The timing of the rapture is revealed by the great multitude of people whom John saw standing before the throne of God in heaven.
John described a multitude so great in number that no one could count them. That’s a lot of people! They came from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. All of them were wearing white robes and worshiping God. (Revelation 7:9-10).
The elder explained to John these people have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:13-14). So these are believers who received salvation in the name of Jesus Christ and made it to heaven, which brings us to the key question. How did they get to heaven?
We are not told directly, but we are given enough other information to prove they are taken in the rapture.
The first clue is in what the elder said to John, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14). So to identify when this multitude went to heaven we must identify the timing of the great tribulation. The great tribulation occurs during a specific period of time that can be clearly identified in scriptures. These people had to be living on the earth during that time and also had to leave the earth during that time.
Jesus talked about the great tribulation and used the exact same words the elder used, which in the original Greek language is megas thlipsis, which literally means ‘great pressure’, but is most often translated as ‘great tribulation’. Jesus identified three specific time periods coming in the time of the end that included birth pangs, tribulation, and great tribulation. For each period, he identified the specific events that would happen. A brief look at each period helps us identify the timing of the great tribulation.
The birth pangs include false messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:4-8). John saw these same events released by the breaking of the first four seals of the book of life (Revelation 6:1-8). We are not told how long the birth pangs last.
During the tribulation pressure is applied to believers as they are hated by all nations and put to death. Jesus said many will fall away and betray one another, many false prophets will arise, lawlessness will increase, most people’s love will grow cold, and the good news of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world (Matthew 24:9-14). John saw these same events released by the breaking of the fifth seal of the book of life (Revelation 6:9-11).
During this period, the son of perdition is given authority to rule the world government, economy, and religion for 42 months (Revelation 13:5). He wages war with the holy people of God, wears them down, overpowers them, and shatters their power for 42 months, which explains why Jesus warned us that many believers would be put to death during this time (Daniel 7:21-25, 12:6-7). This three and a half year reign of the antichrist occurs during the first half of the final seven-year period, beginning when he makes a covenant with Israel and other nations and ending when he breaks that covenant (Daniel 9:27).
When the son of perdition breaks his covenant with Israel he enters the temple and takes his seat, establishing his throne there, and acting like he is God (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). That abominable act is the catalyst that plunges the world into great tribulation as the wrath of God is released upon him and his followers. Immediately after the tribulation, the first major event that happens during the great tribulation is a series of geophysical calamities that include the sun and moon turning dark, the stars falling from the sky, and the powers of heaven are shaken. John saw these same events released by the breaking of the sixth seal of the book of life (Revelation 6:12-17). Then the sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky as his angels gather together his people, rescuing them from the wrath to come, which is called the rapture (Matthew 24:29-31).
After God’s people are out of harm’s way, the great tribulation continues with seven angels blowing seven trumpets releasing the wrath of God. The wrath continues to be poured out for at least five months because we are told the fifth trumpet releases locusts to harm the people of the earth for five months (Revelation 9:5). The locusts provide further evidence the great multitude is no longer on the earth because the locusts are instructed to harm everyone who does not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. (Revelation 9:4-5)
We already know the seal is only given to the 144,000 bond servants who come from the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:4-8). These bond servants need the seal because they are left on the earth during the great tribulation. The Lord has assignments for them during the great tribulation. The seal provides them with supernatural protection.
We know the great multitude was not sealed with the seal because it is only given to a specific number, 144,000, but the number of the great multitude was so great no one could count them (Revelation 7:9). Therefore they are a separate group from the 144,000 bond servants whose number is counted and revealed.
So if the great multitude was still on earth without the seal during the release of the locusts then the wrath of God would be poured out on them as they would be harmed by the locusts because they are not protected by the seal. God cannot pour out his wrath on his people because he has already promised to deliver us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Since God never breaks his promises we can conclude he has a different plan for protecting the great multitude. His plan is to remove them from the earth because everyone left on earth without the seal will be harmed by the locusts. So we see the reason why the great multitude is not sealed with the seal is because God removes them from the earth before the wrath of God is poured out, which is released by the seven trumpets.
