The Midtribulation Rapture Theory
Less objectional than the posttribulation rapture theory, although still with very little to commend it, is the view which claims the Church will endure the first half of the Tribulation period, to be raptured as some midpoint, generally associates with sound of the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11. According to this view, the Church not only is promised Tribulation, the ease and worldliness of its members demand that she shall be purged and purified. Passages which indicate that believers shall be exempt from this hour of trial are not recognized, although it is seen that the Church shall be spared anything characterized as wrath. Rapture at Revelation 4 is denied; the event is placed rather in Revelation 11, symbolized by the resurrection of the two witnesses. The cloud of Revelation 11:12 is said to be a reference to the presence (parousia) of Christ, and the seventh trumpet is identified with the “last trump” of I Corinthians 15.
In common with the pretribulational position, midtribulationalists general identify the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2 as the Holy Spirit, and insist on the removal of the Church before the revelation of the Antichrist.
In common with posttribulationalism, they deny the imminent return of Christ, insist that the Church is seen on earth after Revelation 4:1, and affirm that the Church needs at least part of the Tribulation’s purifying fires.
In a real sense, midtribulationalism is a compromise view between the other two alternate positions and lacks the strength of either, meanwhile being involved in additional problems peculiar to its own prophetic system. The slender number of its advocates and the dearth of convincing midtribulational literature both put a large question mark over the validity of the viewpoint. Nevertheless, its major claims demand some investigation and the more important difficulties involved must be observed.
I. The Church and the Tribulation
A. The Church Is Promised Tribulation
Midtribulationalists press this argument in the support of their views, making an erroneous assumption that, since persecution is the lot of the believer in this age, Tribulation must be his portion in the period to come.
Persecution, whether during the reign of Antichrist or in the present time, is (speaking generally) the allotted portion of those who will live Godly, and such suffering during the time of tribulation is therefore quite in harmony with the character and calling of the Church of Christ, and the teaching of the New Testament.
This same writer expresses the viewpoint of his school when he asks: “What is the difference in character between persecution now, and the probably more intense persecution yet to come, since both are for the testimony of Jesus?” Since this question is sufficiently answered in the second chapter of this investigation, it need not prolong the discussion at this point, save to reiterate the fact that the Tribulation to come differs from even the most intense persecution of this age in source, in degree, and in the basic purpose for which it is sent. Moreover, the Church has been expressly promised deliverance, as demonstrated earlier from many Scriptures, even though this author makes the amazing assertion: “We search in vain for one single text containing a promise either expressed or implied that the Church will be taken away prior to the Tribulation”! To keep the record straight, here are several: Romans 5:9; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:17, 18; 5:4, 9; II Thessalonians 1:6-9; II Peter 2:5-9; and Revelation 3:10, 11.
B. The Church Needs to be Developed and Purged
The imperfections of the Church are readily admitted, but tribulationalists have erred in maintaining that the wrath to come includes sanctifying values:
Thus the Great Tribulation will be a true mercy to the Lord’s people by fully developing and sanctifying them for their heavenly destiny and glory.
Pretribulationalists believe that conviction of sin and progress toward godliness is available through the work of the Spirit (John 16:8) and the application of the Word of God (John 15:3). There is no Tribulation in view, nor is it needed, in the vital truth of Ephesians 5:25-27:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
The untruthfulness of the statement hardly needs comment, when it is maintained that pretribulationalism “involves that the utmost measure of unfaithfulness or carnality in a believer puts him in no peril of forfeiting the supreme honour of rapture or of having to endure the dread End Days.”
Pretribulationalists believe, rather, that the last living generation of believers has no more need of purging than other generations which, through death have gone immediately into the presence of the Lord. A Church, cleansed by blood of Christ and made both perfect and complete in Him, needs no “Protestant purgatory” to fit it for heaven (Rom. 8:1). Chapters 2 and 7 more fully develop this important theme.
C. The Church Will Be Removed Before Wrath Is Poured Out
With this statement, all three groups would largely agree. The difficulty comes in determining the time when wrath is poured out. Posttribulationalists are forced to say that there is no wrath until the catching up of the saints on the day of the appearing of Christ, that is, not until Revelation 19:15. Midtribulationalists insist that nothing before the outpouring of the vials can be called wrath, as indicated in Revelation 16:1. The following illustrates that view:
I do not believe that the Church will go through any part of that period which the Scripture specifically designates as the wrath of God, but I do believe that the abomination of desolation will be a specific signal for a hasty flight followed by a very brief but a very terrible persecution, and that followed very quickly by the rapture of the Church preceding the outpouring of the vials of the wrath of God.
Pretribulationalists insist that the entire period covered by Revelation 6:1-19:15 is primarily a period of divine wrath (as demonstrated in chapter 2), and believe that since wrath is found as early as 6:17 and since it is impossible to get entirely away from the chronological succession of these judgments, the weight of Scripture evidence is on their side. All one must do is read the content of the seven seals and the first six trumpets in order to determine whether or nor anything before the seventh trumpet should be recognized as wrath.
D. The Tribulation Lasts Three and One Half
Years, Not Seven
Such a conclusion is not only necessary to the midtribulationalist view, it is insisted upon as a vital truth. Speaking of the divided nature of Daniel’s seventieth week, Harrison declares:
This should forever save us from the common mistake of speaking of the Tribulation as a seven year period. The Bible never so refers to it; rather, it begins in the middle of the seven. It is the latter three and a half years. All that leads up to it Jesus refers to as merely “the beginning of sorrows.”
Again, in a more recent publication:
It is of great significance that a 7-year period is never mentioned in The Revelation; always a 3½-year period. It has no concern with Daniel’s Seventieth Week, as such, but with the stirring events connected with and following the mid-week revealing of the Anti-Christ.
By thus making the Tribulation a three and one half year period, instead of a seven, and by placing this time of “great tribulation” after the seventh trumpet, Harrison affirms that the Church will be taken out before wrath is poured out, and even calls his position pretribulational.
“Wrath” is a word reserved for the Great Tribulation – see “wrath of God” in 14:10, 19; 15:7; 16:1, etc.
The Day of Wrath has only now come (11:18). This means that nothing that precedes in the Seals and Trumpets can rightfully be regarded as wrath. He has restrained it until this time…. We do not find warrant in Scripture, in any form of its teaching, for the thought that the Church will go through the Tribulation
Let us get clearly in mind the nature of the Tribulation, that it is divine “wrath” (11:18; 14:8, 10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19) and divine “judgment” (14:7; 15:4; 16:7; 17:1; 18:10; 19:2).
This rewarding is unquestionably at His pre-Tribulational coming.
The Church is in heaven during the Tribulation, not merely to escape the judgments of God but to share in their administration.
To Harrison, Revelation 5-11 is descriptive of the closing scenes of the Church Age, and as was seen at the close of chapter 7, he pictures this first half of the week as a “sweet anticipation to John,” “sweet as honey,” during which the saints will be “sitting pretty.” The seals are not judgments, but “man’s folly,” neither are the first six trumpets “judgments.”
