What will happen in heaven during the tribulation period?
Many believers in Christ worry that heaven will be a boring place, but Scripture reveals that heaven will be a very interesting and exciting place. This article explains what will happen in heaven after the rapture of the church and during the tribulation.
The rapture occurs prior to the tribulation period. The word rapture is described as being “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. “Caught up” comes from the Greek word harpazo which means “to snatch away or carry off.”
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NASB)
When the rapture occurs, every believer is snatched up and removed from the world. Only unbelievers are left on the earth.
The rapture should not be confused with the Second Coming of Christ which will occur at the end of the tribulation (Revelation 19:11-21). This conclusion is clear for a number of reasons, but the most logical reason is that the rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and the beginning of the seven year tribulation is then described in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3. Note that when Paul wrote the epistle of 1 Thessalonians there were no chapter divisions. Chapter five continues the sequential description of events in the future.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 indicates that the Day of the Lord starts with the tribulation. Since Daniel 9:27 tells us that the tribulation starts with peace which is described in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, this helps us to understand that the rapture starts prior to the beginning of the Day of the Lord or the tribulation. When the tribulation starts, the earth will be populated with those who have rejected Christ. One can imagine the great worry that many will have when the rapture occurs. Many will seek to understand what has happened and worry about what will happen next.
The Tribulation Events
What happens next is the tribulation. The tribulation events are primarily revealed in the book of Revelation. Other related passages that provide additional details can be found in the Old Testament (Daniel 7:23-27; 9:27; Joel 2:28-3:17; Zechariah 12, 14:1-7) and New Testament (Matthew 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-2:12; Hebrews 11:36-38). There are also many passages that describe other bits and pieces of what will occur in the tribulation. A graphical overview of what will occur in the tribulation is presented in “What are the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 signs and 7 bowls of Revelation?”
Revelation 4-5: Scene In Heaven
The first major event in the tribulation is described in Revelation 4. Revelation 4:4-11 focuses on God’s throne room in heaven. In this passage God the Father is sitting on a throne surrounded with angels and the twenty-four elders. Other descriptions of God’s throne room are given in Exodus 24:10; Isaiah 6:1-13 and Ezekiel 1:26-28: 8:2.
Revelation 5 is still focused on the throne room and we are told that Christ will take a scroll from God the Father. When Christ takes the scroll, the angels will respond in worship. The scroll has seven seals on it which Christ will break one at a time (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12). The seven seals represent the seven seal judgments which telescope into the seven trumpets which telescope into the seven bowls judgments. As Christ breaks the seals, we are given a high level overview of the horrors of the tribulation. Christ will be in control of all the events throughout the tribulation period as He breaks one seal after another.
Revelation 6: Seven Seals
The first seal is broken in Revelation 6:1-3. It describes the conditions that exist during the first 3.5 years of the tribulation. It is described as a time of peace (compare verse 2 with 4). The seven seals symbolize war, famine, death, the martyrs in heaven and the terrors leading up to and surrounding the battle of Armageddon. It is a high level outline of the tribulation period. Revelation 6:9-17 reveals that there will be saints in heaven who will be watching and waiting for the second coming of Christ when He will come in judgment at the battle of Armageddon and vindicate their unjust deaths.
Revelation 7: Scene In Heaven
Revelation 7 is a break in the action down on earth and focuses again on events in heaven. We see 144,000 witnesses who have been chosen and many in heaven who became believers during the tribulation and were martyred because they were believers in Christ. For a discussion about who will be saved in the tribulation visit “Will people be saved during the tribulation?”
Revelation 8-9: Seven Trumpets
After the interlude of Revelation 7, the seventh seal is broken which unleashes the seven trumpets. Angels will inflict seven plagues (Revelation 8:7-9:21). The seven trumpets inflict four plagues upon the creation while the fifth and sixth trumpets release demonic forces upon the earth. The fifth trumpet allows Satan to have a key to the bottomless pit (Revelation 9:1-12). When the pit is opened, the demons in prison are released. The sixth trumpet is a vision of a demonic army moving down to the land of Israel (Revelation 9:13-21). This appears to be an invasion of the world’s armies into Israel, motivated by demonic forces, and culminating in the battle of Armageddon.
The first woe is announced in Revelation 9:12. The second woe will occur in Revelation 11:14 and be followed by a very brief statement in Revelation 11:15-18 which appears to include the battle of Armageddon (verse 18) and the millennial kingdom (verses 15-17). More information about the millennial kingdom is given in Revelation 20:4-6. Each woe occurs chronologically just before the battle of Armageddon, which means that the last seal, last trumpet, and the last bowl judgments include the battle of Armageddon.
Revelation 10: Scene In Heaven
In Revelation 10 we are given another glimpse or interlude into what is happening in heaven. This time we see a strong angel descend from heaven and stand on the sea and land. The angel is not Christ. He claims possession of the earth in fulfillment of past prophecies. The tribulation which culminates in the battle of Armageddon is not only judgment but God reclaiming control of the world system (kosmos).
Revelation 11:1-14 Two Witnesses
In Revelation 11 we are told that two witnesses will appear in the last half of the tribulation (Revelation 11:3). Notice that verse 3 refers to forty-two months or 3.5 years. This is the last half of the tribulation period since the first half will be a time of peace (Daniel 9:27). Some speculate that the two witnesses will be Moses and Elijah, but there is not enough proof to support that conclusion. Eventually they will be murdered and the world will celebrate. But the world will be in shock and fear three days later when they are resurrected and return to heaven (Revelation 11:11). They will bear witness for God during those 3.5 years.
