Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Part 1 of "The Timing & Significance of the Rapture"

Question 1: What is the Rapture and its Significance to the World?

The Imminence of the Harpazó

The Rapture is a subject we hear about often, but a subject that is so often misunderstood. It seems to simultaneously cause confusion, fear, ridicule, anger, hope, and joy, depending on the listener. I hope I can clear up some of the confusion and increase the hope and joy of Jesus’ followers, in regard to this glorious event to come.

According to the literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible, at any time “the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God”, and all living believers will be “caught up” from the earth (”harpaz√≥” in Greek, “rapiemur/rapturos” in Latin, “caught up” or “snatched away” in English). The Church is taken to be with the Lord just before God’s judgment is to be poured out on this God-rejecting world. That time of God’s judgment on the world is known as the Tribulation, and is fast approaching.

I will be offering evidence for this event known as the Rapture, showing that Christ’s coming for His Church is imminent and therefore must take place before the Tribulation.

Firstly, the doctrine of the Rapture is without refutation. It is taught so clearly in 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, among other places, that to deny it is simply to deny the plain and literal meaning of Scripture and the accuracy and inspiration of God’s Word.

Another doctrine of the New Testament that is irrefutable is that the return of Jesus at the Rapture is imminent, meaning that there is nothing stopping it or holding it back; it could happen at any moment. That the Rapture may take place at any time is taught by Jesus when He says,

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44).”

The Day of the Lord

Before we go any further into the doctrine of the Rapture, it is important to know that the Rapture initiates something known in the Bible as the “Day of the Lord” (the Tribulation). Spoken of more than any other one subject throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), the Day of the Lord begins sometime after the completion of the Church Age. The completion of the Church happens when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25) and the Rapture of the Church has taken place (both happen simultaneously). This is the key to understanding when the Rapture takes place in relation to the seven-year Tribulation period, which we will discuss shortly.

The Day of the Lord primarily refers to the seven-year Tribulation period which follows the Rapture, but is also used by the writers of the Old Testament to speak of Christ’s Judgment of the Nations, which terminates the seven-year period. In the Old Testament, the “Day of the Lord” or “that day” usually refers to the seven-year Tribulation period alone (or, in particular, the last three and a half years, known as the “Great Tribulation”), but it also can refer to Christ’s Second Coming, the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth that begins at His Second Coming, as well as the Great White Throne Judgment (the final judgment) of all those that have failed to receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus. The Day of the Lord is also used to describe the period of time in which all of these events take place, which culminate in the dissolution of the universe, including earth, called “the heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3:10- 13 & Revelation 20:11, and in the subsequent creation of the New Heaven and New Earth, meaning the entire Universe, the entire creation of God (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1, Isaiah 65:17).

The New Heavens and New Earth will be created by God after the Millennial (1,000 year) reign of Christ and the final, Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20 are concluded. Also known as the Eternal State or God’s Eternal Kingdom, the New Heaven and New Earth will be created by God after the Millennium, the final Great White Throne judgment and the destruction of the old heaven and earth. His New Creation then heads into eternity glorified along with all of the believers of all time (Romans 8:21). This is usually known simply as “Heaven” or “Eternity.”

So, the “Day of the Lord” refers broadly to the whole period (approximately 1,007 years), and more specifically, depending on its context in the Scripture, to the Rapture or the seven-year Tribulation or the Second Coming or the Millennium or the destruction of the old heaven and earth or the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth.

As believers in Jesus Christ, born again, born of the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus (John 3), we are now looking to the return of Jesus Christ at the Rapture, our departure from this world just before the Day of the Lord and the Tribulation begins. We are not looking for more signs of the “last days” to be fulfilled or to the evangelization or Christianizing of the whole world. We are not looking for the revealing of the Antichrist or the one-world government, or the beginning of the Tribulation, or the last three and a half years of the Tribulation (known as the Great Tribulation). Nor are we looking for the bowl judgments or final trumpet of Revelation or any other signs or events before the Rapture. To be looking for anything other than Jesus coming for His Church at the Rapture is to be focused on something other than Jesus and our eternal glorification with Him, which is to be our focus.

As has always been true for the Church at every point of the Church Age, we are to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2) and we are to be “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). At this moment, as with the first followers of Christ, and as should have been in all periods of Church history, we are looking for Jesus to come and take us to be with Him. This is our “living and blessed hope.” We will develop this thought further throughout this article. This subtle biblical truth alone reveals that the Rapture of the Church must take place before the Tribulation period. But, there are many additional reasons to believe in the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church.

When Will the Rapture Take Place?

