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(1) Carried Away
The word “rapture” is not in the Bible. It comes from the Latin word “rapio,” meaning to snatch away or remove suddenly. Its Greek equivalent, “harpazo,” is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and is translated “caught up.” Stephen D. Swihart says, “The verb harpazo appears thirteen times in the New Testament. . . . In 2 Cor., Paul was said to be ‘caught up to the third heaven . . . caught up into paradise’ (12:2, 4); and in Revelation, the male child (Jesus Christ) was ‘caught up to God and to His throne’ (12:5). These references make it clear that the rapture is a physical removal of the saints from the earth.”1
Webster’s definition of the word rapture is very appropriate for this event: “The state of being carried away with joy.”
After John saw the visions of the church age, he was transported to heaven, which may represent the Church being caught up to heaven before the tribulation of chapters 6 through 19. John says, “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter” (Rev. 4:1).
The door John saw “opened in heaven” may be referring to the same door of Revelation 3:8, and if one has opened the door of his heart to the Spirit of Christ, he will enter the door of heaven.
In the first three chapters of Revelation the word “church” is used 18 times, but it is not used once throughout chapters 6 through 19. Perhaps the reason for this is: The church age is over and the Church is no longer on earth after chapter three. It’s in heaven and is referred to as “living creatures.”
Many believe chapters 4 and 5 refer to things taking place in heaven, and chapters 6 through 19 refer primarily to the events that will take place here on earth after the Church is taken from the earth. Notice in verse 1 that John heard a voice that sounded like a trumpet. This may be referring to the same voice and trumpet that Paul mentions in writing to confused Christians of his day. He says:
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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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 [go ahead of] them which are asleep. 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: 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 (1 Thess. 4:13-17).
After John heard the trumpet, he said, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald” (Rev. 4:2-3, NKJV).
The High Priest wore a breastplate with twelve stones. When John was caught up to heaven, he saw the throne of God and one sitting on the throne who had the appearance of these beautiful stones. In his book Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain, Tim LaHaye says:
One might well ask the question, Why is it that the first thing we notice about Christ here presents Him in His priestly role? The answer to that is seen in the location of this description. Coming right after the church age and before the Tribulation, it represents the first time Christ has had His entire priesthood together at one time. The priesthood of believers began at the day of Pentecost. Every member of the body of Christ is a member of the priesthood of believers; actually we are called in 1 Peter 2:9 “a royal priesthood.” The Church of Jesus Christ, made up of “the royal priesthood,” is not now in the presence of Christ, at least in its entirety. Only after the Rapture of the Church, when the dead in Christ are raised and we are changed, will the entire priesthood of Christ be united at one time. Therefore, the sardine and jasper stones are used to depict Christ as our High Priest.2
(2) The Elders and The Living Creatures In Heaven
And around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads . . . . Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back (Rev. 4:4,6, NKJV).
It seems the twenty-four elders and the living creatures make up the Church, which will be redeemed from the earth. The “eyes” may represent its members. But we will not remain in heaven. We will return to earth with Christ, which takes place in Revelation 19. John says, “The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. . . . And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth’ ” (Rev. 5:8-10, NKJV).
The Church will play a major role throughout chapters 6 through 19, and it will be “full of eyes,” enabling us to see and understand what’s going on down on earth. For more on the elders and the living creatures, see chapter 4.
(3) Pre or Post Rapture?
When God announces judgment, He generally provides a way of escape. Angels escorted Lot out of Sodom before God destroyed it. Noah and his family were lifted above the earth while God cleansed it with water. During the tribulation, He is going to use fire.
Many believe God has also made a way of escape from the judgments of Revelation 6 through 19. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 Jesus describes all these calamities. He said there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution, a time of trouble like the world has never seen. But in Luke 21:36, He says, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
Jesus did not explain to the disciples how people would “escape all these things,” for this really did not pertain to their generation. But He did say how we could escape: By watching and being ready. In John 14:1-3 He gives words of comfort. He says, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
These words of comfort are for any trying time and especially at funerals, but in the most literal sense they give us a picture of Christ returning to heaven after the cross and preparing a place for us. At the appointed time He will return and take us to the place He has prepared. Paul says, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout” and we will “meet the Lord in the air.” And he concludes, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18).
It has been said John 14:1-3 does not have us making a quick U-turn back to earth. It seems the U-turn is made by Christ, and we go with Him back to heaven.
The Gospels bring out that the disciples thought Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth. When He told them He was going to heaven to prepare a place for them, they were more baffled than ever. They believed that the righteous would one day be raised from the grave, but they knew nothing about the alive being instantly changed and meeting the Lord in the air. This aspect of God’s plan was a mystery which was not revealed in the Old Testament. Paul says, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
Many believe John 14:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 give us a picture of the Lord coming for believers and taking us to heaven, but other Scriptures have us coming back to earth with Him. In other words, it seems Christ is coming for His saints at the rapture and with them after the tribulation. Zechariah 14:5 says, “The LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” Verse 4 says, “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives.” Zechariah also says the mountain will split open and the people of Jerusalem will “flee to the valley.” These saints that survive the tribulation will not meet Him in the air but on the ground in the valley.
