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Rethinking the Rapture Issue

There are very few, if any, issues on which the whole Church agrees, but there are a handful of debates within the Body of Christ that elicit great emotional reactions and over-reactions.  The teaching of a “rapture” of the Body of Christ prior to His Second Coming is one such issue.  That is to say, the subject often cannot even be discussed because just the mere mention of the word in the presence of many results in a total emotional and or intellectual shutdown.

Both Jesus and Paul experienced similar reactions to a mere word.  In the Gospels and the Book of Acts, both Jesus and Paul are almost stoned for merely mentioning the word “Gentile” to their Jewish audience.  In both cases, they lost the ear of their audience immediately.  In the Church today, there are many who react to terms like “dispensation,” “dispensational truth,” and “rapture” in precisely the same way.  The mere mention of the words causes them to be unable to hear anything else the speaker may have to say (see Luke 4:24-29 and Acts 22:21,22).

Of the four main varieties of Christians the Bible prophecies will exist at the end of the age (Catholic, Protestant-Reformed, Fundamental-Dispensationalist, and Charismatic) the traditional teaching of a pre-trib rapture is associated with Fundamentalists, and Fundamentalists are generally described as having “no use” for the Holy Spirit and no desire to be “touched” by God in the here and now.  The Catholic and Protestant church are and always have been amillennial in their eschatology, so the issue of the Rapture is moot with them.  Charismatics ostensibly profess in a coming 1,000 year kingdom, but for the most part are not anxious to discuss real-world scenarios concerning how this is to come about.  Therefore, discussions of “timing” are generally dismissed as being childish.

That leaves only a small remnant of professing Christianity that still believes in an event popularly termed the Rapture of the Saints.  At the risk that many readers will give us audience to that word, we would like to step back from all the emotion that seems to have been generated by this question and take a look at the reasonableness of various teachings regarding the Lord taking His own out of the world prior to the great judgments that will fall from Heaven to the earth.

Jesus Foretells of a Rapture Event

First of all, we should note that the Lord Himself foretold of a Rapture-like event that is to take place in connection with the end-time events that will culminate in the Second Coming of the Son of Man:

I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.  Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Luke 17: 34-36.

Peter Foretells of the Deliverance of God’s People

The Apostle Peter also foretold of a future deliverance of the people of God, demonstrating that there is a pattern.

For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;  And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;  And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;  And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:  (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)  The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.  II Peter 2:4-9.

This is perfectly in line with the promise given by Jesus Christ to the faithful church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.  Revelation 3:10.

Without even consulting the writings of Paul, then, the Christian has good reason to believe that God has provided for an “emergency exit” for His own when it comes time to rain His final judgments upon an unbelieving world, and that that exit will be a dramatic “taking away” of people while others are left behind.

God Has Done This Before

One of the popular arguments against the Rapture is that the teaching is based on typology rather than clear statements of scripture.  We have just given several clear statements of scripture upon which an expectation of an end-time Rapture could be anticipated without resorting to typology.

The typology is significant, however, in that it shows that the Rapture would not be a difficult thing for God to pull off.  He has done this before.  Enoch walked with God and was not, because God “took him.”  Elijah was transported bodily into Heaven in a fiery chariot without dying.  We shall look at another chariot that is mentioned in connection with the Rapture of the church shortly.

Overlooked Prophecy in the Song of Solomon.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in the Song of Solomon as God has been visiting the church with a “Bridal outpouring” in preparation for the Bridegroom’s return.  For the most part, however, the book is still interpreted “devotionally,” as being descriptive of the King’s love for his Shulamite bride, and applied personally to individual Christians in the Body of Christ.

While there is nothing wrong with interpreting the Song of Solomon this way, there are many passages in this unique book that are prophetic vis-à-vis the church in a way not found elsewhere in the Old Testament.  But we will focus on one such passage:

Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.  Song 6:12

Now, thinking back to the time when this book was written, there was no faster mode of transportation known to man than a chariot with a team of strong battle horses drawing it.  When those horses started off at the driver’s command, any passengers in the chariot would experience a sudden jolt unlike any possible at that time.  Therefore, we would not be out of line if we updated the passage thusly, “Before I knew what hit me, my soul was flying off like a rocket.”  That is the true sense of the passage.

Immediately, the Daughters of Jerusalem (another study in itself, but probably a reference to the “Jewish” church that will be left on the earth after the departure of the “fullness of the Gentiles”) begin to beseech the Shulamite who has been spirited away in an instant:  Return, return—we want to look on you!  To which the Bride responds:

What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies. Song 6:13

Compare this with the picture of the Lord’s return in Revelation 19:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.  His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.  And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.  And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.  Revelation 19:11-14

How many armies?  More than one.  At least two.  This is what the people in the world will see when they behold the coming of the Lord from heaven on the last day of Gentile rule on this planet.  The King returning with His Bride, following a marriage supper in Heaven, to be followed by a “honeymoon” in Jerusalem.

So we see that the Rapture has been foretold by Jesus, confirmed by Peter, typified by Enoch and Elijah, and even described in detail in Song of Solomon.

Why All the Confusion?

Given all of this, why would Christian teachers and preachers declare that the teaching of the Rapture is not scripturally supported?

The answer probably lies in the nature of a person’s eschatology as it relates to other end-time events more than it relates to a consideration of scripture dealing directly with the Rapture.

For example, both Catholic and Protestant Bible “scholars” of the dead orthodox variety assume an amillennial approach to eschatology in general.  That is, they do not believe in a sudden, literal, physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ or a Kingdom ruled by Him on this earth.  Having rejected all scripture dealing with a Kingdom here on earth, they spiritualize all scripture dealing with other Kingdom-related events, including the appearance of the man of sin, the coming Tribulation period, and, of course, the Rapture.

Charismatic-leaning teachers, on the other hand, claim to believe in such a Kingdom, but usually teach that the Church is to play a major role in the establishment of that Kingdom, even as the Bride is being perfected through the trials confronting Her during the Tribulation period that precedes the realization of that Kingdom.  They see the Great Tribulation as being the most horrible, devastating experience the Church has ever known, even as the Church ironically exhibits the most glorious, victorious display of signs, wonders, and miracles ever known to man, far surpassing even the miracles performed by Jesus and the first century apostles.  It is not surprising, then, that to those who teach and believe thusly, the Rapture is seen as a curse rather than a blessing.  Even though believers might be spared persecution, torture, and execution, they will also be missing out on some of the best Christian rock concerts and healing lines imaginable.  For those to whom Christianity is little more than a rock concert and a healing show to begin with, any suggestion that they would be “taken out” early must be a lie devised by the Devil.

But the fact of the matter is, every truly born-again child of God knows deep down in his or her heart that the Lord has promised to deliver a believing remnant, to keep them from the trials that are coming upon an unbelieving world, and to join with this remnant in a special relationship likened to the marriage between a man and a woman.  This remnant will return with the Lord when the heavens open and God’s armies descend to the earth.  Depending on how much influence dead orthodox amillennialism or modern day la-la land Charismatic teachings have had on them, either prior to or after their salvation, many Christians have lost sight of or given up hope that one day they will hear the voice of the Lord like a trumpet commanding “Come up hither!”  According to Jesus in Revelation 3, they have allowed others to steal their crown, for Paul said that there was a crown laid up for him, and not for him only, but for all those who “love His appearing.”

And this brings us finally to a consideration of the teachings of the Apostle Paul, which were specifically addressed to “the church.”

Having established that the Lord Jesus spoke of a Rapture, that the Apostle Peter spoke of a “delivering from judgment” of God’s holy ones, and having noted that a Rapture-like stealing away in the spirit is anticipated in the Song of Solomon in a passage foreshadowing the Bride of Christ, let us look at some of the passages in Paul’s epistles that are most often associated with dispensational, premillennial Rapture teachings.

The Teaching of Paul

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 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.  I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

We have quoted the entire passage here lest some accuse us of taking verses out of context, or “proof texting” the Rapture.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.  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, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  I Corinthians 15:50-54.

Again, Paul speaks of a coming event that will occur instantaneously and will effect all believers alive on the earth at the time it occurs.  Is it the “birth of the manchild” of Rev. 12?  No, it is the sudden, ie., without notice, transformation of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ from mortal flesh-and-blood creatures into immortal, flesh-and-bone entities similar to the Lord Jesus in His glorified body.  John speaks of the same event in I John 3:2. 

If this is the “manifestation of the sons of God” Paul spoke of in Romans 8:19, it should be noted that it is not the result of a gradual process, nor does it occur in some believers and not others, as the Manifest Sons of God teaching states.  It is a sudden, across the board transformation of all those who are Christ’s.  And it occurs at the same time that we are “caught up… to meet the Lord in the air,” that is, at the last trump.

There are those who teach that at the very end of the Tribulation period, the Lord descends, shouts, calls believers into the air to receive their new bodies and then with them continues to descend to the Mount of Olives and establish the Kingdom.  While this interpretation does no violence to the passages cited here, they do not explain the references cited earlier regarding the Lord’s description of a rapture event or Peter’s reassurances that the Lord will deliver the godly (or His own) out of temptations (tribulation) and reserve the unjust to suffer the full blunt of the wrath of God.

Final Considerations from the Outline of the Revelation

We have no reason to be confused about the chronology of the events in the Book of Revelation.  John is given the divine outline, and he shares it with the readers.  He is told by the Lord Jesus to write about three categories of events: 1) the things he saw in his vision of the Lord, 2) things concerning the present, and 3) things concerning the future (Rev. 1:19).

Having related those things pertaining to the vision that he saw, John goes on to write messages the Lord wants to deliver not just to seven churches, but “the seven churches.”  Just as the seven spirits that are before God speak of the fullness and completeness of the spirit, the seven churches speak of the fullness of completeness of the church, or the church age.  The church age is the time we are living in, the time John was living in when he received the messages, it is the time referred to as “now” or the “things that are.”

Following the messages to the seven churches, or the church age, John is told he will now be shown the things that are to occur after these things, or after the things that are now.  Interestingly enough, these two major sections of the Book of Revelation are separated by a foretelling of the Rapture that could have been written by Paul.  John hears a voice like a trumpet (as in Paul’s references), and the voice says “Come up hither,” and John is taken up to the throne of God, from where he observes the events that are to occur after the church age has run its course and ended with the rapture of the saints into heaven to receive their new bodies, their rewards, and their bridal apparel.  The “church” is not mentioned again in the narrative of events leading up to the return of the Lord Jesus, His armies following, at the end of Revelation 19.

Believers may disagree about the various interpretations offered regarding end-time events, but no believer should be so unfair to the brethren as to begrudge a brother his belief that this chain of events is a foretelling of a future rapture of the saints without having any better explanation for why the Lord has described these events this way.  And to date, we have been given no better explanation.  The passages cited in this article are not discussed by those who dismiss the “rapture theory.”  They are not discussed, they are simply dismissed as not having anything to do with a rapture of the saints, with no further discussion as to what it is they may have something to do with.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the much debated timing of the rapture in the end-time timeline.  It is simply to point out that is not unreasonable for a Bible-believing saint to believe that the Lord has promised to deliver His own from the Tribulation that is coming on all the earth by way of suddenly calling them up and away from the earth.  Statements such as “these claims have not one word of scripture to back them up,” should never be uttered by an honest man—for indeed there is much in scripture to support the belief.

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