If we cannot know when the Lord is coming for His Church, as He has said, then the Rapture could happen at any moment. The Lord has designed it this way so that His people would live as if His return was imminent (impending, close (at hand), near, (fast) approaching). He wants His Church to live as if He is returning at any moment! Jesus’ plain and simple teaching insists that the Church should be living in such a way that we are looking for Him to return for us at any time at the Rapture, and every New Testament writer agrees that this is how we are to be living our lives. By necessity, there can be no prerequisites to the Rapture. Additionally, there can be no terminus, or final date by which it must happen, otherwise there would be prerequisite events that would have to happen first. Conversely, the exact time of the Second Coming of Christ, to the day, is easily ascertained and well defined because it terminates the seven-year Tribulation period. Once the Tribulation begins, the inhabitants of earth during the Tribulation will be able to count forward seven years from the unveiling of the one-world leader.

There is a second opportunity during the Tribulation to calculate the Second Coming. At the half way mark, something called the “abomination of desolation,” which we will talk about shortly, takes place. By counting forward three and a half years from the day of that event, many believers will know the exact day of the Lord’s glorious return (see Daniel 12:11-12, where he gives the Tribulation survivors the exact number of days). It is not possible, on the other hand, to know the timing of the Rapture, as the Lord Himself has said. This is a crucial fact when considering the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation period, as well as any attempts to ascertain an actual date for the Rapture, an hour or day or year, like so many false teachers and misled Christians have mistakenly and unsuccessfully attempted to do throughout history.

No one can know the day or hour or season of the Rapture, that is clear from the Lord, so no dates can be set for it and there is nothing that has to take place before the Lord can come for His Church. The Apostles believed that and expressed that belief with much enthusiasm. We will look at their thoughts on Jesus’ imminent return for His Church in the third section of this article, but it suffices to say here that the gospel does not have to go out to the whole world through the Church first, nor does the Antichrist have to be revealed, nor the beginning of the Tribulation begun. These prerequisites would make Jesus’ return for His Church dependent on other events unfolding first. They would have the Church looking elsewhere, to something other than Jesus’ return, to worldly events that are to take place first instead of to Jesus and His coming Kingdom. That contradicts Jesus’ clear teaching in the Gospels on His return for the Church. It also contradicts the way the early Church understood His teaching and viewed the timing of the Rapture.

Therefore, the Rapture must take place during an open-ended period of time with an undefined end that, at a certain point in time, connects (or very nearly connects) to the Tribulation period. The only indeterminate period of time that it can happen within, in relation to the Tribulation, is the so-called “Church Age,” which is the period of time that we live in now, that extends from the start of the Church until the completion of the Church at the Rapture. This is the only time period between now and the Tribulation in which no one could possibly know in any way, or within any period of surrounding time, when the Rapture will occur. This circumstance must be true in order for Jesus’ statement to be true, that no one will know the day or the hour or the season of His return (Mark 13:32-37).

The Church Age ends when the fullness of the Gentiles come in, which is before the Tribulation begins. Any proposed time for the Rapture after the Tribulation’s onset is disqualified due to this fact. Expecting His return at any moment is called the doctrine of imminency. If Jesus’ return is imminent, as every writer of the New Testament believed, and as Jesus stated Himself, then there is nothing holding it back, it can happen at any moment. In my understanding, this, among many other proofs, assures the Church of a pre-Tribulation Rapture. We’ll look at one other indisputable argument for the “pre-Trib” Rapture in a moment, though J. Dwight Pentecost lists no less than twenty-eight reasons for a pre-Tribulation Rapture in his book Things to Come. When interpreting the Bible literally, it is an indisputable fact that this view harmonizes with the whole of Scripture to a far greater extent than any other view of the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation. The pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine has more Scriptural support than any of the other options for the timing of the Rapture.

The World After the Rapture

When the time for the Church to be taken from the earth to Heaven in the Rapture arrives,

“Then we who are alive and remain shall be raptured, snatched away, caught-up together with them (those who have already died in Christ) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11).”

Once the Church is removed from the earth at the Rapture for our “marriage to the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7), our glorification in Heaven with Jesus, then the false world leader known as the infamous “Antichrist” will be revealed on earth (2 Thessalonians 2). He will be revealed as a master politician and broker of peace and safety. But, he will ultimately lead the nations of the earth into Israel, Mount Megiddo in the north of Israel being the central gathering point for the final world war (known as Armageddon). This war features nations from around the globe, but primarily becomes the powers of the west facing off against the powers of the east. 

Finally, he leads what remains of the world’s armies into war against Jesus and His bride at Christ’s return, the “Second Coming” (Revelation 19:19). Initially, the last world empire’s leader is apparently peaceful, powerful and an intriguing politician. For more on this future one-world leader, the Antichrist, see Daniel 7:8-28; 8:9-14, 23-26; 9:24-27; 11:21-45; Revelation chapters 13, 17, 18, 19; 2 Thessalonians 2 and Matthew 24.

