As his wife and those closest to him gathered around his bedside one evening, they believed this would be the last time they would see him in this life. Louis Talbot, the longtime president of Biola University and driving force behind the formation of Talbot Theological Seminary, was in the hospital suffering from pneumonia. Many in the room, including Carol his wife, believed he would not survive the night. One comforting biblical picture of the rapture is that of a bridegroom coming for his bride. I believe that both Jesus and the apostle Paul purposely used language to invoke depictions of the first century AD Jewish wedding customs of their day when referring to the rapture. This imagery does much to relieve any lingering qualms about it.
Seeing the tears stream down the face of his wife, Talbot responded with these words, “What’s the matter with you? For this I was born. For this I’ve lived all my life—to see my Saviour face to face. It will be all glory. I can hardly wait.”[i] Louis Talbot so longed to see Jesus that the thought of dying filled him with joy rather than fear because death meant he would soon be with his Savior.
Louis Talbot did not die that night, although for a moment the next morning he thought he had died and was in heaven. “Looking around at the bleak hospital room, he said, ‘If this is heaven, I certainly misled a lot of people while I was down on earth!’”[ii]
While we smile at Talbot’s sense of humor, we also realize that as followers of Jesus our ultimate hope is the same as his; it’s the expectation of seeing our Savior “face to face.” This can happen either through our death or the rapture, which is when Jesus appears to take His followers back to His Father’s house as He promised in John 14:2-3.
Jesus intended his words in John 14 to calm the troubled hearts of his disciples who felt great sadness at His word regarding His departure. The Lord eased their fears regarding His departure by assuring them that not only would He return for them, but he would prepare a place for them during His time away from them.
Despite Jesus’ assurances regarding His future appearing, many dread the thought of such a sudden event that we refer to as the rapture today.
What causes so many people to fear or even disdain it? Is it the abrupt nature? Is it the suddenness or unexpectedness of it? Is it the unknown or supernatural? Perhaps many fear that their dreams for this life will end too soon. Why should they look forward to such an unexpected end to all their aspirations for their future?
I suspect many of us can identify with at least a few of the above reasons for anxiety regarding rapture. I have felt many of these apprehensions at times in the past as I wondered about what might happen when Jesus suddenly takes me to heaven.
Others imagine the worst when they think of the rapture. They regard the Lord’s quick removal of believers from planet Earth as a judgment upon them. How could God do this to his people? Why would anyone believe in such a horrible event that will wreak so much havoc in the lives of so many, including those left on the earth? As such, they reject the whole idea of the rapture as something terrible and awful.
Does Scripture give us any help to relieve our anxieties and hesitations regarding the rapture? Is there a way to look at it that sparks delight and hopefulness in us rather than fear or even disdain? Can we see it as act of love on the part of a caring, just, and compassionate Savior? Is there a way look at the rapture in the same way Louis Talbot looked forward to seeing Jesus?
I believe there is.
One comforting biblical picture of the rapture is that of a bridegroom coming for his bride. I believe that both Jesus and the apostle Paul purposely used language to invoke depictions of the first century AD Jewish wedding customs of their day when referring to the rapture. This imagery does much to relieve any lingering qualms about it.
As we examine these marriage traditions in future posts, we will see a picture that washes away our apprehensions regarding it as well as removes any lingering repulsions regarding it. Instead, the idea of the rapture will cause excitement to bubble to the surface of our hearts as we look into the wonders in store for us when Jesus appears.
Jonathan C. Brentner
[i] Carol Talbot, For This I was Born (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), p. 273.