He holds that the first three and one half years of Daniel’s seventieth week belong to the end of the Church age, and in order to give a precedent to such a view, insists that after the death of Christ, “the Church paralleled for 40 years the Jewish Age, till the latter closed with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. This argues for a similar overlapping at the close of the Church Age.”
Such views, although no doubt held with the greatest sincerity, are most questionable and open to severe criticism. Several of these affirmations will now be considered briefly, still remembering that in any such investigation, censure is direct against ideas rather than men.
(1) Harrison’s position is clearly midtribulational; he has left normal pretribulationalism, even though he chooses to retain its name.
(2) It is contrary to the clear testimony of the book of Revelation to say that nothing before the seventh trumpet is wrath, or judgment. We may call the seven seals “man’s folly,” but God calls them “wrath.” Revelation 6:16, 17 twice calls the first six seals “wrath”: “Hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” It is remarkable that Harrison twice lists the verses in Revelation where wrath is found, once in great detail, and in both instances he completely overlooks Revelation 6:16, 17. Certainly, these verses do not forward his argument!
(3) The Great Tribulation is rightly identified with the time of God’s wrath, but to support his thesis, our author must force it entirely into the period following the seventh trumpet. Revelation 7:14 refutes this. Since this is the only verse in the book which uses the term “great tribulation,” it is significant that it is found before the opening of the seventh seal and before the sounding of any trumpets. The writer, “H. W. H.,” noted previously, foresaw this and with greater consistency acknowledged the fifth and sixth seals as part of the Great Tribulation. Indeed, he actually makes the first half of the week the Great Tribulation, and the latter half the Day of the Lord. He argues that, according to Matthew 24:29, the Great Tribulation precedes the signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and that according to Acts 2:20, these signs shall mark the coming of the great and notable Day of the Lord. Since these heavenly signs are found in the time of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12, 13), he argues that the Great Tribulation is found in the first six seals.
Although not agreeing with him that the Great Tribulation differs from the Day of the Lord, it is interesting to note that here is a midtribulationalist whose arguments effectively cancel out Harrison’s view that the Tribulation is limited to the time following the seventh trumpet.
(4) In Revelation 11:18, ήλθεν can hardly be rendered “only now come,” as though this conclusively sets the commencement of the day of wrath. The aorist may carry the force of completed and final action, and this would seem better suited to the context here. If this verse anticipates (from the viewpoint of heaven – 11:15) the end of the Tribulation, it may refer to the consummation of wrath rather than its commencement, for it has been seen that wrath starts at Revelation 6:16. Also, if it be argued that the Greek verb in 11:18 means “only now come,” what then of 6:17 where ήλθεν is likewise used in connection with God’s wrath?
(5) The literal fulfillment of Daniel’s seventieth week calls for a future period of seven years, and Daniel 9:25-27 clearly identifies this “week” with the Tribulation period and the rule of Antichrist. The “prince that shall come” confirms the covenant for one week, not for half of that time. It is impossible to get away from a literal seven year Tribulation period without making one of two concessions: First, if the entire last “week” is to be fulfilled in three and one half years, the important chronology of the rest of Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks is destroyed. Second, if only the last half of a seven year “week” falls in the Tribulation period, then the first half must overlap the Church age. Harrison chooses the latter course, which is no less precarious than the former.
As it has been seen from Matthew 24 and Revelation 6-19, the Tribulation is highly Jewish in content, and during this period the Church is never seen. To cast even half of such a period back into the Church age would result in the greatest of confusion. For instance, how could God seal 144,000 for service from the twelve tribes of Israel in an age when His witnessing body is the Church, when converted Jews enter into the Church, into the unity of the body of Christ, and lose their former identify as Israelites? Such a view would also necessitate a secret beginning of the seventieth week and a highly secret first three and one half years, an absolute impossibility in the light of the predicted events which must precede the seventh trumpet. Posttribulationalists scoff at any idea of a secret rapture; think of the sport they could have with the concept of a secret Tribulation!
An outstanding feature of Daniel’s seventieth week seems to be that each part of the week is set off by some striking event. The first sixty-nine weeks commence with the commandment to restore Jerusalem; they end in notable fashion with the cutting off of Messiah. The seventieth week is to end with the visible splendor of the second advent, and it would be most singular indeed if the commencement of the entire week should be on a day, unmarked and unnamed, belonging to a previous age.
Such, however, is not the case, for the beginning of the seventieth week is to be marked by the making of a public covenant, confirmed by Antichrist with the nation Israel according to Daniel 9:27. The covenant must be public, for it will involve the befriending of Israel and the restoration of their ancient worship. Yet the midtribulationalist view necessitates that this be a secret covenant made between Israel and the Beast, an utter impossibility for so important an event involving a whole nation. Some smart reporter would get hold of the thing and broadcast it to the world! Yet, if any of the tremendous events of the first half of the week would leak out, it would ruin the doctrine of imminency and enable Bible students to set with reasonable accuracy the time of the rapture, another impossibility in the light of Mark 13:32, 33 and kindred Scriptures. The events of Revelation 5-11 may be thought of, by some, as the “beginning of sorrows,” but if these events are thrust into the Church age just before the advent of Christ, they certainly become the “beginning of troubles” for any sane exegesis of God’s holy Word.
Harrison’s idea of an overlapping of the Jewish age over the first forty years of the Church age only makes the difficulty worse. God does not take up a new work until He has laid down the old one, at least in respect to His dispensational economies. Daniel’s first sixty-nine weeks ended with the cutting off of Messiah. The age of law ended at the cross, when Christ redeemed men from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Christ fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy. Christ ended the dispensation of Moses (John 1:17, etc.) – not the Roman Titus in 70 a.d. The empty sacrifices and rituals of Judaism are observed, in some quarters, until this day, and did not have their cessation when the nation was scattered and the city destroyed. Yet the theory being propounded involves itself in error at the beginning of the age to justify and set the precedent for other errors which have been attached to its close.
(6) The midtribulational position rejects an imminent return of Christ, while fostering an unscriptural emphasis upon date-setting. Either the first three and one half years are yet future, in which case the truth of an imminent return of Christ is denied, or the seventieth week may already have been entered unwittingly, in which case current events might be expected to synchronize with the seals and trumpets of Revelation 5-11. Harrison wavers between the two positions. In The End, he uses typical posttribulational arguments against imminency:
For Peter there was no possibility of such an experience, our Lord having told him that he would live to old age and die a martyr’s death…. All Peter preached and penned was with the prospect of death…. For Paul his Lord’s commission … left him facing a long preaching career that precluded, for much of his lifetime, any momentary return of Christ. He warns that the apostasy must come first … and “that in the last days perilous times shall come.”
