Revelation 4 and 5: A Door to Heaven (Part 2 – Conclusion) – by Gary Stearman –
Allegory, Reality, or Both?
Over the years, many writers have suggested that the door through which John passed, represents the rapture. Coming, as it does, at the end of the era of the seven churches, it fits perfectly on a chronological scale between the church age and the appearance of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If this is the case, it is a striking and persuasive illustration of the pretribulation rapture of the church.
Others have objected to this reading on the basis that it requires an allegorical interpretation of the text. On one count, they have a point. Namely, in the past, allegorical interpretations of Scripture have twisted biblical truth and given birth to bizarre beliefs. Those who object to allegorical interpretation rightly assert that there is a danger of reading something into the text that is not really there.
But Jesus stands at the allegorical door of the human heart, and immediately after that, we find the door swinging open. From Jesus’ side of the door, evangelism is in mind … the Gospel is offered. From John’s side, entrance to heaven is offered. In other words, immediately following Christ’s statement that He stands at the door, we find a door opening. Which of the two doors is allegorical?
The first is Christ’s offer to come through the door, and to dine (have fellowship) with any believer. The second invites John to come to heaven as an observer and witness. The ultimate manifestation of this transaction is a real, future event, the marriage supper of the Lamb:
"And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.
"And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
"And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
"And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God" (Rev. 19:5-9).
Whether or not it is allegorical, the door represents a real idea. Anyone who has ever read Pilgrim’s Progress knows that a door is a representation of the Christian walk, a spiritual journey through biblical prophecy. It is a trip through a sinful world, wherein Pilgrim battles his own sinful nature, and enters the "Wicket Gate," offering a door to the way of the righteous. It is an end, and it is a beginning. Ultimately, he arrives at the Land of Beulah (married), and the city of God. John Bunyan perfectly understood the door.
An allegory is a fictional story that features characters and events that represent people, events and ideas that illustrate deeper meanings. Their characters (like Pilgrim) are usually mythical, specifically designed to communicate symbolic concepts of one kind or another. But in the Bible, the characters are real.
For example, Paul cited Sarah and Hagar as allegorical; the first representing the covenant of grace in the New Jerusalem, and the second, a symbol of the Law and Mount Sinai. So the real problem is not with allegorical interpretation itself, but with carrying it too far.
Sometimes, allegories are used to portray mysteries. And this is certainly an important part of New Testament theology. Much Apostolic teaching is built around the recognition that ideas, which were mysteries in the past have now – through Christ – become understandable.
Joseph, Allegory of Christ
The life of Jacob’s son Joseph can be taken as one of the most dynamic mystery expositions of all time. He was obedient, and his father rewarded him with an outer garment of glory, called the "coat of many colors." It was symbolic of righteousness. Then, he dreamed that his brothers would honor him and bow down to him. As a result, he became an outcast, and was sold into slavery by the rebellious older brothers.
Many students of Scripture have pointed out that his life then followed a pattern that prefigures the life of Jesus. As many as fifty similarities between their lives have been drawn. A few of them follow:
Like Christ, Joseph was obedient to his father and was sent to his brothers. They hated him, and decided to kill him. He was placed in a pit and raised out of that pit. His coat, dripping with blood, was like the robe of Jesus. Joseph disappeared for many years before reappearing to his brothers. Joseph’s dealings with Potiphar and Pharaoh bear marked similarities to Jesus’ interactions with Pilate and Caesar. Both Joseph and Jesus were in the words of Isaiah, "numbered with the transgressors."
"Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12).
In prison, Joseph, like Christ, was placed between two thieves … the butler, whom he blessed, and the baker, whom he judged. And like Christ, he rose from the death of prison to become the redeemer of his people. In exile, he dominated Egypt (the world system), eventually using it to save his brothers from starvation. In the end, Joseph was given a new name – "Zaphnath-paaneah" – "revealer of secrets." Christ openly revealed the secrets of redemption. And like Christ, Joseph even took a Gentile bride, "Asenath!"
Is it legitimate to view Joseph’s life as an allegory of Christ? Apparently so, for it is often done, and has been used as an illustration of God’s will and His plan.
With this in mind we would return to that allegorical door, recalling that Christ gave John specific instructions concerning the Revelation. First, He said:
"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter" (Rev. 1:19).
Then, after having thus instructed John, the Lord revealed the future path of the church, in the procession of the seven churches of Asia Minor. As generally understood, we are presently living at the end of that period. After receiving this revelation, John then learned what, exactly, was meant by the term, "hereafter." In fact, he defined exactly what He meant by that term. It is obviously the period that follows the era of the church:
"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter" (Rev. 4:1).
If it is permissible to view the "door" as an allegorical reference to the rapture, then it represents a point in real time. "Hereafter," is obviously the span of time that immediately follows the dispensation of the church. Of course, this includes the catching-away of the church.
This door stands at the apex of biblical prophecy, the rapture and resurrection of the saints. It is also critically placed at the inception of the "Day of the Lord." That day will not – cannot – come until certain historical events have come to pass.
Among these, are at least two notable time markers. The first is mentioned by Daniel as the global power consortium of the latter days, called "the fourth beast:"
"Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.
"And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings" (Dan. 7:23,24).
Here, in compact form, is a description of the final Gentile world power, controlled by ten governing monarchs. Today, there is little doubt that we have already entered the period that will witness the rise of these "kings." Though they are not yet visible as individuals, we now see various world powers clamoring for a single currency and a world government. Every global calamity that occurs from now on will fuel a new plea for the vaunted "New World Order." Apparently, at first, they feel secure in their power, but unwittingly provide the base for the rise of the Antichrist.
