Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What The Bible Says About The Rapture

The following is an excerpt from "Before God's Wrath: The Bible's Answer To The Timing Of The Rapture," by H.L. Nigro. Nigro is the founder of Strong Tower Publishing, and has released some great reading material on the subject of eschatology.

Chapter 2

What the Bible Says
About the Rapture

Despite the popularity of the pretribulation rapture, this teaching cannot be found in the plain reading of scripture. It must be inferred from a handful of passages, and even then, it is a stretch. According to this position, Jesus will return to rapture His Bride, the true believers who make up the body of Christ, prior to the seven-year “Tribulation period” described in the book of Revelation. This period includes three series of judgments: the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. Because the pretrib doctrine sees all three periods of judgment as God’s wrath, it teaches that the Church must be raptured before these judgments begin. This teaching is based on the promise, “for God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

It is at the earliest stage that the pretrib position falters. Nowhere does the Bible refer to the seals as God’s wrath. It is true that they are a period of intense difficulty decreed by God, but this does not make them His wrath. To get a sense of just how different judgment and wrath are, let’s take a look at the dictionary’s definition of these two words. According to Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, judgment in this context is defined as “a divine sentence or decision; a calamity held to be sent by God.” Wrath, on the other hand, is defined as “strong, vengeful anger or indignation; retributory punishment for an offense or a crime.” There is a big difference.

Throughout history, God has decreed many judgments— upon individuals, upon nations, and upon mankind as a whole. In the Garden of Eden, God pronounced judgments on Adam, on Eve, and on the serpent (Gen. 3:14–19). In the time of Noah, He pronounced a judgment on the whole world (Gen. 6:7). In the first century, Jesus pronounced judgments on the fig tree, on Jerusalem, and on cities that rejected the gospel (Matt. 21:18–19, Matt. 11:21–24, Luke 24:2). There are hundreds of judgments in the Bible, including the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments described in Revelation.

Could all of the judgments described in Revelation also be God’s wrath? Maybe. The question is: Are they? No. The Bible teaches that God’s wrath will begin after the opening of the sixth seal, as part of the Day of the Lord (see Chapter 4, “When Does God’s Wrath Begin?”). Thus, there is no scriptural reason to require the rapture to occur before then. In fact, this would create many contradictions of scripture, as we will discuss here.
So when will the rapture occur?

The Bible tells us that, as in the time of Noah, there will come a day when God will run out of patience with the wickedness of mankind. Although most people think of “the end of the world” as the battle of Armageddon, “the end of the age,” as Jesus taught, will actually begin sometime earlier when He returns to earth to take His rightful place as conquering King (Matt. 24:3, 29–30). This will usher in the Day of the Lord, during which God will pour out His wrath on an unrepentant world.

When Will Judgment Come?

Once Jesus’ disciples recognized Jesus as the Messiah, it was only natural that they would want to know when the Day of the Lord would begin. Jesus had already told them that He would go away for awhile, and while the disciples did not—nor could they—understand the full nature of His departure, they knew one thing: Jesus was coming back, and when He did, He would judge the earth as the prophets foretold. But when? This was exactly the question they were asking in Matthew 24: “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3).
Jesus replied by giving a long list of events that would precede His return:

1. There would be a rise in false christs (v. 5).
2. There would be a rise in wars between nations (v. 6).
3. There would be famines, pestilence, and earthquakes in various places (v. 7).
4. The Antichrist would desecrate the temple of God (v. 15).
5. There would be a period of severe tribulation for God’s people, more intense than any other in history (v. 21).

Then, after describing all of these events, Jesus said,

Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:29–31)

The timing couldn’t be more clear. There will be specific signs—the rise of false christs; widespread war, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes; the desecration of the temple by the Antichrist; the Great Tribulation; and the triple sign in the sun, moon, and stars—that, one by one, will lead us closer and closer to His return. When we compare these signs to the seal judgments described in Revelation, we see that they are one and the same (the significance of this will be seen later).

Disciples Learn of the Rapture

Through the Apostle Paul, Jesus also revealed that the Church would not have to live through the period of destruction and wrath that would follow Christ’s return. Rather, believers will be miraculously transformed into new, heavenly bodies and removed from the earth before Jesus takes vengeance on the ungodly during the Day of the Lord.
Paul described this wonder in 1 Cor. 15:51–52:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed—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 all be changed.

What a beautiful picture! Paul elaborated on this promise in his first letter to the Thessalonians:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. (1 Thess. 4:16–17)

And thus, the early church was introduced to the concept of the rapture. As we would expect, this description is the same as Jesus’ description of His coming in Matthew 24: (1)

…and they will see the son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:29–31)

Therefore, when Jesus comes on the clouds after the Great Tribulation, He will also rapture the Church.

1. Although the Church is not specifically in view here (since the Church was not founded until Pentecost), Jesus was speaking to Jews who would soon become the New Testament Church. Furthermore, one of the mysteries revealed by Paul is that the Second Coming would include not only the gathering of the elect but the translation of the living in the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-52, 1 Thess. 4:16-17). Thus, we can legitimately read Matt. 24:31 as applying to the Church, even though it wasn’t spoken to the Church.

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