Hello, and welcome to this message from Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque. We pray that God uses these messages to reach people around the world, and we're always thankful to hear the stories of lives being changed by his love. If this message has impacted you in any way, we would love to know. So e-mail us at email@example.com. If you'd like to support this ministry financially, you can give online securely at calveryabq.org/giving.
As followers of Jesus, we look forward to eternity with Him. And in our series "What's Next," we study the incredible prophecies found in the Book of Revelation. And we get a glimpse into the throne room of heaven, as Skip shares the message, "Come Up Here." Now we invite you to turn in your Bibles to Revelation, chapters 1 and then chapter 4, as he begins.
Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to Revelation, chapter 1. So Powerball got up to $1.6 billion. And I don't know if it affected any of you, but your odds of winning Powerball, well, the odds were 292 million to 1 that you would not win Powerball. You would be more likely to be struck by an asteroid than to win.
So I noticed that a clerk was on the news being interviewed who was selling tickets to people buying the $2 tickets to Powerball. And there was a line around the store. And somebody said, so why do you think so many people want to buy this ticket? What are they buying? And the cleric had an interesting answer. He said, they're buying hope. It's $2 worth of hope.
And then he explained what he meant. He said, they take their ticket home, and then the number is read on the news. And the first number is their number. And they get all excited. Hey, that's my number!
Then they read the second number. It's their number again. They get all excited. Third number isn't their number. But for a while there, he said, they had hope. It didn't last long, but that's what they're buying, $2 worth of hope.
Well, I want to tell you about something a whole lot better than $2 worth of hope. It's called the blessed hope. When Paul wrote to Titus, he said, looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The blessed hope-- it's also what Peter called a living hope, living because the one who promised it is alive because of a Resurrection.
And he has promised to come back. And he promised to come back for those who believe in Him. Now, that is in event I want to discuss with you this morning from the pages of the Book of Revelation to look at this idea, this thought, of what I think we have depicted here before us. And that is a word, and when I say it, it causes some to get excited. It causes others to roll their eyes. And that is the Rapture of the church.
I say it causes people to roll their eyes because some of us can remember 1988. And we may remember the book that was published. It made a lot of news. Some people here told me almost that I had to tell people, warn people, that the Lord is coming back.
The book said Jesus Christ will come back in the Rapture for his church in 1988 between September 11 and September 13 of that year. That's Rosh Hashanah on that year. Jesus is coming back. 88 Reasons Why that will happen. That's what it's called.
So after the date came and went, the author Edgar Whisenant published a second book called The Final Shout, Rapture 1989. And then when that date came and went, he called it The Final Shout 1990 and once again The Final Shout 1994. And I think that was his final shout, because he's no longer with us.
So a lot of people have predicted the event of the Rapture. And because of that negative press, some will dismiss the idea altogether. And that's unfortunate, because it is a real event. It's a distinct event. And it's an event for the church. And it's an event that is given detail in passages like John, chapter 14; First Thessalonians, chapter 4; I Corinthians, chapter 15.
But here, I think we see it. We see it in the chronology of Revelation. There's only two people in the Bible that were given a trip to heaven. One was Paul. The other was John.
Paul was taken there, but he didn't give us any details. We start reading II Corinthians, chapter 12, and he says, I was taken to the third heaven. And we're getting so excited because we want him to tell us what it was like. And he goes, I can't tell you what it was like. It's just too amazing. It's unlawful for me to even talk about it. It's like, oh, great.
John, on the other hand, sees it, and he is commanded to write about it. And he does so in chapters 4 and 5 in a detailed description in the Book of Revelation. Now let me throw something out at you to hopefully jog your memory. Do you recall when Jesus told His disciples, some of you standing here will not taste death until they see the coming kingdom in glory? Then he took Peter, James, and John, and he was transfigured before them on a mountain, and so we kind of think, well, that's the fulfillment of that promise.
However, what John sees in this vision of the Book of Revelation, though it was partially fulfilled in that little glorious snippet of a transformation, he sees in real, full-blown, expanded vision of the glorious Christ the things of the church and the details that follow in the Book of Revelation. So we discussed last week in Revelation one that John hears a voice behind him. And he turns to see who it is speaking, and he sees one like the Son of Man. And the words are in red because it's Jesus in this vision talking to John and giving him instruction.
Now what I want you to notice with me, beginning in chapter 1 but then looking at chapter 4, are three occurrences that happened to John the Apostle-- three occurrences that happened to John before he writes about this tribulation that the bulk of the book takes up. And the three occurrences are simply this. John is commanded to write, John is called to heaven, and John is captivated by glory.
