I am frequently asked if the rapture is such an important event for the Church, why didn’t Jesus say anything about it? Our Q & A format doesn’t lend itself to a comprehensive answer to such a complex question, so here’s the whole story. It begins 500 years before the cross with God’s answer to a prayer from Daniel reminding Him that Israel’s 70 year Babylonian captivity was just about over and He promised He would restore the nation when it ended (Jeremiah 29:10-11).
The Interrupted Prayer
Before Daniel could finish praying, God had already sent the angel Gabriel with His response.
Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and your Holy City to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy (place) (Daniel 9:24).
God decreed that six things would be accomplished for Daniel’s people (Israel) and Daniel’s Holy City (Jerusalem) during a specified period of 490 years (seventy weeks of years) that would begin with the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25) which had lain in ruins since the Babylonian conquest nearly 70 years earlier.
We should be aware that in Hebrew these six things read a little differently than they do in most English translations. Literally, God had determined to;
1. restrict or restrain the transgression (also translated rebellion)
2. seal up their sins (as if putting them away in a sealed container)
3. make atonement (restitution) for their iniquity
4. bring them into a state of everlasting righteousness
5. seal up (same word as #2) vision and prophecy
6. anoint (consecrate) the most Holy place (sanctuary)
In plain language, God would put an end to their rebellion against Him, put away their sins and pay the penalties they had accrued, bring the people into a state of perpetual righteousness, fulfill all the remaining prophecies, and anoint the Temple.
This was to be accomplished through their Messiah (Jesus) because no one else could do it. Had they accepted Him as their savior their rebellion against God would have ended. Their sins would have all been forgiven, and the full penalty paid for them. They would have entered into a state of eternal righteousness, all their prophecies would have been fulfilled and the rebuilt temple would have been consecrated. (It should be noted here that although it appears to have been accepted by Him, God never dwelt in the 2nd Temple, nor was the ark of the covenant and its mercy seat ever present therein.)
And It Came To Pass
483 years of the time God had set aside for them had passed. Jesus and His disciples were walking up the Mt. of Olives toward Bethany where they were staying at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was just a couple of days before the crucifixion. The sun was getting low in the late afternoon sky, casting a soft amber light on the white Temple and its surrounding buildings that caused them to look like they were made of gold. It was such a beautiful sight the disciples called it to the Lord’s attention.
In reply, Jesus said, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”(Matt. 24:2).
It was the second time they had heard Jesus say this. The first time was a couple of days earlier on what we now call Palm Sunday when He had told the people that because they didn’t recognize the time of His coming, the city would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44).
God was holding the nation accountable for their failure to understand the message Gabriel had given to Daniel. Daniel 9:25 revealed that the Messiah would present Himself to them as their King 483 years into that 490 year period. Sure enough, here He was standing in their midst right on time, having fulfilled Daniel 9:25 and several other prophecies of His coming two days earlier on that first Palm Sunday.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had told the disciples that after they got there He would be handed over to to the Gentiles and put to death, but on the third day He would be raised to life (Matt. 20:17-19). His execution was also part of Daniel’s prophecy, where the phrase “cut off” in Daniel 9:26 means “to kill, eliminate, or destroy.”
Only He Could Do It
Make no mistake about it. Jesus had to die so the 6 promises from Daniel 9:24 could come true. No one else in Heaven or on Earth could accomplish this. Do you realize what that means? It wasn’t killing the Messiah that put the Jews at odds with God. After all, dying for them is why He came. No. It was that in killing Him, they refused to let His death pay for their sins so He could save them. This had the effect of making His death meaningless to them. That’s what severed the relationship.
Because of that, we now get the first hint that all would not go well. Following the crucifixion the people of a coming ruler would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, the same Temple that God decreed would be consecrated. The Israelites would be scattered abroad and peace would elude the world (Daniel 9:26).
We all know that Jesus was crucified and 38 years later the Romans put the torch to the city and the Temple destroying both. Surviving Jews were forced to flee for their lives and in the ensuing 2000 years I don’t believe a single generation has escaped involvement in a war of some kind.
Jesus had fed the multitudes, walked on water, healed the sick and raised the dead and still they asked for a miraculous sign that He was their Messiah. Finally in frustration He responded, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:38-40).