We see from the Scriptures that Christ could not have returned in the lifetime of Peter nor yet in the days of the Apostles; nor yet before the Reformation; nor yet before the missionary program is completed; nor yet before the apostasy has overtaken us; nor yet before the last days in which we seem to be living.
In His Coming, an attempt is made to salvage an imminent return, but the only way the author finds to avoid abandoning the truth that Christ may come at any time is to say that the Church is already in the time of the trumpets, which, of course, leads to date-setting.
In both of these books by Harrison, the date-setting trend induced by the midtribulational position is abundantly illustrated. It is held, for example, that the “time of the end” began with the World War of 1914-18, that the trumpets of the Revelation began their sounding in World War II, and that the space of about half an hour in Revelation 8:1 measures the time between these conflicts! Such novelty is the natural outcome of the theory that the Church may have already entered the secret first half of the Tribulation period.
(7) Even if the rapture were placed in the eleventh chapter of the Revelation, it would be an easy matter to prove that Tribulation conditions exist long before that point, even throughout the first half of the week. An examination of Revelation 6-11 readily reveals if that which precedes the seventh trumpet is called “wrath,” or if it is called “great tribulation,” or if it includes the Tribulation martyrs. Pretribulationalists and posttribulationalists alike agree that the seals and the trumpets are clearly a part of the Tribulation, and most probably take place during the more severe latter half of this period. Midtribulationalist H. W. H. himself concedes that everything after the sixth seal falls within the Great Tribulation.
However, even on pretribulational grounds, it can be demonstrated that definite Tribulation conditions will prevail during the less severe first half of these seven years. The Holy Spirit as an abiding Presence in this world will be gone; His ministry as restrainer will be terminated. The preservative influence and testimony of the Church will be past, for she will be with her Lord in heaven. Satan will be cast down into the earth (Rev. 12:7-13), and this before the woman, Israel, flees to the wilderness for the last three and one half years. During this early period, Antichrist and the false prophet will be in control, though veiled as to their true identity, for they make a covenant with Israel. Even in veiled form, the Antichrist will know his purpose and program, and with Satan as master will not be merely “a peace-loving, well-intentioned statesman”!
This first half of the week differs from the present Church age, moreover, because God’s primary emphasis is upon the godless nations, and upon Israel, with her temple and covenant and sacrifices (Daniel 9:27). Converts from the Tribulation period will already be subject to persecution and martyrdom. The persecution of Israel obviously starts somewhere in the first half of the week, for she is driven into the wilderness for the last three and one half years (Rev. 12:14). Likewise, the two witnesses begin their prophecy, with accompanying plagues and judgments, during the first half of the week. This seems obvious, for the period of their prophecy is set for one thousand two hundred and threescore days (Rev. 11:3), a full three and one half years, yet they ascend into heaven in the same hour as the second woe (Rev. 11:12-14). The third woe trumpet, incorporating all seven vials of God’s wrath, follow their death. If the vials comprise the latter half of the week, then the testimony of the witnesses falls within the first half. If the vials occupy only a portion of the last half of the week, then the prophecy of the witnesses overlaps both halves. In either case, they begin their ministry during the first three and one half years, and the very nature of their judgments speaks of Tribulation conditions (Rev. 11:5, 6, 10).
Whether one places the rapture in the fourth chapter or as late as the eleventh chapter of Revelation, it is exceedingly difficult to escape the conclusion that the prime characteristic of the entire seven years is that of awful Tribulation.
II. Is the Rapture in Revelation Eleven?
Several reasons have been introduced for placing the rapture of the Church in the eleventh chapter of the Revelation. These deserve at least brief comment, before passing on to the central issue, the identifying of the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 with the last trump of I Corinthians 15:52 and I Thessalonians 4:16. Again, Harrison’s clear commitment to the midtribulational position warrants his views taken as the norm for those who place the rapture in the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week.
(1) The rapture of the Church is seen symbolized in the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses: “How, if the two witnesses are symbolic of ‘ larger company of witnesses,’ then their resurrection and ascension must be symbolic of the resurrection and rapture of that larger company.” But the two witnesses are not symbols. The normal, literal interpretation of the passage, including as it does the details of their dress, their prophecy, and their plagues, indicates that they are individual men. They are spoken of as “two prophets,” and when they are killed, their dead bodies lie a definite period of time in a literal city which is identified as Jerusalem. It would not make good sense to say that symbolic bodies were killed, only to lie on literal streets, any more than to deny them literal burial in symbolic graves. The narrative of the two witnesses is evidently meant to be taken literally.
(2) It is claimed that these two witnesses symbolize the two classes at the rapture – the “Dead” and the “Alive.” This idea breaks down when it is remembered that both witnesses die and must be raised. Nor is it by any means certain, as averred, that these are Moses and Elijah (others say Enoch and Elijah), even though they witness with power equal to those Old Testament prophets.
(3) The “cloud” of Revelation 11:12 is identified with that of I Thessalonians 4:17, “a definite reference to the Lord’s presence – parousia.” Here again, any identification of the two is exceedingly precarious. Many times in Scripture the presence of God is indicated by a cloud, but that is no indication that two such references in two distinct books by different authors necessarily speak of the same appearing of the Lord, yet alone the parousia of Christ.
(4) Nor is the “great voice” which bids the witnesses to “Come up hither” of any necessity even remotely connected with the “shout,” or even with the “voice of the archangel” of the Pauline passage. It is not unimportant that at the rapture “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven,” while here in Revelation 11, the voice comes from heaven and calls them up thither.
(5) The mention that “thy wrath is come” after the seventh trumpet sounds is used to show that wrath begins after the Church is caught up, but as noted, the earlier reference to wrath in 6:16, 17 is not cited.
(6) Throughout, it is assumed without any particular proof that the seventh trumpet falls in the middle of the week. However, in 11:17-19, the sounding of the seventh trumpet is clearly associated with the reign of Christ, the judging of the dead, and the rewarding of “thy servants the prophets,” all of which occur at the end of the Tribulation with the revelation of Christ and the resurrection of Israel, at which time “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
It is most evident that the seventh trumpet brings the chronology of the book right up toward the time of the end, and makes it exceedingly difficult to identify it with a supposed midtribulational rapture. Posttribulationalists are a little more consistent at this point, for they identify the seventh trumpet with the day of Christ’s revelation, the last day of the seven year period. Yet even they have difficulty in so doing, for the seven vials of wrath, containing the seven last plagues, all follow the sounding of this seventh trumpet, although evidently in rapid succession as the consummation of the judgments of God. The seventh trumpet is evidently near the end of the Tribulation, associated as it is with resurrection, rewarding, and reigning, yet cannot be on the final day because of the seven vial judgments which are to follow. Midtribulationalists must labor to explain why they believe nothing preceding the seventh trumpet belongs to the Tribulation, while posttribulationalists are embarrassed by the record of seven vials following the trumpet which presumably marks the revelation of Christ and the end of all such judgment.
