There are some who believe John’s experience in Revelation 4:1-2 is representative of the rapture of the church before the seven year tribulation period. Is this true?
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and someone was sitting on the throne. Revelation 4:1-2 NASB
In this text, John is commanded to “come up here” and then said to be “in the Spirit.” John, through supernatural experience, finds himself before the throne of God for the purpose of receiving revelation in order to write it down.
To answer if this is what will also happen to the church, we should consider three important matters.
- Other “in the Spirit” texts of Scripture
- Revelation 4:1 compared to 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 (which describes the rapture)
- When the events of Revelation 6 (seals 1-4) take place
First, this same “in the Spirit” language is also found in a few other passages of Scripture: when John is still on Patmos (Revelation 1:10), when John is carried away to a wilderness (Revelation 17:3), and when John is carried to a mountain (Revelation 21:10). Also, Paul had an experience of the third heaven similar to this experience of John’s (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).
Do these texts represent something other than the rare occurrence of giving revelation? We think not. Revelation 4:1-2 was a supernatural event for John for a specific purpose – to receive revelation from God in order to write it down.
Second, we should look at the primary passage that describes the rapture of the church which is 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 NASB
In this text, Jesus descends from heaven and the resurrected saints meet Him in the air. In Revelation 4:1, John is called up, through an open door, and he goes to heaven where he sees Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus is not said to descend from heaven nor does John meet Him “in the air.” As you can see, the particulars of these two texts are not the same, and thus do not indicate the same event.
Third, how we view John’s experience affects the passages following it. Those who think Revelation 4:1-2 depicts the rapture, also tend to place the events of Revelation 6 as occurring later, during the final 7 year tribulation period. Is this the case? Are the first four seals – the four horsemen – only at the time of the end?
We should go back to the gospels to see what Jesus taught about the end days (Mark 13, Luke 21 and Matthew 24). Matthew 24:3-8 is a critical passage. The disciples ask Jesus what will be the sign of His coming and the end of the age. Jesus begins by talking about things that will happen before the end. He lists several events – wars, famines, earthquakes – and then says, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pains” (vs 8). They are “not yet the end” (Matthew 24:6, Mark 13:7). They are the things which must “soon take place” (Revelation 1:1) because “the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).
Have not these things – wars, famines, earthquakes – already started? Of course they have. And these are the same events found in the first four seals. They started at the time of the opening of the first four seals soon after John received the revelation (around 91-96 A.D.), and they have been unfolding in human history ever since. (See Who Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Revelation? for more study connecting Jesus teachings about end times and “many will come in My name” to Revelation 6)
In conclusion, it is our understanding according to these Scriptural evidences, that John’s experience in Revelation 4:1-2 does not depict the rapture of the church, but was only for the purpose of giving him revelation to write down.