So first of all, he has to look down, because he's told to write something. He then looks up because he goes somewhere. And then he looks around. And he describes to us the glories of heaven.
Let's look back at chapter 1. Let's take it up in verse 17 this week. And will notice that John is commanded to write. "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid his right hand on me, saying to me, do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am He who lives and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore." Only one person can say that.
"And I have the keys of Hades and death. Write the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which will take place after this, the mystery of the seven stars, which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp stands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands, which you saw, are the seven churches."
Now, do you remember last week I told you that this book was written in symbols? We all notice that as we read the book. There's signs and symbols. In verse 1, it says that God gave it to him. He said, He sent and signified it. The word "signified" in verse 1 of chapter 1 means "given in signs or symbols."
And so we ask the question, why? Why is it given in signs, why all these symbols? And then I said I won't answer it. I'll wait till this week to answer it.
So let me give you the reasons why I believe this book is written in symbols. First reason is preservation. Symbols can withstand the test of time. Symbols transcend normal human language. And therefore, they are not weakened by time. They're not weakened by language. They're not weakened by culture. They're preserved because of that.
The second reason is emotion. When you read symbols, they arouse a certain kind of an emotion, usually a strong emotion. So when we get to it, instead of just saying a dictator is going to come on the world scene, it's written like this. "And I saw a beast rise up out of the sea." That does something to the reader far different than just plain didactically writing it.
So preservation, emotion, and the third is orientation. I mentioned last week that out of the 404 verses that comprise the Book of Revelation, almost 300 of them hearken back to an Old Testament reference. And so with the symbols that we read about, most of the symbols are rooted in the Old Testament. That is why they might sound weird to us, but to a first century Jewish reader familiar with the Jewish apocalyptic literature like Daniel or Ezekiel or Zechariah, they make more sense, so the orientation.
And then number four is protection for the sake of protection. I don't know if you're aware of this, but the early church was under the watchful eye of the Roman government, and they were seizing documents to try them in a court for treason. And sometimes they would find their writings, their scriptures. And they would try to say, look, subversion, sedition, et cetera.
Well, can you imagine a Roman soldier finding a copy of the Book of Revelation? He'd look at it and go, what? This just is all weird, all these signs and symbols. I don't get this. And it would be confusing to them and thus for protection. So all of those reasons help us understand why the book was given in signs and in symbols.
Something else-- John is told to write, but he's given an outline in how to write. Verse 19, did you notice the command is "write the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which will take place after this." Now, this is important, because that is exactly what John does in the book. That's how this book is laid out. Verse 19 of chapter 1 becomes the outline for the entire book.
Look at it more carefully. "Write the things which you have seen." What did John see in chapter 1? A vision of Jesus, and he writes that down. He writes down the details of what he has seen. He had never seen Jesus like this before. He remembered Him in his earthly, unexalted state. He turned, and he saw one like the Son of Man but vastly different. And he writes that.
Second, he is told to write the things which are. And John does that in chapters 2 and chapter 3 of Revelation. Those are the things going on at that time, the churches, seven churches in Asia Minor. In fact, if you look at verse 20, the meaning of a couple of the symbols are given. So we don't even have to guess. The mystery of the seven stars, which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp stands-- the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.
Angels is the Greek word "angelos." It could mean heavenly messenger. It could mean earthly messenger. Both are seen using that term in the Bible. It could mean the pastors, the elders of the church. And the seven lamp stands, which you saw, are the seven churches.
Now, these seven churches, which are written about in chapters 2 and 3, were actual, literal congregations in Asia Minor within a 100-mile radius close to each other in modern-day Turkey. I visited the ruins of them all. They are in close proximity to each other. They were literal, actual, living congregations at the time of John.
But also, I believe, for a lot of reasons I don't have time to get into, that they were seven periods of church history, all the way from the apostolic church era all the way to the apostate state church era. It comprises all of church history. It's like a panorama of the things of the church. So John writes about the church in chapters 2 and in chapter 3.
By the way, the churches are represented by a lamp stand. I think that's so fitting. A lamp stand raises the lamps, the oil lamps, high so that it gives light. Didn't Jesus say about us, you are the light of the world? Have you ever thought of yourself that way? Have you ever thought of yourself, when you walk into a room, hey, I'm the light of the world?
You probably haven't, but you are. You really are. And think of it this way. People in this world are looking for a way out of their darkness. But if they look at God's people, and we seem to be in the dark, there's not a whole lot of hope.
