I received a question from someone who has read my book, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible. He asks, “In the chapter on Heaven (from which I am teaching this Sunday) you sort of said that if we go up in the rapture, then we won’t see the third heaven (p. 77). If we aren’t there for 7 years (enjoying the Marriage Supper as I was always taught), where are we?”
I came to faith in Christ in September or October of 1972 during the height of what was called the Jesus Movement. Most of us Jesus people were convinced that the rapture would occur in our lifetimes and that it could be at any time. Many of us consumed Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth.
Most Dispensationalists teach that during the Tribulation the Church will be in the third heaven with the Lord and that the Judgment Seat of Christ (Bema) will take place at that time.
I don’t think that is correct. Here’s why. When the Lord comes down from the third heaven to meet the Church in the air (1 Thess 4:16-17), He has begun the Second Coming. If He merely wanted to bring the believers to Him in the third heaven, He could, and I believe would, rapture us directly there.
I believe we will spent the seven years of the Tribulation in the air with the Lord and then at the end of the seven years we will continue with Him to the earth and Armageddon.
The Romans practiced what they called triumphal processions (or, the Roman triumph). Paul may have alluding to that practice in 2 Cor 2:14, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ…”
The procession was celebrating the return of a victorious general. People from Rome would go out a few miles and greet the returning general and come with him back into the city. It was a grand parade honoring the hero. At times this procession would last for days.
The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is the return of the most victorious General/King of all times. It makes sense that we would go to join Him in His return.
Seven years may seem a like a long time for a triumphal procession in the air around the earth. However, remember that with the Lord a thousand years is as a day (2 Pet 3:8). On that scale 7 years is .007 of a day, or about 10 minutes. My guess is that the time will seem very full and joyful, but that it will also seem very brief. And the view will be spectacular.
While most believe that the Bema and even the Great White Throne Judgment take place in the third heaven, I think it likely that all eschatological (last day) judgments take place on earth. The Bema will likely occur on earth during the 75 days between the end of the Tribulation and the start of the Millennium (Dan 12:11-12). One thousand years later the Great White Throne Judgment will occur, likely on earth, before the destruction of the current heavens and earth (2 Pet 3:10-12).
I’m not sure why this is important to me. I think it is because I find the idea of three comings of Christ to be inconsistent with Scripture. When He comes again, He will come once and for all. I realize that coming in the clouds is not quite the same as coming all the way to set foot on earth. However, it seems to me that the rapture is a coming back to earth and to go back to heaven would be like a returning Roman general greeting those who’ve come out to him and then going back with them to a different country.
Of course, let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Jesus will soon come again. We will go out to meet Him. We will return with Him to earth in a victorious procession. What a glorious time that will be, whether we spend the seven years in the air around the earth or in the third heaven.