Traditional pretribulation rapture theory suggests that the church is represented in heaven by the 24 Elders seen in Revelation chapters 4&5. It states that the entire resurrection of the dead in Christ / rapture sequence is pictured when John sees a door standing open in heaven and Jesus tells him to “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1 ESV).
We have seen that Jesus places an “open door that no one can shut” before the church of Philadelphia. This is the church that is truly following Him, and will be kept “from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10 ESV). So in that sense, yes they will have an open door into heaven at some point! This passage reference a messianic prophecy in Isaiah:
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. Isaiah 22:22 ESV
Gotquestions explains this reference as a description of Jesus’ holiness, sovereignty, and authority. Jesus is the one who opens and shuts, perhaps referencing blessings or opportunities to this faithful church.
The resurrection/rapture event occurs with a trumpet blast and a shout from God – this likely *is* the phrase “Come up here!” However, I believe that instead of a single door opening up for the billions of resurrected and raptured in Christ, the entire sky will open up! This is pictured in Seal 6 and is discussed here: The Blood Moon – Seal 6
As far as the 24 Elders, these show up in heaven before the Lamb, so cannot be the church. I have devoted an entire post to them here: Who are the 24 Elders in the Heavenly Temple?
Traditional models then state that the church isn’t seen in Revelation again until Chapter 19 when we return with Christ. I do agree we return with Christ in Chapter 19, but I also find us pictured very plainly in Revelation chapter 7. And this is where the models need a little tweaking in my opinion.
Who Can Stand?
Revelation 7 forms a parenthesis around the action (I like to call them Detail Popouts) to describe two specific groups of people – one on earth and one in heaven. This is a continuation of the events of Seal 6 – the seventh seal is not opened until after John describes these groups. Remember right before this vision there has been a catastrophic shaking of the earth, the rapture occurs, and everyone left behind is terrified:
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17 ESV
Revelation 7 answers the question “who is able to stand?”. Two groups will be able to stand:
- The 144,000 servants of God. These are literally 12,000 ethnic Hebrews from the tribes of Israel as described in Revelation 7. These are discussed more fully here: Who Are the 144,000?
- The Large Multitude – I believe this large multitude represents the invisible body of Christ – the newly resurrected and raptured Church.
I’m guessing it’s going to take some convincing for you guys to believe me, so here goes!
The Great Multitude
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:9-17 ESV
From this passage, we learn a number of things:
- A great multitude shows up in heaven that is so large it cannot be numbered
- It includes people from every nation, tribe, people, and language
- They are not angels nor elders nor the 4 living creatures
- They stand before the throne (God the Father) and the Lamb
- They rejoice about salvation
- They wave palm branches
- They are clothed in white robes, washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb
- They serve God day and night in His temple
- They will be sheltered by God’s presence
- They will no longer hunger
- They will no longer thirst, they will be guided to springs of living water
- They will not be struck by the sun or scorching heat
- The Lamb will be their shepherd
- God will wipe every tear from their eyes
- They come out of great tribulation
Who Is the Great Multitude?
The great multitude includes people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. John uses this phrase seven times within the book of Revelation. It is an inclusive phrase that refers to all of humanity irrespective of race or origin.
For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation 5:9 ESV
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Revelation 7:9 ESV
And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” Revelation 10:11 ESV
For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb. Revelation 11:9 ESV
Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation. Revelation 13:7 ESV
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people… Revelation 14:6 ESV
And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” Revelation 17:15 ESV
The great multitude that suddenly appears in heaven is so large that it cannot be numbered – well, not by John anyways. This is as opposed to the angels, who can be numbered by John. In Revelation 5:11, John describes the group of angels as “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand”. John refers to the size of an army as “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” (two hundred million) in the sixth trumpet judgment. In Revelation 12:3-4 we see that 1/3 of the angels are cast down from heaven – 1/3 indicates that there is a total sum which can be apparently known and divided. Thus, it would seem that this great multitude has far more than two hundred million members.
There are members in this great multitude from all over the world – every tribe, language, nation, and people. Thus, we know that these are humans. They are not angels, nor elders, nor the 4 living creatures (cherubim).
From Revelation 5:9 above, we see that this group was ransomed for God through the blood of Jesus Christ. These are Christ-followers – believers. This great multitude is a result of the great commission, taking the gospel to all the ends of the earth:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Matthew 28:19 ESV
…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations… Romans 1:5 ESV
This great multitude shows up all at once as a group. If this is not the church, then where is the church hiding in Revelation? John sees many groups and scenes in heaven; surely the church is significant enough to be pictured.
The great multitude that John sees in Revelation chapter 7 is too large to be the tribulation martyrs. These will trickle in individually and in small groups, which we see in Revelation 15. The only exception to this is the 144,000 who later do appear in heaven as a group, perhaps being martyred together shortly after the 2 Witnesses are killed.
How Many People Will Be Resurrected / Raptured?
Of course only God knows how many people will be resurrected and raptured. All we can do is hazard an educated guess. From world population growth statistics, the dead in Christ may number millions. I personally believe the resurrection event will include believers in the coming Messiah, pre-cross, which would add millions more.
The alive in Christ which will be transformed may number hundreds of millions, even a billion? There are approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide claiming to be of the Christian religion, but as we see from studies on Biblical Worldview (Christianity 101), many of these are likely not truly “born again”.
I believe the largest contribution, however, will come from the dead innocents – the miscarried, aborted, stillbirths, and young children. Those who are under a certain intellectual comprehension level (judged only by God and not by age) are not under the Law and are innocent in its’ sight. This number, from abortions alone, is close to 2 Billion. (http://www.numberofabortions.com/)
Combining the groups of people above, there will certainly be billions of people resurrected and raptured forming a great multitude – too large for anyone but God to count.
