In the book of Revelation, we read about a series of visions seen by the apostle John. These visions reveal a major portion of God’s salvation plan. We don’t get a complete picture of the plan from these visions. That is, they don’t cover all of human history from start to finish; but they do portray different phases of God’s plan during New Testament times.
One reason it so difficult to understand these visions is that they are not all in chronological order. However, there is a portion of the book of Revelation where visions are in chronological order. It is the portion concerning the unsealing of a book sealed with seven seals. We first learn about this book in Revelation 5:1:
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
Only the Lord Jesus can unseal this book. As He removes the seals one by one, we see a sequence of visions. This sequence has a well-defined beginning. It starts with the opening of the first seal (Revelation 6:1-2). We will see that the vision associated with the first seal shows the start of the church age on Pentecost day in 33 AD. The sequence ends with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15). Seven visions associated with the sounding of trumpets follow the opening of the seventh seal (see Revelation 8:1-2). The seventh trumpet is the last to sound, and that vision pictures the end of the world, which is the last day.
Besides the fact that there is a clear beginning and ending in the sequence, we find additional evidence that these visions are in chronological order. For example, in Revelation 8:13, we read that the last three trumpets sound after the first four:
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
Notice the words, “yet to sound.” Another verse indicating that the visions show events in order of time is Revelation 11:14:
The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
This verse tells us that there are three “woes,” and that the third and final woe comes after the second one. The woes are associated with the visions for the seal openings and trumpet soundings, and also relate to seven plagues that result as each of seven angels pours out a vial of wrath. Once we see the chronological order in these visions, we can understand something of great importance about the time immediately before the last day, and about God’s mercy.
The Seven Seals Open
You may recall hearing or reading about some New Testament dates of major importance, besides May 21, 2011. Here is a table of those dates and their significance.
|May 22, 33 A.D.||The church age begins.
|May 21, 1988||Church age ends; great tribulation begins.
|September 7, 1994||The first part of the great tribulation ends and the second part begins; start of the latter rain, in which God saved many people outside the churches (the local congregations); judgment against the churches.
|May 21, 2011||The great tribulation and latter rain have ended; there is no longer any hope of salvation from this day until the end of the world.
Mr. Harold Camping discovered these dates after many years of painstaking Biblical analysis. Before May 21, 2011, it was believed that a great earthquake and the Rapture would occur on that date. However, the fact that those teachings were incorrect does not mean we should dismiss all the dates as being incorrect. In fact, further study of the Bible confirms them and everything else that has been taught about them.
When we refer to the Biblical timeline, we are referring to these dates – as if they’re marked on a line representing the flow of time. The timeline allows us to understand time settings for visions associated with the opening of the seals.
May 22, 33 A.D. May 21, 1988 May 21, 2011
September 7, 1994
The first four seals deal with the Church Age. From the timeline, we know that the Church Age began on Pentecost day in 33 A.D. So, when we read Revelation 6:2 about a rider on a white horse, that “he went forth conquering, and to conquer,” we know that we are seeing a picture of the elect at the beginning of the Church Age (see Romans 8:37 – the Greek word used there for “conquerors” is a compound of the Greek word used for “conquering” and “conquer” in Revelation 6:2). Also, recall that the Lord Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses “to the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Therefore, the rider on the white horse represents one of God’s elect, going off to do just that: to be a witness for the Lord throughout the world during the 1,955 years of the Church Age.
We know that problems began almost immediately for new Christians during the Church Age. As the second, third and fourth seals are opened, we read about a rider on a red horse, then another on a black horse and yet another on a pale horse. Here we are seeing pictures of the various problems that the local congregations experienced throughout the Church Age, from start to finish. The time setting for the opening of the first four seals is 33 AD.
Next comes the fifth seal. We’ll come back to that one a little later. First, let’s look at the opening of the sixth seal. That’s in Revelation 6:12. We know from the timeline that God ended the Church Age in 1988. That year is the next date in the timeline after 33 AD, so the timeline has advanced by 1,955 years to reach that date. The end of God’s use of the local congregations to save anyone is the event pictured by the opening of the sixth seal. We know that the sixth seal corresponds to 1988 because Revelation 6:13 tells us about a fig tree:
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
We know that nationalIsraelis identified with the fig tree; that the modern nation ofIsraelwas established in 1948; and that God uses the number 40 to have a spiritual meaning of testing. The image of the fig tree being shaken fits perfectly with the year 1988, because that year marked 40 years after the birth of modernIsrael.