Both difficulties grow out of a fallacious identifying of the seventh trumpet of John with the “last trump” of Paul, which problem will be dealt with shortly. Pretribulationalists, who make no such assumption, are free to give the seventh trumpet a normal and natural place in the chronology of the Tribulation, evidently well toward the end of the period, yet not on the last day, and certainly not in the middle of the week. A Revelation 11 rapture makes havoc with any attempt of understanding the chronology of what admittedly is a difficult book.
(7) In Revelation 10:7, “In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets,” – in this verse, midtribulationalists find proof of the completion of the Church, just before her rapture. The text is obscure, as indicated by the fact that Harrison also links it with the “mystery of godliness” (I Tim. 3:16), and with the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13). A better explanation it would seem, is that which has been offered by Ironside on this “mystery”:
This is the theme of the seven-sealed roll; the vindication of God’s holiness in having so long tolerated evil in His universe. What greater mystery confronts and confuses the human mind than the question, Why does God allow unrighteousness so often to triumph? It is what men call the mystery of Providence; but Providence is only another name for God. This is His secret. He will disclose it in due time, and all shall be clear as the day…. His final triumph over all evil is what is so vividly presented in the rapidly-shifting tableau of the Revelation. …
Here, then, is not the mystery of the completion of the Church, but the finishing of the mystery of Satan’s sway and of God’s long toleration of iniquity, consummated in the binding of Satan when Christ destroys His enemies with the brightness of His appearing. It is the bringing to a climax of the “mystery of iniquity” found in II Thessalonians 2:7.
It seems unnecessary to prolong these comments upon the theory that rapture falls in Revelation 11. To say that “the temple of God was opened in heaven” (v. 19) indicates that the bodies of believers (the temple of the Holy Spirit, I Cor. 3:16) are now in heaven; to say that the two witnesses symbolize the dead and the living at Christ’s coming; to say that the “mystery” and the “cloud” are those found in I Thessalonians 4 – this is an attempt to prove a doctrine upon surface similarities. These are the husks, and not the wheat of true exegesis. True, some interesting parallels between the experience of the witnesses and the experience of the Church may be demonstrated, but this can be done with the translation of Elijah or the ascension of Christ, for parallels and similarities abound through Scripture. The actual identification of one event with another must rest upon more definite and more Biblical similarities than these. As Newell (tersely) writes concerning Revelation 11 and the two witnesses:
Where are the churches? Brethren, they are not there! The people are occupied with something entirely different. “And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.” The whole earth was in their hands for judging and tormenting. Where is the ministry of reconciliation in that day? Where are the ambassadors that were formerly pleading in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God? That day is gone! People with discernment see that. God is doing something else then; judgment is on. And Israel and the nations are involved in it – not the Church!
III. The Seventh Trumpet and the “Last Trumpet”
The identification of the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 with the last trump of I Corinthians 15:52 and I Thessalonians 4:16 is probably the most important key to the Midtribulation rapture theory. The entire structure of this view stands or falls with the ability of its adherents to prove three related propositions: first, that the seventh trumpet falls in the middle of the week; second, nothing before this trumpet is Tribulation; and third, that the seventh trumpet is identical with the “last trump.” The obvious weaknesses of the first two propositions have been demonstrated, and the fallacy of the third will be even more transparent.
(1) Any identification of these two trumpets is, at best, based on the surface similarity that one is designated “last,” while the other completes a series of seven. In rather a naïve way, both midtribulationalists and posttribulationalists assume that this is sufficient evidence to prove that they are identical.
Then the same mighty angel lifts his hand to heaven and swears that the End-Time has come, declaring that during the days in which the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God would be finished. It will be remembered, that the rapture is to take place, according to First Corinthians, fifteen, fifty-two, at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and that the Church is spoken of as a mystery. Apparently the Church ascends as the seventh angel sounds his trumpet.
The same assumption is made even more emphatically:
St. Paul, by inspiration of the Spirit, definitely places the Resurrection and the Rapture of the saints through the coming of Christ “at the last trumpet” (I Cor. 15:51, 52). This is a specific locating of the event. Unquestionably the Holy Spirit revealed the fact and inspired the recording of it. How dare any one locate it otherwise? … Can we postulate the Rapture at any other place than that given by and through the Apostle Paul and claim to maintain the integrity of God’s Word? … When, however, we reach the last Trumpet in The Revelation, last in the series, we shall find much satisfying evidence that the event is actually taking place.
This identification of the two trumpets is not new. Hermann Olshausen, in his Biblical Commentary on the New Testament, had made the same claim almost one hundred years before, although adding: “The expression [last trump] is of course to be understood figuratively of some stupendous spiritual influence, which arouses mankind for some mighty purpose.” However, we are more inclined to agree with Ellicott, who says:
There are no sufficient grounds for supposing that there is here [in I Cor. 15:52] any reference to the seventh Apocalyptic trumpet (Rev. 11:15)…. This σαλπιγξ [trumpet] the Apostle here terms εσχατη [last], not with reference to any preceding series … but as connected with the close of this αιωυ [age] and the last scene of this world’s history.
We believe that the “last trump” will close the Church age, but that it will sound several years prior to the seven judgment trumpets of Revelation.
(2) There are many references to trumpets in the Word of God. Unless there is clear and concrete evidence, it is most precarious to identify trumpets found in different parts of the Bible. Paul’s “last trump” need not be the same as John’s “seventh trumpet,” and particularly so, since different subjects are in view. Then too, trumpets serve for various purposes. In Leviticus 23:24, there as “a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation” (cf. Num. 29:1-6). From Numbers 10:1-10 it is apparent that the same trumpets were used for vastly different purposes: “the calling of the assembly,” “the journeying of the camps,” the gathering together of the “princes … of Israel,” to “blow an alarm,” and to “blow with trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices.”
The actual blowing of the trumpets was not the central issue: “But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm” (v. 7). The important question is, “what tune did the trumpets play?” Even though two trumpets may be clearly identified as the same, that in itself does not suffice to prove that each trumpet blast commands the same action. Nor did the trumpets of Israel serve to call the heathen, or any other nation outside the camp. It is most arbitrary to claim: “The Trumpets, in their religious aspect, serve to assemble God’s earthly people in their land and His heavenly people in heaven.
