Anyone who has thought he or she would read up on the subject of the Rapture of the church no doubt has come up against a barrage of different opinions on almost every facet of the topic. It ranges from, “There isn’t one” to “Is it pre or mid or pre-wrath or post-Tribulation,?” As well as, “What initiates it and when?”
Is it a problem that God allowed by making the matter unclear in His Word? In another matter in Scripture, He says this:
“Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:7-8).
If Jesus tells us to “watch” (Matthew 24:42), how can that be done with contradictions of signs and sounds pointing to the Lord’s appearance as a thief at night?
Others have suggested that some things are hidden in Scripture so that the enemy, Satan and his emissaries, cannot easily see them and be able to corrupt the message. Keeping a handle on what God’s attributes are—that He is unchangeable, cannot lie, and knows all things, among others—we can be sure He is not purposely trying to keep those who belong to Him in confusion. The promise that Jesus made when He described the coming of the Comforter to His disciples— has far-reaching clarity to the issue:
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).
The question then still remains—why are there so many differences in the interpretations of end-time prophecies, particularly (for this article) in regard to the Rapture of the church? If John 16:13, above, is true, and of course it is true, the problem must be with pre-conceived ideas trying to be supported by Scripture, actual misunderstanding of the passages, or not lining-up the Scriptures in a balanced and rightly divided manner. Perhaps, even totally ignoring Scripture that does not fit into a false concept may drive the conclusion.
Recently I saw two interviews on separate prophecy television shows in which both individuals claimed they had heard in a dream or vision that the Lord was telling them to declare the message of the revelation of prophecy they were being told. The second one was told to take a year off and study Revelation and write a book on it, which he did. Surprisingly, though (or maybe not so much), neither of their results were the same nor were they in balance and consistent with Scripture.
It remains that any “dream or vision” that does not line-up with Scripture cannot be of God, for God does not contradict Himself. What the Holy Spirit guided the writers of old, and of New Testament times, is fixed in place as the enduring, eternal Word of God. Otherwise, no promise of God could be considered reliable.
Is There Really a Rapture Event?
Jesus gave the first hint of a Rapture in the New Testament when He was consoling Mary and Martha on the death of their brother, Lazarus. In John 11:25-26, He told Martha:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
Paul writes of what happens to the individual believer when the Rapture occurs with these words in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53:
“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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
Again Paul wrote to describe the event of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
The Old Testament records some “types” of the Rapture, or foreshadows of it. Perhaps the simplest one is that of Enoch in Genesis 5:22-24:
“After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years and Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”
An overview of Abraham’s testing by God with the command to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22 has several “types,” yet there is one that speaks of the Rapture. As we pick-up the story where Abraham has bound his son on an altar on top of a mountain, that turns out to be Mount Moriah where Jesus Christ would later be crucified. Abraham is ready to plunge his knife into his son in obedience to the command of God:
“But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’
“So he said, ‘Here I am.’
“And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ ‘Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.
So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’
Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.’
‘In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba” (Genesis 22:11-19).
The term, “Angel of the Lord,” seen in the Old Testament is identified as the pre-existing Christ of the New Testament, as revealed in John 1:1-2 and 14. The “types” are these: Abraham represents God, the Father, and Isaac, the eternal and only begotten Son of God. The location turns out to be where Jesus was crucified. But the most interesting parallel is revealed in that last sentence of the passage above (verse 19).
Isaac is not mentioned among those who return with Abraham and his servants to their place of abode. His personal involvement in the affairs of Abraham and his household is not recorded anywhere until in Chapter 24. For purposes of God’s portrayal of a future event, Isaac was not present among them.
Abraham grows old and Isaac does not have a wife, so he assigns a servant to take a journey back to the habitat of his relatives to find a wife for Isaac, and the servant does so, as Genesis 24 begins to unfold. God leads him to a young woman named Rebecca and after some time of delaying tactics her family sends them back with their blessing. The story picks up again:
“Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.
“Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming. Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, ‘Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?’
“The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took a veil and covered herself.
“And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:61-67).
To summarize the portrayal of the Rapture in this episode, we can see these parallels: Abraham represents God, the Father; Isaac, the crucified One, Jesus; the servant, perhaps the Holy Spirit who wins the hearts of the lost and departs with them in the Rapture; Rebecca, the body of believers who will go to meet their Master who is coming for them, the Bridegroom coming for His Bride.
It may even be possible that the delaying tactics of her brother and her mother identifies the resisting of the enemy, Satan, and the world, to the believer’s commitment to the Lord. And, Jesus did not stay where He was crucified, but returned to heaven until the time His Bride comes to meet Him in the air and forever to be with Him.
Is there a Rapture to come? Believers in first century fulfillment of future prophecy, the “Preterists,” have to allegorize much of the prophecy of the future because it cannot be fitted into their limited box of understanding. They are amillennialist who believe the devil is now chained in the bottomless pit and Christ is ruling the earth from His throne in heaven.
For them, the 1,000-year reign of Christ is not on the earth and runs longer than a thousand years (obviously). Among these are also the prime movers of the Replacement Theology doctrine, that God rejected His promise to return the Jews to the land of Israel. (In other words, to them, God lied!) But the facts bear out the truth—Israel is now restored to her land!
Then there are those who believe and teach that there will be a partialrapture, that is, those believers who are worthy will be raptured when the time comes, but those who are not obedient and not faithful, yet are born-again believers, will be left behind. It seems so absurd I can hardly bring myself to mention it. No doubt it is promoted by those who consider themselves in high regard for their self-evaluated righteous performance.