The disciples of Jesus’ day had His first and second coming tied together as one event; so it is with many today. They see the rapture and the return as the same event. But many believe what Paul says about us meeting the Lord in the air and what Zechariah 14:4-5 says about the Lord coming with the saints and His feet touching the Mount of Olives are two different events separated by a gap of time and the tribulation fits in this gap.
Those who believe the rapture and the return are the same event are called Posttribulationists. Those who believe they are two separate events with the tribulation in between are called Pretribulationists. Posttribulationists generally believe the true Church will go through the tribulation. At the end, on the final day, the dead in Christ will be raised, the alive changed, and we will meet the Lord in the air and stay there while God’s wrath is poured out on the wicked. Then we will touch down on earth and rule with Him for 1000 years in our new bodies.
Pretribulationists also believe the dead in Christ will be raised, the alive changed, but we will go to heaven before the tribulation. After the rapture many will wake up and turn to Christ, but most will be martyred or die in the trials of the tribulation. Those who survive will repopulate the earth and live to be very old (Isaiah 65:18-24).
Pretribulationists contend you can’t have all the righteous meeting the Lord in the air one moment and back on earth the next, or even the next day; for this would not give enough time for others to repent and do the good deeds described in Matthew 25:31-40.
There may be a gap of time between the rapture and the return and millions will turn to Christ during this gap. The primary hope for the “elect” of the tribulation will be survival. Some will survive this time and hear Jesus say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
Dying in the tribulation will be no worse than dying in the church age, for death is death, no matter when it comes. But God may keep two whole generations of Christians from dying. The first one at the rapture before the “hour” of Revelation 3:10. The last one will be on the “last day” at the end of the millennium.
(4) The Posttribulation Dilemma
Matthew 24:21 and Daniel 12:1 tell us there is coming a time of trouble like the world has never seen. Daniel 12:12-13 seems to indicate that those who don’t survive will not be raised before, but after the Lord sets foot on earth. Revelation 20:1-6 also indicates the tribulation saints will not be raised until after Christ returns. Hal Lindsey calls this “an embarrassing resurrection” for the posttribulation position. John F. Walvoord says, “A fact uniformly ignored by all posttribulationists in their exposition of Revelation 20:4 is that the resurrection here clearly comes after Christ has come to earth.”3
There has already been a token resurrection which took place after Jesus was raised.a Apparently Jesus took these to heaven Easter morning. Out of these Jesus may have picked some to represent the ones who would come later, and since they have been there over 1900 years, they may even be the “elders” mentioned in Revelation 4 and 5. Many believe there will be another resurrection before Christ sets foot on earth and another one after He returns. The ultimate and last fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 will be on the “last day” after the millennium, and if that day falls on the Day of Atonement of a Jubilee year, then this may explain the “last trump” of verse 52.
No one should be dogmatic about the pre or post position, for God, in His wisdom, did not make it crystal clear. But the argument against a pretribulation rapture because it is not clearly revealed in one verse is not a very good one. (Revelation 3:10 is close.) The Old Testament did not specifically state the death and resurrection of Christ in one verse either. It would have been easy for God to have told Moses, or anyone else: “Hear O Israel: A virgin shall conceive my only Son, the Messiah. You will reject and kill Him, but I will raise Him up the third day!”
The resurrection of Christ and the gap between His return is implied in the Old Testament in a number of ways and places, but it is not clearly stated. Israel to this very day can’t see and “rightly” divide “the word of truth.”b One Messiah, two comings. The rapture before the tribulation is not specifically stated either. It is, however, implied. One posttribulationist, conceding this, says: “We will admit that even if Scripture did not explicitly affirm a pretribulation rapture, it is possible that the totality of scriptural data would demand such a conclusion; and in this case, it would be a valid inference.”4
Some who question the rapture before the tribulation say if the pre tribulation rapture position is wrong this is going to dismay many when they find themselves in the tribulation. I agree, and this is why we should not be dogmatic.
(5) The Blessed Hope
The tribulation saints who don’t make it through the tribulation will be resurrected after the return and reign with Christ for 1000 years (Rev. 20:4). That will be a great comfort for those facing death in the tribulation, but it’s only human to want to stay alive. The tribulation saints will also be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing”c of Christ to save them from death. It seems the church age believers have the hope of not dying but being instantly changed and meeting the Lord in the air. (I never did like the idea of attending my own funeral, and I hope to miss it.)
