The Rapture

by David Breese

 

[Editors note by Terry James: The following was a chapter Dr. Dave Breese, my dear friend who went to be with the Lord May 2, 2002, wrote for one of my books published in the early 1990s. It is like a self-contained education on Truth wrapped up in what God's Word has to say about Christ's calling His Church in the Rapture.

The chapter, although written nearly 2 decades ago, couldn't be more relevant than during these present days of stage-setting for prophecies that will come to pass following Jesus' sudden shout, "Come up hither!"(Rev. 4: 1)

In my view there has been nothing written that is more instructive in matters concerning these closing days of the Age of Grace, while we look for the blessed hope of Titus 2: 13.]

A stunning event is quickly approaching for our world! That event will be thrilling beyond measure to every Christian. It will be dismaying and most frightening, however, to each person in the world who has not believed the gospel and has not become, thereby, a possessor of eternal life. We have come to call that event "the rapture of the Church." It is that coming awesome moment that enables us to promise that there is a generation of Christians who will not die. Rather, they will be caught up while yet in their living physical bodies, taken suddenly from this world to meet face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ. They will meet Him in the air and then be personally escorted by Christ, the Maker of the universe, into heaven and the presence of God. The fact that the Bible describes in the clearest terms the utter reality of this event cannot be denied by clever detractors or contradicted by coy pretenders to faith. Rather, this promised event of the catching away of Christians is the right and proper source of great anticipation on the part of genuine believers across the world of our time.

The Hope of the Christian

The subject of the rapture of the Church was introduced to believers in the New Testament era in a most interesting fashion as the answer to a critical doctrinal question. How did that question arise?

In the early days of the Church, the believers had a general knowledge about the coming of the Lord, the end of the world, and the consummation of history. They paid no attention to any theory that argued the world has been here forever and would, in like fashion, go on indeterminably.

The disciples one day asked Christ, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3).

With this question, the disciples revealed that they wisely did not believe the various views of the uniformity and eternity of nature - false doctrine that was floating in that time and continues today. The disciples were very conscious that existence on earth, and even the existence of earth itself, was a finite and passing thing. Their knowledge that the world would come to an end is obvious from their question. Our Lord himself instructed us that this view is true.

Christ's response to the disciples' questions compose what we know today as the Olivet Discourse, two full chapters in Matthew's Gospel account. The general view of the consummation of things, however, becomes more refined in the epistles of the New Testament.

In the letters of the New Testament writers to the early churches, we see the emergence of a people who are given a very special destiny by the Lord. These people came to be called "Christians," believers in Jesus Christ who constitute a mysterious entity in our world called "the Church." Of this the apostle Paul speaks when he says that, following Christ's crucifixion, His burial, and His resurrection, our Lord has taken His seat at the right hand of the Father,

Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Eph.1:21-23).

Out of the wounded side of Jesus Christ, God created a totally marvelous entity, which is called in Scripture the body of Christ. The existence of the body of Christ, however, was unknown and unforeseen by the prophets in Old Testament days. It was a "mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph.,3:9-10).

Christians are, therefore, instructed that they live in a very special age in which God is taking out of the world a people for His name and forming them together into a mysterious and beautiful living entity in the world, the body of Christ himself. One of the less-realized, but most wonderful, aspects of Christianity is that to be a Christian is to be in indissoluble union with God through Christ.,

The Believer's Destiny

The New Testament Christians were then instructed that they were inheritors of a stupendous eternal destiny. Speaking to them, the apostle Paul said, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).

So, wonder of wonders, the Christians are to inherit not merely the world, which is the case with Israel, but they are inheritors of the universe. "All things" are in the process of being given to them by the Lord, the totality of which Will one day be their inheritance. Expanding on this, the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians,

... For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

This awesome destiny of the believer needs to be better understood by Christians today. One of the greatest motivations for the believer to live a splendid Christian life is a sense of the eternal destiny that is his. Every one of us should be lifted up from ordinary circumstances by reading that the Bible says, For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him ... (Heb. 2:5-8).

What then is God doing today in the light of the bright destiny that He has prepared for us? The answer is that He is bringing many sons into glory (Heb. 2:10). All of the events of life are, therefore, calculated by God to produce maturity in His sons in preparation for the rulership of eternity.

What wonder must have progressively taken over the minds of the members of the New Testament body of Christ as they thought of their destiny. Living as ordinary, lowly individuals in Corinth, Athens, Rome, or the provinces of Galatia, they are now offered a greater hope beyond this life. Some of them were wicked sinners, prostitutes, whorermongers, thieves, and even tax collectors. Out of their degenerate pasts, the believers crossed over the bridge of faith in Jesus Christ to become heirs of God.

Coming from nothing, from a life of sin, they were overwhelmed with the teaching that, as a gift from God, they possessed eternal life and along with it, the never-to-fade riches of the universe. They were even promised by Jesus Christ that they would never die. Had not He said,

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26).

Their understanding of future glory was expanded by reading from the apostle Paul about the work of Jesus Christ, Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But now is made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9-10).

Receiving letters like this and listening to the face-to-face teaching of the apostle Paul, these early Christians pursued with joy and astonishment the truth of the resurrection of Christ and, therefore, of their own personal resurrection.

What About Those Who Have Died?

Five years, ten years, twenty years had gone by, and Christ had not come. Believers were burying their brothers and sisters as the inevitable ending of life took place for one Christian after another. Those first Christian funerals must have been most moving occasions. But they also produced a series of questions in the minds of the believers still alive.

These Christians, knowing that their departed loved ones were present with the Lord, wondered how they would share in the coming of Christ. They were certainly also concerned about when these departed loved ones would be resurrected from the dead. The bodies were in the grave, and their spirits were with Christ.

Jesus was coming again; therefore, the believers asked, "How does the coming of Christ for His church relate to those Christians who have gone before? How do those who have already died in Christ share in the moment of His return with those who are yet alive? Is there a special resurrection for the Christian?" These were understandable concerns and, to be sure, concerns that remain today among untutored believers.

The New Testament Christians corresponded with the apostle Paul, asking him about those who had died and how they will share in the return of Christ. We can rejoice in this because we have Paul's answer to the questions about death and resurrection that were raised by the early Christians.