Revelation 11:15: Scene In Heaven
When the second woe occurs in Revelation 11:14 and the seventh trumpet sounds in heaven (Revelation 11:15), we are introduced to the aftermath of the summary of the battle of Armageddon which results in the millennial kingdom. When the seventh trumpet sounds, it telescopes into the seven bowl judgments.
Revelation 12-13: Seven Signs
Revelation 12-13 focuses on seven signs. Six of the signs are: a woman who symbolizes Israel (Revelation 12:1-2), a great red dragon who is Satan (Revelation 12:3-4), a child who symbolizes Christ (Revelation 12:5-6), Michael the archangel who defeats Satan’s attempt to conquer heaven (Revelation 12:7-12), the antichrist (Revelation 13:1-10), and the false prophet (Revelation 13:11-18). The seventh sign will occur in Revelation 15:1 and introduce the seven bowl judgments. For more details, you are encouraged to read Prophecy of the Future. The third through the seventh signs occur in the first half of the tribulation (Revelation 12:6, 14; 13:5).
Revelation 14-15: Scene In Heaven
An interlude in Revelation 14-15 gives more information to what is occurring in heaven. Revelation 14:1-14 is about the 144,000 witnesses once again, but this time they have been martyred and are in heaven. Revelation 14:6-20 focuses on seven angels who will present the gospel, warnings of eternal punishment for the unrepentant and unbelieving, and the wrath of God’s judgment at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 14: 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, 18). Revelation 15 is a transition to the last seven plagues called the seven golden bowls of wrath.
Revelation 16-19:3 Seven Bowls
This series of plagues and punishment occur primarily near the end of the tribulation and at the battle of Armageddon. These plagues are isolated to the unbelievers on the earth (Revelation 16:2). The seven bowl judgments are described in Revelation 16:1-21. The sixth and seventh bowl judgments are about the battle of Armageddon.
Revelation 17-18 provide many details that help us understand the sequence of events. The information helps us connect the prophesies in Daniel 2:31-45; 7:8-27; 9:25-27; 11:40-45: 12:7-13; Joel 2:28-3:17 and Zechariah 12:1-14:7 with the events described in Revelation.
Revelation 19 introduces us to the marriage supper of the Lamb (wedding feast) which occurs in the millennial kingdom. Revelation 21:9 tells us that the wedding has occurred and Christ and His bride are now living together. Revelation 19:11-20:3 describes the battle of Armageddon and the victory.
Revelation 20:4-15 – Millennial Kingdom & Judgment
The millennial kingdom is described in Revelation 20:4-6. The kingdom will be populated by the previously deceased believers and believers who are still alive after the battle of Armageddon. All the dead Old and New Testament believers will receive immortal bodies and enter the kingdom. The Goat and Sheep Judgment is described in Matthew 25:31-46. This judgment determines which of those who are still living on the earth will be allowed to enter the millennial kingdom. Only believers will enter the millennial kingdom: the resurrected dead and living. All others are sent to hell. The major and minor prophets provide much information about the millennial kingdom. A few key passages are (Isaiah 11:4-16; 65:17-25 Ezekiel 37:24-28; 40-48; Joel 2:28-3:17; Zechariah 2:1-13; 8:20-23; 14:8-21).
After the millennial kingdom, many of the unbelieving offspring from believers who enter the kingdom will rebel along with Satan and suffer an incredible defeat (Revelation 20:7-10).
Judgment follows for the unbelievers. All of them will be thrown into the lake of fire and remain there for eternity (Revelation 20:11-15). For a description of what will happen at the Great White Throne judgment read, “What does the Bible teach about the resurrection of the dead?” and “Seeking a Sign From Heaven?”
Revelation 22-22 – Eternal Heaven
Revelation 21-22 describe the eternal heaven for all believers. There will be no tears, sorrow or evil (Revelation 21:4, 8, 27). The new heaven, earth and Jerusalem are described. Believers will walk (Revelation 21:24 and eat and drink (Revelation 22:1-2) in the eternal heaven. But the greatest joy will be that God will dwell with us (Revelation 21:3).
The book of Revelation is all high points. While the devastations described in the book are horrible, they are God’s vindication for the way unbelievers have treated God’s faithful men and women. Interlaced throughout the book are glimpses into heaven where we see believers down through the ages and angels worshipping God (Revelation 4:8-11; 5:8-14; 7:11-12) and singing in heaven (Revelation 14:2-4). The book of Revelation pinnacles in Revelation when Christ rules and reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16; 20:4-6). Then finally Christ judges every unbeliever and sends them to the destiny they have selected. They made this choice because they refused to believe in Christ. The final joy is when we are told that every believer will live with God forever in the eternal heaven. For more teaching about the book of Revelation visit the study series “Book of Revelation.”
Suggested Links:What are the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 signs and 7 bowls of Revelation?
Are the Old Testament saints resurrected at the rapture?
Does the rapture occur before the tribulation period?
What will we see in heaven? – What happens after death?
Will people be saved during the tribulation?
Can people accept Jesus after the rapture?
Can people be saved in the tribulation when the Holy Spirit is not here?
Is Matthew 24:30-31 about the rapture or second coming?
After the rapture do non-Christians go to hell or into the tribulation?
When do the two witnesses appear in the tribulation?