They would get their sign, but only after they had executed Him. Later, just a few days before His execution, He warned them again of the consequences for rejecting Him. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matt. 21:43). He was speaking of the coming Church.
After the resurrection, having performed the miraculous sign He promised them, Jesus waited 40 days for them to acknowledge it. But upon being informed of the empty tomb the Jewish leaders bribed the soldiers to keep them quiet and refused to recognize the Lord’s fulfillment of the sign of Jonah (Matt. 28:11-15). During the following 40 days, they never sought Him out although he remained among them and made 14 appearances to over 500 people during that time. That 40 days was the time of Israel’s testing, their chance review all the proof and admit that He is who He claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.
He Never Said A Word About It
There’s no indication from the Biblical record that Jesus ever spoke to the disciples about the fact that the coming Church Age would interrupt Daniel’s prophecy seven years short of its fulfillment and delay its completion by about 2,000 years. In fact from Acts 1:6-8 we learn that 40 days after the resurrection they expected Him to restore the Kingdom to Israel
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8)
Jesus told the disciples it wasn’t for them to know the timing of the kingdom’s restoration and immediately changed the subject to the coming Holy Spirit. I think the Lord was saying the offer of the kingdom was still on the table for Israel, but His focus was about to change. Obviously God knew they had rejected the kingdom at that time, but He was leaving the door open for them to accept it at some point in the future.
This is borne out by a prophecy He spoke through Hosea 750 years earlier.
“Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me” (Hosea 5:15). Please note the word “until” because it conveys the notion of “not now” rather than “not ever.” The door is still open today.
Therefore, on that late afternoon on the Mt. Of Olives all the disciples could have known for sure was that 483 years of the 490 year prophecy of Daniel had passed, there were only 7 years left and Jesus had just told them that the Temple, all of its related buildings, and indeed all of Jerusalem were going to be destroyed. It must have been quite a shock to hear this.
Twenty Years Later
After Pentecost the Church consisted mostly of Jewish believers and was centered in Jerusalem. While it grew and attracted followers from around the area, it was still perceived as an outgrowth of Judaism. Even though the Lord had departed, Israel was being given more time to come around while the Church grew in its midst.
It wasn’t until James explained things some 20 years later that the Church’s leaders understood how Israel was being set aside while the Lord took out of the Gentiles a people for Himself (Acts 15:13-18). A word study on this passage will reveal a faint hint of the rapture. The Greek word translated “take” or “taking” conveys the idea of carrying away, removing, or taking to one’s self. The people the Lord will take out of the Gentiles is the Church, carrying us away to his Father’s house, like He promised (John 14:2-3).
Following the removal of the Church, His focus will shift back to Israel. The temple will be rebuilt, the remaining week of Daniel’s prophecy will be fulfilled (Daniel 9:27) and the remnant of men will have their final opportunity to seek the Lord before His return with power and great glory.
As long as God was holding the door open for Israel, the full scope of His plan for the Church could not be revealed. Blessings like salvation by grace through faith alone, eternal security, and especially the rapture, never have and never will be offered to Israel.
Even under their version of the New Covenant, things will be different from the way it is for us. A temple, daily sacrifices for sin, and mandatory observance of Holy Days will still be the order of the day, although in a somewhat different form from Old Testament requirements.
But having waited long enough for Israel, God determined to implement His plan for the Church and now Israel would wait for Him. Individual Jewish believers would receive all the blessings intended for the Church but the nation called Israel would ease to exist in a covenant relationship with God until He had taken out of the Gentiles a people for Himself. This is why Paul said Israel has been blinded in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25).
Now I Can Tell You
The way was now officially clear for the Gospel of Grace to be preached to the Gentiles in its entirety. Paul had previously received the Gospel of Grace directly from the Lord (Galatians 1:11-12). He had already begun preaching it and planting churches but had yet to speak of the rapture.
Paul was present at the Council of Jerusalem when he learned that Israel was being set aside while the Lord built His Church. Shortly thereafter he became the first person on Earth to present a clear teaching on the doctrine of the rapture of the Church, repeating what the Lord had told him, and saying He was revealing a secret in doing so.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thes. 4:15-17).
It was the secret Jesus couldn’t reveal.