A Special Resurrection

In the letter of the apostle Paul to the saints of Thessalonica, given by divine revelation, he revealed that wonderful truth of the special resurrection of believing Christians:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who 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 who 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 (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

This passage presents the truth of the rapture of the Church. What lessons can we learn from Paul's writing? They certainly include the following:

1) Spiritual ignorance is not complimented in the Word of God. By paying attention to the sure word of prophecy that God has given us in His Word, we can become knowledgeable, rather than ignorant Christians.

2) Christians who have died are with the Lord, and they will be brought by Christ to the Rapture. Many Christians are concerned about the location and state of mind of departed loved ones even today. The Scriptures reassure us that they are "safe in the arms of Jesus" and are tenderly cared for by Him. 3) Christ will descend from heaven to meet believers in the air. Notice that the Lord Jesus does not return the entire distance to this world but, rather, awaits that rendezvous in the air and will catch us up to that point of greeting and reunion. We can, therefore, suggest that this moment of tender reunion will not be observed by the people of earth. Indeed, even their observation would profane so holy an occasion.

4) The Rapture will be the occasion of the resurrection of believers. One of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith is that of the resurrection of the body. This resurrection for believers will be on the identical occasion of the Rapture, at The Rapture which time the bodies of Christians, glorified, will be reunited with their spirits which have been in the presence of Jesus Christ.

5) The Rapture will reunite believers with loved ones who have died in Christ. First, we will have the opportunity to greet one another, and together we will then be taken into the presence of Jesus Christ and into the presence of God.

6) This event will unite believers with Christ, never again to be separated. One of the great promises of the Rapture is that we will be present with the Lord, no longer to walk by faith but, rather, by sight. What an awesome occasion that Will be, as John discovered when he met the Lord on the occasion of the writing of the Book of the Revelation (Rev. 1:9-18).

By so writing, Paul gave us the classic passage in the New Testament that tens us in no uncertain terms that there is a generation of Christians who will not die. Rather, they will be caught up into the presence of Christ along with resurrected believers whom Christ will bring with Him when He comes for that last set of living Christians who will be alive when Christ comes for His church.

The Mystery Revealed

We must note that the doctrine of the catching up of the Church was a mystery, which in this passage was made known to people who already knew the general outline of the prophetic future. This is clear because Paul says that,

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you 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 (1 Thess.5:1-2).

This same message, that of the hitherto unannounced rapture of the Church, is also emphasized by the apostle Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians. He said,

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, Ina 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 (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

As we have noticed, the general message of the coming of the Lord was no mystery; the Thessalonians knew this perfectly well. The mystery was that the Church, in the form of the last generation of living Christians, was to be instantly transported and transformed without experiencing physical death itself.

By this, it then becomes clear in Scripture that God has produced a special entity in the world, the body of Christ, and for that Body, He has a special destiny. That destiny is to inherit all things and to participate in the rulership of the universe one day.

What a joy this truth became to the members of the early Church. We know that the first Christians were called upon to live for Christ in the midst of adverse circumstances. Sometimes, they were the object of severe persecution, even martyrdom. Because of the blessed hope which they now understood, they could receive the Word in much affliction, continuing to rejoice despite their circumstances.

From their example, the lesson is clear that one derives joy not from present cooperating circumstances but from the promise of the prophetic Word. The believing Christian knows that the fleeting joys and the temporary adversities of this world are to be accounted as little by comparison to the joy that awaits us when we step into the presence of Christ. The apostle Paul says this most strongly:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man may perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen: but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

The best of this life is not then to be compared with the joys of the future. This life is not final reality, it is the prelude to that reality. The worst circumstances imaginable in this world are but light affliction that lasts but for a moment. Reality, fullness of joy, comes to us from God when we pass from this life into the life to come.

The Body of Christ

We learn, therefore, from the Word of God, that the Lord has produced a special period of time, which is the Church Age. During that period of time, there is being fashioned by God himself that wonderful entity, the body of Christ.

When the body of Christ is complete, of which each believer is a member, we will be caught up into heaven to be with Christ. The bodies of those who have gone before will be resurrected, and a living generation of Christians will be caught up without dying to meet with those who have gone before to be taken by Christ into heaven.

There is an exact moment when this completion of the body of Christ will happen. That moment, at this present time known only to God, will bring the translation of the body of Christ into heaven. All believers at that moment will move from the Church militant to the Church triumphant.

In eternity, the believers will realize their true destiny: to be the inheritors and the co-rulers of the universe with Jesus Christ. It is no small thing to be a Christian! Believing in Jesus Christ is not merely the emotion of a moment, it is to be eternally joined with God himself and literally a partaker of the divine nature. It is to have the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.

The proper attitude, therefore, of the believer is to brightly anticipate the joys of heaven. The proper sentiment is also to allow for the possibility that, "Perhaps today, perhaps this very hour, I will be caught up into the presence of Christ and so to be with Him forever."

Let us remember, then, that there is not one but two possible ways in which the believer will go to heaven. One of them is via physical death. Concerning this, we ought not to be afraid because, in fact, the Christian does not die. Christ has abolished death and promised that when we believe in Him, we will never die. The Christian, even in "dying," does not even lose consciousness but discovers the marvelous truth that absent from the body is present with the Lord.

The other possibility for going to heaven is the Rapture, the catching up of the Church into the presence of Christ. So thrilling is this prospect that we ought to learn more about this event in which many of us may well participate. Happily, then, though there are many related questions concerning the Rapture, we can discover the answers by looking into the blessed pages of the Word of God.

What Is the Tribulation?

We have learned that the Rapture is the method by which Christ will take that last generation of believing Christians home to be with himself. There is little disagreement by those who pay the proper, studious respect to the Word of God that the Bible teaches the physical transport of believers from the earth to heaven. That is a fact which is presented undeniably and without apology in the Scriptures.

The questions which then arise have to do with the timing of the Rapture. People ask, "When?" The Rapture event is the object of much discussion with reference to the timing, relative to a special era in history called "the Tribulation." Therefore, the question often takes the form of "Will Christians go through the Tribulation?" and "Will Christ come for His own before the Tribulation?" and other related concerns.

To discover the answers to these questions, we must think concerning the basic question, "What is the Tribulation?" A proper understanding of the days of the Tribulation can go a long way toward answering the question of the timing of the Rapture relative to the Tribulation. What then is "the Tribulation" so commonly spoken of in Scripture?

