Heaven in the Tribulation
(The Church in Heaven)
QUESTION: What will Christians be doing in heaven during the Tribulation and Great Tribulation? Will there be anything (wedding rings and such) left when we return?
ANSWER: Heaven in the Tribulation. Interesting question. I guess the easiest answer is: we simply don't know--or we don't know much. There isn't a lot of information about that. Most of the book of Revelation, from Chapter 6 through 18, deals in particular with the judgments of God to be poured out on the world during the seven years of the Tribulation. These are things we’ll view (to a greater or lesser degree) from the perspective of heaven.
Here are a few comments on things we do know.
1) We do know the resurrected and raptured church (all Christians) will appear before "the judgment seat of Christ" to receive rewards for what we have done in our life and service for Christ (Rom. 14:10; I Cor. 3:9-15; II Cor. 5:10). This is not a place of condemnation, but of evaluation and reward. The word used for "seat" (bema in Greek) refers to a judge’s stand like those at the Olympics, where winners are crowned. (Given that this will involve millions–perhaps billions–of people, it could take some time!)
2) The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will take place after rewards are handed out (Rev. 19:7-9). Marriage celebrations in Bible times often took a week, so again, this won’t simply be a quick meal. It may be a celebration of weeks or months. Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, will be in the place of honour, with His bride, the church. Those who are invited guests will be the Old Testament saints, and perhaps the martyrs of the Tribulation.
There is a verse in a parable of the Lord Jesus that has moved me to tears many times. Now, a word of warning: it’s in a parable–a made-up story. We must be careful about being dogmatic about applying the details of parables, or building doctrines on them without confirmation elsewhere in the Bible. Sometimes, details are simply added to flesh out the story. But this is at least interesting.
The verse is Luke 12:37, in a parable about Christ’s second coming. It says:
"Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them."
Can you imagine that happening? Oh my! We should be waiting on Him, not the other way round! But it seems, in infinite humility, Christ will again take the place of a servant, and come and serve us. It reminds me a bit of the tradition some follow now of the bride and groom bringing around a piece of wedding cake for each of the guests.
3) As to wedding rings...I don’t know about that. We’ll be dressed in "fine linen, clean and bright," robes of righteousness (Rev. 19:7-9). And there’s an interesting verse that suggests something that may be the equivalent of wedding rings. Revelation 2:17 says, "To him who overcomes (meaning all the saved) I will give...a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." We know no more than that. But those personalized white stones make me think of engraved wedding bands.
4) Revelation chapters 4 and 5 indicate that there will be lots of praise and worship around the throne of God. That too will take place during the seven years of earthly judgments. There’ll be a great deal of singing involved in this (Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3).
I expect that in heaven we’ll all have wonderful singing voices–though there are some people I’m definitely looking forward to standing beside, given the voices God gave them here! And there’ll be harps to play as well (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2). The Greek word for harp is kithara–from which we get our word guitar. (Young people are thrilled when I tell them we might be playing guitars in heaven!)
5) The Bible describes Christians as priests of God. (Perhaps Revelation 1:6 should read "a kingdom of priests," but we know we’re "a royal priesthood" (I Pet. 2:9), since we’re joint heirs with the King. We’re also destined to reign on the new earth, after the Tribulation (Rev. 5:10). My point here is that we’ll have some kind of priestly ministry (cf. Heb. 13:15; I Pet. 2:5).
Revelation 4:9-11 speak of "twenty-four elders" seated around the throne of God. There’s been much speculation as to the identity of these. My own conclusion (open to further light) is that they are representatives of the church of Jesus Christ. They are given a special priestly role in both praise and service. If their ministry is anything comparable to the elders appointed now to serve in the local church (Acts 15:2; 20:17; I Tim. 5:17), then they’ll have some part in ruling or judging on our behalf.
Will these individuals remain the same, throughout the seven years, or will others of us take a turn at this work? I’m not sure. It’s another thing that remains to be revealed in its time. But there’s another pertinent question to consider: How much will they (and the rest of us) know about what’s happening on earth? We’ll know some things, since they’re described in the Word of God. But will we know details? I’m not sure. But let me make a couple of observations about that.
We know that there will be multitudes saved during the Tribulation (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:13-14; 12:11). But they will be individuals who did not reject the gospel before the rapture, those not given over by God to believe the lie of the Antichrist (II Thess. 2:8-11), and they will pay with their lives for their stand. The Lord Jesus says there is joy in heaven, when a sinner repents (Lk. 15:7), so it could be that those in heaven know about the struggles, and the commitment to Christ of those saved in that time of unparalleled persecution.
6) The earthly judgments are heralded in heaven by the breaking of seven seals on a scroll (Rev.5:8-10), the blowing of seven trumpets, and the pouring out of seven bowls. (The scroll seems to be the title deed to the earth, which only Christ is able to claim.)
All these judgments are telescoped into one another, so that the bowl judgments occur with the blowing of the seventh trumpet, and the trumpet judgments occur with the breaking of the seventh seal. That makes the breaking of the seventh seal of particular importance. The judgments begin to cascade in quicker and quicker succession after that.
Concerning the breaking of the seventh seal we’re told, "When he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (Rev. 8:1). Imagine that! All the praise and music stops. Total silence for thirty minutes. We can’t be sure, but I believe this will be a pause of utter awe and wonderment at the coming consummation of the earthly judgments of God.
Again, it suggests an awareness of what this will mean to those on earth. Though these things are terrible and the destruction almost unimaginable, we will view them from an entirely different perspective in heaven. The judgments of God will be seen as the necessary outworking of His holiness and perfect justice. For that we’ll be able to praise and glorify Him.
7) Revelation 22:3 says, "His servants shall serve Him." Whether that service will begin during those seven years, or await the millennial kingdom, I'm not sure. We’ll have to wait and see. But we can be sure it will be thrilling and rewarding. And perhaps it will take some time to prepare for our future work, and have various duties assigned.
Again, there’s something interesting found in a parable about the second coming. It may or may not be literally fulfilled, but I add it here for your consideration. In Luke 19:12-27, servants who serve their master well during his absence are awarded with jurisdiction over a number of cities. (See, for example, vs. 16-17). Since we will reign on the new earth, perhaps that will involve jurisdiction over a certain number of towns or cities. Just an idea.
Bottom line concerning heaven in the tribulation: The Lord has pulled back the curtain and shown us a little of the future, but there is much more to come. The most important thing now is to be ready for it, through faith in the Saviour.