Events in Heaven
The Rapture will trigger all the happenings leading to "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21.1). Broadly speaking, these events are divided into two - those taking place in heaven, and those on earth. The two spheres are not unconnected, for the Revelation shows that decisions made in heaven, and instructions given there, will impact on events on earth. However, there are three major events in heaven that we must consider.
The Opening of "the book"
The "things which shall be hereafter" (Rev 1.19) is an apt description of the section of Revelation that begins at ch.4. Before the horrors of the Tribulation commence in ch.6, space is devoted to an amazing scene in heaven. The throne of God is the focal point, and there comes a stage in proceedings where God, sitting on His throne, extends a scroll on the palm of His hand, a scroll embossed with seven seals (5.1). The challenge rings out, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" (v.2).
Can we identify this seven-sealed book? Those who are familiar with early customs tell us that its description is consistent with the style of ancient title deeds, and Scripture itself gives us that clue. When Jeremiah was buying a field, great care was taken with the legalities of the transaction (Jer 32.6-15). A document was drawn up and sealed in the presence of witnesses, a document described as "the deed of the purchase" (vv.11,12,14, RV). Jeremiah had a certificate proving legal title to that field. So then, if we identify the book on Gods hand as title deeds, it begs the question, title deeds to what? As the narrative proceeds it becomes evident that these are the title deeds to the earth, and as each seal is broken a fresh phase of events is introduced to prepare the earth for Christ to claim it, "The kingdoms of this world (becoming) the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Rev 11.15).
After the initial opportunity to take the book, there was inactivity and silence, a silence that was broken only by the sobs of the Apostle John (5.4). Would evil triumph forever? Would paradise never be regained? Would the devil have eternal dominion? Was there no one to remedy this situation? And so John wept. Step forward the Lamb! Someone is worthy to take the book and open its seals, and as He grasps the scroll heavens myriads burst into adoring worship: "Thou art worthy". He had paid the purchase price (v.9, RV), having bought the field for the sake of the treasure that was in it (Mt 13.44). He was the One who had "prevailed" (Rev 5.5). Creatorially, morally and redemptively He had established His claim to the earth, and so, as Revelation proceeds, He breaks the seals, initiating proceedings that lead to Him taking His possessions. "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Ps 2.8).
The Judgment Seat of Christ
A second major event in heaven will be the Judgment Seat of Christ. There are a number of future judgments that we dare not confuse. Gentile survivors of the Great Tribulation will be judged on earth when the Lord sits "upon the throne of his glory". They will be divided as an eastern shepherd separates sheep from goats. The "sheep" will enter the millennial Kingdom; the "goats" will experience "everlasting punishment". The information about that judgment is in Matthew 25.31-46 and we label it the "Judgment of the Nations".
Distinct from that is the Great White Throne judgment, details of which are in Revelation 20.11-15. The subjects of that judgment will be the unrepentant of all ages who have died. They will experience "the resurrection of damnation" (Jn 5.29), their final destiny, "the lake of fire".
Different again is the Judgment Seat of Christ, mention of which is made in two passages of Scripture (2 Cor 5.10; Rom 14.10) with allusions in other places. The common factor to these three judgments is that the Lord Jesus will be the judge (Jn 5.22). For the first two mentioned He will sit on thrones, but a judgment seat is not a throne. It was a raised dais such as was used by judges at the ancient games as they surveyed the events, or what we would now call "the bench", from which a judge like Pontius Pilate passed sentence (Jn 19.13). The Greek word is bema - only mentioned so that when preachers use the word without explanation you know what they mean!
Who will be involved?
Only believers will be the subject of this judgment. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor 5.10). The "we" in the context refers to believers exclusively, people who have "the earnest of the Spirit" (v.5), people who "walk by faith" (v.7), people who will be "with the Lord" (v.8). Every believer will be there, as indicated by the word "all". "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom 14.12). The reference to the Judgment Seat in Romans 14 is to emphasise that we are accountable for ourselves alone. It is important to keep ourselves right, without being preoccupied with the activities of others.
When will it take place?
It will be immediately subsequent to the Rapture. "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come" (1 Cor 4.5). In that passage, Paul indicates that it is premature to assess a believers service here and now. The time for that appraisal will be when the Lord comes, so, chronologically, we place the Judgment Seat of Christ after the Rapture. "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me" (Rev 22.12).
Where will it take place?
If it is subsequent to the Rapture it will be in heaven, for that event will see us gathered to Him, to "ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4.17).
What is its purpose?
Clearly, there is no thought of punishment connected with this judgment; it is judgment in the sense of assessment. The believers sins were dealt with at Calvary and we rejoice in that glorious fact. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8.1). Thus sin is not in question; it has to do with the evaluation of service and granting an appropriate reward: "then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor 4.5).
A key thought in connection with this judgment is that we will be "made manifest" (2 Cor 5.10, RV). Not only will our labours be assessed, but so will the very motives from which our activity stems; the Lord "will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Cor 4.5). Also, the service itself "shall be made manifest of what sort it is" (1 Cor 3.13). There is a solemn side to all of this. It should impact on our commitment to the work of the assembly (1 Cor 3.10-15). It should encourage us to ensure that our motives are pure (1 Cor 4.1-5). It should deter us from either judging or despising our fellow-believers; we are responsible for ourselves (Rom 14.10-13).
The Marriage of the Lamb
Another wonderful event in heaven will be the Marriage of the Lamb (Rev 19.7-9), the official uniting of Christ and His church. It is interesting that the occasion is described, not as the marriage of Jesus, or of Christ, or of the Lord, but the marriage of the Lamb. The reference to the Lamb is a reminder of the cost to make her His own. It took the sacrifice of Calvary to make all this possible.
Reference is made to "his wife" (v.7). We have help to identify her in Ephesians 5.22-33 where the husband/wife relationship illustrates the relationship between Christ and His church. The wifes subjection to her husband is exemplified by the churchs subjection to Christ (v.24), and the husbands care for his wife should be modelled on Christs love for the church (v.25). Thus the Lambs wife is the church, the sum total of every believer in Christ from the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture.
Attention is drawn to her wedding dress in Revelation 19: "fine linen, clean and white" (v.8). The verse explains the symbolic significance of that: "the righteous acts of the saints" (RV). It is clear that here and now we are weaving that garment by honest behaviour, kindly deeds, and integrity of character.
There will be a celebration of that marriage, described as "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (v.9), and opinion is divided as to its location. Will it be in heaven or on the millennial earth? Wherever it is, the guests will be blessed people, but distinct from the bride. These are believers from outwith the church age, people like John Baptist who described himself as "the friend of the bridegroom" (Jn 3.29). Together, they will celebrate the Marriage of the Lamb.
To be continued.