The Damascus Rapture :: By Matt Leasher

Those that study Bible prophecy are well aware of the method of using types and figures in the Bible to shine enlightenment on prophetical events that are still future and to provide more detail as to what is yet to come. In the case of the Rapture of the Church, many point to people and events such as Enoch representing the Church being translated to heaven before the Judgment of the Flood, and Lot being led out of Sodom before the Judgment could be permitted to fall upon Sodom and Gomorrah. But I’d like to do some comparing and contrasting to Paul’s experience when He was suddenly struck by the bright appearance of our risen Savior while on the road to Damascus.

Our point of reference is in Acts 9:1-9. This is when Paul was still Saul and hadn’t had his name changed yet.  The account given in Acts 9:1-9 is commonly referred to as “the Damascus Road” where Saul set out to persecute and murder the disciples of the Lord being as he was still a Pharisee and hated the “people of the Way” (Christians).

It is in Acts 9:3-4 where we can begin to observe some parallels and contrasts that look forward to the Rapture of the Church. It says in Acts 9:3-4:

“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:3-4).

Putting aside the fact that Saul was still an unbeliever, a big change had just occurred, and it came suddenly! It’s the details of the actual experience itself that I feel may be very comparable to the coming sudden snatching away of the Church at the “appearing” of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those that hold to the Post-Tribulation Rapture view often argue that us Pre-Tribulation Rapture believers are claiming that there is going to be two Second Comings, making that view unBiblical. This is where this account refutes that.

Here, the Lord Jesus Christ made an “appearance” to Saul but did not physically return to the earth to stay. In fact, Jesus made two other “appearances” to Paul as well. The second one is in Acts 22:17-21 where Paul is testifying to the Jews of his Damascus experience, and then he speaks of when he was praying in the Temple and Jesus appeared to him again with instructions to leave Jerusalem and to go to the Gentiles. The third time Christ appeared to Paul was in his prison cell as recorded in Acts 23:11 where it says the Lord stood by him to encourage him that he would eventually go to Rome to testify of Him.

So from those three accounts, we can see that Christ can make an “appearance” any time He wants to, before He comes to the earth to stay. Since we have the completed New Testament, it is unlikely He will make appearances until His Second Coming, because we now have the completed Word of God at our dispense to bring us to faith and to build our faith. As Paul himself wrote in Romans 10:17, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

Okay, let’s get back to the Damascus Road. The first parallel to the Rapture is the fact that Saul was going about his business when the Lord suddenly appeared to him without warning. This will be the case for the Rapture of the Church. Next, Saul would be changed forevermore after this moment, and we will be changed forevermore at the moment of the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:52). Saul didn’t get a new body like we will, but he got a new Spirit!

In Acts 9:4 it says that Saul heard a voice speak to him after he fell to the ground. In contrast, the Church will go up after the Lord descends from heaven with a shout (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

According to Acts 22:9, when Paul was recollecting his Damascus experience he said:

“And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of Him that spoke to me” (Acts 22:9).

Here we are informed that the men with Saul had seen the light but didn’t hear the voice. It may very well be that when the Rapture of the Church occurs, the world will most certainly be aware of something supernaturally monumental taking place, but those that are not in Christ will not hear the shout! Just as Christ shouted Lazarus’ name to come out of the tomb (John 11:43), the shout for the Bride of Christ will be specifically only for us.

This is also reminiscent of when the Father spoke from heaven in John 12:28 declaring He would again glorify His name in the work of His Son. Some of those that stood nearby thought it was thunder, while others thought it was an angel that had spoken. At the Rapture, the shout to “Come up hither” will only be heard by Christians, while the rest of the unbelieving world may think it is only thunder!

In Acts 26:12-18, Paul recollects for a second time his Damascus experience. This time we are informed that not only did Saul fall to the ground when Christ appeared, but those that were with him all fell too. In fact, in Acts 26:14 it says they “all fell to the earth.” From what we know, only Saul was changed, not the others. At the Rapture the whole world will be affected, and the Church will be changed and removed from the earth, but the unbelieving world will remain grounded!

According to Titus 2:13, Colossians 3:4, Hebrews 9:28, 1 John 3:2 and 1 Peter 5:4, the Rapture is described as an “appearing” of Christ. In Acts 26:16, Jesus Himself tells Paul that He has “appeared” to him, as will be the case at the Rapture.

For there to be so many similar parallels and contrasts between Paul’s Damascus experience and the Rapture of the Church is only fitting since Paul would be the one to reveal the “mystery” of the Rapture:

“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51).

Sometime after Paul’s Damascus experience, he also had an out of body experience where he was caught up to the third heaven to experience the glory that awaits those in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:1-5).  Saul may have been knocked to the earth on the road to Damascus, but as he faithfully served the Lord in obedience to his calling, the Lord blessed Paul with a preview of the glory that awaits.

