produces many problems. First, one of these beings interacts with John in Revelation 7:13-17. This conversation forces us to make some preliminary decisions regarding the nature of the visions/scenes John is witnessing in Revelation. Either 1) he was actually transported spiritually into the future so that he can carry on a conversation with an already translated saint (maybe he's talking to himself!); 2) heaven and all those in it (either mortal or immortal) are in a timeless state so John is able to visit heaven in his own time and converse with people who, by earth's reckoning of time, are not there yet, but will be, so are; 3) John has been transported to heaven as it was in his day and in conversing with a real being who has nothing at all to do with the translated Church since in John's day the Church has not yet been translated; 4) John is translated into a spiritual “world of make-believe,” unreal visions that appear real, but are actually simply spiritual “slide shows,” “film clips,” “skits,” etcetera that symbolically portray future events; thus, he is speaking not with a real being, but with a complex, interactive spiritual multi-media presentation. The least far-fetched and most consistent with the rest of the Revelation seems to be a combination of 3 and 4. John, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, was actually transported into Paradise where he witnessed, as in Isaiah 6:1-13, a theophanes as well as other elements of the heavenly scene previously not reported. Thus, Revelation 4 and 5 is a description of what the throne room of heaven is like, at least in its presentation to John. Since it is the abode of finite beings (four creatures, twenty-four elders, angels, etc.), it is probably to be regarded as a place of linear time. After Revelation 4 and 5, a series of visions and symbolic scenes are presented, as if a large scale, high-budget film is being staged. John does not see the actual events themselves, nor does he see a chronological, real-time unfolding of symbolic representations. Rather, like Old Testament apocalyptic literature (Zechariah, Daniel, etc.) he sees episodes, one after another, arranged in a heaven-designed order, with interludes, parentheses, reviews, and previews, through various forms of media. Thus, a strict chronological approach to Revelation is not easily maintained; neither is the notion that John is seeing the future as it will actually be, but rather he is viewing a symbolic representation of that future.
33 Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1994), 666-667.
34 Mounce, Revelation, 121, takes the third person plural in Revelation 5:9-10 as proof that the twenty-four elders are not the Church, since the saints would not sing about others if they meant themselves. However, the object of worship is God, and the singing of praises to God with the objects of his mercies in the third person is not unheard of in ancient hymnody (cf. Ps 112; 114; 127).
35 Irondside, Revelation, 61; Showers, Maranatha!, 245; Walvoord, Rapture Question, 260.
36 Showers, Maranatha!, 247-248.
37 Most commentators on the Revelation hold to some sort of recapitulation of the visions of the Apocalypse rather than a strict chronological scheme. Since most take Revelation 12:5 as the birth and ascension of Christ (which will be discussed later), those same commentators can not hold to a strict futuristic and chronological unfolding of the visions of Revelation 4 through 22 without contradiction. It seems to be more faithful to the textual data and to the nature of Apocalyptic genre in general that the visions of Revelation are recorded in the chronological order they were received, but the events they portray are sometimes chronological while at other times merely generalizations or recapitulations.
38 Robert Van Kampen, The Sign, exp. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 308.
39 The intent here is not to set up a “straw man” argument, but to examine the merits of a bold assertion.
40 Van Kampen, Sign, 308-9.
41 Ibid., 309. Note: the phrase “emphasis added” is that of Van Kampen.
42 See Showers, Maranatha!, 248-249, where he demonstrates that non-resurrected spirit beings can, indeed, perform all of the activities mentioned here.
43 Cf. Ladd, Revelation, 117-120.
44 James O. Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 2: 456.
45 Norman B. Harrison, The End: Re-Thinking the Revelation (Minneapolis, MN: The Harrison Service, 1948), 114-121; Mounce, Revelation, 217; Henry Barclay Swete, Commentary on Revelation, reprint (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1977), 134-140.
46 Mounce, Revelation, 217. Cf. Swete, Revelation, 134, 140.
47 It is rather interesting to note that the context of two witnesses in Revelation 11 is the measuring of the temple, apparently the temple on earth in Jerusalem (cf. 11:1, 2). In the context of Zechariah 4, we find reference to the completion of the project to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem in the midst of adversity (Zech 4:7-10). It is possible that the images of Revelation 11:1-6 imply a future rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem during the first three and a half years of Daniel’s 70th week (Dan 9:27), rendering possible the literal fulfillment of passages such as Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4, in which an earthly temple seems to be implied.