The opening of the sixth seal has been understood incorrectly as a picture of the final end to salvation. That event is described in Matthew 24:29. However, there’s a big difference between the descriptions in Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12-13.
We know that Matthew 24:29 is telling us about May 21, 2011, because of the words “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” That’s not the case in Revelation 6:12-13. The descriptions of signs in the heavens are similar, but there is a big difference between them: Revelation 6:13 mentions a fig tree, but Matthew 24:29 doesn’t. When we see how everything fits together to verify the timeline, we can be sure that the sixth seal was opened in 1988 – at the end of the Church Age!
Knowing the time setting for the sixth seal helps us place the time setting for the opening of the fifth seal. In Revelation 6, from verse 9 to verse 11, we read about the vision associated with the opening of the fifth seal. There, we read that John saw under an altar “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” They ask, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” This is a picture of those true believers who were martyred. They are waiting for the final day. That will be the day of the Rapture, when all the true believers receive their glorified bodies.
In answer to their question, they are told to “rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” The fellow-servants of those martyrs were “killed” on May 21 of 2011, based on Revelation 11:7. In the eyes of the world, the elect have been discredited because they warned the world that a great earthquake would occur with the Rapture on May 21, 2011. Therefore, we can place the time setting for the fifth seal on or before May 21, 1988 – before the opening of the sixth seal.
We can now return to the sequence and consider the opening of the seventh seal. We read about that in Revelation 8:1. That verse tells us about “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” What could this mean?
We know that there is joy in the presence of the angels whenever someone is saved (see Luke 15:10). The silence in heaven fits with our understanding from the timeline that God stopped saving people from May 21, 1988 until September 7, 1994. The opening of the seventh seal illustrates the consequence of judgment that followed opening of the sixth seal.
Once we understand that the opening of the sixth seal is a picture of God’s judgment in 1988, everything falls into place for us and we can see how visions that follow it agree perfectly with the timeline.
Table: The Seven Seals Open
|Opening of …
33 A.D. (Pentecost)
|Second Seal||Red Horse||33 A.D. or soon after|
|Third Seal||Black Horse||33 A.D. or soon after|
|Fourth Seal||Pale Horse||33 A.D. or soon after|
|Fifth Seal||Souls asking “How long…?”||Precedes Sixth Seal|
|Sixth Seal||Signs in the heavens||May 21, 1988 (approximately)|
|Silence in heaven; trumpet soundings by seven angels follow the opening of the seventh seal.||May 21, 1988|
In Revelation 8:3-4, we read about the prayers of the saints, and that these prayers “ascended up before God.” In these verses, God is showing us that the period of silence in heaven had ended; this was the period of the latter rain, when God saved a great multitude of people. The time setting for those verses is September 7, 1994.
We then read about seven angels with trumpets. The first four angels sound their trumpets, and it’s the sound of judgment against the “third part.” The third part is identified with the local congregations. The time setting is still September 7, 1994. That was the feast of trumpets, and that’s when the first four trumpets sounded.
Even though the latter rain began on that date, it was also a time of judgment against the churches. Arrival of the latter rain meant God was again saving people throughout the world; but this time He was saving people everywhere except in the churches!
After the first four angels comes the sounding by the fifth angel. The result is a swarm of locusts upon the earth (Revelation 9:1-3). This period lasts for five months according to Revelation 9:5, and fits perfectly into the timeline. We know that sounding of the fifth trumpet corresponds with May 21, 2011.
What are the locusts and what are they doing? We find that the locusts have power or authority to torment those men “which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” Notice that they cannot hurt “the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree.” In other words, they do not hurt the elect.
