Crowns and Seals
By Steve Meehan
The subject of the Rapture is a very contentious one; not only to those outside the Christian faith, but even more so at times among those who profess to be followers of Christ. Whereas non-believers typically fall into the “scoffing” crowd – “where is the promise of His coming” (2 Peter 3:4) – generally within the Christian ranks, the various theories on the timing of the event are what cause the most heartburn. The pre-Tribulation rapture theory would seem to be supported by some key verses that will be detailed below.
In the book of Revelation, chapter 4, the apostle John is in exile on the island of Patmos – in the Spirit on the Lord’s day – when he is given the Revelation of Jesus Christ. He is told to write of the things he has seen, the things which are, and the things that will take place in the future. As a representative of the Church – the body of believers in Jesus Christ – John is still in Patmos when given the seven letters to send to the seven churches; symbolic of the fact that the Church was still present on the Earth during this Church Age, or Age of Grace.
After the dictation was completed to the churches while still on Earth, the scene then immediately shifts to future events when he is whisked away to Heaven in spirit – since his corrupted flesh could not enter into the heavenly realm. With the command of “Come up hither”, it has to be symbolic of the Rapture of the Church to Heaven. He could have easily been given the vision of Heaven and future events while he was still physically on Patmos. The writer of Job, under the inspiration from the Holy Spirit, while on Earth, wrote of the behind-the-scenes glimpse of the sons of God presenting themselves before God in Heaven, and also of the conversation between God and Satan concerning Job. Moses wrote of the Creation account in detail, an event that preceded him by hundreds of years.
The command “Come up here” to John has to have a special significance. It wasn’t used or written about when God “took” Enoch, nor when Elijah was carried up by a whirlwind into Heaven; neither of them was representative of the Church. The apostle Paul spoke of his being carried in spirit into the third heaven (he couldn’t tell if he was out of the body or not) but he never mentioned the command to ‘come up here’. This had to be a unique reference to the future shout and command for the Church to come up to Heaven.
Another interesting aspect of the scene that John witnesses in Heaven are the 24 elders seated around God’s throne, all wearing crowns of gold. Some bible scholars have concluded that these 24 represent the redeemed Church – they are all wearing white raiment, symbolic of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them by Christ’s death on the cross. Angels are not redeemed nor will they rule and reign with Christ, as the Church has been promised this unique role. But the crowns of gold are a very revealing characteristic of something that must have taken place before any of the seals of the Tribulation period are broken open.
There are five crowns to be awarded to those Christians that have persevered, suffered and went the extra mile in their service and devotion to the Lord while on Earth. They are:
1. The Incorruptible Crown (the Victor’s crown) – given for faithfulness in self-control
“And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air. But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” – 1 Corinthians 9: 25-27
2. The Crown of Rejoicing (the Soul Winner’s crown) – given for faithfulness in service
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20
“…my joy and crown…” – Philippians 4:1
3. The Crown of Righteousness (those who love His appearing) – faithfulness in testimony
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” – II Timothy 4:7, 8
4. The Crown of Glory (the Shepherd’s or Pastor’s crown) – faithfulness in tending those entrusted to you
“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away.” – 1 Peter 5:2-4
5. The Crown of Life (sometimes called the Martyr’s crown) – faithfulness in temptation
“Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” – James 1:12
If these are the crowns to be awarded for exemplary service, then when are these crowns presented? A hint is given the close of the Book of Revelation and the end of Scripture:
“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” – Revelation 22:12
All Christians must appear before Christ at what is called the Bema Seat Judgment. The bema was a Greek term used to indicate a raised platform where awards were handed out to the victorious participants of a contest. This judgment seat of Christ will be where the Lord judges the quality of our work or service for Him, and whether or not the qualities of those works will measure up to the category of ‘gold, silver or precious stones’ status or will be merely considered in the ‘wood, hay and stubble’ classification – worthless due to wrong motives or lack of service. The believer’s crowns will be presented during this event.
It would seem then, that since the 24 Elders are seen sitting around the throne of God wearing crowns, that the Bema Seat Judgment must have already transpired, before the first seal of the Tribulation has been opened (Revelation 6:1). That would also indicate that the Rapture of the Church had already happened, since the Bema Seat Judgment follows that event. It would stand to reason that the wearing of such a crown as of gold would not be able to happen until a departed saint – prior to the Rapture – had attained his glorified body. Unless it is an ethereal crown of gold, a spirit would, more than likely, not be able to support such an adornment.
The first seal of the Tribulation being broken by Jesus after the 24 Elders have cast their crowns before the throne of God (Revelation 4:10) lends itself then to the notion that the Rapture of the Church and Bema Seat Judgment have already occurred.