(3) Now, dealing more directly with the matter of the identification of the two trumpets, it is asked: “How can a trumpet sound for the Church before seven other trumpets, and still be called the ‘last trump’?” This is a fair question, but the simple answer is that the “last trump” and the seventh trumpet are each last in their own sphere. The “last trump” is last in respect to the Church, and if mention of it must be found in the book of Revelation, let it be identified with the trumpet voice of 4:1 which said, “Come up hither,” and not with the last of a series of trumpet judgments which pertain, not to the Church, but to Israel and the nations in the Tribulation. The “seventh trumpet” of Revelation 11 is “last” only in respect to the other six of the series. It certainly is not the last trumpet to sound in time and eternity, or even in respect to the Tribulation and the return of the Lord. The trumpet of Matthew 24:31, which serves to gather the elect of God, is “after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29), and so follows (in point of time) the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Harrison admits this, but Lang is in error when he states: “The last trump of Scripture is recorded in Rev. 11:15-18.” The very fact that another trumpet must blow after the Tribulation, which is obviously after the seventh trump, gives one to believe that the sounding of a trumpet will have a prominent place in the experience of Israel during the Millennium – this, a very normal expectation if one is to judge from Israel’s history. It would be very abnormal to dogmatize that no trumpet will sound its voice throughout eternity, simply on the basis that the closing signal of the Church age is designated as the “last trump.”
(4) Again, one may inquire: “How can a trumpet blown for the Church at a pretribulational rapture be rightfully called ‘last,’ when no trumpet precedes, and seven trumpets follow?” As it has been seen, the fact of subsequent trumpets is no problem. Even a schoolboy knows that the sounding of “the last bell” in the morning does not mean that the bell will not ring at regular intervals during the day. As to the objection that a single trumpet cannot properly be called “last,” the explanation of Silver in this respect is very plausible: “It is not improbable that there are two blasts sounded in quick succession. The ‘trump of God’ sounds and the dead arise: almost instantly it sounds again and the living are translated.” If such is the case, since the dead are to rise first, the trumpet of I Thessalonians 4:16 will awaken the dead in Christ, and the trumpet of I Corinthians 15:52 (the “last trump”) will summon those who have been raised and those who are alive and believe in Christ, into the Lord’s presence.
Nor is it improbable that there will be additional trumpet signals in the last days other than those indicated by Scripture. While the merits of pretribulationalism do not depend on details such as these, there is certainly nothing to overthrow or weaken the position in the alleged identification of Paul’s “trump” with the “seventh trumpet” of John.
(5) Moreover, there are distinct points of dissimilarity between these trumpets. The contexts in question are vastly different. The trumpets of Revelation introduce judgments of God; they bring into being a time of unparalleled suffering, and comprehend the godless nations of the earth. The trumpet of I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 is distinctly for the Church, implies nothing of judgment or anything else connected with the godless, and introduces for the believer in Christ a time of unprecedented glory and privilege, even the joy of His presence. In the trumpet portion of the Revelation, there is no hint of translation, but a rushing onward toward the climax of God’s fearful wrath and certain judgment. There are indications that the blasts of the seven trumpets extend over the respective period of judgment each introduces, even as in Exodus 19:19, “the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder,” and in Joshua 6:5, 13, at the conquest of Jericho, “the priests went on continually, and blew with the trumpets,” So, Revelation 10:7 speaks of “the days of the voice of the seventh angle, when he shall begin to sound.” There is no parallel here to a trumpet signal for the hosts of the redeemed to ascend, characterized as it must be: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.” All this speaks of brevity, of speed, of an instantaneous translation, and certainly not of a prolonged trumpet blast and a period of days or weeks during which are poured out the seven last judgments of God.
In addition, the very terminology which describes the trumpets differs. The seventh trumpet is said to be blown by an angel, but the “last trump” is clearly designated as “the trump of God.” While it is not contended that each angelic trumpet may not be a trump of God, inasmuch as angels are commissioned to do God’s bidding, it does not follow automatically that the last of these seven is the trump of God. Strombeck comments:
In the search for “the last trump” one must, then, be guided by the fact that it is God’s own trumpet, sounded by the Lord Himself. In view of this one would hardly be willing to contend that the last trumpet of God is the last of a series of trumpets blown by the priests of the Aaronic priesthood. These were not in a class with the trumpet of God. Remembering that the angels are only a little higher than man, it is just as contrary to the laws of logic to say that “the last trump,” which is God’s own trumpet, is the last of a series of trumpets blown by angels. Both men and angels are creations of God. They cannot sound the trumpet of the Creator.
When midtribulationalists identify the rapture of the Church with the ascension of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:12, they seem to overlook completely the fact that the seventh trumpet is not blown until 11:15, with the great earthquake of the “second woe” intervening. Thus, in Revelation 11, the resurrection (if such is typified) precedes the seventh trumpet and is found in the time of the sixth, while in I Corinthians 15, resurrection is “at [έυ] the lat trump,” and in I Thessalonians 4, the Lord descends “with the trump.” The supposed identification of these trumpets strains the Scriptures at every point of investigation, yet this is the core of the midtribulational argument. Instead of a positive identification of the two trumpets in question, the best midtribulationalism can offer is a shallow, surface similarity – a similarity which breaks down wherever and whenever it is examined in the light of relevant Scriptures.
(6) By the very nature of their position, midtribulationalists must go to the eleventh chapter of the Revelation, with its account of the resurrection of the two witnesses and the sounding of the seventh trumpet, to find anything which even vaguely resembles a rapture of the saints in the midst of the week. From the viewpoint of those who endeavor to find therein some tangible support for this theory, the chapter must be most disappointing. In view is the ancient city of Jerusalem, with its temple, its court and its altar – hardly the setting in which to find vital Church doctrine. The witnesses and their ministry give every evidence of being literal and cannot be relegated to the position of symbols, particularly of the dead and the living believers in Christ. The chronology of the entire scheme is in error, for the witnesses are raised in the time of the sixth trumpet rather than the seventh, while this seventh trumpet is identified with events at the close of the week rather than with its midpoint. If anything prior to the sounding of the seventh trump falls within the dispensation of grace, than grace is no longer grace, or else the seals and the trumpets must be made sweet and desirable, in which case language fails to have any significant meaning. Nothing less than the most flagrant spiritualization can deny that Tribulation commences with Revelation 6 and “great tribulation” at least by 7:14. As demonstrated, the barest surface similarity links the trumpet of Revelation 11:15 with the “last trump” which sounds at the rapture of the Church; beyond this ,all else is contrast. Harrison presents “sixfold evidence linking World War II with the Trumpets of Revelation 8,” but since error is so evident in the chronology of the first six trumpets, making their blowing in the neighborhood of 1941, it is hardly to be expected that the chronology of the seventh should be any the less in error. Concerning the eleventh chapter of the Revelation, Ottman says: “Interpreters of the Revelation exhibit more confusion in the exposition of this chapter than elsewhere,” and cites the words of Dean Alford that this chapter is “undoubtedly one of the most difficult in the whole Apocalypse.” It is upon this chapter that midtribulationalists lean most heavily to demonstrate their thesis, but instead of substantiating it as true, the chapter exposes its error and breaks the theory into pieces.
