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Lee Y. Martin, Ph.D. ©2008
A survey conducted in 1994 by the prestigious American journal U.S. News & World Report, reported that 61% of Americans believe Jesus will come back and 44% believe that the church will be raptured.
The rapture is an important Christian doctrine which claims that prior to the Millennial Age all members of the body of Christ will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and will be taken back to heaven with Him. This teaching is derived from many passages in Scripture which we will look at, but the main one is in the New Testament in the book of First Thessalonians. Let’s look at it first since this is the place from where the word ‘rapture’ comes.
In the very first verse above, Paul makes it clear that he did not want the believers in Thessalonica, nor brethren anywhere for that matter, to be ignorant of what he was writing because he received this teaching from the Lord Himself [v.15]. He probably received it while alone in the desert immediately after his conversion to Christianity.
We learn from the above that Paul went immediately into the desert after being converted, probably by summons of the Lord, and we presume it was so that he could confer with Jesus about the gospel he would be sent to preach to the world. Paul said above that he did not confer with men about his conversion experience nor did his gospel derive from collaboration with men. Since he claimed to have seen the Lord Jesus in 2 Corinthians 15:8, we can assume he acquired his gospel during a personal encounter with our Lord when he sojourned in the Arabian Desert immediately after his conversion.
Upon returning from the wilderness, Paul was preaching a different but important gospel concerning matters relating to the Mosaic Covenant. Jesus’ spilt blood on the cross cut a new and better covenant with Almighty God and Paul was called to preach it. He calls it ‘my gospel’ in Romans 2:16, 16:25, and 2 Timothy 2:8, which gospel was a new contract of grace mediated between God and the man Jesus that ended the old convenant of the law that was mediated by Moses.
Paul was in Corinth when he received word from Timothy and Silas that the Thessalonians were holding fast to their faith in the gospel he had preached to them. Nonetheless, they needed clarification about our Lord’s return. So, he wrote them a letter in which he reminded them of things they were taught while he was with them, things pertaining to Jesus’ coming again [1 Thessalonians 5:2]. Since the information Paul gave to the Thessalonians was by the word of the Lord [4:15], Christians ought to give earnest heed to it even today.
A survey of the two books reveals that significantly, both letters were written to comfort the brethren regarding end time issues. In the first letter, he addressed concern about what happens to loved ones who die before the rapture. Will they remain asleep and miss the wedding in heaven? He answered forthwith no. They will indeed participate in the happy event. In the second letter, Paul countered their fear that they had missed the rapture. Persecutions were increasing, and it looked like the Day of Judgment was at hand.
The word ‘comfort’ is used four times in the first letter and once in the second. Hence, it is clear that Paul was writing to establish them in the facts of our Lord’s return and to comfort them that they would not participate in God’s judgment of sin on earth in the Day of the Lord. I will explain the Day of the Lord more fully in Part 2 of this endtime treatise on the rapture of things to come.
We learn in the second letter to the Thessalonians that Paul had taught them about the Day of the Lord when he was with them, and he was reminding them of it [2 Thessalonians 2:5]. He said, …yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2], the inference being that if they do not keep this doctrine uppermost in their spiritual eyes, they might fall from faith through fear. If it was important for them to keep these things before their eyes [Proverbs 4:20-22], is it any less important for us today?
Here is what I am driving at, and it is the reason people need to get the question about the rapture settled in their minds as Paul was admonishing the Thessalonians to do. In establishing anything, the most important things are done first. The foundation is laid and the support structure set in place. Thus, it is necessary to understand the rapture as part of Christian doctrinal foundation related to Jesus’ coming as King to claim His right to rule earth. It comforts believers to know they will not be here for earth’s scourging to cleanse it as per the book of Revelation before God sets up His Kingdom. Is not this the reason Paul penned in his letter, …comfort one another with these words [1 Thessalonians 4:18]?
Significantly, Paul taught about the rapture of believers soon after they were baptized into the body of Christ, because he was only in Thessalonica three weeks [Acts 17:2] before he was run out of town by the leaders of the synagogue [Acts 17:3ff]. This tells us that Paul considered the rapture a major doctrine that should be understood immediately by all new converts. He did not wait a month or so to teach it. Evidently it was within the first few days or at least the first couple of weeks. Are you aware of why it should be taught? Let me answer with a question. How can you stay ready to depart if you don’t know you’re going somewhere?