This explains why we see the great multitude standing before the throne of God in heaven (Revelation 7:9-17). They were taken out of the earth just as Jesus said they would.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
He will send forth his angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:31).
The trumpet announcing the rapture is not the same as the seven trumpets that release the wrath of God. The rapture trumpet is the last trumpet of the 6,000 year dominion of man on the earth. Then the day of the Lord begins, which is the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth, the seventh day, the day of rest.
The Lord Jesus returns to the earth during the great tribulation waging war against the armies of the beast (Revelation 14:1). The two beasts are captured and thrown alive into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20-21). The great tribulation ends within 42 months because Jesus told us those days (the days of the final seven-year period) would be cut short for the sake of his chosen people (Matthew 24:22).
For more details on the differences between the tribulation and great tribulation, see my previous post: Twelve Differences Between the Tribulation and Great Tribulation.
The Multitude is the Remnant
So the multitude John saw is the remnant of believers who survived the terrible events during the birth pangs, tribulation, and the first part of the great tribulation.
These people endured the rise of a false messiah, wars, famines, and earthquakes. They saw the world transformed from independent, sovereign nations into a one-world government headed by an evil beast, the son of perdition. They saw the formation of a one-world religion headed by a second beast, who required everyone to worship the image of the first beast.
For 42 months the beast ruled over them, but they refused to take his mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Instead, they hid themselves from government authorities who hunted for them day and night seeking to kill them, and also from neighbors, friends, and even family members who sought to betray them. They became outcasts, refugees, homeless, hunted, and killed like wild animals. Without the mark they were not allowed to buy or sell anything (Revelation 13:15-18). The Lord provided for them supernaturally, but they also endured times of hunger and thirst.
They were hated by the whole world, constantly being wrongly accused, mistreated, misunderstood, slandered, and even tortured. Many who tried to escape were captured and beheaded (Revelation 6:9-11, 20:4). Others gave up hope and abandoned the faith for fear of what would happen to them. (Matthew 24:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Timothy 4:1-3). Some of those who fell away even turned against the other believers, betraying them and turning them into the authorities (Matthew 24:10).
Yet, in every nation and every language there was a remnant that stood firm, believing more in what they could not see than what they could see. These persevered in faith and grew stronger in spirit. They overcame the power of the evil one because of the blood of the lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and because they had no regard for their own lives even when faced with death (Revelation 12:11). They had many opportunities to return to the world system, but they chose not to because they desired a better place, a heavenly place. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).
The people of this world did not recognize them or value them, but from heaven’s perspective they were heroes of the faith and mighty warriors in the great end-time battle. The saints of old watched and applauded their acts of courage every step of the way (Hebrews 12:1).
The elder acknowledged their great trials when he told John how they had endured hunger, thirst, and exposure to the heat. He also acknowledged the many tears they had shed (Revelation 7:16-17).
So now we have identified who the multitude is and where they came from, but we still need to identify how the got to heaven.
How did they get to heaven?
There are only so many ways to leave earth and get to heaven. We either have to die or get raptured. There are also only so many ways such a large multitude could have died within such a short time, and we can eliminate each of them to prove this multitude never died.
1. They Were Not Killed for their Faith
The elder acknowledged the trials they endured, but never said any of them were put to death for their faith. Hunger, thirst, and exposure to heat are far less costly ordeals than being put to death. So why would he acknowledge those smaller trials without mentioning the greatest test of faith? It would be disrespectful to acknowledge the smaller sacrifices without also acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice, unless there was no ultimate sacrifice.
Not only would it be disrespectful, it would be inconsistent with other scriptures, which attribute great honor to those who lay down their lives.
- Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down our life for others (John 15:13).
- Peter was told he would glorify God by being put to death against his will (John 21:18-19).