The 69th Week

The first and most basic answer to that question is that the Tribulation is the seventieth week of the prophecy of Daniel. One of the most consolidated histories of the world, of the divine intention, is found in that prophecy.

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy (Dan. 9:24).

Here we have the goals that God is determined to fulfill in that seventy-week period of time that will bring us to the consummation of history.

Daniel's prophecy says that a most notable and tragic event will take place at the end of the sixty-ninth week, namely that Messiah shall be cut off. So the somber prediction of the death of the Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ, is presented to us by the prophet Daniel. So stunning is this event, so awesome a proof of the rebellion and sin of the people of God that the crucifixion of the Son of God stops the clock of prophecy.

On the occasion of the death of Christ, the veil of the temple was rent in twain, split from top to bottom, and the program of God for His people, the Jews, came to an abrupt halt. The unspeakably sad result is pictured in most moving fashion in Matthew's Gospel, presenting us the words of Christ.

Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them who are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord (Matt. 23:37-39).

Here we have Christ stating in advance the results of the rejection of their Messiah by the Chosen People of God. Their house would be left unto them desolate!

So it is that the house of Israel has been left desolate now for nearly 2,000 years. The children of Israel have been scattered across the world and have been subject to calumny, persecution, and rejection in nearly every nation of the world. This period of time has been the era of Israel being cut off from the true vine and the Church grafted in.

During the Church Age, therefore, God has had no specific program with the nation of Israel. Rather, in this day of grace, He has been calling both Jew and Gentile to faith in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world. All who so believe in this day are members of the body of Christ.

But God has not entirely forsaken His people. He has one last cycle of discipline for Israel. That period of discipline will come during Daniel's seventieth week, the week of the Tribulation.

The Time of Jacob's Trouble

The Tribulation is, therefore, the time of Jacob's trouble. Jeremiah says, "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it" (Jer. 30:7).

Israel is held responsible by the Lord, along with the Gentiles, for the crucifixion of Christ. This is the reason for the awesome silence of Jehovah in relating to His people during the two millennia that have transpired since the death of Christ. Clearly, however, the Word of God declares that God has not finally and completely cast away His people.

Indeed, the Scripture speaks of the casting away of Israel and announced that that produced the reconciling of the world. The Scripture then speaks of the receiving of Israel, which will be life from the dead for the nations. Israel moved into a period of blindness and estrangement from God until a point of time called the fullness of the Gentiles (Rom.11:25).

At this point, God promises to work in goodness and severity with His people so that, under the discipline of the n a on, Israel will be brought to a place of decision and faith. This is always the intention of divine discipline for His own, in any era of history.

The Tribulation, then, will be a time of the conversion of Israel. Most boldly, the Scripture announces,

And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins (Rom. 11:26-27).

Spiritual Revival

The Tribulation will, therefore, be a time of great spiritual revival. It will mark the conversion of Israel and great activity by Israel for the conversion of the world.

The Book of The Revelation, therefore, announces an amazing multitude of 144,000 witnesses who represent the twelve tribes of Israel. These will have been converted during the days of the Tribulation and will have a profound effect upon the world. When one remembers that there is only a fraction of this number of Christian missionaries in the world today, one is impressed with the zealous response that will come out of Israel in the form of faith in Jesus Christ as its Messiah. "The gospel of the Kingdom" will be preached with great zeal by them to the world.

The Tribulation will also be a time of massive conversion of Gentile multitudes. The Revelation says, after this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands (Rev. 7:9).

So remarkable is this sight that one of the elders around God's throne asked who these people are. The answer from the Word of God is: "These are they who came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14).

Amazing spiritual results occur when the world comes to the end of itself, realizing that nothing on earth is of any value. It then turns in great numbers to faith in Christ as Messiah, bringing in a time of evangelism that will be one of the largest and most effective in the history of the world. The anguish of the Tribulation produces a most salutary result. But a fearful time it will be!

God's Wrath Poured Forth

The Tribulation is the time of the outpouring of the wrath of God upon a wicked world. In the account of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, when the fourth horseman rides forth, the Scripture says, power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth (Rev. 6 8).

In the beginning days of the Revelation, therefore, approximately 25 percent of the world is killed in the opening wars and pestilences of those days. Very quickly, the Scripture says,

And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths (Rev. 9:17-18).

A third part of men killed! This already mounts up to one half of the world's population, and beyond this point in the Revelation many other natural catastrophes take place. As the Tribulation unfolds, there are mighty earthquakes, occasions of scorching heat, the advent of the Antichrist, world occult religious organization, and finally, the Battle of Armageddon, which will be fatal to scores of millions of soldiers. This time of natural catastrophe combined with divine judgment will bring awesome carnage across the face of the earth.

The Day of the Lord

The Tribulation is the beginning of "the day of the Lord." As we have seen, the Christians were conscious - because they read about it in the Old Testament - that there was a time of fearful judgment coming upon the world called the day of the Lord. The churches, however, needed instruction as to how to discern the presence of the day of the Lord and the way to know that the day of grace was finished. Concerning this, the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, saying,

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand (2 Thess. 2:1- 2).

Here, the apostle Paul admonishes the believers of that faithful early church at Thessalonica not to think that the day of the Lord had in fact come upon the world. Paul says they should not be troubled by the idea of this prospect being present by (reason of) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by (reason of) our gathering together unto Him. In other words, the day of the Lord was not present because Christ had not yet come and gathered the saints to himself.

The apostle Paul is, therefore, saying that the rapture of the Church, concerning which he had carefully instructed the Thessalonians, was the watershed point ending the day of grace and beginning the day of the Lord. In that the Rapture had not taken place, the day of the Lord was not yet present.

Here, the apostle Paul gives us a clear line of demarcation between the Church Age, the day of grace, and the day of the Lord, which is the day of divine judgment. That line of demarcation is the rapture of the Church.

During this day of Grace, God deals with the world with near-infinite forbearance. The Lord has said that unrepentant, sinful man is to be seen as follows:

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds (Rom.2:5-6).

During this age of grace, therefore, God tells us that man is, as it were, putting iniquity in the bank. He is treasuring it up, but the judgment of man's iniquity is sure to come. It does not come by way of naked vengeance from God during this gracious era, but it will come during the period of time called the day of the Lord, which begins with the Tribulation.