Awareness of the rapture gives comfort to believers who wonder about their safety in a world doomed for judgment. Millions of Christians wonder if they, along with sinners, will have to endure the wrath of God [Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 14:10] in the Day of the Lord. The way to be assured about your safety is by knowing that God has promised to keep believers who heed His Word from the hour of temptation that is going to try the whole world [Revelation 3:10]. We can see from Middle East events that the stage is set. Are you ready for curtain call?
To put this in perspective, Microsoft, who sells the operating system used on most of the computers in the world (in addition to other software) reported sales of 36.8 billion in 2004. So the porn business is alive and well, profiting, and ripe for judgment. The political and economic arenas fare no better. Sins in those camps are just not as visible. Hence, believers need assurance that if they stay holy and ready, they will not be a part of God’s coming judgment on sin by fire.
The book of Revelation concludes its last chapter with: …he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still:…[22:11]. One translation renders this as …he that is filthy, let him be still more filthy and he that is righteous, let him be still more righteous. In other words, whosoever is involved, let him bring it on up to the next level. Whichever kingdom one is in, as that one continues therein, he or she will wind up becoming the embodiment of its ultimate characterization – totally purified and holy, or, wholly evil. That ought to give one pause for concern because the end of the kingdom of darkness is the unquenchable lake of fire [Revelation 20:15].
Are you sure to which kingdom you belong? If not, you need to get that settled now. We have a page on this website that explains “How To Become A Christian”. Check it out if you are not sure you are saved. If you are saved, be assured that …God hath not appointed (the righteous and holy) to wrath, but to obtain salvation (deliverance from His anger) by our Lord Jesus Christ [1 Thessalonians 5:9]. You should commit that verse to memory because it is the strongest assurance in God’s Word that believers will not be here for the tribulation of earth.
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In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the English phrase ‘caught up’ translates harpazo in Greek. It means ‘to seize’, ‘snatch’, or ‘pull away by force’. In the Greek text it is used 14 times with variations of meaning but the primary one of ‘taking away by force’ [John 6:15; 10:28,29; Acts 23:10; Jude 23] is what is meant here in Thessalonians.
The word is used also when the Bible speaks of the Spirit taking someone away quickly such as when Paul was caught up to heaven [2 Corinthians 12:2,4] and when Philip was ‘caught away’ and divinely transported to Azotus after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:39]. The idea is that it happens in a moment of time – in the twinkling of an eye as Paul describes it to the Corinthians – here one second and gone the next.
Why Call It A Rapture?
People who do not believe in a rapture say that the word is never found in English Bibles and they are right. However, it is in the Latin Vulgate Bible used in the Catholic Church. This Bible translates the Greek harpazo by the Latin word rapturo from rapere meaning ‘to seize’. Since the Vulgate was the church’s official Bible in medieval times, the word ‘rapture’ came into vogue among Englishmen. Other words, such as Trinity, have come into use for the same reason that throughout the Western church, Latin was the accepted language of theological discussion.
In Numbers chapter 20, God told Moses to make two silver trumpets. These were used for announcing something via musical sounds that could be heard far away. The sounds were related to cultural activities associated with their worship.
There was another trumpet, however, called a shofar made of ram's horns. The ram’s horn held a prominent place in Israel’s history [cf. Genesis chapter 22] and was only used on solemn occasions when announcing important days or events such as the new moons, feast days, or Sabbath days. A blast from this horn was to spark attention that what was about to follow should be attended with great concern because it was announcing something important relating to God’s agenda with men.
The trumpet Paul spoke of in his two rapture portions of Scripture in Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians was a shofar horn. Without detailing trumpet usage I shall only say that the shofar and silver trumpets were used interchangeably on Sabbath days – one silver trumpet blast, one shofar blast, and then one silver trumpet blast. These three blasts were done in the morning and repeated in the evening. However, on the Feast of Trumpets the procedure was switched. The shofar was blown first, then the silver trumpet, and lastly the shofar. Hence, on this particular day the last blast of the three horns was a shofar blast and was known as ‘the last trump’. I’ll come back to that.