(6) Confusion at Thessalonica
After God established the church at Thesslonica, Paul told them about certain events which must happen before the return of Christ. In his second letter, he said, “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (2 Thess. 2:5.)
After Paul left Thessalonica, he received word that the Christians were going through some trying times for their faith. Paul wrote back and commended them for their steadfastness, reminded them they would “suffer tribulation” in this life, and cleared up a question about the dead in Christ.
It seems the Thessalonians thought that Jesus was going to return any day, and they became concerned about their troubles and the fact that some of their loved ones had died. Some at Corinth said “there is no resurrection of the dead.”d The Thessalonians may have heard this and thought the dead would not be resurrected at the coming of Christ. Paul wrote and told them not only would their loved ones be resurrected, but he said they would be raised “first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
We can gather from Paul’s second letter that he taught them about the Antichrist and the tribulation. It seems the Thessalonians thought the time was near. But Paul said:
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 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 (1 Thess. 5:1-3).
The “day of the Lord” in verse 2 and the “sudden destruction” in verse 3 seem to be terms referring to the same thing, and this “sudden destruction” will not happen until after the “peace and safety.”
Paul knew the Old Testament Scriptures. No doubt he told them about the time Israel would “dwell safely” in the “latter days” and then be invaded from the north.e We know that he taught them about the Antichrist. No doubt he explained to them the prophecies of Daniel, about “a time of trouble” like the world has never seen (Dan. 12:1).
In 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 9, Paul says, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that day should overtake you as a thief. . . . For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ”
Some verses and phrases have only one fulfillment, but many will have more than one, separated by a gap of time. For instance, Zechariah 12:10 was fulfilled the first time at the cross when they looked “on him whom they pierced.”f It will be fulfilled again at the beginning and end of the millennium (Rev. 1:7). I believe the term “day of the Lord” may be fulfilled at the beginning and end of the tribulation. Its ultimate and final fulfillment will be after the millennium on the “last day.” Luke 17:22-26 indicates that the Lord is going to have more than one “day.”
Between Paul’s first and second letter to the Thessalonians, it seems their troubles had increased and someone had told them the “day of Christ” had already come. They may have thought the Lord had come for the dead and they were now in the time of God’s wrath. It may have been the same people Paul mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:18, who were “saying that the resurrection is past already.” At any rate, Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians to correct the error and told them again of the events. He said, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thess. 2:1-2, NKJV).
Some manuscripts read “the day of the Lord” in verse 2. The Living Bible indicates a period of tribulation and they thought they were already in it. It says, “Please don’t be upset and excited, dear brothers, by the rumor that this day of the Lord has already begun.”
At first it seems the Thessalonians were worried about their loved ones in Christ remaining in the grave at the coming of the Lord. Now they may have thought the Lord had come for the dead and they were in the time of His “wrath” or about to face it. This confusion and worry would be perfectly natural if Paul had taught them that a time of great tribulation would come on the earth after “the coming of our Lord” for His Church.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3, Paul told them, and us, that “the day of Christ” will not come until two things happen first: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
The man of sin may be revealed to some when he confirms “the covenant” spoken of in Daniel 9:27. He will be revealed even clearer, especially to Israel, when he sits in the temple and claims to be “God” (2 Thess. 2:4). Apparently the reason he has not been clearly revealed already is because the Holy Spirit is restraining him. But He will step aside and let the “wicked one” do his thing (2 Thess. 2:6-8). This, however, doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit will be “taken” from the earth at the rapture. He will be united with the spirits of those taken to heaven but still be on earth convicting of sin and drawing men to Christ. There is enough of Him to go around.
Some believe the “falling away” in verse 3 is the Church being raptured and say that the word “departure” would be a more accurate translation. I believe it is speaking of those who would deny the faith in these last days, and we are already seeing it. Many already deny the fundamental doctrines; others say they believe it all, but deny it by living a hypocritical life. A few years ago, Billy Graham said:
Vast changes are taking place in the attitudes of professing Christians about morality, ethics and the family, as well as about other positions that Christians have usually held throughout the centuries. . . . The Apostle Paul said that the day of the Lord will not come except the falling away come first’ ( 2 Thess. 2:3, ASV). The context of the passage would indicate that the falling away’ refers not only to the abandonment of intellectual belief but also an abandonment of morals and an abandonment of the love that is to characterize the Christian.”5
The “falling away” may not just apply to the blatant hypocrisy we have seen, but also to those who don’t attend church as they once did. It’s interesting to note that the command to assemble with other believers is tied in with the Lord’s coming. Hebrews 10:25 says we are not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.” We should encourage “one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (NKJV).
The “day” the Lord sets foot back on earth will be a blessing for the tribulation saints and they will be saved from the Antichrist, but the term is generally speaking of a day of judgment for the wicked. The term “day of Christ” as used in Philippians 2:16 speaks of His coming as a blessing. Perhaps the reason Paul used “day of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and “day of Christ” in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 is because they are different events.