This man quickly becomes a seemingly benevolent and effective world leader sometime after the Rapture, (either immediately or possibly over some indeterminate time) but is in reality the “man of sin” and the “son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and the “worthless shepard” (Zechariah 11:16-17). He is to become the one-world government’s dictator, the Antichrist. Beginning halfway through that seven-year period he breaks his covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27). He also goes into the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple and stops the sacrifice to Israel’s God (which is re- instituted sometime after the Rapture) and demands that the world worship him as god (possibly even an atheistic, New Age idea of a human achieved “godhood”). This is the “abomination of desolation” that Jesus and Daniel referred to, and it is the event that starts the last three and a half years of the seven-year period. This three and a half year period of time, covering the last half of the seven year Tribulation, is known as the “Great Tribulation.”

The 70th Week of Daniel and the Timing of the Rapture

We call the last three and a half years of the seven-year Tribulation period the “Great Tribulation” because of Jesus’ description of it in Matthew 24:21, and Daniel’s description in Daniel 12:1. We know that the whole period is seven years because of repeated references to it being that length of time in the book of Revelation and Daniel, and because it is also known as the 70th week (of seven years) of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27).

The last three and a half years of the Tribulation will be a time of great tribulation, unlike any other time on earth. I believe it is the realization that the whole Tribulation period is the 70th week of Daniel that eliminates finally and completely any other timing of the Rapture except it happening before the seven-year period begins. This is because the Church cannot be on earth for any duration of the 70th week of Daniel. The Church Age must end before the last seven years of God’s plan with Israel can resume. Paul makes this clear in Romans chapter 11, so getting acquainted with Romans chapters 9-11 is essential. But before we look at that, let’s look at Daniel 9:24-27 for more on the “70th week of Daniel.”

In Daniel chapter 9, the angel Gabriel is sent by God and says to Daniel that seventy “weeks” (literally “sevens”) of years (seventy 7’s of years) are determined (70X7= 490 years)… “to bring in everlasting righteousness” and to “anoint the Most Holy” (v. 24). These events, without debate, will only happen at Jesus’ Second Coming and the initiation of the Millennial Kingdom. After 69 weeks of years (69X7= 483 years), according to Gabriel the “Messiah shall be cut off” (literally, “suffer the death penalty”). Since this already happened at Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, that leaves a seven- year “week” left unfulfilled, the 70th week of Daniel (490-483= 7 remaining years).

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem during the week before His crucifixion was exactly 483 years from the start of the prophecy given in Daniel (the start date of the 483 years is recorded in Nehemiah). The 70th week, the remaining 7 years, must be future to the time of Jesus and the Church because the 70 weeks prophecy was to Israel, not the Church, and it was not fulfilled after the time of Christ being on earth. Astonishingly, the 483 years concluded on one of the days between Jesus’ presentation of Himself as Messiah at the triumphal entry and His crucifixion a few days later (His being cut off), exactly 483 years from the start of the prophecy, just as Gabriel said it would. So, the 70 weeks of Daniel were interrupted right between the end of the 69th week and the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel at Christ’s rejection and subsequent crucifixion and resurrection. In Romans 11, Paul makes it clear that God cast Israel away at this point (v. 15), but only temporarily. There is still then a need for that final 7 years of Daniel to take place for God “to bring in everlasting righteousness” and to “anoint the Most Holy.”

At the birth of the Church, God ceased to have direct relations with Israel as a nation because they had rejected the New Covenant, they rejected their Messiah. That indeterminate period of time, of Israel being set aside by God, precisely and unequivocally coincides with the Church Age, the Age of Grace that we are still living in today. Through Israel’s fall (their failure to receive Jesus as the Messiah) salvation has come to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11) and “is riches for the Gentiles (v. 12).” And here is the key: Paul says in verse 25 “that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). The birth of the Church was just after Israel’s rejection of Christ, which paused the 70 weeks of Daniel at the conclusion of the 69th week. And it is the glorification of the Church that will start God’s clock on Israel again, “for God has committed them all (Israel as a nation corporately) to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (the rest of the world, Romans 11:32). He has also promised that “all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).”

“For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world (the start of the Church Age), what will their acceptance be but life from the dead (The Resurrection, Romans 11:15)?”

Considering that we know the resurrection of the Church happens at the Rapture and that the resurrection of Israel happens around the time of the Second Coming, these verses in Romans 11 are exhilarating, and conclusive! Paul tells us clearly that when Israel, as a nation, accepts Jesus as their Messiah, the resurrection of God’s people will take place!

