Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Rapture, What Does the Bible Teach?

A great majority of modern evangelical Christians hold to what is commonly known as the "Pre-trib rapture" of the Church. The basic idea is that at some point in time just prior to the great tribulation, Christ will return, secretly catching away believers, sparing them from the wrath to come. Scriptures such as Matthew 24:40-42, 1 Thess 4:16-17, and 1 Thess 5:9, are used as texts to back up this teaching. This doctrine has been promoted in recent times by teachers such as Hal Lindsey, and John Haggee, movies such as "A Thief in The Night", and the popular Left Behind series of books.

This has not been the view that the Church has historically held. It is a more recent teaching that has come about in the last 180 years.  What started as a vision a fifteen year old girl claimed to receive in 1830 , was promoted by John Darby, then  by C. I. Scofield, eventually finding its way into Bible colleges and seminaries such as Moody and the Dallas theological seminary.

But is it scriptural? Does the Bible teach that Christians will be raptured (caught up, taken out of this world) before the great tribulation? Indeed, there are verses that at first glance might lead one to think so, but a careful study of scriptures within their context proves otherwise. I believe it is vital to a right understanding of truth, that we come with an open mind and heart, without our preconceptions, and see what God says to us through His word.

One of the pre-trib proof texts is found in 1 Thessalonians 4.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the couds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:16-17 KJV)

These verses deals with the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the catching away of those who are alive and remain. Those who hold to a pre-trib rapture place this event prior to the seven year tribulation. This is based upon Paul's statement in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, that God has not appointed us into wrath, and Christ's promise in Rev 3:10, to keep faithful Christians from the hour of trial about to come upon the earth.

When God sent the plagues upon the Egyptians, the Israelites were untouched. Except for the tenth plague, there was a distinction made between them. Egypt suffered through the plagues, while the Israelites did not. In the tenth plague, God made provision for the children of Israel to avoid the death angel, and be spared. In like manner, God is not pouring out His wrath on believers during the tribulation, but upon the ungodly. Believers may suffer persecution at the hands of evil men, but they are not suffering God's wrath. Using Lot for an example of God's deliverance, we are told in 2 Peter 2:7-9, that God knows how to rescue the righteous from trials. We pray,  "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt 6:13). These are precious promises to believers, but not proof positive of a pre-trib rapture. While we may face persecution in this world, we can count upon our faithful Father to keep us pure and unspotted, and to bring us safely through. Interestingly, we see Jesus praying not that God would take His disciples out of the world, but that He would keep them from the evil (John 17:15). That alone should cause us to stop and think about this doctrine.
I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. John 17:14-15 KJV
Apparently Jesus believed that one did not need to escape this world to be delivered from persecution. Throughout the history of the Church there has been times of severe persecution where countless numbers of Christians have suffered and died for their faith. This is to be expected. There are numerous places in the new testament where we are warned of persecution. Yet again, believers have found God to be more than enough in the hour of trial, facing torture and death firm in the faith. It seems ironic that many today in foreign lands suffer unspeakable horrors, yet boldly stand for Christ, while so many of us in America are content to sit safely in our comfort zones while we wait for the rapture to spare us from suffering.

Jesus made many plain statements concerning His return, the resurrection of the dead, and the gathering of His elect. We will now look at some of these, starting in Matthew 24.

Jesus begins His teaching with the warning, "Take heed that no man deceive you (Matt 24:4). How very important it is indeed that we know the truth, that we are not deceived about something as important as this topic is to our very souls. Jesus warns of false christs, wars, and rumours of wars, kingdoms and nations rising up against one another. He warns of disasters and famines, afflictions and persecution. Deceivers will rise up and deceive many. People will hate and betray one another. Sin will abound, and the love of many will grow cold. The apostle Paul writes of a great falling away prior to Christ's return (2 Thess 2:3). According to Jesus, it is the one who endures to the en
d who will be saved. When the gospel of the kingdom has been preached throughout all the world, the end will come.

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the Holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judea flew into the mountains: let him which is in the household not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that 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: for them shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.  Matt 24:15-22 KJV
Jesus now turns to the time of great tribulation beginning with the revealing of the antichrist.  Notice that this time is said to be shortened for the sake of the elect. According to Jesus, there will be Christians in the earth at this time. The argument may be made that these are people who have turned to Christ after the rapture, or the Jewish people on the earth at this time who will be saved during the tribulation. However, was Christ's intended audience tribulation saints, those left behind during the rapture? While His original audience were Jews, was this only meant for them? In Revelation 7:9-17 we read of a great multitude which no man could number, made up of all nations who came out of the great tribulation. According to pre-trib theology, few gentiles will be saved at this time, as God is primarily dealing with Israel. This does not fit with what is stated here in Revelation however. The multitudes mentioned in this passage of scripture were not raptured before the tribulation, but went through it, and were made up of people from all nations.

The apostle Paul is in agreement with Jesus' statement about the revealing of the antichrist,

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together into 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. Let no man receive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. 2 Thess 2:1-8 KJV
Paul is saying here that the second coming of Christ, along with our gathering together to Him (the rapture) will not occur until after a great falling away from the faith, and the revealing of the antichrist. Most pre-tribbers believe that the Church is gone before this point. This view is based upon  Paul's statement about the restrainer being taken out of the way. The idea being that the one restraining the antichrist is the Holy Spirit, who will be absent from the earth when the Church is raptured. However, Paul clearly states that the antichrist will be revealed before this, and we have just read the words of Jesus, how after the revelation of the man of sin, a great tribulation will come upon the earth. This is all prior to Christ's return to gather His elect, as we shall see.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt 24:29-31 KJV

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 which 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.  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a monent, 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 KJV
Notice how this is all taking place at one time. The second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead in Christ, and the rapture of the living saints. Pre-trib theology teaches that this is a two staged event, the rapture and resurrection, followed seven years later by Christ's return. This finds no Biblical support, these three verses actually disprove this theory. We have Jesus return to earth with a shout and the sound of a trumpet. The dead in Christ rise first, and then those who are alive are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. One event, not two. According to Jesus this takes place after the tribulation. This is the rapture, the gathering of the elect that Jesus and Paul are speaking of in these verses. Notice the sound of the trumpet. It is the last trump. There is no more. When the trump sounds it is at the return of Christ. These verses cannot be split up to teach a two stage rapture and second coming.

Read these verses concerning the resurrection,

And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:39-40 KJV

Martha saith into him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. John 11:24 KJV

 There cannot be a resurrection on the last day, and then seven years of tribulation. That would make no sense. If this event was prior to the tribulation, what happens to those who die as martyrs during the tribulation? The Bible speaks of a second resurrection in Rev 20:5, but this is the raising of the wicked dead for judgment, also referred to as the second death. A Christian will not take part in the second death. The Bible tells us that those who take part in the first resurrection are blessed.  When Christ returns for his saints, it will be the one and only time He returns. There will only be one resurrection of the dead in Christ, one rapture, and one second coming. This will take place at the last day, the end of the tribulation, as we have seen in the word of God. There is no concrete Biblical support for a pre-tribulational rapture. Do not be deceived, but be watchful  and alert, lest that day come upon you unawares.

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