What Can We Expect?

Why does not the judgment of God come strongly upon the world in our time? It is because of the presence of the Church, the bride of Christ, in the world. Christ is not intending to bring His bride to heaven bruised, battered, bleeding, and badly damaged by the dreadful persecutions of the Antichrist, which will come upon the world during the Tribulation. Rather, He has promised to take His Church home in timely fashion, so that she will be kept from the hour of Tribulation in the world.

Speaking to the Church in the last days of church history, the Lord himself says, Because thou has kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from that hour of temptation, which shall come upon all of the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Rev. 3:10).

What then is coming upon the world? An hour of temptation, an hour of trial, an hour of tribulation. What promise does Christ make to the Church concerning that time of Tribulation? The promise is that she will be kept from that hour. Here we have a remarkable clue as to the timing of the rapture of the Church relative to the Tribulation. The Rapture is positioned in Scripture as coming before the Tribulation, by reason of which the Church will be unscathed from the judgment of the Tribulation. Some have expressed concern about the teaching of the Bible that the Church is the bride of Christ. This will be dispelled when we read the Scriptures, which say,

Therefore' as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph. 5:24-32).

We think Paul was speaking of human marriage ... and he was. But, in the highest sense, he has Christ and His bride, the Church, in mind.

Does the Church deserve to escape the Tribulation? Of course not! But, the condemnation which every Christian knows he richly deserves has already been vicariously absolved via the condemnation of Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross. Because the iniquity of us all was laid upon Christ, we are, therefore, saved by righteousness which is imputed, accredited to us by virtue of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus. The result is that we have the announcement, "'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus . . ." (Rom. 8:1). No condemnation!

Kept from the hour is the faithful promise Christ gives to His church and that can be the object of joyous confidence on the part of us all.

This Day of Grace

In this day of grace, we who are Christians have been made custodians of the most precious possession imaginable, the gospel of the grace of God.

It will be different once the Tribulation begins! The message which the Church has presently to preach to the world is the thrilling word that, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Here we have this wonderful offer of salvation by the unmerited favor of God because of Christ. It is the core of the gospel.

What is the core of the gospel? It is grace. By what price does this precious gift become ours? The apostle Paul clearly says, For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:34).

This marvelous message the apostle Paul declares to be "the gospel." It consists of the announcement of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The declaration is that the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary's cross was fully sufficient, enough to save us to the uttermost who believe in Him.

Therefore, the apostle Paul is able to declare, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24).

We are saved, therefore, not by our own righteousness but because we are justified freely by the grace of God. To be justified means to be declared righteous. It does not mean to be made righteous but, rather, the righteousness by which we are saved is that which we have by imputation. Therefore, the apostle Paul is able to expand on his message and declare that, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.

In this passage, the word for "believed" is the word amen. Salvation, therefore, because the world is guilty and unable to work for God, comes "to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly . . ."' (Rom. 4:5).

The Church of our time, therefore, is custodian of the thrilling message that God has a gift for the world and it comes on an absolutely free basis. No work of man - before, during, or after salvation - is a part of that salvation, nor does it make his eternal life any more sure. This is the day of grace and salvation, and salvation is by grace alone. So, the gospel of the grace of God is the message that everlasting life is available to all by faith alone.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

During the Tribulation, however, the message that will be announced to the world is called "'the gospel of the Kingdom." What is this message? It was the same message our Lord Jesus presented to the nation of Israel in His earthly ministry, particularly as is represented in the Gospel of Matthew. The earthly ministry of Christ was the King speaking to his errant subjects and announcing, as Matthew describes it,

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17).

So, Matthew describes the ministry of Christ by saying, And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of diseases among the people (Matt. 4:23).

The people of Israel, as we have seen, rejected both the King and the kingdom He offered - the kingdom of heaven. This rejection was not merely verbal, but the Scripture announces that, with utter cynicism, they nailed Christ to the cross.

Stupendous is this blindness, this cruel rejection of their King, this deocide. That's when everything changed. A sinful humanity was now utterly disqualified from salvation merely by repenting and receiving the kingdom. Without moral credentials or capacity, man, if he is to be saved at all, must be saved by utter grace. No deal, no arrangement, no nothing.

Man is guilty! All humanity is bankrupt! God, if He would save man, must open a bankruptcy court. There, He can declare guilty sinners, when they admit their bankruptcy, to be forgiven. He has been conducting that bankruptcy court for nearly 2,000 years. There, He declares sinners guilty (Rom. 3:19) and then, if they agree, they are cleansed in the blood of Christ. That agreement is called "faith." There is, there could be, no other way.

The parenthetical period (the Church Age) that followed the death, the murder, of Christ was not, characterized by the announcement that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand- but, rather, that a guilty humanity by faith in Christ could be saved by grace. By this, they would inherit not merely the kingdom of heaven but, rather, be heirs and perhaps rulers of the universe. What incredibly fortunate people form the body of Christ!

There is coming a day, however, when the body of Christ will be complete, and the group to rule the universe will have been raptured out of the world. At that time, God will renew His program with the nation of Israel, and then will come again the announcement: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. So it is that believers in Jesus Christ during the Tribulation are saved by faith as has been the case in all ages. However, they are saved into participation in the kingdom of heaven. That is the Kingdom that will, during the Millennium, and then throughout eternity, produce heaven on earth.

We must remember, therefore, that believing Jews and believing Gentiles during the Tribulation will be heirs of the world (Rom.4:13). Believing Christians, saved during the day of grace, will be heirs of the universe. The event of demarcation between those two eras in the divine dealings with mankind is the rapture of the Church.

The Day of the Lord

This is a point not well understood by Christians in our time and understood not at all by the world. This pitiful world still believes a sadly mistaken view of Christianity. It thinks that the Church makes the announcement, "If you come to church, you will go to heaven" or "If you clean up your life and go straight, you will be forgiven of God and you may make heaven some day." This is, of course, not at all the message of the Church.

The message of the Church is that, because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God has a free gift for man. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

All who believe in the finished work of Calvary's cross and accept salvation as a free gift from God are given everlasting life. Upon making this decision, they become heirs of-God, joint heirs with Christ, and objects of His blessing for all of eternity.