According to the book of Revelation, an acceptance of Jesus by a remnant of Jewish believers will directly follow the Rapture of the Church, will continue throughout the Tribulation and will usher in the Second Coming seven years later. Remember also, the Tribulation is called “the Time of Jacob’s Trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7. And Daniel clearly states, in 9:24, that the “seventy weeks are determined for your people (Israel) and for your holy city (Jerusalem).” He says that this period determined for Israel, that ultimately brings judgment on the earth during the last seven years, will be “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (v. 24). The last week is like all the other weeks spoken of by Gabriel, it is exactly seven years (v. 24 & 27), but it culminates in the “bringing in of everlasting righteousness”, with Jesus’ return and the beginning of the Millennial reign of Christ. Daniel even tells us, like Jesus and John, that the Antichrist commits the abomination that causes desolation exactly three and a half years into the seven-year period, which initiates the worst part of this whole period, the Great Tribulation (v. 27).

The fullness of the Gentiles is the completion of the Church, and the Church Age is consummated by the Rapture. Otherwise, Jewish believers during the Tribulation (“the remnant” mentioned so often throughout the Prophets and in Romans 11) would also be soon-to-be-raptured Christians in the midst of the Tribulation. They would be part of the Church! Impossible. They must be one or the other during this period of time. They cannot be both, like in the Church Age. Clearly, according to Scripture, the Tribulation is a separate program in God’s eyes, distinct from the Church Age. Jewish believers during the 70th week of Daniel are the oft spoken of remnant of believing Israel, many of which must survive the Tribulation to repopulate the world during the Millennial reign of Christ. If they were part of the Church, and the Rapture took place during the Tribulation, they, too would be raptured during the Tribulation. The problem with that for the mid-Trib and pre-Wrath views is that the Rapture is no longer imminent, because we would know it is coming after the beginning of the Tribulation but before the half-way point of the Tribulation. For the post-Trib view, there also is the problem of imminency, as well as another issue. Who would populate the world in the Millennium if all believers are raptured at the end of the Tribulation and all unbelievers are judged at the judgment of the nations?

Without dispute then, this is the plain, straightforward reading of the text. Only after the Church is removed can God begin to deal with Israel again for this last seven-year period of Daniel, yet unfulfilled. This is exactly what Paul says in verses 25 and 26 of Romans 11, “blindness to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (to the Church and then into Heaven at the Rapture). “And so all Israel will be saved,” separate and distinct from the Church. This happens throughout the 70th week of Daniel, the time of Jacob’s Trouble, but ultimately is fulfilled at its culmination when the remnant of Israel constitutes “all Israel” and they enter into the Millennium after the judgment of the nations.

When the Rapture takes place, at the end of the Church Age, God begins to work with Israel again. At the end of that seven-year Tribulation period, the 70th week of Daniel, “the Lord comes with billions of His saints (Jude 1:14), the Church, which is His bride, and captures the Antichrist and his false prophet and they are “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone (Revelation 19:11-21). This event is known as the Second Coming and brings the Tribulation period to a close. It also initiates the Millennial (1,000 year) reign of Christ on the regenerated, Eden like earth (Isaiah 51:3). For more on the Antichrist and his false prophet see Revelation 13. For more on the Millennium see Revelation 20, along with such Old Testament passages as Isaiah, chapters 11 & 35. The “judgment of the nations” is described by the Lord in Matthew 25:31-32. As previously mentioned, God’s Eternal Kingdom, the New Heaven and New Earth will be created by God after the Millennium, the final Great White Throne judgment and the destruction of the old heaven and earth. His New Creation then heads into eternity glorified along with all of the believers of all time (Romans 8:21). This is usually known simply as “Heaven.”

The General Outline of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ

As an important side note, in the book of Revelation, 1:19, Jesus tells John to break the book into three main divisions. Chapter 1 is what John saw: the Revelation of Jesus in glory, with all authority in Heaven and earth given to Him. Chapters 2 & 3 represent the things that are: the present and entire Church Age from the resurrection of Christ to the Rapture of the Church. Chapters 4-22 are the things which will take place after this (after the Church Age): all of chapters 4-22 are future to the Rapture of the Church. Furthermore, chapters 4 & 5 describe the Church in Heaven immediately after the Rapture, concurrent to the seven-year Tribulation happening on earth. Chapters 6-18 describe variously the events of the Tribulation on earth. Chapter 19 is a description of the Second Coming of Christ with His saints, the Church (the Church is finally mentioned again for the first time since chapter 5 because we return with Jesus from Heaven after our departure before the seven-year Tribulation period began). Chapter 20 of Revelation describes the Millennial reign of Christ, and 21 and 22, the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21:1-4), as well as our relation to the earth in the New Jerusalem (Heaven) during the Millennium and Christ’s reign on earth at that time (after Revelation 21:4). It’s critical to have that outline and to understand the meaning of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It is a revelation of His eternal glory and all that He will do for the eternal futures of those that put their trust in Him. It gives us insight and perspective on all He has been doing for His creation throughout history.

For the world, the Rapture of the Church is the beginning of the end of world history, as we now know it. For the Church, it is the beginning of our eternal, glorified lives with Jesus.

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