God will allow His most faithful people, the 144,000, to be His witnesses on Earth during the great tribulation. God’s people will be protected from the full force of the plagues by the seal of God, but they will still suffer to a certain extent; some will even face martyrdom. This being the case, they obviously cannot have been “raptured” (taken to heaven) before the time of trouble.

Many Evangelical Christians today believe that the present “dispensation” (phase of God’s activity) is the “time of the gentiles.”[1] They teach that those who are faithful Christians now will be secretly “raptured”—that God will take them to heaven before the great tribulation. This is supposed to be followed by the seven-year time of trouble which is God’s dispensation for the conversion of the Jews and those “gentiles” who were not converted and raptured before the time of trouble.[2] This theme has been popularized by books and movies such as the “Left Behind” series which portray a sudden disappearance of Christians, snatched away from the driver’s seat of cars, from airplanes, out of their beds. The sealing of the 144,000 is, according to this theory, the conversion of Jews, who then become witnesses during the time of trouble. Those who were true and faithful Christians will have been raptured and will look on from the safety of heaven.

While this is a nice theory, and most Christians would love to escape the time of trouble, the Bible does not teach this anywhere. Instead of a clear teaching from the Bible, the doctrine of the secret rapture is presented and then texts are given which supposedly support it. Many of these texts actually teach the exact opposite of the secret rapture. This theory is analyzed in Appendix 4: The Secret Rapture. The important point is that God’s witnesses, the 144,000, are from spiritual Israel, not literal, and will be sealed before the great tribulation. They will not be raptured away, but will be on earth, protected by the seal of God on their foreheads.” Even though protected, it will be a fearsome time, as portrayed in Psalm 91:“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence…A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you, only with your eyes shall you look and see the reward of the wicked…No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for he shall give His angels charge over you” (Psalm 91).

The danger of believing in the secret rapture is that when the time of trouble strikes, those who have expected to be carried away beforehand will be plunged into doubt concerning their own spiritual condition. No doubt Satan will make it appear that some have been raptured away, and those who believed in the rapture will think that they were left behind. The thought that their faith was insufficient to be among God’s raptured people will be used by Satan to tempt them to give up on God.

But even the Apostle Paul expected to be on earth until the resurrection if Jesus had returned in his lifetime. “We who are alive and remain[3] until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep [those who have died]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven…and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:15,16). We will be raptured, but it will happen at the Second Coming, when the dead will be resurrected. During the time of trouble God’s people will be on earth, threatened by enemies but safe in Him.

Continue to next section: 9:4,5,10 FIVE MONTHS—LITERAL OR PROPHETIC TIME?

[1] Dispensationalists point to texts such as Luke 21:24, “And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” as evidence that God has different plans for saving the Gentiles and the Jews. According to this theory, God’s plan for the Jews during the Old Testament was that they would be saved because they were obedient in keeping the law, that during the time of the Gentiles people could be saved by grace through faith, and that the Jews would have another chance to be saved during the time of trouble after the “rapture” of the church. The converted Jews would then preach the gospel to the other people who had been “left behind.”

[2] It should be kept in mind that the 144,000, who are sealed in their foreheads and protected in the midst of the trumpet plagues (Revelation 9:4) are not Jews who have rejected Jesus and are converted during the time of trouble. 1) They are sealed before the plagues begin (Revelation 7:1-8) whereas the rapture theorists contend that the Jews will be converted during the great tribulation. 2) They “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (Revelation 14:4), which indicates that they have not been involved in false religious systems (see chapter 14:1-5). 3) They are sealed out “of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation7:4), whereas the Jews are descendents of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi (1 Kings 12, esp. verses19-24, 2 Kings 17, esp. v. 18). In chapter 7 it was pointed out that Israel is now spiritual Israel, and includes all who are true “children of Abraham,” having the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:9-16). Paul makes it clear that many Jews will be saved (Romans 11), along with “the fullness of the Gentiles…and so all [spiritual] Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25,26). But there is nothing in scripture to indicate that the Jews will ever again be God’s chosen people. 4) There are no earlier texts (or later ones either) in Revelation that can be pointed to as being the rapture event. Revelation 4:1 is sometimes cited, but it is clear that it is John who is taken to heaven in vision, not the church.

[3] The Greek word is perileipomenoi which means those left behind, the survivors. So Paul expected himself to be among those left behind!