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The Doctrine of the Rapture

April 16th, 2015

Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming… for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Matthew 24:40-44

The “Rapture” is an event that is described in several different places in scripture. The word comes into English from the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Rapio” for the Greek “harpagesometha” that is translated in English “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. It means the sudden taking by God of the lives of believers, removing them from the earth to meet them in heaven. The debate among Christians regarding the rapture centers around not whether it will happen or not, for many scriptures teach the doctrine with clarity, but rather when it will happen in regard to the final things.

Examples from Scripture: As far as examples are concerned in scripture, we have only two possible cases that we know of, of people transiting from life here to life in heaven without passing through death - Enoch and Elijah. Both passages are shrouded in mystery. About Enoch it is merely said, “He walked with God and was not, for God took him” (Gen 5:24). And later we read, “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death” (Heb. 11:5). Elijah’s experience is even more mystical as it is described merely that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11). But, even if our minds cannot conceive of exactly what happened, both passages clearly present the possibility of entering into a spiritual existence without dying physically. They were physical beings one minute and then suddenly the Lord took them and they entered into His presence.

Declarations from Scripture: Scriptures that describe the certainty of it are the following:

1 Corinthians 15:50-54: … flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God … Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore, the Scripture teaches that God is capable of bringing people into His presence without experiencing death, and the Scriptures declare that God will do this at the end time.

The Timing of the Rapture: Christians who accept this doctrine place the event in one of three places in the prophetic timeline of the last days before the return of Christ. Since His return will come at the end of a period of tribulation (Matthew 24:21, 29-31), then two of these interpretations understand the rapture as a secret coming for believers only, and place the rapture as occurring before the Victorious Return of Christ - one pre-tribulation (seven years before His return) and the other mid-tribulation (three and a half years before His return). The third interpretation sees it as part of the ultimate return of Christ, the removal of believers from the earth immediately prior to the return of Christ.

I take the position of a pre-tribulation rapture due to several passages, and this is a matter of personal interpretation, not a matter that determines my fellowship with other believers. You may disagree with me on these matters and we still remain in good fellowship in Christ, so far as I am concerned. But here are the reasons I take a pre-tribulation rapture.

Revelation 3:10: Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

The glorified Christ spoke these words to the church at Philadelphia, the church of the open door, and they reveal His intention to not allow His children in mass to go through times of great tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 5:9: For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The context of this 1 Thessalonians passage is about the end times and the return of the Lord, and they give us assurance that God intends to protect His children from the outpouring of His wrath on the world.

2 Peter 2:9: the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.

This passage can also be translated “deliver the godly out of trials” as the word peirasmos can mean either. It means a trial or a temptation, and is used in both ways in scripture. The intent of God is to rescue His children from trials and difficulties, and the words are “out of” not merely “in the midst of.” Though in His providential care He allows us to go through many (1 Cor. 10:13 and James 1:2-8) He also delivers us from many (Isaiah 57:1-2).

And there are numerous other scriptures that explain salvation in Christ means to be saved from His wrath. “And to wait for His Son from heaven, who He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9).

But what of those scriptures that describe believers on earth during the tribulation? When the Church is raptured at the beginning of the Tribulation, there will still be Bibles and gospel tracts, and sermons on youtube, etc., and many will turn then to trust in Christ. In Revelation 7:9-17, a great multitude from every nation is gathered around the throne before the Lamb worshiping Him, and the explanation is, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It would appear that they died either from hardship of the Tribulation or from persecution during the Tribulation.

So the Lord will return one day suddenly for His people, and our task today is to be faithful, waiting for His return. When will He come? I do not know, but perhaps it will be today. The important matter is that we remain ready at all times, worshiping Him, serving Him, being faithful in heart and witness, until He comes.

Gospel of Matthew, second coming ,

The Coming of the Son of Man

April 15th, 2015

Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Matthew 24:30-31

The biblical doctrine of the return of Christ is a non-negotiable of faith. Christ will return and He will do so victoriously. His return is described in many passages and in many ways. It will be a physical, visible, public return. People shall see Him coming in the sky, as the angels said to the disciples who saw Him ascend to heaven, so “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Our minds have a difficult time understanding how this will be, in what ways will this be fulfilled - instantaneous, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:27), visible, powerful, wonderful for the believers, and troubling for the people on the earth.But a difficulty in understanding how prophecy will be fulfilled has never prevented any prophecy from being fulfilled. Christ will return in the timing ordained by the Father and life on earth as it has been known for the millennia will cease. A new age will begin, with a new heaven and a new earth being created.

Here is my simple understanding of some of the prophecies related to His coming.

His return happens after a period of “tribulation” - “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Matt. 24:29). Trouble on earth is never pleasant but for believers we should understand all of these as the pains of childbirth that grow more intense and frequent before the birth. Matthew 24:4-24 describes the nature of the world civilization before His return: warfare, cold heartedness, unbelief, natural calamities, persecution of believers, false christs claiming power, but also the expansion of the church through the preaching of the gospel.

His return happens at a time when believers are no longer on the earth in large numbers - “all peoples of the earth” can also be translated “tribes” from phyle in the Greek. It is most commonly used in the New Testament for the “tribes of Israel” but is also used for the tribes of other nations, and it seems to be the intention here - “tribes of the earth” - and a similar phrase is used by John in Revelation 1:7. There are believers but they appear not to have much authority or sway among human population.

His return is in power and great glory. He comes in unquestioned authority. Revelation 1:7 says, “Every eye will see Him, they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.” The piercing of Jesus was done on the cross - done to prove His death, but it also revealed the hardness of unbelieving hearts toward Him - and it was the last time the unbelieving world saw Him. The One whom they pierced, whom they considered unworthy of life, is the Lord of all, and they had rejected Him.

The unbelieving world will mourn because of their unbelief and rejection. It will be a terrifying realization that time comes to an end and belief is no longer possible.

His believers will be gathered from two places - “from the four winds” meaning from places spread across the earth, and “from one end of the heavens to the other.” So all believers, whether living or dead, will join Him in His return. This is precisely the prophecy made in many other places as well. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16-17). (See also 1 Cor. 15:20-24.)

God used Peter to write some of the most encouraging prophecies about the Lord’s coming. 2 Peter 3:9-15a

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation …

The future kingdom of God will be one of righteousness, of peace and joy in the Lord, of holiness and justice. So this is the kingdom we look forward to. All that we feel and touch here will one day turn to dust. But what God promises us in Christ is eternal. There is where our hope lies!

Gospel of Matthew, second coming