We the Church are busy working for the Lord at ground level on this earth, but we have the blessed words of Christ given to us through Paul of the glory that awaits us also! Let that be encouragement as we continue to fight the good fight and draw nearer to that glorious Day!

With all that said, it is interesting to note that there are three Old Testament prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled that us prophecy watchers have had a close eye on for quite a long time. They are Isaiah 17, Psalm 83, and Ezekiel 38 & 39. Many (including myself) believe that these prophecies will be fulfilled in that order as well. Since the Old Testament prophets could not see the Church Age (1 Peter 1:11), it is unlikely that any of these prophecies will come to fulfillment while the Church is still here. The interesting thing about that, for this commentary, is that the Isaiah 17 prophecy is about the overnight destruction of Damascus!

Since the Greek word for Rapture is Harpazo (Strongs #726), and it literally means “to seize by force, snatch up suddenly, to forcefully pluck,” it could be that at the very moment that destruction strikes Damascus, we the Church are simultaneously snatched up to be with the Lord, as those prophecies kick- start the events of the Tribulation. If so, I would call that a Damascus Rapture!

Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!

Twenty-Four Crowns :: By Matt Leasher

In the ongoing debate about the Post-Tribulation versus the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, many of the proponents of the Post-Trib view often ask us Pre-Tribbers to “show” them where the Church is gone before the Tribulation period begins. In response, most of us Pre-Trib prophecy students point to the Twenty-Four Elders of Revelation chapters 4 and 5, who are seated before the Throne, wearing white robes with crowns on their heads (Revelation 4:4).

We then show them that they are representing the Church seated in heaven (because our work is finished), clothed in white (because they are wearing the clothing of righteousness that Jesus promised would be given to overcomers in Revelation 3:21), and they are wearing crowns (to which the Church will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ that occurs at, or after, the Rapture).

As convincing as this already sounds, many still do not see that this is showing the Church in heaven before any of the seals are opened to begin the Judgment Period. This is mainly because too many people are more concerned about who the twenty-four elders are, rather than who they represent! With that said, I think we need to dig a little deeper into exactly what an elder is and who these heavenly elders are representing!

Let’s first begin by defining what an elder is. If we look up the word “elder” in a standard dictionary, we will get a definition that will say something like this:

elder – of one or more out of a group of associated people, of a greater age.

So right away we see that an elder is a representative of a larger group of people associated with themselves.

Now let’s look at the Biblical definition of an elder:

elder – (Greek: Presbuteros; Episkopos). These two words combine to mean an “overseer” and has two applications: the first being an overseer in the form of a person; the latter meaning “overseer” as a function of that office. So an elder is also an overseer of a larger group of people.

In the Old Testament, 70 elders of Israel were appointed in Exodus 24 and Numbers 11:16-17 to oversee the children of Israel as Moses went up and down the mountain to meet with the Lord. In the New Testament, elders are initially appointed by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 20:28), and are to lead and guide the Church by means of ruling and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17), and are to guard the truth of God’s word and keep it from error (Titus 1:5-9).

Since Acts 20:28 tells us that the Holy Spirit is involved in the appointing of elders, then anyone that has not received the Holy Spirit cannot be an elder of the Church. It’s a prerequisite. All of us who are saved and have received the Holy Spirit are elders in some form or another, (whether it be over our families, new converts, as church leaders, etc.).

So Old Testament elders were to represent and oversee the nation of Israel, and New Testament elders are to represent Christ and oversee the Church. They are distinctly different offices, and both of them were the offices of an “earthly” elder. John sees twenty-four heavenly elders in Revelation chapter 4, right after he is “caught up” to heaven.

Before I continue, I want to point out that the Book of Revelation is in perfect sequence, with chapters 2 and 3 representing the Church Age that we are still currently living in. Then chapter 4 starts off with “after this,” and then John is called up to heaven through an open door at the sound of a trumpet voice, to which John is immediately in the spirit just like how we will immediately be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52) in the twinkling of an eye at the trumpet call for the Rapture of the Church. He then sees the twenty-four elders in heaven, before the Lamb opens the scroll and any of the Judgments begin.

The twenty-four elders are seen seated around the Throne of God. Ephesians 2:6 tells us that the Lord already sees the Church “seated” in heaven from His eternal perspective. The fact that they “surround the Throne” implies they are assisting and ruling with the Lord, and 2 Timothy 2:12 says that we (the Church) will one day reign with Christ. When that day comes, then our work on earth will be finished, as is also implied by the elders being seated.

It is interesting that one of the last things that Christ said to the Church of Laodicea (which represents the last age of the Churches in which we are living in now) is:

“To him that overcomes I will grant to SIT WITH ME in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Revelation 3:21).