Another passage in the Bible that supports the theory of the Rapture being a pre-Tribulation event is found in II Thessalonians Chapter 2. A forged letter attributed to Paul was making the rounds in Thessalonica, that had the believers there concerned that they had missed the Rapture and were now living in the Tribulation period, or the Day of the Lord. He assures them that the evidence that would be prevalent if they were in fact living through the Tribulation period would be a falling away first from the true faith – apostasy – then the revealing of the antichrist. Only if they had seen those occurrences taking place, then indeed they would have missed out on the gathering of the saints to be with Christ.
He further informs them that that Wicked one will not be revealed until the Restrainer – the Holy Spirit filled Church – would be taken out of the way, enabling the antichrist’s entrance onto the world scene. In fact, as noted earlier, the raptured Church is already present in Heaven with crowns awarded, before Jesus Christ breaks open the first seal, unleashing the antichrist on to a deluded world. Paul tells them not to give heed to a fake letter or any other notion that they or we would be present in the world when the antichrist is to be revealed.
Why would the Church have to be on the Earth anyway during the Tribulation? Evangelization will be accomplished by no less than 144,000 ministers of the gospel; 12,000 each from the rediscovered 12 tribes of Israel. Each will be converted and sealed by the Holy Spirit. With approximately 196 countries presently around the globe, dividing this 144,000 by 196 would allow for an average of 734 Billy Graham types to each country – great or small. To break it down even further, the USA with 50 states could have 14 evangelists in each state. With that number, plus the two witnesses in Israel and a reference to an angel flying across the heavens with the gospel, the Word will go forth and people redeemed. It is no wonder that the number of the Tribulation saints in Heaven under the altar will be an innumerable amount.
The Church does not need to be present in the world during the Day of the Lord. Our commission will be concluded at the Rapture and the Church Age will be over. The Tribulation period is the final week of Daniel’s 70 week prophecy found in Daniel 9:24 –
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.”
The time is the final testing for the nation of Israel, for the city of Jerusalem, to bring an end to sin and to bring in everlasting righteousness. The Church has already accepted God’s free gift of salvation in Christ. We accepted the One who came in His Father’s name. The world has not. Israel, at this point, has not,. The world is ready to accept another who comes in his own name. They will get him; the Body of Christ will not.
The phrase “the Day of the Lord” is another interesting term dealing with the end times. Some have concluded that the Day of the Lord will encompass the seven year Tribulation Period, as well as Christ’s millennial reign; which begins after the Armageddon campaign, when Christ physically returns to Earth. It will be a day when God intervenes directly again into the affairs of humanity. It is described in many verses throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.
It is mentioned by Paul as noted above in II Thessalonians 2:2 as “the day of Christ”. In Philippians 1:6, Paul refers to “the day of Jesus Christ”. In I Corinthians 5:5 as “the day of the Lord Jesus”. Other notable verses include:
The day of our Lord Jesus Christ – I Corinthians 1:8
The day of God – 2 Peter 3:12
The day of the Lord – Zephaniah 1:7
The great day of the Lord – Zephaniah 1:14
The great and terrible day of the Lord – Joel 2:31
The great and dreadful day of the Lord – Malachi 4:5
The great day of God Almighty – Revelation 16:14
The great day of His wrath – Revelation 6:17
The day of vengeance of our God – Isaiah 61:2
The day of the Lord’s anger – Zephaniah 2:2
The day of the Lord’s wrath – Zephaniah 1:18
The day of wrath – Romans 2:5
The day of wrath – Zephaniah 1:15
The day of His coming – Malachi 3:2
These and other verses throughout God’s Word make it apparent that a day of reckoning will burst forth onto a sinful and rebellious world. We live in an age of Grace now, but the wrath of God will one day be manifested on those who reject God’s atonement for sin, the death of His Son on the cross. It is not a time to look forward to, but rather to avoid at all costs.
It is interesting that this Day of the Lord will conclude with the Great White Throne Judgment in Heaven, after Christ’s 1000 year reign on Earth has ended. But the Bema Seat Judgment, after the Rapture of the Church, must be what immediately precedes the very onset of this Day of the Lord. These bookend judgments that deal with believers and non-believers alike encompass the time that will soon begin in the near future.
The verses mentioned above, along with others, seems to give credence to the fact the Rapture will precede the seven year Tribulation period. Even if it doesn’t, the most important thing to consider is to be prepared; Christ could come back for His own at any time.
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” – I Thessalonians 5:2
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” – I Peter 3:10
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” – Matthew 24:42
“…Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” – Revelation 22:20
“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” – Rev 3:11
The time is quickly drawing near when the shout will go out and Christ will call His Church home. The crowning ceremony will then commence. Are you prepared to meet the Lord Jesus? A crown is promised for those who love His appearing and are watching for His soon return.
Will it be a crown awarded in Heaven, or will you be in the world when the seals are broken?