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He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Some doctrines in the Bible are very clear and straightforward to perceive when you come across them. Others are a bit like a puzzle you get from the store; you open the box and there are all the pieces apart. However, from years of experience with building puzzles, you realize that they only fit together in a singular way to make the actual intended picture, beautifully created by the original artist. Yet without fail there are always a few pieces cut very similar in size, and matching in colours so that it is easy to confuse the one for the other, but if you misplace the one here, you end up being confused later over why that little brown speck on the corner of another one, just doesn’t appear to fit with the hue of the surrounding pieces. Even if you found places for all the pieces and you’ve finished your puzzle, if there is but one in the wrong place, sadly your puzzle is not the same as the artist intended. The picture is distorted. The only solution is to scan through the whole picture again until you find that correct piece and change them around.
The study on eschatology and in particular, the rapture, is one of those where you must take all the verses and fit them together and make sure they all speak the same thing. Then you know you’ve got it right, otherwise there will always be a verse or so sticking out somewhere. We will consider some verses, and see how they tie into each other and hopefully the reader will come to a personal conclusion, conviction and belief on what the Holy Bible teach concerning the rapture.
It behoves me straightway though to define a few key terms in a short glossary, and pinpointing a rough timeline of events ensuring every reader understands plainly what is being referred to. This list, in apparent order of occurrence, however contains only some of the frequently used terms and events of the last days. (This list and article is by no means an exhaustive study on this doctrine, so do look out for other verses and terminology as you read your Bible.)
I have found that many people approach the discussion around the end times and especially the rapture with fear, uncertainty and discomfort. Very peculiar indeed when you consider that 1 Thessalonians 4:18 speaks about that “these words” should be used for comforting one another. Therefore, if you are a true born again child of God, it is important that pondering these things should leave you in spiritual comfort and you should look forward to it with a kind of excitement, anticipating it any day and in fact praying for it to occur soon.
So what exactly is the Apostle Paul talking about over here in 1 Thessalonians 4? Review the verses and then let us draw a few conclusions.
“13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Paul, here now dispelling spiritual ignorance which itself is not welcome in the life of a Christian, expounds specifically on what the situation is with deceased Christians (“them which are asleep”), so that when we do sorrow for our deceased beloveds we do it with a hope. Notice how the Bible speaks of Christians as not dead, but asleep seeing that they were made spiritually alive in Christ, and will also never experience the lake of fire which is the “second death” (Revelation 20:14). Them will God bring with Him at some future moment when he returns in verse 14. The Bible speaks of them which sleep in Jesus, thus not just any dead, but only the true Christians who are dead; and by implication also not the Christians alive at that time. Now, in verse 15 he explains what that event we are focussing on really is; it is “coming of the Lord”, and here we see the second group of people involved, the living Christians at that point in time on the earth. These will not prevent, or in other words, enter into the happenings of this event before, the raising of the dead. But no, as he clarified in verse 16, the dead in Christ shall rise first!
So we see some way markers here: First the Lord Himself descents, while alongside with this there is a great shout which is either His own or perhaps rather the voice of the archangel, and there is heard a mighty trumpet of God. The dead saints are also now brought with Jesus Christ, here referred to as the Lord Himself (v. 16) and God (v.14). Secondly the dead are suddenly raised. But wait a minute, we have just seen them coming from heaven with God a moment ago, yet now suddenly they are rising from the earth? Well indeed this is exactly what will happen; the souls come from heaven and God then raises their physical bodies from the earth. Now a living body of man can never be without a spirit and soul, therefore immediately after returning from heaven, these souls and spirits of the saints are seen on the earth being raised in living physical bodies.
Then the third step occurs as the currently living Christians are then physically - together with the newly raised, formerly dead Christians - caught up in the clouds. This caught up in the clouds phrase does carry a sense of suddenness and therefore we associate the word rapture with it as when a bird of prey, or raptor as they are also known, flies over the surface of the river and suddenly seize it’s prey from a little below the water. The poor fish didn’t know what hit him, and the next thing he knows he’s sailing through the air with a tremendous back ache. He was raptured from the water. We now see the fourth step. The saints, all of whom are now very much alive from a physical earthly perspective, are meeting the Lord Jesus in the air. Then it is stated that, so shall they ever be with the Lord, therefore they will be in His physical presence evermore. Now the continual remembrance of this promising prophecy is to be used by Christians to comfort one another. Just as a side point though, notice that so far in this passage we have not read about the Lord physically coming in contact with the earth as opposed to the coming of the Lord in Zechariah 14 where His literal feet physically touches the mount of Olives and it cleaves in two.
We also find that in John 14:3 the Lord Jesus promises his disciples that He is going to Heaven to prepare a place for them and that at some point they will be with Him there after He has come back to receive them unto Himself. On the other hand we read in Zechariah 14:4 and onwards as well as Luke 1:32,33 and Revelation 19:11-15 that the Lord Jesus does come back (Second Coming), but here He now comes to rule from earth for a thousand years. So the event where Christ receives His saints unto Him to take them to heaven (Rapture) has to be a different event than and prior to the Second Coming.
Let us examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 for the next conclusive point. After describing the Second Coming in chapter 1 verses 7-10, he gives a more general summery of what will happen in the end times. We need to work by a process of elimination to place it all in it’s correct place. Speaking about our gathering unto the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 1) he goes on to speak of the Day of Christ (vs. 2) more particularly and mentions that “that day shall not come” until a time of apostasy has arrived and that the man of sin, the son of perdition, the Antichrist be revealed (vs. 3). But we see that the Holy Spirit whose influence is currently present by God’s Church on the earth and the Restrainer of the mystery of iniquity will be taken out of the way and then shall that Wicked be revealed. If the Holy Spirit is not present on the earth, the Church would surely not be able to survive. The Holy Spirit came into the world on Pentecost in Acts 2 to empower the Church for the Great Commission (Acts 1:8) in this special dispensation. We understand though from Romans 8:9 that the Holy Spirit will have to be present in the personal lives of the believers who come to saving faith during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:3-17; 14:1-7), yet He will not be so prevalent in the general everyday politics, business and church as He has been over the last two thousand years. Everything official and social will be absolutely entrenched in an antichrist spirit, the start of which we are witnessing even today. Just go into town, our churches, our schools, read the newspaper or watch the news if you have any doubts about that.
Here are a few more arguments for the Rapture not merely being a separate event from the Second Coming, but a specific event seven years, or very slightly more, earlier, so as to have it occur before the Great Tribulation. This doctrine is commonly called a Pre-Tribulational Rapture or Pre-Trib Rapture for short:
So writing from Athens, the Apostle Paul gave us advice on how to prepare and be ready for this coming Blessed Hope of ours in chapter five of his first epistle to the Thessalonians. Note the emphasised pronouns and what is the situation with Christians versus the ungodly.
“1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 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. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. 12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. 15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. 16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. 25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Credit goes to Way of Life and The Berean Call ministries for many of these arguments and scripture references.
We are very much like the Pharisees mentioned in Matthew 23, where because of our postion of teachers/preachers we are able to speak from the seat of Moses, so that men believe our teaching to be from God. Thus we need to take heed that unlike the Pharisees we do not estrange people from God but rather bring them closer unto the Lord Jesus Christ.