The “Rapture” has become one of the most controversial subjects in today’s church. It is my contention that this is a covenant God made with His true followers and He will fulfill this covenant in His perfect time. Following a few introductory remarks concerning God’s covenant of the Rapture with the true Church, we will be examining the Scriptures to determine if there are those who could be in danger of being left behind.
A question that needs to be answered before moving forward is this: Does the Bible really speak of this event, the “Rapture”? Many have argued against the Rapture, saying the word is not even found in the Bible. The answer to this is quite simple. The word “Rapture” comes from the Latin noun “raptura” which is a translation of the New Testament Greek word “harpazo.” “Harpazo” is used 14 times in the New Testament and the word means: “remove suddenly or a sudden snatching or a sudden catching away, to seize, to carry off.” So, is the word “Rapture” in the Scriptures? Absolutely! It is the perfect word to describe an imminent event, the “Rapture”, where God suddenly snatches His true followers from planet Earth and into His presence in Heaven. A most excellent description of this is given by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch-angel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
We find another powerful passage in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53:
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on in corruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
I will add one more passage to the two above to show that our Messiah Jesus and the Apostle Paul were in total agreement on the subject. Let’s take a look at what Jesus said to his disciples, and by extension, to the entire true Church, in John 14.
1 Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
Another question that we need to answer: What is God’s purpose for the Rapture? We find one reason in the first passage above. The living need comforting about those that are dead. By this time in history, Jesus had not yet returned and many believers had already died and passed on. Those still living had a lot of questions about the status of the believing dead. They also had questions about the resurrection of the dead and how it would come about. How would the bodies of the dead, which were in the grave, be joined to their spirits which were in heaven? And, how would those of us who were living at the time of the event be joined to those who had passed on? The answer to all these questions is covered in the 1 Corinthians 4:13-18 scripture above.
A second purpose of the Rapture is to comfort those of us who are alive concerning the coming Day of the Lord. Neither the Old nor the New Testament shows the Church to be present on earth during the time of the Day of the Lord, a period of time designated by God specifically for the judgment of a wicked Christ-rejecting world, and also to fulfill His promise to the Jewish Nation to deal directly with them, while at the same time opening their eyes to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is truly their Messiah. We have a promise in the Book of Daniel that God would deal with Israel for a full 70 weeks of years. This adds up to 490 literal years; 483 of these were completed at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, leaving only seven years unfulfilled. The risen Messiah then commissioned His disciples to take the Good News of the Gospel to the rest of the world, including to the Gentile nations, effectively providing a historical interlude in the 490 year time-table we know as the Church Age. The 120 waiting in the upper room for fulfillment of Jesus’ promise were empowered to fulfill the Great Commission, starting on the Day of Pentecost, and now, 2,000 years have passed and the end of the Church Age is imminent, as God again deals directly with the Jewish nation. The prophetic clock, including the last seven years of God’s promised 490 to the Jews, will not begin until after the true Church has been removed since the “restrainer” must be removed before the 7 years begins. One of the Scriptural proofs of this is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:
1 Concerning the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us saying that the Day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NIV version)
In this passage, the Apostle Paul made several important points that need to be recognized.
- Verse 1: The subject matter has to do with the gathering of the believers into the presence of Jesus—as He had promised in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
- Verse 2: There was a forged letter going around attempting to deceive the believers into believing that the Day of the Lord (John’s Apocalypse) had already come.
- Verse 3: The “rebellion” (apostasy, falling away) must happen first before the lawless one (the son of perdition, Antichrist) is revealed.
- Verse 4: The son of perdition will exalt himself above all that is worshipped, eventually setting himself up in the Jewish Temple and call himself God.
- Verse 5: Paul gives a reminder that he has said these things before.
- Verse 6: The apostle tells them that they already know what it is that is holding evil back.
- Verse 7: The power, or spirit, of lawlessness is already at work in the world, but there is one (also called the Restrainer) will continue doing the work of restraining until He is removed. (The “He” is the Holy Spirit working through the true Church. The Church will be removed and the work of the Holy Spirit begins His work in a totally different way during the seven years of the Great Apocalypse. His work then is primarily through the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 and the 144,000 Jewish men that are especially anointed for their part of the great harvest of souls. They reach millions.
- Verse 8: It is then, and not before, that the lawless one (Antichrist) is revealed—the one that will be utterly defeated at the return of the Messiah at the end of the Great Tribulation to set up His millennial kingdom.