So it's like that lighthouse in Florida I read about some time ago. One of the glass panes broke out, and so they replaced it. They didn't have glass at the time, but to replace it to preserve the light from blowing out-- this is an old lighthouse-- they put a piece of tin in that one side. So it kept the light going. The only problem was, from one direction there was a dark spot.
And I'm told that a ship trying to find harbor one night couldn't see it because in looking at the lighthouse, it saw a dark spot. And people trying to navigate through life and looking at what is on the lamp stand, us shining our light, they need to be able to see it bright and clear. We're the lamp stand. And Jesus holds the lamp stands and walks in the midst of the lamp stands.
So write the things which you have seen, the vision in chapter 1. Write the things which are, the things of the church, chapters 2 and 3. And then notice verse 19, the very last phrase, "and the things which will take place after this," Now, in the Greek language, it's meta tauta, after these or after this, meta tauta. And that's how John writes the book.
Now turn over to chapter 4, please for a moment, chapter 4. Because John was commanded to write, but now John is called to heaven. And watch this. Chapter 4, verse 1, after these things, stop. If you and I were reading the Greek text, it would say, meta tauta.
Back to the outline, chapter 1, verse 19, the things which are, the things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which will be, meta tauta, after this. We come to chapter four, meta tauta, after this, or after these things, I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, come up here, and I will show you things which must take place meta tauta, after this.
So after these things-- after what things? After the vision he saw in chapter 1, after the message that Jesus gives to the seven churches, chapters 2 and 3. Now suddenly John is in heaven. Suddenly John is in the presence of God. Suddenly John sees it, the throne, and he writes about it. He holds it in chapters 4 and 5.
Now follow me here. The church has been in focus in chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the Book of Revelation. 19 times-- 19 times-- the word "church" appears in chapters 1, 2, and 3. It's Jesus and the church, Jesus and the church. The church is in focus.
Now suddenly in chapter 4, after these things, the church, it's as if they disappear. It is not seen. It is not spoken about. It is not even mentioned at all until the end of the book after Jesus comes back and the kingdom is developed and the new heavens and the new Earth are put in place. The word "church" appears. But from chapter 4 on, it's gone.
In fact, the very last mention of it is in the verse right before verse 1 of chapter 4. Look at Revelation, chapter 3, verse 22. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches," last mention of it in the book. Now it's meta tauta, after this, after the things of the church, after the church age has run its course.
So those are the three divisions of the Book of Revelation. That's how it's laid out-- what John has seen, chapter 1, the things which are, chapters 2 and 3, and the things which will take place after this. Now John is in heaven instantly. And I believe we would call this a preview of coming attractions. This is a depiction of the Rapture of the church.
In fact, even the language in verse 1 of chapter 4 sounds a little bit familiar if you're a Bible student at all and you know the text in I Thessalonians 4, right? John says that "a first voice that I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, come up here." Doesn't that sound familiar?
In fact, if it's not familiar, you need to be familiar with it. Turn with me to I Thessalonians now, chapter 4-- I Thessalonians, chapter 4. Love to hear those Bible pages turning. It's not the same when you have a little phone, and you're kind of doing this with your finger. It doesn't make the [IMITATES PAPER CRUMPLING] sound. They should put that in an app, by the way, that little [IMITATES PAPER CRUMPLING] sound. They could do that.
I Thessalonians 4, verse 13, "But I do not want you to be ignorant bretheren," concerning those who have fallen asleep, died. "Lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. For this, we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep."
Now, what you need to know is the Thessalonians were all worried. They believe Jesus was coming. Paul had told him he's coming back. But many of their friends and relatives have already died.
So they're wondering, what about them? They're going to miss the coming of the Lord. And Paul is saying, oh, no, no, no, no. They're not going to miss the coming of the Lord. They're going to be there. In fact, they're going to see it first.
Verse 16, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God." You got that? Voice of an archangel-- the Lord himself is going to shout with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
So your relatives who have gone into heaven, they're not going to miss this. They're going to see it first. Of course, they have six feet further to travel, so they need to get a little head start, I suppose.
But look at verse 17. Here's the classic passage. "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words."
OK, so I hear people all the time say, well, the word "rapture" isn't in the Bible. Well, the word "bible" isn't in the Bible. Who cares that the word isn't there? The teaching, the idea, that doctrine is clearly there.
You say it is? Where? You just read it. "We who are alive and remain shall be caught up." The word in Greek is harpazo-- harpazo. Harpazo shows up 18 different times in 13 different verses in the New Testament. And when it's translated, it means four times "to catch up," or to be caught up, three times it means "to take something by force," one time it's translated "to snatch away," twice "to snatch," twice "to catch away," twice "to pluck," and one "to pull."
