The book of Revelation offers a structure which should settle ALL disagreements about the timing of end time events: In particular the QUESTION--"Where in the fulfillments of prophecy does the Rapture of the Church fit? And secondly, "When does the Tribulation--or the wrath of God--get seen as starting?"
Does the Rapture occur BEFORE the Tribulation? At the MID-POINT of the Tribulation (after 3 1/2 years)? BEFORE the bowls of God's wrath are poured (Revelation 16, about 3/4 through the Tribulation)? Or at THE END of the Tribulation (after the full 7 years)?
Scripture IS VERY CLEAR, and will answer the above questions. IF... IF people will allow the scripture to mean what it actually says, WITHOUT changing the meaning in some way--to FIT their own particular viewpoint!
The book of Revelation offers the structure and the timing of events in the very first chapter--Revelation 1:19. This has been called THE KEY which will OPEN the whole book AND lay out--in PLAIN VIEW--the EXACT ORDER of the prophecy.
Revelation 1:19--"Write the things you (John) have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." (HEREAFTER is the Greek phrase "meta tauta." I mention this NOW, because we will see that EXACT PHRASE again, in Revelation 4:1.)
The FIRST SECTION is "the things you HAVE SEEN..." (past tense)--which includes the vision of Jesus in chapter one.
John wrote (concerning the past tense) showing HOW the Revelation was sent to him--in Revelation 1:1. That verse is PART of the past tense. God gave the Revelation of Jesus Christ to Jesus, to show the SERVANTS of Jesus things that must SHORTLY (speedily, "en tacheos") come to pass. Jesus then passed the Revelation to an angel, and that angel then took the message to John on the isle of Patmos. The following verses--2 to 12--are ALL included in the PAST TENSE--and they offer the INTRODUCTION to the great prophecy. This look at the PAST TENSE ("have seen") is SUMMED UP in the powerful vision of the risen and glorified Jesus.
John SAW (past tense) "...seven golden lampstands; and in the MIDST of the LAMPSTANDS (the Churches...was Jesus) ONE like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps (the chest) with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars (angels--leaders of the seven Churches): and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance (face) was as the sun shines in his strength (like a noon day sun)."
When John SAW Jesus, the Apostle fell down at the Lord's feet as if dead. Jesus laid His right hand on John and said, "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that lived, and was dead, and BEHOLD, I am ALIVE forevermore, Amen, and have the keys of hell and death." (There's so much in all this, I restrain myself from further comment.) John SAW (past tense) a mind-blowing vision. He received (past tense) the ULTIMATE Revelation of Jesus. He was instructed (past tense) what to do with the book of prophecy once it was delivered.
Then Jesus pronounced the words that UNLOCKS the SEQUENCE of the ENTIRE Revelation: "Write the things you HAVE SEEN, and the things which ARE, and the things which SHALL BE HEREAFTER." Those words divide the book of Revelation into THREE PARTS: past, present and future.
We've looked at the PAST TENSE, contained in chapter one. Now, we'll focus upon "the things which ARE." These are the things of the PRESENT TENSE--the things of RIGHT NOW--present, existing, having their being at this very instant.
The things that ARE PRESENT are seen in Revelation chapters two and three. These PRESENT things are the prophetic unfolding of the SEVEN CHURCHES. At this moment in time, the Church remains PRESENT upon this earth. The SEVEN CHARACTERISTICS of the Churches ARE YET PRESENT in this world. The SEVEN CHURCHES are the things which ARE.
I see FOUR layers of understanding in the letters to the Churches in Revelation (in chapters 2 and 3). I will lay this out in a list:
(1.) They were ACTUAL Churches at THE TIME OF JOHN. These specific Churches had the exact problems or characteristics as detailed in the letters.
(2.) These seven letters detail characteristics that would be seen in ALL Churches EVERYWHERE throughout the ENTIRE 2000 year age of the Church, and CONTINUES to be seen in present day Church congregations (to varying degrees).
(3.) These letters speak to each INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN in every Church throughout the ENTIRE age of the Church: "He that has an ear, let him HEAR what the Spirit says unto the Churches." We ALL have ears, so let us HEAR. Do we contain IN US any of the things that Jesus calls to repentance? (Or which He saw fit to praise and encourage?)
