Revelation is the major prophetic book in the New Testament. It is the best reference that Christians have on future events because:
- the Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity;
- John wrote down what was revealed to him by God (Revelation 1:19); and
- It is the Bible’s final prophecy – the words are not to be changed in any way (by addition or subtraction) (Revelation 22:18-19).
The timing of future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation (see below).
At present the church is on earth (Revelation 2-3) and the next event is the “rapture” when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. The rapture is not mentioned specifically in Revelation; but in Revelation 4, the church is in heaven. While the church is in heaven (Revelation 4-5), there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Revelation 6-18), which will end with the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory (Revelation 19:11-21). This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Revelation 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).
The key to understanding the second coming of the Lord is that the second coming is associated with a series of events, not one event and these occur over a period of time, not all at once. From the order of events in Matthew 24:15-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, it is clear the “rapture” is before the tribulation and the “appearing” is at the end of the tribulation. Jesus said the great distress (tribulation) occurs immediately before His second advent (Mat.24:21-31). Also, the judgements in Rev. 6 – 18 are associated with the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14), and they conclude with Christ appearing as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).
“The Tribulation” will be a time of suffering for those on the earth. The church is not mentioned during this period because it is in heaven (Revelation 6-18). Instead there are 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7 and 14), a Jewish temple (Rev. 11:1-13), and Jewish persecution (Rev 12). Also, the advice “Whoever has ears, let them hear” is addressed to Christian churches in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 whereas in Revelation 13:9, it is addressed to believers, but there is no mention of the church.
As the following events haven’t happened yet, they are still in the future, as they were for John in 95 AD when he called them “what will take place later” (Rev. 1:19):
- At the Rapture, all true Christians will be taken from the earth.
- There will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Rev. 11:1-13), whereas this has not been the case since it was destroyed in AD70.
- At the Appearing, Jesus Christ will return to the earth and defeat all His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).
- During the millennium, Satan will be bound so he can’t deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3).
Learning from the past
Prophecy about the future will be fulfilled literally, just as has prophecy of the past. For example, when the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Jewish captivity would be 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), it turned out that this prediction was literal, not symbolic.
Since the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, then the prophecies relating to His second Coming will also be fulfilled literally. Although symbols and figures of speech are used in giving both of these prophecies, this does not affect their historical and prophetic fulfillment.
Written, March 2010