Revelation 9:5-6 tell us that their torment is like that of a scorpion when it strikes a man; and that in those days “shall men seek death, and shall not find it.” That sounds very gruesome, but it should remind us that the Lord Jesus died for the elect. Romans 6:4 helps us understand what all this means:
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
This verse tells us the kind of death that men will seek. It is the “death” that comes by baptism into Christ’s death. It is the death that brings salvation and eternal life! In other words, during the five months men who want to be saved cannot be saved because the time for salvation has ended. So we can now understand that the locusts are people who are bringing the Gospel. But the Gospel can no longer save anyone during the five months. There is no hope for anyone who hears the Gospel during this period, only a reminder of the law’s penalty. That penalty is death for everyone who is not saved.
We need to understand that the five months associated with the period of the locusts are not five literal months. Like every other number in the book of Revelation (except possibly for the number of horsemen in the great army, found and emphasized in Revelation 9:16), the five months must be understood as a spiritual period of time. It represents the time after May 21, 2011 and continues until the last day.
Table: The Seven Trumpets Sound
The trumpets begin sounding when the smoke of incense and prayers of the saints ascend up before God (Revelation 8:4). This begins the latter rain. The first four trumpets sound together.
|Sounding of …||Vision||When
|First Trumpet||Signs in heaven and||September 7, 1994|
|Second Trumpet||earth signifying||(Feast of Trumpets)|
|Third Trumpet||judgment against the|
|Fourth Trumpet||third part (churches)|
|Fifth Trumpet||Locusts tormenting men for five months||May 21, 2011
(end of salvation)
|Sixth Trumpet||Great army of horsemen (The Rapture)||The Last Day|
|Seventh Trumpet||End of the world||The Last Day
Continuing with the trumpets, in Revelation 9:13 we read that the sixth angel sounded. The verses that follow tell of a great army of 200 million horsemen bringing judgment on the unsaved. The sounding of this trumpet is associated with the Rapture. The great army represents all of God’s elect – those who are alive immediately before the Rapture as well as all those who have died in the Lord during the entire time of earth’s existence. Because of the way the number is emphasized in Revelation 9:16 (“I heard the number of them”), God may be revealing here the actual number of all those He has ever saved.
We know that the Rapture and the end of the world will both occur on the same day. That is the last day, as we read in John 11:23-24:
Both the sixth and seventh trumpets will sound on the last day. However, we have learned that God will not reveal this date to us.
We read about the seventh angel sounding the trumpet in Revelation 11:15. That’s where we read that “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” There’s a lot more to the book of Revelation after this verse; but as far as the earth’s history is concerned, that verse marks the end.
“Woe, Woe, Woe”
With the trumpet visions in mind, we can now begin to consider the three woes. Right after reading about the first four trumpets sounding, we read in Revelation 8:13:
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
Notice that the word “woe” appears three times. Also, notice something about the timing of the trumpets. In the verse preceding the above verse – that is, in Revelation 8:12 – we read that the fourth angel sounded his trumpet. Therefore, the above verse is telling us that the fifth, sixth and seventh trumpets had not yet sounded at that time (they are “yet to sound”). Clearly, the last three trumpets sound after the first four.
We read about the first woe in Revelation 9:12:
One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.
This verse tells us that there are three woes; also notice that it comes right after the passage about the locusts. Starting from Revelation 9:2 and continuing up to Revelation 9:11, we read about those locusts. The very next verse, Revelation 9:12 above, tells us “One woe is past.” It shows us that the first woe is identified with the fifth trumpet – the period of the locusts – and extends from May 21, 2011 until the last day. After the fifth trumpet sounded, two trumpets remain and two woes also remain.
Notice something important. After Revelation 9:12, in which we read about the first woe, the trumpet sequence continues and we read about the sixth angel sounding the trumpet. The sixth trumpet identifies with the Rapture.
There’s only one other verse about these three woes, and that’s Revelation 11:14. (Revelation 12:12 also contains the word “woe,” but that verse is telling us about Satan’s defeat after the Crucifixion.) Here is Revelation 11:14:
The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
This verse follows several verses telling us about two witnesses. In order to identify the event pictured by the second woe, we need to understand the events pictured by the verses telling us about those two witnesses.
We already suspect that the second woe is identified with the sixth trumpet, which has to do with the Rapture; but we don’t find it mentioned in the verses about the sixth trumpet. Instead, we find the second woe in a different chapter, after the verses about the two witnesses. Before continuing with the woes, we need to take a detour to examine the vision concerning the two witnesses of Revelation 11.