IV. Revelation 4 and the Twenty-Four Elders
There is one remaining midtribulational line of argumentation which demands some recognition. Stated simply, it is the negative proposition that there is no indication of the rapture in Revelation 4, not even symbolically when John responds to the summons, “Come up hither.” Harrison proposes seven reasons why rapture cannot occur at this point in the book and for the sake of a complete hearing, these will have brief consideration – although there is little to be gained by such a denial if the place of the rapture cannot be established later on in the Revelation.
A. What Happens at Revelation 4:11?
(1) “After these things I saw … I heard … I was” merely records the personal experience of the seer. It is just a change of viewpoint, it is argued, for John has seen and recorded “these things” and now turns to record “other things.” But there is more to the verse than this1 Change of time and place are involved, for with the words “come up hither,” the scene moves into the future and shifts from earth to heaven. Jesus is no longer seen as a mediatorial Priest “walking in the midst of the lampstands,” but comes into view in an entirely different character, and for the execution of other purposes. To see the rapture at this point in the Revelation corresponds perfectly with 1:19, which is the almost undisputed chronological key to the book. The present Church age corresponds to “the things which are,” and “the things which shall be hereafter” (μετά ταΰτα) refers evidently to events which shall transpire after the Church age has been completed. This being the case, it becomes apparent that 4:1 commences the futuristic section of the Revelation, identified as it is by the double use of the expression μετά ταΰτα. John has been speaking of things which pertain to the churches, but now he is about to unfold his vision of conditions upon earth and events in heaven after God’s program for the churches is finished.
(2) It is said further that “these things” refer to the visible churches which go on into the Tribulation, and (3) that a rapture at this point is inconsistent with the structural plan of the book: the Church, once mentioned, is left to play its part even though it is not again mentioned. It is difficult to find any weight to support these two arguments, for they so largely assume that which the author has undertaken to prove, namely, that the Church continues beyond this point in the book.
(4) It is argued that the revealed order of harvesting, “first the tares” (Matt. 13:30), indicates that the seals and trumpets must harvest the tares before the Lord of the Harvest gathers the “wheat” into His barn. But this is hardly conclusive, for in Matthew 13, the angels do the reaping, not the Beast, nor Satan. The time of reaping is set by God and starts with Revelation 14:15, not in chapter 6 with the opening of the first seal. It is most peculiar that our author argues that seals and trumpets harvest the tares, for according to his view, these fall in the sweet half of the seven years and are not part of the Tribulation at all, but are rather in the closing scenes of the Church age.
(5) There fails to appear any redeemed company in glory. The position and description of the twenty-four elders fail to suggest any company of people such as would have to be present after the rapture. Since both midtribulationalists and posttribulationalists argue strenuously that the elders cannot represent the Church, the identification of this interesting company will receive a more detailed treatment very shortly.
(6) None of the revealed accompaniments of the coming of Christ are here in this passage. But this is not true, for translation is suggested in the words “come up hither,” and there is a voice as of a trumpet, an open door in heaven, and a redeemed company with their crowns. All of this, however, is not directly to the point. There is no need that all the accompaniments of the rapture be restated at every mention of the event. Nor is it necessary to pretribulationalism to find the rapture at all in this experience of John.
Chronologically, the rapture most probably occurs between the third and fourth chapters. The Tribulation section of the Revelation presumes that rapture is past, and neither rapture nor Church find mention at all in it. Judgment is in view and the persons involved are those who dwell on the earth. From this point on, the redeemed are seen in glory, and when Christ returns to the earth, He brings His saints with Him.
(7) The last of these reasons, said to be conclusive, is that Paul places the rapture at the “last trumpet,” identified with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11. Some of the difficulties of this view have already been demonstrated. From these seven reasons, it is safe to conclude that, although John’s experience need not typify the rapture, it has not been proved that it could not, and more important, nor has it been disproved that rapture occurs at this point in the chronology of the book. Pretribulationalists believe that from the viewpoint of Revelation 4:1, John looks down upon a world torn by Tribulation judgments, from which the Church and the restraint of the Holy Spirit have already been removed. As for the company beheld in heaven, although it is not essential to pretribulationalism to prove that the elders do indeed represent the Church in glory, if such an identity can be demonstrated, the case becomes that much more unassailable.
B. Who Are the Twenty-four Elders?
The first momentous sight to greet the eyes of the Apostle John when he was caught up into heaven to behold “things which shall be hereafter,” was a throne set in heaven, and One sitting upon the throne surrounded by twenty-four elders, each of which was upon a throne, wearing golden crowns and white raiment. Who are these glorious and privileged individuals, seated in such a place of prominence about the glorified Christ? Is there any way of determining their real identity? They are mentioned twelve times in the Revelation, and only in that portion where the Church is no longer seen on the earth (Rev. 4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). Do they, as so widely believed, represent and picture the glorified Church? There are a number of factors involved in finding an answer to these questions.
They are not a symbolic group. It is most difficult to conceive of John holding conversation with one-twenty-fourth part of a symbolic host (Rev. 5:5). These elders are individuals, although their title and actions indicate that they function in a representative sense (Rev. 5:8). It will be remembered that when Moses was commanded to give God’s message to the children of Israel, he did so through the elders of the people (Ex. 19:3-8). Likewise in the New Testament eldership is a representative office (Acts 15:2; 20:17), so although the elders of the Revelation cannot symbolize the Church in glory, they can be representative of the Church, and thus still indicate the presence of that glorified body in heaven before Tribulation judgment. To recognize these elders as representative of the Church overcomes the objection: “If so great a company of redeemed were present, their failure to appear and join in the New Song is utterly inexplicable.”
But it must be remembered that the rapture will only add a relatively small number to the multitude of saints already “with Christ.” Even if Dr. Harrison were right, there still ought to be a great number of saints in heaven. In private conversation, Dr. Harrison has recognized this fact, but stated that these believers must be in some other part of heaven, for it is vast enough that they do not appear in the scene described by Revelation 4-5. If this be so, why could not the raptured saints also be there in that remote part of heaven? It is easier to believe that the twenty-four elders do represent the Church.
Harrison says that “there is no suggestion that those whom they represent are there with them. Quite the opposite: they always appear and act in their individual capacity.” If this were true, after the rapture which Harrison places in Revelation 11:12, their number should materially increase, which, however, is not the case (Rev. 11:16). Twenty-four may well be the very number of representation, as was the case in the number of courses of the Levitical priesthood (I Chron. 24:1-19).
To further the identification of the elders, they are not angels (Rev. 5:11; 7:11), for the angels are grouped around the elders; nor are they the same as the four living creatures. Every time the elders are mentioned, they are clearly distinguished from celestial beings. Scripture never speaks of the angels being crowned or seated on thrones; they are never designated elders, neither are they said to sing. Nor could angels ever join with the song of the redeemed, for no redemption was provided for angels who left their first estate, while angels who did not fall need no redemption. However, all of these privileges from which angels are excluded are open to the Church (Matt. 19:28; I Pet. 5:4; II Tim. 4:8).