Keeping in mind that the original Greek manuscripts didn’t have chapter breaks, a mere five sentences later John sees these twenty-four elders seated in heaven after Christ just promised that we, the Church, would sit with Him in heaven. Talk about an immediate revelation!

The next thing that John says about them is that they are dressed in white raiment. White raiment always represents righteousness, and the Church is told that we are made righteous unto God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Furthermore, in Revelation 3:5, Christ Himself said that “he who overcomes will be clothed in white raiment,” as a promise to the faithful Church member.

This leads to the next attribute, the crowns they are wearing! The crowns they are wearing are the victor’s crowns (stephanos in the Greek). This is the Crown of Life reward spoken of in both James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10. This is one of the five rewards described in the New Testament that will be given to the Church at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-14) after the entire church is gathered together at the Rapture (Ephesians 1:10). The Judgment Seat of Christ will be an all-inclusive event!

According to Revelation 2:11, the Crown of Life reward will be given to those that are overcomers, and 1 John 5:4-5 says that an overcomer is one that has overcome the world by their faith in Christ. It just so happens that an overcomer is part of the definition of an elder!

I’d like to also point out an often overlooked fact. Throughout the entire Bible, only the Church in the New Testament are promised to receive crowns in heaven (other than Christ, of course).  There is no one in the Old Testament Scriptures promised to be wearing a crown in heaven! I’m not saying that any Old Testament saints won’t get a crown or any rewards, but the Bible only records the Church having that distinction.

In 1 Peter 5:1-4, it mentions the Crown of Glory that is literally given to the elders! And it says that this crown will be given when the Chief Shepherd appears. The Rapture is an “appearing” of Christ, since His feet are not touching the ground.  Similar in the way that Christ “appeared” to Paul on the road to Damascus.

The Crown of Righteousness is also said to be given at His “appearing” in 2 Timothy 4:8:

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

Another crown is the Crown of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19), which is a crown given to soul winners; and, according to Paul, it will also be given to us when we meet with them at His coming. And the fifth crown is the Incorruptible Crown (1 Corinthians 9:25) that we will receive when we are judged for the things we did while we were in our corruptible bodies (2 Corinthians 5:10).

So we can see that all the five crowns promised to the Church are associated with the Rapture and the Judgment Seat of Christ that most likely occurs immediately after. These elders bear the characteristics of those rewards!

In Revelation 4:10 it says that the elders cast their crowns before the throne. This scene is a reflection of their humble gratitude of His grace towards us, and anything we did to glorify our Lord after we got saved was all done by His power and not our own. This scene is a manifestation of our Lord receiving all the glory for all that we did in His name.

When Christ returns at the Second Coming, it says in Revelation 19:12 that He will be wearing many crowns on His head. Those “many crowns” may very well be these crowns that the elders cast before the throne before He opens the scroll. Everywhere else the elders are mentioned throughout the rest of the book of Revelation, there is no mention of the crowns being with them again.

Some try to explain these twenty-four elders as angelic rulers but angels are never mentioned as being crowned or enthroned, and Revelation 7:11 clearly distinguishes the elders separately from the angels. Furthermore, Revelation 5:9 says that these elders came from the earth. So this rules out these beings as being angels.

In all of the Old Testament accounts where prophets had visions of the Throne of God, none of them mention seeing these twenty-four elders, indicating that they weren’t present in Old Testament times. This is consistent with the fact that the Church was hidden from the Old Testament prophets (see 1 Peter 1:10-11).

The twenty-four elders also cannot be patriarchs from Israel because it says in Revelation 5:9 that they are redeemed from “every nation,” and Israel is always described as a distinct entity separated from all the other nations (see Numbers 23:9). Furthermore, the Lord had originally called Israel to be a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:1-6, but the Jews failed God, and Jesus declared in Matthew 21:43 that their kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation that would bear the proper fruit. So Israel lost their priestly privilege.

Lastly, we know also know that these elders can’t be representing Israel because, according to Luke 9:22, Christ was rejected by the elders of Israel, and that has not changed to this day, completely disqualifying national Israel as being represented by these heavenly rewarded elders.

Revelation 5:9 does mention that the elders are also redeemed from “every tribe.” This is because the Church is made up of both Jew and Gentile believers (Galatians 3:28; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 3:11). So the fact that the elders come from both the nations (Gentiles) and the tribes (Jews) points to the unique distinction of the Church’s universal characteristic.

Peter ascribes the Church as being both a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9.  However, our nation is not on earth; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:21); and when we are gathered together at the Rapture, then we will have our national residence – in heaven!