The Two Witnesses and the Last Two Woes
As we read about the two witnesses, we find that this vision covers different periods of time. When we apply the timeline to the vision, we can understand when each part occurs.
Here are the first two verses of chapter 11, Revelation 11:1-2:
And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
In the second verse above, we read about the first time interval: 42 months. This equals three and a half years. God frequently uses the number three and a half to represent the first part of something. It is one half of a seven, and we have learned that the number seven has a spiritual significance: it represents the perfect fulfillment of God’s purpose. Notice that during the 42 months, the “holy city” is “given unto the Gentiles” and “tread under foot.” The timeline tells us that no one (or almost no one) was saved from May 21, 1988 until September 7, 1994. That was the first part of the great tribulation. It identifies with these 42 months, and comes after the church age has ended.
The next verse introduces the two witnesses. Revelation 11:3-4 states:
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
Notice that the two witnesses represent God’s elect. They are identified as olive trees and as candlesticks (for example, see Luke 8:16; it’s the same Greek word for “candlestick” – Strong’s number 3087). Here we find another period of time: 1,260 days. That also represents 42 months, each of 30 days; so we have another “three and a half.” Then, in the two verses that follow, we read about the power of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:5-6). The timeline shows us that the end-time period during which God’s people prophesied with power began September 7, 1994 and ended May 21, 2011. That was the second part of the great tribulation, and was the time of the latter rain. It was a time when God used the proclaiming of His word to save a great multitude.
The next period of time in this vision about the two witnesses is found in the next couple of verses. In Revelation 11:7-9, we read:
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
Here we see another “three and a half,” because that’s the length of time in days that the dead bodies of the two witnesses are “in the street.” Using the timeline, we know that that this period represents the five figurative months (Revelation 9:5) from May 21, 2011 to the last day.
In the eyes of the world, God’s people were shamed (the ‘beast” was permitted to “kill them”) because of their warning that May 21 would begin Judgment Day. Even though Satan was no longer ruling in the churches after May 21, his kingdom – which is the world – is still here; and so is he. He can still exercise his evil influence in the world. That’s why we continue to need the whole armor of God, so that we may withstand his influence until the end and stand “in the evil day” after we have “done all” (Ephesians 6:13).
May 21, 2011 truly did mark the end of God’s time to save anyone, but there was no physical evidence of that: no Rapture, no great earthquake, and no physical sign of any kind. In the eyes of the world, God’s people were all wrong about May 21, 2011. Of course, that was completely under God’s control: He didn’t allow it to be well known among His people that the Rapture would not happen until the last day, so they have been shamed in the world’s eyes.
Now notice what happens to the two witnesses three and a half days after they were “killed.” Read Revelation 11:11-14:
And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
These verses tell us that at the end of three and a half days, the two witnesses “ascended up to heaven in a cloud.” That’s the Rapture! The three and a half days identify with the five months of Revelation 9:5, and end on the last day. That will be the day of the Rapture.
After reading that the two witnesses ascended to heaven, we read about a great earthquake. Revelation 11:13 declares:
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
These events identify with the second woe, and are a result of the Rapture. Remember, the Rapture brings judgment.
There is further support for us to understand that the earthquake of Revelation 11:13 identifies with the sixth trumpet. Notice the words “gave glory to the God of heaven.” This might remind you of Joshua 7:19, in which Joshua says to a man named Achan: “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” A short time later, we read “allIsrael stoned him with stones” (Joshua 7:25).
When we read about the last two woes in Revelation 11:14 (“The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.”) we can understand the second woe to be the ascension of the two witnesses and the judgment it brings (which is the Rapture and the sixth trumpet) and the third woe to be the end of the world (which is the seventh trumpet, as described in Revelation 11:15-19).
Based on 1 Corinthians 15:52 (the dead shall be raised “at the last trump”), we can say that the sixth and seventh trumpets will sound together. This makes sense because we know that only one day remains for everything else to be fulfilled – the last day. So we see that the second and third woes are respectively the same events as those pictured by the sixth and seventh trumpets: they are the Rapture and the end of the world.