Many believe that the rapture will take place just before the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week. But we may see the covenant of Daniel 9:27 confirmed. We may even see the “man of sin . . . sit in the temple” (2 Thess. 2:3-4). It is also possible we may see a news bulletin announcing that the missiles have been launched, and we will be launched before they begin striking the earth. If the Lord does wait until the last minute to rapture us, the chaos of a nuclear war, earthquakes, and what follows could obscure what has happened to us on that day.
First Thessalonians 5:4 says the Church will not be overcome by “that day,” but we may see it. The Lord didn’t say He would keep us from the day, only the “hour” (Rev. 3:10). And this “hour” may be the same one described in Revelation 18.
Some believe in a partial rapture of the Church, and just the spiritual ones will be taken. There will be a partial rapture of the church roll. The saved will be taken and the lost will be left—and many of the so-called spiritual ones will be the ones left! I would not rule out that some true believers may be left behind for a certain ministry, especially some Jewish ones.
(7) Can Christ Return at Any Time?
Many today do not see the signs pointing to the return of Christ and use the argument that some of the early Christians believed Jesus would come in their day. Before 70 A.D. they had good reason to believe He might return soon. The Jews were in their land, Rome was ruling, the sacrifices were being carried out, and the temple was standing. In 70 A.D. the temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered throughout the world. Now that they are back in their land and have control of the old temple site, we see the prospect for the sacrifices being restarted and the temple rebuilt, setting the stage for His return.
God so arranged the Scriptures that Christians down through the church age could be looking for His coming at any moment, with expectancy. The tribulation saints, however, are told not to look for His any moment return; in fact, they are warned against thinking Christ will return before certain prophecies are fulfilled (see Matt. 24:3-34).
Many throughout the church age have believed that the Lord could return at any moment; but others saw that certain prophecies must be fulfilled first. It seems to have never dawned on anyone until the 1800s that His coming might be in two stages.
The rapture before the tribulation is generally credited to John Darby of England in the 1830s. Whether the theory originated with him or others is not clear and beside the point. Daniel was told his prophecies would “not be understood until the end times, when travel and education shall be vastly increased!” (Dan. 12:4, TLB.)
(8) Keep On Working
There are those in times past who have quit working and have run to the hills to await the return of Christ. The church at Thessalonica had a few “busybodies” who wouldn’t work, but I doubt if they really believed the Lord was coming soon. The Bible pictures the “ones who love his appearing” as zealous workers. Paul says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10, NIV).
Some have used the non-workers at Thessalonica to imply that this was the attitude of the whole church and of those today who believe the return of Christ is soon. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were not addressed to the few “busybodies.” His letters were addressed to the ones of faith, and except for one small rebuke,g the church at Thessalonica received nothing but praise for their faith, hope, and love.
The church at Thessalonica might have gotten confused about the order of events leading up to the Lord’s return and thought He was coming soon, but they understood the most important things: Faith in His Word, Hope for His return, and Love for His people.
This could not be said to the church at Laodicea, who thought they were well off with their wealth. Nor could this be said of many church members today, who are very comfortable in this present world while millions are living in misery. Jesus said, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25).
The rapture does not mean that Christians are exempt from trials and tribulations. It has been said that there has been more persecution of Christians in recent years than any other time in history, and it’s getting worse.
(9) Who Will Preach and Teach?
Some have argued that the Church could hardly be raptured before the tribulation, for this would not leave any who understood the Scriptures well enough to preach and teach Christ.
First of all: God can often use the zeal of a new Christian in bringing others to Christ more than He can an old one. Many will be like the man Jesus healed. He didn’t know the answers to all questions. “But I know this,” he said, “I was bind, and now I see!” (John 9:25, TLB.)
Second: Out of the millions who are left many will have their head full of Bible knowledge, and when their heart is changed and filled with the Spirit, they can be used in a mighty way. Paul is a good example.
Third: There will be plenty of Bibles left, along with many good Christian books, and perhaps the Internet. Maybe my www.John316.com will still be around. I know from experience that a person can be saved simply from reading the Bible and that you don’t have to spend years of study to have a good understanding of it. I knew hardly anything about the Bible and most everything in this book came to me in about two years, beginning in December of 1970.
Fourth: Trouble and persecution have a way of spreading the gospel and bringing people to Christ—and during the tribulation there will be plenty of both. More people may turn to Christ during the tribulation than during the whole church age.
Fifth: God can leave some true Christians behind to help spread the Word if He wants too. In fact, many probably would volunteer.
Scripture References [a] Matthew 27:52-53, [b] 2 Timothy 2:15, [c] Titus 3:11-13, [d] 1 Cor. 15:12, [e] Ezekiel 38:8-16, [f] John 19:37, [g] 2 Thess. 2:5.
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