These 24 elders are not angels … as is shown … by their white robes and crowns, the rewards of endurance … but representatives of the Church, as generally understood.
There are five characteristics which seem adequate to identify the elders as representatives of the glorified Church: their position, their worship, their raiment, their crowns, and their song.
Their position, in proximity to a throne which evidently is that of Christ, and the fact that they themselves occupy thrones, indicates that the Church is in view. They are found in the place of honor, with a royal association between their own thrones and the one central throne. To the Church alone is co-enthronement with Christ promised (Rev. 3:21; Matt. 19:28), as also the authority to judge angels (I Cor. 6:2, 3). Neither the twenty-four elders, nor their thrones, ever appear after Revelation 19:7-9. From that point, the Church is seen as the bride of Christ, and evidently sits together with God’s Son upon His throne.
The identification of the elders with the Church is furthered by considering their worship. The initial act recorded of these elders is that they worship Him who sits upon the throne. In fact, throughout the book, whenever the elders are found in the presence of Christ they are prostrate in worship before Him.
The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns between the throne, saying Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Rev. 4:10, 11).
And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever (Rev. 5:14).
And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God (Rev. 11:16).
And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen: Alleluia (Rev. 19:4).
This attitude of worship, coupled with their intimate knowledge of God and His doings (John 15:15; Rev. 5:5; 7:13-17), is what would be expected of saints so recently caught up into the presence of their Lord.
The identification is made more certain by their raiment, for they are clothed in white (Rev. 4:4), everywhere typical of the righteousness of saints (Rev. 3:4, 5, 18; 7:9, 13, 14; cf. Isa. 61:10). It was an express promise to the overcomers at Sardis that they should be clothed in white raiment, even to walk with the Lord in white. Coupled with this raiment is the fact that the elders wear crowns, mindful of the promise made with those at Smyrna (Rev. 2:10) and the warning to those at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:11). They do not wear the monarch’s crown, or diadem (διάδημα), but the victor’s crown, won in conflict (στέφανος; cf. II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Pet. 5:4). The fact that these representative elders are crowned also indicates that resurrection is past, for disembodied spirits wear no crowns. As Seiss comments: “The coronation time is the resurrection time; and no one can be crowned until he is either resurrected if dead or translated if living.”
Thus the saints, represented by the elders, have been translated and have received their resurrection bodies. They have been rewarded, as the Lord has promised (I Cor. 3:12-14; 9:25; I Thess. 2:19; II Tim. 2:12), and are now wearing their crowns. The clear indication is that resurrection and rapture are past. In fact, it is rather obvious that they have just received their crowns, for shy should angelic beings who have worshiped and adored Christ from eternity past wait so long and for this particular moment to cast their crowns at His feet? Is it not more logical to conclude that the rapture and the rewarding of Church saints have just taken place – that the Church, fresh from scenes of earthly conflict, in gratitude and humility cast their every reward before the feet of the Saviour, joining the four living creatures in ascribing to Him all glory and honor and power? (Rev. 4:9-11).
A fifth identifying mark that these elders do represent the Church is found in the song they sing and the important claims that are made therein:
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:9, 10).
At this point both midtribulationalists and posttribulationalists introduce their primary argument against identifying the elders with the Church, or with representatives of the Church, or with redeemed people at all. There is a textual problem involved with the pronoun “us,” as found in the song of the elders. The important Codex Alexandrinus, of the fifth century, omits the word completely in verse 9, and a variety of manuscripts support the third person, “them” and “they” in verse 10. From this, it is argued most strenuously that the elders do not sing their redemption song, but rather, they sing of others from every tribe and nation who have been redeemed. While admitting that this is the reading favored by most of the revisers, it needs to be pointed out that the evidence is in no wise overwhelming.
“Thou has redeemed us …” (v. 9). This text is supported by the Textus Receptus, Codex Sinaiticus (4th century), Codex Basilianus (8th century), Codex St. Petersburg (apparently 8th century), Minuscule 1 (of uncertain date), and several other minuscules of late date, the Coptic, Latin, and Armenian (5th century) versions, and quoted by Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (248 a.d.), and by Primasius (6th century).
“And has made us …” (v. 10). This is supported by the Textus Receptus, Codes Fuldensis (6th century Latin version), Codex Coislinianus (10th century), and quoted by Arethas, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (10th century).
“and we shall rein on the earth …” (v. 10). This text is supported by the Textus Receptus, MSS. Demidovianus (12th century), MSS, Lipsienses (14th and 15th centuries), and quoted by Arethas (10th century), Primasius (6th century), Julius Firmicus (345 a.d.), Idacius (the name under which Vigilius of Thapsis, 484 a.d. published his work).
Also on this matter of manuscript evidence for maintaining the wording of the Authorized Version, Seiss writes:
Ηγορασας ημας hast redeemed us. Some critics and expositors have rejected this ημας, for the reason that it is omitted in the Codex Alexandrinus, and in the Ethiopic version; though the latter is not much more than a loose paraphrase. The Codex Sinaiticus, however, which was discovered in 1860, and which is of equal antiquity and authority with the Codex Alexandrinus, contains it. The Codex Basilianus, in the Vatican, contains it. The Latin, Coptic or Memphitic, and Armenian, which are of great value, contain it. And so do all other MSS. And versions. And to discredit it, simply and only because it does not appear in that one single Codex of Alexandria, is most unreasonable and unjust to the weight of authority for its retention. Dr. Tregelles, on full examination, was firmly convinced of its right to a place in the text, before the Codex Sinaiticus appeared; and the presence of this ημας in that MS., ought to settle the question of its genuineness forever. The evidences from the context, also argue powerfully for a construction which necessarily embraces it, whether expressed or not. We regard it as indubitably genuine.
Lang has further noted:
It is said that Alford, upon Dr. Tregelles assuring him that Codex Sinaiticus has the word, stated that he would re-insert it in his text. But this was not done, on account, we are told, of his death.
Since there is such textual support for the reading of the Authorized Version, advocates of the new reading can hardly be said to have won a sweeping victory. It would seem, to the contrary, that there is much in favor of retaining the old reading. Yet, even if the “us” were omitted and these verses thrown into the third person, still, there would be no adequate grounds for insisting that the elders were singing of the redemption of others. The song of the redeemed, sung by Moses and the children of Israel, as recording in Exodus 15:13, 17, is obviously sung about themselves, but is was sung objectively in the third person.
Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation…. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in. [Italics added.]
There are other cases in the New Testament where the third person is used in the place of the first person, no doubt for the sake of modesty. Paul evidently speaks of himself when he said: “I knew a man in Christ …” (II Cor. 12:2). Similarly, John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). Even though textual evidence be massed against the older reading of Revelation 5:9, 10, which to date has not been achieved, still it would not prove that the elders were referring to others as the redeemed of God. Of verse 10, Bengel writes: “The Hebrew construction of the third person for the first, has a graphic relation to the redeemed, and also has a more modest sound than us, priests.”