But the message of the Tribulation as presented to us by Jesus Christ is not the same. Christ warns about the coming of the "abomination of desolation" as signaling that the Tribulation is fully upon the world. Continuing in that same address, He then says,

And woe unto them who are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day (Matt. 24:19-20).

So there will be a reconstitution of the Sabbath Day. The rule is that a Sabbath Day's journey must not be violated on that day. In the very next verse, Christ reveals of what era He is speaking: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:21).

The religion of the Tribulation will also bring the rebuilding of the temple (2 Thess. 2:4), the establishing of temple sacrifice (Dan. 9:27), and other forms of Old Testament-like Jewish worship. So, the certified religion in the world during the Tribulation will be Judaism, or as some moderns might call it, "neo-judaism."

It is clear that the Church must be taken out of the world before the days of the Tribulation. This is because it would be impossible to have the message of the gospel of the grace of God and, at the same time, the gospel of the Kingdom as concomitantly certified by the Lord. The Rapture is the event that pointedly punctuates the end of the era of the Church and the beginning of the era called the day of the Lord, which commences with the Tribulation.

The Middle East

The timing of the Rapture with reference to the Tribulation is clear - the Rapture will take place before the days of the Tribulation. The timing of the Rapture with reference to the Church Age is also clear - the Rapture will end the Church Age.

This being the case, thinking people everywhere wonder how soon the Rapture will take place when we observe the remarkable developments of this present time. Across the nations of earth there now is transpiring a set of events that has set the world to thinking once again. Not since World War II has there been such a spirit of expectation in the world - the religious world and the secular society. We do well to take a brief look at some of the areas and occasions that have newly ignited an interest in the prophetic Word.

In the Middle East, and especially with reference to the state of Israel, we have observed a set of circumstances that appear to be remarkably similar to the events predicted in the prophetic Word. In our time, the Jews have been regathered from a period of dispersion among the nations of the world, and they are in their own land once again.

The Israeli nation, having been reconstituted in 1948, has been able to survive despite hopeless odds and the many wars leveled against her. In the more recent Gulf War, called "Desert Storm," Israel was the only non-belligerent nation attacked by those devilish Scud missiles. Still, doubtless by divine protection, the casualties were very light - one person killed by direct debris from the sky. That's an amazing statistic.

Now, Israel is being forced by the major powers - particularly the United States - to make peace with the Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbors. This amounts to the program of "Land for Peace," which should be considered absurd by all thinking people.

But alas, that absurdity will become a reality! Israel will make a peace treaty with the prince that shall come (Dan. 9:24-27), the leader of Europe. This treaty will virtually signal the beginning of the Tribulation.

Europe - the Revived Roman Empire

We look also at Europe and find ourselves provoked by a new set of thoughts coming from the developments there. The Scripture indicates that Gentile world power will be encompassed in the hegemony of but four great empires. These are Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The last of these, the empire of Rome, will be revived at the end of the age. The closest approximation to that is present day Europe. As we hear of "the United States of Europe," we sense an empire creating itself before our very eyes.

Europe - Rome revived - will bring to pass the rise of Antichrist. His emergence must take place after the rapture of the Church. It is at the beginning of the Tribulation that "the man of sin" will be revealed.

Russia continues its strange course as well. The leaders of the world announce "the breakup of the Soviet Empire," and "communism is dissolving before our very eyes." These things are true, but the troublesome aspect is that they are too good to be true. When observing this, we must remember the adage that "If something is too good to be true, it probably is.' (Meaning, of course, that it is an illusion or a falsehood.)

Still, despite all these strange gyrations of the former Soviet Union, the cold reality is this: the central establishment of what was the Soviet Union has, despite all the rhetoric, eleven thousand nuclear warheads pointed at the United States. Just prior to the Soviet Union's dissolution, General Colin Powell reminded us that "the Soviet Union could destroy the United States in thirty minutes."

All other developments notwithstanding, we must remember that the Commonwealth of Independent States, as Russia and her fellow republics presently call themselves, forces us to face two considerations. The first is that it has a diamond-hard military establishment. The second is that it is running short of everything else, including oil.

We must bear in mind, therefore, that the Communist empire is not going to be allowed by God to die with a whimper, saying, "Sorry about that." Its doom will take place as it loses its army on the northern mountains of Israel. Whatever our hopes may be, the shortages of everything and the unfulfilled ambitions in the former Soviet Union will force it to attempt a lightning strike to the South.

This presses a serious question for the United States! Over the years, there has been but one entity, humanly speaking, that has prevented Communist world conquest. That entity is the United States of America, its nuclear capability and willingness to use it. What then has happened to the United States that makes the Prince of Rosh feel that he can move with impunity to the South? Many things, of course, are possible.

One of the great possibilities, however, is the rapture of the Church. This event would take from America its leadership class. The United States, if it lost fifty million of its people, would be hard-put to reconstitute itself quickly as a major power. Certainly this reconstituting, if it were even possible, would take a large amount of time. This potential scenario alone may explain why it is difficult to find America in the final prophetic picture as is presented in the Word of God.

Babylon Revisited

Think again of the Middle East as we consider the situation in our present world. During Operation "Desert Storm," thirty- two nations gathered against "Babylon" and its mad, unstable leader. This remarkable gathering was the assembling of the most powerful army that history has ever known.

We must not ignore the similarity of this gathering to the prediction of the prophet Isaiah against Babylon; "They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land" (Isa. 13:5).

We must notice, then, that in the very next verse, Isaiah says, "Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; and it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty" (Isa. 13:6).

Now, as we have seen, the day of the Lord, that time of divine judgment upon the world, cannot come until first comes the Rapture. Isaiah, being an Old Testament prophet, did not foresee the rapture of the Church or even the Church itself. What might Isaiah's warning be were he to speak in our time? Might he not say, "The day of the Lord is at hand and therefore, the Rapture comes soon. Wail, for a time of judgment is coming upon the world from which the Church win be delivered." The prophet Jeremiah indicates that there will be three stages in the destruction of Babylon; three military powers will cause its downfall. Those will be: 1) An international military alliance.

For, lo, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country: and they shall set themselves in array against her; from thence she shall be taken: their arrows shall be as of a mighty and expert man; none shall return in vain (Jer. 50:9).