So, as we can see, the true Church, the Bride of Christ, is removed in the Rapture before John’s Apocalypse begins.
A third purpose for the Rapture is to remind us that we are still on this earth for a reason. As long as you and I are still breathing, we have a purpose on this earth. Ephesians 2:10 tells us:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Although salvation is not something any of us can earn, Jesus taught that we should be salt and light in this dark world. Some call it foolishness that we share the Good News of the Gospel of Christ to the world around us, either in word or by the example of our lives. But it is for this that we are created!
A fourth purpose for the Rapture is a reminder that we must be prepared every single day for the imminent return of our Lord and Savior. It will be too late to prepare when that great Trumpet blows. How would you live if you knew you only had 24 hours to live? That is how we prepare!
Most of us are aware that there are several “theories” offered concerning when the actual Rapture occurs. For this writing, I am going to concern myself with the only one that makes scriptural sense, and it is the way the early Church understood it. The Rapture will happen before the onset of the Day of the Lord.
Now, to the main subject matter…
There are several scriptures that speak of the second coming of the Lord as a thief in the night:
For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. I Thessalonians 5:2-4
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. In which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat: both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10
Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Revelation 3:3
These passages emphasize how suddenly the coming of the Day of the Lord will be. At the very time when men are celebrating peace and safety, sudden destruction comes upon them. Because of this, we are told that we should always be watching. The Word of the Lord is sure and does not ever fail! Are you watching??
Matthew 24:43 speaks of the “goodman” (owner) of the house being caught off guard by a thief. The Greek translation describes the house being broken into and burglarized. What could Jesus have been speaking of when he described such a burglary? The context of the previous verses give us a good hint. Let’s look closely at Matthew 24:
37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
We find a great insight here of the Lord coming to snatch His own people out of the world and into His presence. The “goodman” of the house is the master of the house. He was not on guard, was not on watch, and found his house broken into and burglarized. What did the “thief” take? Those in his family that had committed themselves to the Son of Man! Several examples were given by Jesus to show that there was a separation going on between people. Some were taken, others left behind. The example Jesus used of the goodman is a strong warning for us today. We are commanded to watch so that we are not caught off guard. How many people have no idea whatsoever how close we are to the end of the age? How many churches today even speak of the subject? Sadly, not many.
There is an interesting Greek word used when the passage says that some are “taken.” In the Greek, the word is paralambano and it means: to take to, to take with one’s self, to join to one’s self. Those that are taken are taken by the Son of Man into His own presence, just as He promised in the earlier passage, John 14:1-3. When Jesus says “I will receive you unto Myself”, the very same word, paralambano, is used. At the time of the “harpazo”, He will receive, take us unto Himself.
This is not the separation of the sheep and goats at the end of the Great Tribulation as some argue. Neither is it a separation of those who have taken the mark of the beast from those that have not done so. It is also not the separation of the wheat and tares spoken of in other passages. The passage in Matthew 24 above has nothing to do with the end of the Apocalypse. It has to do with the Rapture or “harpazo” as it is referred to in the Greek New Testament. The master of the household found his family having been taken while he himself was not paying any attention!
When the Rapture happens, some will be taken into the Lord’s presence. Others will be left behind. According to Jesus, the Messiah, the ones left behind will find themselves entering into a time of Great Tribulation like none this world has ever seen. It will be worse than the time of the great flood of Noah! Those who find themselves left behind will experience great sorrow—especially those who had ignored the pleas of family, friends, and Christ following acquaintances. Can you imagine the chaotic times right after millions of people disappear off the face of the earth without a trace? Can you imagine what it will be like for those who lose family members in this way?
The entire theme of the passages we have read up to this point is for believers and followers of Jesus Christ, to stay alert; be watching; praying earnestly, preparing ourselves to meet our Messiah and KING in person. If we are not watching, we will be caught off guard, distracted by the worthless substitutes this world has to offer. Don’t let that be you! Are there those who will be left behind? Yes. Who would it be that might be in jeopardy?
A good example of this is found in the story of Lot as he was to be escorted out of the city of Sodom. The two angels that the Lord sent to get Lot and his family out of the city asked him if he had any others that would come with him; sons-in-law, sons, daughters, anybody. When Lot approached his sons-in-law, they thought he couldn’t possibly be serious and took his warning as a bad joke! As a result, both of these men, along with their wives, the two older daughters of Lot, perished with the rest of the city. Lot’s wife, against the strict warning by the angels, turned to look back and also perished as the cities of the plain were being destroyed. The only ones to escape with Lot were his remaining two daughters who had not yet married. Everyone else was destroyed.