That brings us to the next attribute of the elders paralleling the Church, and that is that they are called “kings and priests.” In Revelation 5:10, the twenty-four elders are praising God for making them “kings and priests” in their song of worship. In 1 Peter 2:9, when Peter is declaring the Church to be a royal priesthood, he then says in the second part of that verse:

“…that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). These twenty-four elders are in His marvelous light, giving Him praise just like that Peter verse says.

To further confirm that the elder’s description of being kings and priests is describing them as representing the Church, we only need to go back to Revelation 1:4-6 where John literally describes the churches as being washed in the blood of Christ and being made “kings and priests.” Notice the use of the word “us” in John’s greeting to the churches in verses 5 and 6 that I’ve emphasized:

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).

In Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20, he is exhorting them to “feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This too matches what the twenty-four elders are singing around the Throne when they say in Revelation 5:9:

“…thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood…” (Revelation 5:9a).

Only the Church has the distinction of being “purchased by His blood,” as it is worded in Acts 20:28. It is a title of our identity! We are the blood-bought Church of Christ, and the song that the twenty-four elders sing in Revelation 5:6-10 is a redemption song! The entire Church will sing this song in heaven AFTER the Day of Redemption has occurred (Ephesians 4:30 & Ephesians 1:13-14). The Day of Redemption is the Rapture of the Church; and since we will all be gathered together for the first time ever, this is why Revelation 5:9 calls it a NEW song!

Israel has not yet been redeemed and won’t be until after the sealed scroll is opened, they go through Daniel’s 70th week, and then Christ returns to earth to give them their earthly kingdom inheritance (Ezekiel chapters 40 – 48).

So, by process of elimination, we have used the Scriptures to eliminate angels, Israel and unsaved Gentiles as being represented by the twenty-four elders. Other than the Church, the only other people that some people say they could represent is the Tribulation saints as being seen in heaven. However, according to Revelation 5:5, the elders are actually involved in the heavenly debate as to “who is worthy to open the scroll”!

“And one of the elders saith unto me, weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Revelation 5:5).

If the twenty-four elders are taking part in the heavenly congressional scene of Revelation 5:1-6, which in the sequence of events is after the Rapture but before Daniel’s 70th week begins, then the elders cannot be representing the Tribulation saints because the Tribulation period has not yet begun. So that clearly rules out the elders as representing them also. That leaves ONLY the Church left.

Now that we’ve identified the twenty-four elders as representatives for the Church, it makes complete sense why it would be one of the elders confirming to John who is worthy to open the scroll. Again, the last promise made to the Church in Revelation 3:21 was that those who are overcomers would sit with Him who overcame (prevailed):

“To him that overcomes I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne” (Revelation 3:21).

When Jesus said, “as I also overcame,” He is talking about His death, burial, and resurrection.  We, the Church, are overcomers through faith in Christ as declared in 1 John 5:4-5. Therefore, John is being told by an overcomer (elder) that He who overcame is the One that is worthy. We, the Church, are the benefactors of He who overcame and prevailed! And we are the only ones that recognize and declare that Truth (other than angels). We declare it now on earth as our witness and testimony, and we will declare it in heaven as praise and worship.

In closing, I hope and pray that this Biblical evaluation of the twenty-four elders helps to put to rest both the debate about the timing of the Rapture and who the twenty-four elders are. If the Lord wanted us to know their exact names, He would have simply told us. Who the individual twenty-four elders are obviously is not what the Lord sees as being important for us to know. It is who they REPRESENT that the Lord finds important for us to know, and He has given us ample amount of information throughout His Word, as I’ve just outlined.

The last question about these heavenly elders that many ponder about is, why are there twenty- four of them? The number twenty-four in the Bible represents divine government and worship, which is precisely what these elders are doing. They take part in the heavenly congressional debate of who is worthy to open the scroll in Revelation 5:1-6, which then gives way to a glorious worship and praise service for the rest of that chapter.

In the same manner that King David appointed twenty-four priests to represent all of Israel before the Lord in 1 Chronicles 24, these twenty-four elders are representing all of the Church reigning with Christ before the throne of God.

It is also interesting to note that in 1 Chronicles 24, the twenty-four priests were all sons of Aaron, who was Israel’s first high priest. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is our High Priest; and, according to Galatians 4:7, we have been made heirs to God through Christ; and this is also confirmed in Romans 8:16-17 where it literally says that we are joint-heirs WITH Christ:

“The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).

Being that we have been made “joint-heirs” with Christ, who is both King and High Priest, we the Church fit the same description of these elders who declare themselves as being made kings and priests. When we trust in Christ for our salvation, He not only saves us from hell and wrath, but He even shares His glory and majesty with us.

So rejoice, Church; we will soon all be gathered together singing our redemption song of praise and worship before our great King. But we don’t even have to wait until then; we can sing that wonderful song right now!

To His praise and His glory! Amen.