The “woes” give us an alternate way of understanding the final events in God’s salvation plan. In them, God is showing us different views of the same future events. Using the vision about the two witnesses, the woes take us along a different path; yet we end up at the same place. Recall that after reading about the first woe, we then read about the sixth trumpet – which we know to be a picture of the Rapture. When we again picked up the trail of the woes (Revelation 2:14), we found that it was right after the Rapture of the two witnesses and right before the seventh trumpet. The woes verify the trumpets!
Table: The Three Woes
|First Woe||Same as the fifth trumpet||May 21, 2011
(end of salvation)
|Second Woe||The Two Witnesses ascend to heaven, and other signs (The Rapture)
|The Last Day|
|Third Woe||Same as the seventh trumpet
|The Last Day|
In the New Testament, it’s the same Greek word (Strong’s number 3759) that’s used whenever we read the word “woe” or “woes.” It’s an exclamation that always seems to be associated with the wrath of God (for example, read Luke 6:25). The locusts (fifth trumpet), which are the first woe, certainly show us a picture of God’s wrath. We also see it in the army of 200 million horsemen (sixth trumpet) and the end of the world (seventh trumpet).
Amazingly, visions associated with the pouring out of vials of wrath in Revelation’s chapter 16 agree with the sequences we see in the trumpet visions and the woes. If you read the vials-of-wrath visions in reverse order, you will find that the seventh vision corresponds with the end of the world (see Revelation 16:17: “It is done”); the sixth corresponds with the Rapture (the battle of Armageddon); the fifth corresponds with the time of the locusts (darkness in the beast’s kingdom and men “gnawed their tongues for pain”); and the first four correspond with the first four trumpets (showing judgment against the local congregations). So we see further confirmation of what the timeline now reveals: judgment and blessing during the latter rain that began in 1994; the end of salvation in May of 2011; and the Rapture on the last day.
Two Pictures of Our Day
Of all the visions associated with the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the three woes, two of them are of great relevance for God’s people today. The first one has to do with the two witnesses.
Recall that the two witnesses prophesied for a period of 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3). We know this number is not to be understood literally, but spiritually. It represents the second part of the great tribulation – the period of the latter rain, beginning on September 7, 1994. That was the time when the Lord saved a great multitude all over the earth, and it lasted until May 21, 2011.
After the two witnesses “finished their testimony” (Revelation 11:7),
they were “overcome” and killed. Then in Revelation 11:12 we read that they ascended to heaven. We know that is a picture of the Rapture. However, notice that they are not taken up to heaven immediately after they die. There is a period of three and a half days when their dead bodies are “in the street” (Revelation 11:8) because people won’t allow them to be buried (Revelation 11:9). This period of three and a half days matches the time after May 21, 2011 and continuing until the last day.
In His mercy, God has revealed – in this vision and in other ways – that His people will remain on earth after they have completed their task of warning the world of Judgment Day. As far as the world is concerned, those who warned the world about Judgment Day have been completely discredited and shamed. The world won’t let them forget about it: they won’t let the bodies be buried! And so these verses are an excellent picture of the situation in which many of God’s people find themselves today.
Notice also how God helps us to understand John’s vision of the two witnesses by what we read in Revelation 10:10-11:
And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
Some people may think these verses are telling us to continue preaching the Gospel to the whole world until the last day, even to those with absolutely no desire to hear it. Is that what these verses mean? John was told to eat the little book. It was as sweet as honey, but it made his stomach bitter. It’s very significant that this vision of the little book comes just before John hears about the two witnesses.
A new understanding of God’s word is always welcome by any one who loves it; and so the little book was, for the apostle John, as sweet as honey. However, in his stomach it was bitter. In fact, the message proclaimed to the world during much of the latter rain – that Judgment Day was approaching and that no one could be saved after May 21, 2011 – was indeed a bitter message.
John’s “little book” and the command God gave Him fit perfectly with our understanding that God wanted the world to know when salvation was about to end. John was in no position to “prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” He was apparently an old man, confined to theislandofPatmos(Revelation 1:9). The evidence is that God’s command to “prophesy again” was intended for end-time believers who would know when God was about to end salvation.
The vision about the little book helps us understand that the two witnesses represent those who brought the Judgment-Day warning to the world during the latter rain; and the vision of the two witnesses in turn shows us that God’s people would be shamed in the world’s eyes and remain on earth, patiently waiting for the Rapture, even though the time for salvation was over.