2) A single nation from the north. For out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and none shall dwell therein: they shall remove, they shall depart, both man and beast (Jer. 50:3).

3) The nation of Israel. ... Israel is the rod of his inheritance: the Lord of hosts is his name. Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms (Jer. 51:19- 20).

Thinking students of the prophetic Word will agree as to the similarity of the action taken in Desert Storm to the first stage in the destruction of Babylon - the similarity to the prophetic description. There, then, awaits stages two and three. Stage two, the coming of Russia and her allies against Babylon, can also be seen as described in Ezekiel 38. This battle takes place after the beginning of the Tribulation.

Stage three, the destruction of Babylon by Israel, could well be the act that draws international consternation and even military action against what the nations will see as "presumptuous" Israel. This is indicated by Jeremiah in saying, "At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations" (Jer. 50:46). Reading this, we remember Zechariah's prophecy. He tells us that at a day to come, all nations will gather to war against Israel.

What could be the aggravation, the trigger mechanism that could bring this to pass? It could be that "arrogant" Israel has taken independent action against Babylon, even at a nuclear level. The indication is that the last two of these judgmental events take place during the days of the Tribulation. This would, therefore, suggest that the Rapture may happen between stages one and two. If this is indeed the case, we must not disallow the possibility that the Rapture could be a part of the near-term plan of God.

It is most instructive to think of the possibilities linked within the Old Testament announcement that "the day of the Lord is at hand." The timing of the fulfillment of that expression is in the midst of events that certainly resemble the events of our time.

Prophetic Timing

At this point, a helpful word may be said about the timing of prophetic events. The indication of the Scripture is that the events themselves are inevitable, but the timing is always subject to adjustment in the hand of God.

This is apparent from the account of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was sent to Ninevah with the announcement that Ninevah would be destroyed in forty days. Jonah arrived in Ninevah via a circuitous route - and began preaching with that announcement central to his message. After forty days of preaching, he stepped outside of the city and waited in the anticipation of beholding before his eyes the destruction of Ninevah. To the chagrin of the prophet, this destruction did not happen. In fact, God gave Ninevah eighty-five more years of opportunity.

Why was this the case? It was because Ninevah repented. These pagan people turned to the Lord and, therefore, saw the forestalling of divine judgment that was scheduled for them.

That lesson should be learned by all. The events delineated in the prophetic Word are a part of this mysterious continuum called "time." The total picture is controlled by the God who stands above time and is certainly able to do with it what He will. For this reason, we are to have a sense of surety about the events of prophetic history and the certainty that comes from faith that God will bring it all to pass.

Of the timing however, we are advised against announcing that we know the day and the hour of His return Still, the provocative developments we are seeing in our contemporary world surely should cause us to took up for a redemption that draws nigh. Christ is coming again for His own! Each of us must be ready.

The Believers Attitude

What then is the recommended attitude of the believer when he thinks about the future, especially the rapture of the Church? In thinking of this, we recall that there have been dramatic occasions where whole companies of people went to nearby fields to await the rapture of the Church. Dressed in white gowns, they looked up with ecstatic faces, believing that Jesus would return at any moment. one element in the attitude of these believers was commendable, that of bright anticipation. They really believed that Jesus was coming again and were moved to a form of action in response to that belief.

The weakness, however, was in biblical exegesis. Their lack of careful knowledge of Holy Scripture led them to be excessively specific about the time of the return of Christ. Believers do well to sing, "Jesus may come today," but they are excessively specific if they sing "Jesus will come today." He denies us the knowledge of the day and the hour of His return because He would have us to be expecting His coming at every day and in every hour.

Other believers have reacted in a different fashion, becoming fearful at the prospect of the return of Christ. Excessively settled in the things of time, they resent even the suggestion that all of that will be quickly gone some day. It is a mistake to attach oneself to the things of time in any manner that would make the instant initiation of eternity the object of our resentment. Nothing in this life should be held with so tight a clutch.

The proper attitude when one contemplates the return of Christ is suggested to us by our Lord himself. Speaking to His disciples and intimating the special nature of His return of His own, Christ said, 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 (John 14:1-3).

In these words to His disciples, the Lord Jesus makes to them the promise that He will come again and receive them to himself. In this passage, He also suggests an attitude on their part. In fact, there are a number of lessons that we do well to learn from these instructions by our Lord himself.

1) We are not to be troubled but confident in faith. The believer who knows that his eternity is secure and who walks by faith will be characterized by an untroubled heart. Fear of the future is dispelled when we believe in God and truly believe in Christ.

2) There is plenty of room in heaven. Christ promises us that His Father's house is characterized by many mansions. We may be confident of a splendid dwelling place on high that is infinitely better and more beautiful than the best we can know in this world. There is room also in heaven for neighbors and friends, and we do well to be inviting them to share heaven with us.

3) Christ is preparing a special place for His own. What is Jesus doing now in heaven? He is making the arrangements perhaps the final arrangements - for our accommodations in glory. We may be sure that such accommodations, prepared by the loving hand of the Lord Jesus, will be splendid beyond our ability to describe them.

4) Christ is coming again for His own. Here we have the promise of the "special coming" of our Lord Jesus, the rapture of the Church. He is not now speaking of His coming in power and great glory, but rather, of His intimate, special relationship with those who believe in Him. For them, He is to make a special journey.

Reviewing this set of wonderful promises from the Lord Jesus, the believer will see grow within him the confidence of solid anticipation, looking forward to that day in which the promises of Christ will come to pass for him.

The proper attitude of the believer, therefore, is that he is neither fearful nor cynical. Bright anticipation is to be recommended, especially in our time.

Bright Anticipation

Yes, before the sun returns again to the morning landscape, Christ may come again for His own. Before we live another day, we may be translated from this world into the wonderful environs of heaven. Before too many hours, the commerce of earth may shudder and then stop, awe-stricken by the disappearance of the world's best people. Each one of these things is well within the realm of possibility and the certainty of their occurrence grows more sure every day. Bright anticipation, that is the proper attitude.

But someone will ask - perhaps with sincerity - the question, "Will not anticipation produce irresponsibility?"

"If a person is constantly anticipating the return of Jesus Christ, will he not become so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good?"