Perhaps a review of the meaning of that first beatitude in Matthew 5:3, in paraphrased form, says about that analysis: “The truly happy are those who realize their own spiritual poverty, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” A thoughtful reading of Genesis 19 tells us about how difficult it was for those two angels to get Lot out of the city of Sodom so they could carry out their orders from God to destroy it.
Despite Lot’s reluctance to go and his seeming attachment to the city, he was considered righteous in God’s eyes (2 Peter 2:7) and was removed from the judgment of the city, as it will be in the Rapture for all who have as their foundation the Lord Jesus Christ. See 1 John 5:11-12 for further support for this position against partial rapture.
Is the Rapture After, During or Before the Tribulation?
One scriptural guideline that seems to be consistently missed in finding the truth about this topic, the Rapture, is that familiar Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Preconceived ideas, I fear, form the basis of many theories that do not seem to conform to a balanced scriptural conclusion of what is the whole counsel of God. Leaning on one’s own understanding and not acknowledging the Lord in “all our ways” opens the door to confusion and embracing of false doctrines. (The phrase, “all our ways” is much more than just a direction, but includes mindset, attitudes, motivations, emotions, purposes, goals, and desires.) How to be sure to not lean on one’s own understanding is to see if related Scriptures all line up with the concept in mind.
Then, one must never forget that God is eternal, outside of the constraints of time, and “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18). This means that God’s plan was laid out before time began and there will be no time when God will make a “knee-jerk” decision because He has been caught off-guard by the clock or circumstances. In other words, God will not wake- up next Monday morning and exclaim to Gabriel, “I have an idea; let’s go down and get that Rapture thing underway this week!” It doesn’t work that way.
After, at the End of the Tribulation?
Taking up the last one first, we take a look at the description of a post-tribulation rapture, as generally laid out. According to that theory, Jesus , at His Second Coming event, comes and gathers His believers up in the Rapture, returns to heaven, or upward partially, and then returns for His entry again upon earth. Some obvious questions spring out of this scenario, real sudden-like!
• Who brings the white horses that Jesus and all of the saints are riding?
• When do the saints get to enjoy their rooms in the mansion, which Jesus promises us in John 14:2?
• The Second Coming scenario unfolds in the latter part of Revelation 19, but there is no recorded evidence of that trip down to gather up the saints in a rapture; where is that recorded?
• The bride of Christ is the church, the body of believers, and as such, are important participants at that marriage supper described in the early part of Revelation 19. How do they get there and participate before Jesus gathers them from the earth and the graves at a later time?
• Along with these questions, it would serve the discussion well to consider the claims of supporting Scripture for a post-tribulation rapture. And, since the mid-tribulation position claims some of the same points, that theory can be included here.
The issue of when is the “last trump” that Paul mentions in his description of the transition experience that mortal believers will have when the Rapture event occurs.“ Post-tribbers” found that seventh trumpet of judgment in Revelation 11:15, and latched onto it as the “Last Trump” that Paul said would introduce that transforming event when mortals become immortal in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
One person has maintained that the thirty minutes of silence that follows in heaven is the time of the Rapture! It is almost as if they tape the pages of Revelation on a wall, close their eyes and throw darts at the display to decide what is next in their interpretation!
At least two problems become apparent—that is a trumpet blast announcing judgment upon unredeemed earth-dwellers and not a call for believers to come to meet the Lord; there is no wisp of evidence there that it has anything to do with the Rapture. Secondly, it happens at mid-way through the seven years, not at the end, for its context describes the ascension of the two special witnesses God has in Jerusalem for the first half of the tribulation—three and one-half years.
That “Last Trump” Paul introduces more likely is the final trumpet blast in the series of trumpet soundings at the Feast of Trumpets when the Rapture occurs. Descriptions of the series of blasts and the whole format of that Feast portray a calling away from the world and to the Lord.
• They say that Satan was bound and put into the bottomless pit at the crucifixion for the millennium period, which they believe is now. If that were so, then Paul, Peter and James, along with others, have given us the wrong message. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “put on the whole armor of God that you [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Peter writes, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
• Another insistence that comes up in these departures from a straight-forward, common sense interpretation of Revelation is that it is not chronological in its presentation. Those who have to pick and choose what fits their theory best cannot allow it to be chronological, ever! But it flows forward with incidents opening up, one after the other. John uses the phrase, “after these things…” to open to a new phase of his vision.
• The seven churches spoken of in chapters 2-3 are straight forward, and if they portray the history of the church as a whole over the centuries, as is generally concluded by many, then it must be chronological. Chapters 4-5 tell of what happens in heaven, and then, the judgments of the seals, trumpets and bowls become the backbone of the remainder of the book.
There are seven of each series, and you should notice that none are numerically out of place but are chronologically revealed. There are no bowl judgments tucked in among the trumpet judgments, for example. Sometimes incidents are expanded upon within those judgment presentations, such as chapter 7, where the 144,000 servants are ordained and their ministry results are reported.
The television programs are full of enthusiastic interviews of those who have discovered some “new” insight into the “mysteries” of the book of Revelation, assuring the viewers that what he says is the way it will come to pass.
The best response to any of it is to take the position of those of Berea, of whom Luke wrote, “they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was so” (Acts 17:11).
And, relying upon what some “early church father’s interpretation” instead of searching out the Scriptures is the way to build a theological foundation on shaky ground. (Continued in Part 2.)