God has also provided a second picture showing that His people will remain here after May 21, 2011. The vision associated with the fifth trumpet is that second picture. The locusts represent people who bring the Gospel after Judgment Day has begun. In this vision, we read that men shall seek death and shall not find it (Revelation 9:6). This verse is telling us about unsaved people who seek the atoning death of the Lord Jesus during this time. They seek it because they want to be saved; but they cannot find it because the Gospel no longer has power to save.
The time of the locusts continues for five figurative months, until the sixth trumpet sounds. We have seen that the sixth trumpet corresponds with the Rapture, which we know will happen on the last day. Therefore, the time of the locusts lasts from May 21, 2011 until the last day. Here again, God reveals that His people remain on earth even after salvation has ended. An understanding of these visions can bring great comfort to anyone who hoped for the Rapture on May 21, 2011. They show God’s mercy to His people.
We Can See God’s Mercy When We Understand The Visions
In addition to seeing God’s mercy in the two visions picturing our day, we can also find it revealed in other ways. Recall that the sounding of the sixth trumpet will signal the Rapture, and the seventh trumpet will signal the end of the world. However, according to 1 Corinthians 15:52, the Rapture will happen when the last trumpet sounds:
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
How can we reconcile these verses? The answer is obvious. The sixth and seventh trumpets must sound together. This means events of the last day must occur very rapidly. There will probably be a moment of fear for the unsaved, but no suffering. The resurrection and Rapture should start and finish very quickly, and then the universe will cease to exist.
There is even more reason to expect the end to come very quickly and mercifully. As we read about the visions associated with recent timeline events that have already passed (e.g., the sixth seal and the first five trumpets), we read about terrible signs in the heavens and on earth. We also read about great fear and suffering as men witness these events. For example, read Revelation 6:15-17 in the passage describing what happens when the sixth seal is opened:
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
We know that there were no physical signs whatsoever when this event happened. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see or hear, and there was no terror or suffering resulting from it. The same is true for other Biblical milestones that have already passed, according to the timeline. We should keep this in mind when we read about visions describing the last day.
Visions associated with the sixth and seventh trumpets, the second and third woes, and the sixth and seventh plagues are all concerned with the last day. Those visions include slaying of the third part of men, a great earthquake, and a great hail. However, based on what we have learned from timeline dates that have already passed without notice, we should expect the last day to end without such awful events. We know that the Rapture and resurrection will happen then, and that God will end this universe; but He can do that without a great earthquake or any of the other terrible events described in Revelation. How then can we understand such verses, and why did God give us such terrifying descriptions of timeline events?
A good reason may be God’s use of fear to restrain evil among men, and to motivate His children to spread the Gospel. Verses telling us about terrible disasters and about men trying to hide from the Lord certainly inspire fear. Indeed, God could make the last day a terrible one. But the evidence from the Bible is that it won’t be.
Perhaps, when we read about men in fear, suffering from great plagues such as those described in the visions we have considered, we should think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. According to that parable, when the rich man died he was able to see Lazarus in heaven.
From many verses throughout the Bible, we know that there is no life after death for anyone who has not been saved. When an unsaved person dies, it’s as if that person never existed. There is no consciousness or suffering for that person ever again; so we know that a dead man cannot see anything from the grave. What, then, is God teaching us in that parable?
Think about the dead man’s reaction when he sees Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. God appears to be showing us that the man would be in sorrow if he could know his fate and see the blessings he will never inherit. If the rich man could see what God has prepared for His children, typified by the beggar named Lazarus in this parable, then he would indeed be very sorrowful to know that those blessings will never be his.
We can understand some of the visions described in Revelation in a similar way. Men cannot see God’s anger at their sin and against the local congregations; but if they could, and if they had known what God was doing as each date in the timeline arrived, then they would have been very much afraid.
More Reasons to Expect A Merciful Last Day
When we read about the last trumpet sounding (1 Corinthians 15:52), we might think there will be a super-loud blast on an actual trumpet, and that the resurrection and Rapture will begin then. However, there is a better way to understand the meaning of that verse. In Revelation 1:10, we read:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Notice how the Lord’s voice is compared to a trumpet. There are other verses that also lead us to understand that the trumpet soundings we read about in Revelation have to do with God’s spoken command.