We may remind ourselves again that there was a group of Christians in the New Testament whose lives and testimonies became the answer to that question. The apostle Paul compliments his friends of Thessalonica and says that they were waiting for the return of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to come from heaven (1 Thess.1:10). We have the word for it; their attitude was bright anticipation, watchful, waiting.

What was the result of this attitude? It was not laziness nor disinterest, not at all. Rather, the church at Thessalonica became one of the classic churches of the New Testament as a result of their anticipating the return of Christ. The apostle Paul says that they did a number of things that made them one of the great churches of the early age of Christianity.

1) They received the Word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Spirit (verse 6). Constantly conscious of the reality of heaven, these people had little confidence in the word of man. Correspondingly, they had ultimate confidence in the Word of God.

We may well remind ourselves that the rapture of the Church will bring an abrupt end to the foolish, mindless, human discourse of this world. Grandiose schemes and vast human enterprises will be of little or no consequence when Jesus comes again. Our generation is greatly mistaken by living on philosophy and vain deceit rather than the Word of God. Our foolish generation is ruled by human philosophers who are already in the grave. This would never be if proper attention had been given to the Word of God.

2) They became followers of Christ. The path of life is a deep mystery to many as they wonder about the purpose of their life. For the dear Christians at Thessalonica, this was no problem. They should live for Christ, of course. Soon, they believed, He would come again and, therefore, every step taken in pursuit of His perfect will would be certified and validated by that coming.

A reminder here is also appropriate. The rapture of the Church will not merely deliver a generation of living Christians who are caught up to be with Him. It will also vindicate the purpose for which every Christian has lived a godly life in all of the ages of the Church. His coming will be a testimony to this and all previous generations that the life committed to Christ was not that of a fool. The wisdom of consecration will certainly be forever certified when Jesus comes again.

3) These Christians became an example of the believers. The onlooking world, looking at the lives of "anticipatory believers" in that day, was much impressed. These individuals exemplified the Lord Jesus as against being mere creatures of time.

One who anticipates the return of Christ is careful not to go anywhere, to do anything, to commit himself to any principle of which he will not be proud when Christ comes again. So it is that the doctrine of the return of Christ is a purifying hope. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure (1 John 3:3).

4) These believers became broadcasters of the Word of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:8). Being totally confident in the return of Jesus Christ, the believers saw themselves as having a great message, a transforming hope to bring to the world. The result was a mighty and most effective program of evangelism so that, "In every place your faith toward God is spread abroad, so that we need not to speak anything."

Much could be said of this. In the Church of our time, the need for a strong, explosive program of evangelism and world missions is great. Still, a major proportion of the world, probably 75 percent, awaits the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preoccupied with other things and overly engaged in time-serving efforts, the Church of our day could well use a new motivation for global conquest.

Broadcasting the gospel everywhere became the activity of the Thessalonians. Why? Because they believed that Christ was coming again. This doctrine produced such motivation as the world had seldom seen No one must miss the opportunity of hearing that Jesus is coming back and that, therefore, we should trust Him. This was the motivating hope of the Thessalonians and could well be ours today.

A Glorified Body

The bright anticipation of the Christian could be greatly enhanced by remembering one glorious fact that is promised in connection with the rapture of the Church. What is that glorious fact: we shall receive a glorified body. With great conviction, the apostle Paul declares, But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control ... (Phil. 3:20-21;NIV).

Echoing this same wonderful promise, the Scripture says, Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

Yes indeed, a glorified body will be ours when Christ comes back for His own. This means, of course, that we will instantly move beyond pain, sorrow, human suffering, and death itself. We will receive bodies like that of the Lord Jesus and be glorified forever in His presence.

This means that the unfortunate characteristics of life in this sinful world will be forever past. Our bodies of flesh, even though we are Christians, are forever subject to the process of deterioration. Paul declares that the outward man must perish while in this life the inward man is renewed day by day.

When Christ comes, however, this will all be changed. Never again will the shocks and sicknesses of this world beset the believer. Forever transformed into his glorified body, he will be beyond that. That change will take place the instant that Christ comes again for His own.

For all of these reasons, therefore, may we suggest that each believer be confident and filled with anticipation about the return of Christ. For many reasons, the prospect of the deliverance of the Church into the arms of the Lord Jesus grows with every day that passes. Upon hearing this, the earnest believer will surely say, Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Questions and Answers

There are hundreds of prophetic questions that live in the minds of people. Many of them are asked openly at prophetic conferences, on radio programs, and certainly in private conversations. We do well to deal with some of the frequently asked questions, believing that the answers will be helpful to us all.

What qualifies a person to be caught up in the rapture of the Church? The Word of God teaches that Christ will return again for the delivering of His Church. Everyone who is among those called "brethren" (1 Thess. 5:10) is a member of the body of Christ and will be the object of the deliverance that will come at the Rapture. The single qualification, therefore, is that an individual be a Christian. A Christian is one who has believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and knows God's Son as his personal Saviour.

What prophetic events must be fulfilled before the Rapture? There are no prophetic events that must precede the Rapture. The predicted events of prophecy have to do with the period of time following the Rapture leading up to the glorious return of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Rapture could take place at any given moment. It is well for the believer to regularly tell himself, "Perhaps today!"

How shall I prepare for the Rapture? Surely the greatest experience in life will be to be brought into the presence of God as a good soldier, a faithful servant. The essential preparation for the Rapture is that I be a Christian. Then, the fact that I could be taken to heaven at any given moment should motivate me to exemplary Christian service. Earnest prayer, faithful witnessing, godly living - all of these will be a part of the approval that can come in heaven. We all must so live so as to hear Jesus say in that day, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

When the Rapture comes, what will happen to the children of Christians? All children who have not yet reached the age of accountability are counted as "believers" under the doctrine of prevenient grace. We, therefore, conclude that the children of unbelievers will also be included with the children of believers and taken home to be with the Lord. As one person said, "'All the children of the world will be taken to heaven and all the unborn children of the world as well."

What impression will the Rapture make on the world? The answer, of course, depends upon the preoccupations and involvements in which the world finds itself at the time of the Rapture. Still, we must conclude that the disappearance of the Christians of the world and the children of the world will leave a stunning impression upon the minds of people. The Antichrist will be hard-put to come up with an explanation. In lieu of this, the dismay at the teaching of Scripture now being so well proved by the Rapture may well cause minions to come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. They, as Tribulation saints, will face a time of fearful persecution.