48 The symbol of the “fire” coming out of their mouths is perhaps best explained by the description of 11:6, where it is said that they have authority to call plagues down to the earth at will.
49 Buswell, Theology, 2: 456; also see David V. Schilling, “The Rapture According to the Book of Revelation,” (Th.M. thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1990), 65-66, who concludes that the resurrection/ascension of the two witnesses is not the rapture of the Church per se, but that “it seems possible that this event [of the two witnesses] may coincide with the rapture of the Church.”
50 George Bradford Caird, The Revelation of Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary, Henry Chadwick, ed., reprint ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 107. Cf. Schilling, “Rapture,” 132ff.;
51 Schilling, “Rapture,” 132.
52 This present writer sees the trumpets of Revelation (as well as the opening of the seals) as events that took place strictly in John’s heavenly experience and announced the visions of future events. They are not to be equated with the future events themselves as if during the tribulation Jesus Christ will take a literal scroll and breaks open the seals one by one. Nor do I expect seven angels to line up and blast their trumpets while events unfold on the earth. John, I believe, is not looking into the future and seeing events that will take place during the tribulation; he is in his own day looking at a series of visions that point to the events of the tribulation in a symbolic fashion. The seventh trumpet is a part of the vision, not a part of the future events. However, the interpretations presented here do not depend on this understanding.
53 Interestingly, the trumpet is mentioned only in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. Both Mark and Luke omit any mention of a trumpet blast at the return of Christ. Given Matthew’s penchant for Old Testament allusions and quotation, he is likely making a reference to Isaiah 27:12-13, where the gathering of God’s people, Israel, is announced by the “great trumpet.” The LXX reads καὶ ἐσται ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ συμφράξει κύριος ἀπὸ τῆ? διώρυγος τοῦ ποταμοῦ ἕως ῾ρίοκορούρων ὑμεῖς δὲ συναγάγετε τοὺς υἱοὺς Ισραηλ κατὰ ἕνα ἕνα καὶ ἔσται ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ σαλπιοῦσιν τῇ σάλπιγγι τῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ ἥξουσιν οἱ ἀπολόμενοι ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῶν ᾿Ασσυρίων καὶ οἱ ἀπολόμενοι ἐν Αἱγύπτῳ καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ κρυίῳ ἐπὶ τὸ ὄρος τὸ ἅγιον ἐν Ιερουσαλημ. Matthew 24:31 reads καὶ ἀποστελεῖ τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ μεγὰ σάλπιγγος μεγάλης, καὶ ἐπισυνάξουσιν τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς αὐτους ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ἀνέμων ἀπ ᾿ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως [τῶν] ἄκρῶν aujtw'n. In this light, Matthew’s account appears to anchor the event to the restoration of the scattered Israelites to their land in the future reign of Christ.
54 For a discussion of the arguments for and against a Neronic dating of Revelation, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 957-961.