In light of the fact that Jesus said the days at the end of the age would be like the days of Noah and also as in the days of Lot, I believe the warning given to Lot is a call to pay special attention. Genesis 19:22 tells us that Lot was told, “Hurry, escape there (to Zoar). For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” This fits in with one of God’s principles; God’s people are not appointed unto His wrath. It is the wicked, God-hating world that will experience His wrath. Let’s look at a promise made to the Church of Philadelphia found in Revelation 3:10 that makes this very clear.
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
The Church of Philadelphia still has a representation today, and, because they are part of the true Church, will be spared the Great Tribulation. The Church of Laodicea, which is also represented in our world today, will find itself on this earth during the time of God’s wrath unleashed upon this world.
The angels said to Lot, “Make haste and get out of the city”. So too, today there are many prophets and watchmen warning that the time of God’s judgment is at the door. Exhortations of warning are also being shared with the church world but most are too distracted to pay any attention, or just refuse to hear. Many mock the warnings as crazy talk! I wonder, If a person is living in unbelief, can he really enjoy the blessing of the Rapture? According to Revelation 21, unbelievers are in the same category as sorcerers, murderers, the abominable, sexually immoral, idolaters, and liars. It was because of unbelief in what God said that a whole generation of the ancient Israelites died in the wilderness instead of being able to go into the promised land. How many will miss the opportunity to go into the presence of the Lord and avoid the devastation ahead for the same reason? This may seem extreme to some, and in reality, our salvation is not dependent on our perfect understanding of eschatology, but mocking God’s promises and those who believe His covenant promises is a serious offense.
Many people claim to know the Lord but don’t believe what the Scriptures plainly say. Jesus accused the Scribes and Pharisees of not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. These religious leaders were known to interpret the Scriptures their own way. I know there is a difference of opinion among church denominations whether a person can fall away from their faith or not. The debates can often become harsh. Let’s however take a look at several passages of Scripture from Paul’s writings to the Hebrews and see what we can learn.
1 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. Hebrews 2:1-3
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘they shall not enter My rest.’” Hebrews 3:7-11
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the son of God, and put Him to an open shame. Hebrews 6:4-6
The warnings in these Scriptures are startling, ominous. The caution against drifting away, testing God by disobedience to His Word after having been enlightened to His goodness, forgiveness, and the miracle of spiritual regeneration, and then falling away, cannot be ignored. This does not say there is not the possibility of repentance for those that have missed the Rapture, but no one should take that chance. Instead of repenting, a person might become so angry at God for what they are seeing and experiencing, they may turn totally toward the dark side and curse God instead of repenting. We find this predicted in Revelation 16:9,11:
9 And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory…11 They blasphemed then God of Heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.
One of the things the early Church was facing was the fact that many of the newer Jewish believers who had done away with the Old Testament sacrifices for sin, while the Temple sacrifices were still being performed, were being pressured by family members and old friends to go back to offering these sacrifices because they didn’t believe Jesus could really forgive sin. The Apostle was warning them that if they go back to the old system of sacrifices which no longer have any effective purpose, they will be replacing the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Jesus made with a dead system and leave themselves in a position of having no more sacrifice for sin available.
In Hebrews 3-4 the Apostle Paul warns strongly against the sin of unbelief. He speaks of entering into God’s rest a number of times in those two chapters. Most often, the Greek word used for “rest”, katapausis, speaks of relaxing and enjoying the presence of God. On one occasion, however, we find the word “rest” transliterated as “sabbatismos”, which speaks to the eternal Sabbath which has been offered to the people of God. This obviously is referring to our eternal inheritance in the glorious Kingdom of God. Hebrews 4:9 says::
There remains therefore a rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God.
We learn from these two chapters that unbelief not only costs us the rest that describes relaxing and enjoying the fullness of the presence of God in this temporary earthly life, but ultimately can cost us God’s eternal rest from our labors throughout eternity. This is why Paul was so emphatic in his warnings to the Church about allowing ourselves to drift away and fall into unbelief. The Apostle said this in the first two verses of chapter 4:
1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
It was not only the Apostle Paul who warned against mocking. We find the Apostle Peter spoke about it as well.
Continued in Part Two…