Tribulation, Rapture, and Millenium in the Apocalypse

The first thing that I would want to say regarding tribulation, rapture, and the millennium is that the exodus motif plays a prominant role in understanding these concepts in the Apocalypse. In other words, it is vital for the reader/hearer to understand the concept of the Church’s witness, the world’s rejection of their witness, plagues being poured out by God upon the world, the world persecuting the Church, and God judging the world. One reason for this is because tribulation and wrath or judgment are two separate things in the Apocalypse. The term ‘rapture’ never appears in the Apocalypse but it may generally be referred to as the point at which the Church is brought out of this world (goes through exodus). The millennium is obviously more about Christ than the Church.

In Revelation both believers and the world go through tribulation or “the great tribulation” (1:9; 2:9-10, 22; 7:14). However, only the world ‘earth dwellers’ go through God’s wrath (2:22; 3:10; 6:8; 7:3; 9:46; 20:6, 14; 21:8). John clearly shows the disparity between both the notions of tribulation v. wrath and insider v. outsider in the Apocalypse. Death is a term that is both used and helps to define tribulation and judgment in Revelation. For instance, Revelation 9:4-6 speaks about those who are not sealed by God going through torment and begging for death “in those days.” Death is also mentioned as judgment or “second death” for outsiders (6:8; 20:6, 14; 21:8) but not insiders (20:6; 21:4). The term ‘test’ or ‘testing’ is another term mentioned with tribulation. Testing is referred to as something that Christians go through which leads to victory (2:10) and that the world or earth dwellers will go through as God’s punishment (3:10). As I alluded to before, earth dwellers is a designation that John uses to speak about those who oppose God and his people or align themselves with Satan (1:7; 3:10; 6:10, 15; 8:13; 11:10; 12:9; 13:3, 8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8; 19:2). For John, it is clear that one will be spared from God’s wrath but go through tribulation while the other will go through wrath and judgment.

There are many passages in the Apocalypse that some use to speak about a ‘rapture’ (3:10-11; 4:1-4; 5:9-10; 6:2; 7:9-17; 11:3-12; 15-19; 12:5; 14:14-16; 20:4). In 3:10-11, the passage speaks about the Church not going through “the hour of testing.” This is simply a reference to the fact that, like God’s people in Egypt, the Church will be protected from the plagues that God will pour out upon the earth. Other passages either include symbolic ways to speak of heavenly images received by John while in the Spirit (4:1-4; 6:2), martyrs (5:9-10; 7:9-17), Jesus’ ascension (12:5), or judgment upon the earth dwellers (14:14-16). The two passages that are really intriguing regarding a ‘rapture’ are Revelation 11:3-12 and 20:4. In both of these cases the conclusion indicates an exodus of the Church after tribulation. The scene in chapter 11 most likely serves as a proleptic anticipation of the events of chapter 20. In my opinion the term ‘rapture’ should be done away with if for no other reason than for the eschatological baggage that comes with it. Obviously the Church will ‘meet the Lord’ when he does return, but the most popular teaching concerning the rapture is just not founded upon scripture.

The millennium is mentioned six times in chapter 20. During the time of the millennium Satan will be bound for 1000 years so that he cannot deceive the nations while the faithful will reign with Christ. There are a few interpretations of this time which are intriguing. Literalists take this to be a literal 1000 year period in which believers will reign with Christ while Satan is bound. This belief is usually accompanied by exegetical gymnastics which try to populate the earth with people who can be deceived by Satan upon his release. Others believe that the martyrs who have died are reigning with Christ during this time. However, this is problematic due to the fact that the passage indicates a total view of the Church when saying “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Still, some hold that this is a spiritual reign that symbolizes the time of the Church when believers take part in the lordship of Christ which is in anticipation of the fullness that is coming. My opinion is that the 1000 years are clearly a symbolic period which is most likely speaking of the time of the Church in anticipation. I must say that I am unsure about this position but it seems to be the strongest of all the options. I am certainly open to hear what other options might be out there.

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