In the light of such evidence, it seems valid to conclude that the elders’ song is not sung by some unknown celestial beings, but by those who have experienced for themselves the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. That which they sing of themselves can be true only of the Church of Jesus Christ, of which they are a part, for the Church has been “redeemed” (I Pet. 1:18); its members are “priests” (I Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6); they have been gathered “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Acts 1:8); and certainly they “shall reign” with Christ on the earth (II Tim. 2:12). Israel, too, is to have a “new song” (Rev. 14:3, cf. 15:3) and will sing it themselves before the throne and the living creatures and the elders. It is, therefore, not strange that the “new song” of the Church will be sung by those to whom it rightfully belongs. How could glorified saints stand by in mute silence while others sing redemption’s story and not join in the refrain?
Considering the textual support for the song of the elders, and in view of the many other striking marks of identification, it is most surprising how lightly some of the brethren pass over all of this and insist that the elders are not redeemed, in fact, are not even human at all. It has been said that prejudice “squints when it looks,” and possibly that is the reason why the elders have fared so badly. Commentators, who have mustered all their arguments to prove that the elders cannot represent the Church, have given only the most vague ideas as to what or whom they think the elders do represent. Lang calls them “the senior executive officers of the Most High,” and “the noblest princes of heaven” while Reese is satisfied to designate them as “angelic lords.”
Most, however, will prefer to use the names the elders themselves suggest, namely, “redeemed from every nation,” and “kings and priests unto God.” They will see in them the Church of Jesus Christ, caught up to God, rewarded and glorified, preserved from Tribulation fires, and ascribing all glory and praise to the Saviour they love with a pure heart fervently.
It is important that these elders are never seen in heaven prior to the fourth chapter of the Revelation. In a vision, Isaiah saw the Lord and the heavenly seraphim, but saw no elders (Isa. 6:2, 3); Ezekiel looked up into glory and saw the four living creatures, but not the twenty-four thrones with their elders. With good reason, English inquires:
Why did Isaiah, who viewed other wonders of heaven, who looked upon the seraphim, fail to see the elders? Why did Ezekiel, who beheld other marvels – the precious, colorful stones, the rainbow, the glories; who viewed the four living creatures, miss the four and twenty elders seated upon thrones? Why did not John, in his former vision, take note of their presence in heaven? These servants of God did not see or describe the four and twenty thrones, and the four and twenty elders seated upon them, because the elders were not yet in heaven. It was when John was caught up into heaven in an experience quite similar to the coming translation of the Church – as a spectator, however, and not as a participant – that the four and twenty elders are first seen enthroned about the throne of the Lord. Here is a new body in heaven, at the end of the Church age and prior to the tribulation. They are not angels. They are not the seraphim. They are not the cherubim. They are not the four living creatures. They are evidently human beings, redeemed saints, as further examination of the passage will confirm.
In this present chapter, the leading arguments for midtribulationalism have been discussed, including the two main passages involved, the fourth and the eleventh chapters of the Revelation, and the key problems of the trumpets and the elders. Now, it must be left for the reader to judge whether or not the midtribulational theory has been disproved, and that from the passages most commonly cited in favor of the position. Returning once more to the elders, the following analysis by Armerding will be of interest to many, and will form a suitable conclusion to this phase of the investigation.
Again we see them, together with the four living creatures, listening to the new song of the 144,000 who stand on Mount Sion with the Lamb (Rev. 14:3). And the last thing that is said of them is that they fall down, in company with the four living creatures, and worship Him who sits on the throne, saying, “Amen, Alleluia” (Rev. 19:4). This last act of theirs is characteristic of them. Indeed, there are three things which seem to characterize them all through: (1) their intimate knowledge of Christ, (2) their nearness to Him, and (3) the worship they give Him. And we recall that our Lord, when praying for His own, asked that they might know Him, that they might be with Him, and that they might behold His glory (John 17:3, 24). And they were none other than the men which the Father had given Him out of the world.
 H. W. H., The Church and the Great Tribulation, p. 24. Here is a midtribulationalist writer who places the rapture in Revelation 7, following the sixth seal.
 Ibid., p. 41.
 Ibid., p. 19.
 G. H. Lang, Firstfuits and Harvests, p. 44.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., an extract from a letter published under the title: “Let the Prophets Speak …” Our Hope, LVI (June, 1950), 720.
 Norman B. Harrison, The End: Re-thinking the Revelation, p. 229. In this chapter, Dr. Harrison’s commentary on the book of Revelation will receive considerable attention because it is probably the outstanding recent publication to endorse at length the midtribulational view.
 Harrison, His Coming, p. 50.
 Ibid., The End, p. 91.
 Ibid., pp. 119, 120.
 Ibid., p. 118.
 Ibid., p. 152.
 Ibid., pp. 111, 112, 94, 105.
 Ibid., p. 50, Cf., His Coming, p. 51.
 Ibid., The End, p. 50.
 H. W. H., op. cit., pp. 9-10.
 Ibid., pp. 231, 232.
 Ibid., p. 233. These are essentially Cameron’s arguments, and have been answered in Chapter Six.
 Harrison, His Coming, pp. 10-13.
 Ibid., p. 50.
 Harrison, The End., p. 117.
 Loc. cit.
 Loc. cit.
 Ibid., pp. 107-9.
 H. A. Ironside, The Mysteries of God, pp. 95, 96.
 Harrison, The End, op. cit., p. 119.
 William R. Newell, The Church and the Great Tribulation, p. 20.
 Oswald T. Smith, The Book of Revelation, p. 37.
 Harrison, The End, op. cit., pp. 74, 75. Italics in the original.
 Hermann Olshausen, Biblical Commentary on the New Testament, IV, 398.
 Charles J. Ellicott, St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 325.
 Harrison, op. cit., p. 99.
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Lang, op. cit., p. 33.
 Jesse Forest Silver, The Lord’s Return, p. 235.
 Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 485.
 J. F. Strombeck, First the Rapture, p. 109.
 Harrison, His Coming., op. cit., p. 46.
 Ford C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages, pp. 260, 261.
 Ibid., p. 103.
 Harrison, The End, p. 83.
 Miner B. Stearns, book review: The End: Re-thinking the Revelation, Bibliotheca Sacra, 10 (January-March, 1942), 125.
 Harrison, op. cit., p. 78.
 Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, IV, 596.
 Joseph A. Seiss, Lectures on the Apocalypse, I, 250.
 R. Ludwigson, Simplified Classroom Notes on Prophecy, pp. 111, 112.
 Seiss, op. cit., III, 249.
 G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 126.
 J. A. Bengel, cited by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 566.
 Lang, op. cit., p. 188.
 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 94.
 E. Schuyler English, “Re-Thinking the Rapture,” Our Hope, LVII (September, 1950), 149.
 Carl Armerding, The Four and Twenty Elders, p. 10.