(4.) The letters to the Churches are a PROPHECY spoken in advance TO SHOW what would TRANSPIRE in the ENTIRE age of the Church. Since the book of Revelation DECLARES ITSELF to be a prophecy (Revelation 1:3), it is of UTMOST IMPORTANCE to view the SEVEN LETTERS to the Churches as PROPHECY of the things that are YET PRESENT--the things that ARE STILL EXISTING right now. The last time I looked, the Church REMAINS upon this earth! So the things that ARE, still ARE.
Let me offer a quick glimpse of the PROPHECY of the Church Age:
Ephesus is the Apostolic Church. Pentecost to about 100 A.D.
Smyrna is the Church persecuted severely under the Romans. The 10 days of suffering show the persecutions from 10 Roman Caesars. This took place from even a little before 100 A.D. up to 312 A.D.
Pergamos is the Church which intermarried with Rome. This started at time of Constantine--and progressed until the declaration of the first Pope. The time-frame is 312 A.D. to 607 A.D.
Thyatira is the Roman Catholic Church--the longest age defined within a denomination. This prophetic Church Age extends from 607 A.D. until the Rapture. Thyatira will meet Jesus at His coming. He will bring a severe judgment to those who have NOT repented. For judgment must begin at the house of God. 1 Peter 4:17.
Sardis corresponds to the denominations formed following the Prostestant Reformation. They BEGAN in true Bible doctrine, which was rediscovered after the Dark Ages, but sadly, these Churches lapsed into DEAD orthodoxy. They displayed lots of "head knowledge" but lacked the life of the Spirit. The time-frame of Sardis is from 1517 to the Rapture--where, if there's NO repentance, Jesus will come upon Sardis like a thief.
Philadephia is the spiritually alive, faithful and true Church. Though small in number, they are strong in patience and in keeping the Word of Jesus. This age corresponds to the mighty waves of missions, evangelism and revival that has swept across the Christian Church--beginning in the 1700s and continuing up to the Rapture. This true Church is promised to be kept out of the time of the Tribulation.
Laodecia is the apostate, lukewarm, self-satisfied, self-sufficient rich and apostate Church--the LAST age to manifest just before the Rapture. This lukewarm Church began forming in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a result of "higher criticism" of the scriptures. Men ELEVATED their OWN REASONING and PHILOSOPHY about the scripture, plus they BOUGHT INTO the theory of evolution. Laodecia will exist from about 1900 to the Rapture, where Jesus will spew the lukewarm from His mouth in judgment.
Another interesting facet in these Churches is THE MEANING contained in their very names.
Ephesus means "maiden of choice" or "darling." It's a declaration of their FIRST LOVE, which, unfortunately they lost.
Smyrna means "myrrh"--an embalming spice which releases its fragrance upon being crushed. The persecuted, martyred Church is INDEED CRUSHED, but in suffering and giving their lives for Jesus, they release a pleasant fragrance into the nostrils of God.
Pergamos means "mixed-marriage"--the age that began mingling with Rome. This Church "intermarried" with the customs of the world, and tolerated those customs and pagan teachings in their midst.
Thyatira means "continual sacrifice"--Roman Catholics MUST KEEP required sacraments in order to be saved, and STILL they are NEVER assured of salvation. They hold strong to the pagan customs introduced in the Pergamos Era, and ADD more customs of their own--which have NOTHING TO DO WITH BIBLE TRUTH. Their efforts of WORKS (keeping the added traditions) are to them a "continual sacrifice" in TRYING TO GAIN the acceptance from God. The FINISHED work of Jesus is forgotten.
Sardis means "escaping ones"--those who escaped out from under Catholic dominion. Sardis lapsed into DEAD works--a lack of the vital life of the Holy Spirit.
Philadelphia means "brotherly love"--and its more than that, it's a TRUE LOVE of Jesus above all else. Philadelphians KEEP the Word of Jesus' patience and hold fast to BIBLE TRUTH.
Laodecia means "rule of the people" or "rule of the laity"-- this is a Church run by men and not by Jesus.
There's so much insight to be gleaned from ALL SEVEN of Revelation's letters to the Churches, but I'll stop elaborating for now. I will ADD, however, that the very NEXT verse in Revelation 4:1 (following upon Laodecia) is a "type" or "word picture" of the Rapture. Revelation 4:1 STARTS the "HEREAFTER" (which is the SAME Greek "meta tauta" introduced in the "HEREAFTER" which we saw in Revelation 1:19).