55 See discussion in Guthrie, NT Introduction, 457-459.
56 Buswell, Theology, 2: 458-459.
57 Ibid. 2: 459.
58 The opening of the fifth seal reveals the following: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?’ Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been.” A theme throughout Revelation is the vengeance of God upon the enemies of his people for their unjust suffering and death. Revelation 8:1-5 portrays the prayers of the saints coming from the altar (where the souls had been requesting vengeance) with the result that an angel throws fire from the altar and causes cataclysmic disturbances. Then, in Revelation 10:6-7, the angel swears “by the one who lives forever and ever,” the creator of the heavens, earth, and sea, that “there will be no delay any longer!” but that “in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God is completed, just as he has proclaimed to his servants the prophets.” In Revelation 11:18-19, after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the twenty-four elders praise God that “the nations were enraged, but your wrath has come, and the time has come for the dead to be judged, and the time has come to give to your servants, the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and to those who revere your name, both small and great; and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.” The servants, the prophets, and the saints are being rewarded by the judgment of wrath against those who persecuted and killed them. Revelation 18:4-24 outlines the judgment of Babylon as retribution for the murder of the saints. A voice from heaven calls God’s people to come out of Babylon so they do not receive her plagues (18:4). Then he says that “her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes. Repay her the same way she repaid others; pay her back double corresponding to her deeds. In the cup she mixed, mix double the amount for her” (18:5-6). In 18:20 the voice interjects: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has pronounced judgment against her on your behalf!” In 18:24 it is said, “The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed on the earth” (cf. Rev 19:1-10). All of this demonstrates that the song of the seventh trumpet is the announcement of judgment on Babylon, the empire of the Beast, and the time when God fulfills His promise to the martyrs of the tribulation to exact revenge on those who killed them. In my view, this rewarding does not occur at the seventh trumpet, but it is thereby announced. In the following visions, especially in Revelation 14—19, John portrays the judgment of the wicked. Therefore, I believe a wedding of the actual resurrection/rewarding of the Church with the moment of the seventh trumpet is untenable for two main reasons: 1) those dead who are mentioned seem to be the tribulation martyrs mentioned throughout Revelation as awaiting revenge on their killers; and 2) these events are not confined to the precise moment of the trumpet blast, but the blast merely announces them in John's vision. The events actually take place with the bowls of wrath, destruction of Babylon, and the battle of Armageddon.
59 Schilling, “Rapture,” 207-208. Space does not permit an in-depth presentation of all of Schilling’s arguments. The reader is strongly encouraged to consult Schilling’s thesis for a full expression and defense of his position.
60 Caird, Revelation, 190.
61 Ibid., 188-195.
62 G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Select Studies, 2d ed. (London: The Paternoster Press, 1948), 236-243; Schilling, “Rapture,” 207-208.
63 Ladd, Revelation, 198; Swete, Revelation, 188-193.
64 G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible, Matthew Black, gen. ed. (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1974), 228; Mounce, Revelation, 278; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, An Exegetical Commentary, Kenneth Barker, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 219-220.
65 Jeremiah 51:33 reads, “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor at the time it is stamped firm; Yet in a little while the time of harvest will come for her.’”
66 Seiss, Apocalypse, III: 38-40
68 Matthew 13:41-43, NET Bible. Italics in the original translation are meant to reflect allusions to the Old Testament passages Daniel 3:6 and 12:3, respectively. While I view the former allusion to be questionable, the latter is almost certain.
69 But see Caird, Revelation, 188-195.
70 See brief discussion in footnote 53 above.
71 J. Massyngberde Ford argues that Revelation shows “little evidence of being a truly Christian work” and suggests that it is a redacted Jewish apocalypse of the first century. The main arguments for this are the vast differences between Christian Apocalypses and Revelation, especially the utter lack of New Testament references and the plethora of Old Testament allusions and quotations (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, W.F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, eds. [Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1975], 3-26).
72 Walvoord, Revelation, 268.
73 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι, ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ, καταβήσεται ἀπ ᾿ οὐρανοῦ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστὴσονται πρῶτον, ἔπειτα ἡμεις οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα ἐν νεφέλαις εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα· καὶ οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα. 1 Corinthians 15:52 reads ἐν ἀτόμῳ, ἐν ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάρῃ σάλπιγγι· σαλπίσει γὰρ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐγερθήσονται ἄφθαρτοι καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀλλαγησόμεθα. 1 Thessalonians ties the descent of Christ to the “shout,” the “voice of the archangel” and the “trumpet of God” while 1 Corinthians 15:52 ties the “last trumpet” to the resurrection and translation of the living. Thus, all of these simultaneous events occur “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye.”
74 Ladd, Revelation, 255.
76 The NET Bible translates it thus: “Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge.” Similarly, the NIV has “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.”
77 Ladd, Revelation, 263. However, Ladd believes that both of these groups, though distinguished in the passage, are nevertheless resurrected at the same time after the return of Christ. He writes, “Both groups come to life at the same time in the first resurrection. . . . The identity of the second group is clear. But who are contained in the first, undefined group? Only one possibility commends itself. They are the righteous who have died naturally, who have not been martyred. . . . this passage locates the resurrection both of saints and martyrs at the Revelation of Christ” (Ladd, Blessed Hope, 83, emphasis his). However, Ladd’s interpretation overlooks the identification of the armies accompanying Christ at his return in Revelation 17:14 and the presence of the armies in Revelation 19:14 (both the same group); this group of saints is glorified before the battle of Armageddon and the resurrection of the martyrs in Revelation 20:4-6. Yet in spite of this evidence, Ladd says, “After the battle of Armageddon occurs the resurrection. . . . Both groups come to life at the same time in the first resurrection” (ibid., 83). Therefore, if my understanding of Revelation 17:14; 19:14; and 20:4 is correct, Ladd’s assertion cannot be maintained.
78 Mounce, Revelation, 119. See footnote 7 above.
79 Mounce (Revelation, 231-234), in his discussion of the male child, makes absolutely no mention of the interpretation presented here. He apparently does not feel the view merits any discussion whatsoever. Beale (Revelation, 641-642) simply mentions the view, but does not adequately present its positive arguments nor make any attempt at refuting them. Such treatments (or non-treatments) by such commentators as Mounce and Beale amount to cavalier dismissals rather than a reckoning with the data.
80 “Apocalyptic” is used here in a general sense and does not preclude the presence of other elements (epistle, prophecy). However, Beale, Revelation, 37 suggests that “it is best to understand apocalyptic as an intensification of prophecy.” One New Testament Introduction describes Revelation as “a prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold and written down in a letter form” (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], 39). Cf. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: BridgePoint Books, 1993), 90-96; James Moffatt, “Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol 5, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 295-305.
81 See the discussion on Revelation’s alleged use of sources in Guthrie, NT Introduction, 965-968, where he writes, “The most obvious source of ideas and mental images is the Old Testament. . . . [A]lthough the writer was acquainted with the [intertestamental] Jewish [apocalyptic] works, he is independent of them and cannot be considered as a continuation of them” (965-967). Cf. George E. Ladd, “The Revelation and Jewish Apocalyptic,” Evangelical Quarterly 29 (1957):94-100.
82 A brief synopsis of this debate is most easily accessed in Beale, Revelation, 39-43.
83 See Beale, Revelation, 37-39.
84 Cf. Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 183-184; Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 231-232. The dogmatic and often divisive positions on interpretations of eschatology of the past have, for the most part, fallen out of favor among present-day Evangelical students of eschatology.
85 Darrell Bock has an excellent discussion of the hermeneutical issues related to apocalyptic literature. He writes: “Interpretation of apocalyptic is not a matter of literal versus figurative/allegorical approaches, but of how to identify and understand the reference of the figure in question” (Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 93).
86 These principles are borrowed from Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, 230-232, wherein he discusses a number of basic “Hermeneutical Principles” for approaching apocalyptic literature.
87 See Diagram 1 in Appendix.
88 See E. S. Fiorenza, “Composition and Structure of the Book of Revelation,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 (1977): 344-366. She views the structure of the whole of Revelation to be concentric (not exactly chiastic) in nature, with the corresponding sections as follows: 1:1-8 || 22:10-21; 1:9-3:22|| 19:11-22:9; 4:1-9:21 and 11:15-19 || 15:5-19:10; with the focal point at 10:1-15:4. Other attempts at identifying a chiastic structure have produced varying results (cf. Michelle V. Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom: Function as method and Message in Revelation,” Novum Testamentum XL, 2 : 174-194). It seems to the present writer that attempts at identifying a chiastic structure in Revelation, though provocative, are likely ultimately un-provable.
89 Lang, Revelation, 198-201.
90 Walvoord, Revelation, 188.
91 Ladd, Revelation, 167; Mounce, Revelation, 23.
92 G. K. Beale writes, “Though the mother of Jesus may be secondarily in mind, the primary focus here is not on an individual but on the community of faith” (Revelation, 628).
93 See Smith, Revelation, 181.
94 Cf. Ford, Revelation, 195: “Although the woman may be an individual, a study of the OT background suggests that she is a collective figure. . . . In the OT the image of a woman is a classical symbol for Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel, e.g. Zion whose husband is Yahweh (Isa. 54:1, 5, Jer 3:20, Ezek 16:8-14, Hosea 2:19-20), who is a mother (Isa 49:21, 50:1, 66:7-11, Hosea 4:5, Bar 4:8-23), and who is in the throes of birth (Micah 4:9-10, cf. Isa 26:16-18, Jer 4:31, 13:21, Sir 48:19).” See also Mounce, Revelation, 231;
97 The reader is directed to the full discussion in G. K. Beale, John's Use of the Old Testament in Revelation, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 166, ed. Stanley E. Porter (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 341-343.