You get the idea? It means to grab something suddenly, harpazo. So when Jerome translated the New Testament from Greek into Latin in around 400 AD, it became the Bible of the church until the Reformation. He translated harpazo, to be caught up, by the Latin word "raptus," or "rapere," which means to seize or to catch.
So when people say, well, the word "rapture" isn't in the Bible, I guess it depends which version you read. If you read the New King James or NIV or NASB, you're right. If you read the Latin Vulgate, it's there. It's there.
Now listen to this verse, verse 17, in what is called the Wuest translation of the New Testament. Written by a Greek scholar, teacher of Moody Bible Institute, Kenneth Wuest, he translates verse 17 this way. "We shall be snatched away forcibly in masses of saints having the appearance of clouds for a welcome meeting with the Lord in the lower atmosphere." Doesn't get any more graphic than that. Doesn't get any plainer than that.
And what is written by Paul is experienced by John. It's a voice like a trumpet. It says, come up here, which illustrates what will happen to God's people when the Church Age is done. The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout.
What's he going to shout? I can't be sure, but I would be surprised if he didn't say, come up there! Wouldn't that be great? In whatever language you're used to hearing it in, come up here! Boom, instantly.
So then in Revelation, chapter 4 and 5, the church is in heaven. The church is safely ensconced in heaven, tucked away for a seven-year honeymoon. A seven-year tribulation is going on on the Earth. After that seven years, Jesus will return to the Earth to stop a judgment, a war that is going on, and we will come with him.
I similar to a Jewish wedding. At a Jewish wedding in ancient times, there would be a wedding ceremony, followed by a feast that usually lasted seven days. While people were feasting, hanging out, fellowshipping, the bride and groom would be tucked away, away from the crowd, away from the world, t the end of which the groom would present his bride after that wedding.
So that takes place in heaven. Meanwhile back at the ranch, back on Earth, chapters six through 19, is the worst possible tribulation period the Earth has ever seen, ever, ever, ever in its history, according to Jesus, worse than any other time in history. God pours out his wrath on a Christ-rejecting, sinful world.
So John is commanded to write. John is called to heaven. Third and finally, John is captivated by glory. Once he's there in heaven, verse 2, "Immediately I was in the spirit, and behold a throne sat in heaven. And one sat on the throne.
"And he who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance. And there was a rainbow around the throne in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were 24 thrones. And on the thrones, I saw 24 elders sitting, clothed in white robes. And they had crowns of gold on their head.
"From the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. Before the throne, there was a sea of glass-like crystal. And in the midst of the throne and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back."
So John is caught up into heaven. What's the first thing that catches his attention? A throne. Not his Aunt Lucy. It's not, where are those people I wanted to have a reunion with? That will come, but more and first and foremost, it's a throne. "Throne" is mentioned 13 times in chapter 4. So that is the dominating feature of heaven, is the throne of God, the control, sovereignty of God.
He sees the throne and one who sat on it. I love what Dwight L. Moody used to say about heaven. He said, it's not the jewelled walls, it's not the pearly gates that are going to make heaven attractive. It's just being with God. Being with God-- that's why heaven is more than a what or a where. It's really a whom. You'll be where He is.
Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I'm going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself-- listen-- that where I am, there you may be also. That's heaven, and he sees it.
And notice how he describes God. He describes the indescribable in the appearance of stones. Did you notice a jasper stone and a sardius stone? These are stones, and they're not just stones. They're particular types of stones. They were the first stone and the last stone on the breastplate of the high priests in the Old Testament.
A Jasper stone was clear like a diamond. I'll be honest with you. I have never really understood the value of diamonds. I'm sometimes shown diamonds, oh, look at that. And I just go, you know, OK, glass, you know? It's not a big deal to me.
Now, trust me, I've been schooled on this. I've been corrected on the value of diamonds. But you know, there's a couple of planets in our galaxy where it rains diamonds on them. So in some places, it's like dust. Women, however, you value jewels on this Earth, heaven is so inestimably more, that everything on this Earth pales in comparison to it. I know it may not mean much to you now.
But notice the next stone is a sardius. Sardius stone is a stone that is sort of a translucent reddish stone. And why that is there, I'm not certain, perhaps to remind us of the redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ.
He also sees 24 elders on 24 thrones around the throne like an ancient courtroom, a court of the king. And trust me, I could do two weeks on the identity of the 24 elders. I could drill that deep down. But we would be in Revelation for at least 7 to 10 years, so I'm not going to do that.