Can we take anyone with us at the Rapture? Certainly not by holding on to them, as much as we might desire this. But, we can take all of our loved ones and friends with us to heaven if we will have led them to Christ so that they themselves have become Christians before the time of the taking away of the Church. When the Rapture comes, it will be too late to do any additional things in this world for Christ. The record of each person's life will stand as indelible forever after that instant of translation.

How can heaven receive and process so many millions of individuals all arriving at the same time? This is no problem to God. The arrival of the Church, the body of Christ, at heaven will be a time of great reunion and rejoicing. A home in heaven will have long since been prepared for every individual by Christ himself (John 14:3). A place at the feast of welcome, of betrothal, called "the marriage supper of the Lamb," will have been set for each one. No one will arrive at heaven as a stranger; rather, as a brother beloved.

Isn't it cowardly to wish for the Rapture to deliver us from the problems of life? Anyone who does not particularly wish to be beheaded during the days of the Tribulation can certainly be expected to anticipate with a welcoming sentiment the rapture of the Church and the deliverance from the wrath to come. To want to go into the Tribulation is not courage; it is mere foolish bravado. The doctrine of the Rapture is true, unrelated to human attitudes. Especially remember that we are to love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).

Didn't the doctrine of the Rapture come from a strange source? The doctrine of the Rapture comes from the Word of God. It is the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who presents this marvelous truth. It is best to avoid silly stories, from whatever source, related by people who would draw our attention away from any doctrine of the Word of God.

What is the difference between the Rapture and the second coming of Christ? The Rapture is a very special mission by the Lord to deliver the Church from the awful scenes of the Tribulation. The Rapture, therefore, comes before the Tribulation and takes Christians out of this world before that seven-year period of the wrath of God. Notice that, in the Rapture, Christ does not come all of the way to this world. Rather, Christians are caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4:17).

At the second coming of Christ, His glorious return, He comes with His saints. In fact, He returns with an army from heaven for the conquest of the world (Rev. 19:11-16). Remember, since this is an army of His saints (Jude 14), you and I will be a part of that glorious conquest that centers on the return of Christ in power.

Why is the Rapture not mentioned in the Old Testament? The prophets of the Old Testament were not given the revelation of the Church, the body of Christ. Neither were they told of the rapture of the Church. This is particularly a New Testament revelation. The Scripture speaks of the message of salvation by grace, given to the Church to preach to the world, and testifies of the concern of the prophets. It says,

Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into (1 Pet.1:10-12).

So, the Church and its message was a mystery in the Old Testament. Paul says, For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward, How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery, (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel (Eph. 3:1-6).

Does Israel then have a different calling and destiny from that of the Church? The Scripture teaches that Israel is the heir of the world (Rom. 4:13). But it teaches that the Church is the heir of the universe. "All things" are the inheritance of the Christian, of the Church (1 Cor.3:21-23).

If the Kingdom is now, why the Rapture? Why can't the Church just grow and take over everything? There are various kinds of "kingdom now" teachings in the world. The fact, however, is that the Kingdom was rejected by Israel and will not be instituted in the world until Christ comes in power and great glory. The Kingdom in its external form is not promised to the world in our time. In this day and age, God represents himself in this world via the unseen body of Christ and through the seen, observable lives of individual believers. The program of God becomes "visible" in Christians who testify for the Lord Jesus and live holy lives before the watching world. The Kingdom, by the way, will not "grow in the world," but it will come suddenly, imposed upon the world by its King, the Lord Jesus Christ. [Read Dan 2: 44-45]

Where does the Rapture fit into the "big picture" of history? The Rapture ends the day of grace and begins the day of the Lord, which begins with the Tribulation. It will end a day of grace, the time of divine forbearance, and begin a time called the day of the Lord, in which God is at liberty to work with His promised program of judgment upon the world.

I recommend a book called The Two Futures, which will give you a presentation of "the big picture." To get it, write and ask for it by title to: Christian Destiny, Inc., P.O. Box C, Hillsboro, KS 67063, or call (316) 947-2345.

The Glory to Come

Let each of us be finally reminded that the story of the future is not simply that of one day after another ad infinitum. No indeed! There is a glorious future for the Church, and there is a dismal future for the world. The sojourn of the Church in this world will come to an instantaneous end, at which time every believer will be taken from this dark planet to the glory which is to come.

At the moment of that transition, each of us will receive a new body, a glorified body that is not unlike the body of Christ himself. We will at this point be given the capacity to feel, to appreciate, to enjoy all of the unspeakably wonderful things that will be ours in eternity. The Scripture says, "In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11).

So great will be the delights of heaven that they are impossible to describe under the constraints, the limitations of human language. It may, therefore, be well to exercise a sanctified imagination, to ask the question, "What will it be like when Jesus comes?" The answer, of course, is that it will be like nothing we can imagine in all of life. There is no human experience that resembles in any but the palest fashion the ecstasy that will be ours when we step across the great divide into the fadeless light of heaven.

What is heaven like? The answer must be that heaven is not exactly like anything that we know in this world. We do well to take the greatest joys of earth and multiply them by a thousand times. Only then do we have even the beginning of the joys that will be ours in heaven.

The Christian is invited to use his "sanctified imagination" to think of golden streets, ivory palaces, a city where there is no night, and endless "pleasure forever more." In heaven also, we will have the opportunity to meet the saints who have gone before and, of course, loved ones who have in earlier days moved from the Church militant to the Church triumphant. How wonderful to contemplate that golden moment when the Church will be translated from this world to the world to come. What a moment that will be!

The real point is that we be prepared for that moment. The preparation is that we must be Christians. A Christian is one who believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, who has accepted the Son of the living God as personal Saviour. Because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the sufficient sacrifice for sin, each person in all of the world is invited to receive the free gift, the gift of God, which is everlasting life. The single requirement is faith alone. By believing in Jesus Christ - who He was and what He did for man on the cross - by that act of faith I receive the gift of God, which is life eternal.

Meanwhile, in these days, let us gather together at the cross, recognizing Jesus Christ as the Saviour whose sacrifice made eternal life possible. While laboring for Him here, let us also anticipate the sound of the trumpet when we will be caught up to be with Him.