The second time marker is found in Ezekiel 38, at the northern invasion of Israel by the military alliance headed by Gog. The battle, invading an Israel of open towns in a restored wasteland that looks remarkably like today’s societal arrangement, is described at length, with the following note:
"And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, that my fury shall come up in my face.
"For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel" (Ezek. 38:18,19).
And what "day" could that be? Ezekiel describes it as a day of wrath. We can say with a high degree of certainty that it is the Day of the Lord. In fact, this observation is supported by two verses in the chapter immediately following the above quotation:
"So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.
"Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord GOD; this is the day whereof I have spoken" (Ezek. 39:7,8).
It is not often that we see such a clear connection as this. It is none other than the terrible day first proclaimed by the prophet Joel in the ninth century, B.C.:
"And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" (Joel 2:11).
Ezekiel and Joel are talking about the same event. How can there be the least doubt that Gog’s invasion comes at the inception of the seven-year Tribulation? The Lord’s judgment in anger comes at the same time when Gog launches his assault. Furthermore, the Lord, Himself, tells Ezekiel that this is the day that is so often prophesied in the Old Testament.
In summation, the "hereafter" period and the opening of the door to heaven must come at some time prior to Ezekiel’s battle, which itself, seems to roughly coincide with the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
The Door Today
But we must also mention another prominent reference to the door. It is found in the description of Philadelphia, the church of brotherly love. In the prophetic procession of the churches, this little group represents the faithful of the latter days. Most expositors place the beginning of this period at about 1700, after the end of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany.
It represents the period of democracy, invention and international business. The exponential expansion of travel and trade were plainly foreseen in a well-known Old Testament prophecy: "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (Dan. 12:4).
All this opened the door to world evangelism, accompanied by the global distribution of Bibles. Communications of every kind exploded, allowing mass propagation of the Gospel. Radio, shortwave, television and satellite now beam its message to the entire world.
Many would say that the Philadelphian church period came to a close around 1900, as intellectual criticism and the social gospel became popular. But in truth, this church period continues to the present day, wherever a love of the Lord and His Word prevails. The pure Gospel of the Lord, though limited in power and influence, is still present and fully functional.
And thus it was prophesied:
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
"I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Rev. 3:7,8).
As we have seen, the door before the church of Laodicea is closed. Nevertheless, Christ stands before it and knocks, offering salvation to those inside.
To the church of Philadelphia, the door is unlocked and open. Earlier in Revelation, Jesus had told John that He had power over death and the grave: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev. 1:18). Keys are a commanding representation of authority. He who holds the keys has the power.
Now, He mentions another key, "the key of David." This is an expression of the Lord’s royal claim as ruler of the universe. It is as the angel Gabriel told Mary when he announced Christ’s birth:
"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
"And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32,33).
It is this power that has opened the door for the little church of Philadelphia. And this open door is far more than merely the freedom to publicize the Gospel. It is also a wonderful symbol of the doctrine of the imminent rapture. From the days of the Apostles to this day, the expectation is that the Lord can return for His faithful at any moment.
As Dr. John F. Walvoord wrote in his book, The Rapture Question, "The hope of the return of Christ to take the saints to heaven is presented in John 14 as an imminent hope. There is no teaching of any intervening event. The prospect of being taken to heaven at the coming of Christ is not qualified by description of any signs or prerequisite events. Here, as in other passages dealing with the coming of Christ for the church, the hope is presented as an imminent event" (p. 73).
This eminent scholar refers to a plain and simple statement made by Jesus to His disciples. It is commonly regarded as the first reference to the rapture of the church: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3).
There is perhaps no better symbol of this imminency than the open door set before the Philadelphian church. Yes, it allows the spread of the Gospel, but it is also a constant reminder that the blessed hope – the rapture – is at any given moment, only an instant away.
The Time of the Door
Returning then, to the door of Revelation 4:1, we would again ask the natural question. If the door does, in fact, represent the rapture, at what point in time does it open? And given the fact that Ezekiel’s battle comes at the beginning of the Tribulation, can we state with some certainty that the rapture occurs before this battle? Given the order of events in Revelation, the answer would be in the affirmative.
First, John envisions the era of the seven churches – the age of the church.
Second, he is raptured, taken to heaven, where he sees the throne of God, the 24 elders and the opening of the judgment scroll.
Third, he lays out the opening of the Tribulation – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
John’s rapture – the opening of the door into heaven – comes prior to the red horse of war, which seems to correspond to the advance of the great army led by Gog.
Today, we can observe the rise of the new Russian military. It is steadily upgrading its missile force and ground weaponry. It is also establishing a powerful Mediterranean navy. It solidly backs both Iran and Syria, while hurling daily criticism at Israel.
At the same time, we are witnessing the globalization of the economy, which the prophet Daniel visualized as ten kings who would rise to dominate the empire of the fourth beast. As yet, we cannot identify these kings, but we know that there is a strong movement to establish their territory, by dividing the world into economic zones, which the Bible portrays as being ten in number.
Following the recent U.S. economic crisis, many nations have called for internationalization of the currency. This is the first stage of the one-world government. It is rising on the corrupt foundation of apostate religion and moral degradation that now characterizes global politics.
War is ahead, followed by a massive reconstruction of global power. The door in time is about to open, and when it does, the world will change in cataclysmic ways:
"For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
"For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
"But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." (I Thes. 5:2-4).
Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Today, each individual believer opens that door to receive His grace. One day soon, the Lord will come through it from the other side to take us home.