98 Mounce, Revelation, 232; Swete, Revelation, 148.
99 In Daniel 7, the first beast representing Babylon (7:4) has one head; the second beast, Medo-Persia (7:5) has one head; the third beast symbolizing Greece (7:6) has four heads; and the fourth beast, Rome (7:7) has one head and ten horns. If we were to symbolize all of the national enemies of God’s people throughout history in one great monster, it would then have seven heads and ten horns. Thus, the symbol of the dragon in Revelation 12 is Satan working through the means of world empires. In the eschaton, the beast from the sea looks like the dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and also sharing the same features of the lion, bear, and leopard, as the four world powers of Daniel 7:1-7 (cf. Revelation 13:1-2).
100 Mounce, Revelation, 231-234; Newell, Revelation, 175-76; Ford C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages in the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1967), 284-85; Pentecost, Things to Come, 215; Smith, Revelation, 183-184; Swete, Revelation, 151; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 125-26; Walvoord, Revelation, 189-90.
101 Arthur E. Bloomfield, All Things New: The Prophecies of Revelation Explained (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1959), 215.
102 Ironside, Revelation, 140.
103 Lang, Revelation, 198.
104 Beale, Use of OT in Revelation, 341-343.
105 MT: rk*z* hf*yl!m=h!w+ Hl* lb#j@ aoby` <r#f#B= (66:7)…. h*yn#B*-ta# /oYx! hd*l=y*-<G^ hl*j*-yK! (66:8). LXX: ἔτεκεν ἄρσεν … καὶ ἔτεκε Σιὼν τὰ παιδία αὐτῆς.
106 Bloomfield, All Things New, 217.
107 BAGD defines the word in the following ways: “snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly and vehemently, or take away in the sense of 1. steal, carry off, drag away . . . . 2. snatch or take away—a. forcefully . . . . b. in such a way that no resistance is offered” (BAGD, 109). Thus Ford writes, “The verb harpazo, ‘snatch,’ is never used of the ascension of Christ, although anabaino, ‘ascend,’ used of the two witnesses in 11:12, does have this connotation, and is used in relationship to the ascension of Jesus. But in our present text there seems to be no Christological reference. In the LXX and the NT harpazo means to take away by force, usually with the implication that resistance is impossible.” (Ford, Revelation, 200).
108 Some have tried to avoid this problem by suggesting the snatching away is unto death, and that the entire scene in Revelation 12:1-6 is a midrash of Psalm 2. Caird thus writes: “By the birth of the Messiah John means not the Nativity but the Cross. The reason for this is that he is continuing his exposition of the second psalm, begun in the vision of the seventh trumpet. In the psalm it is not at his birth but as his enthronement on mount Zion that the anointed king is addressed by God, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’, and is given authority to smash all the nations with an iron bar (Ps. ii. 7-9). A king's birthday is the day of his accession. For the Christian exegesis of this psalm John had as guide the preaching tradition of the primitive church that Jesus ‘was appointed Son of God with power after he rose from the dead’ (Rom. i. 4). Sonship and enthronement belong inseparably together, and therefore the male child is no sooner born than he is snatched away to God and to his throne. But for John as the fourth evangelist, the Cross is the point at which Jesus entered upon his kingly glory. ‘I conquered and sat down beside my Father on his throne’ (iii. 21). . . . The prince is snatched from the dragon’s clutches not by magic but by death; and his place of safety is not some secluded island but the throne of God, whence he will return to kill the dragon” (Caird, Revelation, 149-59). The problem with such a view is that the destination of the snatching away is “to God and to his throne,” an event which took place, according to the gospel account, some forty days after the resurrection. Also, the grand midrash of Psalm 2 is in doubt, since in Psalm 2 the father of the son is God; in Revelation 12:5 the mother of the son is Israel. In what way, then, would the “birth” of the son in a regal sense through death, resurrection, and ascension be related to the birthing from the nation of Israel? Caird’s conclusions do not appear to consider these factors.
109 The phrase in Acts 1:10 strongly suggests a gradual ascension, not a sudden snatching away. The Greek reads: καὶ ὡς ἀτενίζοντες ἦσαν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν πορευομένου αὐτοῦ “As they were staring into the sky while he was going . . .” The combination of the imperfect of εἰμι in with the present parenthetical participle ἀτενίζοντες and the present participle πορευομένου makes best sense if the ascension of Christ was an event that was gradual. Both the language and the grammar leave little room for a sudden and vehement snatching away form their sight, since according to this passage they were watching while he was going up.
110 At the time of the original reading of this article at the Southwest Regional Evangelical Theological Society Meeting on Friday, April 7, 2000, the NET Bible’s translation of this verse read “Her child was taken up to God and to his throne.” In response to my original criticism of that translation in this footnote, the editors of the NET Bible changed the translation to one which goes far beyond my suggestion of “caught up” or “snatched up.” Now, the NET Bible reads “Her child was suddenly caught up.” The NET Bible must be commended for their readiness to change in light of new evidence.
111 Lang, Revelation, 198.
112 Ladd, Revelation, 170. It must be pointed out that Ladd does not conclude that the male child is the Church, but “John's vivid way of asserting the victory of God’s anointed over every satanic effort to destroy him.”
113 Buswell, Theology, 2: 462; Ironside, Revelation, 140.
114 Pentecost, Things to Come, 215.
115 The use of Psalm 2:9 in Revelation also argues to some degree for an identification of the “armies of heaven” in Revelation 19:14 with over-coming believers of the Church (Rev 2:26-28). It is the armies who actually break to pieces the nations. This would suggest then, that the Church, the body of Christ, is raptured, resurrected, and glorified before the return of Christ to earth described in Revelation 19:11-21.
116 Cf. Michaels, Revelation, 149. He explains the difficulty by suggesting that 1) John consistently uses other symbols (such as a Lamb) for the death of Christ; and 2) that the emphasis in Revelation 12:5 is on Jesus’ identification with the “seed” of Genesis 3:15.
117 Nothing pejorative is intended by identifying this approach as “spiritualizing,” for a close examination of Ladd’s interpretation will demonstrate that this is exactly what it is.
118 Ladd, Revelation, 166-167.
119 Smith, Revelation, 183.
120 Ibid., 183-184.
121 Ibid., 184.
122 Cf. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 87-123; for a discussion of logical fallacies. Smith appears to succumb to appeals to selective evidence, unwarranted associative jumps, false statements, cavalier dismissal, and abuse of words such as “obviously” and “clearly.”
123 Smith, Revelation, 184.
124 Walvoord, Revelation, 190-191.
125 Smith, Revelation, 184; Walvoord, Revelation, 191.
127 The period of Christ's appearances on earth during the forty-days after His resurrection are not characterized in any sense of His being sought after by Satan. To say that a by-product of the ascension was the escape of Satan's hostility denies the full import of the resurrection. Jesus was no longer in conflict with Satan, but completely victorious over him in His death and resurrection. Thomas is right in seeing in the context of Revelation 12:5 an impending danger from and hostility by the Dragon towards the male child and thus a "rescue" context for the use of ἁρπάζω in 12:5, but his application of this to Christ's ascension does not follow theologically. If this were so, then Christ must have been threatened by Satan's attacks even after His resurrection!
128 Pentecost, Things to Come, 215.
129 Ibid., 286.
130 Thomas’ parenthetical reference to Seiss is somewhat unclear here. Actually, Seiss believes the male child to be all believers of the First Resurrection (Seiss, Apocalypse II: 335-338).
133 Caird, Revelation, 149-150; Beale, Revelation, 639-642. Also see footnote 108, above.
135 While ἁρπάζω πρὸς τὸν θρόνον could possibly be understood as merely metaphorical for the “enthronement” of Christ by resurrection, the phrase ἁρπάζω πρὸς τὸν θεόν does not readily lend itself to a metaphorical interpretation. Although enthronement certainly seems to be in the picture, such enthronement is one which seems to take place literally in the presence of God and his throne in heaven, not spiritually by way of resurrection.
136 Cf. also the comments of Michaels, Revelation, 149.
137 Schilling, “Rapture,” 54.