But I am going to say that 24 is a representative group. Just like in the Old Testament there is a genealogy that has 24 patriarchs listed that represent all of the patriarchs listed. Also, the 24 elders who were over the 24 courses of priests, those 24 elders represented all of the priests and, in fact, all of the nation of Israel. And also, there were 24 courses of Levitical singers with representatives that represented the nation.
So it's safe to say that 24 is a representative number. And I believe the 24 elders, since that is a New Testament term, "presbuteros," elder, that they are representatives of the church. It is 24 elders representing the church of Jesus Christ in heaven during the tribulation.
Now, some of you are looking at me like, oh, dude, you are so stretching it. You are walking on thin ice. I don't know if it really is the church. It could be angels. It could be anybody. It could only be the church. It could only be the church. And I want to show you why.
If you look at the song they sing, and you read the lyrics of the song, there's only one group that can sing those lyrics. And that's church people, people who have been redeemed, saved. Angels can't sing that. Angels haven't been redeemed.
Go down to chapter 5 for a moment, verse 8. "When he, the lamb, had taken the scroll, the four living creatures"-- notice-- "the 24 elders fell down before the lamb, each having a harp, golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, you are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you are slain and have redeemed"-- listen-- "us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation."
Only one group can sing that song, and that's the church. We sing songs, like "Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It" or "Jesus Paid It All, All to Him I Owe," songs of redemption. So as soon as we are raptured, as soon as we are taken to heaven, however we get there, by death or by rapture, but at that rapture when we're there, we are going to be consumed by the vision of the glorious God upon his throne. And I'll tell you, the immediate response is you're going to want to worship. It's been said there's three surprises you'll find in heaven-- who's there, who's not there, and that you're there.
I've always liked that. First of all, who's not there? Hey, where's So-and-So? I was sure they'd be here. Nope. And then you look at some people, how did you get here?
You were the last person I'd ever expect to see in heaven. Surprise. And then, surprise of surprises, you're there. And you're just going to say, oh, I am redeemed by his blood out of every tribe, tongue, nation. So while there is tribulation on the Earth, chapter 6 through 19, there is adoration in heaven, chapters 4 and 5.
Now, did you notice in verse one John says, after these things, I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. You see, it's not a gate with Saint Peter holding a clipboard like all those lame jokes. Peter has nothing at all to do with you getting into heaven. Jesus has everything to do with it. He said, I am the door. Anyone who enters by me will be saved.
By the way, twice in Revelation-- twice in Revelation-- heaven is opened-- twice. Here, chapter 4, verse 1, second is Revelation 19:11. In the first occurrence, somebody goes up. In the second occurrence, somebody comes down. In the first occurrence, church goes up. The second occurrence, Jesus with the armies of heaven come down.
There is more to say on that, but time is running out. Let me just go back to that verse, which is, I believe, the first promise in the New Testament of the Rapture of the church given by Jesus. He said to his disciples, remember, let not your heart be troubled. This is in the upper room after the Last Supper.
Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father's house, there are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I'm going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
Did you get that language? He says, I'm coming for you. I'm coming to get you. I'm coming to take you where I am. He didn't say, I'll send for you. I am coming, I will return, and I will come for you.
The disciples were so bewildered at that point, that's why Jesus said, don't let your hearts be troubled. Because they had believed he was the Messiah. But they can't conceive of what he just said, that he's going to die. Their messianic script did not include a crucifixion. They couldn't conceive of a messiah who comes to Earth, hangs out for a few years, and then goes back to heaven and then comes back. That was not in their script. They're bewildered.
So he says, hey, let me tell you how it's coming down. I'll be back. [TERMINATOR VOICE] I'll be back.
I'm coming to get you, that where I am, there you may be also. So, you know what? Powerball is cool. But it's only $2 worth of hope. This is the blessed hope. This is the living hope.
I suppose if I was to get a phone call if I were to have even bought a Powerball ticket, and I were to get a phone call that said, you won, I bet that would be really exciting. I get that. But there's something else I'd much rather hear than I'm the winner of $1.6 billion or split three ways before taxes.
You know what I'd rather hear? Come up here.
Come up here/ That's better than Powerball. That's a power call.
Father, thank you for the hope that is found in your word, the hope that has become, for the last 2,000 years, the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for the living hope, that even when loved ones that we were so close to die before this event, they will be there. They will see it first. They will be transformed in their resurrected bodies first. But then we who are alive and remain will be caught up to meet you, Lord, in the air, and we will always be with you.
I pray that hope would change us. Because it could happen at any moment. In Jesus' name, Amen.
How amazing it will be to worship God forever in the glorious throne room of heaven. Did this message influence how you worship the Lord right now? Well, let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And just a reminder, you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/giving. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque.