As we prepare to usher in the year 2004, on this New Years Eve 2003, I felt the Lord leading me in a teaching on The Rapture How Close Are We? And what we are going to do this evening is look at what the rapture is all about and then in part 2 of this study we will be looking at the world events and how they relate to what the Bible says regarding the end times.
Today there is much confusion regarding the rapture of the church; we believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, others believe in a mid-tribulation rapture, others a pre-wrath rapture and still some believe in a post-tribulation rapture with many minor variations to these views. Who is right and who is wrong? Tonight we are going to see not what my opinion on this is, but clearly what the Bible teaches, because that is the most important aspect to this.
Back in December of 2001 I received this E-mail that went out to all the Calvary Chapel pastors and this is what it was in regards to, this was the heading: In Light of the Recent Events Facing Christians Around the World, Can the Calvary Pastors Afford to Be Dogmatic About the Timing of the Rapture? I believe that we can be because of what the Bible has to say regarding this event. Now in this E-mail, this is what this man had to say:
Dear Calvary Pastors:
Four years ago I wrote the attached letter to Pastor Chuck [Smith] in order to persuade him to include teaching a Pre Armageddon Rapture along with the conventional Pre Tribulation Rapture to the Calvary church.
In light of the recent Muslim jihad attacks against Christians around the world (particularly in the Sudan, Philippines, Indonesia and the Arab Emirate); the question of when our Lord will return to Rapture the church, is more than academic. Many Calvary souls will depend on their pastors correct understanding of two extremely important decisions that will be required of last days believers:
1) In Revelation 16:15, Jesus emphatically warns the church to be watching for Him to come like a thief immediately prior to the Battle of God Almighty (Armageddon). If Jesus means what He says in this passage, then He expects the church to be here on earth (going about His business, so they will not go shamefully exposed). However, because this warning is never taught by pastors to the sheep who have been put into their charge, those believers will most likely never get the opportunity to make an enlightened decision that their very eternity will depend on.
2) If believers choose to believe that Jesus wants His church to be watching (and going about His business to save souls to the very end) for His return for them, then will they have been spiritually prepared to withstand the unbelievable pressure from their unsaved families, and the world, in order to reject Mans answer (the mark of the beast) to the collapse of the entire worlds economic, political and military structure? Due to the extreme threat of terrorism, the mark of the beast is nearly reality . . . one more major terrorist event, and the mark will be widely accepted as the only viable solution to terrorism!
About two months ago, I asked pastor Chuck (on To Every man An Answer) if he was wrong, if he would feel any responsibility (or whether God would require judgment for pastors) for the souls that would be lost due to his pre tribulation teaching. Pastor Chuck said that he would not.
But now I ask you, if you teach only a pre tribulation rapture theory (and then you were to learn, after the fact, that Jesus words in Revelation 16:15, to be watching for Him just prior to Armageddon was a warning to you), would you take responsibility for any lost souls that you incorrectly taught (or should God hold you responsible for ignoring His warning), which in part, may cause the loss of tens of thousands of Calvary believers)? Are you that sure . . . ??
Sincerely, In Gods Service,
There are several problems with what this man has said. First of all our salvation is not based upon what we believe about the rapture, but our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Another letter said the following regarding both the rapture and eternal security, Rapture Christianity promises its followers that they can enjoy all the benefits of Christianity without any of the costs.
Not surprisingly, the Rapture is extremely popular with people who believe the false doctrine of eternal security i.e., once saved, always saved . . . where saved means you just have to accept Jesus as you personal Lord and Savior and youre good to go. You can never lose your salvation, no matter what sins you may commit thereafter.
Now that kind of thinking is dangerous, because it adds to the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary, He did His part now we must do our part to maintain it. And that teaching is contrary to what the Bible teaches and I dont care if the Pope himself said it, if it is contrary to Scripture they are wrong!
It is as Paul said in Romans 3:21-28, But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. We are saved by grace through faith, it is the finished work He has done, and it is a free gift of God, not of works and thus, there is no room for boasting. It is out of that relationship that we do good works, they dont save us, they just show we are saved. In fact, the only sin that will keep you out of heaven is your rejection of Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life!
Here at Calvary Chapel of Manitowoc we believe in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church or that the Lord will gather His Bride, the Church and take us to heaven with Him before the tribulation period starts. In the letter it seems to indicate that we would not be ready to endure the pressure from unsaved families, economic problems, persecution and-so-on! Guess what, the church has endured those things since it was born on the day of Pentecost! Jesus told us that we would have tribulation in this world because we love Jesus, but that comes from the world and not from God. On the other hand, during the tribulation period, God is going to pour out His wrath on a Christ rejecting world! The source of the tribulation is different and we will not be here when the Lord judges this world!
Now, with that as our introduction, lets look at where we see this idea of the Rapture in the Bible. We are going to be looking at I Thessalonians chapter 4, so if you would turn there with me. In this section Paul is responding to a concern that the Thessalonians had regarding their brethren who died, believers, that they would miss out on the rapture! That tells me that they too believed in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church for they were concerned that those who had died in the Lord would miss out on their resurrection bodies! Secondly, if they believed that they were going to go through the tribulation period, any part of it, then they would have rejoiced over those that had died in the Lord for they would not have to endure all this pain and suffering. They instead would have grieved for themselves and the horrible things they would have to endure during this time. With that said, lets begin reading in I Thessalonians chapter 4, beginning in verse 13 and lets see what the Lord has for us regarding this issue of THE RAPTURE!
Notice how Paul starts out regarding this very controversial issue, one that has divided some members of the church. He says, . . . I dont want you to be ignorant . . . That word ignorant in the Greek is AGNOEO (ag-no-eh-o) and it speaks of not knowing something because of a lack of information or a lack of intelligence or even worse, to just plain ignore it! The thing is this, there is now no excuse, you have been given the information, now dont neglect it.
You see, if we believe that Jesus died and then rose from the dead it gives to us assurance of those that have died in the Lord, that we too will rise from the dead. When our bodies go back to the dust of the earth, when we die in Christ, our soul and spirit goes to be with the Lord and we will one day have a new body that Jesus is preparing for us. Listen carefully to what He said to His men in John 14:1-3, Let not your heart be troubled; you 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
Jesus is preparing a new body for our soul and spirit to dwell in. These bodies are just temporary dwelling places, tents you might say, but one day our soul and spirit will enter into a new body, a mansion that Jesus is preparing for us and that is eternal, it will never fade away, it will never die and that will happen when He comes for us in the rapture!
Back in I Thessalonians, in verse 15, Paul says that we who are alive when the Lord returns will have no advantage over those who sleep or died in the Lord. And when He comes He will descend from heaven and He will give a shout, calling us to Himself with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God sounding we will be caught up to be with Him! The trumpet was used to call people together for an assembly or for war. In this case, of course, it is a major assembly of saints gathering to meet the Lord in the air! When this happens, those that have died in the Lord will get their resurrection bodies and we who remain and are alive will be caught up to be with the Lord and we will get our resurrection bodies!
Now, let me say this, the word rapture is nowhere to be found in the Bible! Then where in the world did we come up with that term? When the Scriptures were translated into Latin they used the word rapturo for caught up and that is where we get the root word for our English word rapture. Now in the Greek, caught up is HARPAZO and it means to seize upon with force or to snatch up. Yes, the word rapture is not found in the Bible but the concept is clearly taught. If you dont want to call it rapture then call it the great snatch away, because that is what the Scriptures are teaching, I just prefer rapture!
Now you talk to some about Jesus and the tribulation period and the rapture and they feel they will wait until the rapture and then they will come to Jesus and be caught up with the rest of us. That is a mistake, you need to believe and receive Jesus today, for if you wait for the rapture it will be too late. Let me explain. In I Corinthians 15:50-52 Paul tells us regarding the rapture, Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 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.
Paul is telling us that this event, the rapture of the church is instantaneous. The word moment is from ATOMUS in the Greek and it is the smallest conceivable quantity, it cant be cut or divided any smaller! Also, it will happen in the twinkling of an eye as the trumpet sounds. Think of it like this, the twinkling of an eye is the time it takes for light to hit the surface of the eye till it hits the retina. Let me now put that into perspective in how fast that is. Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, which means it would take 1.5 seconds for light to travel from the earth to the moon. The moon is some 239,000 miles from the earth! So then, in the twinkling of an eye the light would only reach one foot from the surface of the earth! Thus, no one will see it happen, it will be instantaneous, but they will see and feel the effects of the rapture!
Why does this happen? Paul tells us that these bodies of flesh and blood cant enter the kingdom of God, they must be changed. A metamorphosis will take place like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, these bodies will be changed so they can enter Gods kingdom. Listen carefully to what Paul said in I Corinthians 15:35-49 regarding this, But someone will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
Thus, the rapture is a unique event in history, unknown to the Old Testament saints, a mystery that has now been revealed in the New Testament and it speaks of all the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who are alive when the Lord returns will be instantaneously and miraculously taken into heaven without experiencing death. The Lord is going to take His Bride, the church home to be with Him.
But that still does not tell us when this event will take place, the time frame for it. Well, if the first century saints were expecting it in their day, before the tribulation, so should we!
As you study the book of Revelation you will see that the church is mentioned some 18 times in the first 3 chapters of this book! Then we dont see the church again mentioned on the earth again until we return with the Lord in Revelation 19:7-14. Interestingly enough, in chapters 4 through 18 the church is mentioned only in heaven, not on this earth!
I think the key to understanding the book of Revelation and end times events is found in Revelation 1:19 where the Lord tells John how this book is divided up. He says, Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.
The things that John has seen are the things of chapter 1. Then, the things that are speak of Revelation chapters 2 & 3 which are the seven letters that Jesus wrote to the churches in Asia Minor. These were historical churches but I also see these letters giving us a look at church history! If you want to look at this closer, look at our in-depth Revelation study.
The thing I want to focus on here is the last division of this book or the things that will take place after this. After what? After the things of the church, when the church age comes to an end! That covers Revelation chapter 4 through chapter 22 and those chapters can be further divided as follows. Chapters 4-18 deal with the events leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus, including the seven years of the tribulation period. Chapter 19 deals with the Second Coming. Chapter 20 deals with the aftermath and the setting up of the kingdom of God on this earth, the 1,000 year reign or millennial reign of Jesus. And lastly, chapters 21 & 22 deal with the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth!
Now, the thing I want to show you here in Revelation is what takes place after the church age, and in Revelation 4:1-2 we are told, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this. Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
Paul uses the Greek phrase META TAUTA, or after these things to open up chapter 4, which again gives us the last division of the book as Jesus told us back in Revelation 1:19. Now notice what takes place after the church age comes to an end, which chapter 3 concluded for us. As John, representing the church, looks he sees a door open in heaven and then a voice like a trumpet calling him to Come up here and he was immediately taken into heaven, before the throne of God! THE RAPTURE!
Remember after the Lords resurrection, as He was taken up into heaven, we are told in Acts 1:11 that as His disciples gazed up into heaven, two angels spoke to them saying, . . . Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.
John is illustrating to us what will happen before God pours out His wrath upon a Christ rejecting world, that we will be out of here, we will be with the Lord, as Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:9-10, For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. God is not going to pour out His wrath upon His children, upon the Bride for Jesus! In fact, in Genesis chapter 19, before the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their wickedness, righteous Lot and his family had to be removed first. The angel said to Lot, Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there. . . . Genesis 19:22. And in II Peter 2:9 we are told, then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment. Thus, it is clear to me that the pre-requisite to the tribulation period is that the church MUST be removed first for God is not going to pour out His wrath on a Christ rejecting world until that is done first!
Also, in Revelation 3:10, as the Lord is speaking to the faithful church, the church of Philadelphia, He tells them, 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 Lord will keep us out of the hour of trial that will come upon the earth dwellers because we are not earth dwellers as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20-21, For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. You see, we are not earth dwellers, we are citizens of heaven and that is where we will be when this hour of trial comes, when the tribulation period begins.
Now what about Revelation 16:15, what does that mean then? First lets read through it, for it says, Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame. First of all, Gods wrath is poured out as the seals are opened and we see the judgment of God begin in Revelation chapter 6, so we have to be out of here before then, long before Revelation chapter 16 begins! Please understand that during the tribulation period many will get saved, from Jews to Gentiles and they are the ones that need to be watching, for He is coming back to set up His kingdom on this earth where righteousness will reign! This is not speaking of the church, but of those that are saved during the tribulation period and many of them will be martyred for their faith in Jesus during this time! I think that is a very easy explanation of that verse, I dont see it as difficult to understand at all, and in no way can it be the church!
Now back in I Thessalonians 4:18 Paul tells us, Therefore comfort one another with these words. If the church were to go through the tribulation period, what kind of comfort would that be? Obviously it would be no comfort at all. But Paul just got done telling us that the Lord is coming back, He will meet us in the air, and with the voice of an archangel and the sound of a trumpet He will call us home and we will be caught up, snatched away, the rapture will occur and we are to comfort people with these words, it is Gods promise to us!
Some still argue that this idea of a rapture, this pre-tribulation rapture of the church is a new idea, of recent origin. In fact it was completely unknown until the early 1800s, until John Nelson Darby put this idea forward. In regards to these verses here in I Thessalonians 4:16-17 one person wrote: The Catholic Church always has understood this verse to be describing the Second Coming of Christ and the General Resurrection at the end of the world. But approximately 170 years ago recent by theological standards an Irish Protestant named John Nelson Darby came up with the idea that this event would happen long before the end of the world. He claimed on his own authority, of course that this Rapture (as he called it) will take all true Christians out of the world to be with Jesus in heaven right before a huge tribulation befalls the rest of the inhabitants of the earth (those who are left behind). Also, John Bray, who also vehemently opposes a pre-tribulation rapture of the church said, this teaching is not a RECOVERY of truth once taught and then neglected. No, it never was taught for 1800 years nearly no one knew anything about such a scheme. And Robert Van Kampen said, The pretribulational rapture position with its dual parousias was unheard of in church history prior to 1830. Folks, that is totally untrue!
In the writings of PseudoEphraem from around 565 to 627, he claims that he got his sermon from Ephraem of Nisbis, considered to be one of the greatest figures in the history of the Syrian church, who would have written this in around 373. Listen to what is said, All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins. Thus, not a new idea! I think that is clear enough, not only did Paul teach of the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, but so did the early church and thus, I believe it because I think the Bible is very clear on this issue.
Still some have a hard time separating the rapture of the church from the Second Coming of Jesus. Let me see if I can clear that up to show you how they differ.
|Rapture/Translation||Second Coming/Establish Kingdom|
|1. Translation of all believers.||1. No translation at all.|
|2. Translated saints go to heaven.||2. Translated saints return to the earth.|
|3. Earth is not judged.||3. Earth judged & righteousness established.|
|4. Imminent, any-moment.||4. Follows definite predicted signs including tribulation.|
|5. Not in the Old Testament.||5. Predicted often in the Old Testament.|
|6. Believers only.||6. Affects all men.|
|7. Before the day of wrath.||7. Concluding the day of wrath.|
|8. No reference to Satan.||8. Satan bound.|
|9. Christ comes for His own.||9. Christ comes with His own.|
|10. He comes in the air.||10. He comes to the earth.|
11. He claims His bride.
11. He comes with His bride.
12. Only His own see Him.
12. Every eye shall see Him.
13. Tribulation begins.
13. Millennial Kingdom begins.
Of this John Walvoord concludes by saying that these, contrasts should make it evident that the translation of the church is an event quite different in character and time from the return of the Lord to establish His kingdom, and confirms the conclusion that the translation takes place before the tribulation.
Lastly, I see the tribulation period as not only the Lord pouring out His wrath upon a Christ rejecting world, but the Lord is also going to be dealing with the nation of Israel, the Jews once again to complete the seventieth week of Daniel spoken of in Daniel chapter 9. In Daniel chapter 9 we are told, Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate. Daniel 9:24-27.
Those seventy weeks are determined upon Israel and they will culminate with the Jewish people, as a nation, receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior at the end of the tribulation period. But these seventy weeks are broken down, 69 seven year periods or 173,880 days will culminate with the Messiah coming as king. The start date is to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, which according to Nehemiah was given by king Artaxerxes on March 14, 445 BC., count off 173,880 days and you come to April 6, 32 AD, the only day that Jesus rode through Jerusalem as king, we call it Palm Sunday!
And then it says that He will be cut off or executed for a capital crime, which Jesus was. Then we have a break, which we call the church age where a bride is being gathered together for Jesus, the church. Once that is over, then the last 7 year period, the tribulation period, will begin and it is when the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel to rebuild their temple. I believe this is on the heals of a war where Russia and her Muslim allies come down upon Israel to destroy her and God destroys this invading army, which you can read about in Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39! You see, I dont believe that God is going to deal with the church and Israel at the same time, which means the church is out of here, raptured before the start of the tribulation period! Thus, may we do what Paul is admonishing us to do knowing this information, Therefore comfort one another with these words. I Thessalonians 4:18.
The Lord is coming back for His Bride, the church, how close are we? We will be looking at that in our next study. But let me leave you with this, with these words that Paul gave to Titus, For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. Titus 2:11-15. May we be watching and waiting and telling others about Jesus for He is coming soon!