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The Rapture of the Church

The Rapture is the first phase of the Christ's second coming. It is that moment when, as the apostle Paul said, "The Lord himself shall descend with a shout....The dead in Christ will rise first then we, who are alive and remain, will be 'caught up' (raptured) with them to meet the Lord in the air--and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). It is the same experience he describes in 1 Corinthians 15:51 as the moment Christians are "changed" from "mortal" to "immortal". This is expected by most Christians to occur before the seven years of Tribulation described in Revelation, chapters 6-19.



1. The meaning of the word "rapture." The term is derived from the Latin verb rapere, which means "to transport from one place to another." Thus the next great scheduled event predicted by the Bible will take place when the Lord Jesus comes in the air to catch up his own.

2. The participants of the rapture. For whom will Jesus come? It is the view of this theological summary that Christ will come for his church, which is composed of all saved people from Pentecost up to the rapture itself. The actual participants of the rapture include:
A. The Lord Jesus himself.
B. The archangel (perhaps Michael; see Dan. 10:13,21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7).
C. The bodies of dead believers: "for this corruptible must put on incorruption."
D. The translated bodies of living believers: "and this mortal mush put on immortality."

3. The false views of the rapture.
A. That the rapture is the same as the Second Coming of Christ. False. At the rapture Jesus comes for his church in the air, while at the Second Coming he comes with his people to the earth. See Jude 14,15; Revelation 19:11-16.
B. That the rapture will include only "spiritual" Christians, and that carnal Christians will be left behind to endure the tribulation. This theory is refuted by one little word in 1 Corinthians 15:51, where Paul says that "we shall all be changed." This false view is often called the "partial rapture" theory.
C. That the rapture will not occur until the middle of the tribulation, thus forcing the entire church to go through the first three and a half years of God's wrath. This theory is called mid-tribulationism, and is refuted by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, where he says, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath..."
D. That the rapture will not occur until the end of the tribulation. This is known as post-tribulationism, and is refuted by 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Revelation 3:10

The New Testament pictures the Church as the body and bride of Christ. If the mid-tribulation or post-tribulation view were correct, then a part of this body would suffer amputation, and a section of the bride would be left behind. In addition to this, one would be forced to conclude that all bodies of carnal departed Christians would likewise be left in the grave. This simply is not the clear teaching of the Word of God.

The Bible teaches that the rapture is pre-tribulational in nature and includes all believers. See Romans 5:9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Perhaps the strongest proof of this statement is the fact that up to chapter 6 of Revelation the church is mentioned many times, but from chapter 6 to chapter 19 (the period of the tribulation) there is no mention whatsoever of the church on earth. In fact, the only godly group which Satan can find to persecute is the nation Israel! See Revelation chapter 12.

In Revelation 4:1 John declares, "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither..." We are told that Christians are God's ambassadors on earth (2 Cor. 5:20) and that he will someday declare war on this earth. The first thing a king or president does after he declares war on another country is to call his ambassadors home! Thus we conclude that the church will escape the tribulation.

4.The purpose of the rapture.
A. To judge and reward the church of God. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body...whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
B. To remove the Spirit of God. "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way" (2 Thess. 2:7, NASB).

Many theologians believe the "he" in this verse is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Thus the Spirit of God has been acting as a divine dam, faithfully holding back the waters of sin. But at the rapture his blessed influence will be removed to a large extent in order to prepare the way for the tribulation.

5. The mystery of the rapture. In 1 Corinthians 15:51 Paul declares, "Behold, I show you a mystery..." What is this secret of the Savior? Let us suppose you began reading the Bible in Genesis chapter 1, and read through 1 Corinthians chapter 14. If you stopped your reading here, you would already have learned about many important facts, such as creation, man's sin, the flood, Bethlehem, Calvary, the resurrection, and of the existence of heaven and hell.

But you would be forced to conclude that a Christian could get to heaven only after physically dying. You would of course note the two exceptions of Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), but apart from these it would be clear that believers have to travel the path of the grave to reach the goal of glory.

But now the secret is out, and here it is: millions of Christians will someday reach heaven without dying. "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51). This, then, is the mystery of the rapture.

6.The trumpet of the rapture. In at least three biblical passages concerning the rapture, a trumpet is mentioned (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 4:1). How are we to understand this? Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost writes, "The phrase "the trump of God" is significant, for in the Old Testament the trumpet was used for two things - to summon to battle and to summon to worship." (J. Dwight Pentecost, Prophecy for Today, p. 30)

Which of the two meanings, however, is involved at the rapture? Dr. Pentecost suggests that both both meanings are in mind, one directed toward angels and the other to believers.

A. To angels the trumpet blast will mean "Prepare for battle!" According to various New Testament passages (John 14:30; Eph. 6:12; 1 John 5:19) this present world lies in the hands of the evil one, the devil, and the very atmosphere is filled with his wicked power and presence. Satan will obviously resist believers being caught up through his domain and becoming freed from his wicked worldly system. Therefore, the trumpet commands the angels, "Prepare for battle! Clear the way for the catching up of those resurrected bodies and those living believers!"

B. To all believers the trumpet blast will mean "Prepare to worship!" In Numbers 10:1-3 we read, "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 'Make thee two trumpets of silver...that thous mayest use them for the calling of the assembly..and when they shall blow with them, all the assembly shall assemble themselves to thee at the door of the tabernacle...'"

Regarding the rapture trumpet, Numbers 10:4 seems to be especially significant: "If they blow but with one trumpet, then the princes, which are heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee." At the rapture only one trumpet is sounded, suggesting that in God's sight all believers occupy a place of utmost importance. We are all "head princes" in the mind of God.

7. The Old Testament foreshadowing of the rapture.
A. Seen in Enoch, who was taken from the world before the Flood judgment (Gen. 5:24).
B. Seen in Lot, who was removed from Sodom before the fire judgment (Gen. 19:22-24).

8. The effect of the rapture. What will be the reaction of a sin-sick society when millions of people suddenly disappear? Certainly the believers will be missed. It is evident from the Bible that the sudden disappearance of both Enoch and Elijah (two Old Testament types of the rapture) caused considerable confusion and alarm among their friends. How much more confusion and alarm will come from the sudden and mysterious disappearance of literally millions of men and women, boys and girls!


Next:
The Tribulation Period


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