Even from the beginning of the Bible, we read that God spoke everything into existence. For example, in Genesis 1:3, we read:
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
As we continue reading the creation account, we find that plants, animals and man appeared out of nothing as the Lord spoke them into existence. Based on this, we should expect that – when the time comes – God will simply speak the universe out of existence. Isaiah 51:6 is a verse that points to the universe ending this way:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
Of course, when something waxes old, it increases in age. If you have ever had a favorite shirt or other garment that you used for a long time, you probably noticed areas where it became very thin. In time, there is less and less of that garment. It slowly disappears as it ages. God tells us the end of the universe will be like that, only it will happen quickly.
It is true that other verses tell us the universe will end in fire. We find that in 2 Peter 3:10 and 12, and it’s a terrifying thought. However, other verses help us understand something about the way God uses the idea of fire. Notice what we read in Jeremiah 5:14:
Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.
Here, God is speaking to the prophet Jeremiah and saying that Jeremiah’s message to the people – which was actually God’s message -will be like fire coming out of his mouth as he speaks. This reminds us of the two witnesses who prophesied for 1,260 days. Revelation 11:5 states:
And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
God’s words are also compared to a sword, as in Revelation 1:16:
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
God’s words bring judgment to the unsaved. It’s as if the Gospel is a sentence of execution against the unsaved, to either cut them down with a sword or consume them by fire.
Yes, the Bible does tell us the universe will end in fire. But it also tells us that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). In other words, the universe will be destroyed by fire; but He is the fire!
God tells us that He is merciful. Based on many verses, we have good reason to hope His mercy will extend to our unsaved loved ones when He ends this universe; and that there will be no suffering whatever on the last day.
In John’s visions of the two witnesses and of the locusts, God reveals that His people remain on earth even though salvation has ended. It makes sense that God didn’t allow His people to know this before May 21, 2011, or to know that there wouldn’t be a great earthquake. If He had, they would not have had such a great feeling of urgency to warn the world about Judgment Day.
God has also allowed us to understand that the terrible physical events described in these and other visions concerning end-times must be understood as pictures of His judgment. Except for the Rapture and the disappearance of this universe – which will be very real events – the evidence is that there will be nothing out of the ordinary between now and the last day.
Just as there were no disastrous events to be seen when the church age ended, or when the latter rain began, or when salvation ended, we should expect God to be merciful on the last day too. We can expect the Rapture and resurrection to be over very quickly, and the end of the world to also happen very quickly as God speaks the universe out of existence.
We know how terrifying natural disasters can be from eyewitness accounts of those who have survived them. Great earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornadoes and hurricanes can be amazingly powerful. Undoubtedly we will have more of these events if the Lord continues to tarry. However, they should not be interpreted as the phenomena described in the book of Revelation. Those visions are spiritual pictures of what God has done throughout the New Testament period, continuing up to our day. Except for the Rapture and resurrection on the last day, we should not expect any supernatural events to precede the end of this world. The Bible indicates there won’t be any!
It was apparently a misunderstanding of the book of Revelation, more than for any other reason, that led many to think May 21, 2011 would be the day of the Rapture and of a global earthquake. After all, like the book of Daniel, the book of Revelation deals very obviously with end times.
We know that some numbers from the book of Daniel are to be understood literally. For example, the 1,335 days of Daniel 12:12 fit exactly into the timeline: that’s the period of time from the day the Lord began His earthly ministry on September 26, 29 A.D. until the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost in 33 A.D. on May 22.
Other numbers from the book of Daniel also fit into the timeline and verify it. Therefore, it was reasonable to think that certain passages from the book of Revelation should also be taken literally. It was thought that one of the great earthquakes mentioned there (Revelation 6:12) would be a real end-time earthquake, and that the five months mentioned in Revelation 9:5 should be understood literally.
We can now understand that those things must not be taken literally. They are part of the spiritual pictures God has given us to reveal certain things about His salvation plan. The same book of the Bible on which erroneous teachings were based now reveals God’s end-time mercy. When we understand the book of Revelation’s chronology of visions in the seven seals and seven trumpets, we have great reason to hope for a very fast and merciful end to this world for our unsaved loved ones on the last day.