One of the misunderstandings that some people have regarding the timing of the Rapture is to attribute the opening of the 5th Seal in the book of Revelation to this seminal event where Jesus comes in the clouds for His beloved. I think part of the reason for this confusion is a failure to take the 5th Seal in context with the first four Seal judgments.
One of the most important events that occurs in the Tribulation is the revealing of Antichrist himself. I don’t know of any Bible teachers who dispute that with the opening the 1st Seal in Revelation 6:1-3, this is when Antichrist is made known to the world:
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
Extremely important in this unveiling of Antichrist is what 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 prophesies:
Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
It is impossible for Antichrist to come forth in the 1st Seal UNTIL the Restrainer is removed. There is no human or worldly explanation for who or what is the Restrainer that is holding back Antichrist. This is a supernatural restraint only possible by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is the Restrainer and who keeps Antichrist – the lawless one – at bay until the time for him to publicly enter the world is at hand.
This in itself should be sufficient evidence for everyone to understand the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church must occur in order for Antichrist to walk onto the world stage and for any judgments to occur. The Restrainer – the Holy Spirit – steps aside from restraining lawlessness only after the ekklesia have been gathered to Jesus, snatched out of this world to join Him in His Father’s house.
But, no. There are those who can’t comprehend this and believe the Rapture occurs at some point after the Lamb – Jesus Christ – begins opening the seven Seals. The Traditional View is that all the Seals are opened within the formal 7-year Tribulation period that begins with Antichrist confirming a covenant agreement between Israel and another party known as the many. An Alternative View posited by Bill Salus – which I like a lot for its logistical aspects – is that based on Scripture, there’s no direct correlation which says all the judgments are contained within the official seven years beginning with the treaty. Thus, according to this perspective, some of the Seals could be opened after the Rapture but prior to that official 7-year period.
Either way, any understanding that puts the Rapture somewhere within the timing of the various judgments is problematic. Again, the Restrainer has to remove Himself before ANY judgments can begin.
There is an erroneous view that the Rapture occurs at the 5th Seal of which Revelation 6:9-11 states:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Now, in one sense someone could look at this passage and figure that true believers entered this period of judgment, having endured the first four Seals of Antichrist’s revealing, War, Famine, and Death-Hades, in order to reach this point and be martyred. But consider just one fallacy about this: In the aftermath of war and famine, along comes death for many. However, death is accompanied by Hades, or the spirit of the underworld. Those who die MUST be unbelievers in order for Sheol to scoop them up and contain their souls.
So, let’s assume that Christ-followers escape all this chaos and the sentence of going to hell associated with this Seal and are finally transported to the Throne Room via the Rapture. They have endured much in the way of suffering. In fact the verses show that they die. Under the thinking that these Seals occur before the official seven years begins, their cry of How long?” makes little sense. They aren’t even Raptured. In addition, aren’t those who are Raptured supposed to in some way know the timing of the Tribulation? If these are believers, they still haven’t seen the covenant agreement ratified to know when the seven years begin. It makes for a very awkward understanding – or lack thereof – which we are supposed to have by knowing Bible prophecy.
If, however, the Rapture occurs and the first four Seals are opened, and then the peace treaty is ratified, that cry by these saints begins to make sense. Following Scripture, the Rapture occurs, the initial four Seals can take place, and within that Gap Period NEWLY MINTED Christians who come to Christ after the Rapture die for their faith. These become the martyrs shown at the throne of God. Because the covenant hasn’t yet been confirmed, the 7-year timeclock hasn’t begun. When these martyrs cry out “How long?” they truly don’t know, because they have no frame of reference to the seven years of the Tribulation. They’ve died within the Gap Period which has an indeterminate length. Their deaths occur prior to any milestones. Of course they have no idea of how long it will be until the Lord avenges their blood!
Briefly, there is one other massively important factor that requires Christ’s true church to be Raptured prior to any of the judgments. Aside from the fact that there is no mention of the church following Revelation 4, the purpose of all the judgments depicted in Revelation is for two primary purposes:
- The redemption of Israel
- To punish the unbelieving world
Because #1 is so important, this is actually why NO true believers can enter this period of God’s wrath. This is Daniel’s 70th Week. It is for Israel to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as her Messiah. This time is first and foremost for Israel to finally say, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
Not a Jew and also not a believer? Then you fall into purpose #2. You have rejected the free gift of salvation and eternal life offered by Christ. You will be punished for that poor choice. Yet, God in His mercy gives second chances. If your heart hasn’t hardened so much that you curse God for the judgments, He may bring conviction upon you for the life-giving possibility of you choosing His kingdom during this period of utter horror.
Where is the necessity for today’s true Christ-followers to endure the judgments of the Tribulation? There is none. We are already washed clean by the blood of Christ. Do we have works that are necessary for us to perform in going through this terrible period? Of course not! Then why do people think that in some manner we have to suffer like rebellious Israel and the unbelieving world?
The time is near. Let us rejoice and give glory to God. His wrath will soon come upon the world. How marvelous it is that we who trust in Jesus won’t be here!