Trumpets Were Used For Announcing And Calling Forth
There were two reasons trumpets were blown in olden times. They heralded people to come to an assembly, called in Scripture a convocation, or they would warn them of approaching danger. In every case, the trumpet blasts blown at the Feasts of Jehovah 1, were blown for the purpose of announcing important matters pertaining to God’s agenda. The next item on His schedule is His Son’s return to claim the inheritance that belongs to Him [Ephesians 1:14 with Hebrews 1:2].
Is it coincidental that the next feast to be fulfilled is the Feast of Trumpets, the first four – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Pentecost – having already been fulfilled? Scripture teaches that the church is to expect the Lord’s return at any time making the Feast of Trumpets and the rapture expectation parallel concepts. Expectation of Jesus’ imminent (or immediate) return is a Church Age doctrine not foreknown in Old Testament times.
But I ask you, how can someone return if he has not come in the first place? Rejecting Jesus, the Jews were and still are looking for a Messiah whose coming restores the Kingdom. Jesus will do this at the end of the tribulation. This proves Jesus’ coming is in two phases which I will explain later with Scripture. Paul admonishes the church, however, in his letter to Titus to …live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ [2:13]. In other words, live with constant expectation that Jesus is coming right away.
According to Paul, when Jesus descends from heaven with a trumpet blast as per verse 16 of chapter 4 of Second Thessalonians, our beginning text, it is for the purpose of gathering His people to an assembly or convocation in heaven. What convocation is that? I suggest it is His marriage ceremony to His bride, the church.
In the opening text, the English word rendered ‘prevent’ meant ‘to precede’ in King James’ day [v.15]. In substituting ‘precede’, the verse tells us that believers who are alive at the time of the rapture will not precede those who are dead when they are snatched off the earth for the wedding. Verse 16 says that the dead in Christ rise first. These are all the righteous people in heaven whose spirits have been absent from their bodies [2 Corinthians 5:6] and who have been awaiting resurrection of them. After their bodies arise anew out of the graves, saved people who are still alive and remain on earth shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.
the reason for dead people rising first be because their disintegrated
bodies are at ground level zero whereas alive people walk around in the
air four to seven feet above it? The scenario also contends that Jesus
will come with a shout, and I believe it will be a very loud one, so loud
His voice will sound like a trumpet blast similar to what John heard in
his visions in Revelation 1:10 and 4:1.
Evidently God’s voice is so powerful coming out of heaven it sounds like a trumpet because Moses also recorded he and the people heard a trumpet voice when they were on Mt. Sinai meeting with God at the time of the giving of the law. It was the time when marriage vows – the Ten Commandments – were exchanged between God and His people, the descendants of Abraham.
The people, however, could not bear the intensity of God’s trumpet voice which grew louder and louder and overwhelmed them as He approached earth [Exodus 19:16,19; Hebrews 12:19]. They entreated Moses to stand in and speak for them in the affirmative saying they would do all He required. Moses did, and he told God that the Israeli people have said, …All that the Lord hath spoken we will do [Exodus 19:8]. The words ‘I will’ or ‘I do’ usually consummate a marriage ceremony. So God and the people became one that day, and ever since Mt. Sinai, the nation of Israel is often referred to in Scripture as God’s wife.
One interpretation of the Hebrew text in Exodus chapters 19 and 20 taken from a Jewish commentary called a Midrash 2 writes:
This historical incident occurred on the Jewish calendar day noted as the Feast of Pentecost. Not only was it the day that Jehovah took a wife, but Pentecost was also the day that Jesus became espoused to a wife. In an upper room in Jerusalem as 120 people waited for the promise of God, according to Acts 2:1-4, a fiery substance rushed into the room with a loud noise, split up and engulfed each person present with baptismal power to speak in another tongue. Is not this similar to the Midrash description given to the Sinai incident? Loud noises….fiery substances….coming upon each one…words spoken supernaturally! How much closer could it be?
The Feasts Of The Lord Are Rehearsals
It is important for you to understand that all of the Feasts of the Lord are celebrations rehearsing things to come. Keep this in mind. They are rehearsals symbolizing what would happen in due time as per God’s decrees in eternity past before the world began. Paul knew this because he was a Pharisaical Jew learned in all the law and customs. Because he did not want Gentile converts unacquainted with Jewish customs to miss the glories God has planned for His people, he frequently said he was revealing a mystery in his letters so they could understand how the New Covenant was the consummation and fulfillment of the Old.
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