- Stephen was honored and recognized for laying down his life by being stoned to death (Acts 7:59)
- Many Old Testament saints are honored for being stoned, sawn in two, and put to death with the sword (Hebrews 11:37)
- Many believers who are put to death during the tribulation are honored for their sacrifice (Revelation 6:9-11). These could not be the same people John saw standing before the throne because these died during the tribulation while the multitude that John saw survived the tribulation and left the earth during the great tribulation.
So for these reasons, I believe none of them were killed for their faith. This is the remnant who survived when many others were killed. They endured many hardships, but escaped with their lives.
2. They Did Not Die from Natural Causes
John revealed this great multitude was too large to count and came from every nation and tribe and tongue. Such a large number could not possibly have all died from natural causes because they all left the earth during a very small window of time, less than 42 months. It would be unprecedented for that many people to die of natural causes in that short amount of time. So I don’t believe they died from natural causes.
3. They Were Not Killed By the Wrath of God
Another possible explanation is they were killed by the cataclysmic events resulting from the wrath of God being poured out during the great tribulation. However, God has promised to deliver his people from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9). He would have to break his promise to kill his own people through calamities caused by his wrath. His wrath is not intended for his people, but for those who refused to repent.
Not only did God promise to deliver his people from the wrath to come, but the book of Revelation reveals specific actions he takes to protect his people (shown below). So God’s actions are consistent with his promise to protect his people. So we can conclude he would act consistently with this great multitude and would protect them from the wrath.
So if they were not killed for their faith, did not die from natural causes, and was not killed by the wrath of God, then how did they get to heaven? My conclusion is they were still alive on the earth when they were taken to heaven in the rapture.
Looking at the Big Picture:
Rather than just reading one passage about the multitude in Revelation 7:9-17 we need to step back and look at the big picture to see how this passage fits into the context of the scriptures that come before and afterwards. The big picture reveals the placement of this passage coincides perfectly with the timing of the rapture.
In Revelation 6 John listed the events of the birth pangs, tribulation, and the initial events of the great tribulation. Then in the first verses of Revelation 7, the four angels are seen holding back the four winds of the earth. These four winds are connected with stirring up the great sea, which is where the four end-time beasts come from (Daniel 7:2-3). So the angels in Revelation 7 are commanded to hold back the winds for a little while longer until two groups of God’s servants are protected from harm.
The first group is the bondservants of God, which are the 144,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are sealed with a seal of protection on their forehead. The second group is the great multitude that John saw. They instantly appear in heaven faster than we can blink our eyes. They are the raptured believers, the evidence of God’s faithfulness to do what he promised, delivering his people from the wrath to come.
After that, the seventh seal of the book of life is broken in Revelation 8. Then there is silence in heaven for about a half an hour. Then seven angels are given seven trumpets to administer the outpouring of the wrath of God. It is now safe for the wrath to be poured out because God’s people are protected. The 144,000 are still in the earth, protected by the seal of God. The multitude is far from harm standing before the throne in heaven. The wrath of God is then poured out, beginning in Revelation 8:7 and continuing on through Revelation 20:3.
So the big picture reveals the multitude appears in the scriptures precisely when the rapture happens. The sequence of events is not a coincidence or a mistake. The location of this passage provides another confirmation that this multitude left the earth in the rapture.
The Multitude Avoids Death
The Apostle Paul revealed there would be a remnant of end-time believers who would be caught up to heaven without experiencing death, as described in the following two passages:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
So the multitude John saw standing in heaven are the same people Paul referred to as being alive and remaining until the coming of the Lord. The dead in Christ are raised up first, then in the twinkling of an eye the last trumpet of the church age is sounded and believers from every nation are delivered from the great tribulation as they are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Their number is so great they fill the sky from one end to the other (Matthew 24:31). So shall they always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words!
In conclusion, the multitude that John saw standing before the throne reveals the rapture happens immediately after the tribulation, shortly after the start of the great tribulation, and just moments before the wrath of God is released.
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Author: James Bailey
James Bailey is a blogger, business owner, husband and father of two grown children. In 1982, he surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2012, he founded Z3news.com to broadcast the message of salvation by reporting end time news before it happens.
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