To quickly RECAP: We've looked at--"Write the things which you (John) HAVE SEEN..." (past tense)--that includes the vision of Jesus in chapter one. Next, we saw "...and the things which ARE..." (present tense--the things which ARE STILL present ARE the SEVEN CHURCHES).
And now we look at "...and the things which SHALL BE HEREAFTER..." ("HEREAFTER" is the Greek "meta tauta"--FUTURE TENSE, those prophecies which YET REMAIN IN THE FUTURE. (They REMAIN FUTURE because the PRESENT TENSE--the seven-fold Church--IS STILL PRESENT! The FUTURE tense--"meta tauta"--WILL transpire AFTER the age of the Church).
Revelation 4:1 CLEARLY shows the BEGINNING of the FUTURE TENSE. The verse begins "AFTER THIS (the Greek "meta tauta"). AFTER WHAT? After the testimony and age of the SEVEN CHURCHES!
Also, Revelation 4:1, by the very PICTURE it presents, is a TYPE or SYMBOL of the Rapture. "After this, I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were a trumpet talking with me; which said 'Come up hither, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.'" And in verse 2, John found himself instantly at the Throne of God. Raptured through that OPEN DOOR. This is interesting, because in Isaiah 26:20-21, we see another scripture that details the Rapture. "Come, My people, enter you into your chambers, and SHUT YOUR DOORS about you: HIDE YOURSELF as it were for a little moment, UNTIL the INDIGNATION (God's wrath and judgment) be OVERPAST (done)." In order to SHUT A DOOR, it must FIRST be OPEN! At the Rapture, the Church will proceed through an OPEN DOOR, then the DOOR will be SHUT. We see the same imagery in the parable of the Virgins in Matthew 24:10-11. The wise virgins entered the marriage chamber through and OPEN DOOR, and then the DOOR was SHUT. The foolish virgins begged the Lord to OPEN the DOOR to them, but it was too late. Jesus told them, "I knew you not"--meaning they had NO PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with Him through FAITH in Him and His finished work at the cross; and they lacked "the light" and "the life-giving oil" of the Holy Spirit!
Let me elaborate by quoting Revelation 4:1 again. "After this (meta tauta), I looked, and BEHOLD, a DOOR was OPENED in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were OF A TRUMPET talking with me (Jesus has a "trumpet voice" in Revelation 1:10); which (voice) said COME UP HITHER, and I will SHOW YOU things which MUST BE HEREAFTER (meta tauta)."
"Meta tauta" STARTS Revelation 4:1--and ENDS it. The Holy Spirit is EMPHATIC. Revelation 4 BEGINS the segment of THE PROPHECY which is YET FUTURE. He states it TWICE!
Everything AFTER Revelation 4 is IN THE FUTURE. This includes the Rapture, the glorious scene of worship in heaven (in which 24 elders are at the Throne--the "24 elders" are a "word picture"--"a description"--and "symbol" for the Raptured Church). In this FUTURE scene, WE, the CHURCH, will witness the drama of Jesus receiving a seven-sealed scroll from the hand of God--because Jesus is the ONLY MAN (resurrected in a glorified body), our KINSMAN REDEEMER, Who is WORTHY to open that scroll.
Many people think the seven-sealed scroll is ALREADY being opened, RIGHT NOW, since so many of the BIRTH PANG SIGNS that we see FOLLOW what's described UNDER EACH of those seals. However, the seals CANNOT BE OPENED NOW, because ALL the EVENTS that happen AS the scroll is opened OCCUR IN THE HEREAFTER (AFTER the things of the seven Churches). What we see NOW as BIRTH PANGS are a "foreshadowings"--these are events which APPROACH (showing the Tribulation is VERY NEAR). As those events APPROACH, they CAST THEIR SHADOW in front of them. Just a SHADOW--and NOT the real events, as yet!
As we read Revelation chapter 6, we see that JESUS starts ripping the seals OFF the scroll (still in the section of the "HEREAFTER," still within the FRAMEWORK of THE FUTURE).
It's Jesus Who BRINGS the judgments (which are a DECREE OF GOD that FALLS from His Throne).
The first seal shows a counterfeit "christ" on the white horse--the Antichrist. He will START the seven-year Tribulation by confirming a covenant with Israel (parallel to Daniel 9:27). Actually, the Antichrist brings NO GOOD at His appearing--he's a fake, a fraud and the worst of deceivers.
We can also discern from scripture--that ALTHOUGH the Antichrist wages a terrible persecution upon people in the Tribulation--it's NOT JUST a persecution that ORIGINATES FROM "evil men" and "from Satan." IT'S A JUDGMENT FROM GOD that THE ANTICHRIST is EVEN THERE in the first place!!! (We, true Church, will NEVER be in any part of the Tribulation--which is "the day of vengeance of our God" and "the time of Jacob's trouble"! We are clearly pictured in heaven in THE SYMBOL of the 24 elders.)
I'll add that many people think the Antichrist will bring three and a half years of peace. NO HE WON'T. The three and a half years ONLY refer to the FIRST PART of the COVENANT that the Antichrist has made with Israel.
While the Antichrist PROMISES "peace" to Israel--and to a world that cries out for "peace"--he will NEVER bring peace. Because, following quickly on the heels of the white horse is the red one.
The red horse brings terrible war and bloodshed. (I won't take the time to elaborate upon ALL the prophesied end time wars--but Daniel 11:40-45 shows ONE of them. It will START in the FIRST HALF of the Tribulation and END with Antichrist setting His headquarters in Jerusalem--which then will bring the Abomination of Desolation.)
The first half of the Tribulation will also have famines (black horse), SEVERE FOOD SHORTAGES--and the EXTREME HIGH PRICE that food will cost.
The first half of the Tribulation will also have pestilences (diseases, plagues) and DEATH--including death from "beasts of the earth"--which can be from hungry and desperate animals (all brought by the revealing of the pale horse). Beasts of the earth can also refer to the RAGING SIN in mankind--who (without the Restrainer present)--are WICKED EVIL BEASTS.
I will add that under the pale horse (the 4th seal) are the SAME JUDGMENTS which are called GOD'S JUDGMENTS in Ezekiel 14:21. These are the sword and the famine (hunger), the pestilence (death) and the noisome beast (the VERY SAME elements shown in the pale horse). God calls these things His JUDGMENTS--"MY FOUR SORE JUDGMENTS"--in Ezekiel 14:21.
Therefore, the of opening of the seals (a parallel to Ezekiel 14:21) are indeed GOD'S WRATH (or judgments) which FALL onto THE EARTH as Jesus PERFORMS THIS ACT AT "the Throne of God." It NULLIFIES "the idea" that the seals are "just the wrath of wicked men" and "the wrath of Satan."
The elements seen UNDER those seals are clearly shown as GOD'S SORE JUDGMENTS, and they FALL upon the earth from the VERY THRONE OF GOD HIMSELF! It's the "day of vengeance of our God"--please COMPARE what Jesus says in Luke 4:17-20 to Isaiah 61:1-2. (Why did Jesus CLOSE the book in Luke AFTER saying "the acceptable year of the Lord"? Because it was NOT YET "the day of vengeance of our God." That time WILL COME in the Tribulation. The Tribulation STARTS in the book of Revelation in chapter 6 WITH the opening of the seven-sealed scroll--which brings the "wrath of the Lamb."
Also, in Zechariah 6, four chariots are seen, each pulled by horses. The colors of the horse are these: white, red, black and dappled, grisled (pale). That's no coincidence. These horses all go forth with a global task. They go forth at the command of God--and serve God's purposes--which is to bring JUDGMENT. The similarity to Revelation's four horsemen is noteworthy--those four horses (in Zechariah and in Revelation) by their actions, propels God's judgments.
There's more. Under the 4th seal, which reveals the pale horse, a FOURTH PART of the earth's population will perish. How many is that?
Let's reckon our present population at 6 billion. (There's actually more than 6 billion--the Rapture, however, will subtract a certain number of people). Figuring the population at 6 billion, the total death rate would be 1.5 billion. (We've seen horrendous amounts of deaths in calamities like the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami (2004), the Haiti earthquake (2010), the Japanese earthquake and tsunami (2011)--these totaling into the 100s of thousands. But the death rate under the first four seals will be in THE BILLIONS! That CERTAINLY IS NOT a world living under A SUPPOSED PEACE (as some people say it will be)! Can we even comprehend a death-rate like that?
There's EVEN MORE. The "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" are NOT the end of the trouble! There will be also the martyrdom of those who DARE to accept Jesus--under the 5th seal. Such a severe persecution brings EVEN MORE DEATH, adding to the total which we saw under the symbol of the pale horse.
And finally, there will be a terrible cataclysm on earth and from the heavens--the 6th seal.
It is at this 6th Seal when the UNBELIEVING world will finally REALIZE that they have been in THE WRATH OF THE LAMB--and it takes "great sights and signs from heaven" to CONVINCE them of it. (Remember, JESUS OPENS those SEALS at "the Throne of God"--making those SEALS an outpouring of God's judgments--and the Revelation ITSELF "defines" the Seals as "THE WRATH OF THE LAMB.")
The WRATH will reach its FULLNESS and COMPLETION in the pouring out of the bowls--as clearly pictured in Revelation 15:1. The bowls FILL UP and COMPLETE the WRATH of God. The bowls do NOT START God's Wrath! (Let the Word of God DEFINE itself--NOT some preconceived idea of a "popular theory"!!!)
Clearly, from the scripture, we see that the first half of the Tribulation will NOT be relative peace. Those who say so UNDERESTIMATE the horror of that time. In fact, the "Left Behind" books UNDERESTIMATE that time, too.
To sum up this teaching and bring it to a conclusion: The Revelation is partitioned into THREE PARTS: "past" (the bringing of the prophecy to John and the vision of Jesus in chapter one); "present" (the age of the seven Churches--prophesied in chapters 2 and 3); and the "HEREAFTER" (the FUTURE as shown in Revelation 4 to 22).
The Rapture of the Church happens in the HEREAFTER ("meta tauta") and can be seen in THE ACTIONS occurring in Revelation 4:1. The 24 Elders are A SYMBOL for the Raptured Church in the remainder of Revelation 4 and 5 (the HEREAFTER). Therefore, the Rapture is PRE-TRIBULATION, because it occurs BEFORE the opening of the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 6, which STARTS the JUDGMENTS of God--that FALL from His Throne.
Jesus is the ONE MAN (in His glorified body) Who is found WORTHY to open the seals and BEGIN the judgments upon the enemies. Since Jesus OPENS the seven-sealed scroll, the JUDGMENTS which fall are called "THE WRATH OF THE LAMB." In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, Jesus is shown as being "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in FLAMING FIRE taking VENGEANCE on them that know not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." In Isaiah 61:2, Jesus flows OUT of proclaiming "the acceptable year of the Lord", and INTO "the day of vengeance of our God"--which He did NOT proclaim in His FIRST COMING in Luke 4:17-20.
The SEAL JUDGMENTS happen in the portion of Revelation which is called the HEREAFTER "meta tauta." The seal judgments CANNOT be falling on the PRESENT earth, because the HEREAFTER has NOT yet arrived. The Church, the things which ARE (present tense), is STILL HERE on the earth. The FUTURE TENSE, things AFTER the Rapture are NOT YET happening.
Plus, in the sequence laid so CLEARLY in the book of Revelation, the seals will NOT be opened until AFTER the worship scene in chapter 4, and NOT until Jesus is reckoned worthy to open the scroll. The Church, as the 24 Elders, will witness that scene as God hands Jesus the scroll. We will sing a NEW SONG, saying, "You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were SLAIN, and have REDEEMED US to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (the whole world); and have MADE US unto our God KINGS AND PRIESTS: and WE shall REIGN ON THE EARTH (with Jesus when He sets up His Millennial Kingdom)." Revelation 5:9-10.
After ALL that ceremony, then Jesus will begin OPENING the seven-sealed scroll, which ACTION STARTS the seven year Tribulation! All of this occurs in Revelation's TIME FRAME of the HEREAFTER.
To me, nothing could be clearer than these TRUTHS! I hope this is JUST AS CLEAR to you...The HEREAFTER (future prophecies) STARTS with the Rapture of the Church. Then AFTER the Rapture of the Church, and AFTER God gives Jesus the seven-sealed scroll, the Tribulation will begin, bringing God's judgments as the Antichrist is allowed to take his place and confirm the covenant with Israel for seven years. Antichrist will NOT be able to maintain "the peace", however, as I have already elaborated.
The ONLY "true peace" will arrive on earth with THE PRINCE OF PEACE, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must always RIGHTLY DIVIDE the word of God. 2 Timothy 2:15.
We do that by comparing scripture to scripture.
Be edified and encouraged by the clear words and promises given to us by Jesus! We, true Church, are NOT appointed to wrath. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11.