Rejoicing in Salvation
This large multitude is standing before the Throne of God and the Lamb, waving palm branches and rejoicing about salvation. The rapture is akin to salvation – in that one moment in time, all those who would go to heaven if they died, will be taken.
These are the overcomers, as described in Revelation chapters 2&3. All believers are called to be the overcomers. All believers will experience all the blessings promised to the overcomers. These will be kept from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world (Revelation 3:10).
For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believers that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:4-5 ESV
Salvation has come through the power of Christ – the power of resurrection and eternal life – our blessed hope, the rapture! I believe that Revelation 12:10 describes this same event from a different vantage point:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10 ESV
There will be no one left to accuse in only one moment of human existence – immediately following the rapture of the church. For more study on these please see:
- Revelation 12 – Rapture and Tribulation Overview
- Revelation 12 – A Visual Rearrangement
- The Overcomers – Studying the Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2&3
Waving Palm Branches
The waving of palm branches is significant in that it indicates victory – in this case, victory over the flesh even unto the point of death, and over death itself. Wikipedia states this:
In Christianity, the palm branch is associated particularly with Palm Sunday, when according to Christian tradition palm branches were waved at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It was adopted into Christian iconography to represent the victory of martyrs, or the victory of the spirit over the flesh.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25 ESV
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 2 Corinthians 2:14 ESV
Aha! You are saying. Victory even unto the point of death! These must by tribulation martyrs.
Remember that this great multitude will include the souls (now embodied) that had been crying out under the altar, some of them for hundreds or thousands of years, in Seal 5. Let’s examine Seal 5 more closely.
The Seal 5 Martyrs
When seal 5 is opened, the martyrs receive their white robes and are told to “rest a little longer”. Douglas Berner, in his book Earthquake Resurrection, provides the only logical explanation for the white robes these saints are given. We never see souls wearing robes – spirits don’t need clothes. Humans get their white robes when they get their resurrection bodies. This is confirmed when we see the tribulation martyrs specifically start popping up beside the Crystal Sea in Revelation 15 and the 144,000 appearing in heaven (likely as marytrs) in Revelation 14. Neither of these groups are robed – they are souls and will be resurrected to eternal bodies in Revelation 20 at the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom.
Seal 5 is a picture of the dead in Christ rising and being transformed into robed resurrection bodies, followed immediately by Seal 6 where the ones still alive and remaining are transformed. This process is described in Isaiah 26:
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the fury has passed by.
For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no more cover its slain.
Isaiah 26:19-21 ESV
We are then all caught up together! John sees us when we have been brought to the throne of God together – and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Clothed in White Robes
We are clothed in white robes, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. The holiness and righteousness of Christ clothes us so that we are counted as holy and righteous as well:
But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. Revelation 3:4 ESV
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 ESV
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him ” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Zechariah 3:4 ESV
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:8 ESV
The body of Christ, both dead and alive, will enter our rest in heaven as per Isaiah 26. Meanwhile on earth, the number of martyrs will continue accumulating until their fullness is complete (Rev 6:11). The souls of these martyrs accumulate on the sea of glass in heaven (Rev 15:2). For more study on this, please see:
No Longer Hunger or Thirst…
We are going to examine the other descriptions given about this great multitude here.
They serve God day and night in His temple:
- All believers, the overcomers, will be made into kings and priests. Not only will we reign with Christ as kings, we will serve Him as priests. Priesthood is an office of the temple!
- “…and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:10 ESV
- “…and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:6 ESV
- “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV
- Revelation 3:12 states that the overcomers (all believers) will be made into pillars in the temple of God. Being made a pillar signifies stability, permanence, remembrance, and honor.
- Genesis 28:22 mentions a stone being set up as a pillar for God’s house. Perhaps this passage indicates that we will become living pillars in the eternal temple of God.
They will be sheltered by God’s presence:
- “Then we who are alive, who are left, 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.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV
- “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” Psalm 91:4 ESV
They will no longer hunger or thirst, they will be guided to springs of living water:
- Revelation 2:17 describes all true believers being given hidden manna. This perhaps refers to Jesus as our Bread of Life; we will no longer lack any spiritual sustenance or go through spiritual wilderness.
- “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
They will not be struck by the sun or scorching heat:
- There are specific judgments coming in the tribulation period that involve the sun and scorching heat:
- Trumpet 1- fire mixed with blood
- Trumpet 2 – great burning mountain cast into sea
- Trumpet 3 – great star falls from heaven
- Bowl 4 – Sun scorches people with fierce heat
- These overcomers will be spared from these judgments as well as all the rest of the Trumpets and Bowls and the effects of the Seals.
The Lamb will be their shepherd:
- Jesus is the chief shepherd, and we are his lambs – the people of His pasture.
- “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 ESV)
- “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord…” Hebrews 13:20 ESV
God will wipe every tear from their eyes:
- I believe this is a fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 (ESV):I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death will be removed from us when we are reunited with our loved ones in heaven. When the dead are raised imperishable at the resurrection, and we are transformed to immortality, we will experience Christ’s victory over death in a very real and powerful way!
- This wiping of tears is later repeated in Revelation 21:4, which states “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (ESV). This complete fulfillment of the last enemy to be defeated – death – will come at the end of the Millennial Kingdom rule.
Continue to Part 2: The Great Multitude Part 2
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
For further reading on this I *highly* recommend Douglas Berner’s book “When God Intervenes” as well as David Lowe’s book “Earthquake Resurrection”. A summary of the Earthquake – Resurrection pattern is in my post HERE. A detailed description of the Red Moon Rapture is also given at Beginning and End.
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!